Subscribe for ad free access & additional features for teachers. Authors: 267, Books: 3,607, Poems & Short Stories: 4,435, Forum Members: 71,154, Forum Posts: 1,238,602, Quizzes: 344

Chapter Twenty. "He is - the Bat!"

Lizzie opened her mouth to scream. But for once she did not carry out her purpose.

"Not a sound out of you!" warned the Unknown brutally, almost jabbing the revolver into her ribs. He wheeled on Bailey.

"Close that satchel," he commanded, "and put it back where you found it!"

Bailey's fist closed. He took a step toward his captor.

"You - " he began in a furious voice. But the steely glint in the eyes of the Unknown was enough to give any man pause.

"Jack!" pleaded Dale. Bailey halted.

"Do what he tells you!" Miss Cornelia insisted, her voice shaking.

A brave man may be willing to fight with odds a hundred to one - but only a fool will rush on certain death. Reluctantly, dejectedly, Bailey obeyed - stuffed the money back in the satchel and replaced the latter in its corner of shadows near the window.

"It's the Bat - it's the Bat!" whispered Lizzie eerily, and, for once her gloomy prophecies seemed to be in a fair way of justification, for "Blow out that candle!" commanded the Unknown sternly, and, after a moment of hesitation on Miss Cornelia's part, the room was again plunged in darkness except for the red glow at the window.

This finished Lizzie for the evening. She spoke from a dry throat.

"I'm going to scream!" she sobbed hysterically. "I can't keep it back!"

But at last she had encountered someone who had no patience with her vagaries.

"Put that woman in the mantel-room and shut her up!" ordered the Unknown, the muzzle of his revolver emphasizing his words with a savage little movement.

Bailey took Lizzie under the arms and started to execute the order. But the sometime colleen from Kerry did not depart without one Parthian arrow.

"Don't shove," she said in tones of the greatest dignity as she stumbled into the Hidden Room. "I'm damn glad to go!"

The iron doors shut behind her. Bailey watched the Unknown intently. One moment of relaxed vigilance and -

But though the Unknown was unlocking the door with his left hand the revolver in his right hand was as steady as a rock. He seemed to listen for a moment at the crack of the door.

"Not a sound if you value your lives!" he warned again, he shepherded them away from the direction of the window with his revolver.

"In a moment or two," he said in a hushed, taut voice, "a man will come into this room, either through the door or by that window - the man who started the fire to draw you out of this house."

Bailey threw aside all pride in his concern for Dale's safety.

"For God's sake, don't keep these women here!" he pleaded in low, tense tones.

The Unknown seemed to tower above him like a destroying angel.

"Keep them here where we can watch them!" he whispered with fierce impatience. "Don't you understand.? There's a killer loose!"

And so for a moment they stood there, waiting for they knew not what. So swift had been the transition from joy to deadly terror, and now to suspense, that only Miss Cornelia's agile brain seemed able to respond. And at first it did even that very slowly.

"I begin to understand," she said in a low tone. "The man who struck you down and tied you in the garage - the man who killed Dick Fleming and stabbed that poor wretch in the closet - the man who locked us in downstairs and removed the money from that safe - the man who started that fire outside - is - "

"Sssh!" warned the Unknown imperatively as a sound from the direction of the window seemed to reach his ears. He ran quickly back to the corridor door and locked it.

"Stand back out of that light! The ladder!"

Miss Cornelia and Dale shrank back against the mantel. Bailey took up a post beside the window, the Unknown flattening himself against the wall beside him. There was a breathless pause.

The top of the extension ladder began to tremble. A black bulk stood clearly outlined against the diminishing red glow - the Bat, masked and sinister, on his last foray!

There was no sound as the killer stepped into the room. He waited for a second that seemed a year - still no sound. Then he turned cautiously toward the place where he had left the satchel - the beam of his flashlight picked it out.

In an instant the Unknown and Bailey were upon him. There was a short, ferocious struggle in the darkness - a gasp of laboring lungs - the thud of fighting bodies clenched in a death grapple.

"Get his gun!" muttered the Unknown hoarsely to Bailey as he tore the Bat's lean hands away from his throat. "Got it?"

"Yes," gasped Bailey. He jabbed the muzzle against a straining back. The Bat ceased to struggle. Bailey stepped a little away.

"I've still got you covered!" he said fiercely. The Bat made no sound.

"Hold out your hands, Bat, while I put on the bracelets," commanded the Unknown in tones of terse triumph. He snapped the steel cuffs on the wrists of the murderous prowler. "Sometimes even the cleverest Bat comes through a window at night and is caught. Double murder - burglary - and arson! That's a good night's work even for you, Bat!"

He switched his flashlight on the Bat's masked face. As he did so the house lights came on; the electric light company had at last remembered its duties. All blinked for an instant in the sudden illumination.

"Take off that handkerchief!" barked the Unknown, motioning at the black silk handkerchief that still hid the face of the Bat from recognition. Bailey stripped it from the haggard, desperate features with a quick movement - and stood appalled.

A simultaneous gasp went up from Dale and Miss Cornelia.

It was Anderson, the detective! And he was - the Bat!

"It's Mr. Anderson!" stuttered Dale, aghast at the discovery.

The Unknown gloated over his captive.

"I'm Anderson," he said. "This man has been impersonating me. You're a good actor, Bat, for a fellow that's such a bad actor!" he taunted. "How did you get the dope on this case? Did you tap the wires to headquarters?"

The Bat allowed himself a little sardonic smile.

"I'll tell you that when I - " he began, then, suddenly, made his last bid for freedom. With one swift, desperate movement, in spite of his handcuffs, he jerked the real Anderson's revolver from him by the barrel, then wheeling with lightning rapidity on Bailey, brought the butt of Anderson's revolver down on his wrist. Bailey's revolver fell to the floor with a clatter. The Bat swung toward the door. Again the tables were turned!

"Hands up, everybody!" he ordered, menacing the group with the stolen pistol. "Hands up - you!" as Miss Cornelia kept her hands at her sides.

It was the greatest moment of Miss Cornelia's life. She smiled sweetly and came toward the Bat as if the pistol aimed at her heart were as innocuous as a toothbrush.

"Why?" she queried mildly. "I took the bullets out of that revolver two hours ago.

The Bat flung the revolver toward her with a curse. The real Anderson instantly snatched up the gun that Bailey had dropped and covered the Bat.

"Don't move!" he warned, "or I'll fill you full of lead!" He smiled out of the corner of his mouth at Miss Cornelia who was primly picking up the revolver that the Bat had flung at her - her own revolver.

"You see - you never know what a woman will do," he continued.

Miss Cornelia smiled. She broke open the revolver, five loaded shells fell from it to the floor. The Bat stared at her - then stared incredulously at the bullets.

"You see," she said, "I, too, have a little imagination!"

Mary Roberts Rinehart