Rubies of Doom - J.U. Giesy, Junius B Smith - ebook

Rubies of Doom ebook

J.U. Giesy, Junius B. Smith



Swartzberg was a cunning and mysterious man. First, he won all the guys in the cards, and then went out into the street, as if nothing had happened. But the detective who saw this picture, did not trust him. There was something about his personality that repelled him. The detective did not like his dark, heavy features, his swollen eyes, his mustache with curled tips, his thick, red lips, his heavy lobed ears or his smug look.

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“SO that’s your game, is it?”

The question was rapped rather than spoken by a young fellow, one of four men gathered about the card table.

His opposite, a dark, heavy-set person, with a black tip curled mustache overhanging his red lips, raised his thick-lidded eyes from the cards he was rapidly dealing and stared full into the flushed face of the one who had addressed him.

“What’s my game?” he growled in reply.

“Slip dealing,” flared the other. “You took your last card from the bottom, and–you weren’t quite quick enough. I was watching you.”

The dark man–it appeared afterward that his name was Swartzberg–merely smiled slightly and shook his head.

“I tell you you did!” persisted the youngster, his voice rising in excitement. “Don’t shake your head at me, you card cheat!”

Swartzberg shrugged. “I hate a poor loser,” he remarked to the atmosphere of the room at large.

“Pick up that card and turn it over!” demanded his accuser. “It’s an ace. I’m as good a loser as any in a fair hand, but I won’t stand for funny work in a gentlemen’s game. A man who cheats in a friendly hand is the lowest sort of thief.”

With a sudden motion Swartzberg gathered the cards before him into his hand and cast them into the center of the table in a ragged heap. “You lie,” said he quite coldly.

Almost instantly the smack of a blow sounded as the younger man landed upon the side of Swartzberg’s jaw.

A steward, attracted by the sounds of the altercation, entered at this point and inquired as to the cause of the disturbance, caught a glance of the scattered cards and the flushed face of the boy, now securely held in the grasp of the two other players, and grinned, as one accustomed to such scenes.

Swartzberg, secure from further aggression, felt gingerly of his jaw, grimaced at the other occupants of the room as one who would say “the impulsiveness of youth,” and sauntered out.

I had noticed him before. He had a stateroom on the saloon deck midway of the port side on the same boat on which Connie, Dual, and I were running up from New Orleans to St. Louis.

I had seen him come aboard at New Orleans just before the boat was starting, and, to tell the truth, I didn’t like him.

There was something about his personality which repelled, so far as I was concerned. I didn’t like his dark, heavy features, his puffy eyes, his tip curled mustache, his thick, red under lip, his heavy-lobed ears, nor his self-satisfied air. In a word, there was nothing about him I did admire.

He had traveling salesman writ large all over him, and I mentally placed him in that class at the same time that I wondered what put him on a Mississippi River steamer.

The altercation which I had just witnessed occurred in the card and smoking room of the Cairo, from New Orleans to St. Paul, on the morning of a day in June. Perhaps I had better explain how we all came to be there ourselves, so that the things which come later will be better understood.

There had been some marked changes in my life of late. To begin with, I was no longer a reporter on the Record, where I had won my living for years. Instead, I was now the senior partner of the private inquiry bureau of “Glace & Bryce,” with offices in the Urania Building, seventh floor.

Bryce and the sort of work I had done for the Record in unraveling baffling police cases were responsible for my change of endeavor. Bryce as a police inspector had been associated with me on more than one of these affairs; so that, after all, it was natural that he should make the half joking, half serious remark: “Glace, you oughter tie a can to this twenty-five-a-week an’ get into a man’s game. Say, kid, why don’t you open a ‘tec joint’ of your own?”

“I might if you’d chuck the force and go hunks,” I returned.

To my surprise he gave me a quick look and stuck out his hand.

After that it was a natural sequence to talk with my friend Dual, who smiled slightly and told me to go ahead. A week after, aided by Dual’s backing, we opened an office and announced ourselves as ready to unravel mysteries at so much a ravel. Several things came our way, and we hired a stenographer and an office-boy. It looked as if we were going to make good.

So much for me. Now as to Connie. We were married, and this was our honeymoon trip. We had not intended taking one at the time of the wedding, and it was not until after the ceremony had been performed that we changed our minds.

I think I should say, rather, that Semi Dual changed them for us by announcing that he was about to start upon a trip to Goldfield to see his old friend and partner, John Curzon, who was managing their jointly owned mine, and inviting us to accompany him as his guests.

For the benefit of those who have not followed the events which threw Semi Dual and me together, I must say a word. Briefly, he was a student and exponent of the higher universal forces. A “Psychological Physician” was what he called himself.

Back home where he dwelt and I had worked as a reporter on the Record he lived in magnificent quarters which he had fitted up on the roof and in the tower of our largest sky-scraper.

Here he passed his time in the pursuit of those studies which made him able to perform acts of sapience which I have never seen equaled by any other living man.

These quarters of his on the roof of the Urania were reached from the twentieth floor by a beautiful marble and bronze staircase, leading at its head into a garden of flowers and shrubs created by Dual about the tower, and kept green the year round by means of a curved roof or dome of glass which arched it during the winter months.

I first met Semi Dual on an occasion when Smithson, who was then my city editor, sent me to interview him, and I have never forgotten the first impression he made upon me. Tall he was, with a splendid physique, brown-haired and gray-eyed, of a deep olive complexion and a highly arched nose.

His physical presence mirrored the admixture of high-caste Persian and Caucasian bloods which were his, and in his mentality one found the impassiveness of the Oriental, united with the practicality of the Occidental man. On that first occasion he had helped me to unravel a puzzling police case, and thereafter, time and again, I had called upon his peculiar powers to reveal the truth of mysteries which baffled the police.

The abstruse sciences of chirography, telepathy, astrology, and many others were open books to this friend of mine; yet there was no charlatanism, no skullduggery, about either the man or his methods.

He announced as true only what he himself had proved and could prove. Let me quote him on his own attitude. “I will believe anything which is capable of a scientific proof,” he once said in speaking to me.

This, then, was the man as whose guests my wife and I found ourselves aboard a Mississippi steamer on that most magnificent of rivers–the “Father of Waters.” Dual had met Connie at a time when he had been instrumental in freeing her brother from a cloud of dreadful suspicion swept over him by peculiar circumstances; and so when I mentioned our approaching marriage to him he surprised and pleased me by suggesting that the ceremony be held at the Urania–in the garden, in fact.

After the ceremony, which was very simple–with only Dual, myself, and Connie, her brother Billy and his fiancée, Smithson (my old city editor on the Record), and the minister present–Dual led us into the tower and seated us at a splendid supper he had had prepared. It was then that he first mentioned his proposal of a trip, and invited us to come along.

At first Connie demurred, hesitating quite naturally to accept so much from our host; but he smilingly waved aside her objections with the affirmation that he was amply able to afford the pleasure it would give him.

Put in that light, we found it doubly hard to refuse. We accepted instead. Dual had thereupon suggested that we go by boat from New York to New Orleans, and after spending some days in the Southern metropolis continue westward. It was arranged that Bryce should run the office, and we set sail. At New Orleans one day Connie caught sight of a river steamer while we were prowling about the riverfront, with its many-colored, polyglot life, and voiced a wish that she might some day take a trip on one of the things.

Dual, in the role of fairy godfather, at once suggested that, instead of going West by rail, we take a boat up the river to St. Louis and catch one of the overland routes from there.

Connie accepted with the delight of a child, and I was pleased because she was. One can therefore imagine that I was feeling pretty well satisfied with the world in general on the morning when the events which held us for the next sixty odd hours began to fall into place.

I had told Connie a great deal about Dual’s work on the various mysteries which I had seen him handle, and more than once after listening to me with absorbed interest she had expressed the wish that she too might see him actually engaged upon a case.

Still, as I leaned forward and listened to the turmoil of voices aroused by the dramatic interruption of the card game, I little dreamed that her wish was in a fair way to be gratified.

On the Cairo the men’s lounge, smoking and card room was set in just off the social hall, back of the library, on the starboard side.

Coming from them, one emerged directly into the main saloon, which widened at the forward end into the library itself. At the other end was the well through which rose the companion-stairs from the main deck, and back of that was the dining saloon.

Across the social hall were two cabin de luxe suites which Dual had obtained for Connie and me and himself. These consisted of a small parlor, a bedroom, and a bath, and were very comfortable indeed.

On this morning, after a late breakfast, I had come to the lounge for a quiet smoke. It was perhaps ten of a cloudless day, and Connie and Dual had gone to their deck-chairs; she armed with a camera, with which she enthusiastically shot up the country and the inhabitants as we passed or stopped at small landings; Dual to lounge idly, watching the drifting landscape and think of only he knew what.

As I entered the card-room I noticed the four players seated at one of the little tables with cards, chips, and long glasses before them. They seemed to be enjoying themselves, and were apparently fixed for a day’s play.

After a cursory glance I lighted a cigarette, told the white-jacketed bar steward to bring me a bottle of ale, and opened a current number of a magazine which I had brought from the library when I entered. The next thing I knew was the flare up of the light-haired young man at the card table, who now shook himself free from the restraining hands of his companions with a somewhat shamefaced grin.

Well, I had been a reporter, and there is something akin to that in the life of the detective. My instinct for getting at the heart of things has always been strong.

I got up and sauntered over to form one of the group comprising nearly every man in the room, which had by now gathered about the light-haired youth.

“I tell you I saw him slip the bottom card into his own hand,” he was doggedly protesting as I came up. “He’s a petty tinhorn, that’s what he is; and he’s been skinning us by crooked play. I thought his luck was too good to be the real thing, and I began watching him. On that last deal he–”

“Well, never mind, son,” one of the other players cut in. “We’re all losers to him, and there’s no way to prove it now.”

“We don’t need to prove it!” flashed the youngster. “He as good as admitted it when he mixed his hand with the deck just before I hit him. He’s a dirty cheat!

“Supposin’ he is,” the steward interjected. “You was playin’ for stakes, wasn’t you, son?”

“Well?” The young fellow turned to the petty officer and spoke more quietly than he had yet done.

“That’s gamblin’,” decided the official. “You fellows aren’t supposed to do it on these boats; but if you do, why you take your chances, an’ there’s nobody to blame but yourself. I’ve seen more’n one fellow trimmed in these pick-up games. It used to be a regular trade. He called you a liar and you hit him. Let it go at that.”

“He as good as stole fifty dollars of my money,” said the youth more hotly.

The steward whistled softly, then grinned. “You can’t prove it, son, as the gent said. Charge it up to experience. You folks was havin’ quite a little game, wasn’t you?”

“Hardly.” The young chap swept the faces about him almost with a glance of suspicion. “It was merely a lamb-shearing contest, I guess.”

“Cut that, suh!” snapped one of the other players, a dark-skinned chap with a small black mustache of the Creole type. “You saw me lose twenty to him mahself. Ef yuh keep on beefing about it, hang me, suh, ef Ah don’t agree with th’ sheeney that yuh air one poor loser.” He shrugged his white-flannel-clad shoulders.

The steward nodded. “The gent’s right,” he said. “Better forget it, young feller. What’s done’s done, as I see it. You got one good punch to the jaw for your half century, anyway.” He turned away.

So did the others; some with winks and grins, others with even less show of interest. Each returned to the spot and occupation which suited him best. Remained the light-haired youth and myself beside the table.

I sat down on one of the soft chairs and took out my case of cigarettes, offering him one and lighting another. “Sit down and tell me about it,” I suggested.

Under the circumstances he complied. He was full of his troubles, ready for sympathy, and didn’t care particularly with whom he talked about it. He dropped into the opposite seat, lighted the cigarette, and picked up the scattered cards from the table, bunching them in his hands. “Case of a fool and his money, I guess. Mr.–“ he began with a somewhat weak grin.

“Glace,” I supplied to his interrogative pause.

He nodded. “I’m John Greer, and no doubt a good deal of a fool on the face of it. I’m sorry I acted like a cub, now that it is over with. It was my hot-headed temper made me pull that cheap melodramatic stuff; but I do hate a cheat.” He threw down the cards.

“The steward was right when he said that these pick-up games are apt to surprise one of the players, and that boat-gambling used to be almost a recognized profession. I’m sorry you were the fall guy,” I replied.

He smiled sourly. “It isn’t the money,” said he. “Not that I like to lose any better than any one else, and the jolly loser is a rare bird in my experience; but if the game had been square I wouldn’t have kicked. I’ve both won and lost more. It’s just that I hate being roped in like that. I didn’t particularly want to play, you see. Came up here for a smoke after breakfast, and they were trying to get some one to take a fourth hand–you know how those things go.

“They asked me to sit in. I declined, and they insisted. Finally I did come in. Everything went all right for a time, at that; and then this–Swartzberg, I think his name is–hit a winning streak and kept it up. I got suspicious after a bit and began to watch him, and he was dealing crooked. Then I got mad, and I suppose you saw the rest.”

Suddenly his grin became totally unrestrained. “Anyway I bet his jaw’s sore. I got in one jolly swing to the side of his map.”

“It sounded sincere when it landed,” I admitted.

“It was,” said Greer.

Frankly, after the heat had died out of him I rather liked the young chap. He was clean-looking, well set up, with a clear, blue eye, a good breadth of forehead, and a firm jaw which gave evidence of latent strength waiting to be developed.

Furthermore, I could sympathize with him in his position. He was, after all, only a boy, sore at being treated as one. I had felt like that at times myself not far distant.

“Where did you learn to deliver the punch?” I inquired.

“At school,” he replied at once, his eyes lighting. “Oh, I’m an unlicked cub out of college, and that goes double–I never was licked in the gym boxing matches. Now I’m going home for dad to lick into business, I suppose.

“Dad’s in business in St. Louis, but nothing would do save I had to graduate from his own alma mater. I went to New Orleans with a classmate for a visit, and now I’m going home; thought it would be fun to come by boat. Still”–his grin came back again–“it seems my education wasn’t finished when I dragged down my sheep-skin. What’s your line, Mr. Glace?”

“I’m a detective,” I returned.

“Oh, Lord!” grimaced Greer. “Worse and worse. I’m going to get home as quick as I can. I don’t even know when it’s safe to talk, I reckon.”

“I’m on my honeymoon,” I said, laughing. “Don’t be alarmed.”

“Congratulations on the honeymoon. I made a narrow escape,” said the youngster. His finger went toward the push-button on the panel. “What’ll you have?”

I shook my head. “What business is your father in?” I asked.

“Contracting–building,” he answered. “I’m going in with him, now that I know how to say brick in Latin. Maybe my punch will come in handy, though, in handling the gangs.”

I nodded, and for some time we smoked in silence. Presently I took out my watch. It was getting on toward eleven, and I fancied I’d hunt up Connie and see how she was making out. I sat up in my seat. Greer, too, sat up.

“Have a cigar, anyway, before you go, just to show me you don’t think I’m altogether the ass these other chaps evidently consider me,” he begged in a boyish appeal.

I assented, and he called the bar steward, ordering two cigars, and a drink for himself as well. “If there was any way of doing it, I’d like to go after that fellow and make him shell out my fifty,” he began again in a moment; “just to show ‘em that I’m not as easy as I look.”

“Just who is this chap?” I rejoined.

“I don’t know.” The steward came back, and he paid and dismissed him. “He says he’s Isaac Swartzberg, a drummer, and I imagine he is. He looks like the typical loud-mouthed con man he ought to be. One thing’s sure–he thinks he is a warm number with the ladies.

“I’ve an idea he’s one of these ‘johnnies’ who tries to make up to every pretty face he sees. He kept up a patter about his experiences along that line all during the game this morning. I hate that sort of man, and no doubt my swat was only one of many he deserves. Did you notice the pretty little pouting red lip he wore?”

“Particularly, my young friend,” I returned. “It goes with the sort of man you appraise Swartzberg to be.”

Greer laughed. “I’m glad to hear it. I suppose you ought to know. You do meet all sorts in your line of work, don’t you, Mr. Glace?”

“A few,” I told him. “The pendulous lower lip does not go with a high sense of moral integrity, though it is compatible with vanity.”

“That’s Swartzberg,” agreed my acquaintance. “When he wasn’t talking about girls he was bragging about other exploits of his.”

“Did you know either of the others?” I inquired. “Who was the man in the white flannel suit?” Some way the chap had interested me.

Greer shook his head. “Said his name was Gaston Lafourche. I never saw him before. Rather a touchy beggar, I guess, from the way he took up my remark about the wool market.”

“French Creole type?” I remarked.

Greer nodded. “Guess so.” Then he reverted to Swartzberg and the subject next his heart. “Do you know, I believe that fellow uses his steady talk to distract attention while he fixes the deck. I wish I had something on him, and I’d make him disgorge his winnings of to-day.”

I shook my head. “Better let him alone,” I advised.

Greer grinned. “What’ll you bet I can’t get it out of him before he leaves this boat?” he asked.

“Not a thing,” said I. “If you’re contemplating any more foolishness take my advice about trying it, and don’t.”

“But it would be fun to make him loosen,” Greer persisted.

“I didn’t know whether it would or not,” I responded. “I’ve an idea he might prove a nasty customer if forced to it.”

“Oh, it wouldn’t be a matter of force–say persuasion, rather, Mr. Glace. What’ll you bet I can’t do it?”

I rose and stood facing him across the table. “If you’re going to look for trouble I’ll bet you find it,” I said in answer. “You’ve kicked up some considerable fuss for one morning as it is. I think you’d better take a rest.”

“All the same, I’ve an idea I could do it,” he grinned back. “Maybe I won’t, and then again–maybe I will. Just wait and see.”

“Go ahead. You may succeed in raising enough excitement to give me excuse for butting in in my professional capacity,” I flung back as I walked away.

I didn’t know that my words would prove prophetic, but they did.


THE BOAT had been swinging in toward the shore while Greer and I chatted over our cigars, and had eventually swung into a small landing with a great clanging of gongs and thrashing of paddles.

As I left the card-room and started to hunt up Dual and my wife I noticed the first slow quiver of departure. Evidently it had merely checked to allow some passenger a landing or take some one aboard.

Such incidents as this were proving a constant source of interest to Connie, who seemed never to tire of this remnant of the bygone time when many boats churned the waters of the great river.

She had spent most of the preceding day on deck, watching the odd life of the river settlements as we approached or left them, studying the ragged stevedores on the wharfs, listening to their chanting cries as they handled freight and baggage, or their more modern and less musical profanity, with an equal fascination which had not yet seemed to flag.

Passing into the social hall with the intention of gaining the deck through one of the side alleys, I first came face to face with the wheat-haired girl. That is really the only way I can think of describing the great mass of fine-fibered tresses which crowned her head. It wasn’t golden and it wasn’t yellow. It was silvery, yellowish color, like the straw of ripened wheat.

She was one of the Southern blond types who are really at times of an almost exotic beauty. She was mounting the companion-stairs from the main deck in the wake of a colored steward burdened by her traveling-cases, and they had just reached the head of the stairs at the after-end of the social hall as I started from the door of the card-room.

As a result, I paused to allow them to pass before continuing on my way outside, whereupon one of those odd turns of fortune which occasionally happen brought us into instant and intimate contact.

The girl was wearing a shimmery gown of some light silk, held daintily in her hand as she mounted the stairs. In some way, which probably a woman will understand better than I, her foot appeared to catch somewhere among the mysteries of her skirts. She wavered and swayed and would have fallen had I not sprung forward and checked her with a hand.

For a moment she clung to me, a hand on my shoulder and one on my arm. Then, having extricated her foolishly high-heeled shoe from her ruffles or wherever it was caught, she straightened and raised a flushed face to mine.

“I thank you, suh,” she said in some confusion. “You saved me a bad fall.”

I took off my traveling-cap and smiled. “I am happy to have had the privilege,” I told her, and saw her vanish after the steward toward her room.

“Lucky dog,” said a voice not far from me, and I turned to find Swartzberg looking on with a grin. Having attracted my attention, he went on: “Some dame, that, my boy. With that good a start you ought to be solid for the rest of the trip.”

I’ve said I didn’t like the man, and I didn’t like his uncalled-for comment. I turned on my heel. “I’m joining my wife,” I said.

He grinned.

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