TWENTY minutes later, as No. 17 pulled into Selkirk, the Hawk, his erstwhile drowsiness little in evidence, dropped to the platform while the train was still in motion, and before MacVightie and Lanson in the rear car, it might be fairly assumed, had thought of leaving their seats. The Hawk was interested in MacVightie for the balance of the night only to the extent of keeping out of MacVightie's sight—his attention was centered now on the office of one Isaac Kirschell, and the possibilities that lay in the said Isaac Kirschell's cash box.

He glanced at the illuminated dial of the tower clock. It was eighteen minutes after ten.

“That's the worst of getting the dope a long way down the line,” he muttered, as he hurried through the station and out to the street. “But I had to get a look at MacVightie's cards to-night.” He struck off toward the downtown business section of the city at a brisk pace. “It ought to be all right though tonight—more than enough time to get in ahead of them—they're not likely to pull any break in that locality until well after midnight. Wonder what Kirschell's got in his cash box that's so valuable? I suppose they know, or they wouldn't be after it! They don't hunt small game, but”—the Hawk sighed lugubriously—“there's no chance of any such luck as last night again. Ten thousand dollars in cash! Some haul! Yes, I guess maybe they're peeved!”

The Hawk, arrived at his destination, surveyed the office building from the opposite side of the street. The restaurant on the ground floor was dark, but a lighted window here and there on the floors above indicated that some of the tenants were working late. It was therefore fairly safe to presume that the entrance door, though closed, was unlocked. The Hawk crossed the street unconcernedly, and tried the door. It opened under his hand—' but noiselessly, and to the extent only of a bare inch, in view of the possibility of a janitor being somewhere about. Detecting no sound from within, however, the Hawk pushed the door a little further open, and was confronted with a dimly lighted vestibule, and a long, still more dimly lighted corridor beyond. There was no one in sight. He slipped inside—and, quick and silent now in his movements, darted across the vestibule and into the corridor.

Halfway along the corridor, he halted before a door, on whose glass panel he could just make out the words “Isaac Kirschell,” and, beneath the name, in smaller letters, the intimation that the entrance was next door. The Hawk's decision was taken in the time it required to produce from his pocket a key-ring equipped with an extensive assortment of skeleton keys. If by any chance he should be disturbed and had entered by the designated office door, his escape would be cut off; if, on the other hand, he entered by this unused door, and left it unlocked behind him, he would still be quite comfortably the master of the situation in almost any emergency.

The door seemed to offer unusual difficulties. Even when unlocked, it stuck. The Hawk worked at it by the sense of touch alone, his eyes busy with sharp glances up and down the corridor. Finally, succeeding in opening it a little way, it was only to find it blocked by some obstruction within. He scowled. A desk, probably, close against it! The door was certainly never used. He would have to enter by the other one, after all, and—no! He had reached his arm inside. It was only a coat-stand, or something of the sort He lifted it aside, stepped in, and closed the door behind him.

The Hawk's flashlight—not the diminutive little affair that had served him for his notebook—began to circle his surroundings inquisitively. He was in a small, plainly furnished private office. There was a desk, two chairs, and a filing cabinet. Also there were two doors. The Hawk opened the one at his left, and peered out. It gave on what was presumably the general office; and at the upper end was a partition with the name, “Mr. Kirschell,” upon the door. He looked at the panel of the door he had just opened. It bore no name.

“This belongs to Kirschell's secretary probably,” he decided. “The other door from here opens, of course, into Kirschell's private office. Wonder what Mr. Isaac Kirschell's business is?”

He closed the door leading into the outer office, and moved across the room to the second door that already stood wide open, and almost directly faced what he had taken for granted was the secretary's desk. He stepped over the threshold. Mr. Kirschell's sanctum was somewhat more elaborately furnished. Apart from a rather expensive flat-topped desk in the centre of the room, there was a massive safe, new and of modern design, a heavy rug upon the floor, and several very comfortable leather-up holstered chairs. A washstand, the metal taps highly polished, and a mahogany towel rack occupied the far corner. The Hawk inspected the safe with the eye of a connoisseur, scowled unhappily by way of expressing his opinion of it, and turned to the desk. He opened a drawer, and picked up a sheet of business stationery. The letterhead read:


“Ho, ho!” observed the Hawk. “Sort of a glorified pawnbroker, eh? I——”

The sheet of paper was shot back into the drawer, the flashlight was out—and on the instant the Hawk was back in the other office, and crouched on the floor behind the desk. Some one had halted outside in the corridor before the main office door, and now a key was turned in the lock. The door was opened and closed, footsteps crossed the general office, paused for a moment outside Mr. Kirschell's door, then the lights in Mr. Kirschell's room went on, a man entered, tossed his hat on a chair, and sat down at the desk. It was obviously Mr. Kirschell himself.

Through the wide opening between the ends of the desk that sheltered him, the Hawk, flat on the floor, took stock of the other. The man was rather small in stature, with a thin, palish face, sharp, restless, very small black eyes, and he was extremely well dressed—the Hawk noted the dainty little boutonnière in the lapel of the man's coat, and smiled queerly. From Mr. Kirschell's face he glanced at the face of Mr. Kirschell's safe, then back at Mr. Kirschell again—and fingered his automatic in the pocket of his coat.

The Hawk, however, made no further movement—Mr. Kirschell's actions suggested that it would be unwise. The man, though apparently occupied with some mail which he had taken from his pocket, kept glancing impatiently at his watch. It was quite evident that he was expecting some one every moment. The Hawk frowned perplexedly. The message that night, even when deciphered, left much, too much, to the imagination! It was quite possible that Mr. Kirschell was to be relieved of his cash box with more address and finesse than by the bald expedient of ruining Mr. Kirschell's safe! This appointment, for instance, might—and then the Hawk smiled queerly again.

The corridor door had opened and closed for the second time. A heavy step traversed the outer office, and a man, hat in hand, in cheap store clothes, stood before Mr. Krischell's desk.

“Mentioned in dispatches!” said the Hawk very softly to himself. “I guess that's Calhoun. So that's the game—eh?”

“You're late, Mr. Calhoun!” Kirschell greeted the other sharply. “Five minutes late! I have put myself to considerable inconvenience to give you this appointment.”

Calhoun's hair was tossed, there was a smudge across his cheek, and his hands were grimy, as though he had just come from work. He was a big man, powerfully shouldered. His grey eyes were not friendly as they met Kirschell's.

“I couldn't help it,” he said shortly. “I've been up the line all day. I told you I couldn't get here until about this time.”

“Well, all right, all right!” said Kirschell impatiently. “But, now that you are here, are you prepared to settle?”

“I can give you a small payment on account, that's the best I can do,” Calhoun answered.

Kirschell tilted back in his swivel chair, and frowned as he tapped the edge of his desk with a paper cutter.

“How much?” he demanded coldly.

“Forty dollars”—Calhoun's hand went tentatively toward his pocket.

“Forty dollars!” There was derision in Kirschell's voice, an uninviting smile on Kirschell's lips. “That's hardly more than the interest!”

“Yes,” said Calhoun, snarling suddenly, “at the thieving rates you, and the bloodsuckers like you, charge.”

Kirschell's uninviting smile deepened.

“Considering the security, the rate is very moderate,” he said evenly. “Now, see here, Calhoun, I told you plainly enough this thing had to be settled to-day. You don't want to run away with the impression that I'm a second Marakof, to be staved off all the time. I bought your note from the pawnbroker's estate because the executors didn't like the look of it, and weren't any too sure they could collect it. Well, I can! I'm new out here, but I'm not new at my business. Excuses with me don't take the place of cash. I hold your note for five hundred dollars, which is past due, to say nothing of six months' interest besides—and you come here to-night and offer me forty dollars!”

“I would have paid Marakof,” said Calhoun, in a low voice; “and I'll pay you as fast as I can. You know what I'm up against—I told you when you first got after me, as soon as you got that note. My brother got into trouble back East. What would you have done? That five hundred kept him out of the 'pen.' He's only a kid. Damn it, don't play the shark! Marakof renewed the note—why can't you?”

“Because I don't do business that way,” said Kir-schell curtly.

Calhoun's voice grew hard.

“How much did you pay for that note, anyway?”

Kirschell shrugged his shoulders.

“I didn't say I wasn't taking any risk with you,” he replied tersely. “That's the profit on my risk. And as far as you are concerned—it's none of your business!”

Calhoun shrugged his shoulders in turn, and, taking a small roll of bills from his pocket, smoothed them out between his fingers.

“I got a wife, and I got kids,” said Calhoun slowly. “And I'm doing the best I can. Do you want this forty, or not?”

“It depends,” said Kirschell, tapping again with his paper cutter. “How about the rest?”

“I'll pay you what I can every month,” Calhoun answered.

“How much?”—bluntly.

“What I can!” returned Calhoun defiantly.

The two men eyed each other for a moment—and then Kirschell tossed the paper cutter down on the desk.

“Well, all right!” he decided ungraciously. “I'll take a chance for a month—and see how you live up to it. Hand it over, and I'll give you a receipt.”

Calhoun shook his head.

“I don't trust the man who don't trust me,” he said gruffly. “I don't want that kind of a receipt. You'll indorse the payment on the back of the note, Mr. Kirschell, if you want this forty.”

“What?” inquired Kirschell, staring.

“You heard what I said,” said Calhoun coolly. “I'm in the hands of a shark, and I know it. That's plain talk, isn't it?”

“But,” Kirschell flared up angrily, “I——”

Calhoun calmly returned the money to his pocket.

“Suit yourself!” he suggested indifferently. “I ain't asking for anything more than I have a right to.”

“Very well, my man!” said Kirschell icily. “If our dealings are to be on this basis, I hope you will remember that the basis is of your own choosing.” He swung around in his chair, and, rising, walked over to the safe.

And then, for the first time, the Hawk moved. He edged silently back along the floor until far enough away from the doorway to be fully protected by the darkness of the room, and stood up. Kirschell was swinging the heavy door of the safe open. The cash box was to be produced! Lying down, the Hawk could not hope to see its contents if it were opened on the desk; standing up, he might be able to form a very good idea of how tempting its contents would prove to be.

Kirschell took a black-enamelled steel box from the safe, and returned to the desk. He opened this with a key, threw back the cover—and the Hawk stuck his tongue in his cheek. A few papers lay on the top—otherwise it was crammed to overflowing with banknotes. Kirschell selected one of the papers, and picked up a pen in frigid silence.

But the Hawk was no longer watching the scene. His head was cocked to one side, in a curious, bird-like, listening attitude. He could have sworn he had heard the outer office door being stealthily opened. And now Calhoun was speaking—rapidly, his voice raised noticeably in a louder tone than any he had previously employed.

“I ain't looking for trouble, Mr. Kirschell,” he stated Hurriedly, as though relenting, “and I don't want you to think I am, but——”

There was a sharp cry from Kirschell. The room was in darkness. Came a quick step running in from the outer office, no longer stealthy now—the crash of a toppling chair—a gasping moan in Kirschell's voice—the thud of a falling body—a tense whisper: “All right, I've got it!”—then the steps running back across the outer office—the closing of the corridor door—and silence.

The Hawk, grim-lipped, had backed up against the wall of the room.

Calhoun's voice rose hoarsely:

“Good God, what's happened! Where's the electric-light switch?”

Kirschell answered him faintly:

“At—at the side of the door—just—outside the partition.”

The lights went on again, and the Hawk leaned intently forward. Calhoun was standing now in the doorway between the outer and the private office, his eyes fixed on Kirschell. The swivel chair had been overturned; and Kirschell, a great crimson stream running down his cheek from above his temple, was struggling to his knees, clutching at the edge of the desk for support. The cash box was gone.

Kirschell's eyes swept the top of the desk haggardly, as though hoping against hope. He gained his feet, lurching unsteadily. A crimson drop splashed to the desk.

“My chair!” he cried out weakly. “Help me!”

Calhoun stepped forward mechanically, and picked up the chair. Kirschell dropped into it.

“You're hurt!” Calhoun said huskily. “You're badly hurt!”

“Yes,” Kirschell answered; “but it—can wait. The police first—there was—three thousand dollars—in my cash box.” With an effort he reached out across the desk for the telephone, pulled it toward him—and, on the point of lifting the receiver from the hook, slowly drew back his hand. A strange look settled on his face, a sort of dawning, though puzzled comprehension; and then, swaying in his chair, his lips thinned. He drew his hand still further back until it hovered over the handle of the desk's middle drawer. His eyes, on Calhoun, were narrowing.

“You devil!” he rasped out suddenly. “This is your work! I was a fool that I did not see it at first!”

Calhoun's face went white.

“What do you mean?” he said thickly.

“What I say!” Kirschell's voice was ominously clear now, though he sat none too steadily in his chair.

“Then you lie!” said Calhoun fiercely. “You lie—and if you weren't hurt, I'd——”

“No, you wouldn't!”—Kirschell had whipped the drawer open, and, snatching out a revolver, was covering Calhoun. He laughed a little—bitterly. “I'm not so bad that I can't take care of myself. It was pretty clever, I'll give you credit for that. You almost fooled me.”

“Damn you!” snarled Calhoun. “Do you mean to say I've got your cash box?”

“Oh, no,” said Kirschell. “I can see you haven't. I don't even know which of you two struck me. But I do know that you and the man who has my cash box worked up this plant together.”

Calhoun stepped forward threateningly—only to retreat again before the lifted muzzle of the revolver.

“You're a fool!” he snarled. “You've nothing on me!”

“That's for the police to decide,” returned Kirschell evenly. “It would have been a pleasant way of disposing of that note, wouldn't it—if you hadn't under-rated me! And your pal for his share, I daresay, was to take his chance on whatever there might be in the cash box! Why did you say you couldn't come until night, when I gave you until to-day as the last day in which to settle? Why did you insist on my indorsing the payment on the note, which necessitated my opening the safe and taking out the cash box in which you knew the note was kept, for you saw me put it there a week ago, when you first came here? And just after I was knocked down I heard your accomplice whisper: 'All right, I've got it.

“It's possible the police might form the same opinion I have as to whom those words were addressed!” Calhoun's face had grown whiter.

“It's a lie!” he said scarcely above a whisper. “It's a lie! I had nothing to do with it!”

“I want my three thousand dollars!” Kirschell's lips were set. He held a red-stained handkerchief to his cheek. “If I call the police now they'll get you—but it's your accomplice that's got my money. And it's my money that I want! I'll give you half an hour to go to him, and bring the money back here—and leave the police out of it. If you're not here in that time, I put it up to the police. Half an hour is time enough for you to find your pal; and it's not time enough for you to attempt to leave the city—and get very far!” Kirschell laid his watch on the desk. “You'd better go—I mean half an hour from now.”

Calhoun hung hesitant for a moment, staring at the muzzle of Kirschell's revolver. He made as though to say something—and instead, abruptly, with a short, jarring laugh, turned on his heel, and passed out of the room.

The Hawk was already edging his way along the wall toward the corridor door.

“Three thousand dollars!”—the Hawk rolled the words like so many dainty morsels on his tongue, as he communed with himself. “I guess it's my play to stick to Mr. Calhoun!”

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