From the street rose the rumble of a motor, punctuated by a horn that honked.
“There’s the cab, now,” announced Mrs. Inche briskly. “Shake yourself out of that coat and into this—and hustle!”
“It’s my impressionable nature makes all my troubles,” observed P. Sybarite disconsolately. “However...”
Shrugging into the coat Mrs. Inche held for him, he cocked the felt hat jauntily on the side of his head.
“Always,” he proclaimed with gesture—hand on heart—“always the ladies’ slave!”
But when it came to viscid second thought, alone in the gloom of an unsympathetic taxicab, P. Sybarite inclined to concede himself more ass than hero. It was all very well to say that, having spread his sails to the winds of Kismet, he was bound to let himself drift to their vagrant humour: but there are certain channels of New York life into which even the most courageous mariner were ill-advised to adventure under pilotage no more trustworthy than that of sufficient champagne and a run of good luck.
Dutch House in Fortieth Street, West, wore the reputation of being as sinister a dive as ever stood cheek-by-jowl with Broadway and brazenly flaunted an all-night liquor license in the face of law-abiding New York; of which it was said that no sober man ever went there, other than those who went to prey, and that no drunkard ever escaped from it unfleeced; haunt of the most deadly riff-raff to be found in Town, barring inmates of certain negro stews on the lower West Side and of some of the dens to which the sightseer does not penetrate in the tour of Chinatown.
Grim stories were current of men who had wandered thither in their cups, “for the lark of it,” only to return to consciousness days afterwards, stripped, shorn, and shattered in health bodily and mental, to find themselves in some vile kennel miles from Dutch House; and of other men who passed once through its foul portals and—passed out a secret way, never to return to the ken of their friends....
Yet it stood, and it stands, waxing fat in the folly of man and his greed.
And to this place P. Sybarite was travelling to deliver a message from a famous demi-rep to a notorious gang leader; with only a .25 calibre Colt’s automatic and his native wit and audacity to guard the moderate fortune that he carried with him in cash—a single hundredth part of which would have been sufficient to purchase his obliteration at the hands of the crew that ran the place.
However, in their ignorance his safety inhered; and it was not really necessary that he advertise his swollen fortunes; and as for the gold in his trousers pocket—a ponderable weight, liable to chink treacherously when he moved—P. Sybarite removed this and thoughtfully cached it under one of the cushions of his cab. It seemed a long chance to take with a hundred dollars: but a hundred dollars wasn’t a great deal, after all, to a man as flush as he; and better lose it all (said he) than make a noise like a peripatetic mint in a den of thieves and worse....