The Rat Racket - LightNovelsOnl.com
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The Old Man walked across the room, kicking the struggling bodies of his followers out of his pathway. Rats ran up his legs and tried to bite his hands, his face; he swept them off him as a tiger would wipe ants off his fur; at last he came to the window. There was the city of New York in front of him, the city of a million twinkling lights, the tomb of a billion dead hopes; the Morgue of a Nation, covered by laughing, painted faces. He raised the sash and sat on the sill.
"d.a.m.n Willowby!" he said. "What a fool I was. But I am going to die clean. No rat is going to send me to h.e.l.l!"
And then he dropped.
In the room the struggle kept on--for an hour and then two. At last the screaming ceased, and the only sound was the gnawing of the rats, the crunching of their teeth and their satisfied, little squeaks of pleasure.
The next morning Winifred Willowby called on the Chief of the Secret Service of New York. With him were several men from Was.h.i.+ngton.
"I want to tell you something," he said. "A large group of men borrowed my office to have a meeting last night. They wanted privacy and secrecy and they had heard of my place in the Empire Trust Building. So I loaned them the entire floor for the night. But my janitors tell me that something terrible happened. An army of rats invaded the place, as they have been doing with other places in the city, and literally ate every man there; that is, all except one, a fellow by the name of Consuelo, and he preferred to jump out of a window and die clean on the pavement."
"Consuelo?" asked the Chief. "Not the Old Man? Not _that_ Consuelo?"
"I think that is the one. Here is a list of the men who were there. I thought you might like to look it over before you gave it to the papers."
The Chief took the list and read it, puzzled.
"Do you mean these men were there last night?"
"I understand so."
"And now they are dead?"
"I think so. Of course, that is for the coroner to say."
"Do you know who these men were?"
"I suppose they were business a.s.sociates of Consuelo. At least, that is what he told me."
"They were the hundred biggest gangsters in America. They were the brains of everything vicious in American society. There is not a man there whom we have not been after for years, but we just couldn't pin anything on them. Their death in one night gives the decent people in our country a new lease on life. We can go ahead now and get the little fellows. But, tell me, Mr. Willowby, how did it happen?"
"I told you. They had a meeting and the rats came. You know there was a rat racket which no one thoroughly understood. Anyway, the rats came--and killed them. No one can tell exactly what did happen, because everyone who was there was killed. That is all. I am sorry that it happened in my office--but I thought I was doing the man a favor to loan him the place for the meeting."
That night Crawford and Willowby were talking things over. In rushed Rastell and Wilson, brus.h.i.+ng the indignant butler aside.
"We have heard a thousand rumors," began Rastell, "and read as many foolish statements in the papers about the rat tragedy, and we just couldn't wait a minute longer. You just have to tell us what happened.
We are not going to leave you till you do."
"You tell them, Crawford," whispered Willowby. "Whenever I talk about it, my voice becomes squeaky."
"It happened this way," explained Crawford. "After you started to work, Mr. Willowby decided to go over and study the story of the Piper right in the town of Hamelin. We went there and there was no doubt that the town people really believed that it really happened. They told us all about it, and the more we listened and paid them, the more they told.
They gave us the very tune the Piper played to make the rats follow him.
It was a simple little thing, and we made some phonograph records of it.
It seems that when the rats hear that tune, they want to get as close as they can to the source of the music. Then one old man--he gave us some additional bars which he claimed drove the rats frantic for blood, and we made a record of that also.
"Afterwards we came back to America and went up into Pike County. Not so many rats there but enough to experiment with. We tried the short tune and the long tune and they worked on the American rats just like they did on the Hamelin ones. We put two and two together and decided that the rat racketeers in New York were using this method of attracting rats. Just put a repeating phonograph in a building and start it playing, and then the rats would come and eat everything to pieces. Of course, we did not know the psychology of it, but I suppose it has something to do with the effect of musical vibrations on the rat's nervous system.
"Then Mr. Willowby thought that it would be a good idea to make a great rat trap and attract all the rats in the city to it. He had a good deal of work done in the Empire Trust, and rigged up a phonograph with a lot of loud speakers in different parts of the bas.e.m.e.nt. He ran a lot of ropes down a ventilating shaft for the rats to climb on. I think it was his original idea to have them come up to his office by the millions and then use some kind of gas on them. At least, he wanted to get rid of the rats. Someone must have turned on the phonograph with the entire record.
Mr. Willowby left the room, went down the elevator and being somewhat absent-minded, told the elevator boy that he could go for the night. Of course, he was surprised to hear all about it the next morning. All he wanted to do was to get rid of the rats."
"Exactly!" purred Mr. Winifred Willowby.
And he lit another cigarette.
 When the magician (the Piper) had led the one hundred and thirty children out of the city, two hundred and seventy-two years before the gate was built.