“What the hell is this?” said Morrissy.
“It’s up to Mr. Warrington to explain.” McQuade grinned. That grin, however, nearly cost him his life.
“John, remember your promise!” cried Warrington.
John sat down, seized with a species of vertigo.
“McQuade, you wrote that.”
“Me? You’re crazy!”
“Not at all. Let me advise you. The next time you put your hand to anonymous letters, examine the type of your machine. There may be some bad letter.”
“I don’t know what you’re driving at,” McQuade declared.
“I see that I must read this, then, to convince you.” Warrington stood up, his back toward Bennington. He unfolded the carbon sheet and began to read.
McQuade saw Medusa’s head, little versed as he was in mythology. He lowered his cigar. The blood in his face gradually receded.
“‘In two sums of five hundred each,’” Warrington went on.
Morrissy, who suddenly saw visions of bars and stripes, made a quick, desperate spring. Warrington struck him with full force on the side of the head. Morrissy reeled, stumbled to the floor and lay there. The others were on their feet instantly.
“Stay where you are, John; I don’t need any assistance. Now, McQuade, I’ve got you where I want you.” Warrington spoke with deadly calm now. “This carbon was found in your waste-basket and brought to me. The girl is where you can not find her. There are two courses open to you.”
“What are they?” There was murder in McQuade’s heart, but there was reason in his head. He saw exactly where he stood. They had him.
“One is state’s prison; the other is a full retraction of this base calumny. Take your choice.”
“It’s true, every damn word of it,” said Bolles venomously. “Your janitor in New York told me the facts. You know they’re true.”
“Bolles, I nearly killed you one night. So help me, if you do not withdraw that, I’ll kill you here and now!” It was the first time Bennington had spoken.
“Bolles,” said McQuade, “did you sell a lie to me?”
Bolles eyed Bennington, who had pushed Warrington out of the way and was moving toward him. He saw death on Bennington’s face. Warrington again interposed, but John swept him aside with ease.
“Well, there was a doctor and a nurse there all night with them. But she was in Warrington’s rooms all night. That seemed enough for me.” Bolles put the table between him and Bennington. He was genuinely afraid.
Morrissy turned over and sat up, rubbing his head. Presently he pulled himself to his feet. He was dazed. Recollection of what had happened returned to him. This dude had knocked him out.
“You’ll pay well for that,” he said.
“Sit down. It’s only a marker for what I’ll do to you if you make another move. Now, McQuade, which is it?”
“Go ahead and write your letter,” McQuade snarled.