The Riddle and the Ring
Thanakorn Papan
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The Riddle and the Ring by Gordon MacLaren

THE LITTLE MAN IN BLACK.

It was the second time the man had passed the bench, and, as their eyes met for an instant before the stranger swiftly averted his head and walked on, Barry Lawrence frowned with quick suspicion. Was it possible that the intolerable persecution had begun again? For more than three weeks he had been left in peace, and it seemed the irony of fate that now, at a moment when he was tasting the bitter dregs of life, the harassing should begin again.

The next moment he shrugged his shoulders resignedly. After all, what did it matter? They could get nothing from him now—he had nothing to give. If they had indeed returned, they must soon discover that.

The massive façade of the Pennsylvania Station had caught his eye, and brought new hope to his numbed brain. Here at least would be comparative warmth, and they could not very well turn him out. He could pretend that he was waiting for a train, and might sit for hours in the waiting room. After that—— Well, he did not wish to think of afterward.

He was only just beginning to recover from the stupefying cold which had numbed and chilled him to the marrow, and driven him into the great station to keep from dropping in the icy, wind-swept street.

He fancied that the passing porters looked at him curiously. When the announcer strolled near him, he felt impelled to turn toward the news stand in the corner. At least he could afford a paper. It was about the only thing he could buy now, and with it he could retire to the waiting room with some semblance of naturalness.

It was as he turned away from the stand that his eyes met, for the first time, those of the little man in black. Lawrence did not notice his appearance particularly then, but averted his eyes, and strode toward the men's waiting room. Here it was much warmer. The benches were well filled, but he found a seat facing the door, spread out his paper, and began to read.

Perhaps five minutes later he happened to glance up in time to see that same short, slim, precise figure pass the bench on which he sat. Of course, there might have been nothing more than a coincidence in it—people are constantly walking about a station while waiting for a train, and one frequently notices the same face half a dozen times in the space of a few minutes.

Still, Lawrence felt annoyed. His recent experience of having been followed and spied upon had so worn on his nerves that he constantly found himself suspicious of even the most casual glance. A frown furrowed his wide forehead, and, though his eyes dropped again to the printed sheet before him, he could not seem to dismiss the commonplace stranger from his mind.

Thus it happened that, when the man passed the bench again, Lawrence threw back his head swiftly, and caught the pale, grayish eyes fixed on his face with a stealthy, but unmistakably intent, scrutiny. The lids drooped instantly, and the stranger continued his pacing without a pause, Barry's glance followed him suspiciously.

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