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Chapter 21


Larry took another survey of the apartment to see if there were any more clues that might aid him. But the one that had so unexpectedly come to his hand was all he found. The place showed evidences of having been hastily vacated.

"I'll see Mr. Jackson," he decided. "Perhaps he can tell me something. He was interested in this queer man."

He lost no time in going to the rooms of his friends. They were glad to see him, and asked a number of questions about his mother, sisters and brother. But Larry, as soon as he could, turned the subject to Retto.

"He's gone," he told Mr. Jackson.

"I supposed he had. I saw the janitor taking his things from the room this morning."

"Do you know where he went to?" asked the young reporter eagerly. "I want to find him."

"I haven't the least idea."

"I wonder if the janitor would know," Larry went on.

"He might. Perhaps the man left his address with him, in order that letters might be forwarded. I'll go downstairs with you and introduce you to the janitor."

That functionary was unable to throw any light on where Retto had gone. Evidently, for the time being, the chase had come to an end.

Larry made his way to the nearest elevated station and rode in the direction of the Potter home. He had no definite plan in mind, and, more from a whim than anything else, he decided to walk past the house. He did not expect it, but he had an idea—a very faint one—that he might see Grace. Of course, if he saw her at the window, where she sometimes sat, it would be no more than polite to go in and tell her what the carrier had said about the second letter.

When Larry got in front of the Potter house he was disappointed to see that it was in darkness. It was about ten o'clock, and he knew the family was in the habit of retiring early, especially since Mr. Potter's disappearance.

As he strolled past on the other side of the street, looking in vain for a glimmer of light, or the sight of a girlish face against the window pane, he passed into the deep shadow cast by a big tree on which shone an electric arc light in front of the Potter house. The blackness was quite deep, in contrast to the illumination on both sides of the tree, for electric lamps have the property of casting dense shadows. If Larry had been looking straight in front of him perhaps it would not have happened, but he was staring at where Grace lived, and the first thing he knew he had walked full tilt into a man who was hiding in the darkness behind the big tree.

"Oh—ugh!" grunted Larry, for the breath was knocked from his body by the sudden impact.

"What's the matter? What are you doing?" inquired the man angrily. "Why don't you look where you're going?"

The collision had swung him out of the shadow into the light, where he stood blinking. Larry recovered his breath, and then, at the sight of the man, gave a low-voiced cry of astonishment.

"Mr. Sullivan!" he exclaimed.

"Oh, it's you, is it, Dexter!" remarked the politician. "Are you following me? Are you spying on me? If you are I'll have you arrested!"

"I'm not following you or spying on you!" retorted Larry. "But you seem to be hiding here. What do you want? What are you in front of Mr. Potter's house for?"

He was determined to follow up his advantage, and to show Sullivan that he was not in the least intimidated by him. Clearly there was something in the wind when the district political leader was hiding behind trees watching the house of the missing millionaire.

"Look here!" exclaimed Sullivan, and he had moved back until he was in the shadow. "You go along and mind your own business; do you hear? Move along now!"

"I guess I have as good a right as you have to remain on the street. And this sidewalk is just as public as any in New York, even if it is in the millionaire section. What are you hiding for? Do you expect to see Mr. Potter come walking down the steps? If you do I'll wait, too. I'd like to see him."

"You think you're very smart because you're a reporter," retorted Sullivan, becoming more and more angry as he saw he could not intimidate Larry. "Let me tell you you're making a big mistake. I have some power in New York, and I warn you that I'll use it if you don't stop interfering with me. You've made me trouble enough. Now you be off, or I'll call a policeman and have you arrested."

"You can't," replied Larry. "I haven't done anything except to run into you, and that was an accident, caused by you being in the shadow."

"I'll show you what I can do. The police of this district know me, and they'll do anything I say."

"You might have 'pull' enough to have me arrested," Larry admitted, "but I wouldn't stay locked up long. A telephone message to the city editor of the Leader, and a word from him to some one higher up than a policeman, would bring about a change. And I don't think you'd like to read the story in the paper the next day, Mr. Sullivan."

The politician was silent. He knew Larry had the best of the argument. For, though the Assembly leader had some power in New York, he was only a "small fry" when it came to an important matter, such as he knew would result if Larry was taken into custody. He contented himself, therefore, with growling out threats against Larry in particular and all newspaper men in general.

"You'll interfere with me once too often," said Sullivan. "I warn you, young man. You're making a big mistake. There's more behind this matter than you have any idea of."

"I know there is," replied Larry quickly. "That's why I'm working so hard to clear up the mystery. I want to find out what your part is in the disappearance of Mr. Potter."

"My part? What do you mean?"

"You know well enough what I mean. You are interested in Mr. Potter. You want him to come back. Now what for? Has it anything to do with the new line? Does it concern your friends, Kilburn and Reilly? That's what I want to know and what I'm going to find out. You're playing a deep game, Mr. Sullivan, but I'll beat you at it!"

Larry was quite surprised at his own eloquence, and the manner in which he bid defiance to the leader of the assembly district.

"Hush!" exclaimed the politician. "If you say another word I'll knock you down!" and he advanced toward Larry as though he intended to carry the threat into execution. "Keep quiet, I say!"

"Are you afraid of having the truth told?" asked Larry speaking a little louder. It seemed that Sullivan was worried lest some one might overhear the talk. The streets, however, were deserted at this time.

"Never you mind!" retorted Sullivan. "You've said enough, so that I'll not forget it in a hurry, and Jack Sullivan is a bad man to have for an enemy, let me tell you."

"I don't doubt that, but I'm not afraid of you. I believe you know something of Mr. Potter's disappearance, and I'm going to find out what it is. You are waiting here with some object in view, and I'm going to discover it."

"Get away from here!" ordered Sullivan, hardly able to speak because of his anger.

"I'm going to stay as long as I like."

"Move on!" exclaimed the politician. "Get away or——"

He emerged from the shadow and approached Larry. The man's face showed how wrought up he was, and though he was not much taller or stronger than Larry he had a man's energy, and would prove more than a match for the lad if it came to a fight. And it looked now as though he was going to resort to desperate measures in order to accomplish his ends.

"I'm going to stay until I see what you're up to!" said Larry firmly, bracing himself to meet the expected attack.

Sullivan doubled up his fists and drew nearer to the youth. He raised his arm, as though to strike. The two were beyond the shadow of the tree now, and in plain view.

Sullivan's fist shot out, but Larry was watching and cleverly dodged it. The politician overreached himself, lost his balance, and, his fist meeting nothing more solid than air, he pitched forward and fell on the sidewalk.

Larry swung around, ready to meet his opponent when he should come back to the attack. At that instant a window, in a house across the street, opened, and a voice the young reporter knew was Grace's called:

"Larry! Larry! Come here!"

He started to run across the thoroughfare, but, as he did so, he saw another man emerge from behind a tree, next to the one where Sullivan had been concealed. And, as the light from an arc lamp gleamed on this man's face, Larry saw it was that of Mah Retto.

The young reporter paused, undecided what to do. Across the street he could see Grace in the raised window, waiting for him—for what he did not know. But, even as he looked at her, he saw Retto running off down the street. In an instant Larry's mind was made up. He took after Retto as fast as he could run.

Victor Appleton

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