The telephone on Decker’s desk jingled, and the Captain snatched it up on the first ring.
“Decker. What is it?”
“Call on the other line, sir. Urgent police business,” the officer at the switchboard reported.
Decker highly doubted it. He had been waiting on the edge of his seat all evening for this call.
“Fine. Put it through.”
There was a click and a hum as the lines connected.
“Time for me to make good on my end, Decker,” hissed the Saboteur. “Listen good. The Showstopper’s name is Tom Wilkins. He was a janitor at the Royale and a couple other joints. I have his apartment number and some other places you might find him. Write these down, and try not to cock it up.”
Decker pulled a piece of paper and a pencil toward him and scribbled down the building numbers and street names, a smile growing on his face. Finally, after all the waiting, the humiliation, and the disrespect he had put up with for the past few weeks, the Showstopper would be his prisoner. He could smell the promotions and commendations already.
“That’s it. You got it all, guv’nor?”
“Yes,” said Decker, feeling supremely confident. “And by the way, Archer, let me just say that it was always slightly nauseating doing business with you. Good-bye, and good riddance.”
“Go on,” said the Saboteur, his voice dripping with condescension. “Have your last little joke on me. I really don’t give a rat’s ass what you think. Just know that if you mess up, you’re dead. And I’m not guaranteeing you’ll go quickly. Understand?”
“Perfectly,” said Decker, slamming down the phone and studying the addresses on the paper. He felt the childish urge to go find Calvin and wave it in his fat, dullard face just to show him how hopelessly incompetent he really was, but he dismissed the thought immediately. It wouldn’t do to have anyone asking too many questions about where he had gotten the information until the Showstopper was in his hands. After that, no one would care about the how anyway.
He picked up the telephone again and reconnected with the operator.
“Kelly, get on the horn to all the squads in the precinct. Tell them we have the Showstopper’s location, and that they are to get their gear and saddle up. We’ve got a murderer to catch. I want them ready in ten minutes.”
The officer began to ask some question or other, but Decker hung up before he could go too far. He was in command now. There would be no more second-guessing, moralizing, or questioning of authority. He would throw the Showstopper in the lockup and become the biggest hero Broadway had ever known. And if Jack Archer decided to get in his way or bother him again…
Well, there were always more cells.
Wilkins ducked into the dark alley and flattened himself against the bricks as another troop of loud and heavily armed policemen tramped by.
It seemed like the entire city was engaged in this manhunt. He had been dodging patrols like that since his escape from the Royale, and he was so on edge that he hadn’t even stopped to change out of his Showstopper attire. Not that it would do him much good if he came up against one of those gangs of thugs. He might be able to take out a few of them, but he wasn’t optimistic about his chances in a fight.
Listening to the voices of the policemen trail off into the distance, Wilkins slid out of the shadows and hurried on up the street, constantly glancing over his shoulder. Passing one intersection, he was alarmed to see a veritable wall of officers surrounding a high-rent, Gothic-style apartment building that he recognized as Reg’s place of residence.
It must have been a coincidence. Of all the buildings in the city, why would they stake out a place like that as a possible haven for the Showstopper?
Unless McKenna had told them. The excitable fool must have spilled his guts to someone and compromised his most powerful ally, damn him. And he had wanted to be friends? With friends like that, who needed enemies?
But then he realized there was another possibility: Archer. If the Saboteur had gotten wind of his feelings for Jennifer, what else might he know about him? Surely divining the identity of his closest confidant would not be difficult in comparison.
No matter what the case was, it didn’t bode well for his chances of escape. If Reg told them about the devices he had commissioned for him, that would almost certainly be evidence enough to brand him with Archer’s crimes. In addition, the absence of the Saboteur’s influence at the Royale made Wilkins very nervous indeed. McKenna had been right about one thing; it didn’t make sense for Archer to suddenly change his ways and settle for a night free of violence. That lunatic was up to something, and he was sure that whatever it was would not be good, for him or for anyone else.
He passed the Curtain Call, which was also in the process of being turned upside-down by police. Uniformed men threw crates full of illegal liquor carelessly on the ground, the bottles breaking and their contents running into the gutter, while stray dogs and cats stopped to lap it up. Several patrons were also in police custody, including Crane. The massive bouncer put up a valiant struggle, but was clubbed into submission by a gang of six or more officers.
It couldn’t be a coincidence. The police were targeting places that Wilkins frequented. He didn’t think McKenna could have known about the speakeasy, so that only left Archer.
His nervousness was replaced by cold, creeping rage. Just add it to the list of the things the madman had to answer for. When Wilkins got his hands on him, he would answer for all of them, and then some.
A few minutes later, Wilkins rounded the corner onto his street and, seeing no police as of yet, raced down the sidewalk and ducked through the door of the apartment building. It seemed somewhat strange that no one had thought of checking his own room yet, but he supposed that the last place anyone would expect a fugitive on the run to flee to would be his own home. So much the better for him.
With as much speed as he could muster without making noise, he tiptoed up the stairs to his room. The building was deserted and eerily silent, but he still thought he could feel invisible eyes watching him every step of the way.
The plan was simple. He would get into his room, grab all the gear that he could carry, and then track down Archer to make him pay for what he had done. He would be damned before he handed the Saboteur over to the police. Justice would be served, but his way, and on his terms. People like McKenna didn’t have the stomach to do what needed to be done.
He reached the top of the stairway and darted down the short hall to his door. He reached for the knob, but at the last second pulled his hand away again.
Wilkins had seen something on the floor that made his heart rate jump into overtime: a small sliver of wood that he habitually shut in the doorjamb to ensure that no one entered his apartment without his knowledge. Normally, he would be inclined to believe he had just forgotten to pick it up when he last left. But now…
Slowly, he put his hand on the knob and pushed the door open, the oiled hinges almost completely silent. Praying that the rickety floorboards wouldn’t creak, he snuck into the apartment and locked the door after him. If anyone was still here, they would have to go through him.
Wilkins slunk across the small room, ducking around the corner to peer into the kitchen with his fists at the ready, but there was no one there. He glanced across at the window: it was closed and locked. Whoever had been here had probably left some time ago, and for the life of him he couldn’t see what they had been after. Nothing was out of place or missing.
Of course, there was one place left that he had not checked, and it was the most important of all.
He quickly pulled the crate over and climbed onto it, fumbling with the secret ceiling panel. He had to get his gear and get out fast. If the police had been informed about the other places he had seen, they would no doubt be here soon enough.
As he shoved the panel aside, he suddenly realized that the pounding in his ears was not just his heart, but also a loud and methodical ticking that was terrifyingly familiar. Wilkins pulled a match out of his pocket and struck it on his shoe, holding the flame aloft to peer into the dim light it provided.
Bang! Bang! Bang!
“Mr. Wilkins, this is the police. Open up. Now!”
The match slipping out of his numb fingers, Wilkins stepped down from the chair and faced the door in a state of total shock.
So this was how it ended. He had lost, and Archer had won.
“Mr. Wilkins? Mr. Wilkins?” the officer on the other side of the door growled. “All right, he isn’t coming quietly. Break it down!”
There was a sickening crack as the door splintered and fell off its hinges, and a troop of policemen stormed into the room, guns at the ready.
“Police! Freeze! Hands on your head!”
Wilkins hung his head, defeated, but didn’t move an inch. It didn’t matter anymore. There was no escape for any of them.
“I said put your hands on your head, scum!” the lead officer barked, wiping sweat out of his eyes with a sleeve. “I won’t ask again, you worthless…”
“Sarge,” interrupted one of his subordinates, “listen. What’s that sound?”
“Yeah,” remarked another. “Is that some kind of clock or…”
And then the world was engulfed in fire.
The telephone rang again.
“Decker here. Yes. I see. For the love of God, Sergeant, cut to the chase. What the hell is going on?”
The Captain’s eyes nearly popped out of his head.
“Excuse me? Come again?” he sputtered. “The room did what? Yes, yes! Calm down, man. You’re certain? Report back when you know exactly what happened. Right.”
Decker dropped the receiver onto the desk and put his head in his hands, praying to the God he now fervently hoped existed that this was all just a horrible dream.
You can find the full version of Kyle Robertson’s debut novel, “The Showstopper!”, available online at Amazon or on Kindle.