THE Hawk reached the door, as Calhoun stepped into the corridor from the general office and passed by outside, evidently making for the main entrance of the building. He opened the door cautiously the width of a crack—and held it in that position. A man's voice, low, guarded, from the corridor, but from the opposite direction to that taken by Calhoun, reached him.

“Here! Calhoun! Here!”

Calhoun halted. There was silence for an instant, then Calhoun retraced his steps and passed by the door again. There were a few hurried words in a whisper, which the Hawk could not catch; and then the footsteps of both men retreated along the corridor.

The Hawk opened the door wider, and peered out. The two men were well down the corridor now; and now, as they passed the single incandescent that lighted that end of the hall, Calhoun's companion reached up and turned it out.

“Why, say—-thanks!” murmured the Hawk, and stepped out into the corridor himself.

It was now quite dark at that end, and the men had disappeared. The Hawk moved silently and swiftly along, keeping close to the wall. Presently he caught the sound of their voices again, and nodded to himself. He remembered that in going out this way yesterday he had noticed that the corridor, for some architectural reason, made a sharp, right-angled jut just before it gave on the side-street entrance. He stepped now across to the other side of the corridor, and stole forward to a position where he could look diagonally past the projecting angle of the jut. The two men, standing there, showed plainly in the light from a street arc that shone into the entranceway through the large plate-glass square over the door. The Hawk, quite secure from observation, nestled back against the wall—and an ominous smile settled on the Hawk's lips. The face of Calhoun's companion was covered with a mask.

“There's nothing to be leery about here,” the man was saying. “There's no one goes out or comes in this way at night. Well, it's a nice mess, eh? So the old Shylock called the turn on you, did he?”

There seemed to be a helpless note in Calhoun's voice. He passed his hand heavily across his eyes.

“What's the meaning of this?” he cried out. “What do you know about what happened in there?”

“Nothing much,” said the other coolly. “Except that I'm the guy that pinched the swag, and hit Kirschell that welt on the head.”

You!” Calhoun involuntarily stepped back. “Yes, sure—me!” The man shrugged his shoulders. “Me and a pal who was outside. He's away now putting the cash box where it won't come to any harm—savvy? He'll be back pretty soon.”

The Hawk's lips moved.

“Number Three and Number Seven,” whispered the Hawk gently.

“I—I don't understand,” said Calhoun dazedly. “Then why are you telling me this. And why are you staying here? And how did you know that Kirschell accused me of being in it?”

“That's another one that's easy,” announced the man evenly. “Because it was part of the game to make him think so.”

Calhoun seemed to stiffen up.

“What! You mean, you——”

“You're getting it!” said the other shortly. “But you'd better wait until you get it all before you start spitting your teeth out! Mabbe you've heard of a little interference with the telegraph wires, and a few small jobs pulled off around here where some innocent parties accidentally got croaked? Ah—you have, eh! Well, that's where you come in, Calhoun. We want you—and when we want anything, we get it! See? We knew about that note, and we've been expecting the railroad crowd to wake up some time, and we had you picked out to place our bets on against them. They woke up to-day and began to nose over the line. It ain't likely to do them much good, but there's a chance—and we ain't taking chances. We don't want much from you, Calhoun, just a little thing, and it'll bring you more money than you ever saw in your life before and without you running any risk. All you've got to do is stand for anything in the shape of a splice or tap on the line that they're suspicious of—you can say it's a repair job of your own, see?”

An angry flush was tinging Calhoun's cheeks.

“Is that all?” he burst out passionately. “Well, I'll see you damned first!”

“Will you?” returned the other calmly. “All right, my bucko! It's your funeral. Take your choice. That—or twenty years in the penitentiary. You're in cold on this. Think it over a bit. For instance, how did you come to make the break of wanting Kirschell to indorse the payment on the back of the note, which made him open his safe?”

“How do you know I did?” Calhoun flashed back sharply.

“Mabbe I'm only guessing at it,” said the man nonchalantly; “and mabbe I was back in the outside room when you did. But, say, you don't happen to remember, do you, a little talk you had with a stranger up the line to-day? And how the conversation got around to loan sharks, and how he told about a trick they had of giving receipts that were phony, and how he beat one of them to it by making the shark indorse on the paper itself? Kind of sunk in, and you bit—eh, Calhoun? We don't do things by halves. We happen to need you. And what do you think I made the break of whispering so Kirschell would hear me for?”

The color was ebbing from Calhoun's face.

“It's not proof!” The defiant ring in his voice was forced. “I——”

“It's enough to make Kirschell believe it, and that's all we wanted for a starter. We'll take care of the rest!” stated the man grimly. “What did he say to you?”

Calhoun answered mechanically:

“He said if I didn't return in half an hour with the cash box, he'd notify the police.”

“Oh, ho!” The man's lips widened in a grin under the edge of his mask. “So he's going to wait here, eh? Well, so much the better! It'll save us a trip to his house. Now, see here, Calhoun, let this sink in!” He put his hand in his pocket and drew out a slip of paper. “Here's your note. It was on the desk where Kirschell was writing on it, and I pinched it when I pinched the cash box. We didn't figure we were going to make the haul we did to-night—we were after you. But there's some money in that cash box, as you saw for yourself. Here's the idea: Kirschell's read a thing or two about what's going on around here—enough to make him know that there ain't much our gang'll stop at. If you say you're with us, me and my pal 'll go in there and throw the fear of God into him. Do you get it? He'll think himself lucky to get off by keeping his mouth shut about to-night when he finds out who he's up against. Also you get the note back, and a share of the cash—and more to come later on.”

“No!” Calhoun cried out. “No! I'm no thief!”

“All right!” agreed the other indifferently.

“That's one side of it. Here's the other: Kirschell certainly believes you took it. He's a shark all right, and he thinks more of his money than he does of anything else, or he wouldn't have given you the chance he did. But when you don't show back there with the coin, he'll take the only other hope he's got of getting his money and turn on the police tap—see? What are you going to do then? Make a break for it, or let 'em get you? Well, it doesn't matter which. This note and a chunk of the cash gets mailed to-night—and the police get tipped off to watch your mail in the morning. Kind of reasonable, isn't it? Your pal, not being able to find you, and not tumbling to the fact that the police have got you until too late, comes across with your share like an honest little man! I think you said something about proof, Calhoun? And I think I told you before that we didn't do things by halves. How about that on top of Kirschell's story—do you think it would cinch a jury, or do you think they'd believe any little fairy story you might tell them, say, about meeting me? Does it look any more like twenty years than it did?”

There was a sudden agony in Calhoun's face.

“My God!” he whispered. “You—you wouldn't do that?”

The man made no answer. He still held the note-in his hand—but in the other now he carelessly dangled a revolver.

“You wouldn't! You wouldn't!” Calhoun's voice was broken now. “I've a wife and children, and—my God, what am I to do!”

“That half-hour Kirschell gave you is slipping along,” suggested the other uncompromisingly. “Here's the note, and there's easy money waiting for you.”

Calhoun turned on the other like a man demented.

“Do you think I'd touch that cash! Or touch that note—I owe it! I may not have been able to pay it—but I owe it!”

“Oh, well, suit yourself as to that, too!” said the man cynically. “It's the other thing we want. What's the wife and the kids you're talking about going to do if you go up for twenty years?”

Calhoun, with a miserable cry, buried his face in his hands.

There was silence—a minute dragged by.

“Well?” prompted the man curtly.

Calhoun dropped his hands, met the other's eyes for an instant—and turned his head away.

“Ah, I thought you would!” said the man calmly. “My pal ought to be back by now, and as soon as he comes we'll go in there and hand Kirschell his little jolt, and——” He stopped. There was a light rapping on the entrance door. “Here he is now! We'll——”

The Hawk was retreating back along the corridor. Again he opened the door of what he had designated to himself as the secretary's office, and for the second time that night stepped silently into the room, closing the door behind him. The sound of running water came from Kirschell's private office, but there was no other sound—the Hawk made none as he once more gained his place of vantage behind the desk. Kirschell was bending over the washbowl, his back turned, bathing his temple and face, and now, straightening up, he bound a towel tightly around his head.

The Hawk watched the proceedings impassively, his head, in that bird-like, listening attitude, cocked on one shoulder toward the outer door. Steps were coming along the corridor. But this time Kirschell, too, heard them—for he turned, and, as the corridor door opened, started toward his desk. He reached it and sat down, as Calhoun entered the room.

“Ah, ha!” snapped Kirschell triumphantly. “So you've thought better of it, have you? I imagined you would! Well, where's the——” The words seemed to freeze on his lips; there was a sudden terror in his face. “What—what does this mean?” he faltered.

Two masked men, the one who had been with Calhoun in the corridor, and a taller, more heavily built man, had stepped in behind Calhoun, and were advancing toward the desk.

The short man pointed a revolver at Kirschell's head.

“Calhoun says he keeps a gun in the middle drawer of the desk,” he grunted to his companion. “Get it!”

The other, leaning over, pulled the drawer open, and, appropriating Kirschell's revolver, stuck it in his pocket.

Kirschell's tongue circled his lips. He looked wildly from one to the other.

“We just dropped in to make a confession, Mr. Kirschell,” said the short man, with an ugly jeer. “We don't like to see an innocent man suffer—understand? I'm the one that lifted your cash box, you measly shark—me and my pal there. I heard you trying to stick it on Calhoun. We ain't asking any favours for ourselves, and when we get through with you, you can tell the police it was us, and that we're part of the crowd that's been making things lively around these parts—you've been reading the papers, ain't you?—but you open your mouth about Calhoun, you put him in bad when he had nothing to do with it, and inside of twenty-four hours you'll be found in a dark alley somewhere with a bullet through you! Get me? You know who you're up against now, and you've got fair warning!”

Kirschell was huddled in his chair. His little black eyes were no longer restless—they were fixed in a sort of terrified fascination on the speaker.

“Yes.” He licked his lips again. “Yes, I—I understand,” he mumbled.

From his pocket the Hawk took a mask, which he slipped over his face; and from his pocket he took his automatic.

“I don't think he believes you,” sneered the second masked man, with a wicked grin. “Perhaps mabbe we'd better twist his windpipe a little, just to show him in a friendly way that there ain't any mistake about it—eh?”

“No, no!” Kirschel's voice was full of fear. “No, no! I believe—I——” His words ended in a choked scream.

The man's hands had shot swiftly out, and closed on Kirschell's throat. He was shaking, twisting, and turning Kirschell's head from side to side. His companion laughed brutally. Came a series of guttural moans from Kirschell—and Kirschel's body began to slip limply down in his chair.

Calhoun had gone white to the lips.

“Stop it! My God, stop it!” he burst out frantically. “You promised me you wouldn't do him any harm.”

“You mind your own business!” snarled the man with the revolver. “We know how to handle his breed. Give him enough to hold him for a while Jim! We——”

“Drop that revolver! Drop it!” The Hawk was standing in the doorway.

There was a startled oath from the leader of the two men as he whirled around, a gasp as he faced the Hawk's automatic—and his weapon clattered to the floor. The other, in a stunned way, still hung over Kirschell, but his hands had relaxed their hold on Kirschel's throat.

“Thank you!” drawled the Hawk. “I must say I agree with Mr. Calhoun. It's not a pleasant sight to watch a man being throttled.” His voice rang suddenly cold. “You, there!” His automatic indicated the man beside Kirschell. “Stand back at the end of the desk, and put up your hands!”

Calhoun had not moved. He was staring numbly at the Hawk. Kirschell, making guttural sounds, was clawing at his throat.

“Mr. Calhoun,” requested the Hawk coolly, “as I happen to know that you have little reason to love either of these two gentlemen, will you be good enough to pick up that revolver and hand it to me?” Calhoun stooped mechanically, and extended it to the Hawk.

“And now our friend over there with his hands up, Mr. Calhoun,” purred the Hawk. “You will find two in his pockets—his own, and Mr. Kirschell's. Mr. Kirschell, I am sure, is already fairly well convinced that you are in no way connected with the robbery of his cash box, and I am equally sure that in no way could you better dispel any lingering doubts he might still entertain than by helping to draw these gentlemen's teeth.”

Calhoun laughed a little grimly now.

“I don't know who you are,” he said, his lips set, as he started toward the man; “but I guess you're right. I'd like to see them get what's coming to them.”

“Quite so!” said the Hawk pleasantly. He accepted the two remaining revolvers from Calhoun; and from his pocket produced his skeleton keys. He handed them to Calhoun, designating one of the keys on the ring. “One more request, Mr. Calhoun,” he said. “I entered by the door that opens on the corridor from this other office here. Will you please lock it; and, on your way back, also lock this connecting door through which I have just come in—the key of the latter, I noticed, is in the lock.”

Calhoun nodded, took the keys, and stepped quickly from the room. Kirschell, evidently not seriously hurt from the handling he had received, though still choking a little and clearing his throat with short coughs, was regarding the Hawk with a questioning stare. The eyes of the other two men were on the Hawk's revolver. The shorter of the two suddenly raised a clenched fist.

“The Hawk!” he flashed out furiously. “You cursed snitch! You'll wish you were dead before we're through with you!”

“So the Butcher told me last night.” The Hawk smiled plaintively. “Move a little closer together, you two—yes, like that, at the far end of the desk beside each other. Thank you! You are much easier to cover that way.”

Calhoun returned, locking the connecting door behind him, and handed the door key, together with the key-ring, back to the Hawk.

The Hawk moved forward to the desk. He was alert, quick, ominous now. The drawl, the pleasantry was gone.

“Out there in the hall,” he said coldly, “I heard Mr. Calhoun refuse to take back his note—from a thief. You”—his revolver muzzle jerked toward the short man—“hand it out!”

The man reached viciously into his pocket, and tossed the note on the desk.

The Hawk pushed it toward Kirschell.

“Mr. Kirschell,” he said quietly, “you no doubt had good reasons for it, but you have none the less falsely accused Mr. Calhoun. Furthermore, Mr. Calhoun has been instrumental in laying these two who have confessed by the heels. Under the circumstances, if you are the man I think you are, you will tear that up.”

Kirschell lingered the note for an instant. He looked from Calhoun to the Hawk, and back at Calhoun again.

“Yes,” he said abruptly—and tore it into several pieces. “I suppose I could hardly do less. You are quite right! And, Mr. Calhoun, I—I apologise to you.”

A flush spread over Calhoun's face. He swallowed hard, and his lips quivered slightly.

“Mr. Kirschell,” he stammered, “I—I——”

“That's all right!” interposed the Hawk whimsically. “Don't start any mutual admiration society. I dislike embarrassing situations; and besides, Mr. Calhoun”—his eyes travelled from one to the other of the two masked men—“I think you had better go now.”

“Go?” repeated Calhoun, somewhat bewilderedly.

“Yes,” supplemented the Hawk. “As far as you are concerned, you are clear and out of this now. Stay out of it, and say nothing—that's the best thing you can do.”

“Well, that suits me,” said Calhoun with a wry smile, “if Mr. Kirschell——”

“Exactly! I see!” approved the Hawk. “It does you credit. But Mr. Kirschell and I are quite capable of settling with these two; and you can thank Mr. Kirschell further to-morrow if you like—when I'm not here! Now—if you please!”

Calhoun turned, and walked to the door. His footsteps echoed back from the general office. Then the corridor door closed behind him.

The Hawk addressed the two masked men.

“Last night,” remarked the Hawk gently, “it was the Butcher, and to-night it is—pardon me”—he was close in front of the two now, and, with a jerk, snatched the masks from their faces—“Whitie Jim, and the Bantam! Well, I might have known from the Butcher! You're all out of the same kind of cocoons! The poor old simp at the head of your gang is sure stuck with a moth-eaten lot! He's sure collected a bunch of left-overs! Why, say, back there in New York, where a real crook couldn't keep the grin off his face every time he met you, even the police had you passed up as harmless cripples!”

“You go to blazes!” growled the Bantam, with an oath. “You'll sing through the other side of your mouth for this yet!”

“You are not nice to me, Bantam,” said the Hawk, in a pained voice. “You don't appreciate what I'm doing for you. It was a piker game you tried to hand Calhoun; but, even at that, I wouldn't have queered it if it would have helped you work out a few more little deals, so that I could skim the cream off them. But it wouldn't! I don't see what you gain by interfering with the telegraph lines, but I'll let you in on something. I've been keeping an eye on MacVightie because MacVightie's been keeping an eye on me, and I overheard him talking to the superintendent to-night. MacVightie's got an idea that Calhoun's fooling with the wires now. See where you would have been? If Calhoun had ever got started on the real thing, some of you would have been nipped—and, say, there's nothing like that going to happen if I can help it! You and your crowd are too valuable to me to take any chances of your getting in wrong anywhere. I'm not wringing the neck of the goose that lays my golden eggs! Tell that to the guy that's supposed to have the brains of your outfit, will you? And you might add that I don't want any thanks. I'm getting well paid.”

“You'll get paid, curse you!” The Bantam's voice was hoarse with fury. “You butted in once too often last night. The Butcher warned you. There ain't any more warnings. You've got the drop on us here to-night, but——”

“It's getting late,” said the Hawk wearily. “And I'm sure Mr. Kirschell agrees with me that it is about time to produce that cash box—do you not, Mr. Kirschell?”

Kirschell made no reply.

The Hawk smiled—unhappily.

“I don't think you put it back in the safe—I see that the door is still wide open. A drawer in the desk, then, perhaps? Ah—would you!” There was a sudden deadly coldness in the Hawk's voice. The Bantam had edged around the corner of the desk. “If any of you move another inch, I'll drop you as quick as I'd drop a mad dog! Now then—if the Cricket will oblige? I'll give him until I count three. One—two——”

“Damn you!—Kirschell's face was livid and contorted. He wrenched a lower drawer open, and flung the cash box on the desk.

“The Butcher, Whitie Jim, the Bantam, and the Cricket,” murmured the Hawk. “It's good to see old New York faces out here, even if you do size up like bush-leaguers trying to bust into high society. You can take that towel off, if you like, Cricket, it doesn't become you particularly—and, as you've washed off the heart-rending effect of that little bag of liquid stain you smashed over your temple, I'm sure you'll look less like a comic opera star! No? Well, please yourself!” The Hawk was coolly transferring the contents of the cash box to his pockets with his left hand. “These papers,” mused the Hawk deliberately aloud, “appear to be some securities you lifted on that Pullman car raid. Rather neat idea, this, establishing this office—sort of a clearing house, I take it, for the gang's drag-net—'loans, mortgages and general exchange!' I take back part of what I said—this shows a first faint glimmer of brains. Well, keep the office going, your interests are mine! You'll notice that I was considerate enough to get Calhoun out of the way before the show-down. You were very generous, magnanimous even, Cricket—I admire you! Calhoun'll swear Mr. Kirschell is the squarest man on earth—and don't forget that's another little debt of gratitude you owe the Hawk. Three thousand dollars!” The Hawk's pockets were bulging. “Must have been what you separated some one from when I wasn't looking! Glad you weren't stingy with your bait for Calhoun! I heard to-day that Mr. Kirschell kept a good deal of cash in his safe, but I had no idea that Mr. Kirschell was the Cricket—not till I came here this evening to take a look at Mr. Kirschell's safe. I must say it has been a surprise—a very pleasant surprise.”

The cash box was empty. The Hawk backed away from the desk.

None of the three men spoke—they were eying him like caged and infuriated beasts.

The Hawk reached the doorway.

“You will observe,” smiled the Hawk engagingly, “that this is now the only exit, and that as I walk backward across the outer office any one who steps into this doorway will be directly in the line of fire.” He bowed facetiously, backed through the doorway and across the general office, and, still facing the inner room, opened the corridor door and stepped out.

And then the Hawk spoke again.

“I bid you good evening, gentlemen!” said the Hawk softly. “You will pardon me if I put you to the inconvenience of locking this door—on the outside.”

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