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THE 4TH KING

 

CHAPTER I

 

 TIED WITH GREEN STRING

 

 J. Hamilton Eaves, seated in the leather-lined swivel chair of his private office in the National Industrial Securities Company, gazed down curiously at the small and inconspicuous parcel the mail carrier had just delivered with the rest of the afternoon’s letters. The crafty, yet good­natured little eyes, set in the plumb pink face that surmounted an ample, impressive frame, took in puzzledly the main details of the packet; a glazed cardboard box of the kind that a deck of playing cards comes in, tied tightly with bright green string and sealed on all four edges with bright red sealing wax. He looked up as the bluecoated mail carrier paused, speaking, sorting out the handful of letters for the next office.

“You brokers must play cards a lot, Mr. Eaves,” he said smilingly. “Is there a shortage on the pasteboards that you have to order ’em by mail? Delivered a package like that to Mr. Lee upstairs, just a few weeks ago.” And shifting his heavy leather sack on to his shoulder he was gone to his duties of sorting and delivering mail.

With his silver and ebony paper knife J. Hamilton Eaves first slit open a letter whose thinness and whose superscription proclaimed to his experienced senses that it contained a cheque for some purchased stock, and he smiled with broad, contented satisfaction as there tumbled out the bright yellow, crisp slip of paper, which meant money into the pockets of J. Hamilton Eaves. Then, calling in from the outer office his old rheumatic bookeeper and turning over the cheque to him, he closed the door to his private room and proceeded to turn his attention to the package of playing cards.

At first glance he had merely concluded that the glazed cardboard case contained some minor and useless invention, which was being submitted by mail for capitalization and promotion, for, be it known, that was J. Hamilton Eaves’s business— that and several other shady ramifications of the promotion and brokerage business. The packet bore on the side a label that had been crudely cut from paper and pasted on, and the label in turn bore, stamped with probably a child’s set of rubber type, J. Hamilton Eaves’s name and business address. But as he cut the bright green string and broke the red seals, he was further interested to discover that it really did contain a deck of playing cards, bound around the tops and bottoms by a pasted band of paper, which bore letters, rubber-stamped by hand like the label, in red ink.

He pulled out the deck and breaking the paper band, laid it out lengthwise on his mahogany desk. The crudely printed letters, all in capitals, read:

 

One week is yours to close up your thieving business

 completely.

How many kings are missing from the deck?

How many crooked kings are missing from the LaSalle

 Street deck?

Get Riswold’s Magazine.

Why were you not included in the thirteen kings?

Count both decks.

One week is one week.

And only one meek.

One week is 168 hours.

See line 1.

If not, then he who reads this shall follow the three

 kings.

 

STAR OF THE NIGHT.

 

J. Hamilton Eaves, his usually unruffled pink brow creased with a rapidly growing frown of half amazement, half fear, stared at the threatening message. Nervously he straightened his silk poplin necktie, and coughed an uneasy little cough as he glanced over his shoulder at the big beautiful potted palm in the corner, almost as though he expected to see the writer of the message lurking there. From there his eyes roved apprehensively to the polished mahogany table near the window, and thence across the room to where his newest money-maker—in reality, his newest sucker-bait!— the Shanks Dictatograph, stood on its rolling table, replete with its bright brass, nickel, rubber, and silver finishings.

“What—what the hell!” he managed to stammer, half aloud. “Is it a joke? If it is—it’s a mighty poor one.”

He gave only a passing glance to the loose playing cards. They were a common type, on sale in almost every department store. Instead, he found himself intently thinking of the mail carrier’s last statement; namely, that he had delivered just such a deck to Lee—poor Johnstone Lee—on the floor above a few weeks ago. And Lee—Johnstone Lee—was one of those luckless individuals who, prior to his death a few weeks before, had been among the thirteen who had seen the light of publicity through the courtesy of Riswold’s Magazine, which already on its last legs, had politely placed its thumb to its nose and expired with a sum total of a million dollars in libel suits standing on its grave.

From a lower drawer of his desk J. Hamilton Eaves withdrew a copy of that famous issue on LaSalle Street, and he emitted a half sarcastic little laugh as he reflected how the notoriety it had caused, at least in his own circles, had caused him to place on his door the words NATIONAL INDUSTRIAL SECURITIES COMPANY in a much larger size of letter and his own name in a much smaller size than before.

Riswold’s Magazine was a small, bright red covered, saucy little magazine, with a half-garbed lady poised on the cover, and a smattering of bright yellow in the title. J. Hamilton Eaves turned again to the article which had caused him to smile sweetly when it had first appeared, and which at the same time had caused thirteen other gentlemen to consult their lawyers posthaste, arranged across the “spread” —that valuable piece of space where every magazine opens up in the middle—were thirteen plump faces with varying assortments of noses, ranging from the eagle to the pug, reproduced in half-tone, but with line drawings of crowns cockily and impudently poised upon their brows. The scare­head underneath the thirteen faces ran:

 

THE THIRTEEN KINGS OF CROOKED CHICAGO FINANCE.

Without the Crowns They’re a Big-Time Rogues’ Gallery.

 

And thereupon followed a brief history of each and every one of those crown-bearing gentlemen, with their progenitors, their residences, their style of business, and a number of rather interesting transactions along the line of their particular speciality. Two of the thirteen, as it happened, belonged to J. Hamilton Eaves’s particular game, which, stated concisely, was the promotion, capitalization, and stock-selling of claptrap inventions—inventions whose shares sold like wildfire on the specious and oily-tongued assurance that the Telephone, Gas Mantle, Automobile, Vacuum Tube, even the Fountain Pen, had made millions for their stockholders—but which unfortunately never got farther than the erection of the foundations of a factory and a rather feeble attempt to put out a few hundred life-size working models to back up the energetic stock-selling campaign and the equally energetic juggling by washed sales on the market. And it was inevitably at this point that the bottom fell out with a dull thud!

How J. Hamilton Eaves escaped the write-up will never be definitely known, for the particulars of his quiet entrance on Chicago’s “Wall Street” would have been most inter­esting reading had facts been dug up. Coming Out Of the West with an experience ranging from salted mines to selling spurious gold collar buttons on the street corner with an equally spurious bottle of acid to test them with, he had met, captivated, and married the Chicago widow, whose fifty-thousand dollar dowry had in turn incorporated, set up J. Hamilton Eaves with a stock of options and necessary legal rights, and equipped his magnificently furnished offices. And from this stock-in-trade he had made already, by rough estimate, some two hundred thousand dollars, which was carefully salted away for the proverbial day of blue—and yet bluer!—sky laws!

In his perusal of the Riswold Magazine article, J. Hamilton Eaves did not pay so much attention to the reading matter in the various “royal histories.” He knew them all by heart, and did not need a re-reading of the dying issue of Riswold’s Magazine to recall them for him. Perhaps he felt the slightest twinge of jealousy that he had not been included in this collection of get-rich-quick conjurors, for in his soul was that pronounced satisfaction that comes from an artistic and a wholly artistic separation of the sucker from his money. Just now, however, his chief attention was placed upon an eagle-nosed face bearing a crown some three faces from the left of the gallery. The name printed beneath in bold-face type was Johnstone Lee. Now Johnstone Lee’s offices had been in the Temple building, seven floors above. Johnstone Lee was among the thirteen kings of the Riswold Magazine’s sensational expose. Johnstone Lee was a widower. Johnstone Lee had died rather suddenly and peculiarly some few weeks before, and Johnstone Lee, according to the garrulous postman, had received by mail a deck of cards!

Again J. Hamilton Eaves’s attention focused itself troubledly upon two of the sentences in the cryptic warning:

 

How many kings are missing from the deck?

How many crooked kings are missing from the LaSalle

 Street deck?

 

Almost subconsciously he began to sort out the deck into aces, deuces, and all the way up to court-cards, his pink, puffy cheeks sagging slightly outward as he leaned forward. The task did not take long. He had four of each and every card—but the kings! One king only—the king of spades was present. Three kings were missing!

He ran his eyes over the “kings” in the Riswold Magazine’s expose again. There were Fielding, Gannet, Brown, Pinkston, Paddon, Douglas, Heatherington, Clair, Paulsenon, Lee, Rothblume, Cranleigh, and Von Toulee. They were all of Chicago.

J. Hamilton Eaves arose and stepped to the door of his office. He gazed out. His capable, young and pretty steno­grapher was busy in one corner. The well-knit, stockily-built young Londoner who occupied the highly essential position of mechanical expert with the company was busy draughting on a huge drawing-board by the window. The old book-keeper was busy entering up sales of stocks. The office boy sat erect and imposing in his bright blue suit by his little table near the door, and the two glib-tongued salesmen, as could be seen through the glass door of the adjoining room, were busily earning their commissions by convincing tele­phone talks with people whose names were on the “sucker lists.”

“I shall,” he announced to the stenographer, “be very busy for an hour. I can see no one.”

And he closed the door and went back to his task.

First he called the telephone number which was that of the dead and departed Mr. Johnstone Lee. A good fellow, Lee. A capital fellow. A clever raconteur with his slow Southern drawl, and an artistic worker in his special branch of the game—Mexican silver mines. A woman’s voice answered the ’phone.

“Mr. J. Hamilton Eaves of the Temple of Commerce building speaking,” pronounced the beefy-necked man in the swivel chair. “This is—”

“Miss Annabel Lee,” came a spinstry voice, with a pronouncedly Southern accent, and a shading of austerity.

“Mr. Lee’s sister?” purred Mr. Eaves, dropping into that compelling tone of voice which was one of his assets with women. A simpering acknowledgment came from the other end of the ’phone.

“Miss Lee, Mr. Lee was a great friend of mine, a ve-ree great friend, if I may say it. Our offices have been in the same building, in fact. Now I was out of town at the time of his death. I’d like to learn just what it was he died of?”

The woman told him in a few words. “Mr. Lee callapsed on thuh doorstep of the apahtment building heah the night of Septembah 9—just about three weeks ago. It was a rainy night. A neighbouring tenant found him. He was unable to speak. He motioned that he felt dreadfully sick at the stomach—seemed to act as tho’ he wuh poisoned. We brought him up-stayahs at once and put him to bed. He sunk quickly. We called the doctah. But Mr. Lee died sho’tly aftah midnight, without speaking. Ptomaine poisoning, the doctah called it.”

“I’m most sorry to hear these details,” said J. Hamilton Eaves. He cleared his throat. “Did he ever—er—ah mention anything about any practical joker around the ‘street’ here sending him any decks of cards, Miss Lee?” he went on imperturbably, but his spirit during his conversation had, somehow, grown troubled.

“I don’t rememb—well, yes, Mr. Eaves. Ah do remembah him saying that the boys shu’ly liked to joke, but if they must joke, they mought send him a deck of cahds he could use. Said—Ah think Ah heard him say—theah were a couple o’ coht cahds—kings, Ah think—missing.”

J. Hamilton Eaves expressed his sympathy with the bereaved sister in the most compelling manner. Then he hung up. He stared fixedly for a moment at the jumble of windows across the street, and then proceeded to open the telephone book at his elbow.

In direct rotation he called the offices of Fielding, Gannet, Brown, Pinkston, and Paddon. The first four proved to be in, and J. Hamilton Eaves in each case gave but one query—as soon as he got his man.

“This is J. Hamilton Eaves of the Temple of Commerce Building speaking. I dare say you know me. There’s a new stock going to be thrown on the market soon,”—on the first call he had to think very hard to create a fictitious stock—“Consolidated Papier-Mache Furniture. In case you see a chance to get me any of this at any price within reason, call me at once—and keep my name out of it. Thank you, so much.”

In this way he determined in each instance that his man was alive and, so to speak, “kicking.” But in the ease of Perry L. Paddon, the fifth “crooked king” whose productive game was Florida Grape Fruit Groves, and whose offices were in the New York Life Building, he received the cen­tralic communication: “Service is discontinued.” Undaunted, he found that gentleman’s residence ’phone, accompanied by the street number 724, Ashland Boulevard, and calling it found by the reply that he was in communication with the switchboard of the fashionable Sportsmen’s Club.

“Does Perry L. Paddon have quarters here?” he asked gruffly.

“Mr. Perry L. Paddon did have quarters here,” came a girl’s voice. “But he’s dead.”

“Dead!” ejaculated Eaves. “D—dead, eh? How—how’d he die? And when? This is—is a friend from out of town.”

“Mr. Paddon ran over the open draw of the Quincy Street bridge on the night of the tenth of August in his car and was drowned. It was in the Chicago papers.” The girl’s voice paused. “Let you speak to his valet, who’s workin’ here for another gentleman, if you want any information.”

“Put him on the wire,” snapped Eaves.

A clicking, and a man’s voice.

“Mr. Smith’s quarters.”

“Who is speaking?”

“Charles Goring, Mr. Smith’s valet.”

“You were formerly Mr. Perry L. Paddon’s valet?”

“Yessir.”

“Well this is a business friend of Mr. Paddon’s here in Chicago. Perhaps you can give me some information. Just got into Chicago. Did Mr. Paddon receive any playing cards by mail before his death, so far as you know? There was a certain code message supposed to be forwarded to me in a stock transaction, and I’ve—er—heard something to the effect that–”

“Well—yes, sir, there was. I remember him getting a deck of cards in the mail, and one of the four kings had a black border painted all around it in ink. There was a threat with it, too; some sort of saying as how he would be draped in crepe like the court-card if he didn’t close up his business in a week. He threw the whole thing into the fire, though, figuring it was from some crank. Of course that wasn’t the code message you’re referring to, sir?”

“No—I guess not,” said Eaves. “My code message wouldn’t have any threats accompanying it. Thanks, my man.” And he hung up without having once given his name to any party at the Sportsmen’s Club. He slumped into his chair, thinking. He had read all about the sensational skidding into the Chicago River of the man, one dark, rainy evening in August, car and all, and he recalled the gruesome description of the man’s body as it was recovered, floating with eyes distended. But the cursed extra paper he had bought—he determined at once to stop that paper, for he had caught error after error in it—had got the name in its haste, P. L. Patton. And Patton was no other than Perry L. Paddon. And, somehow, in the tension of some stock sale, he must have muffed next morning’s paper giving the true details of the tragedy, and lost the information.

Back he went to the task in hand. In turn he called Douglas, Heatherington, Clair, Paulsenon, skipped John­stone Lee who had died, Rothblume, Cranleigh, and Von Toulee. Again in the case of Maurice L. Rothblume, the notorious Jewish stock juggler in the Lumber Exchange Building, he received startling information, namely: That the firm was being operated under that name by the junior partner, but that Rothblume himself had passed to the Great Beyond. And for details he was shifted by the clerk to Rothblume’s LaSalle Avenue residence, and like a hound on the trail he stuck to the scent. A rich Jewish voice—which proved to be that of Miss Leah Rothblume—answered the ’phone.

Yes, her father had died in the latter part of August.

“I am sorry to tell you,” she said, accepting Eaves’s usual story without a question, “that father was found dying on the night of August 21, in Tower Square, on the North Side, and never recovered consciousness. It was apoplexy. He owned property on Tower Court and must have gone over there on foot after the close of business to look over it. He never spoke after they found him that bleak, rainy night, and died in the Nurse Cavell Memorial Hospital, near where he was found.”

“Miss Rothblume,” said Eaves, “I was a friend of your father—knew him well. I was out of town four days at the time of this, and being in a phase of the brokerage business where we do not meet and gossip much, never even knew of his death. May—may I ask you if you feel quite sure it was apoplexy? Could it have been foul play, perhaps? Were any threatening letters sent him prior to his death, so far as you know?”

“No,” the Jewish girl replied. “Only a deck of cards with some card missing—the king—I believe, and some rubber-stamped threats about closing up his business within a certain time—a week, I believe. He told us of the threats after he had thrown them away. Purely a coincidence, though. The police ambulance physician pronounced it apoplexy.”

Eaves nodded sympathetically to the transmitter. He detected the faintest trace of tears in the girl’s voice, and diplomatically said good-bye and hung up.

His gaze at the deck of cards and the cryptic rubber-stamped letter was more interested and worried now. His forehead was just a trifle moist, and he felt a little weak.

One thing was certain. Each of three men—three of the thirteen “crooked kings”—had received a concise and definite warning, accompanied by a symbol of his royal status. Each had evidently failed to heed his warning or to pay any attention to it. Each had apparently failed to “check up the deck,” or, if he had done so, had not considered the facts he had found as corroborative of the genuineness of the letter. And each of the three had died—a different death each time, yet a death that was far from pleasant to contemplate. What was the cause of Paddon’s death, who had received a deck of cards in the mails in the early part of August with a black border painted in ink around one of the kings, and a threat that he too would be “draped in crepe” unless he closed up his business? Was it heart disease? Was it an accident? Or was he slain, placed in his car that rainy day, full speed put on the machine, and car and driver sent headlong toward the open draw into the river? He wondered. And what was the truth concerning Rothblume, who had received a deck with one king missing, and had died in the latter part of August of apoplexy? Was it apoplexy? And of Johnstone Lee—recipient in the earlier part of September of a deck with two kings missing—who had gone out by “ptomaine poisoning?” Who really knew whether it was ptomaine poisoning, after all—if the man had never spoken after he had been found in his vestibule?

One thing, however, loomed up in J. Hamilton Eaves’s mind.

He—not of the thirteen kings of the Riswold’s Magazine expose—had for some inexplicable reason been delegated to be “the fourth king.”

He had received the fourth of four warnings, three of which had been followed by death.

Who was the sender, who signed himself by the bombastic and melodramatic title “Star of the Night”?

And how would he strike?

And when?

For, be it known, J. Hamilton Eaves was now working on the neatest trio of stock-selling propositions in his career—not the least lucrative of which was the Shanks Dictatograph. And he had no intentions whatsoever of quitting his business at this, of all stages. But he wished, nevertheless, as he passed a hand over his warm brow, that he was in sunny climes, far, far away!

 

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