Billy Kane stood in the lane for a moment, staring after her through the darkness and his lips puckered in a sort of impotent little smile. She would find the Wop, of course, and thereafter the old relationship between them would be reëstablished, and——.

He whirled suddenly, and in an instant was astride the top of the fence, his face set and hard, as there came, low but unmistakably from the interior of Barloff’s house, the sound of blows and the rending of wood, as though a door were being violently forced. A glance showed him that the window had been closed and the shade drawn down. Barloff had evidently got that far in safeguarding himself, only Red Vallon’s Apachés had struck, perhaps suspicious of her visit, without waiting for the old Russian to go out! What else could those blows mean but an attack on Barloff? Certainly, Barloff must still be in there, for Barloff, warned, wasn’t going out; he was going to appeal, by telephone presumably, to the police.

Billy Kane’s mind was racing, as he whipped his mask from his pocket, adjusted it over his face, dropped to the ground, and ran across the yard. The night’s work obviously now, was far from over yet! He had still to play, after all, that other rôle of his in the underworld—the man in the mask! Red Vallon had said that the Pigeon, French Marr and the Cadger were to carry out the robbery inside the house. That made three to one! His one chance then was to take them by surprise.

He was working now with Whitie Jack’s skeleton keys at the rear door. The Cadger was an expert safeworker, just as the Wop was, and that was part of the game to make it appear to be the Wop’s work. The Wop was safe now, of course, but—he bit at his lips, cursing his clumsiness with the keys—old Barloff certainly wasn’t! They had intended to get Barloff out of the house, but if, without waiting for that, they struck with Barloff there, they would not stand on any more ceremony with the old man than they had with the Wop, since the Wop was to stand for it anyway. It was strange, ominously strange, that there was no outcry from Barloff, that even the sound of blows and splintering wood had ceased!

The door gave under his hand. He pushed it open cautiously, a bare half inch at a time. In front of him was a small room, obviously the kitchen, that connected with the rest of the house only by the side door of Barloff’s rear room from which the light now filtered in across the kitchen floor. He stole silently forward in the direction of the lighted doorway and halted, as, a little back from the edge of the door jamb, he stared in amazement into the room beyond.

The door near Barloff’s desk that led into the front room hung shattered on its hinges, its panels broken and splintered, but the only occupant of the room was Barloff himself. The man was standing there, a hatchet in his hand, surveying the wreckage, and mumbling inaudibly to himself.

And then suddenly there came a twisted smile of comprehension to Billy Kane’s lips. Old Barloff laid the hatchet down on the desk, and, rubbing his hands together in a sort of fiendish exaltation, a malicious grin on his cunning and crafty face, ran over to the safe and knelt before it. His mumble became quite audible now:

“The Wop! The Wop! Dead—eh? And all these little rentals, these nice little rentals, just in! And. if they are stolen—eh? I am a poor man—eh? I could not replace them. And so they would be mine—mine. She’s sure he is dead. She said so—that they murdered him. But she did not see it with her own eyes. If she comes back and tells the police that, I will say that the Wop must have escaped the trap they set for him, for with my own eyes I saw him, and since he is dead he will not be able to deny that. Yes, yes, Barloff, your old brain is still your best friend! And the others—ha, ha! They have planted it on the Wop—ha, ha! It would be a pity to disappoint them—and lose the rentals. Yes, yes, Barloff, that is so, is it not? Certainly, the Wop has robbed you, and tried to get revenge on you, too, because you were honest enough to go to the police five years ago!”

The man had the safe open now, and was snatching books and papers from the interior, and throwing them in a litter upon the floor. And now he had an old tin cash box in his hands. He laid this on the floor and opened it, and in a sort of hideous rapacity seemed to gloat over it. He dipped in his hands and lifted out banknotes, and let them filter through his fingers, and rubbed his hands together, and buried them again in the money; while behind the steel-bowed spectacles his little black eyes glittered with feverish exaltation again, and his whole body seemed to quiver in unholy, greedy worship.

Billy Kane’s jaw locked hard. The man’s whole life was a damnable hypocrisy—a rogue’s alias. Thousands the man had somewhere, and, by comparison, the paltry hundreds in the cash box, if hundreds even there were, seemed to hold up as to a mirror the man’s soul, stripped bare, until it stood out in all its naked, shrivelled miserliness, its godless grovelling to the only god it knew!

“The rentals—all the rentals!” mumbled Barloff again. “I am a poor man—how can I pay them over to-morrow when they have been stolen from me to-night, and I have nothing left? Yes, yes, Barloff, you are getting old, but you are not yet a fool!”

The man was suddenly all haste. He snatched up the cash box, and ran to the piece of furniture which had struck Billy Kane as so incongruous an adjunct to the furnishings of the room—the old morris chair. He turned this over on its back, there was a faint click of a hidden spring, and the bottom underneath the seat gaped outward on what were evidently ingeniously concealed hinges. Billy Kane’s eyes, behind his mask, narrowed in grim humor, as he caught a glimpse of piles of neatly stacked banknotes in the hollow bottom of the chair, that was a sort of spacious, boxlike compartment—and then the old miser had thrust in the cash box, closed the seat again, and righted the chair. Old Barloff, after all, did not place all his faith in a presumptive burglar’s chivalry for the obvious helplessness of the rickety old safe!

Barloff was rubbing his hands together unctuously once more, as he hurried back now to the desk. The desk was close to the already splintered door that led to the front of the house, and Barloff, catching up the hatchet in one hand, pulled the portable telephone instrument toward him with the other, and snatched the receiver from its hook.

“The police—quick—quick!” he called into the transmitter, his voice pitched in a well-simulated scream of terror, and brought the hatchet down with a crash on the splintered panels.

Billy Kane made no movement save that his lips twitched a little. The low, cunning trickery of the man produced a sort of nauseating disgust, and, too, a sort of merciless anger; but, given enough rope now, Barloff was in a fair way to hang himself, and it would afford him, Billy Kane, a very genuine pleasure to adjust, as he now proposed to do, the noose that would accomplish that hanging!

Barloff was still raining his hatchet blows on the door; and then suddenly, evidently having got his connection, he was screaming again, between blows, into the mouthpiece of the telephone:

“Is that the police?——Yes, yes!——Quick——This is Ivan Barloff——Barloff, Barloff, Barloff——yes, Barloff——Quick——Help!——For God’s sake, help!——It is the Wop!——Do you hear?——The Wop!”

Barloff slammed the receiver back on the hook, and flung the hatchet down on the floor. It was quiet in the room now except that the old man was talking again to himself, in a sort of triumphant glee:

“Ha, ha—got to escape from the Wop now—got to escape——yes, yes, Barloff, you have done well, very well—but you must hurry now—yes, hurry.”

Billy Kane drew silently back into the darkness at the far side of the kitchen. There was still a little more rope left to give Barloff for Barloff’s undoing! He, Billy Kane, had no intention of interfering with the hypocritical old scoundrel’s self-styled escape, nor of preventing Barloff now from rushing, for instance, to the police to amplify his tale; but Barloff, to “escape” and carry out his ruse successfully, could not rush out through the door supposed to be barred by the Wop and so reach the street that way! Barloff then, if Barloff were logical, had a choice of the kitchen and back door, or the window.

The light in Barloff’s room went out. Billy Kane smiled in satisfaction. With the kitchen in complete darkness now there was no chance of his being seen if Barloff came that way, and—no, it was the window! The sash creaked as the window was opened. There was a low thud as the man dropped to the ground, and then the sound of the other’s footsteps running across the yard toward the fence.

Billy Kane laughed a little, grimly under his breath, as he stepped instantly forward and entered the room old Barloff had just vacated. It was his turn now at the telephone! A hint to the police as to where the money was, and, with the Wop’s alibi thoroughly established, Barloff would be condemned by his own story. It would require only a moment to telephone, and then he would make his own get-away; also, it would be ten minutes at least before the police from the nearest station could answer Barloff’s call, but if, in the meanwhile, the Cadger and his pack arrived, they would not only get nothing, but would run a very excellent chance of being trapped by the police, and——.

Billy Kane with his hand groping out through the darkness for the telephone, stood suddenly tense and still; and then, as suddenly, actuated partly by some intuitive sense of danger, and partly because some indefinable sound of movement caught his ear, he swerved, throwing his body sharply to one side. There was a swish like the ugly sweep of some weapon cutting through the air from a ferocious, full-arm swing, a queer numbness from a glancing blow on the side of his head, a crash upon the desk, a metallic clatter on the floor—and then he lunged forward, and his hands, pawing out, touched and closed on a man’s form in front of him.

Billy Kane’s head was dizzy and swirling. He was conscious that arms which were like bands of steel were around him, and that his own arms, to keep from being torn apart and his hold on the other loosened, were straining until they hurt in their sockets. It seemed as though in the pitch blackness they were reeling around the room in the crazy, jerky, unbalanced dance of some mad orgy! A voice was snarling in his ear, snarling vicious oaths, snarling in a fury that seemed ungovernable, beyond all license, that seemed to have taken possession of the other, body and soul, and made the other’s strength demoniacal. That was it! It could not be anything else. That was what made the man so strong. The man was mad—a madman! He tried to think, as he gasped and panted for his breath. It wasn’t the Cadger, or French Marr, or the Pigeon, for then there would have been three of them. Who was it? His brain was sick and swimming, and refused its functions. He could not think very well. He must fight—that was all—fight!

It seemed to Billy Kane as though hours were passing. It seemed as though gradually, very gradually, his strength was oozing away, and that his hands were slipping from around the man’s back. He clenched his teeth together. He remembered suddenly that murderous swish through the air. It seemed to steady him, to bring to him, too, a sudden fury in place of that unnerving giddiness. He wanted to strike; to strike, as murderously as he had been struck, at this thing whose hot, tainted breath was on his cheek, at this thing that snarled like a beast as it struggled and fought. He wanted to strike, only the giddiness from the blow on his head was back again, and——.

The other had wrenched himself free. Billy Kane flung his weight forward to retain his hold, and with the impact both men reeled, tripped on the littered floor, lost their balance, and, locked together, crashed to the ground.

They rolled over once, and then the other’s snarl became a vicious laugh. The giddiness was coming in quick flashes over Billy Kane now, and he felt his hands wrenched and torn away from the other, and he felt the other’s body upon him now like some crushing, insupportable weight. He reached out in the darkness in a desperate, frantic effort to close again, to protect himself from the short-arm jabs that were raining into his face. His fingers touched the man’s bare, collarless throat, slipped on the throat—and suddenly held. There was a string, or a cord, or something around the man’s neck. It was very curious! But his fingers had hooked in between the cord and the flesh, and he clung there tenaciously. If he could only twist it, and twist it hard enough, he could choke the other! He wasn’t strong enough to do anything else—just twist at the cord—and choke the other—and——

There was a sound that seemed to come from the front of the house, like the opening of a door, and then voices—unmistakably voices. But the other had heard it too. The man was struggling now to get away, not to strike any more blows, just to wrench and tear himself loose from that cord that Billy Kane had twined around his hands and fingers. And then the cord gave with a sudden snap, the man sprang to his feet, and, without a sound, like a shadowy form just visible in the darkness, flung himself out through the window.

The cord was still twined around Billy Kane’s fingers as he lay, half-dazed, his head swimming weakly, flat on his back on the floor. He shook it free from his hand and raised himself up into a sitting posture, as he smiled in a queer, bitter way. There was a light in the front room now, and he was too exhausted to reach the window as his late antagonist had done, unless he stumbled and lurched there, and then he would be heard in the front room.

It was the end of the Rat, alias Bundy Morgan—and it was the end of Billy Kane. It was probably the Cadger and his crowd out there, but, at least, they would not take him alive. His hand dove into his pocket for his automatic and encountered the brandy flask that had already stood the Wop in such good stead. He snatched it from his pocket, and, his mask already awry on his face, carried the flask to his lips, and drank eagerly.

The stimulant whipped through his veins in a fiery tide. It cleared his brain. No, it wasn’t the Cadger out there—the Cadger and his crowd would be scared off for good now—there were two men—he could see them coming through the doorway—and he heard old Barloff’s voice.

He drank again greedily, shifting the flask to his left hand, while his right dove once more into his pocket, and this time secured his automatic. He drew his mask back over his face. The light over the desk went on, and, sitting there on the floor, Billy Kane blinked in the sudden glare at old Barloff and a police officer.

“Don’t move, please, either of you, except to put your hands up!” said Billy Kane in a low voice.

There was a startled exclamation from the officer, as his hands went up above his head; while a gray, blank look spread over the old miser’s face, as he, too, obeyed with equal celerity.

It was very curious! Billy Kane frowned in a puzzled way. It was very curious—not so much that he should be sitting there on the littered floor, with the side of his head trickling a warm flow of blood down under the neck of his shirt, and holding a brandy flask in one hand, and holding up two men at the point of his automatic with the other; it wasn’t so much that, it was an object on the floor near the desk that looked like a round piece of grained wood, about an inch in diameter and three feet in length.

He thrust the flask into his pocket, and, over his mask, rubbed the back of his hand across his eyes. It wasn’t a vagary of his sick brain, was it? Well, he would know in a minute as soon as he lifted it and felt its weight. No, that wasn’t necessary, he remembered that metallic clatter upon the floor. He knew what the thing was. It was the iron shaft of the crutch that he had seen two nights ago—a detachable shaft probably—the weapon that he was satisfied had already murdered David Ellsworth, and murdered Peters.

His mind was clear now and working in lightning flashes. His assailant had been the one man in the world upon whose throat he had prayed to get his fingers—the Man with the Crutch! Well, his fingers had been there, only he had been, at a disadvantage, weak and dizzy from the blow from that thing there, and—yes, this was curious too! He was watching the two men, his automatic covered them unswervingly; but out of the corner of his eye he could not help but see that red patch on the floor beside him, that looked like an ordinary flannel chest protector, and to which the cord that he had torn from his antagonist’s neck was still attached. He reached for it and thrust it into his pocket, as he rose slowly, and a little unsteadily, to his feet.

He eyed the two men now for a long calculating second. Yes, his brain was quite clear now—exhilaratingly clear. And the mental exhilaration seemed to bring in its train a new physical strength as well. In a flash he saw the way out now, and with it, too, the means of slipping Barloff’s self-knotted noose around the miserly old Russian’s throat. But he must work quickly. There was not an instant to spare. This officer could not have come in answer to Barloff’s telephone call, for he realized that, long as it had seemed, his fight here in the room could not have lasted in reality more than two or three minutes, and it had begun almost on the instant that Barloff had run from the house. There would not, therefore, have been time for the telephone call to have been answered, for the nearest police station was too far away, and besides, in that event, there would have been more than one officer. Barloff had probably encountered the policeman out on the street, and, carrying out his devilishly inspired plan, had poured his story into the officer’s ears, and rushed the other back to the house. But in that case, the men from the station would be on their way here now, and the leeway left him, Billy Kane, in which to act must, even now, be narrowed to the very perilous margin of but another four or five minutes—perhaps less!

“Move to the wall, face it, and keep your hands up!” ordered Billy Kane curtly.

The officer, with a chagrined scowl and a shrug of his shoulders, obeyed. Barloff, white and trembling, and thoroughly frightened, needed no urging.

“You’ve got the drop on me,” snarled the officer. “But don’t worry, my bucko, I know who you are! That mask ain’t doing you any good! There’s a free ride and board coming to you again!”

Billy Kane’s automatic was pressed into the small of the officer’s back. With his free hand he deftly relieved the other of a pair of handcuffs and a revolver.

“That’s all right!” said Billy Kane coolly. “Now, Barloff, stick your right hand out behind you!” He slipped one of the steel cuffs over the Russian’s wrist. “Now you, officer! No, your right hand! I know it’s customary in making an arrest to leave your right hand free, but in the circumstances I am forced to inconvenience you a little in your movements.” He snapped the other cuff shut. “Thank you! You may both turn around now!” He stepped back, hurled the officer’s revolver out through the window, and picked up the weapon whose blow, luckily for him, he had partially evaded. He had in no way been mistaken. It was the iron shaft of the crutch, and it was ingeniously fashioned with a spring catch that obviously fitted into a socket in the now missing armpiece of the crutch. It served him now as a support. He leaned upon it, using it as a cane, as he swayed a little on his feet. “I can only spare a moment,” he said engagingly to the officer; “but possibly I can make that moment well worth your while. We’ll talk quickly, if you please. I imagine that you were on your beat out there on the street when Barloff here found you. Am I right?”

“Where else would I be?” said the officer gruffly.

“That’s what I wanted to make sure of,” returned Billy Kane pleasantly. “And that’s why I want to get through here in a hurry—before your reinforcements arrive. What story did this man tell you?”

“Say,” said the officer shortly, “you’ve got your nerve with you! But you can’t get away with it! I tell you, I know you! You might as well take that mask off. You’re the Wop.”

“You’re jumping at conclusions,” said Billy Kane calmly, “because Barloff here has told you the Wop had broken in and robbed him. Well, ask Barloff, then!” He turned on Barloff. “I’m not the Wop, am I, Barloff?”

The old man shook his head.

“No, you’re not.” Barloff swallowed hard; he was evidently floundering in a perplexed mental maze. “But my money’s gone, and the Wop was here. I saw him. I saw him. Maybe you’re a pal of his.”

“I am for to-night,” said Billy Kane quietly. “When did you see the Wop? What did you tell this officer here?”

“Oh, you are, are you!” Barloff seemed suddenly relieved. He shook his free fist at Billy Kane. “So you’re a pal of the Wop’s, are you! Well, I don’t know where you came from, but I saw the Wop just as plainly as I see you now.” He edged around and addressed the officer eagerly. “I was sitting at the desk there, officer, just as I told you, and that door was open, and there was a light in that front room. The Wop must have got the front door open without my hearing him. I saw him stealing across that room out there. I rushed to the door, and shut it, and called for help. He began to smash it in and I grabbed up the telephone and called the police, and then ran for the window, and got out by the lane to the street where I found you. He would have killed me. He swore he would when he went to prison.” His voice changed suddenly into a whining wail. “He’s got my money! Look at the floor—look at the safe! He’s got my money, and run with it when he heard us coming.” He began to claw frantically at the officer’s sleeve. “The Wop’s got it! Look, officer, this pal of his has been hurt! Look at the side of his head—that’s why he didn’t get away too—that’s why we found him here on the floor!”

“You talk as though you’d been frisked of a million!” Billy Kane was tauntingly sarcastic now. “How much did you have, anyway?”

“How much! How much!” howled Barloff. “Enough to ruin me! All this month’s rentals that I had just collected. Three hundred and eighty-seven dollars!”

“Three hundred and eighty-seven dollars!” Billy Kane mimicked the other admirably. “You don’t mean to say you’d keep three hundred and eighty-seven dollars in that crazy old safe that’s falling to pieces, do you?”

“Where else would I keep it?” Barloff was shaking his fist again. “Yes, I kept it there! And that’s where it was to-night—and it’s gone now—gone!”

“Is that all you had?” Billy Kane’s sneer was irritatingly contemptuous.

“All!” shrieked Barloff. “All—yes, it is all! But it is enough! I am a poor man, and the money was not mine, and I cannot replace it, and——”

He choked suddenly, and shrank back, dragging the officer with him a step. Billy Kane had moved abruptly to the morris chair, and had toppled it over on the floor.

“You pitiful liar! You haven’t seen the Wop in five years!” rasped Billy Kane, and the iron shaft in his hand crashed through the false bottom of the chair. A package of banknotes tumbled out on the floor, another, and yet another. A second blow dislodged the cash box, and a further rain of banknotes. “You thought the Wop was dead, and that you could make him stand for this, did you!” rasped Billy Kane again. “You yellow cur—so that you could steal those few miserable rentals yourself!”

“My God!” gasped the officer. Barloff was a grovelling thing at his side. He jerked the other toward him, and stared into the white, working features.

Billy Kane backed to the window, and there was an abrupt change in his voice as he addressed the officer.

“I’m going now,” he said softly. “I am not quite sure of the technical charge against your prisoner, but I imagine it is just plain theft—of three hundred and eighty-seven dollars. And it might be interesting, too, to know where so poor a man got that small fortune there on the floor! Perhaps Barloff will tell you! As for the Wop, he has never been near this place, and you will find him at the Reverend Mr. Claflin’s house, where he has been all evening. I think that’s all, officer, except”—Billy Kane had straddled the window sill—“except that I apologize to you for anything in the shape of lèse majesty of which I may have been guilty, but as I have certain personal reasons that justify me in not desiring to appear publicly in the matter, I am sure you will admit I had no other——”

Billy Kane did not finish his sentence. He dropped hurriedly to the ground, and ran, or, rather, half ran, half stumbled his way to the fence and lane. Someone was at the front door again—obviously the police detail from the station.

He made his way along the lane, and from that lane into another. He was still weak and progress was slow, and for half an hour he kept under cover. When he finally emerged into the open he was blocks away from Barloff’s house, and very much closer to a certain temporary sanctuary in the heart of the underworld!

Ten minutes later, behind locked doors, he was sitting at the dilapidated table under the single incandescent light, in the Rat’s den. Before him lay a small red flannel sack, that might have passed for an ordinary chest protector, and which he had cut open with his knife. He raised his hand, and passed it across his eyes. The Wop and Barloff were extraneous considerations now. There was something far more vital to think about, but his brain was refusing its functions again. He was very tired—very tired and weak. There was the Man with the Crutch, the man who, he knew now, had killed Peters and David Ellsworth, the man who had looted David Ellsworth’s vault of its money and its priceless rubies, the man for whose guilt he, Billy Kane, was held accountable, the man with whom he had fought to-night. In a numbed way, because his mind was in a sort of torpor, Billy Kane was dimly conscious that there was no more any mere coincidence in this repeated appearance of the Man with the Crutch. He knew now that Jackson, the footman, had only been an underling. It was curious, singular, sinister. Who was the man? What did it mean? The man wasn’t even lame, was he? He remembered the extraordinary agility the other had showed two nights ago—and why was the shaft of the crutch detachable?—and the man hadn’t fought like a crippled man to-night—and there had been no sign of the upper portion of the crutch, either!

Billy Kane’s head sank forward a little on his shoulders. He raised himself with a jerk, and stared at the red flannel sack in front of him. A score of magnificent rubies scintillated in fiery flashes under the light.

“They’re not all here,” mumbled Billy Kane, with a twisted smile. “They’re not all here—not yet.”

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