FROM the roundhouse it was only a few yards to the rear of the long, low-lying freight sheds and, unobserved, the Hawk gained this new shelter. He stole quickly along to the further end of the sheds; and there, crouched down again in the shadows, halted to make a critical survey of his surroundings. .

Just in front of him, divided only by a sort of driveway for the convenience of the teamsters, was the end wall of the station, and, in the end wall—the window of the divisional paymaster's office. The Hawk glanced to his left. The street upon which the station fronted, an ill-savoured section of the city, was dark, dimly lighted, and deserted; the only sign of life being the lighted windows of a saloon on the corner of a narrow lane that bisected the block of somewhat disreputable, tumble-down wooden structures that faced the station. To his right, on the other side of the freight shed, the railroad yard had narrowed down to the station tracks and a single spur alongside the shed. There was no one in sight in either direction.

The Hawk's eyes strayed back to the paymaster's window. The station, like its surrounding neighbours, was an old wooden building; and, being low and only two-storied, the second-story window offered inviting possibilities. From the sill of the lower window, a man who was at all agile had the upper window at his mercy. Against this mode of attack, however, was the risk of being seen by any one who might pass along the street, or by any one who might chance upon the end of the station platform.

“What's the use!” decided the Hawk, with an abrupt shrug of his shoulders. “Play safe. There's a better way.”

The Hawk crept across the driveway, reached the street side of the station, peered cautiously around the corner of the building, and, satisfied that he was unobserved, edged down along the building for a short distance, paused in a doorway, glanced quickly about him again—and then the door opened and closed, and he was standing in a murky passageway, that was lighted only by a single incandescent far back by a stair well.

He stood motionless, listening. From above, through the stillness, came the faint drumming of a telegraph key. There should be no one upstairs now but the dispatcher, whose room was at the opposite end of the building from the paymaster's office—and, possibly, with the dispatcher, a call boy or two. And the hallway above, he could see, was dark.

Moving stealthily forward, as noiseless as a cat in his tread, the Hawk took a mask from his pocket, slipped it over his face, and began to mount the stairs. He gained the landing—and halted again. It was pitch black here, since even the door of the dispatcher's room, where there would be a light, was closed.

And then once more the Hawk moved forward—and an instant later, the paymaster's door at the extreme end of the corridor, under the deft persuasion of his skeleton keys, had closed behind him.

It was not quite so dark here. The lights from the platform and the yard filtered in through the window in a filmy sort of way; but it was too dark to distinguish objects in anything more than grotesque, shapeless outlines.

The Hawk produced his flashlight, and turned it upon the lock he had just picked. It was a spring lock, opened readily from the inside by the mere turning of the doorhandle. He tried it carefully, assuring himself that it could not be opened from the corridor without a key—and then his light swept around the room. It played in its circuit upon the paymaster's flat-topped desk against the wall, and upon a large safe in the corner, near the window, whose polished nickel dial sent back an answering flash under the darting ray; but the Hawk, for the moment, appeared to be interested in neither desk nor safe. The flashlight was holding in a kind of dogged inquisitiveness upon another door close to the window, and directly opposite the safe.

He stepped without a sound across the room, and, reaching this door, snapped off his flashlight. He tried the door cautiously, found it unlocked, and very softly opened it the space of an inch. He listened attentively. There was no sound. He pushed the door open, switched on his flashlight again, and stepped through the doorway. It appeared to be a clerks' office—for the paymaster's staff, presumably. The Hawk seemed to possess a peculiar penchant for doors. The only thing in the room that apparently held any interest for him now was the door that opened, like the paymaster's, upon the corridor. He slipped quickly across the room, and, as before, examined the lock. Like the other, it was a spring lock; and, like the other, he tested it to make sure it was locked on the outside.

“Ten thousand dollars,” confided the Hawk to the lock, “isn't to be picked up every night; and we can't afford to take any chances, you know.”

He began to retrace his steps toward the paymaster's office, but now, obviously, with more attention to the details of his surroundings, for his flashlight kept dancing quick, jerky flashes in all directions about him.

“Ah!” The exclamation, low-breathed, came suddenly. “I thought there ought to be something like this around here!”

From, beside a desk, he stooped and picked up an empty pay satchel; then, returning at once to the other office, but leaving the connecting door just ajar, he dropped the pay bag in front of the safe, and went silently over to the desk—a mouse running across the floor would have made more commotion than the Hawk had made since his entry into the station.

“... Upper drawer, left side,” he muttered, “Locked, of course—ah!” A tiny key, selected from its fellow outlaws, was inserted in the lock—and the Hawk pulled out the drawer, and began to rummage through its contents.

From the back of the drawer, after perhaps a minute's search, he picked up a card, and with a nod of satisfaction began to study it.

“'Left—two right; eighty-seven, one quarter—left; three... '” The Hawk's eyes travelled swiftly over the combination. He read it over again, “Thank you!” murmured the Hawk whimsically—and dropped the card back in the drawer, and locked the drawer.

A moment more, and the white beam of the flashlight was playing on the face of the safe, and the silence of the room was broken by the faint, musical, metallic whirring of the dial. Bent forward, a crouching form in the darkness, the Hawk worked swiftly, a sure, deft accuracy in every movement of his fingers. With a low thud, as he turned the handle, the heavy bolt shot back in its grooves, and the ponderous door swung open. And now the flashlight's ray flooded the interior of the safe, and the Hawk laughed low—before him, lying on the bottom of the safe, neatly banded as they had come from the bank, were a dozen or fifteen little packages of banknotes.

The Hawk dropped on his knees, and reached for the pay bag. Ten thousand dollars was not so bulky, after all—if the denominations of the notes were large enough. He riffled one package through his fingers—twenties! Gold, yellow-back twenties!

There was a sort of beatific smile on the Hawk's lips. He dropped the package into the bag.

Tens, and twenties, and fives—the light, in a curiously caressing way, was lingering on the little fortune as it lay there on the bottom of the safe. There was only a pile or two of ones, and the rest was—what was that!

The smile vanished from the Hawk's lips, and, in a rigid, tense, strained attitude, he hung there, motionless. What was that—that dull, rasping, sound! It was like some one clawing at the wall outside. The window!

With a single motion, as though stirred to life by some galvanic shock, the Hawk's hand shot out and swept the packages of banknotes into the bag. He snapped off his flashlight. The room was in darkness.

That sound again! And now a creak! The window was being opened. Something black was bulking there on the sill outside—and something queerly white, a man's face, was pressed against the pane, peering in.

The Hawk glanced sharply around him. Inch by inch he was pushing the safe door shut. He could not reach the door leading to the clerks' office, for he would have to pass by the window, and—he shrank back quickly, the safe door closed but still unlocked, and crouched low in the corner against the wall. The window slid up to the top, and with a soft pad, like some animal alighting on the floor, the man had sprung into the room.

The Hawk's fingers crept into his pocket and out again, tight-closed now upon an automatic pistol. The other's flashlight winked, went out, then shot across the room, locating the desk—and once more all was darkness.

There was not a sound now, save the short, hurried breathing of the other, panting from the exertion of his climb. Then the man's step squeaked faintly crossing the room—and the Hawk, a few inches at a time, began to edge along the wall away from the neighbourhood of the safe.

Then the man's flashlight gleamed again, lighting up the top of the desk. There was a sharp, ripping sound, as of the tearing of wood under pressure, and the upper drawer, forced open by a steel jimmy, was pulled out.

“Birds of a feather!” said the Hawk grimly to himself. “Number One, of the Wire Devils! I didn't beat him to it by as much margin as I thought I would!”

The Hawk shifted his automatic to the hand that was clutching the pay bag, and, with the other hand, began to feel in wide sweeps over the wall above his head. The electric-light switch, he had noticed in that first quick glance when he had entered the room, a glance that had seemed to notice nothing, and yet in which nothing had escaped the sharp, trained eyes, was somewhere about here.

“Dangerous—for both of us—if it's seen outside,” communed the Hawk with himself again. “But when he finds the safe unlocked, and the goods gone, there'll be trouble. If he gets a flashlight on me, he's got me where he wants me. Ah—here it is!” The Hawk's fingers touched the switch. He lowered the pay bag cautiously to the floor between his feet, his automatic free in his hand again.

There was a rustling of papers in the drawer; then the man's hand, holding a card, was outlined as though thrown upon a screen, as, with his other hand, he focused his flashlight upon it. Then the flashlight swung an arc over the opposite wall, and pointed a pathway to the safe, as the man turned abruptly and stepped back across the room.

The Hawk, one hand raised to the switch on the wall, his automatic outflung a little in the other, tense, like an animal in leash, watched the other's movements.

The dark-outlined form was in shadowy relief against the light, that played now upon the glistening knob and dial of the safe. The man gave a preliminary, tentative twist at the handle. Came a quick, dismayed, hissing sound, like the sharp intake of 'breath. The safe door was wrenched open with a jerk. There was a low, angry cry now. The man sprang back, and as though involuntarily, in a sort of uncertain, panic-struck search, his flashlight shot along the wall—and fell full upon the Hawk.

The Hawk's finger pressed the switch. The room was ablaze with light. With a startled, furious oath, the man's hand was sweeping significantly toward his pocket.

“No, you don't!” snarled the Hawk, covering the other. “No, you don't! Cut that out!” His eyes, behind the mask, narrowed suddenly. “Hello!” he sneered. “It's 'Butcher' Rose—I might have known from the way you opened that drawer!”

It was a moment before the man answered.

“Blast you!” he whispered finally. “You gave me a bit of a start, you did! I thought at first you were a 'bull'.” His eyes fastened on the pay bag at the Hawk's feet. The top gaped open, disclosing the banknotes inside. The man raised his eyes to the Hawk's, and a cunning look came over his thin, hatchet-like face. “Caught with the goods this time, eh?” he jerked out.

The Hawk smiled unpleasantly.

“Yes,” he said. “The nest's empty. What is it they used to tell us in the nursery?—it's the early bird that grabs the worm. How long you been out in these parts, Butcher?”

“Look here,” said the Butcher ingratiatingly, ignoring the question, “I guess it's a case of split—eh?”

“You've got a nerve!” ejaculated the Hawk coolly.

“Well, put that light out, then, and we'll talk it over,” suggested the Butcher. “If it's seen from outside, we'll both get caught.”

“I'd rather take a chance on that, than a chance on you,” replied the Hawk curtly. “There's nothing to talk over. I've got the coin, and you've got a frost—all you've got to do now is beat it.”

Sharp, little, black, ferret eyes the Butcher had, and they roamed around the room now in an apparently aimless fashion—only to come back and fix hungrily on the bag of banknotes again. A sullen look came into his face, and the jaw muscles twitched ominously.

“So you're the Hawk they're talking about, eh?” he said, trying to speak smoothly. “Well, there's no use of us quarrelling. If you know me, we must be old pals. Take off that mask, and let's have a look at you. There ain't any reason why we can't be pals again.”

“Nix!” said the Hawk softly. “Nothing doing, Butcher! It suits me pretty well the way it is. I've made it a rule all my life to play a lone hand, and the more I see of the raw work that guys like you try to get away with, the more I pat myself on the back. Savvy? Why, say, even a drag-worker on Canal Street wouldn't show his face to a self-respecting crook for a month, he'd be so ashamed, if he took a crowbar to a desk drawer the way you did, you poor boob!”

The Butcher's face flushed, and he scowled.

“You're looking for trouble, ain't you!” he said hoarsely. “Well, mabbe you'll get it—and mabbe you'll get more than you're looking for. How'd you get wise to this game to-night?”

“It's the way I make my living—getting wise. How'd you suppose?” queried the Hawk insolently.

The Butcher was chewing at his lips angrily; his eyes, closed to slits, searched the Hawk's masked face.

“This is the second time!” he said, between his teeth. “You pinched that necklace, and——”

“O-ho!” exclaimed the Hawk, with a grin. “So you were after that, too, were you?”

The Butcher's flush deepened.

“That's none of your damned business!” he gritted. “And if I thought——” He bit his lips quickly.

“Go on!” invited the Hawk sweetly. “Don't mind me. If you thought—what?”

“You've had the luck with you,” mumbled the Butcher, half to himself. “It can't be anything else, there's no chance of a leak. But I'm going to tell you something—your luck's going to get a hole kicked in it. I'll tell you something more. There's a few of us that have picked out this little stamping ground for ourselves, and we ain't fond of trespassers. Get that? It ain't going to be healthy for you to linger around here over more than one train!”

“Are the rest of 'em all like you?” inquired the Hawk maliciously.

“You'll find out quicker than you'll want to, perhaps!” the Butcher retorted furiously.

“All right!” said the Hawk. “And now I'll tell you a little something. I don't know who are in this gang of yours, but you might take them a little message from me. If they're finding it crowded out here, they'd better move on to somewhere where competition isn't so likely to put them out of business through lack of brains, because I'm kind of figuring on hanging around until it gets time to open my château down at Palm Beach and stick my feet up on the sofa for a well-earned rest. Do you stumble to that? And”—the Hawk was drawling now—“I might say, Butcher, that I don't like you. My fingers are crossed on that trespassing gag. It don't go! I don't scare for any half-baked outfit of near-crooks! I stick here as long as there's anything worth sticking for.”

The Butcher's eyes seemed to be fascinated by the pay bag—they were on it again. He choked a little, swallowing hard; and, attempting a change of front, forced a smile.

“Well, don't get sore!” he said, in a whining tone. “Mabbe I was only trying to chuck a bluff, and got called. But, say, how'd you like to break in here to-night like I did, and find another fellow'd got all the swag? Say, it's damned rough, ain't it? Say, it's fierce! And, look here, I'm in on it now, anyhow. I know who took it. I'm going to keep my mouth shut, ain't I? You ain't going to leave me out in the cold, are you? All I ask is a split.”

“It's not much!” said the Hawk, in a velvet voice. “It hardly seems enough. You're too modest, Butcher. Why don't you ask for the whole of it? You might as well—you'd stand just as much chance of getting it!”

The smile faded from the Butcher's lips, and his face became contorted with rage again. He raised his fist and shook it at the Hawk. He cursed in abandon, his lips livid, beside himself with passion.

“You'll get yours for this!” He choked, in his fury, over his words. “You think you're slick! I'll show you what you're up against inside of twenty-four hours! You'll crawl for this, d'ye hear, blast you—you'll crawl!—you'll——”

The Hawk's automatic, dangling nonchalantly in his hand, swung suddenly upward to a level with the other's eyes.

“That's enough, you cheap skate!”—there was a cold, menacing ring in the Hawk's voice now. “I've heard enough from you. You and your hot-air crowd of moth-eaten lags! If you, or any of you, run foul of me again, you won't get off so easy! Tell 'em that! Tell 'em the Hawk said so! And you beat it! And beat it—now!” He caught up the pay bag, and advanced a step.

The Butcher retreated sullenly.

“Get out of that window!” ordered the Hawk evenly. “And take a last tip from me. If you try to plant me, if you let a peep out of you while I'm making my own getaway, I'll get you for it, Butcher, if it's the last thing I ever do. Go on, now! Step quicker!”

Still sullenly, mumbling, his mouth working, the Butcher retreated backward toward the window. The Hawk, his lips like a thin straight line just showing under the mask, followed grimly, step by step. And then, suddenly, both men halted, and their eyes met and held each other's in a long tense gaze.

From outside in the corridor came the sound of voices and footsteps. The footsteps drew nearer; the voices grew louder. The Hawk shot a glance toward the door. He drew in his breath sharply. No, there was no fanlight, the light would not show in the hall. That was the superintendent's voice. That letter Lanson was going to send down on No. 8! The other, probably, was MacVightie. Yes; it was MacVightie—he caught the detective's gruff tones now. The door on the opposite side of the corridor from the paymaster's room opened.

The Butcher licked his lips.

“Me for the window, and for it quick!” he muttered under his breath.

He turned, and, his back to the Hawk now, tiptoed to the window, turned again sideways, as though to throw one leg over the sill—and his right hand, hidden, suddenly lifted the side of his coat.

It came quick, quick as the winking of an eye. Racketing through room and building, like the detonation of a cannon in the silence, came the roar of a revolver shot, as the Butcher fired through his coat pocket. Mechanically, the Hawk staggered backward; and then, the quick, keen brain working like lightning, he reeled, dropped the pay bag, and clutched wildly at his side. He was not hit. The Butcher had missed. So that was the man's game! Clever enough! They'd break in here at the sound of the shot, and find him dead or wounded on the floor!

The Butcher, a devil's triumph in his face now, came leaping back from the window, and, stooping, snatched at the pay bag.

“I'd put another in you to make sure,” whispered the Butcher fiercely; “only they'll get you anyway, you——”

The Hawk straightened, his arm streaked outward from his side, his pistol butt crashed on the Butcher's skull, and he was upon the other like a flash, his free hand at the Butcher's throat.

From the room opposite came startled cries; across the corridor came the rush of feet—then the doorhandle was tried, the door shaken violently.

The Butcher was struggling but feebly, making only a pitiful effort to loosen the Hawk's clutch upon his throat, hanging almost limply in the Hawk's arms, half dazed by the blow upon his head. White to the lips with passion, the Hawk whipped his hand into the other's pocket, whipped out the other's revolver, and flung the man away from him. And then, as the Butcher reeled and lurched backward to the window, and, clawing frantically at the sill, attempted to work his way out, the Hawk ran silently back, picked up the pay bag, and, jumping to the window again, caught the Butcher roughly by the collar of the coat.

The Butcher, white, haggard-faced with fear, moaned.

“For God's sake!” he pleaded piteously. “Let me go! Let me go! For God's sake, let me go—they'll get me!”

There was a terrific crash upon the door, as of some heavy body hurled against it. The Hawk laughed mirthlessly.

“If I let you go, you'd break your neck!”—the Hawk's words were coming through clenched teeth. “Don't worry, Butcher! They'll not get you. I don't want them to get you. I want to get you myself for this. Some day, Butcher, some day I'll do the getting!” He pushed the Butcher's feet over the sill. “Feel with your toes for the window casing beneath! Quick!” He leaned out, gripping at the Butcher's collar, lowering the man—his lips were close against the Butcher's ear. “Some day—for this—you yellow cur—you and me, Butcher—remember—some day!

A crash again upon the door! The Butcher's feet were on the lower sill; but here the man lost his hold, and toppled to the ground. The Hawk glanced backward into the room. The door was yielding now. He looked out of the window again. The Butcher had regained his feet, and was swaying against the wall, holding to it, making his way slowly, weakly toward the corner.

The Hawk threw one leg over the sill. With a rip and tear, the door smashed inward, sagging from its lower hinge. Came a hoarse yell. MacVightie was plunging through the doorway.

Instantly the Hawk, hugging the pay bag, drew back his leg, and dove into the clerk's room through the door which he had left ajar. There would have been no use in letting the Butcher go at all if he led the chase through the window—the man was barely crawling away. Across the room, light enough now from the open doorway behind him to point the way, raced the Hawk. He reached the corridor door, as MacVightie lunged through the connecting door in pursuit.

MacVightie's voice rose in a bellow of warning:

“Look out there, Lanson! The next door—quick!”

But the Hawk was the quicker. He tore the door open, and dashed through, just eluding the superintendent and another man—the dispatcher probably, attracted by the row—as they sprang forward from the paymaster's door.

Running like a deer, the Hawk made for the stairway. It was lighter now in the hall. The dispatcher's door along at the farther end was open. At the head of the stairs, a call boy, wide-eyed, gaped, openmouthed. The Hawk brushed the boy aside incontinently, and, taking the stairs three and four at a time, leaped downward, MacVightie's bull-like roar echoing behind him, the top stairs creaking under the detective's rush.

The street door opened outward, and as the Hawk reached it, and, wrenching at the knob, pushed it open, there was a flash, the report of a revolver shot—and, with a venomous spat, the bullet buried itself in the door jamb, not an inch from his head, it seemed, for the wind of the bullet was on his cheek.

Cries sounded now from the railroad yard; but the street in front of him, deserted, was still undisturbed. He was across it in a twinkling, and, passing the saloon that was now closed, darted into the lane.

He flung a glance over his shoulder—and his lips set hard. MacVightie, big man though he was, was no mean antagonist in a race. The detective, quicker in initiative, quicker on his feet, had outdistanced both Lanson and the dispatcher, and was already halfway across the street.

Again MacVightie fired.

On the Hawk ran. If he could reach the next corner—providing there was no one about the street—there was a way, a risky way, but still a way, his best chance of escape. The cheap combination lodging house and saloon, that was just around the corner, was where he had a room. Yes, it was his one chance! He must get to cover somewhere without an instant's delay. With MacVightie firing now, emptying his revolver up the lane, with the yells and shouts growing constantly in volume from farther back toward the station, it was only a question of minutes before the whole neighbourhood would be aroused.

Again he glanced behind him. It was very dark in the lane. He was grimly conscious that it was the blackness, and not MacVightie's poor marksmanship, that had saved him so far. That flash of the other's revolver was perhaps fifty yards away. He had gained a little, then! If there was any one around the corner, the plan of reaching his room would not serve him, and he would still have to run for it. Well, he would see in an instant—it was only two yards more—a yard—now!

Without slackening his pace, at top speed he swung from the lane—and, with a gasp of relief at sight of an empty street, slipped into a doorway just beyond the now dark entrance to a saloon that occupied most of the ground floor of a dirty and squalid three-story building.

The door gave on a narrow flight of stairs, and up these the Hawk sprang swiftly and with scarcely a sound. And now, as he ran, he pulled his mask from his face and thrust it into the pay bag; a pocket-book from his inside coat pocket followed the mask, and, with the pocketbook, the flashlight, and the two pistols, his own and the Butcher's. He opened a door at the head of the landing, and stepped into a room, leaving the door partly open.

He was not safe yet—far from it! He did not under-estimate MacVightie. It would be obvious to MacVightie that he was not far enough ahead to have disappeared in any but one way—into some building within a very few yards of the lane! And the presumption, at least, would be that this was the one.

The Hawk worked now with almost incredible speed. He switched on the light, ran to the window that opened on the rear of the building, felt with one hand along the sill outside, lifted the pay bag out of the window, let go of it, and turned instantly back into the room. He hung up his hat on a wall peg, and tearing off his jacket, flung it haphazardly upon the bed. There was a small table against the wall near the foot of the bed. The Hawk opened a drawer, snatched up a pack of cards, and sat down at the table.

The street door opened and closed. A quick, heavy tread sounded on the stairs.

In his shirt sleeves, his back to the door, the Hawk was coolly playing solitaire.

“I guess I'd better be smoking,” murmured the Hawk. “Maybe I'm breathing a little hard.”

He picked up a pipe from the table, lighted a match—and, half the deck of cards in one hand, the lighted match in the other, swung around in his chair with a startled jerk.

The door slammed back against the wall. MacVightie had unceremoniously kicked it wide open. MacVightie was standing on the threshold.

The Hawk, in a sort of surprised gasp, sucked the flame of the match down into the bowl of his pipe, and stared at MacVightie through a curtain of tobacco smoke. The detective's eyes travelled sharply from the Hawk around the room, came back to the Hawk, narrowed, and, stepping into the room, he shut the door with equal lack of ceremony behind him.

“Say, you got a gall!” ejaculated the Hawk.

“You bet your life I have!” flung out MacVightie. “Now then, my bucko, what are you doing, here?”

“Say,” said the Hawk, as though obsessed with but a single idea, “say, you got a gall! You got a gall, busting into a fellow's room and asking him what he's doing there! Say, maybe you might answer the same question yourself—eh? What are you doing here?”

“Your room, is it?” snapped MacVightie.

“Sure it's my room!” replied the Hawk, a little tartly.

“How long you been here?”

“'Bout a week”—the Hawk was growing ungracious.

“Boarding here?”


“Where'd you come from?” MacVightie was clipping off his words. “What do you do for a living?”

“Say,” said the Hawk politely, “you go to hell!”

MacVightie stepped forward toward the Hawk, with an ominous scowl; and, throwing back the lapel of his coat, tapped grimly with his forefinger on a shield that decorated his vest.

The Hawk whistled low.

“O-ho!” said the Hawk, with sudden cordiality. “Well, why didn't you say so before?”

“I'm saying it now!” snarled MacVightie. “Well, where do you come from?”

“Chicago,” said the Hawk.

“What's your business?”—MacVightie's eyes were roving sharply again around the room.

“Barkeep—when I can get a job,” answered the Hawk; and then, insinuatingly: “And, say, I'm looking for one now, and if you can put me on to anything I'd——”

“I guess you've got to show me!” growled Mac-Vightie, uncompromisingly.

“Look here,” ventured the Hawk, “what's up?”

“I'm waiting!” prompted MacVightie significantly.

“Oh, all right!” The Hawk flared up a little. “If you love your grouch, keep on hugging it tight!” He jerked his hand toward the coat that was lying on the bed. “I must have lost the letter the pastor of my church gave me, but there's a couple there from the guys back in Chicago that I worked for, and there's my union card with them. Help yourself!”

MacVightie picked up the coat brusquely, shoved his hand into the inside pocket, brought out several letters, and began to read them.

The Hawk shuffled the half deck of cards in his hand monotonously.

There was a puzzled frown on MacVightie's face, as he finally tossed the letters down on the bed.

“Satisfied?” inquired the Hawk pleasantly.

MacVightie's frown deepened.

“Yes, as far as that goes,” he said tersely; and then, evenly, his eyes boring into the Hawk: “About five minutes ago a man ran into this house from the street. What's become of him?”

The Hawk started in amazement—and slowly shook his head.

“I guess you've got the wrong dope, ain't you?” he suggested earnestly.

“Don't try that game!” cautioned MacVightie grimly. “And don't lie! He had to come up these stairs, your door was partly open, and he couldn't have passed without you knowing it.”

“That's what I'm saying,” agreed the Hawk, even more earnestly. “That's why I'm saying you must have got the wrong dope. Of course, he couldn't have got by without me hearing him! That's a cinch! And, I'm telling you straight, he didn't.”

“Didn't he?” MacVightie's smile was thin. “Then he came in here—into this room.”

“In here?” echoed the Hawk weakly. His gaze wandered helplessly around the room. “Well, all you've got to do is look.”

“I'm going to!” announced MacVightie curtly—and with a sudden jerk he yanked the single bed out from the wall. He peered behind and beneath it; then, stepping over to a cretonne curtain in the corner that served as wardrobe, he pulled it roughly aside.

There were no other places of possible concealment. MacVightie chewed at his under lip, and eyed the Hawk speculatively.

The Hawk's eyes were still travelling bewilderedly about the room, as though he still expected to find something.

“Are you dead sure he came into this house,” he inquired heavily, as though the problem were entirely beyond him.

MacVightie hesitated.

“Well—no,” he acknowledged, after a moment. “I guess you're straight all right, and I'll admit I didn't see him come in; but I'd have pretty near taken an oath on it.”

“Then I guess he must have ducked somewhere else,” submitted the Hawk sapiently. “There wasn't no one went by that door—I'm giving it to you on the level.”

MacVightie's reluctant smile was a wry grimace.

“Yes, I reckon it's my mistake.” His voice lost its snarl, and his fingers groped down into his vest pocket. “Here, have a cigar,” he invited placatingly.

“Why, say—thanks”—the Hawk beamed radiantly. “Say, I——”

“All right, young fellow”—with a wave of his hand, MacVightie moved to the door. “All right, young fellow. No harm done, eh? Good-night!”

The door closed. The footsteps without grew fainter, and died away.

The Hawk, staring at the door, apostrophised the doorknob.

“Well, say, what do you know about that!” he said numbly. “I wonder what's up?”

He rose from his chair after a moment as though moved by a sort of subconscious impulse, mechanically pushed his bed back against the wall, and returned to his chair.

He dug out his pipe abstractedly, filled it, and lighted it. He gathered up the cards, shuffled them, and began to lay them out again on the table—and paused, and drummed with his fingers on the table top.

“They're after some guy that's ducked his nut somewhere around here,” he decided aloud. “I wonder what's up?”

The Hawk spread out his remaining cards—and swept them away from him into an indiscriminate heap.

“Aw, to blazes with cards!” he ejaculated impatiently.

He put his feet up on the table, and sucked steadily at his pipe.

“It's a cinch he never went by that door,” the Hawk assured the toe of his boot. “I guess he handed that 'bull' one, all right, all right.”

The minutes passed. The Hawk, engrossed, continued to suck on his pipe. Then from far down the stairs there came a faint creak, and an instant later the outer door closed softly.

The Hawk's feet came down from the table, and the Hawk smiled—grimly.

“Tut, tut!” chided the Hawk. “That treadmill diminuendo on the top step and the keyhole stunt is pretty raw, Mr. MacVightie—pretty raw! You forgot the front door, Mr. MacVightie—I don't seem to remember having heard it open or close until just now!”

The back of the Hawk's chair, as he pushed it well away from the table and stood up, curiously enough now intercepted itself between the keyhole and the interior of the room. He stepped to the door, and slipped the bolt quietly into place; then, going to the window, he reached out, and, from where it hung upon a nail driven into the sill, picked up the pay bag.

“That's a pretty old gag, too,” observed the Hawk almost apologetically. “I was lucky to get by with it.”

The Hawk's attention was now directed to his trunk, that was between the table and the foot of the bed. He lifted the lid back against the wall, and removed an ingeniously fashioned false top, in the shape of a tray, that fitted innocently into the curvature of the lid. The Hawk stared at a magnificent diamond necklace that glittered and gleamed on the bottom of the tray, as its thousand facets caught the light—and grinned.

“If you'd only known, eh—Mr. MacVightie!” he murmured.

From the pay bag the Hawk took out the packages of banknotes, the flashlight, the mask, the two pistols, and packed them neatly away in the tray. The only article left in the bag was his pocketbook. He opened this, disclosing a number of crisp, new ten-dollar bills. He held one of them up to the light for a moment, studying it admiringly.

“I guess these won't be much more good around here, according to that little conversation between MacVightie and the superintendent,” he muttered—and, with a shrug of his shoulders, tossed the entire number into the tray.

He fitted the false top back into the lid, and closed the trunk. There remained the empty pay bag. He frowned at it for an instant; then, picking it up, he tucked it under the mattress of his bed.

“I'll get rid of that in the morning”—he nodded his head, as he turned down the bed covers.

The Hawk began to undress, and at intervals voiced snatches of his thoughts aloud.

“Pretty close shave,” said the Hawk, “pretty close.... Ten thousand dollars is some haul.... All right as long as they don't find out I've got the key to their cipher.... And so Butcher Rose is one of the gang, eh?... Number One—Butcher Rose.... Guess he got away all right—from MacVightie.... He nearly did me.... Pretty close shave....”

The Hawk turned out the light, and got into bed.

“I guess I played in luck to-night,” said the Hawk softly, and for the second time that night. “Yes, I guess I did.”

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