Authors: The Bat
"You've got to get him, boys—get him or bust!" said a tired police
chief, pounding a heavy fist on a table. The detectives he bellowed
the words at looked at the floor. They had done their best and failed.
Failure meant "resignation" for the police chief, return to the hated
work of pounding the pavements for them—they knew it, and, knowing it,
could summon no gesture of bravado to answer their chief's. Gunmen,
thugs, hi-jackers, loft-robbers, murderers, they could get them all in
time—but they could not get the man he wanted.
"Get him—to hell with expense—I'll give you carte blanche—but get
him!" said a haggard millionaire in the sedate inner offices of the
best private detective firm in the country. The man on the other side
of the desk, man hunter extraordinary, old servant of Government and
State, sleuthhound without a peer, threw up his hands in a gesture of
odd hopelessness. "It isn't the money, Mr. De Courcy—I'd give every
cent I've made to get the man you want—but I can't promise you
results—for the first time in my life." The conversation was ended.
"Get him? Huh! I'll get him, watch my smoke!" It was young ambition
speaking in a certain set of rooms in Washington. Three days later
young ambition lay in a New York gutter with a bullet in his heart and
a look of such horror and surprise on his dead face that even the
ambulance-Doctor who found him felt shaken. "We've lost the most
promising man I've had in ten years," said his chief when the news came
in. He swore helplessly, "Damn the luck!"
"Get him—get him—get him—get him!" From a thousand sources now the
clamor arose—press, police, and public alike crying out for the
capture of the master criminal of a century—lost voices hounding a
specter down the alleyways of the wind. And still the meshes broke and
the quarry slipped away before the hounds were well on the
scent—leaving behind a trail of shattered safes and rifled jewel
cases—while ever the clamor rose higher to "Get him—get him—get—"
Get whom, in God's name—get what? Beast, man, or devil? A specter—a
flying shadow—the shadow of a Bat.
From thieves' hangout to thieves' hangout the word passed along
stirring the underworld like the passage of an electric spark. "There's
a bigger guy than Pete Flynn shooting the works, a guy that could have
Jim Gunderson for breakfast and not notice he'd et." The underworld
heard and waited to be shown; after a little while the underworld began
to whisper to itself in tones of awed respect. There were bright stars
and flashing comets in the sky of the world of crime—but this new
planet rose with the portent of an evil moon.
The Bat—they called him the Bat. Like a bat he chose the night hours
for his work of rapine; like a bat he struck and vanished, pouncingly,
noiselessly; like a bat he never showed himself to the face of the day.
He'd never been in stir, the bulls had never mugged him, he didn't run
with a mob, he played a lone hand, and fenced his stuff so that even
the fence couldn't swear he knew his face. Most lone wolves had a moll
at any rate—women were their ruin—but if the Bat had a moll, not even
the grapevine telegraph could locate her.
Rat-faced gunmen in the dingy back rooms of saloons muttered over his
exploits with bated breath. In tawdrily gorgeous apartments, where
gathered the larger figures, the proconsuls of the world of crime,
cold, conscienceless brains dissected the work of a colder and swifter
brain than theirs, with suave and bitter envy. Evil's Four Hundred
chattered, discussed, debated—sent out a thousand invisible tentacles
to clutch at a shadow—to turn this shadow and its distorted genius to
their own ends. The tentacles recoiled, baffled—the Bat worked
alone—not even Evil's Four Hundred could bend him into a willing
instrument to execute another's plan.
The men higher up waited. They had dealt with lone wolves before 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-blooded murderers all