THE Hawk crawled out from under the tarpaulin and dropped to the ground, as the freight, slowing down, began to patter in over the spur switches of the Selkirk yard. He darted, bent low, across several spurs to escape the possibility of observation from the freight's caboose; then began to make his way toward the roundhouse ahead of him. He would have to pass around behind the roundhouse in order to get up opposite the station and the divisional offices. The Hawk glanced sharply about him as he moved along. He dodged here and there like some queer, irresponsible phantom flitting amongst the low, myriad red, green and purple lights that dotted the yard; and he carefully avoided those other lights, the white lights of the yardsmen, now bobbing as the men ran up and down, now swinging from the footboard of a passing switcher, that seemed to be unusually ubiquitous—for the Hawk was secretive, and for certain good and valid reasons was possessed of an earnest desire that no stranger should be reported prowling around the railroad yard that night.

He reached the roundhouse, stepped close up against the wall to take advantage of the security afforded by the shadows, and began to circle the building. The Hawk was treading silently now. Halfway around the building he halted abruptly, his head cocked suddenly in a listening attitude toward a small, open and lighted window on a level with his shoulders, and in order to pass which he had just been on the point of stooping down.

“I think,” said the Hawk softly to himself, “I think this sounds as though it interested me.”

He crept cautiously forward, and from the edge of the window glanced inside. It was the turner's “cubbyhole,” or office. The door was closed, and two men were standing there, talking earnestly. The Hawk's face, dimly outlined now in the window light, smooth-shaven, square-jawed, the eyes and forehead hidden by the brim of the slouch hat that was pulled forward almost to the bridge of his nose, set with a curious and significant smile. It was not a bad place for a private conference! He had thought he had recognised the voice—and he had not been mistaken. The big, heavy-built, thin-lipped, pugnacious-faced man was MacVightie, the head of the railroad's detective force; the other, a smaller man, with alert grey eyes, his forehead furrowed anxiously, whose clenched hand rested on the table, was Lanson, the division superintendent.

“I don't know, damn it, MacVightie!” Lanson was saying savagely. “I don't know what to think, or believe—I only know that a Pullman hold-up one night, a twenty-thousand-dollar necklace stolen the next, an express car looted, and several other little pleasant episodes all jammed one on top of the other, means hell to pay out here and nothing to pay it with, unless we can do something almighty quick!”

“Any more of those messages?” inquired MacVightie—there was an ominous abstraction in his tones.


“Make anything of it?”

“No,” said Lanson; “and I think it's about time to put a kink in that little business, whether they mean anything or not. This cat-and-mouse game we've been playing isn't——”

“We'll get back to that in a minute,” interrupted MacVightie quietly. “Here's a little something else that may possibly fit into the combination.” He reached into his pocket, took out his pocketbook, opened it, and handed the division superintendent a crisp new ten-dollar note.

The Hawk's lips thinned instantly, and he swore sharply under his breath.

“What's this?” asked Lanson, in surprise. “Phony!” said MacVightie laconically. “Counterfeit!” Lanson turned the note over in his hands, staring at first one side and then the other. “Are you sure? I'd take it any time.”

“You'd have lots of company with you”—there was a sudden rasp in the detective's voice. “Pretty good one, isn't it? The East is being flooded with them. Two of them showed up in the banks here in the city yesterday, and one to-day.”

Lanson frowned perplexedly.

“I don't get you, MacVightie,” he said.

“Suppose they were being struck off around here,” suggested MacVightie curtly. “I don't say they are, but suppose it were so. They'd likely be shoved out as far away from this locality as possible, wouldn't they—back East, say. They're so good that a jag of them got by before they began to be detected—and now suppose we assume that they're beginning to sift back around the country.”


“Well”—MacVightie caught the superintendent up quickly—“I didn't say I could prove it; but, coupled with the fact that I happen to know that the police have traced the work back to somewhere west of Chicago, I've got a hunch that the gang that is operating around here and the crowd that is turning out the phony money is the same outfit. The Lord knows”—he smiled bitterly—“they're clever enough! And to go back to those messages now. If there was anything in them at all, anything more than some irresponsible idiot tampering with a key somewhere, we were face to face, not with a mere gang of train robbers, but with an organised criminal league as dangerous and powerful as has ever existed in this country—and that's what made me hesitate. We couldn't afford to take any chances, to start out after a mare's nest, and we had to make as nearly sure of our ground as possible before we played a card. We went on the principle that if it was only somebody playing the goat, he'd get tired of it before long if no one paid any attention to him; if it meant anything more than that, he'd keep on.” MacVightie's pugnacious face screwed up into a savage grimace. “Well, maybe this counterfeiting idea has had something to do with deciding me, but, anyway, I'm satisfied now. He has kept on. And I'm satisfied now that those messages are a cipher code that the gang is using, and that our cat-and-mouse play, as you call it, instead of being abortive, is exactly what's going to land our men for us. That's one thing I came to tell you to-night—that I'm ready now to take the gloves off on this wire game.”

Lanson smashed his fist down on the table top. “Good!” he exclaimed grimly. “I'd like to make things hot for somebody, and it'll at least be easy enough to catch whoever is using the wire.” MacVightie shook his head.

“Oh, no; it won't!” he said evenly. “I didn't mean to give you that impression, and don't you make the mistake of under-estimating the brains we're up against, Lanson. I'm no expert on telegraphy, that's your end of it, but I know they wouldn't sit in on any game where they didn't hold trumps up their sleeves. Get me? Now let's see what it looks like. As I understand it, these messages, no matter from what point on the division they are sent, would be heard on every sounder on the line—that's right, isn't it?”

“Yes—sure! Of course!” agreed Lanson.

“And it might be an operator working with them as an inside man; or, with the necessary outfit, the wire could be tapped at any point, couldn't it?”

“Yes,” said Lanson; “but the minute he starts in, we could begin to 'ground' him out.”

“Go on!” invited MacVightie. “I'm listening.”

“We could tell whether he was working east or west of any given point,” explained the superintendent; “and, with the operators instructed beforehand, practically narrow him down to, say, between two stations.”

The Hawk, as he, too, listened, permitted an amused smile to flicker across his lips.

“Um!” said MacVightie. “And would he be aware that this 'grounding' process was going on?”

“Yes—naturally,” admitted Lanson. “We can't prevent that.”

MacVightie shook his head again.

“That doesn't sound good to me,” he said slowly. “All he'd have to do would be to beat it then—and the next time start in fifty miles away, and you'd have to begin all over again. And, besides, who's receiving the messages? You can't put any tabs on that. Every sounder from Selkirk City to Rainy River registers them, and all a man's got to do is listen. You see, Lanson, it's not so easy—eh?”

Lanson frowned.

“Well, what do you suggest?” he asked uncomfortably. “We can stop it.”

“But we don't want to stop it!” returned MacVightie. “We could have done that from the first. What we want is our man now. And it strikes me that the first thing to do is to find out whether one of our own operators is in on this or not. Unless the line is tapped somewhere, it's a cinch that a station key is being used, isn't it? Send some linemen that you can trust over the division. If they find anything at all, they'll find the spot where the messages are coming from, won't they? If they find nothing, we'll know we've got to look nearer home—amongst our own men.”

Lanson, in his turn, shook his head.

“Not necessarily,” he objected. “We've a number of small stations where there's no night operator. They might have got into one of those. The messages all come through at night.”

“Well, I'll call the turn there!” responded Mac-Vightie, with a short laugh. “See that I get a list of those stations in the morning, and I'll detail men to take care of that end of it.”

The Hawk drew back a little, shifting his strained position—the amused smile was no longer on his lips.

“And as for that 'ground' business,” went on Mac-Vightie, “go slow with it till you get your linemen's report. Don't do any more than try it out with some operator you can absolutely depend upon, say, about halfway down the line. You say you would be able to tell whether the messages were coming from east or west of that point; that'll cut the division in half for us as far as our search is concerned, and that's worth taking a chance on. But don't overdo it, Lanson. We don't want to throw any scare into him—yet.”

“All right,” agreed Lanson. “I'll start things moving to-night. Martin, at Bald Creek, will be the best man, I guess. I'll send a letter down to him on No. 8.”

“And warn him to make no reports by wire,” cautioned MacVightie.

“All right—yes, naturally,” agreed the superintendent again. Then, after a short pause, anxiously: “Anything turned up at all, MacVightie? Any clue to that necklace? The governor's wife is making a holler that's reached from here to the road's directors down in Wall Street.”

“Damn it,” growled MacVightie. “I'm well enough aware of it—but the necklace isn't any more important than any one of the other affairs, is it? No; there's nothing—not a blamed thing!”

“Well, what about this Sing Sing convict, the Hawk, that the papers are featuring to-night?” Lanson asked. “Anything in that?”

“I don't know—maybe,” McVightie answered viciously. “He's only one more, anyway. This gang was operating before he was released—and it's likely enough, if they're old pals of his, that he's come out here to give them a hand. The New York police say he went to Chicago immediately after his release, two weeks ago. The Chicago police reported him there, and then he disappeared; then Denver spotted him a few days later—and that's the last that's been seen of him. You can make what you like of that. He's certainly been hitting a pretty straight trail west. He wasn't stopped, of course, because he isn't 'wanted' at present; he's only a man with a bad record, and labelled dangerous. We were warned to look out for him, that's all.”

“Got his description?” inquired Lanson.

“Yes”—MacVightie's laugh was a short bark. “Medium height, broad-shouldered, muscular, black hair, black eyes, straight nose, good-looking, and gentlemanly in appearance and manner, dresses well, age twenty-four to twenty-six, no distinctive marks or disfigurement.”

“There's probably not more than twenty-five thousand men in Selkirk City who would answer to every detail of that!” Lanson commented sarcastically.

“Exactly!” admitted MacVightie. “And that's——”

The Hawk was creeping forward again in the shadows of the roundhouse.

“Yes, I guess it interested me,” muttered the Hawk; “I guess it did. I guess I'm playing in luck to-night.”

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