And then, suddenly, every faculty instantly on the alert, he snatched up the envelope from the desk, and listened. Was it imagination, a trick of nerves, or—no, there it was again!—a footfall on the gravel walk at the front of the house. The sound became louder, clearer—two footfalls instead of one. It was Stangeist, and somebody was with him.
In an instant Jimmie Dale was across the room and kneeling again before the safe. His fingers were flying now. The envelope shot back into the pigeonhole from which he had taken it—the inner door of the safe closed silently and swiftly.
A dry chuckle came from Jimmie Dale’s lips. It was just like fiction, just precisely time enough to have accomplished what he had come for before he was interrupted, not a second more or less, the villain foiled at the psychological moment! The key was rattling in the front door now—they were in the hall—he could hear Stangeist’s voice—there came a dull glow from the hallway, following the click of an electric-light switch. The outer door of the safe swung shut, the bolts slid into place, the dial whirled under Jimmie Dale’s fingers. It was only a step to the portieres, the open window—and escape. He straightened up, stepped back, the portieres closed behind him—and the chuckle died on Jimmie Dale’s lips.
He was trapped—caught without so much as a corner in which to turn! Stangeist was even then coming into the room—and outside, darkly outlined, two forms stood just beneath the window. Instinctively, quick as a flash, Jimmie Dale crouched below the sill. Who were they? What did it mean? Questions swept in swift sequence through his brain. Had they seen him? It would be very dark against the background of the portieres, but yet if they were watching—he drew a breath of relief. He had not been seen. Their voices reached him in low, guarded whispers.
“Say, youse, Ike, pipe it! Dere’s a window open in the snitch’s room. Come on, we’ll get in dere. It’ll make the hair stand up on the back of his neck fer a starter.”
“Aw, ferget it!” replied another voice. “Can the tee-ayter stunt! Clarie leaves the front door unfastened, don’t he? An’ dey’ll be in dere in a minute now. Wotcher want ter do? Crab the game? He might hear us an’ fix Clarie before we had a chanst, the skinny old fox! An’ dere’s the light now—see! Beat it on yer toes fer the front of the house!”
The room was flooded with light. Through the portieres, that Jimmie Dale parted by the barest fraction of an inch, he could see Stangeist and another man, a thick-set, ugly-faced-looking customer—Clarie Deane, according to that brief, whispered colloquy that he had heard outside. He looked again through the window. The two dark forms had disappeared now, but they had disappeared just a few seconds too late—with the two other men now in the room, and one of them so close that Jimmie Dale could almost have reached out and touched him, it was impossible to get through the window without being detected, when the slightest sound would attract instant attention and equally instant suspicion. It was a chance to be taken only as a last resort.