It was not far to Vetter’s place, but—Billy Kane looked at his watch under a street lamp—it was later than she had said. It was ten minutes of eight. He knew where Vetter’s was. That point presented no difficulties; he could hardly have spent the months he had amongst the queer, heterogeneous lives of the East Side without knowing at least that much about so outstanding a character as the old Holland diamond merchant—but that was quite another matter from knowing where the old Hollander domiciled his diamonds!

Billy Kane frowned, as he went along. Well, was it necessary to steal the diamonds? That task, on the face of it, was so almost practically impossible as to render it bizarre. He had nothing to work on, no information, just the cool suggestion that he should steal the diamonds first; and, under ordinary circumstances, he might well be filled with dismay at the prospect of failure in view of the threat which she held over his head, though that side of it need not, and did not, concern him to-night. In a few hours from now he no longer expected to be the Rat; in a few hours Peters would have had his choice between losing his life and telling the truth, and under those conditions there was very little room for doubt but that Peters would have told—the truth. If, however, he could meanwhile save the old Hollander from loss, he, Billy Kane, was quite ready to go to almost any length to do so.

He went on at a quick pace, traversing block after block. He smiled ironically to himself, as he finally turned a corner, and with more caution now, approached a low frame building that was bordered by a dark and narrow lane. Yes, it was bizarre enough! He could not very well inform the police himself! The Rat—and particularly Billy Kane—was not at the moment on speaking terms with the police! But was it necessary to steal the diamonds?

Her idea, of course, was that then they would be absolutely safe from any attempt, or, perhaps what she feared most, physical coercion on the part of the Mole—even if Vetter were given a warning.

But surely Vetter could take care of himself if he were warned! He, Billy Kane, certainly preferred that method! But, even that, as an alternative, was not quite so simple as it appeared. He was still the Rat. He did not know the plan this so-called Mole had evolved, and, more vital still, he did not know how closely Red Vallon was, in turn, watching the Mole. It was eight o’clock now, and any or all of them might already be here. If he, Billy Kane, were discovered there would never be that little interview with Peters! The corollary was self-evident. Even for the purpose of warning the man, to reach Vetter inside this house here, that he was just passing, demanded the same degree of caution and secrecy on his part as though he entered for the purpose of stealing the stones himself. Also the little shop that made the front of the building was closed and dark. Vetter’s living quarters, he had heard, which was one of the eccentricities that had made the man a talked-of character on the East Side, consisted of no more than a single room, serving for every purpose, at the rear of the shop itself. He did not dare take the risk of inviting attention by rapping and bringing the old Hollander to the door.

He turned, and retracing his steps, sauntered nonchalantly along, passed by the house again—and slipped into the lane. Circumstances, as he found them, alone could govern his actions.

Billy Kane took stock now of the surroundings. The frame building was an old affair, and the floors therefore would be outrageously creaky. Billy Kane scowled. The prospect of creaky floors and protesting boards was not a pleasant one. And then the scowl vanished, and a smile flickered across his lips. From somewhere at the back of the house there came suddenly the throbbing notes of a violin. The smile broadened. That was Savnak, doubtless, and, for the moment at least, it was the violin, rather than pinochle, that was engaging the two men. Personally, under the circumstances, he, Billy Kane, was very much in favor of the violin. The violin would help a good deal—if it became a question of creaky floors!

He moved silently forward now farther into the lane, keeping close to the wall in the darker shadows of the house. The old Hollander and his crony were obviously in the back room. He glanced sharply up and down the length of the building. He could see nothing. It was intensely dark. The wall of the house was blank. There were no windows opening on the lane.

An expression, grimly quizzical, settled on his face. It was a queer setting for a robbery, this unpretentious, even tumble-down, little shop, with its back-room living quarters! But the unpretentiousness of the old Hollander’s surroundings in no way argued poverty! He had known of Vetter by reputation, quite apart even from any connection with the East Side. The man had a clientele among the best in the city. He was an authority on diamonds. He dealt only in the choicest stones, and he was absolutely reliable and honest. The world of fashion had made a path to Vetter’s door, not he to theirs. In this ten-thousand-dollar consignment, for instance, there would probably not be more than fifty or sixty stones, not enough to make a small handful, but not one of them, probably, would be worth less than a hundred dollars, and most of them would be worth a great deal more.

Billy Kane reached the end of the building, and found that a board fence, some seven or eight feet high, continued on down the lane, obviously enclosing the back yard of the place. The violin throbbed on. The notes came clear and sweet, entirely unmuffled now, as though from an open window. He stood there for a moment listening. The playing was exquisite. It was some plaintive, haunting melody given life by a master touch. He remembered Whitie Jack’s description of the expatriated musician. Without question Savnak could “fiddle”; the man, in spite of having come a moral cropper, was, if he, Billy Kane, were any judge, little short of a genius.

Glancing sharply about him once more, Billy Kane, with a lithe spring, caught the top of the fence, and drew himself cautiously up until he could peer over. He hung there motionless for a moment. A few yards away from him, in a slightly diagonal direction, and between himself and the back door, was the window of the rear room; and, as he had suspected, the window was open. He could see inside; that is, in a restricted sense. A man, it was Savnak of course, chin on his violin, standing, was swaying gently to and fro on his feet to the tempo of the music, his back to the window; and at the table, side face to the window, but with his back toward Billy Kane, Vetter, the old Hollander, white-haired, sat rapt in attention, staring at the violinist.

Billy Kane drew himself further up, and straddled the fence. The position of the two men rendered him safe from observation. The notes of the violin, in a tremolo, died softly away. The old Hollander dug his knuckles across his eyes; and his words, spoken in perfect English, evidently the language common to the two men of diverse nationalities, reached Billy Kane distinctly:

“You are wonderful, my old friend Savnak. It is divine. My friend, you are wonderful.”

The violinist shrugged his shoulders.

“Once,” he said, “I could really play. Yes, I tell you, you who will believe me, that I could sway the people, that I could do with them as I would, that I——” He stopped abruptly, and shrugged his shoulders again. “But what is the use of memories? Memories! They are bad! They leave a bad taste! Let us forget them! You were to show me the great purchase that arrived to-day.”

“These!” The old Hollander took from his pocket what looked like a soft, pliable, chamois-skin pocketbook, which he opened and laid on the table, disclosing a cluster of gems that, nesting on a snowy bed of wadding, sparkled and scintillated as the rays of the gas jet above the table fell upon them; and then, impulsively closing the pocketbook again, he pushed it a little away from him. “They can wait!” he said. “By and by, we will look at them one by one. But they do not feed the soul, my Savnak, like your music. Play some more. They are not worth one of your notes.”

“Are they not?” Savnak’s voice seemed tinged with bitterness. “The soul may be well fed, Vetter, but that does not keep one often enough from tightening the belt! I think I would be fortunate to make the exchange—my gift, such as it is, for your diamonds.”

“You do not mean what you say!” the old Hollander replied, shaking his head reprovingly. “I know better! But I do not like to hear you talk like that. Things are not so bad with you now. You are moody. Play some more, my friend.”

“As you will!” Again Savnak shrugged his shoulders. He nestled his chin on the violin. “It will be something gay, then, and lively—eh, Vetter?—to chase the blue devils away.”

The notes of the violin rose again. Billy Kane began to lower himself from the fence into the backyard. His mind was made up now. Since there were two of them there, a warning surely was all that was necessary. The window was not much more than shoulder high from the ground, and he had, then, only to cross the yard and call to Vetter through the window. His appearance there would no doubt startle and alarm the old Hollander half out of his wits, but that was exactly what would cause the man to guard his diamonds all the more zealously for the rest of the night. Once warned, the two men in there between them ought certainly to be able to take care of themselves and that chamois pocketbook.

Billy Kane dropped softly to the ground, straightened up, took a step forward—and stopped as though rooted to the spot. There had come a cry from Vetter. The violin broke off with a jerky, high-pitched, screaming note. Then silence. Billy Kane raised himself on tiptoes. He could just see in through the window; no more. It seemed like some picture flashed on a cinema screen, quick, instantaneous. A third man, hat drawn far over his face, was standing by the table, covering Vetter and Savnak with a revolver. The man snatched up the chamois pocketbook, reached above his head, turned out the gas—and the room and window were in blackness.

It had happened with the suddenness and swiftness of a lightning flash, so quick that the brain stumbled a little in a dazed way in an effort to grasp its significance. And then Billy Kane wrenched his automatic from his pocket. The thief, when or in whatever way he had got into the house, must necessarily make his escape either by the front door, or by the back door and through the yard here. If it were the latter, which seemed the more likely, he, Billy Kane, had the man at his mercy; if it were the former, the man would probably reach the street, in any case, before he, Billy Kane, could get over the fence and rush down the lane.

Billy Kane was moving swiftly in the direction of the back door. He had to choose one way or the other. He could not attempt to guard both exits at the same time! If the man——

Vetter’s voice rose in a furious cry from the room:

“It is by the front, Savnak, he has gone! Quick! I hear him going out! Quick! The street!”

“Yes! Quick! The street!” Savnak, like a parrot, in a shrill, hysterical voice, was echoing the other’s words. “Quick! Chase him! And shout for the police!” A chair fell over. The two men were evidently floundering their way to the door. “Curse him for turning out the light!”

Billy Kane whirled, and dashed for the fence. As he straddled the top, he saw a figure, thrown into relief on the lighted street, speed past the head of the lane—and then, with a wry smile at a sudden realization of his own impotence, he dropped to the lane, and, instead of running now, made his way slowly and cautiously forward, hugged close against the wall. If he ran out of the lane into the arms of Vetter and Savnak, besides hampering the pursuit by distracting their attention from the fugitive, he invited the decidedly awkward and very natural suspicion of being connected with the thief himself; and the police would be very apt to listen with their tongues in their cheeks to any explanation that the Rat might offer to account for his presence in the lane at that particular moment! And if there was any one thing that he wished to avoid to-night, it was a complication with the police that would inevitably interfere with his freedom of action during the next few hours.

Came a wild cry now from both Vetter and Savnak from the front of the house; and then the two men, yelling at the top of their voices, both hatless, Savnak, apparently unconscious in his excitement that he was brandishing his violin frantically in one hand and his bow in the other, tore madly down the street in pursuit of their quarry.

Billy Kane slipped out to the street. Doors of tenements and houses were beginning to open; heads were beginning to be thrust out through upper windows; the street was beginning to assume a state of pandemonium. A block down, the quarry, well in the lead of the old Hollander and the violinist, leaped suddenly into a waiting automobile, and vanished around the corner.

Billy Kane turned away. He felt a curiously chagrined resentment against this so-called Mole, that was quite apart from his angry resentment of the fact that the old Hollander had been victimized. He had expected something quite different from the Mole! Red Vallon—and she, too—had given the Mole a reputation for cleverness, craft and cunning; but, instead of having shown any cleverness, or even a shred of originality, the Mole, or his minion, had perpetrated nothing more than a bald, crude theft that any house-breaker, or broken-down old “lag” could have pulled off with equal lack of finesse! Well, anyway, for the moment so far as he was concerned, the affair was at an end, and he could only await developments. It all hinged on Red Vallon now—on Red Vallon, who proposed in turn to rob the robber—on Red Vallon, who, later on, would keep an appointment with him, Billy Kane, in the Rat’s den!

As he turned a corner, Billy Kane consulted his watch. It was still early, just a trifle after eight—too early for that interview with Peters yet. He might as well go back to Two-finger Tasker’s then. It was scarcely likely that she was still there, but, if she were, so much the better! She could hardly hold him responsible for failure; and, in any case, she would realize that there was still the chance of recovering the stones by, in turn again, outwitting Red Vallon, if the gangster had been successful. If she were not there, Two-finger Tasker’s was as good a place as any in which to put in the time.

He reached the dance hall, and found, as he had half expected, that she had already gone. He sat down at a table, ordered something from the waiter, and, apparently absorbed in the dancers, who had now begun to gather, he made a sort of grimly-reassuring inventory of his equipment for the night’s work that still lay ahead of him—his mask, his automatic, Whitie Jack’s skeleton keys, were in his pockets. His lips twisted in a curious smile. The Mole, Vetter, the diamonds, the old violinist—all these seemed suddenly extraneous, incidents thrust upon him, dragged irrelevantly into his existence. They sank into inconsequential obtrusions in the face of the stake for which he was now about to play: his freedom, a clean name again, the end of this devil’s tormenting masquerade, his life or, perhaps, another man’s life—Peters’?

Half an hour passed. Once more he looked at his watch. A few minutes later he consulted it again. And then at a quarter to nine he rose from the table, and left Two-finger Tasker’s resort.

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