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- THE BAT - 1/45 -
and broken them. Some day the Bat would slip and falter; then they would have him. But the weeks passed into months and still the Bat flew free, solitary, untamed, and deadly. At last even his own kind turned upon him; the underworld is like the upper in its fear and distrust of genius that flies alone. But when they turned against him, they turned against a spook--a shadow. A cold and bodiless laughter from a pit of darkness answered and mocked at their bungling gestures of hate--and went on, flouting Law and Lawless alike.
Where official trailer and private sleuth had failed, the newspapers might succeed--or so thought the disillusioned young men of the Fourth Estate--the tireless foxes, nose-down on the trail of news --the trackers, who never gave up until that news was run to earth. Star reporter, leg-man, cub, veteran gray in the trade--one and all they tried to pin the Bat like a caught butterfly to the front page of their respective journals--soon or late each gave up, beaten. He was news--bigger news each week--a thousand ticking typewriters clicked his adventures--the brief, staccato recital of his career in the morgues of the great dailies grew longer and more incredible each day. But the big news--the scoop of the century --the yearned-for headline, "Bat Nabbed Red-Handed", "Bat Slain in Gun Duel with Police"--still eluded the ravenous maw of the Linotypes. And meanwhile, the red-scored list of his felonies lengthened and the rewards offered from various sources for any clue which might lead to his apprehension mounted and mounted till they totaled a small fortune.
Columnists took him up, played with the name and the terror, used the name and the terror as a starting point from which to exhibit their own particular opinions on everything and anything. Ministers mentioned him in sermons; cranks wrote fanatic letters denouncing him as one of the even-headed beasts of the Apocalypse and a forerunner of the end of the world; a popular revue put on a special Bat number wherein eighteen beautiful chorus girls appeared masked and black-winged in costumes of Brazilian bat fur; there were Bat club sandwiches, Bat cigarettes, and a new shade of hosiery called simply and succinctly Bat. He became a fad--a catchword--a national figure. And yet--he was walking Death--cold-- remorseless. But Death itself had become a toy of publicity in these days of limelight and jazz.
A city editor, at lunch with a colleague, pulled at his cigarette and talked. "See that Sunday story we had on the Bat?" he asked. "Pretty tidy--huh--and yet we didn't have to play it up. It's an amazing list--the Marshall jewels--the Allison murder--the mail truck thing--two hundred thousand he got out of that, all negotiable, and two men dead. I wonder how many people he's really killed. We made it six murders and nearly a million in loot--didn't even have room for the small stuff--but there must be more--"
His companion whistled.
"And when is the Universe's Finest Newspaper going to burst forth with 'Bat Captured by BLADE Reporter?'" he queried sardonically.
"Oh, for--lay off it, will you?" said the city editor peevishly. "The Old Man's been hopping around about it for two months till everybody's plumb cuckoo. Even offered a bonus--a big one--and that shows how crazy he is--he doesn't love a nickel any better than his right eye--for any sort of exclusive story. Bonus--huh!" and he crushed out his cigarette. "It won't be a Blade reporter that gets that bonus--or any reporter. It'll be Sherlock Holmes from the spirit world!"
"Well--can't you dig up a Sherlock?"
The editor spread out his hands. "Now, look here," he said. "We've got the best staff of any paper in the country, if I do say it. We've got boys that could get a personal signed story from Delilah on how she barbered Samson--and find out who struck Billy Patterson and who was the Man in the Iron Mask. But the Bat's something else again. Oh, of course, we've panned the police for not getting him; that's always the game. But, personally, I won't pan them; they've done their damnedest. They're up against something new. Scotland Yard wouldn't do any better--or any other bunch of cops that I know about."
"But look here, Bill, you don't mean to tell me he'll keep on getting away with it indefinitely?"
The editor frowned. "Confidentially--I don't know," he said with a chuckle: "The situation's this: for the first time the super-crook --the super-crook of fiction--the kind that never makes a mistake --has come to life--real life. And it'll take a cleverer man than any Central Office dick I've ever met to catch him!"
"Then you don't think he's just an ordinary crook with a lot of luck?"
"I do not." The editor was emphatic. "He's much brainier. Got a ghastly sense of humor, too. Look at the way he leaves his calling card after every job--a black paper bat inside the Marshall safe --a bat drawn on the wall with a burnt match where he'd jimmied the Cedarburg Bank--a real bat, dead, tacked to the mantelpiece over poor old Allison's body. Oh, he's in a class by himself--and I very much doubt if he was a crook at all for most of his life."
"I mean this. The police have been combing the underworld for him; I don't think he comes from there. I think they've got to look higher, up in our world, for a brilliant man with a kink in the brain. He may be a Doctor, a lawyer, a merchant, honored in his community by day--good line that, I'll use it some time--and at night, a bloodthirsty assassin. Deacon Brodie--ever hear of him --the Scotch deacon that burgled his parishioners' houses on the quiet? Well--that's our man."
"But my Lord, Bill--"
"I know. I've been going around the last month, looking at everybody I knew and thinking--are you the Bat? Try it for a while. You'll want to sleep with a light in your room after a few days of it. Look around the University Club--that white-haired man over there--dignified--respectable--is he the Bat? Your own lawyer--your own Doctor--your own best friend. Can happen you know--look at those Chicago boys--the thrill-killers. Just brilliant students--likeable boys--to the people that taught them--and cold-bloodied murderers all the same."
"Bill! You're giving me the shivers!"
"Am I?" The edit or laughed grimly. "Think it over. No, it isn't so pleasant.--But that's my theory--and I swear I think I'm right." He rose.
His companion laughed uncertainly.
"How about you, Bill--are you the Bat?"
The editor smiled. "See," he said, "it's got you already. No, I can prove an alibi. The Bat's been laying off the city recently-- taking a fling at some of the swell suburbs. Besides I haven't the brains--I'm free to admit it." He struggled into his coat. "Well, let's talk about something else. I'm sick of the Bat and his murders."
His companion rose as well, but it was evident that the editor's theory had taken firm hold on his mind. As they went out the door together he recurred to the subject.
"Honestly, though, Bill--were you serious, really serious--when you said you didn't know of a single detective with brains enough to trap this devil?"
The editor paused in the doorway. "Serious enough," he said. "And yet there's one man--I don't know him myself but from what I've heard of him, he might be able--but what's the use of speculating?"
"I'd like to know all the same," insisted the other, and laughed nervously. "We're moving out to the country next week ourselves --right in the Bat's new territory."
"We-el," said the editor, "you won't let it go any further? Of course it's just an idea of mine, but if the Bat ever came prowling around our place, the detective I'd try to get in touch with would be--" He put his lips close to his companion's ear and whispered a name.
The man whose name he whispered, oddly enough, was at that moment standing before his official superior in a quiet room not very far away. Tall, reticently good-looking and well, if inconspicuously, clothed and groomed, he by no means seemed the typical detective that the editor had spoken of so scornfully. He looked something like a college athlete who had kept up his training, something like a pillar of one of the more sedate financial houses. He could assume and discard a dozen manners in as many minutes, but, to the casual observer, the one thing certain about him would probably seem his utter lack of connection with the seamier side of existence. The key to his real secret of life, however, lay in his eyes. When in repose, as now, they were veiled and without unusual quality-- but they were the eyes of a man who can wait and a man who can strike.
He stood perfectly easy before his chief for several moments before the latter looked up from his papers.
"Well, Anderson," he said at last, looking up, "I got your report on the Wilhenry burglary this morning. I'll tell you this about it--if you do a neater and quicker job in the next ten years, you can take this desk away from me. I'll give it to you. As it is, your name's gone up for promotion today; you deserved it long ago."
"Thank you, sir," replied the tall man quietly, "but I had luck with that case."
"Of course you had luck," said the chief. "Sit down, won't you, and have a cigar--if you can stand my brand. Of course you had luck, Anderson, but that isn't the point. It takes a man with brains to use a piece of luck as you used it. I've waited a long time here for a man with your sort of brains and, by Judas, for a while I thought they were all as dead as Pinkerton. But now I know there's one of them alive at any rate--and it's a hell of a relief."
"Thank you, sir," said the tall man, smiling and sitting down. He took a cigar and lit it. "That makes it easier, sir--your telling me that. Because--I've come to ask a favor."
"All right," responded the chief promptly. "Whatever it is, it's granted."
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