She lingered a few moments at some of the other counters, aimlessly inspecting their offerings, and at last, with ten minutes left to reach the Ritz, emerged from the store. She was amazed to see the man who had been inside now standing near the entrance, and something within warned her that he had been waiting to speak to her. As she attempted to pass him quickly, he stepped in front of her, blocking her path, but raising his hat deferentially.
"I beg your pardon, Miss Strong," he said, "may I have a word with you?"
Compelled to halt, she looked at him both appraisingly and resentfully.
There was nothing offensive nor flirtatious in his manner, and he seemed far too respectably dressed to be a beggar. He was almost old enough to be her father, and besides there was about him an indefinable air of authority that commanded her attention. She decided that, unusual as his request appeared, she would hear what he had to say.
"What is it?" she asked, trying to assume an air of hauteur but without being able wholly to mask her curiosity.
"You are an American, aren't you?" he asked abruptly.
"A good American?"
"I hope so." She decided now that he must be one of the members of some Red Cross fund "drive," or perhaps an overenthusiastic salesman for government bonds. "But I don't quite understand what it is that you wish."
"I can't explain," said her questioner, "but if you really are a good American and you'd like to do your country a great service--an important service--go at once to the address on this card."
She took the slip of white pasteboard handed her. On it was written in pencil "Room 708." The building was a skyscraper down-town.
"What is it?" she asked half indignantly, "a new scheme to sell bonds?"
"No, no, Miss Strong," he cried, "it is nothing like that. It is a great opportunity to do an important service for America."
"How did you know my name?"
"I heard you give it to the clerk just now."
"And why," she inquired with what she intended to be withering sarcasm, "have I been selected so suddenly for this important work?"
"I heard the address you gave, that's why," he answered. "That's what makes it so important that you should go to that number at once. Ask for Mr. Fleck."
"I can't go," she temporized. "I am on my way now to meet my mother at the Ritz."
"Go to-morrow, then," he insisted. "I'll see Mr. Fleck meanwhile and tell him about you."
Puzzled at the man's unusual and wholly preposterous request, yet in spite of herself impressed by his evident sincerity, Jane turned the card nervously in her hand and discovered some small characters on the back; "K-15" they read.