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The Spider Strain/Chapter 3

TOGO was the peer of all Japanese valets, as John Warwick often had said—and yet he was more than that. Though the world in general did not suspect, Togo himself was a valued member of The Spider’s band, and had been for years before John Warwick was induced to join it.

Togo had worked for the supercriminal in the old days in Paris, and he knew many things about the band that even John Warwick did not know. The deeds of The Spider and his men and women were mild now to what they had been in those days before an accident made a cripple of the supercriminal and prevented his active physical participation in the band’s doings. Though he could not get about except in an invalid’s chair, yet The Spider remained the brains of the band.

Warwick and some of the others knew that in the den of the house on American Boulevard there were great filing cases that held many interesting documents. Some of these related to criminals, some were of such a nature that they could have been used against prominent men, and others were documents regarding police officers and detectives.

Whereas any well-regulated police department kept a rogues’ gallery of crooks, The Spider maintained his rogues’ gallery of peace officers, knew their peculiarities, their weak spots, and their strong points. But only Togo and few of the old-timers knew of other things that were in those secret archives—things that related to days gone by, little accounts that the supercriminal sought to settle from time to time, in some as the creditor and in some as a debtor.

Togo was also sincerely attached to John Warwick. Several times, he had given Warwick valuable aid, and on one occasion had saved him from exposure and arrest. When Warwick returned to his rooms this day, Togo opened the door for him, stepped back, and bowed, flashing his teeth in a smile.

“Honorable Togo, I am a bit late,” Warwick said. “Kindly have dinner sent up from the restaurant downstairs just as soon as possible. There is a little social affair this evening at the home of Mrs. Burton Barker, and I am obliged to attend. Beastly bore, I suppose, and all that—but it happens to be necessary.”

“Yes, sar!” Togo said.

“Togo, I was driving with Miss Silvia Rodney this afternoon, and chap betrayed particular interest in me.”

“Sar?”

“He appeared rather anxious and eager to know all about my comings and goings, and all that sort of thing. I maneuvered to get a glimpse of him, finally. My word! Very common-looking chap at that—very common indeed!”

“Policeman, sar?”

“If he is, he is a new one on me, Togo, old top. I fancy that he is no policeman, or anything of that sort. I have a faint idea that the chap is one of those criminal fellows. The sort that always are poking their noses into the business of other folk—you know!”

“Yes, sar!”

“It might be well, old boy, if you kept your eyes and ears open a bit around here, what? We’ve been bothered before now by fellows who were inclined to cause us a bit of annoyance, haven’t we? Getting rather sick of it!”

“I understand, sar.”

“If anybody should come prowling about—”

“I shall attend to him, sar!” Togo promised.

“There you are—always bloodthirsty! My word! Assassinate the whole world if you could, what?”

“Only if the world was against you, sar!”

“Um! Thanks!” Warwick said. “Faithful chap, and all that! Well, keep eyes and ears open, old boy. And toddle right along now and order that dinner!”

  • * * *

Half an hour later, Warwick was eating dinner in the living room of his suite, Togo serving it. When he came to coffee, Warwick leaned back in his chair, puffed at a cigarette, and regarded Togo carefully.

“I’ve a bit of news for you, old top—astonishing news,” he said, presently. “You are as much a comrade in arms as a valet, and so you should know.”

“Thank you, sar!”

“You know our flabby-cheeked friend with whom we are associated now and then in a little enterprise? Quite so! Well, I have to tell you, honorable Japanese, that before very long I shall be leaving his band.”

“Sar?” Togo cried.

A swift change came over Togo’s face. For a moment the Japanese, who seldom showed emotion, revealed his feelings, and in no uncertain manner.

“Oh, everything will be quite regular, honorable Togo!” Warwick assured him. “I am not turning traitor, or bolting, or anything like that. My word, no! I’m thinking of getting married, old boy—understand?”

Togo grinned.

“I see that you do understand,” John Warwick continued. “And a married man should not be doing things that might get him into trouble with the police, should he? So there you are! Our friend, whose name need not be mentioned here at this moment, has agreed to—er—release me after I accomplish two certain things. You gather that all in, honorable Togo?”

“Yes, sar!”

“Excellent! Your own future is provided for, of course. I’ll need you with me as much as before, and all that. It’s up to you to say whether you remain with me or go back to where you can—er—be more active in the service of our flabby-cheeked friend.”

“I shall be glad to remain, sar,” Togo replied.

“Good! I have to accomplish the first task of the two tonight, if I can, at the residence of Mrs. Button Barker.”

“I am to help, sar?” Togo asked eagerly.

“Um! I fail to see at this moment just how you can help, old top. Sorry! Like to have you in those last two little games if I could, and all that. But this is a strictly society affair, you know—dress-suit stuff.”

“I understand, sar.”

“I’ve got to get a little locket—”

“A locket, sar?” Togo cried.

“My word! Whatever is the matter with you? Why shriek at me in that fashion?” Warwick demanded, putting down the coffee cup. “Are you beside yourself—what?”

“Your pardon, sar!”

“But I fail to understand, confound it! Never knew you to act so in the world! Have you been drinking?”

“No, sar!”

“Explain, then!”

“I—I was startled, sar.”

“I should think you were! And you certainly startled me! Almost made me choke, confound it!” Warwick exclaimed. “What do you mean by such a thing?”

“You mentioned a locket, sar. I—I was wondering if it could be the locket.”

“Honorable Japanese, it is merely a silly locket that a foolish woman wears on the end of a long, ridiculous chain. Why our flabby-cheeked friend wants it is more than I know—and I suppose that it is none of my business. He didn’t happen to take me into his full confidence this time, confound it!”

“Then it must be the locket,” Togo said.

“What locket?” Warwick demanded. “Am I always to be surrounded by riddles? My word! It’s enough to make a man take to drink, and all that sort of thing!”

“I—I cannot tell you, sar, if The Spider will not,” Togo said. “I am sure you will pardon me, sar.”

“My word! What mystery is this? I had thought that it was just a silly locket that somebody wanted badly enough to pay for. Other chaps are after the thing, too, it appears. Jolly old Spider told me to watch out for them!”

“Then it must be the locket I mean,” Togo said. “You must be very careful, sar.”

“Do I happen to have a reputation for being reckless?” Warwick demanded. “My word! A man would think that I was about to abduct the sultan of Turkey, or some little thing like that.”

“It seems to be only a very simple thing, sar, but, believe me, it is not!” Togo told him.

“How on Earth does it happen that a woman like Mrs. Burton Barker is wearing a locket there could be so much fuss about? Why, the woman has had the thing for years! It seems to be a sort of pet of hers. Everybody wonders why she wears the thing. Impression is abroad that she is superstitious, and all that, and thinks the fool locket brings her good luck. Can’t fathom this thing at all!”

“I—I certainly wish that I could tell you, sar, but I dare not without the permission of the master,” Togo declared. “But I beg of you to be most careful, sar, and to watch out for those others you have mentioned.”

“It seems to me that I have accomplished tasks far more difficult than this,” Warwick said. “Is the greatest diamond in the world concealed in the thing, or some silly rot like that?”

“I believe that the locket is not of very great value in itself, sar,” Togo replied.

“I fancy not, since I am to receive only ten thousand if I succeed in getting the thing. Sure you can’t tell me more about it?”

“I dare not, sar!”

“My word! How very disgusting! Never did like such mysteries—get on a man’s nerves, what?”

“If I only could help you, sar!” Togo exclaimed. “At least, sar, please allow me to be in the neighborhood of the Barker residence this evening. You may have need of me, sar. And, if you expect to be married soon, you will want nothing bad to happen.”

“I should think not!” Warwick said. “But, this is amazing! Thought it was just a silly locket!”

“It is called the Locket of Tragedy, sar!”

“My word!” Warwick exclaimed, staring at the valet. “What a perfectly silly name to give a locket—and a cheap one at that! Nothing very tragic about Mrs. Burton Barker, I’m sure. She is just a silly butterfly of a woman!”

“It is true that she may have that appearance, sar,” said Togo. “But, if you will pardon me, she is nothing of the sort. She is a dangerous woman, sar!”

“You know her?”

“I know of her, sar,” said Togo. “Be on your guard, sar, when you attempt this thing. She may be expecting somebody to make an attempt to get the locket. And if you are suspected—”

“I understand, honorable Togo. Thanks, too, for this surprising warning. I always considered the woman rather shallow myself. Sort of a little girl masquerading in a grown-up’s costume, what? I’ve known her for a score of years, since she was a girl—”

“Pardon, sar!” Togo interrupted. “But, during all those years, were there no times, when you were traveling, when you did not see her and heard nothing of her for years?”

“Of course! She was in school—and then she came out and spent the usual time abroad—”

“Ah!” Togo said significantly.

“So that is it, eh? She got mixed up with The Spider while abroad—what? Why, it can’t be possible! The girl had a mother who watched her like a hawk!”

“Nevertheless, sar, something happened at that time that influenced this woman’s whole life.”

“She never looked like a woman of tragedy to me!” Warwick declared. “Can’t imagine old Barker marrying a woman of that sort—his fancy always ran to the other kind.”

“Perhaps her husband knows nothing of it.”

“Of what?” Warwick asked.

“Of the locket and what it means,” Togo replied.

John Warwick got up and began pacing the room. Togo piled the dishes on the tray, carried them into the hall, and rang for the waiter in the restaurant below.

“Never heard of such a thing!” Warwick grumbled. “All this row about a locket and a foolish woman! I’ll bet there’s nothing to it after all! I’ll get the thing as quickly as I can and take it to The Spider. If I can’t get a locket from a woman like Mrs. Burton Barker, I must be getting old, slowing up—what? My word, yes!”

Warwick walked to a dark corner of the room, stepped to a window there, and looked down at the street. The lights were just being turned on. A stream of automobiles was passing, men of affairs going to their homes from their offices.

Warwick glanced across the street, where there was a drug store with windows brilliantly lighted. He stepped closer to the window—and looked again Standing before one of the store windows and looking at the apartment house was the man who had followed Warwick in the roadster.

“He’s watching me rather closely—what?” Warwick told himself. “I’ll have to look into this matter, I’m afraid. Always did detest a mystery!”

He stepped to his desk, got an automatic pistol from one of the drawers, and slipped it into the pocket of his overcoat. He put into his coat pocket a tiny pair of pincers so sharp that they would cut through strands of any ordinary metal—say, a gold chain. He called to Togo to order the chauffeur to have the limousine in front immediately and then put on his hat and coat—but not his gloves.

“You’ll be careful, sar?” Togo asked.

“Naturally!” Warwick replied. “Can’t understand this sudden idea that I may get reckless! Never knew me to be reckless before, did you? My word!”

“And I cannot help you, sar?” Togo implored.

“Oh, you may happen to be in the neighborhood, if that will appease you in the least,” Warwick answered. “Fail to see how you can be of help to me, though.”

“Thanks, sar!” Togo cried. “Perhaps I may be of service to you, sar! It will be a difficult task, I fear. It is not the easy one you seem to think, sar.”

“Nonsense!” Warwick exclaimed. “Upon my word, I never heard such utter rot before! I’ll have the silly old locket before midnight—make you a good wager on it! I never saw you quite like this before, honorable Japanese! Makes me wonder what the old world is coming to, you know. Nonsense! A man would think, from your actions and words, that I was going into a battle, or something like that!”

Togo’s answer rather startled him. “You are, sar!” Togo said.