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The Spider Strain/Chapter 2

ONE hour later, John Warwick was pacing the floor of the big living room in the residence of The Spider on American Boulevard.

Silvia Rodney was closeted with her uncle in his den on the upper floor of the house. Warwick was nervous. He dreaded his coming interview with the supercriminal, which he knew he would be forced to hold as soon as Silvia came down the stairs.

“Feel like an ass, what?” Warwick told himself. “Might be a silly college youth, and all that sort of thing! Peculiar how some things work out in this old world! Never seem to know what is going to happen next. My word!”

He paced the floor for nearly another half an hour, consuming cigarette after cigarette; and then a radiant Silvia came down the stairs and rushed into his arms.

“Everything is all right, John,” she said. “And you are to go up immediately and see him.”

“Think I’d better take a gun along?” Warwick asked.

“Nonsense!”

“Your jolly old uncle might turn violent, you know—me capturing his pet and only niece, and all that sort of thing. Might decide to have revenge, or something like that.”

“I don’t think you need fear him, John.”

“Well, I’ll toddle up the stairs and have the dreaded ordeal over with, at any rate. No particular use in postponing it, what?”

Warwick hurried up the stairs and knocked at the door of The Spider’s den. A gruff voice bade him enter. Warwick did so and closed and bolted the door behind him, as was customary when holding a conference with the supercriminal in his office.

The Spider sat in the usual place behind his big mahogany desk, in his invalid’s chair, his fat hands spread out before him, his flabby cheeks shaking, and his little, piglike eyes glittering in a peculiar fashion.

“Sit down!” the supercriminal commanded; and once more he spoke in a gruff voice.

John Warwick sat down, and the Spider looked at him until Warwick began to feel uncomfortable.

“Say it, jolly old sir, and get it out of your system!” Warwick suggested finally.

“There doesn’t seem to be much for me to say, Warwick. I want to secure the happiness of my niece, of course. It was a great shock to me to learn that she was aware of the nature of my business. I had believed that she was ignorant of it.”

“Deuce of a shock to me, too, sir,” John Warwick admitted. “I had no idea that she had guessed the truth.”

“Perhaps it is for the best that things have worked out in this manner,” The Spider went on. “She tells me that you will not marry while you are continuing your career of crime.”

“Certainly not, sir—never think of it!” Warwick declared. “It wouldn’t be fair to her.” “I’m glad you look at it in that way. You have your fortune back now, of course, and can give her a good home. You need play criminal no longer—for you are playing at it! You are not a criminal at heart. I suppose that I shall have to release you as a member of my band, Warwick. All that you know, you will have to keep secret, of course, but I feel that I can trust you to do that. So I am going to give you your release, Warwick.”

“Thank you, jolly old sir!”

“After you have attended to a couple more matters for me,” The Spider added.

“Oh, I see! Something already planned—what?”

“Yes—two things. As soon as they are accomplished, you are to be a free man, and then you can marry Silvia and settle down as a respectable citizen.”

“The old world isn’t such a bad place after all—what?” Warwick said. “Man gets his reward in time, and all that sort of silly rot! Feel like a new man already! My word!”

“Don’t be hasty, Warwick! These two things that I have mentioned are far from being trivial.”

“Oh, I gathered that much!”

“You may begin work on the first just as soon as you please and do it in your own way.”

“Orders, old sir and employer?”

“Exactly. I presume that you are acquainted with Mrs. Burton Barker?”

“I am,” Warwick replied grimly. “Her husband was one of the group of men that robbed me of my fortune.”

“Then this work should be a pleasure for you,” said The Spider. “You may have observed that Mrs. Burton Barker wears a peculiar locket on a long gold chain.”

“I have noticed it often, old sir and employer. No matter how she may be dressed, she always wears the silly thing. She’s always twining the chain around her fingers and playing with it. I’ve wondered many times why she persists in wearing it when Barker could buy her all sorts of jewels, if she wished them.”

“That locket happens to be an important bit of merchandise,” the supercriminal said.

“I am to get the locket?”

“You are.”

“As soon as possible?”

“Yes,” The Spider replied. “And the sooner you can get it, so much the better!”

“It seems like a silly thing to steal!” Warwick declared. “You could buy all you wanted for about fifty dollars each.”

“You couldn’t purchase that particular locket at any price, and there is not another in all the world exactly like it!” declared the supercriminal.

“Some sort of history connected with the foolish thing?” Warwick wanted to know.

“Something like that, Warwick. You just get that locket as soon as you can and leave the rest to me. There will be ten thousand dollars in it for you—if you succeed.”

“If I succeed!” Warwick gasped. “My word! Always succeed, don’t I? Couldn’t afford to fail—simply couldn’t—when I am so nearly done working for you, could I? Fall down at the last moment, and all that sort of thing? Certainly not! My word, no!”

“Getting possession of that locket might not be as easy as it sounds,” The Spider warned him.

“How is that, old sir?”

“It happens that there are some other persons very anxious to get their hands on it.”

“Ah, I see!”

“And they are so anxious that they will go to about any length to get it, Warwick. You will have strong competition, in other words. This will amount to more than merely snipping a locket from a chain worn by a woman.”

“What is the silly old locket, anyway?” Warwick wanted to know.

“I may tell you about that later,” The Spider returned. “You’ll have enough on your mind in planning to get it and outwit the others at the same time.”

“And the others—”

“I can tell you absolutely nothing about them, Warwick. Another man is after that locket of Mrs. Burton Barker’s, but he will not make an attempt to get it himself. He has assistants, however, and I do not know them. You’ll have to be alert, on guard, and find out things for yourself.”

“My word! Deep and dark mystery—what? And all over a silly bit of a locket that—”

“Allow me to tell you that it is not a silly locket, Warwick! It is a very important locket, and we must have it. Do you understand? We must get it!”

“Very well, old sir. I’ll get the thing. I’m going to some sort of an affair at Burton Barker’s place this very evening—going to take Silvia with me.”

“Be careful, Warwick!”

“Invitations are already accepted, old sir and employer—and it’d look rather peculiar if she did not go. I always do my work best when everything appears natural—understand? Somebody might get suspicious if everything did not.”

“But, Silvia—”

“She’ll be in the way—bother me, you mean? Bless you—no! She probably will dance with a lot of chaps and give me time to do my work. I’ll be more careful, too, if she is there—be afraid of making some silly mistake and wrecking our happiness. By the way, do these—er—other chaps of whom you spoke know that I am going after that locket?”

“They know that I am after it, and that you are one of my trusted men,” The Spider replied. “And so, naturally, they will think that you are on the job when they see you at the Barker place.”

“Suppose they will be there, too? Are they the sort that could go to a place like that?” Warwick asked.

“I haven’t the slightest idea, Warwick.”

“I’d better lose no time then, what? I’ll get to work as soon as possible—nab the silly thing before anybody else can!”

“That would be best, I think. Do you want any help?”

“I fancy not,” Warwick replied. “I’d probably work much better alone in such a case. I may use Togo, if it proves necessary. He is worth a dozen ordinary men.”

“Very well; have it your own way and use your own methods,” the supercriminal told him. “All I’m interested in is the proper result. I want that locket, Warwick. I must have it—and I don’t want you to fail!”

“My word! You speak as though I always had failed!” Warwick complained. “Never failed yet, have I?”

“There is a first time for everything, Warwick,” said the supercriminal, “and I am not eager for this to be your first failure. Keep your eyes open for the others. I am sorry that I can give you no definite information concerning them.”

“Then I suppose I’ll have to be suspicious of everybody—what?” Warwick said. “I’d better toddle along now, old and respected sir! I have to see Silvia again, hurry home, dress—all that sort of silly rot. ‘Bye!”

“Good luck, Warwick!”

“Thanks, old sir and employer! I fancy that this will not be a very difficult job. Getting a silly locket that hangs on the end of a chain—my word!”

“Ten thousand in it for you, Warwick. That will pay for a honeymoon.”

“Not for the sort that Silvia and I intend having, but it will help some,” Warwick replied “‘Bye!”

Warwick left the den of The Spider, and hurried down the stairs to where Silvia was waiting for him.

“Everything is jolly well all right, dear girl,” he reported “I have a couple more tasks to perform for your uncle and then I am to be—er—free. Understand? And then—!”

“You’ll be careful, John?”

“Of course! My word! Be jolly well careful when a mistake would mean my losing you! We are going to Mrs. Burton Barker’s place tonight, remember!”

“Will you have work to do there, John?”

“Now, now! Little girls should not ask too many questions, you know!”

“But I am interested!” Silvia declared. “And perhaps I might be able to help you!”

“Heaven forbid!” Warwick exclaimed fervently. “Allow you to run into danger—what? My word!”

“Oh, perhaps you think that I am not clever enough to help you,” she accused. “Please remember, sir, that The Spider is my uncle, and some of the same strain of blood that is in his veins flows through mine!”

“Why, my dear girl!”

“And I’d like to help you,” she coaxed.

“But I don’t fancy that you can in this—er—particular case,” Warwick told her. “Perhaps you may in the other—the last one—we’ll see about it later. We can’t afford to take any unnecessary risks, you know. I’ll tell you a bit more about it tonight. Have to toddle along now—dinner, dress, all that sort of thing. ‘Bye!”

Warwick kissed her again, and then he hurried out to the curb. But he shivered as he sprang into his roadster.

“Just fancy a girl as sweet as Silvia running the danger of arrest to help me steal a silly locket,” he mused as he drove rapidly up the boulevard. “My word! It isn’t being done! Not the proper sort of thing at all—what?”