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Chapter 20


Through the crowded street the young reporter ran, bumping into several persons, and causing them to mutter more or less impolite exclamations about youths who trod on the toes of innocent pedestrians.

Larry could catch occasional glimpses of his man, and he noted that Retto looked back every now and then to see if he was being followed.

"Oh, I'm after you, my East Indian friend," Larry remarked to himself. "I'm going to have an accounting with you now. There's something queer about you."

No sooner had Larry given expression to this last sentence, speaking somewhat aloud, as was his habit when thinking intently, than he slipped on a banana pealing and fell down with a force that jarred him all over.

"I'll have to be more careful," thought Larry, as he got up and found that no bones were broken. He started off again after Retto. "I wasn't looking where I was going, thinking so much of Retto. Where is he now? He must have got quite a way ahead."

He had; so far that Larry could no longer see him. The reporter tried to peer through the ever-shifting crowd, for a glimpse of Retto, but with no success.

"He's gone," he murmured. "However, I know where he lives and I'll go there at once. No! I've got to get a story in for to-day's paper about Mr. Potter. I haven't much time before the first edition. Guess I'd better telephone it in, and let Mr. Emberg have one of the men fix it up."

In his eagerness to catch Retto, Larry had rather lost sight of his more important duties, and, as he looked at his watch, he found he had no time to spare if the Leader was to have a story that day.

He looked for the blue sign, indicating a public telephone station, and saw one a few doors down the street. On his way there he ran over in his mind the points of the story. It would be based on the search and inquiry among the steamship captains.

"I've got to say it resulted in nothing," Larry remarked to himself. "Hold on, though. Suppose Grace gets a clue from Captain Padduci? I'll be in a pretty mess if she does, and I telephone in that we found out nothing. Wish I hadn't chased after that East Indian. I should have stayed with Grace until we got through.

"No help for it, though. So here goes. I wish I'd done as Mr. Emberg said and let the Retto matter drop. But it seemed too good to lose sight of."

He soon had the Leader office on the wire, and, a few seconds later, was talking to Mr. Emberg. He was rather surprised at what the city editor said.

"What's the matter with you, Larry?" was the inquiry that came through the telephone. "We've been waiting for you. Have you seen the Scorcher?"

"No. Why?" asked Larry, an uneasy feeling coming over him. There seemed an atmosphere of "beat" about him, and he was afraid of Mr. Emberg's next words.

"Why, they've got a big story about Mr. Potter being home," went on the city editor. "They say he is concealed in the house, and has been ever since the scare."

"That's not true!" replied Larry. "I was at the house this morning, and he wasn't home. I've been all around the steamer piers and got no trace of him. I just left his daughter, and she would know if he had been home all this while."

"Well, they've got the story," repeated Mr. Emberg, with the insistence that city editors sometimes use when they fear their reporters have been beaten. "I sent Harvey up to the house in a hurry to make inquiries. The Scorcher got out an extra. Where have you been?"

"I just finished the tour of the docks."

"Well, you'd better go up to the house and make sure. It looks queer."

"I'll bet that story came from Sullivan," said Larry. "He's sore on us, and would do anything to get even. He wants to find Mr. Potter, you know."

"I hope you're right," and Mr. Emberg's voice was not as cordial as it usually was. "Let me hear from you soon again. I'll have one of the men fix up something for the first edition. You tell him about the inquiries made of the ship captains."

Larry's heart was like lead. To have worked so hard, and then to have another paper come out with a "scare" story about Mr. Potter's return, was discouraging.

"That story's a fake," he decided, as he prepared to telephone in the result of his morning's work. "I'll prove it is, too, and make them take back-water."

Larry's story of the trip to the steamship offices was not very interesting reading, for it was but a record of failure. He realized that, but there was nothing else to print and the paper had to have something. It was not Larry's fault, for even a reporter on a special assignment cannot provide fresh and startling news every day, though all newspaper men try hard enough for this desirable end.

After Larry had telephoned in all the information he had, he hurried uptown to the Potter house. He found Grace had just come in, and, to Larry's relief, she had not been successful in getting any news from Captain Padduci. In a few words the reporter told what the Scorcher had printed.

"We must deny that at once!" exclaimed Grace. "I wonder why they print such untruths!"

"For one reason, because the Scorcher is trying to live up to its name and give the public 'hot' news," replied Larry, "and, for another, because Sullivan has some end to gain. He stands in with the Scorcher men, and I think my old enemy, Peter Manton, is responsible for this."

"What can you do to offset it?" asked Grace.

"I can have a signed statement from you or your mother in our last edition."

"A signed statement?"

"Yes, a little interview with you, in the form of a communication, with your name at the foot, denying that your father is at home. This will take the wind out of the Scorcher's sails."

"Then I'll give you the interview at once. What shall I say?"

Larry told her, and in a few minutes the message was being dictated over the Potter telephone to Mr. Emberg.

"I'm glad to hear this, Larry," the city editor said. "We had quite a scare. I thought they had you beaten, even though Harvey came back and said Mrs. Potter sent down word there was no truth in the Scorcher yarn. You certainly had us scared."

"I was frightened myself," admitted Larry, with a laugh.

"This will make story enough for to-day, unless you find Mr. Potter," Mr. Emberg went on. "Now lay pipes for something for to-morrow."

"I will," Larry replied, though he did not in the least know what new features he could "play up."

At that instant the bell rang, and a whistle indicated that the letter carrier was at the door. Grace answered it. She came back on the run, a missive in her hand.

"It's from my father!" she exclaimed, as she tore open the envelope.

Larry watched Grace while she read the letter. It was short, for she had quickly finished with it and turned to the reporter.

"He's written about you!" she exclaimed.

"About me?"

"Yes. Listen," and Grace read:

"'I am well. Still have to remain away. Don't try to find me. Will be home soon. Tell Larry Dexter to give up. He's chasing me too close.'"

"Chasing him too close!" exclaimed Larry in bewilderment. I only wish I was! I haven't the least clue to his whereabouts. I wonder what he means? Is that his writing?"

"I can't be mistaken in that," Grace replied. "It is just the same as the other letter was."

"Let me see," and the young reporter examined the envelope. It was similar to that containing the first note which had come from Mr. Potter, save there was no blot on it and the stamp showed no excess of mucilage.

"I'll take this to the sub-station," Larry went on. "It was probably mailed in the same place as was the other. I'll see if the carrier had any such experience as he did with the former note."

"I think it would be a good plan," Grace answered. "Oh, this is beginning to wear on my nerves! As for mother, she is almost ill over it. Her physician says if father is not found soon he cannot say what will happen to mother."

"Still she must know your father is safe."

"That is the worst of it. She will not believe these notes are from him, or, rather, she believes he is held captive somewhere and is forced to write them. Nothing I can say will make her think differently. She is wearing herself to a shadow over it."

"We must do something!" exclaimed Larry.

"Yes; but what?" asked the girl. "You are working hard and I am doing all I can, but our efforts seem to amount to nothing. What more can we do?"

"I'm trying to think of a plan," Larry responded. "The search of the steamship piers gave us no clue; the police here have not been able to find a trace. We can try one thing more."

"What is that?"

"You can hire private detectives. Sometimes, in cases of this kind, they are better than the police, as they assign one man, who devotes all his attention to the search, while the police, as a rule, don't bother much to find missing persons."

"Then I'll hire the best private detectives to be had!" exclaimed Grace. "Where ought I to go?"

Larry named an agency, that he had heard was first-class, and offered to take Grace to the office. The reporter knew one of the men on the staff, as he had once written a story in which he figured, and the officer had been grateful for the mention of his name. Detectives, even private ones, are prone to vanity in this respect, as a rule.

"I don't like to take up so much of your time," objected the girl, as Larry prepared to go with her to the detective agency.

"My time is yours in this case. I have nothing to do for the Leader but to find your father. This is part of the work."

"I wouldn't think it could pay a newspaper to put one man exclusively on a case like this."

"The editors think it does. In the first place it makes some news every day, and the papers have to have news. Then if I should happen to find Mr. Potter, it would be a big advertisement for the Leader, and that is what all the New York papers are looking for. The better advertised they are the better prices they can charge for the advertisements printed in them, for it's from the advertisements that a newspaper makes its money. Besides, I've promised to find your father for you and I'm going to do it!" Larry looked very determined.

"My! I never supposed newspaper work was so complicated," said Grace, with a little sigh. "Now let's go to the detectives. I'm almost afraid. It sounds so awful to say 'detective.'"

Larry found the man he knew in the office of the agency, and the latter introduced him to the chief. The reporter explained the reason for the visit, and Grace added a plea that they do all in their power to locate Mr. Potter.

"I thought you'd come here sooner or later," said the chief with a smile. "Most folks do when they find the regular police don't give enough attention to the cases. It's not the fault of the police, though. They have so much to do they can't give much time to a single case. But of course we can. Now then, tell me all about it."

Which Grace, aided by Larry, proceeded to do. The chief listened intently, and asked several questions. He took the two letters which Grace had from her father and looked carefully at them.

"Do you think you'll be able to do anything?" asked the girl anxiously. The strain was beginning to tell heavily on her.

"Of course we will!" exclaimed the chief, heartily. "We'll find your father for you, you can depend on it!"

Larry did not want to tell her that the chief was thus optimistic in regard to every case he undertook. It was a habit of his, not a bad one, perhaps, and it did little harm, for nearly all of his clients wanted cheering up.

"What do you think about this, young man?" asked the chief, turning suddenly to Larry.

"In regard to what, Mr. Grover?"

"Where do you think Mr. Potter is? I understand you've been working on this case. In fact, I have all your stories clipped from the Leader."

Larry had not forgotten about Retto, and he determined to pay the fellow another visit.

With him, to think was to act. He soon found himself going up the stairs of the tenement house, and presently reached Retto's door. His knock brought no response, and he stood for a moment, undecided what to do. Then a bold idea came to him.

"I'll try the door and see if he's home," he said. "If he isn't, there's no harm done. If he is, I can explain it somehow."

Larry, after a moment's hesitation to listen for any possible movement on the other side of the portal, tried the door. It opened easily for him, though it needed but a glance to show that the apartment was empty and vacated. All the furniture was gone.

"He's skipped!" exclaimed Larry, as he struck a match and looked around. "I guess he was afraid I'd find him. Well, I am more determined than ever that I'll land this man. I wonder if he left any clues behind?"

He lighted a jet of a wall fixture, for the gas had not been shut off. In the glare he saw a scrap of paper lying on the floor. He picked it up. As he glanced at it he gave a cry of astonishment.

"Who would have thought it!" exclaimed Larry to himself. "Of all the strange things! I wonder I didn't connect him with the case before! This explains why he was in front of the house."

For, the paper he had picked up was part of an envelope like those which had contained the letters Grace received from her father. And on the scrap was her name, but the envelope had been spoiled by a blot of ink in writing the address. It had been torn up and thrown away, to remain a mute bit of evidence.

"Mah Retto knows Mr. Potter!" exclaimed Larry. "Retto is the man who mailed the letters for the missing millionaire. If I find him I can make him tell me where Mr. Potter is! Now to trace my mysterious East Indian friend!"

Victor Appleton

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