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And P. Sybarite looked up with blank eyes in a
pallid, wizened face in time to see Shaynon bare his teeth--his lips
curling back in a manner peculiarly wolfish and irritating--and snarl
a mirthless laugh.

It was something inopportune; the man could have done no better than
keep his peace; left to himself P. Sybarite would in all probability
have floundered and blustered and committed himself inextricably in a
multitude of hasty and ill-considered protestations.

But that laugh was as good as a douche of cold water in his face. He
came abruptly to his senses; saw clearly how this thing had come to
pass: the temptation of the loose brooch to Shaynon's fingers itching
for revenge, while they stood so near together in the elevator, the
opportunity grasped with the avidity of low cunning, the brooch
transferred, under cover of the crush, to the coat-tail pocket.

Mute in this limpid comprehension of the circumstances, he sobered
thoroughly from sickening consternation; remained in his heart a foul
sediment of deadly hatred for Shaynon; to whom he nodded with a
significance that wiped the grimace from the man's face as with a
sponge. Something clearly akin to fear informed Shaynon's eyes. He sat
forward with an uneasy glance at the door.

And then P. Sybarite smiled sunnily in the face of the detective.

"Caught with the goods on, eh?" he chirped.

"Well," growled the man, dashed. "Now, what do _you_ think?"

"I'm every bit as much surprised as you are," P. Sybarite confessed.
"Come now--be fair to me--own up: you didn't expect to see that--did
you?"

The detective hesitated. "Well," he grudged, "you did have me goin'
for a minute--you were so damn' cock-sure--and it certainly is pretty
slick work for an amateur."

"You think I'm an amateur--eh?"

"I guess I know every map in the Rogues' Gallery as well's the palm of
my hand!"

"And mine is not among them?" P. Sybarite insisted triumphantly.

The detective grunted disdain of this inconclusive argument: "You
all've got to begin. It'll be there to-morrow, all right."

"It looks bad, eh--not?" the manager questioned, his predacious eyes
fixed greedily upon the trinket.

"You think so?" P. Sybarite purposefully misinterpreted. "Let me see."

Before the detective could withdraw, P. Sybarite caught the brooch
from his fingers.

"Bad?" he mused aloud, examining it closely. "Phony? Perhaps it is.
Looks like _Article de Paris_ to me. See what you think."

He returned the trinket indifferently.

"Nonsense!" Shaynon interposed incisively. "Mrs. Strone's not that
kind."

"Shut up!" snapped P. Sybarite. "What do you know about it? You've
lied yourself out of court already."

A transitory expression of bewilderment clouded Shaynon's eyes.

"I'm no judge," the detective announced doubtfully.

"It makes no difference," Shaynon insisted. "Theft's theft!"

"It makes a deal of difference whether it's grand or petit larceny,"
P. Sybarite flashed--"a difference almost as wide and deep as that
which yawns between attempted and successful wife-murder, Mr.
Shaynon!"

His jaw dropped and a look of stupefying terror stamped itself upon
Shaynon's face.

It was the turn of P. Sybarite to laugh.

"Well?" he demanded cuttingly. "Are you ready to come to the
station-house and make a charge against me? I'll go peaceful as a lamb
with the kind cop, if by so doing I can take you with me. But if I do,
believe me, you'll never get out without a bondsman."

Shaynon recollected himself with visible effort.

"The man 's crazy," he muttered sickishly, rising. "I don't know what
he 's talking about. Arrest him--take him to the station-house--why
don't you?"

"Who'll make the charge?" asked the detective, eyeing Shaynon without
favour.

"Not Bayard Shaynon!" P. Sybarite asseverated.

"It's not my brooch," Shaynon asserted defensively.

"You saw him take it," the detective persisted.

"No--I didn't; I suspected him. It's you who found the brooch on him,
and it's your duty to make the charge."

"You're one grand little lightning-change-of-heart-artist--gotta slip
it to you for that," the detective observed truculently. "Now, lis'n:
I don't make no charge--"

"Any employee of the establishment will do as well, for _my_ purpose,"
P. Sybarite cut in. "Come, Mr. Manager! How about you? Mr. Shaynon
declines; your detective has no stomach for the job. Suppose you take
on the dirty work--kind permission of Bayard Shaynon, Esquire. I don't
care, so long as I get my grounds for suit against the Bizarre."

The manager spread out expostulatory palms. "Me, I have nossing
whatever to do with the matter," he protested. "To me it would seem
Mrs. Strone should make the charge."

"Well?" mumbled the detective of Shaynon. "How aboutcha?"

"Wait," mumbled Shaynon, moving toward the door. "I'll fetch Mrs.
Strone."

"Don't go without saying good-bye," P. Sybarite admonished him
severely. "It isn't pretty manners."

The door slammed tempestuously, and the little man chuckled with an
affectation of ease to which he was entirely a stranger: ceaselessly
his mind was engaged with the problem of this trumped-up charge of
Shaynon's.

Was simple jealousy and resentment, a desire to "get even," the whole
explanation?

Or was there something of an uglier complexion at the bottom of the
affair?

His head buzzed with doubts and suspicions, and with misgivings on
Marian's behalf but indifferently mitigated by the reflection that, at
worst, the girl had escaped unhindered and alone in her private car.
By now she ought to be safe at the Plaza....

"He won't be back," P. Sybarite observed generally to detective and
manager; and sat him down serenely.

"You feel pretty sure about that?" the detective asked.

"Wait and see."

Bending forward, the little man examined the gilt clock on the
manager's desk. "Twenty minutes past four," he announced: "I give you
ten minutes to find some one to make a charge against me--Shaynon,
Mrs. What's-her-name, or either of yourselves, if you like the job. If
you fail to produce a complainant by half-past four precisely, out of
here I go--and I'm sorry for the man who tries to stop me."

The detective took a chair, crossed his legs, and produced a cigar
which he began to trim with tender care. The manager, anxiously pacing
the floor, after another moment or so paused at the door, fidgeted,
jerked it open, and with a muffled "Pardon!" disappeared--presumably
in search of Shaynon.

Striking a match, the detective puffed his cigar aglow. Over its tip
his small eyes twinkled at P. Sybarite.

"Maybe you're a gentleman crook, and maybe not," he returned with fine
impartiality. "But you're all there, son, with the tongue action. You
got me still goin' round in circles. Damn 'f I know yet what to
think."

"Well, if that's your trouble," P. Sybarite told him coolly, "this is
your cue to squat on your haunches, scratch your left ear with your
hind leg, and gaze up into my face with an intelligent expression in
your great brown eyes."

"I'll do better 'n that," chuckled the man. "Have a cigar."

"Thank you," said P. Sybarite politely, accepting the peace offering.
"All I need now is a match: I acknowledge the habit."

The match supplied, he smoked in silence.

Four minutes passed, by the clock: no sign of the manager, Shaynon, or
Mrs. Strone.

"Story?" the detective suggested at length.

"Plant," retorted P. Sybarite as tersely.

"You mean he salted you?"

"In the elevator, of course."

"It come to me, that was the way of it when he sprung that bunk stuff
about you coarsely loading said loot into your coat-tail," admitted
the detective. "That didn't sound sensible, even if you did have a
skirt to fuss into a cab. The ordinary vest-pocket of commerce
would've kept it just as close, besides being more natural--easy to
get at. Then the guy was too careful to tip me off not to pinch you
until the lady had went--didn't want her name dragged into it.... A
fellow in my job's gotta have a lot of imagination," he concluded
complacently. "That's why I'm letting you get away with it in this
unprofessional manner."

"More human than in line with the best literary precedent, eh?"

"That's me. I seen he was sore when the dame turned him down, too, and
started right off wondering if maybe it wasn't a jealousy plant. I
seen this sorta thing happen before. Not that I blame him for feeling
cut up: that was one swell piece of goods you bundled into numba
two-thirty."

P. Sybarite's cigar dropped unheeded from his lips.

"_What!_" he cried.

The detective started.

"Wasn't that the numba of the lady's cab--two-thirty?"

"Good God!" ejaculated P. Sybarite, jumping up.

"What's hit you?"

"I'm going!" the little man announced fiercely.

"Your time allowance ain't expired by several minutes--"

"To hell with my time allowance! Try to keep me, if you like!"

P. Sybarite strode excitedly to the door and jerked it open. The
detective followed him, puffing philosophically.

There was no one in sight in the hall.

"Looks like you got a fine show for a clean getaway," he observed
cheerfully between his teeth. "Your friend's beaten it, the boss has
ducked the responsibility, and you got _me_ scared to death.
Besides--damn 'f I'm going to be the goat that saddles this hash-hut
with a suit for damages."

His concluding words were addressed to the horizontal folds of the
inverness that streamed from the shoulders of P. Sybarite as he bolted
unhindered through the Fifth Avenue doorway.




XIX

NEMESIS


"Dolt!... Blockhead!... Imbecile!... Idiot!... Numskull!... Ass!...
Simpleton!... Loon!..."

The chill air of early morning wiped the blistering epithets from his
lips as he fled like a madman down Fifth Avenue, at every stride
wringing from the depths of an embittered bosom new and more virulent
terms of vituperation with which to characterize his infatuated
stupidity--and finding one and all far too mild. In simple truth, the
King's English lacked invective poisonous enough to do justice to his
self-contempt.

Deliberately had he permitted himself to be duped, circumvented,
over-reached.



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