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    Chapter 2

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    Chapter 2
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    The wrong side of a stage door was the outside on a night such as this was. The rain was bucketing down and a chill north-wester howled up the narrow passage leading from the main street to the tiny entry.

    But the outside, and the darkest corner of the cul-de-sac whence the stage door of the Orpheum Music Hall was reached, satisfied Stafford King. He drew further into the shadow at sight of the figure which picked a finicking way along the passage and paused only at the open doorway to furl his umbrella.

    Pinto Silva, immaculately attired with a white rose in the button-hole of his faultless dress-jacket, had no doubt in his mind as to which was the most desirable side of the stage door. He passed in, nodding carelessly to the doorkeeper.

    "A rotten night, Joe," he said. "Miss White hasn't gone yet, has she?"

    "No, sir," said the man obsequiously, "she's only just left the stage a few minutes. Shall I tell her you're here, sir?"

    Pinto shook his head.

    He was a good-looking man of thirty-five. There were some who would go further and describe him as handsome, though his peculiar style of good looks might not be to everybody's taste. The olive complexion, the black eyes, the well-curled moustache and the effeminate chin had their attractions, and Pinto Silva admitted modestly in his reminiscent moments that there were women who had raved about him.

    "Miss White is in No. 6," said the doorkeeper. "Shall I send somebody along to tell her you're here?"

    "You needn't trouble," said the other, "she won't be long now."

    The girl, hurrying along the corridor, fastening her coat as she came, stopped dead at the sight of him and a look of annoyance came to her face. She was tall for a girl, perfectly proportioned and something more than pretty.

    Pinto lifted his hat with a smile.

    "I've just been in front, Miss White. An excellent performance!"

    "Thank you," she said simply. "I did not see you."

    He nodded.

    There was a complacency in his nod which irritated her. It almost seemed to infer that she was not speaking the truth and that he was humouring her in her deception.

    "You're quite comfortable?" he asked.

    "Quite," she replied politely.

    She was obviously anxious to end the interview, and at a loss as to how she could.

    "Dressing room comfortable, everybody respectful and all that sort of thing?" he asked. "Just say the word, if they give you trouble or cheek, and I'll have them kicked out whoever they are, from the manager downwards."

    "Oh, thank you," she said hurriedly, "everybody is most polite and nice." She held out her hand. "I am afraid I must go now. A--a friend is waiting for me."

    "One minute, Miss White." He licked his lips, and there was an unaccustomed embarrassment in his manner. "Maybe you'll come along one night after the show and have a little supper. You know I'm very keen on you and all that sort of thing."

    "I know you're very keen on me and all that sort of thing," said Maisie White, a note of irony in her voice, "but unfortunately I'm not very keen on supper and all that sort of thing."

    She smiled and again held out her hand.

    "I'll say good night now."

    "Do you know, Maisie----" he began.

    "Good night," she said and brushed past him.

    He looked after her as she disappeared into the darkness, a little frown gathering on his forehead, then with a shrug of his shoulders he walked slowly back to the doorkeeper's office.

    "Send somebody to get my car," he snapped.

    He waited impatiently, chewing his cigar, till the dripping figure of the doorkeeper reappeared with the information that the car was at the end of the passage. He put up his umbrella and walked through the pelting rain to where his limousine stood.

    Pinto Silva was angry, and his anger was of the hateful, smouldering type which grew in strength from moment to moment and from hour to hour. How dare she treat him like this? She, who owed her engagement to his influence, and whose fortune and future were in his hands. He would speak to the colonel and the colonel could speak to her father. He had had enough of this.

    He recognised with a start that he was afraid of the girl. It was incredible, but it was true. He had never felt that way to a woman before, but there was something in her eyes, a cold disdain which cowed even as it maddened him.

    The car drew up before a block of buildings in a deserted West End thoroughfare. He flashed on the electric light and saw that the hour was a little after eleven. The last thing in the world he wanted was to take part in a conference that night. But if he wanted anything less, it was to cross the colonel at this moment of crisis.

    He walked through the dark vestibule and entered an automatic lift, which carried him to the third floor. Here, the landing and the corridor were illuminated by one small electric lamp sufficient to light him to the heavy walnut doors which led to the office of the Spillsbury Syndicate. He opened the door with a latchkey and found himself in a big lobby, carpeted and furnished in good style.

    A man was sitting before a radiator, a paper pad upon his knees, and he was making notes with a pencil. He looked up startled as the other entered and nodded. It was Olaf Hanson, the colonel's clerk--and Olaf, with his flat expressionless face, and his stiff upstanding hair, always reminded Pinto of a Struwwelpeter which had been cropped.

    "Hullo, Hanson, is the colonel inside?"

    The man nodded.

    "They're waiting for you," he said.

    His voice was hard and unsympathetic, and his thin lips snapped out every syllable.

    "Aren't you coming in?" asked Pinto in surprise, his hand upon the door.

    The man called Hanson shook his head.

    "I've got to go to the colonel's flat," he said, "to get some papers. Besides, they don't want me."

    He smiled quickly and wanly. It was a grimace rather than an expression of amusement and Pinto eyed him narrowly. He had, however, the good sense to ask no further questions. Turning the handle of the door, he walked into the large, ornate apartment.

    In the centre of the room was a big table and the chairs at its sides were, for the most part, filled.

    He dropped into a seat on the colonel's right and nodded to the others at the table. Most of the principals were there--"Swell" Crewe, Jackson, Cresswell, and at the farther end of the table, Lollie Marsh with her baby face and her permanent expression of open-mouthed wonder.

    "Where's White?" he asked.

    The colonel was reading a letter and did not immediately reply. Presently he took off his pince-nez and put them into his pocket.

    "Where's White?" he repeated. "White isn't here. No, White isn't here," he repeated significantly.

    "What's wrong?" asked Pinto quickly.

    The colonel scratched his chin and looked up to the ceiling.

    "I'm settling up this Spillsbury business," he said. "White isn't in it."

    "Why not?" asked Pinto.

    "He never was in it," said the colonel evasively. "It was not the kind of business that White would like to be in. I guess he's getting religious or something, or maybe it's that daughter of his."

    The eyelids of Pinto Silva narrowed at the reference to Maisie White and he was on the point of remarking that he had just left her, but changed his mind.

    "Does she know anything about--about her father?" he asked.

    The colonel smiled.

    "Why, no--unless you've told her."

    "I'm not on those terms," said Pinto savagely. "I'm getting tired of that girl's airs and graces, colonel, after what we've done for her!"

    "You'll get tireder, Pinto," said a voice from the end of the table and he turned round to meet the laughing eyes of Lollie Marsh.

    "What do you mean?" he asked.

    "I've been out taking a look at her to-day," she said, and the colonel scowled at her.

    "You were out taking a look at something else if I remember rightly," he said quietly. "I told you to get after Stafford King."

    "And I got after him," she said, "and after the girl too."

    "What do you mean?"

    "That's a bit of news for you, isn't it?" She was delighted to drop the bombshell: "you can't shadow Stafford King without crossing the tracks of Maisie White."

    The colonel uttered an exclamation.

    "What do you mean?" he asked again.

    "Didn't you know they were acquainted? Didn't you know that Stafford King goes down to Horsham to see her, and takes her to dinner twice a week?"

    They looked at one another in consternation. Maisie White was the daughter of a man who, next to the colonel, had been the most daring member of the gang, who had organised more coups than any other man, save its leader. The news that the daughter of Solomon White was meeting the Chief of the Criminal Intelligence Department, was incredible and stunning.

    "So that's it, is it?" said the colonel, licking his dry lips. "That's why Solomon White's fed up with the life and wants to break away."

    He turned to Pinto Silva, whose face was set and hard.

    "I thought you were keen on that girl, Pinto," he said coarsely. "We left the way open to you. What do you know about it?"

    "Nothing," said the man shortly. "I don't believe it."

    "Don't believe it," broke in the girl. "Listen! There was a matinée at the Orpheum to-day and King went there. I followed him in and got a seat next to him and tried to get friendly. But he had only eyes for the girl on the stage, and I might as well have been the paper on the wall for all the notice he took of me. After her turn, he went out and waited for her at the stage door. They went to Roymoyers for tea. I went back to the theatre and saw her dresser. She is the woman I recommended when Pinto put her on the stage."

    "What sort of work is Maisie doing?" asked the saturnine Crewe.

    "Male impersonations," said the girl. "Say! she looks dandy in a man's kit! She's the best male impersonator I've ever seen. Why, when she talks----"

    "Never mind about that," interrupted the colonel, "what did you discover?"

    "I discovered that Stafford King comes regularly to the theatre, that he takes her to dinner and that he visits the house at Horsham."

    "Solly never told me that--the swine!" rapped the colonel, "he's going to double-cross us, that fellow."

    "I don't believe it."

    It was Crewe that spoke. "Swell" Crewe, whose boast it was that he had a suit for every day in the year.

    "I know Solomon and I've known him for years," he said. "I know him as well as you, colonel. As far as we are concerned, Solly is straight. I'm not denying the possibility that he wants to break away, but that's only natural. He's a man with a daughter, and he's made his pile, but I'll stake my life that he'll never double-cross us."

    "Double-cross us?" the colonel had recovered his wonted equanimity. "What has he to 'double-cross'?" he demanded almost jovially. "We have a straightforward business! I am not aware that any of us are guilty of dishonest actions. Double-cross! Bah!"

    He brought his big hand down with a thump on the table, and they knew from experience that this was the gavel of the chairman that ended all discussions.

    "Now, gentlemen," said the colonel, "let us get to business. Ask Hanson to come in--he's got the figures. It is the last lot of figures of ours that he'll ever handle," he added.

    Somebody went to the door of the ante-room and called the secretary, but there was no reply.

    "He's gone out."

    "Gone out?" said the colonel and bent his brows. "Who told him to go out? Never mind, he'll be back in a minute. Shut the door."

    He lifted a deed-box from the floor at his feet, placed it on the table, opened it with a key attached to his watch-chain and removed a bundle of documents.

    "We're going to settle the Spillsbury business to-night," he said. "Spillsbury looks like squealing."

    "Where is he?" asked Pinto.

    "In an inebriates' home," said the colonel grimly; "it seems there are some trustees to his father's estate who are likely to question the legality of the transfers. But I've had the best legal opinion in London and there is no doubt that our position is safe. The only thing we've got to do to-night is to make absolutely sure that all those fool letters he wrote to Lollie have been destroyed."

    "You've got them?" said the girl quickly.

    "I had them?" said the colonel, "and I burnt them all except one when the transfer was completed. And the question is, gentlemen," he said, "shall we burn the last?"

    He took from the bundle before him an envelope and held it up.

    "I kept this in case there was anything coming, but if he's in a booze home, why, he's not going to be influenced by the threat of publishing a slushy letter to a girl. I guess his trustees are not going to be very much influenced either. On the other hand, if this letter were found among business documents, it would look pretty bad for us."

    "Found by whom?" asked Pinto.

    "By the police," said the colonel calmly.


    The colonel nodded.

    "They're getting after us, but you needn't be alarmed," he said. "King is working to get a case, and he is not above applying for a search warrant. But I'm not scared of the police so much." His voice slowed and he spoke with greater emphasis. "I guess there are enough court cards in the Boundary pack to beat that combination. It's the Jack----"

    "The Jack--ha! ha! ha!"

    It was a shrill bubble of laughter which cut into his speech and the colonel leapt to his feet, his hand dropping to his hip-pocket. The door had opened and closed so silently that none had heard it, and a figure stood confronting them.

    It was clad from head to foot in a long coat of black silk, which shimmered in the half-light of the electrolier. The hands were gloved, the head covered with a soft slouch hat and the face hidden behind a white silk handkerchief.

    The colonel's hand was in his hip-pocket when he thought better and raised both hands in the air. There was something peculiarly businesslike in the long-barrelled revolver which the intruder held, in spite of the silver-plating and the gold inlay along the chased barrel.

    "Everybody's hands in the air," said the Jack shrilly, "right up to the beautiful sky! Yours too, Lollie. Stand away from the table, everybody, and back to the wall. For the Jack o' Judgment is amongst you and life is full of amazing possibilities!"

    They backed from the table, peering helplessly at the two unwinking eyes which showed through the holes in the handkerchief.

    "Back to the wall, my pretties," chuckled the Thing. "I'm going to make you laugh and you'll want some support. I'm going to make you rock with joy and merriment!"

    The figure had moved to the table, and all the time it spoke its nimble fingers were turning over the piles of documents which the colonel had disgorged from the dispatch box.

    "I'm going to tell you a comical tale about a gang of blackmailers."

    "You're a liar," said the colonel hoarsely.

    "About a gang of blackmailers," said the Jack with shrill laughter, "fellows who didn't work like common blackmailers, nor demand money. Oh, no! not naughty blackmailers! They got the fools and the vicious in their power and made them sell things for hundreds of pounds that were worth thousands. And they were such a wonderful crowd! They were such wonderfully amusing fellows. There was Dan Boundary who started life by robbing his dead mother, there was 'Swell' Crewe, who was once a gentleman and is now a thief!"

    "Damn you!" said Crewe, lurching forward, but the gun swung round on him and he stopped.

    "There was Lollie who would sell her own child----"

    "I have no child," half-screamed the girl.

    "Think again, Lollie darling--dear little soul!"

    He stopped. The envelope that his fingers had been seeking was found. He slipped it beneath the black silk cloak and in two bounds was at the door.

    "Send for the police," he mocked. "Send for the police, Dan! Get Stafford King, the eminent chief. Tell him I called! My card!"

    With a dexterous flip of his fingers he sent a little pasteboard planing across the room. In an instant the door opened and closed upon the intruder and he was gone.

    For a second there was silence, and then, with a little sob, Lollie Marsh collapsed in a heap on the floor. Colonel Dan Boundary looked from one white face to the other.

    "There's a hundred thousand pounds for any one of you who gets that fellow," he said, breathing hard, "whether it is man or woman."
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