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Sybarite thoughtfully.

The front doors still held, though shaking beneath a shower of
axe-strokes that filled the house with sonorous echoes.

At his feet, immediately to the left of the lounge door, yawned the
well of the basement stairway. And one chance was no more foolhardy
than another. Like a shot down that dark hole he dropped--and brought
up with a bang against a closed door at the bottom. Happily, it wasn't
locked. Turning the handle, he stumbled through, reclosed the door,
and intelligently bolted it.

He was now in a narrow and odorous corridor, running from front to
rear of the basement. One or two doors open or ajar furnished all its
light. Trying the first at a venture, P. Sybarite discovered what
seemed a servant's bedroom, untenanted. The other introduced him to a
kitchen of generous proportions and elaborate appointments--cool,
airy, and aglow with glistening white paint and electric light;
everything in absolute order with the exception of the central table,
where sat a man asleep, head pillowed on arms folded amid a disorder
of plates, bottles and glasses--asleep and snoring lustily.

P. Sybarite pulled up with a hand on the knob, and blinked with
surprise--an emotion that would assuredly have been downright dismay
had the sleeper been conscious. For he was in uniform; and a cap hung
on the back of his chair; and uniform and cap alike boasted the
insignia of the New York Police Department.

Wrinkling a perplexed nose, P. Sybarite swiftly considered the
situation. Here was the policeman on the beat--one of those creatures
of Penfield's vaunted vest-pocket crew--invited in for a bite and sup
by the steward of the house. The steward called away, he had drifted
naturally into a gentle nap. And now--"Glad I'm not in _his_ shoes!"
mused P. Sybarite.

And yet.... Urgent second thought changed the tenor of his temper
toward the sleeper. Better far to be in his shoes than in those of P.
Sybarite, just then....

Remembering Penfield's revolver, he made sure it was safe and handy in
his pocket; then strode in and dropped an imperative hand on the
policeman's shoulder.

"Here--wake up!" he cried; and shook him rudely.

The fellow stirred, grunted, and lifted a bemused, red countenance to
the breaker of rest.

"Hello!" he said in dull perception of a stranger. "What's--row?"

"Get up--pull yourself together!" P. Sybarite ordered sternly. "You
're liable to be broke for this!"

"Broke?" The officer's eyes widened, but remained cloudy with sleep,
drink, and normal confusion. "Where's Jimmy? Who're you?"

"Never mind me. Look to yourself. This place is being raided."

"Raided!" The man leaped to his feet with a cry. "G'wan! It ain't
possible!"

"Listen, if you don't believe me."

The crashing of the axes and the grumble of the curious crowd
assembled in the street were distinctly audible. The officer needed no
other confirmation; and yet--instant by instant it became more clearly
apparent that he had drunk too deeply to be able to think for himself.
Standing with a hand on the table, he rocked to and fro until, losing
his balance, he sat down heavily.

"My Gawd!" he cried. "I'm done for!"

"Nonsense! No more than I--unless you're too big a fool to take a word
of advice. Here--off with your coat."

"What's that?"

"I say, off with your coat, man--and look sharp! Get it off and I'll
hide it while you slip into one of those waiter's jackets over there.
Then, if they find us here, we can pretend to be employees. You
understand?"

"We'll get pinched, all the same," the man objected stupidly.

"Well, if we do, it only means a trip to the Night Court, and a fine
of five or ten dollars. You'll be up to-morrow for absence from post,
of course, but that's better than being caught half-drunk in the
basement of a gambling house on your beat."

Impressed, the officer started to unbutton his tunic, but hesitated.

"S'pose some of the boys recognise me?"

"Where are your wits?" demanded P. Sybarite in exasperation. "This
isn't a precinct raid! You ought to know that. This is Whitman, going
over everybody's head. Anyhow, it can't be worse for you than it
is--and my way gives you a fighting chance to get off."

"Guess you 're right," mumbled the other thickly, shrugging out of his
coat and surrendering it.

Several white jackets hung from hooks on the wall near the door.
Seizing one of these, the policeman had it on in a jiffy.

"Now what'll I do?" he pursued, as P. Sybarite, the blue coat over his
arm, grabbed the police cap and started for the door.

"Do? How do I know? Use your own head for a while. Pull yourself
together--cut some bread--do something useful--make a noise like a
steward--"

With this the little man shot out into the hallway, slammed the door
behind him, and darted into the adjoining bedroom. Once there, he lost
no time changing coats--not forgetting to shift his money as
well--cocked the cap jauntily on one side of his head (a bit too big,
it fitted better that way, anyhow) buttoned up, and left the room on
the run. For by this time the front doors had fallen in and the upper
floor was echoing with deep, excited voices and heavy, hurrying
footsteps. In another moment or so they would be drawing the basement
for fugitives.

He had planned--vaguely, inconclusively--to leave by the area door
when the raiders turned their attention to the basement, presenting
himself to the crowd in the street in the guise of an officer, and so
make off. But now--with his fingers on the bolts--misgivings assailed
him. He was physically not much like any policeman he had ever seen;
and the blue tunic with its brass buttons was a wretched misfit on his
slight body. He doubted whether his disguise would pass
unchallenged--doubted so strongly that he doubled suddenly to the back
door, flung it open, and threw himself out into the black strangeness
of the night--and at the same time into the arms of two burly
plain-clothes men posted there to forestall precisely such an attempt
at escape.

Strong arms clipping him, he struggled violently for an instant.

"Here!" a voice warned him roughly. "It ain't goin' to do you no
good--"

Another interrupted with an accent of deep disgust, in patent
recognition of his borrowed plumage: "Damned if it ain't a patrolman!"

"Why the hell didn't you say so?" demanded the first as P. Sybarite
fell back, free.

"Didn't--have--time. Here--gimme a leg over this fence, will you?"

"What the devil--!"

"They've got a door through to the next house--getting out that way.
That's what I'm after--to stop 'em. Shut up!" P. Sybarite insisted
savagely--"and give me a leg."

"Oh, well!" said one of the plain-clothes men in a slightly mollified
voice--"if that's the way of it--all right."

"Come along, then," brusquely insisted the impostor, leading the way
to the eastern wall of boards enclosing the back yard.

Curiously complaisant for one of his breed, the detective bent his
back and made a stirrup of his clasped hands, but no sooner had P.
Sybarite fitted foot to that same than the man started and,
straightening up abruptly, threw him flat on his back.

"Patrolman, hell! Whatcha doin' in them pants and shoes if you're a
patrol--"

"Hel-_lo_!" exclaimed the other indignantly. "Impersonatin' an
officer--eh?"

With this he dived at P. Sybarite; who, having bounced up from a
supine to a sitting position, promptly and peevishly swore, rolled to
one side (barely eluding clutches that meant to him all those
frightful and humiliating consequences that arrest means to the
average man) and scrambled to his feet.

Immediately the others closed in upon him, supremely confident of
overcoming by concerted action that smallish, pale, and terrified
body. Whereupon P. Sybarite' stepped quickly to one side and, avoiding
the rush of one, directly engaged the other. Ducking beneath a
windmill play of arms, he shot an accurate fist at this aggressor's
jaw; there was a click of teeth, the man's head snapped back, and
folding up like a tripod, he subsided at length.

Then swinging on a heel, P. Sybarite met a second onset made more
dangerous by the cooler calculations of a more sophisticated
antagonist. Nevertheless, deftly blocking a rain of blows, he closed
in as if eager to escape punishment, and planted a lifted knee in the
large of the detective's stomach so neatly that he, too, collapsed
like a punctured presidential boom and lay him down at rest.

Success so egregious momentarily stupefied even P. Sybarite. Gazing
down upon those two still shapes, so mighty and formidable when
sentient, he caught his breath in sharp amazement.

"Great Heavens! Is it possible _I_ did that?" he cried aloud--and the
next moment, spurred by alert discretion, was scaling the fence with
the readiness of an alley-cat.

Instantaneously, as he poised above the abyss of Stygian blackness on
the other side, not a little daunted by its imperturbable mystery, a
quick backward glance showed him figures moving in the basement
hallway of the gambling house; and easing over, he dropped.

Hard flags received him with native impassivity: stumbling, he lost
balance and sat down with an emphasis that drove the breath from him
in one mighty "_Ooof!_"

There was a simultaneous confusion of new, strange voices on the other
side of the fence; cries of surprise, recognition, excitement:

"Feeny, by all that's holy!"

"Mike Grogan, or I'm a liar!"

"What hit the two av urn?"

"Gawd knows!"

"Thin 'tis this waay thim murdherous divvles is b'atin' ut!"

"Gimme a back up that fince!..."

P. Sybarite picked himself up with even more alacrity that if he'd
landed in a bed of nettles, tore across that terra-incognita, found a
second fence, and was beyond it in a twinkling.

Swift as he was, however, detection attended him--a voice roaring:
"There goes wan av thim now!"

Other voices chimed in spendthrift with suggestions and advice....

Blindly clearing fence after fence without even thinking to count
them, P. Sybarite hurtled onward. Noises in the rear indicated a
determined pursuit: once a voice whooped--"_Halt or I fire!_"--and a
shot, waking echoes, sped the fugitive's heels....

But in time he had of necessity to pause for breath, and pulled up in
the back-yard of a Forty-sixth Street residence, his duty--to find a
way to the street and a shift from that uniform of unhappy
inspiration--as plain as the problem it presented was obscure.




XI

BURGLARY UNDER ARMS


And there P.



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