It was baffling, puzzling, unbelievable, bordering, indeed, on the miraculous--herself, everything about her, her acts, her methods, her cleverness, intangible in one sense, were terrifically real in another.Jimmie Dale shook his head.The miraculous and this practical, everyday life were wide and far apart.There was nothing miraculous about it--it was only that the key to it was, so far, beyond his reach.
And then suddenly Jimmie Dale shrugged his shoulders in consonance with a whimsical change in both mood and thought.
"Larry the Bat, is a hard taskmaster!" he muttered facetiously.
"I'm afraid I'm not very presentable this evening--no bath this morning, and no shave, and, after nearly a month of make-up, that beastly grease paint gets into the skin creases in a most intimate way." He chuckled as the thought of old Jason, his butler, came to him."I saw Jason, torn between two conflicting emotions, shaking his head over the black circles under my eyes last night--he didn't know whether to worry over the first signs of a galloping decline, or break his heart at witnessing the young master he had dandled on his knees going to the damnation bowwows and turning into a confirmed roue! I guess I'll have to mind myself, though.Even Carruthers detached his mind far enough from his editorial desk and the hope of exclusively publishing the news of the Gray Seal's capture in the MORNING NEWS-ARGUS, to tell me I was looking seedy.
It's wonderful the way a little paint will metamorphose a man!
Well, anyway, here's for a good hot tub to-night, and a fresh start!
He quickened his pace.There were still three blocks to go, and here was no hurrying, jostling crowd to impede his progress; indeed, as far as he could see up the Drive, there was not a pedestrian in sight.And then, as he walked, involuntarily, insistently, his mind harked back into the old groove again.
"I've tried to picture her," said Jimmie Dale softly to himself.
"I've tried to picture her a hundred, yes, a thousand times, and--"A bus, rumbling cityward, went by him, squeaking, creaking, and rattling in its uneasy joints--and out of the noise, almost at his elbow it seemed, a voice spoke his name--and in that instant intuitively he KNEW, and it thrilled him, stopped the beat of his heart, as, dulcet, soft, clear as the note of a silver bell it fell--and only one word:
He whirled around.A limousine, wheels just grazing the curb, was gliding slowly and silently past him, and from the window a woman's arm, white-gloved and dainty, was extended, and from the fingers to the pavement fluttered an envelope--and the car leaped forward.
For the fraction of a second, Jimmie Dale stood dazed, immovable, a gamut of emotions, surprise, fierce exultation, amazement, a strange joy, a mighty uplift, swirling upon him--and then, snatching up the envelope from the ground, he sprang out into the road after the car.
It was the one chance he had ever had, the one chance she had ever given him, and he had seen--a white-gloved arm! He could not reach the car, it was speeding away from him like an arrow now, but there was something else that would do just as well, something that with all her cleverness she had overlooked--the car's number dangling on the rear axle, the rays of the little lamp playing on the enamelled surface of the plate! Gasping, panting, he held his own for a yard or more, and there floated back to him a little silvery laugh from the body of the limousine, and then Jimmie Dale laughed, too, and stopped--it was No.15,836!
He stood and watched the car disappear up the Drive.What delicious irony! A month of gruelling, ceaseless toil that had been vain, futile, useless--and the key, when he was not looking for it, unexpectedly, through no effort of his, was thrust into his hand--No.15,836!
Jimmie Dale, the gently ironic smile still on his lips, those slim, supersensitive fingers of his subconsciously noting that the texture of the envelope was the same as she always used, retraced his steps to the sidewalk.
"Number fifteen thousand eight hundred and thirty-six," said Jimmie Dale aloud--and halted at the curb as though rooted to the spot.It sounded strangely familiar, that number! He repeated it over again slowly: "One-five-eight-three-six." And the smile left his lips, and upon his face came the look of a chastened child.She had used a duplicate plate! Fifteen thousand eight hundred and thirty-six was the number of one of his own cars--his own particular runabout!
For a moment longer he stood there, undecided whether to laugh or swear, and then his eyes fastened mechanically on the envelope he was twirling in his fingers.Here, at least, was something that was not elusive; that, on the contrary, as a hundred others in the past had done, outlined probably a grim night's work ahead for the Gray Seal! And, if it were as those others had been, every minute from the moment of its receipt was precious time.He stepped under the nearest street light, and tore the envelope open.
Frank Lucius Packard