“Only you never quite did, eh?” cut in Jimmie Dale slyly. “How near did you get, old man? Come on, now, no bluffing; did the Gray Seal ever even recognise you as a factor in the hare-and-hound game?”
“You’re flicking on the raw, Jimmie,” Carruthers answered, with a wry grimace. “He knew me, all right, confound him! He favoured me with several sarcastic notes—I’ll show ’em to you some day—explaining how I’d fallen down and how I could have got him if I’d done something else.” Carruthers’ fist came suddenly down on the table. “And I would have got him, too, if he had lived.”
“Lived!” ejaculated Jimmie Dale. “He’s dead, then?”
“Yes,” averted Carruthers; “he’s dead.”
“H’m!” said Jimmie Dale facetiously. “I hope the size of the wreath you sent was an adequate tribute of your appreciation.”
“I never sent any wreath,” returned Carruthers, “for the very simple reason that I didn’t know where to send it, or when he died. I said he was dead because for over a year now he hasn’t lifted a finger.”
“Rotten poor evidence, even for a newspaper,” commented Jimmie Dale. “Why not give him credit for having, say—reformed?”
Carruthers shook his head. “You don’t get it at all, Jimmie,” he said earnestly. “The Gray Seal wasn’t an ordinary crook—he was a classic. He was an artist, and the art of the thing was in his blood. A man like that could no more stop than he could stop breathing—and live. He’s dead; there’s nothing to it but that—he’s dead. I’d bet a year’s salary on it.”
“Another good man gone wrong, then,” said Jimmie Dale capriciously. “I suppose, though, that at least you discovered the ’woman in the case’?”
Carruthers looked up quickly, a little startled; then laughed shortly.
“What’s the matter?” inquired Jimmie Dale.
“Nothing,” said Carruthers. “You kind of got me for a moment, that’s all. That’s the way those infernal notes from the Gray Seal used to end up: ‘Find the lady, old chap; and you’ll get me.’ He had a damned patronising familiarity that would make you squirm.”
“Poor old Carruthers!” grinned Jimmie Dale. “You did take it to heart, didn’t you?”
“I’d have sold my soul to get him—and so would you, if you had been in my boots,” said Carruthers, biting nervously at the end of his cigar.
“And been sorry for it afterward,” supplied Jimmie Dale.
“Yes, by Jove, you’re right!” admitted Carruthers, “I suppose I should. I actually got to love the fellow—it was the game, really, that I wanted to beat.”
“Well, and how about this woman? Keep on the straight and narrow path, old man,” prodded Jimmie Dale.
“The woman?” Carruthers smiled. “Nothing doing! I don’t believe there was one—he wouldn’t have been likely to egg the police and reporters on to finding her if there had been, would he? It was a blind, of course. He worked alone, absolutely alone. That’s the secret of his success, according to my way of thinking. There was never so much as an indication that he had had an accomplice in anything he ever did.”