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Chapter 15

LARRY'S SPECIAL ASSIGNMENT


"Hold on! Stop!" yelled Higgins, running from the room. "Halt, or I'll shoot!"

It would have done little good had he done so, for by this time the mysterious man was in the second hallway, and out of reach of any possible bullets.

"You stay here and look after things, I'll catch him!" called Storg, as he raced down the stairs, his light making erratic circles as he advanced.

"I guess that's good advice," commented Higgins to Larry, who had remained in the upper corridor. "I'm too fat to run. Let's see what he left behind."

Back into the room, where the candle was burning, went Larry and the policeman. A quick survey showed nothing unusual. There were some old chairs and a table, left probably by the departed tenants.

"He must have had the run of several rooms," Higgins went on. "He came out of some apartment farther down the hall, and that's how he fooled us. He was on the watch, and that shows there must be something queer about him."

"Let's take a look through the other rooms," suggested Larry.

Showing his light Higgins led the way. They went through several other bare and deserted chambers, but saw no indications that the stranger had been in them. Presently they came to what had been a bathroom, though most of the plumbing had been torn out by thieves, for the value of the lead pipes and the faucets.

"He's been here!" cried Larry, as he pointed to a faint spark in one corner of the room.

The policeman flashed his electric on it. It proved to be a candle that had burned down into the socket, the remainder of a wick smouldering and glowing.

"Yes, and he shaved himself here," the officer added, as he pointed to a razor, some soap, and pieces of paper on which were unmistakable evidences that the mysterious man had been acting as his own barber. "I'd like to catch him," the bluecoat went on. "I'm sure there's something crooked about him."

"It looks so," agreed Larry. "Maybe Storg will get him."

"I hope so," and Higgins began to make a more thorough search of the apartment.

There was nothing, however, which shed any further light on the mysterious man. It was evident, though, that he had lived in the deserted house for several days, since there were remnants of food scattered here and there.

"The mystery is getting deeper and deeper," thought Larry. He said nothing to the policeman about the man being a person who had come ashore from the Olivia. "I'm going to ask Mr. Emberg to let me work on this case," he resolved, while he followed Higgins from room to room. "I believe it will be a great story if I can get all the details."

How much of a story it was destined to be Larry had no idea of at that moment, though his newspaper instinct, that led him to suspect there was a strange mystery connected with Mah Retto, was perfectly correct, as he learned later.

"Well, I don't see that we can learn anything more here," remarked Higgins when he had been in a number of chambers on the third floor. "He evidently only used a few of these handsome apartments," and he laughed as he looked around on the dilapidated rooms, with the plaster peeling from the walls, the windows half broken, and the doors falling from their hinges.

"Hark!" exclaimed Larry. "Some one is coming!"

Footsteps sounded in the lower hall.

"That's Storg, coming back!" cried Higgins. "I hope he got his man."

He leaned over the balustrade and called down:

"Any luck, Storg?"

"No, he got away," was the reply. "He's a good runner. I couldn't keep up to him."

"Never mind," consoled Higgins. "Maybe it's just as well. We'd have trouble proving anything illegal against him, though I could have had him held on a charge of vagrancy until I investigated a bit."

The officers, followed by Larry, left the ramshackle structure, with the wind whistling mournfully through the broken windows, and the shutters banging, while the doors creaked on the rusty and broken hinges.

"I wouldn't want to stay there all alone at night," thought the young reporter, as he started toward home. "A man must have a strong motive to cause him to hide in there. I'd like to find out what it is. Perhaps I shall, some time."

Larry spoke of the matter to Mr. Emberg the next day. He said he thought it might be a good idea to devote some hours to working up the story, in an endeavor to learn who the queer man was.

"Still puzzling over your East Indian, eh?" asked the city editor. "Well, there may be something in it, but just now I have something else for you to do."

"Another flying-machine story?"

"Not exactly. I'm going to give you a special assignment."

Larry was all attention at once. The best part of the newspaper life is being given a special assignment—that is, put to work on a certain case, to the exclusion of everything else. Every reporter dreams of the time when he shall become a special correspondent or given a special assignment. It means that your time is your own, to a great extent; that you may go and come as you please; that your expense bills are seldom questioned, and that you may travel afar and see strange sights. The only requirement, and it is not an easy one, is that you get the news, and get it in time for the paper. Of course, it need not be said that you must let no other paper beat you, but this seldom occurs, as when a reporter is on a special assignment he works alone, and what he gets is his. There are no other newspaper men to worry him.

So, when Mr. Emberg told Larry there was a special assignment for him, the young reporter's heart beat high with hope. He had often wished for one, but they had never come his way before, though to many on the Leader they were an old story.

"What is it?" asked Larry, wondering how far out of town it would take him.

"I want you to find Mr. Potter, the missing millionaire, Larry," said Mr. Emberg.

"Find Mr. Potter?"

"That's it. I want you to devote your whole time to that case. Never mind about anything else. Find Mr. Potter. There's a big story back of his going away; a bigger story than you have any idea of. I don't know what it is myself, but I want you to find out. Now I am going to give you free rein and full swing. Do whatever you think is necessary. Get us news. We'll have to have a story every day, for we're going to play this thing up and feature it. You're going to be on the firing-line, so to speak. Take care of yourself, but don't go to sleep. Get ahead of the other fellows and get us news. That's what we want. That's what makes the Leader a success. It's because we get the news, and generally get it first.

"I can't tell you where to start, or what to do. You'll have to find that out for yourself. Get all the information you can from the family. See some of Mr. Potter's business associates. Have another interview with Sullivan. Maybe he knows something about it, though I doubt it.

"At any rate, whatever you do, find Mr. Potter," and at this closing instruction Mr. Emberg learned back in his chair and looked sharply at Larry.

"Suppose I can't," and the young reporter smiled.

"'Can't' isn't in the reporter's dictionary," the city editor replied. "You've got to find him. I don't want to see you fall down. You've done well, so far, Larry. Now's a chance to distinguish yourself."

Larry knew that it was. He also realized that he was going to have his hardest work since he had become a reporter. It was a special assignment, such as any newspaper man might wish for, but it was not one that could be characterized as easy.

"I've got my work cut out for me," thought the youth, as he turned away.

"Here's an order for fifty dollars," went on Mr. Emberg, as he handed the young reporter a slip of paper. "Take it to the cashier, and when you want more for expenses let me know. Don't be afraid of using it if you see a chance to get news, but, of course, don't waste it. Now go, and find Mr. Potter, but don't forget we must have some sort of a story every day."

Larry's first act, after receiving his special assignment, was to go to Mr. Potter's house. Grace received him, and, in answer to his inquiry, stated that the family had no more news than they had at first.

"I thought you could tell us something," said the girl in disappointed tones.

"Perhaps I can, soon," replied Larry. "I'm detailed specially on this case now," and he told her of his assignment.

"Does that mean you have nothing to do but to search for my father?"

"That's what it means."

"Oh, please find him for me!" exclaimed the girl. "You don't know how much I have suffered since he has been missing, nor how much my mother has suffered. It has been terrible! Oh, if you only could find him for us!"

"Miss Potter," began Larry, who was deeply touched by her distress, "a newspaper man could have no greater incentive to work than the duty to which his assignment calls him. More especially in this case to which my city editor has told me to devote my whole time. But aside from that I'm going to find your father for your sake and your mother's. I'll do all I can. I'll work on this case day and night. I'll find your father for you!"

"Oh!" exclaimed Grace, "you don't know how much good it does me to hear you talk so! It seemed as if no one cared. Of course my father's business associates want him to come back, and so do his friends, but—but they don't wish it as much as my mother does and as I do! I miss him so much!"

If Larry had not had the injunction laid on him by Mr. Emberg to urge him on in the search, the appeal by Grace would have been more than sufficient. Hereafter, he resolved, he would feel somewhat as did the knights of old when they were commissioned by their ladies to execute some bold deed.

"Don't worry," he told Grace, as he saw her distress was getting the better of her. "I'll find him."

"Suppose you can't?"

"There's no such work as 'can't' in my dictionary," replied Larry, repeating what Mr. Emberg had told him.

Grace smiled at the young reporter's enthusiasm, but she knew she could have had no better friend, no one who would devote more time and energy to her cause, and no one who had so strong a motive for finding the missing millionaire as had this young newspaper reporter.

While the two were discussing various details of the case there was a ring at the front door, and, presently, the butler entered the library.

"Mr. Jack Sullivan to see you, miss," he announced.

Victor Appleton

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