The Ear in the Wall by Arthur B. Reeve - HTML preview
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With the arrest of Dopey Jack, it seemed as if all the forces of the gang world were solidified for the final battle.
Carton had been engaged in a struggle with the System so long that he knew just how to get action, the magistrates he could depend on, the various pitfalls that surrounded the snaring of one high in gangland, the judges who would fix bail that was prohibitively high.
As he had anticipated and prepared for, every wire was pulled to secure the release of Rubano. But Carton was fortunate in having under him a group of young and alert assistants. It took the combined energies of his office, however, to carry the thing through and Kennedy and I did not see Carton again for some time.
Meanwhile we were busy gathering as much information as we could about those who were likely to figure in the case. It was remarkable, but we found that the influence of Dorgan and Murtha was felt in the most unexpected quarters. People who would have talked to us on almost any other subject, absolutely refused to become mixed up in this affair. It was as though the System practised terrorism on a large scale.
Late in the afternoon we met in Carton's office, to compare notes on the progress made during the day.
The District Attorney greeted us enthusiastically.
"Well," he exclaimed as he dropped into his big office chair, "this has been a hard day for me--but I've succeeded."
"How?" queried Kennedy.
"Of course the newspapers haven't got it yet," pursued Carton, "but it happened that there was a Grand Jury sitting and considering election cases. It went hard, but I made them consider this case of Dopey Jack. I don't know how it happened, but I seem to have succeeded in forcing action in record time. They have found an indictment on the election charges, and if that falls through, we shall have time to set up other charges against him. In fact we are 'going to the mat,' so to speak, with this case."
The office telephone rang and after a few sentences of congratulation, Carton turned to us, his spirits even higher than before. "That was one of my assistants," he explained, "one of the cleverest. The trial will be before Judge Pomeroy in General Sessions and it will be an early trial. Pomeroy is one of the best of them, too--about to retire, and wants to leave a good record on the bench behind him. Things are shaping up as well as we could wish for."
The door opened and one of Carton's clerks started to announce the name of a visitor.
"Mr. Carton, Mr.--"
"Murtha," drawled a deep voice, as the owner of the name strode in, impatiently brushing aside the clerk. "Hello, Carton," greeted the Sub-boss aggressively.
"Hello, Murtha," returned Carton, retaining his good temper and seeing the humour of the situation, where the practice of years was reversed and the mountain was coming to Mahomet. "This is a little--er--informal--but I'm glad to see you, nevertheless," he added quietly. "Won't you sit down? By the way, meet Mr. Kennedy and Mr. Jameson. Is there anything I can do for you?"
Murtha shook hands with us suspiciously, but did not sit down. He continued to stand, his hat tilted back over his head and his huge hands jammed down into his trousers pockets.
"What's this I hear about Jack Rubano, Carton?" he opened fire. "They tell me you have arrested him and secured an indictment."
"They tell the truth," returned Carton shortly. "The Grand Jury indicted Dopey Jack this afternoon. The trial---"
"Dopey Jack," quoted Murtha in disgusted tones. "That's the way it is nowadays. Give a dog a bad name--why,--I suppose this bad name's going to stick to him all his life, now. It ain't right. You know, Carton, as well as I do that if they charged him with just plain fighting and got him before a jury, all you would have to say would be, 'Gentlemen, the defendant at the bar is the notorious gangster, Dopey Jack.' And the jurors wouldn't wait to hear any more, but'd say, 'Guilty!' just like that. And he'd go up the river for the top term. That's what a boy like that gets once the papers give him such an awful reputation. It's fierce!"
Carton shook his head. "Oh, Murtha," he remonstrated with just a twinkle in his eye, "you don't think I believe that sort of soft stuff, do you? I've had my eye on this 'boy'--he's twenty-eight, by the way--too long. You needn't tell me anything about his respectable old father and his sorrowing mother and weeping sister. Murtha, I've been in this business too long for that heart throb stuff. Leave that to the lawyers the System will hire for him. Let's cut that out, between ourselves, and get down to brass tacks."
It was a new and awkward role for Murtha as suppliant, and he evidently did not relish it. Aside from his own interest in Dopey Jack, who was one of his indispensables, it was apparent that he came as an emissary from Dorgan himself to spy out the land and perhaps reach some kind of understanding.
He glanced about at us, with a look that broadly hinted that he would prefer to see Carton alone. Carton made no move to ask us to leave and Kennedy met the boss's look calmly. Murtha smothered his rage, although I knew he would with pleasure have had us stuck up or blackjacked.
"See here, Carton." he blurted out at length, approaching the desk of the District Attorney and lowering his big voice as much as he was capable, "can't we reach some kind of agreement between ourselves? You let up on Rubano--and--well, I might be able to get some of my friends to let up on Carton. See?"
He was conveying as guardedly as he could a proposal that if the District Attorney would consent to turn his back while the law stumbled in one of the numerous pitfalls that beset a criminal prosecution, the organization would deliver the goods, quietly pass the word along to knife its own man and allow Carton to be re-elected.
I studied Carton's face intently. To a man of another stripe, the proposal might have been alluring. It meant that although the organization ticket won, he would, in the public eye at least, have the credit of beating the System, of going into office unhampered, of having assured beyond doubt what was at best only problematical with the Reform League.
Carton did not hesitate a moment. I thought I saw in his face the same hardening of the lines of his features in grim determination that I had seen when he had been talking to Miss Ashton. I knew that, among other things, he was thinking how impossible it would be for him ever to face her again in the old way, if he sold out, even in a negative way, to the System.
Murtha had shot his huge face forward and was peering keenly at the man before him.
"You'll--think it over?" he asked.
"I will not--I most certainly will not," returned Carton, for the first time showing exasperation, at the very assumption of Murtha. "Mr. Murtha," he went on, rising and leaning forward over the desk, "we are going to have a fair election, if I can make it. I may be beaten--I may win. But I will be beaten, if at all, by the old methods. If I win--it will be that I win--honestly."
A half sneer crossed Murtha's face. He neither understood nor cared to understand the kind of game Carton played.
"You'll never get anything on that boy," blustered Murtha. "Do you suppose I'm fool enough to come here and make a dishonest proposition--here--right in front of your own friends?" he added, turning to us. "--I ain't asking any favours, or anything dishonest. His lawyers know what they can do and what you can do. It ain't because I care a hang about you, Carton, that I'm here. If you want to know the truth, it's because you can make trouble, Carton,--that's all. You can't convict him, in the end, because-- you can't. There's nothing 'on' him. But you can make trouble. We'll win out in the end, of course." "In other words, you think the Reform League has you beaten?" suggested Carton quietly.
"No," ejaculated Murtha with an oath. "We don't know--but maybe YOU have us beaten. But not the League. We don't want you for District Attorney, Carton. You know it. But here's a practical proposition. All you have to do is just to let this Rubano case take its natural course. That's all I ask."
He dwelt on the word "natural" as if it were in itself convincing. "Why," he resumed, "what foolishness it is for you to throw away all your chances just for the sake of hounding one poor fellow from the East Side. It ain't right, Carton,--you, powerful, holding an important office, and he a poor boy that never had a chance and has made the most of what little nature gave him. Why, I've known that boy ever since he hardly came up to my waist. I tell you, there ain't a judge on the bench that wouldn't listen to what we can show about him--hounded by police, hounded by the District Attorney, driven from pillar to post, and---"
"You will have a chance to tell the story in court," cut in Carton. "Pomeroy will try the case."
"Pomeroy?" repeated Murtha in a tone that quite disguised the anger he felt that it should come up before the one judge the System feared and could not control. "Now, look here, Carton. We're all practical men. Your friend--er--Kennedy, here, he's practical."
Murtha had turned toward us. He was now the Murtha I had heard of before, the kind that can use a handshake or a playful slap on the back, as between man and man, to work wonders in getting action or carrying a point. Far from despising such men as Murtha, I think we all rather admired his good qualities. It was his point of view, his method, his aim that were wrong. As for the man himself he was human--in fact, I often thought far more human than some of the reformers.
"I'll leave it to Kennedy," he resumed. "Suppose you were running a race. You knew you were going to win. Would you deliberately stop and stick your foot out, in order to trip up the man who was coming in second?"
"I don't know that the cases are parallel," returned Kennedy with an amused smile.
Murtha kept his good nature admirably.
"Then you would stick your foot out--and perhaps lose the race yourself?" persisted Murtha.
"I'll relieve Kennedy of answering that," interrupted Carton, "not because I don't think he can do it better than I can, perhaps, but because this is my fight--my race."
"Well," asked Murtha persuasively, "you'll think it over, first, won't you?" Carton was looking at his opponent keenly, as if trying to take his measure. He had some scheme in mind and Kennedy was watching the faces of both men intently.
"This race," began Carton slowly, in a manner that showed he wanted to change the subject, "is different from any other in the politics of the city as either of us have ever known it, Murtha."
Murtha made as though he would object to the proposition, but Carton hurried on, giving him no chance to inject anything into the conversation.
"It may be possible--it is possible," shot out the young District Attorney, "to make use of secret records--conversations--at conferences--dinners--records that have been taken by a new invention that seems to be revolutionizing politics all over the country."
The look that crossed Murtha's face was positively apoplectic. The veins in his forehead stood out like whipcords.
He started to speak, but choked off the words before he had uttered them. I could almost read his mind. Carton had said nothing directly about the Black Book, and Murtha had caught himself just in time not to betray anything about it.
"So," he shouted at last, "you are going to try some of those fine little scientific tricks on us, are you?"
He was pacing up and down the room, storming and threatening by turns.
"I want to tell you, Carton," pursued Murtha, "that you're up against a crowd who were playing this game before you were born. You reformers think you are pretty smooth. But we know a thing or two about you and what you are doing. Besides," he leaned over the desk again, "Carton, there ain't many men that can afford to throw stones. I admit my life hasn't been perfect--but, then I ain't posing as any saint. I don't mind telling you that the organization, as you call it, is looking into some of the things that you reformers have done. It may be that some of your people-- some of the ladies," he insinuated, "don't look on life in the broad-minded way that some of the rest do. Mind you--I ain't making any threats, but when it comes to gossip and scandal and mud-slinging--look out for the little old organization--that's all!"
Carton had set his tenacious jaw. "You can go as far as you like, Murtha," was all he said, with a grim smile.
Murtha looked at him a moment, then his manner changed.
"Carton," he said in a milder tone, at length, "what's the use of all this bluffing? You and I understand each other. These men understand--life. It's a game--that's what it is--a game. Sometimes one move is right, sometimes another. You know what you want to accomplish here in this city. I show you a way to do it. Don't answer me," persisted Murtha, raising a hand, "just--think it over."
Carton had taken a step forward, the tense look on his face unchanged. "No," he exclaimed, and we could almost hear his jaw snap as if it had been a trap. "No--I'll not think it over. I'll not yield an inch. Dopey Jack goes to trial before election."
As Carton bit off the words, Murtha became almost beside himself with rage and chagrin. He was white and red by turns. For a moment I feared that he might do Carton personal violence.
"Carton," he ground out, as he reached the door, "you will regret this."
"I hope not," returned the other summoning with a mighty effort at least the appearance of suavity. "Good-bye."
The only answer was the vicious slam which Murtha gave the door.
As the echo died, the District Attorney turned to us. "Apparently, then, Dorgan did not secure the Black Book," was all he said, "even supposing Dopey Jack planned and executed that robbery of Langhorne."