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Sybarite had time neither to see nor to
surmise.

Sidestepping a wild swing, he planted a left full on the nose of the
nearer assailant and knocked him backwards over a sprawling chair.
Then turning attention to the other, he was barely in time to duck an
uppercut--and out of the corners of his eyes caught the glint of
brass-knuckles on the fist that failed to land.

Infuriated, he closed in, sent a staggering left to the thug's heart
and a murderous right to his chin, so that he reeled and fell as if
shot--while P. Sybarite with a bound again caught the boy by the arm
and whirled him out through the doorway into the hall.

"Hurry!" he panted. "We've one chance in ten thousand--"

Beyond doubt they had barely that.

Hardened though they were to scenes of violence, the clients of the
dive had stilled in apprehension the moment November lifted his voice
in anger; while P. Sybarite's first overtly offensive move had struck
them all dumb in terror.

Red November was one who had shot down his man in cold blood on the
steps of the Criminal Courts Building and, through the favour of The
Organisation that breeds such pests, escaped scot-free under the
convenient fiction of "suspended sentence"; and knowing well the
nature and the power of the man, the primal concerted thought had been
to flee the place before bullets began to fly. In blind panic like
that of sheep, they rose as one in uproar and surged toward the outer
doors. November himself, struggling up from beneath the table, was
caught and swept on willy-nilly in the front rank of the stampede. In
a thought he found himself wedged tight in a press clogging the door.
Before his enraged vision P. Sybarite was winning away with the boy.

Maddened, the gang leader managed to free his right arm and send a
haphazard shot after them.

Only the instinctive recoil of those about him deflected his aim.

The report was one with a shock of shattered plate-glass: the
soft-nosed bullet, splashing upon the glazed upper half of the door,
caused the entire pane to collapse and disappear with the quickness of
magic.

Halting, P. Sybarite wheeled and dropped a hand to the pocket wherein
rested Mrs. Inche's automatic.

"Get that door open!" he cried to the boy. "I've got a taxi waiting--"

His words were drowned out by the thunderous detonations set up by a
second shot in that constricted space.

With a thick sob, the boy reeled and swung against the wall as sharply
as though he had been struck with a sledge-hammer.

Whimpering with rage, P. Sybarite tugged at the weapon; but it stuck
fast, caught the lining of his coat-pocket.

Most happily before he could get it in evidence, the door was thrust
sharply in, and through it with a rush materialised that most rare of
metropolitan phenomena--the policeman on the spot.

Young and ardent, with courage as unique as his ubiquity, he blustered
in like a whirlwind, brushing P. Sybarite to one side, the wounded boy
to the other, and pausing only a single instant to throw back the
skirts of his tunic and grasp the butt of the revolver in his
hip-pocket, demanded in the voice of an Irish stentor:

"_What's-all-this? What's-all-this-now?_"

"Robbery!" P. Sybarite replied, mastering with difficulty a giggle of
hysterical relief. "Robbery and attempted murder! Arrest that man--Red
November--with the gun in his hand."

With an inarticulate roar, the patrolman swung on toward the
gangster--and P. Sybarite plucked the boy by the sleeve and drew him
quickly to the sidewalk.

By the never-to-be-forgotten grace of _Kismet_ his taxicab was
precisely where he had left it, the chauffeur on the seat.

"Quick!" he ordered the reeling boy--"into that cab unless you want to
be treated by a Bellevue sawbones--held as a witness besides. Are you
badly hurt?"

"Not badly," gasped the boy--"shot through the shoulder--can wait for
treatment--must keep out of the papers--"

"Right!" P. Sybarite jerked open the door, and his charge stumbled
into the cab. "Drive anywhere--like sin," he told the chauffeur--"tell
you where to stop when we get clear of this mess--"

Privately he blessed that man; for the cab was in motion almost before
he could swing clear of the sidewalk. He tumbled in upon the floor,
and picked himself up in time to close the door only when they were
swinging on two wheels round the corner of Seventh Avenue.




XV

SUCH STUFF AS PLOTS ARE MADE OF


"How is it?" P. Sybarite asked solicitously.

"Aches," replied the boy huddled in his corner of the cab.

Then he found spirit enough for a pale, thin smile, faintly visible in
a milky splash from an electric arc rocking by the vehicle in its
flight.

"Aches like hell," he added. "Makes one feel a bit sickish."

"Anything I can do?"

"No--thanks. I'll be all right--as soon as I find a surgeon to draw
that slug and plaster me up."

"That's the point: where am I to take you?"

"Home--the Monastery--Forty-third Street."

"Bachelor apartments?"

"Yes; I herd by my lonesome."

"Praises be!" muttered P. Sybarite, relieved.

For several minutes he had been entertaining a vision of himself
escorting this battered and bloody young person to a home of shrieking
feminine relations, and poignantly surmising the sort of welcome apt
to be accorded the good Samaritan in such instances.

And while he was about it, he took time briefly to offer up thanks
that the shock of his wound seemed to have sobered the boy completely.

Opening the door, he craned his neck out to establish communication
with the ear of the chauffeur; to whom he repeated the address, adding
an admonition to avoid the Monastery until certain he had shaken off
pursuit, if any; and dodged back.

At this juncture the taxicab was slipping busily up Eighth Avenue,
having gained that thoroughfare via Forty-first Street. A little later
it turned eastwards....

"No better, I presume?" P. Sybarite enquired.

"Not so's you'd notice it," the boy returned bravely.... "First time
anything like this ever happened to me," he went on. "Funny
sensation--precisely as if somebody had lammed me for a home run--with
a steel girder for a bat ..."

"Must be tough!" said P. Sybarite blankly, experiencing a qualm at the
thought of a soft-nosed bullet mushrooming through living flesh.

"Guess I can stand it.... Where are we?"

P. Sybarite took observations."

"Forty-seventh, near Sixth Avenue," he reported finally.

"Good: we'll be home in five minutes."

"Think you can hold out that long?"

"Sure--got to; if I keel over before we reach my digs ... chances are
it'll get you into trouble ... besides, I want to fight shy of the
papers ... no good airing this scandal ..."

"None whatever," affirmed P. Sybarite heartily. "But--how did you get
into it?"

"Just by way of being a natural-born ass."

"Oh, well! If it comes to that, I admit it's none of my business--"

"The deuce it isn't! After all you've done for me! Good Lord, man,
where _would_ I be...!"

"Sleeping the sleep of the doped in some filthy corner of Dutch House,
most likely."

"And you saved me from that!"

"And got this hole drilled through you instead."

"Got me away; I'd've collected the lead anyhow--wasn't meaning to stay
without a fight."

"Then you weren't as drunk as you seemed?"

"Didn't you catch me making a move the minute you created a diversion?
Of course, I'd no idea you were friendly--"

"Look here," P. Sybarite interrupted sharply: "doesn't it hurt you to
talk?"

"No--helps me forget this ache."

"All right, then--tell me how this came about. What has Red November
got on you, to make him so anxious--?"

"Nothing, as far as I know; unless it was Brian Shaynon's doing--"

"A-ah!"

"You know that old blighter?"

"Slightly--very slightly."

"Friend of yours?"

"Not exactly."

The accent of P. Sybarite's laugh rendered the disclaimer conclusive.

"Glad to hear that," said the boy gravely: "I'd despise to be beholden
to any friend of his ..."

"Well.... But what's the trouble between you and old man Shaynon?"

"Search me--unless he thought I was spying on him. I say!" the boy
exclaimed excitedly--"what business could he have had with Red
November there, to-night?"

"That _is_ a question," P. Sybarite allowed.

"Something urgent, I'll be bound!--else he wouldn't ever have dared
show his bare map in that dump."

"One would think so...."

"I'd like to figure this thing out. Perhaps you can help. To begin
with--I went to a party to-night."

"I know," said P. Sybarite, with a quiet chuckle: "the Hadley-Owen
masquerade."

"How did you know?"

"_Kismet!_ It had to be."

"Are you by any chance--mad?"

"I shouldn't be surprised. Anyhow, I'm a bit mad I wasn't invited.
Everybody I know or meet--almost--is either bidden to that party or
knows somebody who is. Forgive the interruption.... Anyway," he added,
"we're here."

The taxicab was drawing up before an apartment house entrance.

Hastily recovering his hoard of gold-pieces, P. Sybarite jumped out
and presented one to the driver.

"Can't change that," said the latter, staring. "Besides, this was a
charge call."

"I know," said P. Sybarite apologetically; "but this is for you."

"Good God!" cried the chauffeur.

"And yet," mused P. Sybarite, "they'd have you believe all taxicab
chauffeurs mercenary!"

Recklessly he forced the money into the man's not altogether
inhospitable palm.

"For being a good little tight-mouth," he explained gravely.

"Forever and ever, amen!" protested the latter fervently. "And thank
_you_!"

"If you're satisfied, we're quits," returned P. Sybarite, offering a
hand to the boy.

"I can manage," protested this last, descending without assistance.
"And it's better so," he explained as they crossed to the door; "I
don't want the hallboys here to suspect--and I can hold up a few
minutes longer, never fear."

"Business of taking off my hat to you," said P. Sybarite in unfeigned
admiration; "for pure grit, you're a young wonder."

A liveried hallboy opened the door. A second waited in the elevator.
Promptly ascending, they were set down at one of the upper floors.

Throughout the boy carried himself with never a quiver, his
countenance composed and betraying what pain he suffered only to eyes
keen to discern its trace of pallor.



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