It was the next evening—in the Rat’s den. Through half closed eyes, as he lay stretched out on the bed, Billy Kane watched Whitie Jack across the room. The man was tilted back in his chair, his legs were sprawled across the table, and from his cigarette, which dangled from one corner of his lower lip, a thread of blue smoke spiraled lazily upward. Whitie Jack was not smoking; the cigarette simply hung forgotten on the man’s lip. For the moment Whitie Jack with bated interest was poring over the evening paper.

And then Whitie Jack looked up suddenly, and spoke—out of the unoccupied corner of his mouth.

“Say, dat secretary guy dat croaked de old geezer last night was a sweet, downy bird—nit! But believe me, he made some haul—some haul!”

Billy Kane made no reply. Whitie Jack resumed his absorbing perusal of the newspaper. Billy Kane’s eyes closed completely—but not in sleep. It had been a day that, viewed in retrospect, made the brain whirl. It had been a wild untrammelled phantasmagoria. That was it—phantasmagoria. There was no other word. The day was expressed in shadows, moving shadows, shadows that came and went, many of them, shadows that were paradoxically real and concrete, and shadows that were the reflection of things felt and sensed, but unseen. And these latter, the shadows of the mind, were weird, uncanny things like denizens out of some black world apart—ghoulish things. And the shadows that were real and concrete, that spoke and whispered, seemed to take it for granted that he was and always had been in their evil confidence, and so their words were not rounded out, and there was only the hint of dark and hideous things in which he was supposed to have his part. It had been a day of mutterings, of whisperings, of skulking things that had fled the sunlight. The brain and mind was in riot from it. It was evening now; it had been the strangest day through which any man had ever lived.

He had held court that morning and through the day, here in the Rat’s lair—a sort of grim, unholy court to which grim, unholy courtiers had flocked to pay him homage. And these courtiers had been admitted to the presence one by one, their names announced by Whitie Jack, who had acted—quite innocently, quite free from any thought of connivance—as the master of ceremonies. Billy Kane’s lips twisted in a mirthless smile. It had been very simple, that part of it; much more simple than he had dared to hope it would be. Bundy Morgan, alias the Rat, was supposed to know all those who composed the élite of the underworld intimately and well—but Billy Kane upon whom fate had thrust for the moment the personality and entity of Bundy Morgan, alias the Rat, knew none of them. And yet it had been simple—so simple that, against the peril, the certain death that would follow fast on the heels of even a misplaced word or an unguarded look, it had been even grotesquely absurd in its simplicity. Through the dens and dives of the Bad Lands, spread by Whitie Jack when he had gone away the night before, the whisper had passed that the Rat had returned; and so, throughout the day, stealthy footsteps had descended from the street to the basement door here, and in response to the knock Whitie Jack had opened the door a cautious inch, peering out; and then he, Billy Kane, from the bed, his voice querulous for the occasion, had demanded who it was, and Whitie Jack had answered—and the unsuspected introduction thus performed, he had bidden Whitie Jack admit the visitor.

There had been many like that—very many. And he had learned many things. His hands clenched suddenly at his sides. The rôle he played promised well! Innuendoes, words toying with the fringe of things, had made it only too glaringly clear that the Rat was enmeshed in devilishness that ran the gamut of every crime in the decalogue. And for the moment he was the Rat! There was some hell’s syndicate, whose scope and power he could only dimly plumb though he was satisfied that its branches were rooted in every nook and corner of the underworld. And of this syndicate he was now, by proxy, a member; and he was not only a member, but he was one of those magnates of crime who composed its inner council, its unhallowed directorate.

He twisted a little on the bed—more in mental than in physical unrest. His wounded shoulder was still far from healed of course, but it gave him very little discomfort, and in no way interfered with his freedom of action—but it had been the safer way, this accentuating of his hurt, this pretended state of semi-helplessness. It had brought those he must know here to him; it had brought about those unsuspected introductions without which, had he first left this lair of the Rat’s and attempted, trusting to luck, to pick up the threads of the Rat’s life, would inevitably have plunged him in his blind groping to certain destruction. Also it had brought him a quite thorough understanding of Whitie Jack—the man’s deference that had been almost cringing at their first meeting, and then the man’s subsequent eagerness to serve.

Whitie Jack was one of the lesser breed that looked up to the heights the Rat had attained with both awe and unbounded admiration. The man had come like a dog to heel, but like a faithful dog. Whitie Jack was living in a sort of reflected glory—he would be the envy of the proletariat of the Bad Lands—he was associating now, was even on terms of certain intimacy, with one of those in high places in that inglorious commonwealth of crime to which, both by birth and inclination, he owed allegiance. It opened a new prospect to Whitie Jack, one that was full of dazzling possibilities—and it had made of the man an invaluable ally. Whitie Jack had been at once valet, nurse, surgeon and attendant all through the day. He had returned at daylight that morning, dressed the wound, and thereafter had not left the place except to go out and buy certain necessities, such as food—and a pocket flashlight, which Billy Kane, mindful of his previous night’s experience in the underground passage to the shed and lane, had ranked amongst those necessities as the first on the list.

Billy Kane shifted his position restlessly on the bed again. His mind was in a turmoil of feverish activity. It seemed as though a thousand divergent thoughts fought with each other to obtain undivided attention and recognition each for itself, and the battle went on incessantly. Who was the woman who had crept in here in the darkness through that secret door last night? What did it mean, that message she had written and left on the table? “So you are back, are you? Well, so am I! Remember!” There was something malignant, something ominous in that word—“remember.” Remember what? Why? What sinister thing was it that lay between her and the Rat—that he, Billy Kane, must now accept and stand sponsor for—since he was now the Rat!

The Rat! The Rat! The Rat! His brain was off again at another tangent. In Heaven’s name, who was the Rat? Where was the Rat at this moment? When would the Rat return? Guarded questions all through the day helped him little. The Rat’s absence had been accepted, that was all—none seemed to know, or have any interest in the cause of it. One ray of reassurance only had filtered through the murk. The Rat’s return in his, Billy Kane’s, person, had seemingly been premature, the Rat had seemingly not been expected; and he could argue from that, and with fair logic, that he might for a little while at least be left undisturbed in his possession of the Rat’s personality, and the Rat’s belongings—as far as the Rat was concerned. The Rat! Those innuendoes, those whispers, those shadows, that strange woman’s stranger message were back again, seething and boiling in his brain. Naked ugliness! What mess of iniquity was the Rat not mixed up in! And what mess of iniquity might not he, Billy Kane, accepted without question as the Rat now, with the Rat’s face and features, with the Rat’s satanic partnerships, be forced to wallow in to save his life, and, more than life, to——

The paper rustled in Whitie Jack’s hand.

“Some haul!” Whitie Jack rolled the words on his tongue like some sweet morsel. “S’help me! Five hundred thousand dollars’ worth of rubies! Dat guy Kane is some slick gazabo! Say, d’youse get it, Bundy? Five hundred thousand—an’ a bunch of de green stuff, too!” He licked his lips. “Some haul!”

The paper had exaggerated. David Ellsworth’s rubies at the outside would not exceed three hundred thousand dollars in value. Billy Kane found himself curiously and querulously irritated at the inaccuracy. He opened his eyes, nodded unconcernedly at Whitie Jack—and closed his eyes again. His mind was suddenly alert and concentrated. In a few minutes now some of those who composed that inner council of crime would be here. He had arranged that this morning—with Red Vallon. Red Vallon was the biggest gangster in New York. Whitie Jack had dropped that information in an enthusiastic eulogy of Red Vallon. And Vallon had bent over the bed that morning and whispered of a meeting to-night at the usual time and place. But he, Billy Kane, was not ready for that yet. He knew too little, it was too great a risk; and he knew too much—to escape alive, if a chance word or act betrayed him. But there had come a thought, swift, in a blinding flash, a staggering thing, a gambler’s stake, and he had whispered back what was apparently the obvious reply—that he was too badly hurt to go. And then: “One or two of you slip in here on your way over,” he had said quickly. “Get me? I’ve got something!” And Red Vallon had agreed—and with Red Vallon would come Karlin. Karlin! The name had somehow seemed familiar; but though Whitie Jack had subsequently furnished a partial clew by referring to Karlin as one of the high-brow lawyers of the city, he could not definitely place the man.

Billy Kane turned on his side, with his face away from Whitie Jack. Red Vallon and Karlin would be here in a few moments—and he must make no mistake now. What he meant to do was an impudent thing—impudent with a Titanic impudence. He meant to pit the underworld in a fight on the side of justice against the police. He meant to use the craft, the cunning and the stealth of the Bad Lands to establish his innocence. He too had read the papers—the morning and the evening papers—and the headlines had shrieked out at him the infamy of which he was accused. His name was a by-word now from one end of the country to the other. A viper and a degraded wretch, a thing inhuman and apart, the papers had called him.

He had read them all to the last word. Murderer of his benefactor! A thief—an assassin thief, who had fled for his life with those blood-red rubies! A bead of sweat came out on his forehead, and he raised his hand and brushed it away. Yes, he had fled—to fight—to take the only chance he had of bringing to justice the hell-hounds who had struck down his old friend, the only chance he had of clearing his own name.

Well, he would fight! It was beginning now, that fight. But he was between two fires that threatened him at any instant with destruction. The police, not only in New York, but from the Atlantic to the Pacific, would search ceaselessly for him, and if he were caught it was death. Fate, that had made him the double of a character that ironically seemed to measure up to everything the papers had said about himself, had thrown in that way a temporary mantle of protection over him, but let that mantle slip but ever so slightly and he would better a thousand times hand himself over to the law and have done with it—the end would be more merciful!

But fate, too, had given him a weapon with which to fight; and, two-edged though it was, with a chance always that it might turn upon himself, he meant to use it now—and that weapon was the underworld. He did not know yet, he was not sure yet just how high he stood in that unsavory command, but he had discounted rather than overrated his power, and he believed he had power enough for his purpose—those whispers and those shadows had seemed to assure him of that. The Rat seemed to be the driving strategical force in this crime syndicate that appeared to permeate the Bad Lands with its influence, and move and sway the underworld at its own imperious pleasure—and for the moment he was the Rat!

There was Jackson—and Jackson was dead. His mind had flown off at another apparently irrelevant tangent. But it was not irrelevant. The papers had said that Jackson, the footman, had died that morning after lingering in a semi-conscious state through the night. Jackson was the single clue in his possession. Jackson, he knew, was one of the murderers, but Jackson was the only man he knew who was concerned in that devil’s work last night—and Jackson was dead. And now he, Billy Kane, was “wanted” on a double charge of murder—for the murder of Jackson, who had probably himself struck old David Ellsworth down, as well as for the murderer of the old millionaire! Yet Jackson, even if dead, must still have left some clue behind him, if only that clue could be found. Who was Jackson? The man had already been in service at David Ellsworth’s before he, Billy Kane, had gone there as the old philanthropist’s secretary, and he had naturally had neither motive nor interest then in any of the footman’s personal concerns. But those facts were vital now. Who was Jackson? Where had the man come from? Who were——

Footsteps were descending from the street. There was a low knock, twice repeated on the door. Whitie Jack was on his feet, and looking inquiringly toward the bed.

“Watch yourself!” said Billy Kane gruffly. “I’m not entertaining to-night, except——”

“Sure—I know!” said Whitie Jack. He crossed the room, and, opening the door a crack, peered out. “Red and Karlin,” he informed Billy Kane in a whisper.

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