Smoky Cell - Edgar Wallace, Robert Curtis - ebook

Smoky Cell ebook

Edgar Wallace, Robert Curtis

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The novel of Edgar Wallace’s famous play told by Robert Curtis. „Smoky Cell”:... At ten o’clock that night the guards outside the prison walls were doubled and among them they had enough machine-guns to play havoc with a battalion. The warden of the prison had announced that he was taking no chances. Ben Guinney, he had said, might have escaped from Canyon City prison without his due dose of high-power juice, but he wasn’t going to jump this dump. Rumors of an attempt at rescue had reached him and his reputation as warden was at stake...

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Liczba stron: 358

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Contents

CHAPTER I

CHAPTER II

CHAPTER III

CHAPTER IV

CHAPTER V

CHAPTER VI

CHAPTER VII

CHAPTER VIII

CHAPTER IX

CHAPTER X

CHAPTER XI

CHAPTER XII

CHAPTER XIII

CHAPTER XIV

CHAPTER XV

CHAPTER XVI

CHAPTER XVII

CHAPTER XVIII

CHAPTER XIX

CHAPTER XX

CHAPTER XXI

CHAPTER XXII

CHAPTER XXIII

CHAPTER XXIV

CHAPTER XXV

CHAPTER XXVI

CHAPTER XXVII

CHAPTER I

JOSEPHINE BRADY placed the telephone receiver against an undeniably well-shaped ear and said: “Hallo!” with a pair of lips in close proximity to which only a telephone mouthpiece could have remained unmoved.

“Is that you, Miss Brady?”

The voice was rich and deep, like a well-oiled purr; and, as she heard it, a little pucker appeared between Josephine’s eyebrows.

“Miss Brady speaking.”

“Good evening. It’s Mr. Schnitzer this end.”

The pucker definitely deepened.

“Oh yes, Mr. Schnitzer?”

“I’m sorry to disturb you, Miss Brady,” continued Schnitzer. “I guess a stenographer hears enough of her employer’s voice during office hours and won’t be smiling with pleasure to hear it now, eh?”

She did not know what to say to that, so she murmured:

“That’s quite O.K., Mr. Schnitzer,” as pleasantly as she could.

“The fact is, Miss Brady, I’m in a bit of a fix,” he went on, “and I’m counting on you to get me out of it. There’s some correspondence I couldn’t handle at the office, and it’s urgent to dispatch it by tonight’s mail. I’d be grateful if you’d come along here.”

“Where are you, Mr. Schnitzer?”

“I’m speaking from home.”

“Oh!”

“You know my apartment on Lincoln Avenue, don’t you?”

“Oh yes–of course–I know it, but I don’t think–”

“Now listen,” he interrupted. “I’m aware I’m suggesting something unusual, but this is big business, and I’m asking you to forget for the moment what the office hours are and to come along here and take down a couple of letters for me. You can’t say I’m exacting as a general rule, but in a matter of urgency like this I expect my stenographer to show willing–”

Josephine recognized the crack of the whip and hastily interrupted.

“Of course, Mr. Schnitzer,” she said. “I’ll be pleased to come along. If it will be soon enough in an hour’s time.”

“Fine!” replied Schnitzer. “I’ll send the car for you.” Before Josephine could protest that she did not want the car, he had rung off, and as she replaced the receiver the deep pucker in her forehead was joined by several others. She was wondering.

She had been stenographer to John P. Schnitzer for three months, and during that time had gathered a certain amount of information about him beyond what was comprised in the single word “Financier” that stood beneath his name on the office door. Within five minutes of her starting work in the office, the snub-nosed girl with the colourless hair who sat at the adjoining desk had given her the first hint.

“Say, kid,” she had said, “you’re too darned pretty for this outfit,” and, thereafter, further information gradually accrued. She remembered, when taxed with the question, that, when she had applied for the post, Mr. Schnitzer had made only the most perfunctory inquiries as to her qualifications as a stenographer–which was, perhaps, just as well–and that fact lent colour to the rumour that the qualities which John P. Schnitzer sought in a stenographer were not so much speed and accuracy as good looks and complaisance. But she had been in other offices–more than she cared to remember–and had learned from experience that in this respect Schnitzer did not stand alone. She had discovered that, provided a girl was a “sport”, she could spell “reference” with two “f’s” and quote cents instead of dollars and still get away with it, and Schnitzer’s reputed possession of this common commercial characteristic did not unduly worry her. She was confident that she was capable of dealing with any situation that might arise in the office.

The snub-nosed girl left her in no doubt as to the situations with which she would almost certainly be called upon to deal. In due course, she prophesied, Josephine would be invited to go out to dinner with Schnitzer–which was all right, she said, as long as she took with her a boy friend with an outsize in biceps; but as a general rule the Schnitzers of modern life wouldn’t stand for boy friends, and she would probably have to choose between going without her boy friends or going without her job. Of the two alternatives the snub-nosed girl was of the opinion that the latter would be preferable.

There was a likelihood, too, Josephine learned, of her being asked to go along one evening to Schnitzer’s apartment and take down some letters which could not be handled at the office. She couldn’t take a boy friend on that trip, of course, but she could take a portable typewriter, with which, correctly used, it might be possible to make a still nastier mess of even Schnitzer’s face. But she didn’t recommend the visit, even with a portable typewriter. Schnitzer, she said, had a swell apartment on Lincoln Avenue, but flowers died if you took them within a mile of it, and if Josephine valued her lily-white freshness she would keep outside the danger-zone. If a girl, she said, were seen with one foot on the bottom step of Schnitzer’s apartment her reputation would look so bedraggled that no one would believe it hadn’t been left out all night in the rain.

Josephine had been grateful for the warning and for the first few weeks had kept a wary eye on Schnitzer; but as time passed, and he showed no sign of lapsing from strictly business relations with her, she began to think that he was, perhaps, a much-maligned man. The snub-nosed girl, perhaps, had asked for an increase in salary and been refused.

And now, just when she was feeling secure, this telephone call! She suddenly remembered all the scraps of information she had gathered about Schnitzer, and when she had pieced them all together the picture they formed was not an attractive one. It was certainly not the likeness of a man whose apartment she would care to visit, even when armed with her portable typewriter. It looked as if Mr. Schnitzer were working to schedule, and that things would pan out much on the lines which her companion in the office had foretold. She said to herself very resolutely that she would not go.

But telling herself made no difference, because she knew very well that in an hour’s time she would certainly be in Mr. Schnitzer’s Lincoln Avenue apartment. Going without her job might be the lesser of two evils, but she just could not afford to allow herself any choice in the matter. She had vivid recollections of intervals that had occurred in the past between losing one post and finding another, and had no ambition again to plod along the pavements of the city in the company of hundreds of others in similar plight. She certainly had no real intention of losing her job without a struggle, for no better reason than that rumour held John P. Schnitzer to be not quite the gentleman he might be. He had never given her cause for the least complaint against him, and it would be foolish to throw away a good job on mere hearsay. Besides, she wasn’t afraid of Schnitzer.

Nevertheless, while the big limousine bore her smoothly towards Lincoln Avenue, she was feeling far less at ease than she appeared as she lolled back against the cushions. There was something not altogether pleasant in being in Mr. Schnitzer’s luxurious car. She thought of the flowers that died if they were taken within a mile of the house, and wondered if it were possible for Schnitzer’s car to have become impregnated with the same unhealthy atmosphere; if, supposing he were all that rumour maintained, he might somehow have impressed his personality on his automobile.

Quite definitely she did not like the car, and its smooth, deep purr reminded her of Schnitzer’s voice. And she did not like the diminutive Japanese chauffeur perched at the wheel, who kept glancing back at her over his shoulder and showing his white teeth in a knowing grin. She wondered why he was grinning and what he knew, and if, after all, she had not better tap the window and tell him to stop the car, and keep clear of the whole business. Once she actually did lean forward and gently rap on the glass; but all that happened was that the car moved a little faster and the monkey-faced chauffeur grinned at her more broadly than ever.

When eventually the car pulled up outside Schnitzer’s impressive-looking residence, the chauffeur sprang from his seat and flung open the door of the car before Josephine had time to sit upright, and, as she got out, he waved a hand towards the house in a gesture which was more a command than an invitation. Just for a moment she thought of turning away from the steps of the house and darting off along the pavement, but she got the impression that if she showed the least sign of attempting to escape the monkey-faced chauffeur would spring at her. So she went, with as self-possessed an air as she could; muster, up the steps and rang the bell; and a few moments later she was in Schnitzer’s library, and he was heaving himself from a low armchair to greet her.

“This is good of you, Miss Brady,” he purred in that smooth voice of his, as he took her hand.

Regarding him with eyes more critical than usual, Josephine agreed that it was good of her. As to whether it was equally good for her, she had her doubts. He fitted very well the picture of him, which she had pieced together. He was a powerfully built, prosperous-looking man in the early fifties, broad in the shoulders, black-haired and red-faced. According to her informant in the office, he had been born with the black hair, but had acquired the red face with considerable pleasure to himself and considerable profit to his wine merchant. He gave the impression that nature, when fashioning him, had tried to draw attention to too many points and had overdone the emphasis. His forehead was too low and his nose too long; his eyes were too small and his permanently out-thrust lower lip too full. As regards his girth, Josephine’s desk-mate had said that there was no need to remark on the obvious.

“I guess you’re feeling pretty sore with me, eh, Miss Brady?”

“Sore?” she echoed.

“Breaking in on your evening like this. I dare say you had a date with some nice young fellow–”

He was still holding her hand, and Josephine withdrew it sharply.

“Not at all,” she said. “I was quite free this evening.”

He regarded her from under lowered lids and half smiled.

“Lonely little girl, eh? Well, now, that’s too bad. Chester County must be full of blind guys to leave a little girl like you sitting at home and knitting.”

This, Josephine reflected, was no doubt all according to schedule. In a few moments he would probably try to kiss her. She wondered which would be the best spot to hit.

She took out her notebook, opened it, seated herself on a chair and glanced at him expectantly, her pencil poised.

“Yes, Mr. Schnitzer? Just a couple of letters, isn’t it?”

“Sure,” he replied. “But we don’t have to hurry. There’s plenty of time for the letters. Take a comfortable chair and have a cigarette.”

“Thanks, but I’d rather get the letters done if you don’t mind. I’m in rather a hurry; I want to get home as soon as possible–”

“Sure,” he said again. “Of course you do, and I won’t detain you five minutes longer than is necessary. But there’s nothing against your having a cigarette while we’re waiting.”

He offered her his case.

“Genuine imported Egyptian,” he told her. “I’ve never yet known a little girl who didn’t fall for a genuine imported Egyptian.”

She hesitated a moment and then took a cigarette, Schnitzer supplying her with a light.

“Thank you, Mr. Schnitzer,” she said. “But what are we waiting for?”

“There’s certain information I want from my agent on the coast before I can dictate the letters,” he told her. “He’s to speak to me on the ‘phone, but he’s not through yet. He’ll be on the wire any minute now, and then we can go right ahead.”

Josephine closed her notebook with a snap and got up from her chair.

“In that case, Mr. Schnitzer,” she said firmly, “I’d better come back later.”

She took a step forward, but Schnitzer, standing between her and the door, did not move.

“That’s not very sociable. Miss Brady, is it?”

She shrugged a shoulder.

“I didn’t understand on the telephone that this was to be a social call.”

“No?” He smiled. “Well, there’s no reason why it shouldn’t turn that way, but you’re making it difficult. It’s kind of discouraging when a nice little girl thinks you’re such poor company that she’d rather take a walk around the block than spend ten minutes with you while a ‘phone call comes through.” He laid a hand on her shoulder and urged her towards an armchair. “Sit down, my dear, and take off your hat and enjoy your cigarette, and I’ll find you a glass of wine–”

Josephine spun round and faced him.

“Mr. Schnitzer, I came here to take down some letters, and if you’re not ready to dictate them now I’d much rather go and come back when you are ready. I don’t want a glass of wine.”

“Maybe you don’t,” replied her employer. “But I’m telling you that you need one. You’re looking pale, and paleness doesn’t suit you. Pretty hair like yours needs a touch of colour to show it off. I guess lots of young fellows have told you you’ve got pretty hair, eh, honey?”

The next instant he had no cause to complain of her pallor. Her cheeks were crimson and her eyes blazing as she faced him defiantly.

“Please understand, Mr. Schnitzer,” she began furiously, “that I didn’t come here to discuss my hair, and if you’ve no letters to dictate–”

“Haven’t I told you,” interrupted Schnitzer plaintively, “that I’m waiting for my agent on the coast to come through on the wire? Come now, my dear, there’s no call for you to be awkward about things. A nice little girl like you–”

“I’m going,” she announced suddenly. Again she took a step forward, trying to brush past him, and this time he deliberately stepped in front of her. His smile had vanished and his mouth grew grim.

“Sure you’re going–just as soon as I say so,” he snapped. “But not before, Miss Brady. When I pay a girl twenty dollars a week, I guess she’s going to do as I say or–” He stopped abruptly, and his smile returned.

“Forget it, my dear,” he said. “I talk that way sometimes when things don’t go just as I want them to, but it doesn’t mean a thing. Still, there’s no sense in you running away and walking round the block. That kind of hurt me. It looks like not trusting me, and if a girl can’t trust John P. Schnitzer to treat her right, I’d like to know who she can trust. Well, forget it!”

He crossed to the heavy tapestry curtain that hung across the archway which led into an adjoining room, and beckoned her to him. She hesitated, and then, as he smiled at her reassuringly, crossed slowly to him. After all, there was no sense in losing her job if she could possibly keep it, and Schnitzer might be all right...

He pulled aside the curtain, switched on the light and drew her into the room.

Josephine glanced round. It was a dining-room, richly furnished, with a thick soft carpet and concealed lighting, rose-tinted, that gave it an air of warmth, softness, intimacy. The oval table in the centre was laid for dinner. Josephine noticed that places were laid for two.

“Sort of cosy, eh, honey?” purred Schnitzer.

She glanced at him quickly.

“I was expecting a friend to dinner,” he went on to explain, “but he has let me down at the last minute. Still, as things have turned out, I guess I’m not feeling particularly sorry. What do you say, my dear, to a nice little dinner while we’re waiting for my man to ‘phone?”

“I’m sorry, Mr. Schnitzer,” she began, “but I can’t possibly–”

“I’m saying you can.” The snap was back in his voice now.

“But I’d much rather not–”

“And I’m telling you you’re going to.” He was between her and the curtain, and his mouth was ugly. Job or no job, she must get out of this.

“Do you get my meaning?”

She nodded.

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