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Larry the Bat? Jimmie Dale shook his head impatiently over the steering wheel. No; that would not do. It would be well enough for this young Burton, perhaps, but not for old Isaac, the East Side fence--for Isaac knew him in the character of Larry the Bat. His quick, keen brain, weaving, eliminating, devising, scheming, discarded that idea. The final coup of the night, as yet but sensed in an indefinite, unshaped way, if enacted in the person of Larry the Bat would therefore stamp Larry the Bat and the Gray Seal as one--a contretemps but little less fatal, in view of old Issac, than to bracket the Gray Seal and Jimmie Dale! Larry the Bat was not a character to be assumed with impunity, nor one to jeopardize--it was a bulwark of safety, at it were, to which more than once he owed escape from capture and discovery.
He lifted his shoulders with a sudden jerk of decision as the car swerved to the left and headed for the East Side. There was only one alternative then--the black silk mask that folded into such tiny compass, and that, together with an automatic and the curious, thin metal case that looked so like a cigarette case, was always in his pocket for an emergency!
The car turned again, and, approaching its destination, Jimmie Dale slowed down the speed perceptibly. It was a strange case, not a pleasant one--and the raw edges where they showed were ugly in their nakedness. Old Isaac Pelina, young Burton, and Maddon--K. Wilmington Maddon, the wall-paper magnate! Curious, that of the three he should already know two--old Isaac and Maddon! Everybody in the East Side, every denizen of the underworld, and many who posed on a far higher plane knew old Isaac--fence to the most select clientele of thieves in New York, unscrupulous, hand in glove with any rascality or crime that promised profit, a money lender, a Shylock without even a Shylock's humanity as a saving grace! Yes; as Larry the Bat he knew old Isaac, and he knew him not only personally but by firsthand reputation--he had heard the man cursed in blasphemous, whole-souled abandon by more than one crook who was in the old fence's toils. They dealt with him, the crooks, while they swore to "get" him because he was "safe," but--Jimmie Dale's lips parted in a mirthless smile--some day old Isaac would be found in that spiders' den of his back of the dingy loan office with a knife in his heart or a bullet through his head! And K. Wilmington Maddon--Jimmie Dale's smile grew whimsical--he had known Maddon quite intimately for years, had even dined with him at the St. James Club only a few nights before. Maddon was a man in his own "set"-- and Maddon, interfered with, was likely to prove none too tractable a customer to handle. And young Burton, the letter had said, was Maddon's private and confidential secretary. Jimmie Dale's lips thinned again. Well, Burton's acquaintance was still to be made! It was a curious trio--and it was dirty work, more raw than cunning, more devilish than ingenious; blackmail in its most hellish form; the stake, at the least calculation, a cool half million. A heavy price for a single slip in a man's life!
He brought the car abruptly to a halt at the edge of the curb, and sprang out to the ground. He was in front of "The Budapest" restaurant, a garish establishment, most popular of all resorts for the moment on the East Side, where Fifth Avenue, in the fond belief that it was seeing the real thing in "seamy" life, engaged its table a week in advance. Jimmie Dale pushed a bill into the door attendant's hand, accompanied by an injunction to keep an eye on the machine, and entered the cafe.
But for a sort of tinselled ostentation the place might well have been the Marlianne's that he had just left--it was crowded and riot was at its height; a stringed orchestra in Hungarian costume played what purported to be Hungarian airs; shouts, laughter, clatter of dishes, and thump of steins added to the din. He made his way between the close-packed tables to the stairs, and descended to the lower floor. Here, if anything, the confusion was greater than above; but here, too, was an exit through to the rear street--and a moment later he was sauntering past the front of an unkempt little pawnshop, closed for the night, over whose door, in the murk of a distant street lamp, three balls hung in sagging disarray, tawny with age, and across whose dirty, unwashed windows, letters missing, ran the legend:
IS AC PELINA
The pawnshop made the corner of a very dark and narrow lane--and, with a quick glance around him to assure himself that he was unobserved, Jimmie Dale stepped into the alleyway, and, lost instantly in the blacker shadows, stole along by the wall of the pawnshop. Old Isaac's business was not all done through the front door.
And then suddenly Jimmie Dale shrank still closer against the wall. Was it intuition, premonition--or reality? There seemed an uncanny feeling of PRESENCE around him, as though perhaps he were watched, as though others beside himself were in the lane. Yes; ahead of him a shadow moved--he could just barely distinguish it now that his eyes had grown accustomed to the darkness. It, like himself, was close against the wall, and now it slunk noiselessly down the length of the lane until he lost sight of it. AND WHAT WAS THAT? He strained his ears to listen. It seemed like a window being opened or closed, cautiously, stealthily, the fraction of an inch at a time. And then he located the sound--it came from the other side of the lane and very nearly opposite to where, on the second floor, a dull, yellow glow shone out from old Isaac's private den in the rear of the pawnshop's office.
Jimmie Dale's brows were gathered in sharp furrows. There was evidently something afoot to-night of which the Tocsin had NOT sounded the alarm. And then the frown relaxed, and he smiled a little. Miraculous as was the means through which she obtained the knowledge that was the basis of their strange partnership, it was no more miraculous than her unerring accuracy in the minutest details. The Tocsin had never failed him yet. It was possible that something was afoot around him, quite probable, indeed, since he was in the most vicious part of the city, in the heart of gangland; but whatever it might be, it was certainly extraneous to his mission or she would have mentioned it.
The lane was empty now, he was quite sure of that--and there was no further sound from the window opposite. He started forward once more--only to halt again for the second time as abruptly as before, squeezing if possible even more closely against the wall. Some one had turned into the lane from the sidewalk, and, walking hurriedly, choosing with evident precaution the exact centre of the alleyway, came toward him.
The man passed, his hurried stride a half run; and, a few feet beyond, halted at old Isaac's side door. From somewhere inside the old building Jimmie Dale's ears caught the faint ringing of an electric bell; a long ring, followed in quick succession by three short ones--then the repeated clicking of a latch, as though pulled by a cord from above, and the man passed in through the door, closing it behind him.
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