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   Chapter 18 THE TRAP IS SPRUNG

Whispers at Dawn; Or, The Eye By Roy J. Snell Characters: 10268

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02


As a rule, Johnny was a heavy sleeper. All the strange doings of the past few days must have gotten on his nerves, for next morning, more than an hour before dawn, he found himself lying in bed wide awake, thinking.

The ceiling of his room, he noticed, had dropped again during the night. This neither surprised nor disturbed him. In fact, in this strange house had the attraction of gravity been reversed and had he found his bed resting on the ceiling instead of the floor, he would not have been greatly surprised.

He was, however, curious about many things. This room that had a way of growing small, with its strange light where there were no lamps, intrigued him.

The matter of the locked door of the previous day had been solved. Felix had been experimenting with a new type of time lock and had forgotten to throw the electrical switch that controlled it.

"But that living picture on the wall!" Johnny thought to himself. "How is one to explain that?

"And the whisper? Where does that come from? It can't be a broadcast, and he can't be close at hand." Drew had told him the evening before that Grace Krowl had said she had heard the Whisperer in her room more than a mile away.

"The message was not the same," he told himself. "Not nearly the same. She did not get my message. I did not get hers. He is a very particular person, this Whisperer."

His thoughts went back to that day he bought the express package that had come so near causing his death.

"And I had those bonds!" he groaned aloud. How was this affair to end? Would Drew Lane and his band come up with these outlaws? Would there be a battle? Would he, Johnny Thompson, be in at the finish? He devoutly hoped so. He thought again of Madame LeClare and her fine children who had lost a father. He saw the dark, smiling eyes of Alice. "As long as God gives us breath!" he repeated. It was a pledge and a prayer.

His thoughts had returned to the mysterious Whisperer when he was given a sudden start by the loud jangle of a bell.

He sprang out of bed. The bell appeared to be in the room. "Like an alarm clock," he told himself. "But there is no clock."

He looked at the reflector on the wall. The moonlight was falling upon it-or was that some other form of light? He could not tell. The sound seemed to come from there.

He began pacing the room. The bell still jangled. But of a sudden he halted in amazement. As he crossed before the reflector the sound had ceased for the space of a second, then began again. He tried it again and got the same result.

"That's strange!" he told himself.

Just then the jangling ceased and in its stead came the familiar voice of the Whisperer:

"Johnny! Johnny Thompson! Are you there? Are you awake?"

"The Whisperer?" Johnny breathed.

"Johnny," the message went on, "I have an important message for your friends. Phone them at once. The men they want are at 1046 Blair Street. They are in a small, yellow sedan. They are in a garage, having their car repaired. Hurry!"

Johnny did hurry. He called the shack and had Drew on the wire at once.

"Yes," Drew said, "Tom is here with me, and so are the Captain and Spider. Thanks for the tip, Johnny. We are on our way at once."

"Well, that's that!" Johnny sighed. He knew, though he regretted it tremendously, that he could not hope to join them in this adventure.

"Stay here and wait for any further message," he told himself. "Wonder if Drew and the rest will really come up to Iggy and his gang? If they do, man! oh, man!" He could just hear the guns popping.

There was, however, no such luck, at least for the moment. As the happy, fighting four, Drew and his band, neared the garage at 1046 Blair Street, they saw a low, yellow sedan pop out of the garage door and go speeding north.

"That's sure to be them. After them! Give her the gas!" the Captain shouted.

Drew sent the Captain's powerful car speeding after.

The yellow car shot straight north for a mile. Then it whirled round a corner on two wheels.

When Drew and his band rounded that corner there was no car in sight-only a huge, lumbering moving-van two blocks to the east.

"Street ends two blocks west," the Captain snapped. "Must have gone east. Drive slow and watch the north and south streets."

This they did. They were still going slow as they passed the van. Spider, who had been sitting in the back seat with Tom Howe, was startled a moment later to find that Tom was no longer with him. He was not in the car. He was gone.

* * * * * * * *

In the meantime, Johnny Thompson was in the midst of a strange discovery. Ten minutes after the first message had been delivered, the bell began its jangle once more.

"Hello!" Johnny exclaimed. "Big Ben again!"

Springing to his feet, he began walking back and forth before the round reflector. As on the other occasion, the bell ceased jangling as he passed.

A series of rapid experiments with a hat held in his hand showed him he could shut off the bell by holding the hat in certain positions. These positions, he found, must be higher and higher as he receded from the ref

lector toward the window.

"One thing I know," he assured himself. "That sound is produced by some force outside my window. And the person who produces it must be very high up.

"In fact-" He caught his breath as he looked out of the window and away to the east. "There is but one place it could come from. That is the top of the six hundred foot tower of the Sky Ride on those deserted Century of Progress grounds. The Whisperer-"

He broke off short to listen with all his ears. The ringing of that bell ceased, the whispered message was beginning.

* * * * * * * *

What had happened to the slender young detective, Tom Howe? Something rather strange, I assure you.

Having slipped from the slowly moving police car, he had mounted the running board of the vast lumbering van. From this point he slid to a position beside the driver. As he did this he prodded the driver in the ribs with an automatic and whispered, "You will drive as I say and where I say, or you are a dead man!"

The driver never took his eye from the road. He drove straight on.

* * * * * * * *

The message Johnny Thompson received after the second ringing of the bell was but a repetition of the first, so his mind was soon put to rest. He was left with plenty to wonder about, for all that.

But dawn was now breaking. Like departing fairies, the Whisperer had other business that must be attended to. He was heard next in Grace Krowl's little parlor on Maxwell Street.

"Christmas Eve will be here in three more days," he was saying. "On Christmas Eve everyone is in a mellow mood. That is the time for confiding secrets. On that evening, my friend Grace, you are to invite Nida McFay to your room, seat her beside your table and induce her to tell her story. I shall be looking in upon you from my high tower a mile away."

"High tower, a mile away!" she thought. "How can one see that far? And the shade is always half drawn. It is impossible!" And yet, the Whisperer had more than once convinced her that he did see her face.

"But Christmas Eve!" she exclaimed indignantly. "How can one ask another to bare her life's secrets at such a time?"

It was a sober-faced Grace Krowl who seated herself before the table for a few moments of quiet thought. In the days just past she had tried out her plan of writing to people whose stories she had found in lost trunks. She had offered to return all their little treasures without cost. The results had been disappointing and disheartening. Their attitude she had found difficult to understand. In their letters they seemed to say, "You have all the things in my trunk. You have a right to none of them." She had returned the pictures and letters from six trunks. She had paid the express charges out of her own meager funds. Not one of them all had made an effort to repay these charges.

"Not one returned to thank me." She stared at the wall. "Can it be that uncle is right? That I am merely letting myself get 'soft'?"

She thought of the priceless Bible tucked away at the bottom of the little horsehair trunk. Is it strange that a half-formed hope should enter her mind, the hope that no one would appear to claim that treasure, and that she might have it for her very own?

"A fortune! Thousands of dollars!" she whispered. "And yet-"

* * * * * * * *

When Tom Howe mounted to the seat of that lumbering van he took one look through a narrow slit of a window behind the driver. The inside of the van at that time was completely dark.

After riding with the driver for fully two miles and directing his course all this time, Tom cast another sidewise look through that window. His lips parted in an unuttered exclamation. The back of the van was now open, the gate was down, and back two blocks, just turning the corner, was a low, yellow sedan.

His face was a mask as he turned his attention once more to the street that lay ahead. Two blocks before them a red crossing light gleamed. As the van paused for this light, he sprang from the seat and was away like a shot.

"Well! What became of you?" the Captain roared as a half hour later he entered the shack.

"You lost their trail?" Tom grinned.

"I'll say we did!"

"So did I," Tom said quietly. "In the end I did. But I stayed with them longer than you did."

"You stayed?" Drew exploded.

"Sure I did. You remember that van on the street? They were in there, car and all! Pulled a swift one on us. Driver lowered the back gate and they drove up and in. Then he lifted the gate.

"I had 'em trapped like rats, I thought. I'd have made the driver take that van right into our squad-car garage. And then, would there have been fun!"

"But what happened?" Drew was staring now.

"Near as I can find out, the driver released the gate with some foot control. Iggy and his gang took the hint and backed right out while we were going. I saw them shoot round a corner. The trap was sprung, no rat in it-so I came home.

"How about a cup of coffee?" He moved toward the stove in the corner.

"Well that," Drew said slowly, "is something!"

"There'll be another day," the Captain grumbled.

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