He was a misshapen thing, bulking a black blotch in the night at the entrance of the dark alleyway—like some lurking creature in its lair. He neither stood, nor kneeled, nor sat—no single word would describe his posture—he combined all three in a sort of repulsive, formless heap.

The Flopper moved. He came out from the alleyway onto the pavement, into the lurid lights of the Bowery, flopping along knee to toe on one leg, dragging the other leg behind him—and the leg he dragged was limp and wobbled from the knee. One hand sought the pavement to balance himself and aid in locomotion; the other arm, the right, was twisted out from his body in the shape of an inverted V, the palm of his hand, with half curled, contorted fingers, almost touching his chin, as his head sagged at a stiff, set angle into his right shoulder. Hair straggled from the brim of a nondescript felt hat into his eyes, and curled, dirty and unshorn, around his ears and the nape of his neck. His face was covered with a stubble of four days' growth, his body with rags—a coat; a shirt, the button long since gone at the neck; and trousers gaping in wide rents at the knees, and torn at the ankles where they flapped around miss-mated socks and shoes.

A hundred, two hundred people passed him in a block, the populace of the Bowery awakening into fullest life at midnight, men, women and children—the dregs of the city's scum—the aristocracy of upper Fifth Avenue, of Riverside Drive, aping Bohemianism, seeking the lure of the Turkey Trot, transported from the Barbary Coast of San Francisco. Rich and poor, squalor and affluence, vice and near-vice surged by him, voicing their different interests with laughter and sobs and soft words and blasphemy, and, in a sort of mocking chorus, the composite effect rose and fell in pitiful, jangling discords.

Few gave him heed—and these few but a cursory, callous glance. The Flopper, on the inside of the sidewalk, in the shadow of the buildings, gave as little as he got, though his eyes were fastened sharply, now ahead, now, screwing around his body to look behind him, on the faces of the pedestrians as they passed; or, rather, he appeared to look through and beyond those in his immediate vicinity to the ones that followed in his rear from further down the street, or approached him from the next corner.

Suddenly the Flopper shrank into a doorway. From amidst the crowd behind, the yellow flare of a gasoline lamp, outhanging from a secondhand shop, glinted on brass buttons. An officer, leisurely accommodating his pace to his own monarchial pleasure, causing his hurrying fellow occupants of the pavement to break and circle around him, sauntered casually by. The Flopper's black eyes contracted with hate and a scowl settled on his face, as he watched the policeman pass; then, as the other was lost again in the crowd ahead, he once more resumed his progress down the block.

The Flopper crossed the intersecting street, his leg trailing a helpless, sinuous path on its not over-clean surface, and started along the next block. Halfway down was a garishly lighted establishment. When near this the Flopper began to hurry desperately, as from further along the street again his ear caught the peculiar raucous note of an automobile horn accompanied by the rumbling approach of a heavy motor vehicle. He edged his way now, wriggling, squirming and dodging between the pedestrians, to the outer edge of the sidewalk, and stopped in front of the music hall.

A sight-seeing car, crammed to capacity, reaching its momentary Mecca, drew up at the curb; and the guide's voice rose over the screech of the brakes:

"Now, ladies and gentlemen, we will get out here for a little while. This is Black Ike's famous Auditorium, the scene of last week's sensational triple murder! Please remember that there is no charge for admission to patrons of the company. Just show your coupons, ladies and gentlemen, and walk right ahead."

The passengers began to pour from the long seats to the ground. The Flopper's hat was in his hand.

"Fer God's sake, gents an' ladies, don't pass me by," he cried piteously. "I could work once, but look at me now—I was run over by a fire truck. God bring pity to yer hearts—youse have money fer pleasure, spare something fer me."

The first man down from the seat halted and stared at the twisted, unsightly thing before him, and, with a little gasp, reached into his pocket and dropped a bill into the Flopper's hat.

"God bless you!" stammered the Flopper—and the tears sprang swimming to his eyes.

The first man passed on with a gruff, "Oh, all right," but he had left an example behind him that few of his fellow passengers ignored.

"T'ank you, mum," mumbled the Flopper, as the money dropped into his hat. "God reward you, sir.... Ah, miss, may you never know a tear.... 'Twas heaven brought you 'ere to-night, lady."

They passed, following the guide. The Flopper scooped the money into a pile in his hat, began to tuck it away in some recess of his shirt—when a hand was thrust suddenly under his nose.

"Come on, now, divvy!" snapped a voice in his ear.

It was the driver of the car, who had dropped from his seat to the ground. A gleam of hate replaced the tears in the Flopper's eyes.

"Go to hell!" he snarled through thin lips—and his hand closed automatically over the cap.

"Come on, now, I ain't got no time to fool!" prompted the man, with a leer. "I'm dead onto your lay, and there's a bull comin' along now—half or him, which?"

The Flopper's eyes caught the brass buttons of the officer returning on his beat, and his face was white with an inhuman passion, as, clutching a portion of what was left in the hat, he lifted his hand from the rest.

"Thanks!" grinned the chauffeur, snatching at the remainder. "'Tain't half, but it'll do"—and he hurried across the sidewalk, and disappeared inside a saloon.

Oaths, voicing a passion that rocked the Flopper to his soul, purled in a torrid stream from his lips, and for a moment made him forget the proximity of the brass buttons. He raised his fist, that still clenched some of the money, and shook it after the other—and his fist, uplifted in midair, was caught in a vicious grip—the harness bull was standing over him.

"Beat it!" rasped the officer roughly, "or I'll—hullo, what you got here? Open your hand!"—he gave a sharp twist as he spoke, the Flopper's fingers uncurled, and the money dropped into the policeman's other hand—held conveniently below the Flopper's.

"It's mine—gimme it back," whined the Flopper.

"Yours! Yours, is it!" growled the officer. "Where'd you get it? Stole it, eh? Go on, now, beat it—or I'll run you in! Beat it!"

With twitching fingers, the Flopper picked up his cap, placed it on his head and sidled away. Ten yards along, in the shadow of the buildings again, he looked back—the officer was still standing there, twirling his stick, one hand just emerging from his pocket. The Flopper's finger nails scratched along the stone pavement and curved into the palm of his hand until the skin under the knuckles was bloodless white, and his lips moved in ugly, whispered words—then, still whispering, he went on again.

Down the Bowery he went like a human toad, keeping in the shadows, keeping his eyes on the ground before him, a glint like a shudder in their depths—on he went with hopping, lurching jerks, with whispering lips. Street after street he passed, and then at a corner he turned and went East—not far, only to the side entrance of the saloon on the corner known, to those who knew, as the "Roost."

The door before which he stopped, on a level with the street, might readily have passed for the entrance to one of the adjoining tenements, for it was innocent to all appearances of any connection with the unlovely resort of which it was a part—and it was closed.

The Flopper rang no bell. After a quick glance around him to assure himself that he was not observed, he reached up for the doorknob, turned it, and with surprising agility hopped oven the threshold and closed the door behind him.

A staircase, making one side of a narrow and dimly lighted hall, from down whose length came muffled sounds from the barroom, was before him; and this, without hesitation, the Flopper began to mount, his knee thumping from step to step, his dangling leg echoing the sound in a peculiar; quick double thump. He reached the first landing, went along it, and started up the second flight—but now the thumping sound he made seemed accentuated intentionally, and upon his face there spread a grin of malicious humor.

He halted before the door opposite the head of the second flight of stairs, opened it, wriggled inside and shut it behind him.

"Hullo, Helena!" he snickered. "Pipe me comin'?"

The room was a fairly large one, gaudily appointed with cheap furnishings, one of the Roost's private parlors—a girl on a couch in the corner had raised herself on her elbow, and her dark eyes were fixed uncompromisingly upon the Flopper, but she made no answer.

The Flopper laughed—then a spasm seemed to run through him, a horrible boneless contortion of limbs and body, a slippery, twitching movement, a repulsive though almost inaudible clicking of rehabilitated joints—and the Flopper stood erect.

The girl was on her feet, her eyes flashing.

"Can that stunt!" she cried angrily. "You give me the shivers! Next time you throw your fit, you throw it before you come around me, or I'll make you wish you had—see?"

The Flopper was swinging legs and arms to restore a normal channel of circulation.

"Y'oughter get used to it," said he, with a grin. "Ain't Pale Face Harry come yet, an' where's the Doc?"

"Behind the axe under the table," said the girl tartly—and flung herself back on the couch.

"T'anks," said the Flopper. "Say, Helena, wot's de new lay de Doc has got up his sleeve?"

Helena made no answer.

"Is yer grouch painin' you so's yer tongue's hurt?" inquired the Flopper solicitously.

Still no answer.

"Well, go to the devil!" said the Flopper politely.

He resumed the swinging of his arms and legs, but stopped suddenly a moment later as a step, sounded outside in the hall and he turned expectantly.

A young man, thin, emaciated, with gaunt, hollow face, abnormally bright eyes and sallow skin, entered. He was well, but modestly, dressed; and he coughed a little now, as though the two flights' climb had overtaxed him—it was the man who had headed the subscription list to the Flopper half an hour before in front of Black Ike's Auditorium.

"Hello, Helena!" he greeted, nodding toward the couch. "I shook the rubber-neck bunch at Ike's, Flopper. That was a peach of a haul, eh, old pal—the boobs came to it as though they couldn't get enough."

A sudden and reminiscent scowl clouded the Flopper's face. He stepped to the table, reached his hand into his shirt, and flung down a single one-dollar bill and a few coins.

"Dere's de haul, Harry—help yerself"—his invitation was a snarl.

Pale Face Harry had followed to the table. He looked first at the money, then at the Flopper—and a tinge of red dyed his cheek. He coughed before he spoke.

"Y'ain't going to stall on me, Flopper, are you?" he demanded, in an ominous monotone.

"Stall!"—the word came away in a roar too genuine to leave any doubt of the Flopper's sincerity, or the turbulent state of the Flopper's soul. "Stall nothin'! De driver held me up fer some of it, an' de cop pinched de rest."

"And you the king of Floppers!" breathed Pale Face Harry sadly. "D'ye hear that, Helena? Come over here and listen. Go ahead, Flopper, tell us about it."

Helena rose from the couch and came over to the table.

"Poor Flopper!" said she sweetly.

"Shut up!" snapped the Flopper savagely.

"Go on," prompted Pale Face Harry. "Go on, Flopper—tell us about it."

"I told you, ain't I?" growled the Flopper. "De driver called a divvy wid de cop comin', an I had ter shell—an' wot he left de cop pinched. Dat's all"—the Flopper's mouth was working again with the rage that burned within him.

Pale Face Harry, with pointed forefinger, gingerly and facetiously laid the coins out in a row on the table.

"And you the king of Floppers!" he murmured softly. "It's a wonder you didn't let the Salvation Army get the rest away from you on the way along!"

Helena laughed—but the Flopper didn't. He stepped close to Pale Face Harry, and shoved his face within an inch of the other's.

"You close yer jaw," he snarled, "or I'll make yer map look like wot's goin' ter happen ter dat cross-eyed snitch of a guy dat did me—him an' de harness bull, when I—" The Flopper stopped abruptly, and edged away from Pale Face Harry. "Hullo, Doc," he said meekly. "I didn't hear youse comin' in."

A man, fair-haired, broad-shouldered, immaculate in well-tailored tweeds, reliant in poise, leaned nonchalantly against the door—inside the room. He was young, not more than twenty-eight, with clean-shaven, pleasant, open face—a handsome face, marred only to the close observer by the wrinkles beginning to pucker around his eyes, and a slight, scarcely discernible puffiness in his skin—"Doc" Madison, gentleman crook and high-class, polished con-man, who had lifted his profession to an art, was still too young to be indelibly stamped with the hall-marks of dissipation.

His gray eyes travelled from one to another, lingered an instant on Helena, and came back to the Flopper.

"What's the trouble?" he demanded quietly.

It was Pale Face Harry who answered him.

"The Flopper's got it in for a couple of ginks that handed him one—a bull and a chauffeur on a gape-wagon," he grinned, punctuating his words with a cough. "The Flopper's got an idea the corpse-preserver's business is dull, and he's going to help 'em out with two orders and pay for the flowers himself."

Doc Madison shook his head and smiled a little grimly.

"Forget it, Flopper!" he said crisply. "I've something better for you to do. You fade away, disappear and lay low from this minute. I don't care what you do when you're resurrected, but from now on the three of you are dead and buried, and the police go into mourning for at least six months."

"What you got for us, Doc?—something nice?"—Helena pushed Pale Face Harry and the Flopper unceremoniously out of her line of vision as she spoke.

"Yes—the drinks. Cleggy's bringing them," Madison laughed—and opened the door, as the tinkle of glass and a shuffling footstep sounded without.

A man, big, hulking, thick-set and slouching, with shifty, cunning little black eyes and the face of a bruiser, his nose bent over and almost flattened down on one cheek, entered the room, carrying four glasses on a tin tray. He set down the tray, and, as he lifted the glasses from it and placed them on the table, he leered around at the little group.

"Gee!" he said, sucking in his breath. "De Doc, an' Helena, an' Pale Face, an' de Flopper! Gee, dis looks like de real t'ing—dis looks like biz."

"It does—fifty-cents' worth—ten for yourself," said Doc Madison suavely, flipping the coin into the tray. "Now, clear out!"

"Say"—Cleggy put his forefinger significantly to the side of his nose—"say, can't youse let a sport in on—"

"Clear out!" Doc Madison broke in quite as suavely as before—but there was a sudden glint of steel in the gray eyes as they held the bruiser's, and Cleggy, hastily picking up the tray, scuffled from the room.

Madison watched the door close, then he began to pace slowly up and down the room.

"Pull the chairs up to the table so we can take things comfortably," he directed.

"There ain't but two," grinned Pale Face Harry.

"Oh, well, never mind," said Madison.

"Slew the couch around and pull that up—Helena and I will sit on the head of it."

Still pacing up and down the length of the room, his hands in his pockets, Doc Madison watched the others as they carried out his directions; and then, suddenly, as he neared the door, his hand shot out, wrenched the door open, and, quick as a panther in its spring, he was in the hall without.

There was a yell, a scuffle, the rip and crash of rending bannisters, an instant's silence, then a heavy thud—and then Cleggy's voice from somewhere below in a choice and fervent flow of profanity.

Doc Madison re-entered the room, closed the door, dispassionately arranged a disordered cuff, brushed a few particles of dust from his sleeves and shoulder, and, this done, started toward the table—and stopped.

Helena had swung herself to the table edge, and, glass in hand, dangling her neatly shod little feet, was smoking a cigarette, her brown hair with a glint of amber in it, her dark eyes veiled now by their heavy lashes; on the other side of the table Pale Face Harry coughed, as, with sleeve rolled back, he was intent on the hypodermic needle he was pushing into his arm; while the Flopper, his eyes with a dog-like admiration in them fixed on Madison, stood facing the door, a grotesque, unpleasant figure, unkempt, unshaven, furtive-faced, his rags hanging disreputably about him, his trousers with their frayed edges, now that he stood upright, reaching far above his boot tops and flagrantly exposing his wretched substitutes for socks.

Doc Madison reached thoughtfully into his pocket, brought out a silver cigarette case, and carefully selected a cigarette from amongst its fellows.

"Yes; Cleggy was right," he said softly, tapping the end of the cigarette on his thumb nail. "You're the real thing—the real, real thing."

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