It had been dark before the opening of the door had thrown a dim glow along the rear of the passage, and Jackson, in his onslaught, had missed what was evidently intended for a throathold, and his hands, slipping down, had caught at and bunched the shoulders of Billy Kane’s coat. But now Billy Kane was in action. His arms, straightened, shot back behind him—and the coat alone was in Jackson’s hands.

With an oath, the man dropped the coat to the floor, and wrenched a revolver from his pocket. But there was light enough to see now—to see the murder in the other’s eyes—and to see something there as well that brought a surging fury whipping through Billy Kane’s veins.

“You devil! I understand it now!” he gritted, as he snatched and gripped at the other’s wrist.

Jackson was twisting, squirming, fighting like a maniac.

“Help!” he shrieked. “Help! Here he is!”

Cries and shouts answered the man. There came the sound of racing feet. Then a blinding flash—a wild scream. And Jackson, the revolver going off in his hands as they struggled, sagged limply, and, with the revolver clattering against the wall, slid to the floor—and Billy Kane, with a bound, was through the back door, and leaping down the steps to the courtyard.

There was no question in his mind now as to whether he should run for it, or not. Jackson was one of the murderers ... there must ... be others.... Jackson could hardly have staged it all alone ... but to remain there and be caught was but to play into their hands! His brain was working in flashes swift beyond any measure of time. If there could still have remained a lingering doubt favorable to him in any jury’s mind, fate had played him an ironic trick that would dispel any such doubt instantly. He had two thousand dollars of the money from that vault in his vest pocket at that moment! And to be caught there, having presumably gained entrance stealthily by the rear door, would condemn him out of hand. To run, too, was to condemn him, that was their hell’s snare that they had laid for him ... but there was a chance this way! A rage that was merciless was upon him now. There was a chance this way ... one chance ... the only chance, not alone of saving his own life and clearing his own name, but of bringing to justice the inhuman fiends who had taken David Ellsworth’s life ... there was a chance ... one chance ... this way ... that someone would pay ... if he, Billy Kane, lived, that someone would pay!

There came a short, curt shout from behind him, an imperative order to halt. He had gained the courtyard now, and was running along the garage driveway, heading for the street. He glanced back over his shoulder. In the darkness he could just make out a number of shadowy forms rushing down the steps.

The order came again. Then the tongue-flame of a revolver split through the black. And as though a red hot iron had been laid suddenly across his left shoulder, Billy Kane gritted his teeth together in pain—and stumbled—and recovered himself—and plunged out through the driveway gates to the street.

Halfway down the block, he remembered, was an alleyway; and, running like a deer now, Billy Kane again glanced behind him. Forms, a great many of them, though perhaps his fancy exaggerated the number, were pouring out into the street in pursuit. The men servants had evidently joined forces with the detectives; and yelling hoarsely, a pack of human hounds in cry, with the blood-scent in their nostrils, were some twenty-five to thirty yards behind.

How curiously warm his shoulder was! He clapped his right hand upon it, and drew his hand away, red and dripping wet. He began to feel strangely giddy. The shots were coming now in a fusillade—but they missed him. He was even gaining a little, and if it were not for that queer giddiness, that sense of nausea that seemed to be creeping steadily upon him, he could have outdistanced them all, and laughed at them—except that the entire district would soon be aroused, and speed and lightness of foot would therefore ultimately avail him little.

He laughed out harshly in grim, mirthless facetiousness. Logically then, it made small difference whether he had been hit, or not! It was his head, and not his feet, that must be depended upon to save him! If he could only get out of the immediate neighborhood ... yes, that was it ... and his head must find the way ... only, and he was not very logical after all, his head seemed possessed with that sick, swimming, impotent sensation.

He reeled again. Then his teeth clamped hard, and the sheer nerve of the man asserted itself, and fought back the purely physical weakness. There was a way, at least a chance, perhaps a desperate chance, but still a chance—if the alleyway, that was just ahead now, was dark enough, and if——

A yell, chorused wildly, went up from behind him, and a bullet struck the pavement with an angry spat, as Billy Kane swerved into the alleyway. And again he laughed, gasping out the laugh in a sort of desperate relief. Yes, the alleyway was black enough, he could not distinguish an object twenty yards ahead; and that other “if,” something that would furnish temporary sanctuary, was here, too, at his right—and five yards in from the street, he sprang for the top of a board fence, flung himself over, dropped down on the other side, and lay motionless upon the ground.

It was a matter of seconds—no more. The pursuers swept into the alleyway, and tearing down its length, shouting as they went, rushed by that spot, so innocently close to the street, where their quarry lay.

And now Billy Kane was on his feet again, and cautiously, silently, raised himself to the top of the fence once more. He had counted on just this exactly, it was simply what was naturally to be expected, and he knew no elation on that score. The chance, the one chance he had, still lay ahead of him, and was still to be taken—and to be taken without an instant’s loss of time before the neighborhood became aroused to the extent of pouring curiously out-of-doors. Across the intervening street the alleyway extended in the opposite direction, and if he could gain the other side, double on his tracks, he would, for the time being at least, be safe.

The sound of the pursuit came from well down the alleyway now, and the pursuers were lost to sight in the blackness. He swung himself over the fence, dropped without a sound into the alleyway, and keeping close against the fence, crept forward to the edge of the street.

And then Billy Kane’s lips moved in a silent prayer of fervent thankfulness for that quiet and sedate neighborhood that had not instantly responded to the disturbance. It had seemed hours, of course, since that shot had been fired at him in the courtyard of David Ellsworth’s home, but in reality he knew that it could scarcely have been much more than a minute ago. The street, to all appearances, was deserted; and Billy Kane, quick now, running again, darted out from the lane; and, mindful that if he crossed the street in a direct line, he would be in the light, and that any one of those in the alleyway behind who might chance to look back would see him, made a slight detour, and a moment later gained the alleyway again where it continued on from the opposite side of the street.

He ran on now breathlessly. It had been raining hard that morning, and the ground under foot was soft and slippery. He reeled once, and fell—and rose splattered with grime and mud. He laughed again, but his laugh was desperate now. It had been bad enough before—coatless, and with a blood-soaked shirt—but his appearance must be disreputable beyond description now, so disreputable that he would attract instant suspicion the moment he were seen by anyone, and this quite apart even from the fact that before very long the net spread for the “murderer” of David Ellsworth would widen, and every man and woman abroad in that great city to-night would automatically become allies of the police in apprehending him.

He stopped. He was at the end of the alleyway, and it did not seem to extend again on the other side of the next street. But he must go on—somehow. He brushed his hand across his eyes. His shoulder pained him, and those dizzy flashes kept recurring, though perhaps not now with such great frequency. He must go on—somehow. That was essential. He must put as great an immediate distance between himself and the Ellsworth mansion as possible; later, if by some means he could get there, if luck broke for him just a little, his chances would be better, thanks to those three months of intimacy with the underworld, if he could get somewhere into the maze of the East Side.

He peered out into the street, waited for some pedestrians who were near at hand to pass further on, and then, moving quickly forward, crouched down in the shadows made by the flight of front door steps of the nearest house.

If he only had a coat! He could walk boldly then along the street without the blood showing on his white shirt, and it would cover up enough of the mud so that no one would pay any particular attention to him. If he only had a coat! He had two thousand dollars in his vest pocket—but it was not worth a coat. Anybody would sell him a coat for two thousand dollars, but—— His hands went to his eyes, and then pressed against his throbbing temples. Yes, certainly, his brain was verging on delirium! Why should he think of Marco’s? Yes, yes, he remembered now! Somebody was going to break into Marco’s to-night ... and Marco was a second-hand clothing dealer ... and the back door had its lock broken ... and the way was open. He could steal too ... a coat ... at Marco’s ... and that was the only way he could get a coat ... to steal it ... he dared not make any attempt to buy one ... and he must have a coat.

His brain cleared again, and he smiled a little ironically at himself. But the thought of Marco’s now stuck persistently. It was possible, of course—if he could get to Marco’s! But Marco’s was a long way off. Marco’s was a long way downtown on the East Side. He shook his head, smiling ironically again. Yes, he would very much like to be there now! That was where he wanted to be—in the East Side, instead of here!

Billy Kane peered up and down the street again, and again moved stealthily forward. He repeated these tactics over and over, sometimes covering only a few yards at a time, sometimes making as much as half a block, and sometimes even more when a friendly lane or alleyway offered him the opportunity. And at the expiration of half an hour he had covered a distance that surprised even himself, for, though still uptown, he had succeeded in getting entirely away from the more wealthy neighborhood.

Another ten minutes passed, and hidden again in the shadows of a porch, he was staring now with feverish eagerness at a great, covered motor truck, a furniture van, that was drawn up in front of what appeared to be a truck-man’s office across the street. The driver had gone into the office, but there was the street to cross—and two men were coming leisurely in his direction along the sidewalk. He clenched his hands fiercely at his sides. Here was the chance flaunting him in the face and tantalizing him, the chance that was a far greater chance even than he had dared hope for, and he was powerless to avail himself of it unless those two men passed by before the driver came out again. He could read the name and address in the huge letters on the side of the van. It belonged down on the East Side. This was probably only a small uptown branch office, and the odds were a hundred to one that the van would be going home now. And if the driver took a direct route he was bound to use a cross street that would intersect that lane in the rear of Marco’s, and intersect it within at least a few blocks of the second-hand dealer’s shop. Billy Kane’s hands clenched tighter, and his face was strained and drawn, as from his hiding place he alternately watched the van and the two men. Those few blocks through a lane would be nothing! God, if he could only reach Marco’s—and a coat! A coat! It seemed an absurd thing to be of such moment—a coat! But it meant life or death. A coat would cover his blood-stained shirt, and he would be able to move with freedom enough to give him at least a fighting chance, and——

The two men had passed by; there was no one else in sight. He waited another moment until they were still further away—and then, in a flash, Billy Kane was across the road, and had swung himself over the tail-board into the van. It seemed like some vast cavernous place here inside, for the van was empty, save for what appeared to be, as nearly as he could make out in the gloom, some large pieces of crated furniture piled at the front end just behind the driver’s seat. Billy Kane’s eyes swept the interior anxiously—and the drawn, strained look in Billy Kane’s face relaxed. By lying flat on the floor of the van the driver would hardly be likely to notice him in any case; but, to make assurance doubly sure, some bits of sacking, evidently used to wrap around and protect furniture from being scratched and marred, were strewn about on the floor. Billy Kane pulled off his slouch hat, that had been jammed down over his eyes, drew a piece of the sacking over him, and lay still.

And then presently he heard the driver come out from the office. The man climbed to his seat. The van jolted forward. Billy Kane’s hand, under the sacking, felt tentatively over his shoulder. It was paining him brutally, and was burning and hot, but it seemed to have stopped bleeding, and the sense of nausea and giddiness had passed away. It was a flesh wound only, probably; or, at least, the bullet had not fractured any bone, for he could move both shoulder and arm readily.

And now, safe for the moment, Billy Kane’s mind was back on the events of the evening; and for a time grief for the man he loved had its sway; and then came fury, pitiless and remorseless, and a cry in his soul for vengeance; and then a quiet, measured analysis of every detail, an analysis that was deadly in its cold, unnatural calm. Jackson’s acts in that back passageway, Jackson’s possession of a revolver, and Jackson’s words at the end stamped the footman irrevocably as being one of the men in the murder plot. And with Jackson’s guilt established as a premise, the rest unravelled itself step by step, clearly, logically, irrefutably.

David Ellsworth’s deductions had proved themselves in ghastly truth. The letter had been written as the initiatory step toward incriminating him, Billy Kane, in the robbery that was to follow; and this demanded, even as he had argued before, that the vault and safe combinations should be known to a third party. Who knew them? The answer came now quickly and emphatically enough—someone within the house—Jackson. He remembered now, though he had paid no attention to it before, that Jackson had been in the library on several occasions when he, Billy Kane, was opening the vault. It had probably taken the man a month or two, perhaps more, watching both David Ellsworth and himself at every opportunity and with infinite patience, to pick up little by little, possibly but a single number or turn at a time, the combinations—but he had undoubtedly accomplished it finally.

The original plan had certainly not contemplated the murder of David Ellsworth, for the letter was primarily intended to make the old millionaire one of the first to accuse him, Billy Kane, of the crime—there having been left on the scene of the crime, of course, in that case, as David Ellsworth had also reasoned, some further damning evidence of his, Billy Kane’s, supposed guilt. But the changing of the combinations had completely upset that original plan. Who was it, then, who knew that the combinations had been changed? Again the question answered itself almost automatically. It must have been someone in the house at the time, and someone who was both listening and watching—Jackson. True, David Ellsworth had looked out into the hall, and had opened the door and looked into the unlighted stenographer’s room, but he had done it only cursorily, and Jackson all the time might well have been hiding in that room—in fact, must have been hiding there.

The rest was self-evident. Without the combinations they were helpless, but the new combinations were on a card in David Ellsworth’s pocket. It had been necessary, then, only to add murder to the theft, employing as accessories the card, the letter, the button and the black silk loop, in order to seize the opportunity of the moment; for, the card bearing the combinations once destroyed or out of reach, the months of work that had been put in to secure the old combinations would have to be repeated to obtain the new—and with very little likelihood of success, since Jackson would know that David Ellsworth’s suspicions were thoroughly aroused.

The van rolled rapidly downtown. Billy Kane, peering out from under the sacking, kept watch on the streets through which he passed. But his mind was still busy with its problem.

Jackson’s act in accosting him on the corner, and afterwards luring him by suggestion to the rear of the house, had puzzled him at first, but that, too, was clear enough now. There was a grain of truth in what the man had said about giving him a chance, though Jackson would care little enough whether he ultimately got away, or not. Jackson’s idea, or perhaps the idea of a keener brain behind Jackson, was to prevent him, Billy Kane, from entering the house at all, and so, by inducing him to run for it, to corroborate the evidence of guilt against him, in which case, being a self-elected fugitive, he would be doubly condemned if eventually caught. On the other hand, if he refused to listen and insisted on entering the house, as they were afraid he might do, they meant to see to it that his entrance was made by apparent stealth, and here again he but added the final touch to the evidence against him, and discredited himself beyond any hope or possibility of recovery. Jackson had taken no personal risk or chance in doing this, as far as the police were concerned; and it was evident now that Jackson had meant to kill him there in that back passageway should he, Billy Kane, persist in refusing to run. The case and all investigation would have ended automatically if he, Billy Kane were killed under such circumstances. It was all simplicity itself! Jackson had only to call for help, as he had done when the issue was forced by that approaching footstep, pretend that he had discovered him, Billy Kane, creeping into the house, and had rushed upon him—that he, Billy Kane, had drawn the revolver, but that in the struggle had been shot himself. With the evidence as it stood, with his, Billy Kane’s guilt so apparently obvious, Jackson would not only have been believed, but would have been rewarded and lauded as a hero.

Still the van rolled on—mostly through deserted streets, for the traffic was light at that time of night. Perhaps another twenty minutes passed. Then Billy Kane began to edge toward the rear end of the truck. He was in the East Side now, and approaching the neighborhood of Marco’s second-hand clothing store.

Was Jackson dead? Billy Kane shook his head. He did not know. A grim smile twisted his lips. He hoped not—not from any sympathy for the man, for the man’s punishment in that case had been almost too merciful a retribution, but because in Jackson was embodied the clue that would lead, if he, Billy Kane, escaped, to that day of reckoning that, cost what it might, he meant should come.

The van was in a narrow and ill-lighted street now. Marco’s was still two streets further downtown, but in the block ahead was the lane that, running north and south, passed the rear of Marco’s place.

Billy Kane sat suddenly upright on the tail-board of the van, the piece of sacking thrown now around his shoulders. If the driver happened to look around and see him, the supposition would be that he had hopped on to steal a ride; and if the driver ordered him off it mattered very little, since, in another yard or so anyhow, the van, as far as he was concerned, would have lost its usefulness. He leaned out, and glanced ahead of him up the street. There were a few people about, but not many, and none in the immediate vicinity of the lane that was now just at hand; but even if he were seen for an instant as he left the van, he would not be running any very great risk for he would be out of sight again before any particular attention could be riveted upon him; and, besides, in that miserable and sordid quarter a man might do many things out of the ordinary, for instance, dive suddenly into a lane and disappear, without exciting even passing curiosity or notice.

He jerked his slouch hat over his eyes, flung off the sacking, dropped to the ground, and slipped across the sidewalk into the lane. And now he was running again. He reached the next intersecting street, and was forced to draw back under cover to wait for an opportunity to cross unnoticed. And then the chance came, and he continued on down the lane on the opposite side of the street again.

Marco’s was the second store in from the next corner on the street that paralleled the lane, and halfway down he stopped running and began to move forward cautiously. It was very black in here, and he wished now that he had looked at his watch when he had had the opportunity; but it must be somewhere around ten o’clock. It was two hours, then, since he had overheard that telephone conversation in which Laverto had said that all he cared was that the man to whom he was telephoning should be away from Marco’s before a quarter of eleven.

Billy Kane was crouched now in the darkness against the back door of the second-hand shop. The chances were that whoever Laverto had been telephoning to had already been here and gone. Certainly two hours would have given any one ample time, and as Laverto had said that Marco did not keep open in the evening there would have been no cause for delay on that score.

He placed his ear to the panel of the door, and listened. There was no sound, and he tried the door. It stuck a little in spite of its broken lock, and gave with a slight squeak. Billy Kane drew in his breath sharply, and listened again. There was still no sound. He closed the door behind him, and crept forward, feeling his way with his hands along the wall in the pitch blackness. The flooring was old, and once it creaked under his foot, causing his lips to tighten rigidly, and his face to set in a hard, dogged way. He had no matches—they, in the match-safe that he usually carried in the ticket-pocket of his coat, were gone with the coat. A coat! All sense of absurdity in the length to which he was going to obtain so common-place an article as a coat had vanished. It was the one, final, ultimate, essential thing that he must and would have if he was to know a single chance for life. Without it he might as well throw up the sponge at once, but if his luck still held he would get one now. Marco’s stock of clothing would naturally be in the shop in front, and——

His hand dove suddenly forward into space, and he halted for an instant. He had come to an open doorway on his right. He felt around him in all directions. The passage seemed to end a foot or so ahead, and to lead nowhere but into what was probably the back room here at his side. The entrance, then, to the shop proper would be through the back room.

Again he moved forward, crossed the threshold, and again halted. It was dark, intensely dark, and he could see nothing; and it was still and silent, and there was no sound. But suddenly he found himself standing in a tense, strained attitude, his head thrown a little forward, his eyes striving to pierce the darkness. He could hear nothing, see nothing—but the sense of presence was strong upon him.

A minute passed, the seconds dragging out interminably—and he did not move. And then it seemed that close to him he caught a faint stirring sound. But he was not sure. It might have been his imagination. The silence, so heavy and prolonged, had taken on strange little noises of its own. Billy Kane’s lips thinned. He was bare-handed, wounded and unarmed, but he had a stake that he would fight for with a beast’s ferocity. And that stake was a coat! If there was anyone here, if it was more than his excited and wrought-up fancy playing tricks upon him, it was certain at least that it was not the police, for the police would have no incentive to play at cat-and-mouse, and therefore it was probably the man, not yet through with his work, to whom Laverto had telephoned; it was probably a fellow thief, fellow since he, Billy Kane, had also come to steal—a coat. Well, he would at least end the suspense! He turned in the direction from which he thought the sound, imaginary or real, had come, took a step forward—and stood still, hands clenched at his sides, as he blinked, through the ray of a flashlight that was suddenly thrown full in his face, at the round, ugly muzzle of a revolver that held a steady bead upon him on a level with his eyes.

A voice came through the silence in a savage, guttural snarl:

“Throw up yer mitts, youse——” The words ended in an amazed and startled oath. The revolver muzzle sagged downward, as though the hand that held it had become suddenly powerless. “Well, fer Gawd’s sake, if it ain’t de Rat!” gasped the voice in a hoarse whisper. “When did youse get back? I thought youse was hobnobbin’ wid some of de swells youse used to know, an’ was givin’ Noo Yoik de icy paw until next month!”

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