Upstairs in his room Billy Kane changed from his dinner clothes into a dark tweed suit, a very less noticeable attire for that neighborhood where Antonio Laverto had his miserable home, and choosing a slouch hat, left the house. A bus took him down Fifth Avenue to Washington Square, and from there, crossing over Broadway, he continued on down the Bowery.

It was still early; and it was as though the night world here had not yet awakened from its day’s slumber. The “gape wagons” had not yet begun to bring their slumming parties to rub shoulders with the flotsam and jetsam of the underworld, and to shudder in pharisaical horror at “planted” fakes; true, the ubiquitous gasoline lamps glowed in useless yellow spots against the entirely adequate street lighting in front of many shops of all descriptions, and the pavements were alive with men, women and children of every conceivable nationality and station in life, but—Billy Kane smiled a little grimly, for he had learned a great deal, a very great deal in the last three months, about this section of his city—it was still early, and it was not yet the Bowery of the night.

Some half dozen blocks along, Billy Kane turned into a cross street and headed deeper into the East Side.

And now Billy Kane’s forehead drew together in puckered furrows, as he approached the lodging of Antonio Laverto, the cripple. In the inside pocket of his vest were two thousand dollars in cash, for the outlay of which, in spite of the old millionaire’s attitude in reference to it, he, Billy Kane, held himself morally responsible. The frown deepened. It was strange, very strange! He had logically convinced himself that Laverto’s was a worthy case—but the intuition that something was wrong would not down, and the nearer he approached the miserable and squalid dwelling in which the Italian lived, the stronger that intuition grew.

And then Billy Kane shrugged his shoulders. He could at least put the case to one more test, and if Laverto came through that all right that was the end of it, and the man got the money. Laverto would certainly not anticipate another visit this evening, so soon after the one of the afternoon; and if he could come unawares upon the man, and observe the other unawares perhaps, the chances were decidedly in favor of Laverto being caught napping if he were sailing under false colors.

Billy Kane, reaching his destination, paused in front of a tumble-down and dilapidated frame house, and glanced around him. The little side street here was dirty and ill-lighted, but populous enough. Small shops, many of them basement shops with cavernous, cellar-like entrances opening from the sidewalk, lined both sides of the street; for the rest, it was simply a matter of two rows of flanking, dingy tenements and old houses—save for the usual saloon, whose window lights were bright enough on the corner ahead.

The house door was wide open, and Billy Kane, pulling his slouch hat down over his eyes, stepped into the dark unlighted interior. The place was a hive of poverty, a miserable lodging house of the cheapest class; and the air was close, almost fetid, and redolent with the smell of garlic. How many humans eked out an existence here Billy Kane did not know; but, though he knew them to be woefully many, for he had seen a great number of them on his visit here that afternoon, the only evidence of occupancy now was the occasional petulant cry of a child from somewhere in the darkness, and a constant murmuring hum of voices from behind closed doors.

Antonio Laverto’s room was the second one on the right of the passage. Billy Kane moved quietly forward to the door, and stood there in the blackness for a moment listening. There was no sound from within; nor was there any light seeping through the keyhole or the door panels, which later, he remembered, were badly cracked. Satisfied that the cripple, unless he were asleep, was not inside, Billy Kane tried the door, and, finding it unlocked, opened it silently, and stepped into the room.

He lighted a match, held it above his head, and glanced around him. It was a pitiful abode, pitiful enough to excite anyone’s sympathy—as it had his own that afternoon. There was a cot in one corner with a thin, torn blanket for covering, a rickety chair, and an old deal table on which stood a cracked pitcher and wash basin, and the remains of a small loaf of bread.

The match went out, and Billy Kane retreated to the door, and from the door, to the street again. It was pretty bad in there, and evidently just as genuinely on the ragged edge of existence as it had been that afternoon—but still the persistent doubt in his mind would not down. It was a sort of dog in the manger feeling, and he did not like it, and it irritated him—but it clung tenaciously.

He lighted a cigarette, and, frowning, flipped the match stub away from him. In any case, he had to find the man before he went home, whether it resulted in his paying over the two thousand dollars or not. His eye caught the lighted window of the saloon, and he started abruptly forward in that direction. If there was anything at all in his suspicions, the saloon was the most likely place in the neighborhood where they would be verified; but in any event, the barkeeper, who probably knew everyone in the locality better than anyone else, could possibly supply at least a suggestion as to where the Italian spent his evenings and might be found.

Billy Kane chose the side entrance to the saloon—it would probably afford him a preliminary inspection of the place without being observed himself—and entered. He found himself in a passageway that was meagerly lighted by a gas jet, and that turned sharply at right angles a few steps ahead. He reached the turn in the passage, and halted suddenly, as a voice, curiously muffled, reached him. The passage here ahead of him, some four or five yards in length, was lighted by another gas jet, and terminated in swinging doors leading to the barroom; but halfway down its length, in a little recess, most thoughtfully situated for the privacy and convenience of the saloon’s perhaps none too reputable clientele, was a telephone booth.

Billy Kane drew back, and protected from view by the angle of the passage while he could still see the telephone booth himself quite plainly, stood motionless. The booth, like a good many others, was by no means sound-proof, and the voice, though muffled seemed strangely familiar to him. Billy Kane’s brows drew together sharply. Through the glass panel of the upper portion of the booth he could see the figure of a man of about his own height, and he could see, as the man stood a little sideways with his lips to the transmitter, the man’s profile.

And then Billy Kane, with a grim smile, reached suddenly up to the gas jet over his head and turned it out. This left him in darkness and made no appreciable diminution in the lighting of the passage leading to the barroom. The man who stood upright in the booth at full height, and who was speaking most excellent English, was Antonio Laverto, the maimed and broken cripple whose pitiful and heart-rending story had been so laboriously told in the few halting and hardly understandable words at his command!

And now, Billy Kane, listening, could make out snatches of what the man was saying.

“... That’s none of your business, and I guess the less you know about it the better for yourself.... What?... Yes, Marco’s—the second-hand clothes dealer.... What?... Yes, sure—by the lane.... The back door’s got a broken lock—it’s never been fixed since he moved in two weeks ago. All you got to do is walk in. It’s a cinch.... Sure, that’s right—that’s all you got to do. Marco don’t keep open in the evening and besides he’s away, you don’t need to worry about that.... Eh?... No, there won’t be no come-back.... You pull the break the way I tell you, and you get a hundred dollars in the morning.... What?... All right then, but don’t make any mistake. You got to be out of there before a quarter of eleven! Get me? Before a quarter of eleven—that’s all I care, and that’s give you all the time you want.... Eh?... Yes—sure.... Good-night.”

The grim smile was still on Billy Kane’s lips, as he crouched back against the wall. The door of the telephone booth opened, and Laverto stuck his head out furtively. The little black eyes, staring out of the thin, swarthy face, glanced up and down the passageway, and then the head seemed to shrink into the shoulders, the body to collapse, and, with legs twisted and dragging under him, there came the flop-flop of the palms of the man’s hands on the bare wooden flooring, as he started along the passageway.

But Billy Kane was already at the side door of the saloon—and an instant later he had swung around the street corner, and was heading briskly back in the direction of the Bowery. He laughed shortly, as his hand automatically crept into his inside pocket. The two thousand dollars were still there—and they would stay there! His intuition, after all, had not been at fault. The man was a vicious and damnable fraud, and, as a logical corollary to that fact, was moreover a dangerous and clever criminal. What was this “break” that was to be “pulled” at Marco’s before a quarter of eleven?

Quite mechanically Billy Kane looked at his watch. He and David Ellsworth had dined early, and it was even now barely eight o’clock. Billy Kane’s face hardened, as he walked along, reached the Bowery, and, by the same route he had come, gained Washington Square, and swung onto a Fifth Avenue bus. Why Marco’s? There was surely nothing worth while there! Marco’s was little more than a rag shop. He happened to know Marco, because on the corner next to the tumble-down place that, as Laverto had said, Marco had rented a week or so ago, there was a small notion shop kept by an old Irish widow by the name of Clancy, where, more than once on his visits to the East Side, he had dropped in to buy a paper or a package of cigarettes. Why Marco’s? It puzzled him. The old white-bearded, stoop-shouldered dealer did not seem to have much that was worth stealing!

The bus jolted on up the Avenue. Billy Kane shifted his position uneasily on the somewhat uncomfortably hard seat on the top of the bus. His first impulse had been to confront Laverto on the spot, but quick on the heels of that impulse had come a better plan. With rope enough the man would hang himself. If there was anything in this Marco affair, a robbery as was indicated, Marco would obviously report it to the police as soon as it was discovered, and he, Billy Kane, being in possession of the evidence that would convict its author, would then be in a position to put an end, for a good many years at least, to Laverto’s criminal career; and besides this, there was David Ellsworth—he did not want to wound or hurt the other’s finer sensibilities, but that David Ellsworth should see Laverto for himself in the latter’s true colors was essential, for it would and must make the old philanthropist in the future less the victim of that over-generous and spontaneous sympathy which was so easily excited by those who preyed upon him.

The thought of David Ellsworth brought back again the thought of David Ellsworth’s anonymous letter. Billy Kane lighted a cigarette, and smoked it savagely. It was someone of the same breed as Antonio Laverto, and for the same reason that Laverto would soon have for revenge, who had written that letter. He was quite sure of that in his own mind. What else, indeed, could it be? Not David Ellsworth’s explanation! That was entirely too chimerical! One by one he reviewed the cases where he had uncovered fraudulent attempts upon the old millionaire’s charity during the past three months; but, while more than one was concerned with characters vicious, dissolute and criminal enough, not one seemed to dovetail into the niche in which he sought to fit it.

A second cigarette followed the first, and his mind was still busy with his problem, as he pressed the button at the side of his seat, clambered down the circular iron ladder at the rear of the bus, stepped to the sidewalk as the bus drew up to the curb, and stood waiting for the bus to pass on—David Ellsworth’s residence was on the first corner down the cross street on the other side of the Avenue. The bus creaked protestingly into motion, and Billy Kane, in the act of stepping from the curb to cross the Avenue, paused suddenly, instead, as a voice spoke behind him.

“Begging your pardon, Mr. Kane, sir, may I speak to you for a moment?”

Billy Kane turned around abruptly. He stared at the other in surprise. It was Jackson, the footman.

“Why yes, of course. But what on earth are you doing out here, Jackson?” he demanded a little sharply.

“I was waiting for you, sir,” the man answered hurriedly. “I knew you’d gone out, Mr. Kane; and I knew I couldn’t miss you here, sir, when you came back, as you always come by the Avenue, sir. And, begging your pardon again, sir, would you mind if we didn’t stand here? You wouldn’t take offense, sir, if we went in by the garage driveway where we could be alone for a minute, sir?”

Billy Kane eyed the man critically. Jackson, immaculate in his livery, appeared to be quite himself; but Jackson at times had been known to possess a greater fondness for a bottle than was good for him.

“What is it, Jackson?” he demanded still more sharply. “Did Mr. Ellsworth send you here?”

“No, sir; he didn’t,” the man answered nervously. “But, if you please, Mr. Kane, sir, that is, if you don’t mind, sir, I’d rather wait until——”

“Very well, Jackson!” Billy Kane interrupted curtly. “I suppose you have a reason for your rather strange request. Come along, then, and I’ll listen to what you have to say.”

“Thank you, sir,” said the man earnestly.

They crossed the Avenue, passed down the cross street, turned the corner, and a moment later, entering by the garage driveway, gained the courtyard in the rear of the house. It was dark here, there were no lights showing from the back of the house itself or from the garage; and here, close to the private entrance to the “office” and library, Billy Kane halted.

“Well, Jackson, what’s it all about?” he inquired brusquely.

“If you please, Mr. Kane, sir”—the man’s voice had taken on a curious, quavering note—“don’t speak so loud. We—you—you might be heard, sir, from the servants’ entrance over there. I—Mr. Kane, sir—Mr. Ellsworth has been murdered, and the money, sir, and the rubies are gone.”

Billy Kane was conscious only that he had reached out and grasped the footman’s arm. They were very black, the shadows of the house, and it was dark about him, but strange quick little red flashes seemed to dance and dart and shoot before his eyes; and in his brain the man’s words kept repeating themselves over and over in an insistent sort of way, and the words seemed meaningless except that they were pregnant with an overwhelming and numbing horror.

“For God’s sake, sir, let go my arm—you’re breaking it!” moaned the footman in a whisper.

The man’s voice seemed to clear Billy Kane’s brain. David Ellsworth—murdered! The horror was still there, but now there came a fury beyond control, and a bitter grief that racked him to the soul. David Ellsworth, his second father, the gentlest man and the kindest he had ever known—murdered! His hand dropped to his side, and, turning, he sprang up the few steps to the entrance just in front of him. He whipped out his key, opened the door, and stepped forward into the passageway. At his right was the door to the stenographer’s room, and beyond, opening from that room, was the door to the library. He felt for the door handle, for there was no light in the passage, and, finding it, opened the door—and stood there rigid and motionless like a man turned to stone. Across the blackness of the intervening room the library door was partially open, and sprawled upon the floor lay the figure of a white-haired man, only the hair was blotched with a great crimson stain—and it was David Ellsworth. And something came choking into Billy Kane’s throat, and a blinding mist before his eyes shut out the sight.

“In Heaven’s name, don’t go in there, sir!” Jackson was beside him again, whispering in his ear, and pulling the door softly shut. “Don’t, sir—don’t go—they’ll get you!”

“Get—me! What do you mean?” Billy Kane whirled on the man.

“For the love of God, sir,” pleaded Jackson, “don’t speak so loud! I’m risking my neck for you, as it is, sir. There’s a couple of plain-clothesmen waiting up in your room, sir, hiding there, and there’s another two hiding in the front hall.”

“Are you mad, Jackson!” Billy Kane’s voice was low enough now in its blank amazement.

“I’m telling you the truth, sir,” Jackson whispered tensely. “They’ve got you dead to rights, sir. There ain’t a chance, except to run for it—and that’s what I’d do, sir, if I were you, Mr. Kane. I didn’t mean you to enter the house at all, but you acted so quick I couldn’t stop you.”

Billy Kane’s two hands fell in an iron grip on the other’s shoulders, and in the darkness he bent his head forward to stare into the man’s face and eyes.

“You mean, Jackson,” he said hoarsely, “that you believe I did that?”

The man wriggled himself free from Billy Kane’s grip.

“It’s not for me to say sir,” he answered uneasily. “I—I can only tell you what they say.”

“Tell me, then!” Billy Kane’s voice, low as it was, was deadly in its even, monotonous tone.

“Yes, sir,” said Jackson. “Keep your ear close to my lips, sir If anyone hears us, it’s all up. They found him, Mr. Ellsworth, sir, lying there dead in the library with his head split open, about half an hour after you went out, sir. You were with him in the library after dinner alone, sir; and no one was with him after that, and—don’t grip me again like that, sir, or I can’t go on. You don’t know your own strength, sir, Mr. Kane.”

“Go on, Jackson!” breathed Billy Kane. “I’m sorry! Go on!”

“Yes, sir; thank you, sir. It was Peters, the butler, sir, who found the body, and he sent for the police. Mrs. Ellsworth doesn’t know anything about it yet, sir. They’re afraid to tell her, she’s so delicate and sick, sir. It was about half an hour after you went out, sir, as I said, that Peters went to see Mr. Ellsworth about something, and found him there like you just saw, sir. And then the police came, sir, and they figured that you did it before you went out, and that you went out to dispose of the money and jewels, sir, in some safe place, and maybe also as a sort of alibi like, so that they’d think it was done while you were away, sir, and that when you returned, if you did return, sir, you would profess horror and surprise, sir.”

“Are you mad, Jackson!” Billy Kane said again.

“No, sir—you’ll see, sir—they’ve got you dead to rights. Both the vault and safe doors were open, and the money and rubies gone, and on the floor of the vault, way in by the wall under the lower shelf, like it had fluttered in there without you noticing it, sir, was a card with the combinations on it, and it was in your handwriting, Mr. Kane, sir. And in Mr. Ellsworth’s hand, clutched there tight, sir, was a little piece of black silk cord, and on the floor, under the table, sir, where it must have rolled without you knowing it, sir, was a black button.”

“I don’t understand,” said Billy Kane, a little numbly now. There had been something grotesquely absurd, something in the nature of a ghastly, hideous and ill-timed joke, something that was literally the phantasm of a diseased brain in the murmur of this man’s voice whispering out of the darkness; but there was creeping upon him now a prescience as of some deadly and remorseless thing that was closing down, around and upon him with inexorable and crushing force. “I don’t understand,” he said again.

“Yes, sir.” Jackson’s low, guarded voice went on. “It’s not for me to say, sir. You’ll remember, Mr. Kane, that you were wearing a dinner jacket, and that before going out you went up to your room and changed. I suppose it was excitement, sir, and you never noticed it, and it’s not to be wondered at under the circumstances, sir. The button had been pulled off the jacket, sir, and had taken the black silk loop with it. And the button had rolled under the library-table, Mr. Kane, sir, and the loop was clutched in Mr. Ellsworth’s hand.”

Billy Kane said no word. There was a strange whirling in his brain. Some insidious and abhorrent thing was obsessing his consciousness, but in some way it was not fully born yet, nor concrete, nor tangible. He raised his hand and brushed it across his eyes.

“But that’s not all, Mr. Kane, sir.” The whispering voice was coming out of the darkness again, and it seemed curiously fraught with implacability, as though, not content with its unendurable torture, it must torment the more. “They found a letter in the pocket of your dinner jacket, Mr. Kane. It was a letter addressed to Mr. Ellsworth, which the police figure you must have intercepted so that he wouldn’t see it, you being the one who opens the mail, sir. It was a letter warning him to look out for you, sir.”

And now it had come like a flash, the clearing of Billy Kane’s brain, and now it was brutally clear, clear beyond any possibility of misunderstanding; and, as a man walking in a fog that had suddenly lifted, he found himself reeling, in the full consciousness of its horror, on the brink of a yawning chasm.

“My God!” he cried heavily. “This is damnable! I——”

“Keep quiet, sir!” implored Jackson frantically. “They’ll hear you! If you care anything about a chance for your life, don’t make a sound. The police figured that you would do one of three things, sir. They figured that after you had hidden the loot somewhere, you would walk back here as though nothing had happened, and pretend innocence, not knowing about that button and the cord, sir; and so there’s a couple of them waiting for you in the front hall, sir. Or they thought that you might discover you had lost the card with the combinations written on it and remember the letter in your dinner-jacket pocket, sir, and try to get back unobserved, just as you’ve come in now, sir, and hoping that the murder hadn’t been discovered in the meantime, try to recover the card and the letter before you played any other game; and they meant to let you, sir, only, as I told you, there’s a couple more hiding up in your room, and you couldn’t step into the library without the fellows in front seeing you. Or they thought you might just simply make a break for it, make your getaway, sir, and never come back at all; and so there’s an alarm out, and your description, sir, in every precinct in the city, and all the railway stations are being watched. But that’s your only chance, sir, to run for it.”

It was silent here in the great house, ominously, strangely silent; and the silence grew heavy, and grew loud with great palpitating throbs that hammered at the ear drums—and then, in the distance, from the other side of the door in the long passage leading to the front of the house, faint but nevertheless distinct, there came the sound of an approaching footstep.

“There’s someone coming!” whispered Jackson wildly. “Run for it, sir—while you’ve got the chance!”

Billy Kane’s lips were thinned into a hard, straight line. Run for it! He had never run from anything in all his life! And now his brain was working in a sort of lightning debate, battling it out—logic that bade him go, against that finer sense that bids a brave man drop where he stands rather than turn his back.

Still nearer came that footstep.

“Run!” prompted Jackson again. “In another minute it will be too late!”

Billy Kane’s hands were clenched until the nails bit into the flesh. David Ellsworth had been right. That letter was but part of a deliberate plot; and the plot had been framed with hellish ingenuity, not only to secure the fortune in the vault, but, safeguarding its authors, to fix irrevocably the guilt upon someone else, upon him, Billy Kane. Not a loophole for escape had been left, every detail had been worked out with a devil’s craft; the evidence was damning, incontrovertible, and if, in spite of all, there might still have lingered a doubt in any jury’s mind, he, Billy Kane, by an ironic trick of fate had——

“Run, I tell you!” came Jackson’s voice again. “Run, or—” And then Jackson’s voice lost its deference, and his whisper was like the snarl of a savage beast—the door along the passage was opening. “You damn fool! I gave you your chance, and you wouldn’t take it—now take this!”

Billy Kane reeled suddenly back from the impact, as the man sprang viciously upon him—and for a moment again his brain groped blindly in confusion, even as he fought.

Jackson was yelling wildly at the top of his voice.

“Help! Here he is! Quick! Help! I’ve caught him!”

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