He turned and regarded the face of the black marble clock on the mantel-piece. As he looked the face of the clock was violently shattered, and so, but on a lower level, was a pane of glass in the window immediately opposite.
Abe Lichtenstein fell face down upon his unfinished manuscript.
Then he began to speak in a quiet voice. “Never touched me. Bubbles. Pull that cord at the right of the window. That will close the curtains. Careful not to show yourself. The man that fired that shot thinks he got me. I fell over to make him think so and to keep him from shooting again. Now then”—the curtain had been drawn over the window with the broken pane—“let’s see what sort of a gun our friend uses, and then perhaps we can spot our friend. Did you hear the shot?”
“No, sir. There was a noise just when the clock broke like when a steel girder falls on the sidewalk.”
“That noise was just before the clock broke, Bubbles. And it was loud enough to drown the noise of our friend’s gun. Clever work, though, to have to pull the trigger at a given moment, and to make such a close shot. Probably had his gun screwed in a vise.”
Meanwhile Lichtenstein had extracted from the ruined clock a .45-calibre bullet of nickel steel. A glance at the grooves made by the rifling of the barrel from which it had been expelled caused him to raise his colorless eyebrows and smile cynically.
“New government automatic, Bubbles,” he said, “and the funny part of it is they’ve only been issued to officers so far, and the factory hasn’t put ’em on sale yet.”
“Must have been stole from an officer, then,” said Bubbles.
“You steal her jewels from an actress,” said Lichtenstein, “her mite from the widow, its romances from the people, but you don’t steal his side arms from an American army officer. No. Somebody in the factory has let the weapon that fired this slip out. It doesn’t matter—it’s just a little link in the long chain.”
He seated himself calmly at the table and set down in black and white the fact that he had been very nearly murdered by a bullet fired from the new army pistol. Then he began to gather up the sheets of his manuscript.
“Now I wonder,” he said, “where I can go to finish this document? I don’t want them to ‘get’ me until I’ve paved the way for the man that comes after me. Now then—the secret passage isn’t only for the wicked.”
Kneeling on the clean hearth, Mr. Lichtenstein caused the ornamental cast-iron back of the fireplace to swing outward upon a hinge. Reaching a long arm into the disclosed opening, he unfastened and pushed ajar the iron back of a fireplace in the next house.
Bubbles, crawling through first, found himself in a somewhat overdressed pink and blue bedroom. The lace curtains were too elaborate. The room was luxurious and vulgar. Among the photographs on the centre-table reposed a champagne-bottle, three parts empty, and two glasses, in which a number of flies were heavily crawling.