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Chapter 22

GRACE IS SUSPICIOUS


Retto headed for Central Park, and as Larry saw him pass the entrance he realized that it was going to be as hard to follow the man as though he had disappeared in the midst of a crowd, especially since the park was not well lighted.

"But I've got to follow him," thought Larry. "It's my best chance. I must find out where he has moved to. I wonder what Grace wanted? And I wonder what Sullivan's game was? My, but the questions are coming too thick for me. I'll have to get an assistant."

By this time he had entered the park. Ahead of him he could hear the running feet of the man he was pursuing. The big recreation ground was almost deserted.

"I don't believe he dare run very fast," reasoned Larry, as he slackened his pace. "If he does a policeman will be sure to stop him and ask questions, and I guess Retto will not relish that. I have a better chance than I thought at first. After all, I don't see why he is so afraid of me. All I want to do is to ask him where he gets the letters from Mr. Potter. He must know where the millionaire is hiding, and it looks as if Mr. Potter had been in Retto's room at the Jackson tenement, or else how would the envelope get there? That's it! I'll bet the missing millionaire has been hiding with this East Indian chap! I never thought of that until now!"

Having walked for fully a quarter of a mile Retto came to a sudden stop, and so did Larry, hiding in the shadow of a tree. Retto listened intently, and, of course, heard no pursuing footsteps. This apparently satisfied him, for he proceeded more slowly.

"He thinks I've given up the chase," thought Larry. "I'll let him. Maybe he'll go home all the quicker, and, after I learn where he is stopping, I can go back and see what Grace wanted."

Larry's surmise proved correct, and his wish soon came to pass. The man, evidently believing that he was safe, emerged from the park to the street, for the whole pursuit had gone on not far from the thoroughfare, and just within the boundary of the city's breathing spot. Larry, keeping in the shadows, watched him.

He saw Retto give one more cautious look around and then, crossing the highway, enter a hotel nearby. It was a fashionable one, and Larry wondered how the man, who had, hitherto, only lived in tenements, could afford to engage rooms in such a place as this.

"Maybe he's only doing it to throw me off the track," the reporter reasoned. "I'll just wait a while and see if he comes out."

He waited nearly an hour, hiding in the shadows of the park and keeping close watch on the entrance to the hotel. He did not see Retto emerge, and then he decided on a new plan.

"I'll inquire if he is stopping there," he said to himself. "If he is I'll wait until to-morrow before acting. I'll let him think everything's all right. It's the best way."

Sauntering into the hotel lobby he found no one but the night clerk on duty, though there were a few sleepy bell-boys sprawled on a bench. As soon as the clerk saw Larry approaching the desk he swung the registry book around, and, dipping a pen in the ink, extended it to the reporter.

"I didn't come to stay," said Larry, with a smile. "I want to inquire if there is a Mr. Mah Retto stopping here?"

"There is," replied the clerk. "Would you like to see him? He just came in a little while ago."

"No; not to-night," Larry replied, his heart beating high with hope. He had run down his man. "I wasn't sure of his address, and I thought I'd inquire. I'll call and see him to-morrow."

The clerk, having lost all interest as soon as he found Larry was not to be a guest of the hotel, did not reply. The bell-boys, seeing their visions of a tip disappearing, resumed their dozes, and Larry walked out. He was impressed by the clerk's manner. Clearly Retto was a man of means and not as poor as Larry had supposed.

"So far so good," he murmured. "Now to go back and see what Grace wanted—that is if it isn't too late."

It was nearly eleven o'clock, but Larry had an idea that Grace would still be up. It was rather an unusual hour to make a call, still all the circumstances in this case were unusual, and Larry did not think Grace would mind.

He saw a light in the Potter house as he approached it. Thinking perhaps Sullivan might be in the vicinity Larry walked up and down on the other side of the street, peering in the shadow of the tree where he had had his encounter with the politician, but Sullivan had evidently gone away.

"Why didn't you come when I called you?" asked Grace, as she admitted Larry to the library.

"I wanted to," the young reporter replied, "but I had to take after a person who I believe knows where your father is, and I couldn't stop without losing sight of him. I have some news for you."

"And I have some for you," exclaimed Grace, "Let me tell mine first."

"All right," agreed Larry, with a smile. "Go ahead."

"Well, I was sitting in the window to-night, looking out on the street, and feeling particularly sad and lonely on account of father, when I saw a man sneaking along on the other side. I saw him hide behind a tree, and I resolved to keep watch. There have been some burglaries in this neighborhood recently, and I wasn't sure whether he was a thief or a detective sent here to watch for suspicious characters. Well, as I sat there watching I saw you come along and talk to the man behind the tree."

"How long had he been there when I came along?"

"Oh, for some time, but don't interrupt, please. You can ask questions afterward. When I saw you talking to the man I knew it must be all right, and I was beginning to think he was a detective.

"Then I noticed another man sneaking along. He, too, hid behind a tree, next to the first man. I thought this was queer until I remembered you told me that detectives usually hunt in couples, and I thought he was another officer from headquarters. I thought so until mother, who, it seems had been looking out of her window in the front room upstairs, called to me.

"She asked me if I had seen the two men come along, and, when I said I had, she wanted to know if I didn't think there was something queer about the second man. I said I didn't notice particularly, but just then the man stepped out into the light, and I had a good look at him."

"Was there anything suspicious about him?"

"There certainly was!" exclaimed Grace, earnestly. "As soon as I saw him I thought sure it was my father. He had his back toward me, and he looked exactly like papa. Mother saw it, too, and she cried out. Just then the man turned and I saw he was smooth-shaven, and his face didn't look a bit like my father's.

"Then I saw you and that other man—Mr. Sullivan, I then knew him to be—step into the light. I saw he was going to hit you, and I raised the window and called. I wanted to ask you to see who the second man was—the one who looked so much like my father. I called, but you didn't seem to hear."

"I heard you," replied Larry, "but I couldn't stop. I wanted to take after the man—the same man you were suspicious of. I traced him through the park."

"Did you find him? Who is he? Where is he? Is he—is he? Oh, Larry, don't keep me in suspense——"

"I'm sorry to have to tell you he isn't your father," Larry replied, gently, as he saw the girl's distress. "But I think he knows where your father is. He goes by the name of Mah Retto, and I helped save him from the wreck of a vessel on the Jersey coast. See, I found this in his room, a little while before he disappeared," and he held out to Grace the torn envelope with her name on it.

"My father's writing!" she exclaimed.

Larry heard some one descending the stairs and coming toward the library.

Victor Appleton

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