Jimmie Dale’s fingers were mechanically testing the mechanism of the automatic in his pocket.
“The Skeeter’s gang!” he muttered to himself. “Red Mose, the Midget, Harve Thoms—and the Skeeter! The Worst apaches in the city of New York; death contractors—the lowest bidders! Professional assassins, and a man’s life any time for twenty-five dollars! I wonder—I’ve never done it yet—but I wonder if it would be a crime in God’s sight if one shot—to kill!”
Jimmie Dale was at the corner again—again the street before him was black, deserted, empty. He chose the right hand side, and, well in the shadow of the houses, as an extra precaution, stole along silently. He stopped finally before one where, in the doorway, hung a little sign. Jimmie Dale mounted the porch, and with his eyes close to the sign could just make out the larger words in the big printed type:
ROOM TO RENT
Jimmie Dale nodded. That was right. The first house on the right-hand side, with the room-to-rent sign, her letter had said. His fingers were testing the doorknob. The door was not locked.
“Naturally, it wouldn’t be locked,” Jimmie Dale told himself grimly—and stepped inside.
He stood for an instant without movement, every faculty on the alert. Far up above him a step, guarded though his trained ear made it out to be, creaked faintly upon the stairs—there was no other sound. The creaking, almost inaudible at its loudest, receded farther up—and silence fell.
In the darkness, noiselessly, Jimmie Dale groped for the stairway, found it, and began to ascend. The minutes passed—it seemed a minute even from step to step, and there were three flights to the top! There must be no creaking this time—the slightest sound, he knew well enough, would be not only fatal to the work he had to do, but probably fatal to himself as well. He had been near death many times—the consciousness that he was nearer to it now, possibly, than he had ever been before, seemed to stimulate his senses into acute and abnormal energy. And, too, the physical effort, as, step by step, the flexed muscles relaxing so slowly, little by little, gradually, each time as he found foothold on the step higher up, was a terrific strain. At the top his face was bathed in perspiration, and he wiped it off with his coat sleeve.
It was still dark here, intensely dark, and his eyes, though grown accustomed to it, could make out nothing but the deeper shadow of the walls. But thanks to her, always a mistress of accurate and minute detail, he possessed a mental plan of his surroundings. The head of the stairs gave on the middle of the hallway—the hallway ran to his right and left. To his right, on the opposite side of the hall, was the door of old Luddy’s squalid two-room apartment.