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The Spider Strain/Chapter 7

WARWICK gave a glad cry and darted to the wall, following it until he reached Togo’s side, keeping from getting between Togo and the other two.

“You are all right, sar?” Togo asked.

“Quite all right, thanks,” Warwick replied. “Hand me that weapon, old boy, and I’ll keep these two thugs covered while you take these confounded cords off my wrists. And, if they lower their hands or make a move—”

He left the sentence unfinished. There was no need to finish it. The two men before him knew what he meant, and they did not relish the look in John Warwick’s face.

He held the automatic, and Togo unfastened his wrists. Warwick motioned toward one of the men.

“He has a revolver, Togo—get it!” he ordered. “And then you may search the other. We can’t be letting them retain weapons—what? My word, no!”

Togo carried out the command with alacrity, and returned to Warwick’s side with two revolvers and one knife. The two men had backed against one of the walls of the room, and still held their hands above their heads.

“Sar, may I attend to them?” Togo asked.

“My word! Always bloodthirsty, aren’t you?” Warwick said. “What would you do with them, old top?”

“I shall teach them never to annoy a gentleman again, sar!”

“This gentleman would not have been annoyed, Togo, old boy, if he had been thoroughly awake,” Warwick said. “Serves me right—what? Teach me to keep my eyes open, and all that sort of thing!”

“But, sar—”

“Besides, Togo, we haven’t time to play with these two precious thugs. And they treated me decently, at that. Just where are we, Togo, by the way?”

“In a little cottage, sar, at the edge of the city.”

“Um! And how do you happen to be here?”

“I was about the grounds at the Barker residence, sar,” Togo explained, “and saw the attack on you. I could not interfere at that time because there were so many, and because—it would not have done to create too much of a disturbance, sar.”

“Quite correct!” Warwick said.

“When they took you away in the limousine, sar, I engaged a taxicab that happened to be passing the corner, and followed. I have the cab waiting near here, sar.”

“Excellent, Togo, old top! We’ll use that cab in short order. And these men—”

“Please let me handle them, sar.”

“You may use that peculiar method of which you are a master and put them to sleep,” Warwick said. “Take the largest one first—he has the ugliest face. If the other makes a move, I’ll indulge in a bit of target practice—what?”

Togo sprang to do Warwick’s bidding. His hands found the man’s throat, his thumbs pressed against certain spots in the back of the neck, there came a groan and a gasp—and one of their foes was unconscious on the floor.

The other had watched from the corners of his eyes. He gave a shriek of fear as Togo turned toward him—but the shriek died in his throat as Togo turned toward him—but the shriek died in his throat when Togo’s thumbs pressed home. He, too, was allowed to sink to the floor.

“We must hurry, Togo!” Warwick exclaimed. “This delay may mean failure, you know.”

Togo led the way through the front of the little cottage, and out into the open air. He ran down the walk to the street, Warwick at his heels, and came to the taxicab. Warwick commanded that they be driven to the Barker residence, and he promised rich reward if the journey was made in record time.

“Feel like an ass, Togo!” he said, as the taxicab lurched along the street. “Got caught napping—what?”

“I told you that this was a dangerous adventure, sar.”

“So you did! Never imagined I’d run into such violence while trying to get a silly locket from a foolish woman!”

“But that locket is no common one, sar.”

“Can’t be! Other chaps seem determined to get it,” Warwick said. “Mighty glad you were Johnnie-on-the-spot, old boy! Feel gratitude, and all that! Must reward you someday.”

“I was glad to help, sar.”

“Always glad to be of service when there is a promise of a row, eh?” Warwick said.

“Yes, sar,” said Togo, grinning.

“Togo, old top, this night may be my Waterloo. Wouldn’t be a bit surprised if I fail to carry out the orders of our flabby-cheeked old friend, what? Other chaps have had an hour or more to get away with that locket.”

“It is possible, sar, that they will take ample time and work slowly, thinking you are being held a prisoner,” Togo said.

“Hope you’re a good prophet! Dislike very much to fail at this juncture—might cause me all sorts of troubles and disappointments, old top.”

“Pardon me, sar, but you have not failed yet. Even if they have it by the time we reach the Barker place, sar, we may be able to recover it.”

“How’s that?”

“That man Marlowe—I know of him sar.”

“You do, eh? What about the chap?”

“He is an old foe of The Spider’s, sar.”

“Is, eh? Then the jolly old Spider will be more than angry if we do not succeed tonight. My word! Have to make every possible effort, and all that sort of thing!”

“If this Marlowe gets away with the locket, sar, we might follow him and get it ourselves.”

“Might, certainly. Rather get it from Mrs. Barker, however. Like to outwit the chap instead of using violence. Silly ass of a thing—that locket! Can’t imagine what The Spider wants with it. Buy all you want for fifty dollars each. Locket of Tragedy, eh? Rot! Utter rot, I say!”

The taxicab stopped on the corner nearest the residence of Burton Barker, and John Warwick and Togo got out, and the former rewarded the chauffeur handsomely. And then he led the way across the velvety lawn, keeping well in the shadows.

“I’ll have to make it appear that I’ve been wandering around the grounds and smoking—what?” Warwick whispered. “I’m going inside immediately, old top. Can’t endure the uncertainty, and all that sort of thing.”

“I’ll remain in the neighborhood, sar,” Togo said. “You may have some need of me.”

“Good enough!” Warwick replied. “Be somewhere along this walk, so I can locale you quickly, if it is necessary. Luckily, those chaps didn’t muss me up much. ‘Bye!”

Warwick went into the residence of Burton Barker through a side entrance, dodged the others, went to the room that had been set aside for the gentlemen guests, and there brushed his clothing. His linen had not been soiled, he was glad to observe. He was still fairly presentable.

And then he made his way slowly down the broad stairs and came to the hall below. The orchestra was playing, couples were in the mazes of a dance, others were chatting in the conservatory and in the refreshment rooms.

Warwick stood at the entrance of the ballroom as if bored by the scene, and watched the dancers. His eye caught Silvia’s; he nodded, and she flushed with pleasure. Then his eyes moved on—and presently he had located Mrs. Burton Barker.

He was glad to find that she still wore the locket at the end of the long chain. So Marlowe had not had the opportunity to get it yet—else he was waiting for an appropriate moment. John Warwick felt hope bubbling in his breast again. There still was a chance of carrying out The Spider’s orders.

Another dance began, and Warwick noticed that Marlowe was dancing it with Mrs. Burton Barker. He stood back a short distance from the door, so that he could watch them without being observed. Silvia also was dancing, so Warwick did not have to give her his present attention, and was free to attend to The Spider’s business.

“Must get that silly locket!” Warwick told himself. “Never do to fail now—what? Marlowe chap had his chance and didn’t make the most of it. Have a try at it myself now, I fancy. Have to keep my eye on him, though. Wonder if he has any more assistants about? Must be alert, and all that sort of thing!”

The dance came to an end, and Marlowe and Mrs. Burton Barker passed within a short distance of Warwick as they walked into the hall. Warwick watched closely as Marlowe took his hostess to the refreshment room. It was evident that the man was trying to flirt with her—and she was the sort of woman who always is ready for a flirtation with any presentable man.

They went toward the conservatory. John Warwick guessed that Marlowe might make an attempt to get the locket there. He could engage Mrs. Burton Barker’s attention and snip the thing from the end of its chain easily. Perhaps he would be able to make her believe that she had dropped it while they were walking through the hall and thus escape suspicion.

Warwick followed them into the conservatory, where there were many couples walking about. He dodged those he knew, and made his way behind a bank of foliage and bloom. Marlowe and Mrs. Burton Barker were on the other side of it, just sitting down. From where he stood, Warwick could watch them closely without being seen by them. They were indulging in small talk that meant nothing, and Warwick sensed that Marlowe was merely waiting for an opportunity.

Suddenly Marlowe bent closer to Mrs. Burton Barker, and the tone of his voice changed.

“Do you know, you are the sort of woman that fascinates me,” he said.

Mrs. Burton Barker laughed lightly and bent away from him, and once more Marlowe moved closer to her.

“I mean it!” he said. “You are a wonderful sort of woman—quite beyond the ordinary a man meets every day.”

“You are good at flattery,” Mrs. Barker observed, thus asking for more of it.

“It is not flattery, but the truth!” Marlowe declared. “Didn’t you notice that I was interested more than usual? Trust a woman to know when a man is interested!”

Warwick saw him bend toward her again—and smiled. He knew what Marlowe was doing. In a moment, he would become too enthusiastic, Mrs. Barker would put up her hands to ward him off, and then Marlowe would—

“Don’t be foolish, please!” Mrs. Barker was saying, but in a tone that said she liked to have him foolish.

“I’d rather spend five minutes with you than hours with a silly, flighty girl,” Marlowe went on. “When a man finds a woman who combines beauty with intelligence, he has found a treasure. Your husband is a very lucky man.”

“I fear that there are times when he does not believe that,” Mrs. Burton Barker said.

Marlowe suddenly bent nearer to her—and she did exactly what John Warwick had known she would do, she put up her hands, and turned her face away, trying to act the timid, modest, half-frightened girl, making an attempt to avoid a caress.

Warwick watched more closely now. He saw Marlowe lean forward again, put his face close to hers and whisper some foolishness—and while he did it, his left hand went forward, a bit of metal flashed in the uncertain light of the conservatory as the gold chain was snipped, and the locket was in Marlowe’s hand and being conveyed to his pocket.