"Come along without any fuss and there won't be trouble," said the tall man with the protruding lower lip.
"And remember, anything you say will—" the fat man under the stiff straw hat warned, the rest of the prescribed caution dying somewhere within the folds of his burly neck.
A frown of perplexed interrogation reduced the none too ample area between Tom Doody's eyebrows and the roots of his hair. He cleared his throat uneasily and asked, "But what's it for?"
The protruding lower lip overlapped the upper in a smile that tempered derision with indulgence. "You ought to be able to guess—but it ain't a secret. You're arrested for stealing sixty-five thousand dollars from the National Marine Bank. We found the dough where you hid it, and now we got you."
"That's what," the fat man corroborated.
Tom Doody leaned across the plain table in the visitors' room and bent his beady eyes on the tired, middle-aged eyes of the woman from the Morning Bulletin.
"Miss Envers, I have served three and a half years here and I've got nearly ten more to do, taking in account what I expect to get off for good behaviour. A long time, I guess you think; but I'm telling you that I don't regret a minute of it." He paused to let this startlng assertion sink in, and then leaned forward again over hands that lay flat, palms down, fingers spread, on the top of the table.
"I came in here, Miss Envers, a safe-burglar that had been caught for the first and only time in fifteen years of crime. I am going out of here completely reformed, and with only one aim in my life; and that's to do all I can to keep other people from following in my footsteps. I'm studying, and the chaplain is helping me, so that when I get out I can talk and write so as to get my message across. I used to be pretty good at reciting and making speeches when I was a kid in school and I guess it'll come back to me all right. I'm going from one end of the country to the other, if I have to ride freights, telling of my experiences as a criminal, and the light that busted—burst on me here in prizon. I know what it is, and lots of people that maybe wouldn't listen to a preacher or anybody else will pay attention to me. They'll know that I know what I am talking about, that I've been through it, that I'm the man who robbed the National Marine Bank and lots of others."
"You were very nearly acquitted, weren't you ?" Evelyn Envers asked.
"Yes, nearly," the convict said, "and as truly as I'm sitting here, Miss Envers, I thank God that I was convicted!"
He stopped and tried to read surprise in the faded grey eyes across the table. Then he went on. "But for that—the chance for self-knowledge and thought that this place has gave—has given me—I might have gone on and on, might never have come to an understanding of what it means to be a Christian and know the difference between right and wrong. Here in prison I found for the first time in my life, liberty—yes liberty!—freedom from the bonds of vice and crime and self-destruction!" With this paradox he rested.
"Have you made any other plans for your career after leaving here?" the woman asked.
"No. That's too far ahead. But I am going to spend the rest of my life spreading the truth about crime as I know it, if I have to sleep in gutters and live on stale bread!"
"He's a fraud, of course," Evelyn Envers told her typewriter as she slid a sheet of paper into it, "but he'll make as good a story as anything else."
So she wrote a column about Tom Doody and his high resolves, and because the thought behind his reformation was so evident to her she took special pains with the story, gilding the shabbier of his mouthings and garnishing the man himself with no inconsiderable appeal.
For several days after the story's appearance letters came to the Morning Bulletin Readers' Forum, commenting on Tom Doody and tendering suggestions of various sorts.
The Rev. Randall Gordon Rand made Tom Doody the subject of one of his informal Sunday talks.
And then John J. Kelleher, 1322 Britton Street, was crushed to death by a furniture van after pushing little Fern Bier, five-year-old daughter to Louis Bier, 1304 Britton Street, to safety; and it developed that Kelleher had been convicted of burglary several years before, and was out on parole at the time of the accident.
Evelyn Envers wrote a column about Kelleher and his dark-eyed little wife, and with doubtful relevance brought Tom Doody into the last paragraph. The Chronicle and the Intelligencer printed editorials in which Kelleher's death was adduced as demonstrative of the parole system's merit.
On the afternoon before the next regular meeting of the State Parole Board the football team of the state university—three members of the board were ardent alumni—turned a defeat into victory in the last quarter.
Tom Doody was paroled.
From his room on the third floor of the Chapham Hotel, Tom Doody could see one of the posters. Red and black letters across a fifteen-by-thirty field of glaring white gave notice that Tom Doody, a reformed safe-burglar of considerable renown, would talk at the Lyric Theatre each night for one week on the wages of sin.
Tom Doody tilted his chair forward, rested his elbows on the sill, and studied the poster with fond eyes. That billboard was all right —though he had thought perhaps his picture would be on it. But Fincher had displayed no enthusiasm when a suggestion to that effect had been made, and whatever Fincher said went. Fincher was all right. There was the contract Fincher had given him—a good hundred dollars more a week than he had really expected.
And then there was that young fellow Fincher had hired to put Tom Doody's lecture in shape. There was no doubt that the lecture was all right now.
The lecture began with his childhood in the bosom of a loving family, carried him through the usual dance-hall and pool-room introductions to gay society, and then rose in a crescendo of vague but nevertheless increasingly vicious crime to a smashing climax with the burglary of the National Marine Bank's $65,000, the resultant arrest and conviction, and the new life that had dawned as he bent one day over his machine in the prison jute-mill. Then a tapering off with a picture of the criminal's inherent misery and the glory of standing four-square with the world. But the red meat of it was the thousand and one nights of crime—that was what the audience would come to hear.
The young fellow who had been hired to mould and polish the Doody epic had wanted concrete facts—names and dates and amounts—about the earlier crimes; but Tom Doody had drawn the line there, protesting that such a course would lay him open to arrest for felonies with which the police had heretofore been unable to connect him, and Fincher had agreed with him.
The truth of it was that there were no crimes prior to the National Marine Bank burglary—that unexpected conviction was the only picturesque spot in Tom Doody's life. But he knew too much to tell Fincher that. At the time of his arrest the newspapers and the police—who, for quite perceptible reasons, pretend to see in every apprehended criminal an enormously adept and industrious fellow—had brought to light hundreds of burglaries, and even a murder or two, in which this Tom Doody might have been implicated. He felt that these fanciful accusations had helped expedite his conviction, but now the fanfare was to be of value to him—as witness the figure on his contract. As a burglar with but a single crime to his credit he would have been a poor attraction on the platform, but with the sable and crimson laurels the police and the press had hung upon him, that was another matter.
For at least a year these black and red and white posters would accompany him wherever he went. His contract covered that period, and perhaps he could renew it for many years. Why not? The lecture was all right, and he knew he could deliver it creditably. He had rehearsed assiduously and Fincher had seemed pleased with his address. Of course he'd probably be a little nervous tomorrow night, when he faced an audience for the first time, but that would pass and he would soon feel at home in this new game. There was money in it—the ticket sales had been large, so Fincher said. Perhaps after a while?
The door opened violently and Fincher came into the room—an apoplectic Fincher, altogether unlike the usual smiling, mellow manager of Fincher's International Lecture Bureau.
"What's up?" Tom Doody asked, consciously keeping his eyes from darting furtively towards the door.
"What's up?" Fincher repeated the words, but his voice was a bellow.
"What's up?" He brandished a rolled newspaper shillalah-wise in Tom Doody's face. "I'll show you what's up!" He seemed to be lashing himself into more vehement furty with reiterations of the ex-convict's query, as lions were once said to do with their tails.
He straightened out the newspaper, smoothed a few square inches of its surface, and thrust it at Tom Doody's nose, with one lusty forefinger laid like an indicator on the centre of the sheet.
Tom Doody leaned back until his eyes were far enough away to focus upon the print around his manager's finger.
"That's what's up!" Fincher shouted, when Tom Doody had shifted his abject eyes from the paper to the floor. "Now I want that five hundred dollars I advanced to you!"
Tom Doody went through his pockets with alacrity that poorly masked his despair, and brought out some bills and a handful of silver. Fincher grabbed the money from the ex-convict's hands and counted it rapidly.
"Two hundred and thirty-one dollars and forty cents," he announced.
"Where's the rest?"
Tom Doody tried to say something but only muttered.
"Mumbling won't do any good," Fincher snarled. "I want my five hundred dollars. Where is it?"
"That's all I've got," Tom Doody whined. "I spent the rest, but I'll pay every cent of it back if you'll only give me time."
"I'll give you time, you dirty crook, I'll give you time!" Fincher stamped to the telephone. "I'll give you till the police get here, and if you don't come across I'm going to swear out a warrant for obtaining money under false pretences!"