Guy Garrick by Arthur B. Reeve - HTML preview
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In spite of the agitation that was going on at the time in the city against gambling, we had no trouble in being admitted to the place in Forty-eighth Street. They seemed to recognise Warrington, for no sooner had the lookout at the door peered through a little grating and seen him than the light woodwork affair was opened.
To me, with even my slender knowledge of such matters, it had seemed rather remarkable that only such a door should guard a place that was so notorious. Once inside, however, the reason was apparent. It didn't. On the outside there was merely such a door as not to distinguish the house, a three-story and basement dwelling, of old brownstone, from the others in the street.
As the outside door shut quickly, we found ourselves in a sort of vestibule confronted by another door. Between the two the lookout had his station.
The second door was of the "ice-box" variety, as it was popularly called at the time, of heavy oak, studded with ax-defying bolts, swung on delicately balanced and oiled hinges, carefully concealed, about as impregnable as a door of steel might be.
There were, as we found later, some steel doors inside, leading to the roof and cellar, though not so thick. The windows were carefully guarded inside by immense steel bars. The approaches from the back were covered with a steel network and every staircase was guarded by a collapsible door. There seemed to be no point of attack that had been left unguarded.
Yet, unless one had been like ourselves looking for these fortifications, they would not have appeared much in evidence in the face of the wealth of artistic furnishings that was lavished on every hand. Inside the great entrance door was a sort of marble reception hall, richly furnished, and giving anything but the impression of a gambling house. As a matter of fact, the first floor was pretty much of a blind. The gambling was all upstairs.
We turned to a beautiful staircase of carved wood, and ascended. Everywhere were thick rugs into which the feet sank almost ankle deep. On the walls were pictures that must have cost a small fortune. The furniture was of the costliest; there were splendid bronzes and objects of art on every hand.
Gambling was going on in several rooms that we passed, but the main room was on the second floor, a large room reconstructed in the old house, with a lofty ceiling and exquisitely carved trim. Concealed in huge vases were the lights, a new system, then, which shed its rays in every direction without seeming to cast a shadow anywhere. The room was apparently windowless, and yet, though everyone was smoking furiously, the ventilation must have been perfect.
There was, apparently, a full-fledged poolroom in one part of the house, closed now, of course, as the races for the day were run. But I could imagine it doing a fine business in the afternoon. There were many other games now in progress, games of every description, from poker to faro, keno, klondike, and roulette. There was nothing of either high or low degree with which the venturesome might not be accommodated.
As Warrington conducted us from one room to another, Garrick noted each carefully. Along the middle of the large room stretched a roulette table. We stopped to watch it.
"Crooked as it can be," was Garrick's comment after watching it for five minutes or so.
He had not said it aloud, naturally, for even the crowd in evening clothes about it, who had lost or would lose, would have resented such an imputation. For the most part there was a solemn quiet about the board, broken only by the rattle of the ball and the click of chips. There was an absence of the clink of gold pieces that one hears as the croupier rakes them in at the casinos on the continent. Nor did there seem to be the tense faces that one might expect. Often there was the glint of an eye, or a quick and muffled curse, but for the most part everyone, no matter how great a loser, seemed respectable and prosperous. The tragedies, as we came to know, were elsewhere.
We sauntered into another room where they were playing keno. Keno was, we soon found, a development or an outgrowth of lotto, in which cards were sold to the players, bearing numbers which were covered with buttons, as in lotto. The game was won when a row was full after drawing forth the numbers on little balls from a "goose."
"Like the roulette wheel," said Garrick grimly, "the 'goose' is crooked, and if I had time I could show you how it is done."
We passed by the hazard boards as too complicated for the limited time at our disposal.
It was, however, the roulette table which seemed to interest Garrick most, partly for the reason that most of the players flocked about it.
The crowd around the table on the second floor was several deep, now. Among those who were playing I noticed a new face. It was of a tall, young man much the worse, apparently, for the supposed good time he had had already. The game seemed to have sobered him up a bit, for he was keen as to mind, now, although a trifle shaky as to legs.
He glanced up momentarily from his close following of the play as we approached.
"Hello, W.," he remarked, as he caught sight of our young companion. A moment later he had gone back to the game as keen as ever.
"Hello, F.," greeted Warrington. Then, aside to us, he added, "You know they don't use names now in gambling places if they can help it. Initials do just as well. That is Forbes, of whom I told you. He's a young fellow of good family--but I am afraid he is going pretty much to the bad, or will go, if he doesn't quit soon. I wish I could stop him. He's a nice chap. I knew him well at college and we have chummed about a great deal. He's here too much of the time for his own good."
The thing was fascinating, I must admit, no matter what the morals of it were. I became so engrossed that I did not notice a man standing opposite us. I was surprised when he edged over towards us slowly, then whispered to Garrick, "Meet me downstairs in the grill in five minutes, and have a bite to eat. I have something important to say. Only, be careful and don't get me 'in Dutch' here."
The man had a sort of familiar look and his slang certainly reminded me of someone we had met.
"Who was it?" I inquired under my breath, as he disappeared among the players.
"Didn't you recognize him?" queried Garrick. "Why, that was Herman, Dillon's man,--the fellow, you know, who is investigating this place."
I had not recognized the detective in evening clothes. Indeed, I felt that unless he were known here already his disguise was perfect.
Garrick managed to leave Warrington for a time under the pretext that he wanted him to keep an eye on Forbes while we explored the place further. We walked leisurely down the handsome staircase into the grill and luncheon room downstairs.
"Well, have you found out anything?" asked a voice behind us. We turned. It was Herman who had joined us. Without pausing for an answer he added, "I suppose you are aware of the character of this place? It looks fine, but the games are all crooked, and I guess there are some pretty desperate characters here, from all accounts. I shouldn't like to fall afoul of any of them, if I were you."
"Oh, no," replied Garrick, "it wouldn't be pleasant. But we came in well introduced, and I don't believe anyone suspects."
Several others, talking and laughing loudly to cover their chagrin over losses, perhaps, entered the buffet.
With the gratuitous promise to stand by us in trouble of any kind, Herman excused himself, and returned to watch the play about the roulette table.
Garrick and I leisurely finished the little bite of salad we had ordered, then strolled upstairs again.
The play was becoming more and more furious. Forbes was losing again, but was sticking to it with a grim determination that was worthy of a better cause. Warrington had already made one attempt to get him away but had not succeeded.
"Well," remarked Garrick, as we three made our way slowly to the coatroom downstairs, "I think we have seen enough of this for to- night. It isn't so very late, after all. I wonder if it would be possible to get into that ladies' poolroom on the next street? I should like to see that place."
"Angus could get us in, if anyone could," replied Warrington thoughtfully. "Wait here a minute. I'll see if I can get him away from the wheel long enough."
Five minutes later he came back, with Forbes in tow. He shook hands with us cordially, in fact a little effusively. Perhaps I might have liked the young fellow if I could have taken him in hand for a month or two, and knocked some of the silly ideas he had out of his head.
Forbes called a taxicab, a taxicab apparently being the open sesame. One might have gone afoot and have looked ever so much like a "good thing" and he would not have been admitted. But such is the simplicity of the sophistication of the keepers of such places that a motor car opens all locks and bolts.
It seemed to be a peculiar place and as nearly as I could make out was in a house almost in the rear of the one we had just come from.
We were politely admitted by a negro maid, who offered to take our coats.
"No," answered Forbes, apparently with an eye to getting out as quickly as possible, "we won't stay long tonight. I just came around to introduce my friends to Miss Lottie. I must get back right away."
For some reason or other he seemed very anxious to leave us. I surmised that the gambling fever was running high and that he had hopes of a change of luck. At any rate, he was gone, and we had obtained admittance to the ladies' pool room.
We strolled into one of the rooms in which the play was on. The game was at its height, with huge stacks of chips upon the tables and the players chatting gayly. There was no large crowd there, however. Indeed, as we found afterward, it was really in the afternoon that it was most crowded, for it was rather a poolroom than a gambling joint, although we gathered from the gossip that some stiff games of bridge were played there. Both men and women were seated at the poker game that was in progress before the little green table. The women were richly attired and looked as if they had come from good families.
We were introduced to several, but as it was evident that they were passing under assumed names, whatever the proprietor of the place might know of them, I made little effort to remember the names, although I did study the faces carefully.
It was not many minutes before we met Miss Lottie, as everyone called the woman who presided over this feminine realm of chance. Miss Lottie was a finely gowned woman, past middle age, but remarkably well preserved, and with a figure that must have occasioned much thought to fashion along the lines of the present slim styles. There seemed to be a man who assisted in the conduct of the place, a heavy-set fellow with a closely curling mustache. But as he kept discreetly in the offing, we did not see much of him.
Miss Lottie was frankly glad to see us, coming so well introduced, and outspokenly disappointed that we would not take a seat in the game that was in progress. However, Garrick passed that over by promising to come around soon. Excise laws were apparently held in puny respect in this luxurious atmosphere, and while the hospitable Miss Lottie went to summon a servant to bring refreshments--at our expense--we had ample opportunity to glance about at the large room in which we were seated.
Garrick gazed long and curiously at an arc-light enclosed in a soft glass globe in the center of the ceiling, as though it had suggested an idea of some sort to him.
Miss Lottie, who had left us for a few moments, returned unexpectedly to find him still gazing at it.
"We keep that light burning all the time," she remarked, noticing his gaze. "You see, in the daytime we never use the windows. It is always just like it is now, night or day. It makes no difference with us. You know, if we ever should be disturbed by the police," she rattled on, "this is my house and I am giving a little private party to a number of my friends."
I had heard of such places but had never seen one before. I knew that welldressed women, once having been caught in the toils of gambling, and perhaps afraid to admit their losses to their husbands, or, often having been introduced through gambling to far worse evils, were sent out from these poker rendezvous to the Broadway cafes, there to flirt with men, and rope them into the game.
I could not help feeling that perhaps some of the richly gowned women in the house were in reality "cappers" for the game. As I studied the faces, I wondered what tragedies lay back of these rouged and painted faces. I saw broken homes, ruined lives, even lost honor written on them. Surely, I felt, this was a case worth taking up if by any chance we could put a stop or even set a limitation to this nefarious traffic.
"Have you ever had any trouble?" Garrick asked as we sipped at the refreshments.
"Very little," replied Miss Lottie, then as if the very manner of our introduction had stamped us all as "good fellows" to whom she could afford to be a little confidential in capturing our patronage, she added nonchalantly, "We had a sort of wild time a couple of nights ago."
"How was that?" asked Garrick in a voice of studied politeness that carefully concealed the aching curiosity he had for her to talk.
"Well," she answered slowly, "several ladies and gentlemen were here, playing a little high. They--well, they had a little too much to drink, I guess. There was one girl, who was the worst of all. She was pretty far gone. Why, we had to put her out--carry her out to the car that she had come in with her friend. You know we can't stand for any rough stuff like that--no sir. This house is perfectly respectable and proper and our patrons understand it."
The story, or rather, the version of it, seemed to interest Garrick, as I knew it would.
"Who was the girl?" he asked casually. "Did you know her? Was she one of your regular patrons?"
"Knew her only by sight," returned Miss Lottie hastily, now a little vexed, I imagined, at Guy's persistence, "like lots of people who are introduced here--and come again several times."
The woman was evidently sorry that she had mentioned the incident, and was trying to turn the conversation to the advantages of her establishment, not the least of which were her facilities for private games in little rooms in various parts of the house. It seemed all very risque to me, although I tried to appear to think it quite the usual thing, though I was careful to say that hers was the finest of such places I had ever seen. Still, the memory of Garrick's questioning seemed to linger. She had not expected, I knew, that we would take any further interest in her story than to accept it as proof of how careful she was of her clientele.
Garrick was quick to take the cue. He did not arouse any further suspicion by pursuing the subject. Apparently he was convinced that it had been Rena Taylor of whom Miss Lottie spoke. What really happened we knew no more now than before. Perhaps Miss Lottie herself knew--or she might not know. Garrick quite evidently was willing to let future developments in the case show what had really happened. There was nothing to be gained by forcing things at this stage of the game, either in the gambling den around the corner or here.
We chatted along for several minutes longer on inconsequential subjects, treating as important those trivialities which Bohemia considers important and scoffing at the really good and true things of life that the demi-monde despises. It was all banality now, for we had touched upon the real question in our minds and had bounded as lightly off it as a toy balloon bounds off an opposing surface.
Warrington had kept silent during the visit, I noticed, and seemed relieved when it was over. I could not imagine that he was known here inasmuch as they treated him quite as they treated us.
Apparently, though, he had no relish for a possible report of the excursion to get to Miss Winslow's ears. He was the first to leave, as Garrick, after paying for our refreshments and making a neat remark or two about the tasteful way in which the gambling room was furnished, rescued our hats and coats from the negro servant, and said good-night with a promise to drop in again.
"What would Mrs. de Lancey think of THAT?" Garrick could not help saying, as we reached the street.
Warrington gave a nervous little forced laugh, not at all such as he might have given had Mrs. de Lancey not been the aunt of the girl who had entered his life.
Then he caught himself and said hastily, "I don't care what she thinks. It's none of her---"
He cut the words short, as if fearing to be misinterpreted either way.
For several squares he plodded along silently, then, as we had accomplished the object of the evening, excused himself, with the request that we keep him fully informed of every incident in the case.
"Warrington doesn't wear his heart on his sleeve," commented Garrick as we bent our steps to our own, or rather his, apartment, "but it is evident enough that he is thinking all the time of Violet Winslow."