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CHAPTER IX
Maggie, as she mounted to her room, was hardly conscious of the ring of menace in Barney's voice; but once she was in bed, his tone and his words came back to her and stirred a strange uneasiness in her mind. Barney was angry; Barney was cunning; Barney would stop at nothing to gain his ends. What might be behind his threatening words?

The next morning as she was coming in with milk for her breakfast coffee, she met Larry in the Duchess's room behind the pawnshop. He smilingly planted himself squarely in her way.

“See here, Maggie—aren't you ever going to speak to a fellow?”

Something within her surged up impelling her to tell him of Barney's savage yet unformulated threat. The warning got as far as her tongue, and there halted, struggling.

Her strange, fixed look startled Larry. “Why, what's the matter, Maggie?” he exclaimed.

But her pride, her settled determination to unbend to him in no way and to have no dealings with him, were stronger than her impulse; and the struggling warning remained unuttered.

“Nothing's the matter,” she said, and brushed past him and hurried up the stairway.

At times during the day, while tutoring with Mr. Bronson, Larry thought of Maggie's strange look. And his mind was upon it late in the afternoon when he entered the little street. But as he neared his grandmother's house all such thought was banished by Detective Gavegan of the Central Office stepping from the pawnshop and blocking the door with his big figure. There was grim, triumphant purpose on the hard features of Gavegan, conceited by nature and trained to harsh dominance by long rule as a petty autocrat.

“Hello, Gavegan,” Larry greeted him pleasantly. “Gee, but you look tickled! Did the Duchess give you a bigger loan than you expected on the Carnegie medal you just hocked?”

“You'll soon be cuttin' out your line of comedy.” Gavegan slipped his left arm through Larry's right. “You're comin' along with me, and you'd better come quiet.”

Larry stiffened. “Come where?”

“Headquarters.”

“I haven't done a thing, Gavegan, and you know it! What do you want me for?”

“Me and the Chief had a little talk about you,” leered Gavegan. “And now the Chief wants to have a little personal talk with you. He asked me to round you up and bring you in.”

“I've done nothing, and I'll not go!” Larry cried hotly.

“Oh, yes, you will!” Gavegan withdrew his right hand from his coat pocket where it had been resting in readiness. In the hand, its thong about his wrist, was a short leather-covered object filled with lead. “I've got my orders, and you'll come peaceably, or—But I'd just as soon you'd resist, for I owe you something for the punch you slipped over on me the other night.”

Larry, taut with the desire to strike, gazed for a moment into the glowering face of the detective. Gavegan, gripping his right arm, with that bone-crushing slug-shot itching for instant use, was apparently master in the present circumstances. But before Larry's quick mind had decided upon a course, the door of the pawnshop opened and closed, and a voice said sharply:

“Nothing doing on that rough stuff, Gavegan!” The speaker was now on Larry's left side, a heavy-faced man in a black derby. “Larry, better be a nice boy and come with us.”

“Oh, it's you, Casey!” said Larry. “If you say I've got to go, I'll go—for you're one white copper, even if you do have Gavegan for a partner. Come on. What're we standing here for?”

The trio made their way out of the narrow street, and after some fifteen minutes of walking through the twisting byways of that part of the city, they passed through the granite doorway at Headquarters and entered the office of Deputy Commissioner Barlow, Chief of the Detective Bureau. Barlow was talking over the telephone in a growling staccato, and the three men sat down. After a moment Barlow banged the receiver upon its hook, and turned upon them. He had a clenched, driving face, with small, commanding eyes. It was his boast that he got results, that it was his policy to make people do what you told 'em. He had no other code.

“Well, Brainard,” he snapped, “here you are again. What you up to now?”

“Going to try the straight game, Chief,” returned Larry.

“Don't try to put that old bunk over on me!”

“It's not bunk, Chief. It's the real stuff.”

“Cut it out, I say! Don't you suppose I had a clever bird like you picked up the minute you landed in the city, and have had you covered ever since? And if you are going straight, what about the session you had with Barney Palmer and Old Jimmie Carlisle the very night you blew in? And I'm on to this bluff of your going to that business institute. So come across, Brainard! I've got your every move covered!”

“I've already come across, Chief,” replied Larry, trying to keep his temper in the face of the other's bullying manner. “I told Barney and Old Jimmie that I was through with the old game, and through with them as pals at the old game—that's all there was to that meeting. I'm going to that business institute for the same reason that every other person goes there—to learn. That's all there is to the whole business, Chief: I'm going to go straight.”

Chief Barlow, hunched forward, his undershot jaw clenched on a cigar stub, regarded Larry steadily with his beady, autocratic eyes. Barlow was trained to penetrate to the inside of men's minds, and he recognized that Larry was in earnest.

“You mean you think you are going to go straight,” Barlow remarked slowly and meaningly.

“I know I am going to go straight,” Larry returned evenly, meeting squarely the gaze of the Chief of Detectives.

“Do you realize, young man,” Barlow continued in the same measured, significant tone, “that whether you go straight, and how you go straight, depends pretty much on me?”

“Mind making that a little clearer, Chief?”

“I'll show you part of my hand—just remember that I'm holding back my high cards. I don't believe you're going to go straight, so we'll start with the proposition that you're not going to run straight and work on from there. You're clever, Brainard—I hand you that; and all the classy crooks trust you. That's why I had picked you out for what I wanted long before you left stir. Brainard, you're wise enough to know that some of our best pinches come from tips handed us from the inside. Brainard”—the slow voice had now become incisive, mandatory—“you're not going to go straight. You're going to string along with Barney and Old Jimmie and the rest of the bunch—we'll protect you—and you're going to slip us tips when something big is about to be pulled off.”

Larry, experienced with police methods though he was, could hardly believe this thing which was being proposed to him, Larry Brainard. But he controlled himself.

“If I get you, Chief, you are suggesting that I become a police stool?”

“Exactly. We'll never tip your hand. And any little thing you pull off on your own we'll not bother you about. And, besides, we'll slip you a little dough regular on the quiet.”

“And all you want me to do in exchange,” Larry asked quietly, “is to hand up my pals?”

“That's all.”

Larry found it required his all of strength to control himself; but he did.

“There are only three small objections to your proposition, Chief.”

“Yes?”

“The first is, I shall not be a stool.”

“What's that?”

“And the second is, I wouldn't squeal on a pal to you even if I were a crook. And the third is what I said in the beginning: I'm not going to be a crook.”

Barlow's squat, powerful figure arose menacingly. Casey also stood up.

“I tell you you ARE going to be a crook!” Barlow's big fist crashed down on his desk in a tremendous exclamation point. “And you're going to work for me exactly as I tell you!”

“I have already given you my final word,” said Larry.

“You—you—” Barlow almost choked at this quiet defiance. His face turned red, his breath came in a fluttering snarl, his powerful shoulders hunched up as if he were about to strike. But he held back his physical blows.

“That's your ultimatum?”

“If you care to call it so—yes.”

“Then here's mine! I told you I was holding back my high cards. Either you do as I say, and work with Gavegan and Casey, or you'll not be able to hold a job in New York! My men will see to that. And here's another high card. You do as I've said, or I'll hang some charge on you, one that'll stick, and back up the river you'll go for another stretch! There's an ultimatum for you to think about!”

It certainly was. Larry gazed into the harsh, glaring face, set in fierce determination. He knew that Barlow, as part of his policy, loved to break down the spirit of criminals; and he knew that nothing so roused Barlow as opposition from a man he considered in his power. Close beside the Chief he saw the gloating, malignant face of Gavegan; Casey, who had been restless since the beginning of the scene, had moved to the window and was gazing down into Center Street.

For a moment Larry did not reply. Barlow mistook Larry's silence for wavering, or the beginning of an inclination to yield.

“You turn that over in your noodle,” Barlow drove on. “You're going to go crooked, anyhow, so you might as well go crooked in the only way that's safe for you. I'm going to have Gavegan and Casey watch you, and if in the next few days you don't begin to string along with Barney and Old Jimmie and that bunch, and if you don't get me word that your answer to my proposition is 'yes,' hell's going to fall on you! Now get out of here!”

Larry got out. He was liquid lava of rage inside; but he had had enough to do with police power to know that it would help him not at all to permit an eruption against a police official while he was in the very heart of the police stronghold.

He walked back toward his own street in a fury, beneath which was subconsciously an element of uneasiness: an uneasiness which would have been instantly roused to caution had he known that Barney Palmer had this hour and more been following him in a taxicab, and that across the street from the car's window Barney's sharp face had watched him enter Police Headquarters and had watched him emerge.

Home reached, Larry briefly recounted his experience at Headquarters to Hunt and the Duchess. The painter whistled; the Duchess blinked and said nothing at all.

“Maggie was more right than she knew when she first said you were facing a tough proposition!” exclaimed Hunt. “Believe me, young fellow, you're certainly up against it!”

“Can you beat it for irony!” said Larry, pacing the floor. “A man wants to go straight. His pals ask him to be a crook, and are sore because he won't be a crook. The police ask him to be a crook, and threaten him because he doesn't want to be a crook. Some situation!”

“Some situation!” repeated Hunt. “What're you going to do?”

“Do?” Larry halted, his face set with defiant determination. “I'm going to keep on doing exactly what I've been doing! And they can all go to hell!”


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