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    Chapter 23

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    Chapter 23
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    The news of the girl's escape had been received in another quarter. Colonel Boundary had sat in his favourite chair and listened without comment to Pinto's halting explanation.

    "Oh, they went out of the window and down a ladder, did they?" said the colonel sarcastically when the Portuguese had finished, "and you had a fit on the mat, I suppose? Well, that's a hell of a fine story! And what did you do? You who were plastered all over with guns? Couldn't you shoot?"

    "Did you shoot when you saw Jack o' Judgment?" said the other sullenly. "It is no good your telling me what I ought to do."

    "Maybe it isn't," said the colonel. "Well, there's nothing to do now, anyway. The girl's gone, and all your fine plans have come unstuck."

    "They weren't my plans," said Pinto indignantly, "it was your scheme throughout."

    The colonel bit off the end of his cigar and contemplated the ceiling reflectively.

    "We can only wait and see what will happen," he said. "The odds are all in favour of our being raided."

    Pinto went pale.

    "Yes," said the colonel, talking to himself, "I guess this is our last day of freedom. Well, Pinto, I hope you can pick oakum."

    "Oh, shut up about oakum," growled the other; "it isn't a joke."

    "It is not a joke," said the colonel, "and if it is, it is one of those jokes that make people laugh the most. And do you know the kind of joke that makes people laugh the most, Pinto? It is when somebody gets hurt; and we are the people who are going to get hurt."

    "Do you think she'll tell the police?"

    "It is extremely likely," said the colonel; "in fact, it is extremely unlikely that she won't tell the police. I am rather glad I'm out of it."

    Pinto leaped up.

    "You're out of it!" he shouted. "You're in it up to the neck!"

    The colonel shook his head.

    "I'm absolutely out of it, Pinto," he said, flicking the ash of his cigar into the fireplace. "I cannot be identified with this unhappy affair by so much as a finger-print."

    The Portuguese scowled down at him.

    "So that's the game, is it? You're going to double-cross us? You're going to be out of it and we're going to be in it."

    "Sit down, you fool. Double-cross you! You are easily scared at a little leg-pulling. I'm merely pointing out that it is not a matter in which I am greatly interested. It is a good thing for you I'm not. Who are the police after? You and Crewe and the rest of the gang? Not on your life! They're after me. They get the trunk and all the branches come down with it. Do you see? There's no sense in lopping off a few branches even of deadwood. It won't be good enough if they connect you with the case, unless they connect me too. They're after the big horns, they're not shooting the little bucks. If she tells the police, they're going to nose around for two or three days, seeing how far they can connect me with it. And if there's any connection--the slightest, Pinto--why, they'll pinch you without a doubt, but they'll pinch me too."

    The colonel blew a blue ring of smoke into the air and watched it float to the ceiling.

    "The advantage of having a business associate like me is that I'm a sort of insurance to you little crooks. I am the big fish they're trying to hook, and their bait isn't the kind of bait that you'd swallow."

    "I've burnt all the papers I had," explained Pinto, "and covered my trail."

    "When you burnt your boats and came in with me," said the colonel, "you burnt everything that was worth burning. I tell you it isn't you they're trailing. It is me or nothing. Maybe they'll scare you," he said reflectively, "hoping you'll turn King's evidence. I've got a feeling that you won't--if I had a feeling the other way about, Pinto, you wouldn't see the curtain rise at the Orpheum to-night. And now," said the colonel, "we'll go out."

    He rose abruptly, walked into his bedroom, and came out wearing his broad felt hat. He found Pinto biting his finger-nails nervously and looking out of the window.

    "I don't want to go out," said Pinto.

    "Come out," said the colonel. "What's the good of staying here, anyway? Besides, if they are going to pinch you, I don't want them to pinch you in my rooms. It would look bad."

    They walked downstairs into the street, and a few minutes later were strolling across the Green Park, the colonel a picture of a contented bourgeoisie with his half-smoked cigar, and his hands clasped together under the tails of his alpaca coat.

    "I don't see how you can say they've no evidence against you. Suppose Crotin squeals?"

    "He ain't stopped squealing yet," said the colonel philosophically, "but I don't see what difference it makes. Pinto, you haven't got the hang of my methods, and I doubt if you ever will. You're a clever, useful fellow, but if you were allowed to run the gang, you'd have it in gaol in a month. Take Crotin," he said. "I dare say he's feeling sore, and maybe this damned Jack o' Judgment person is standing behind him telling him----" He stopped. "No, he wouldn't either," he said after a moment's thought, "Jack o' Judgment knows as much about it as I do."

    "What are you talking about?" asked the other impatiently.

    "Crotin," said the colonel; "he hasn't any evidence against me. You see, I do not do any business by letters. You fellows have often wanted me to write to this person and that, but writing is evidence. Do you get me? And what evidence has Crotin? Absolutely none. I have never written a line to him in my life. Crewe brought him down to the flat. We gave him a dinner and put the proposal to him in plain language. There's nothing he could take before a judge and jury--absolutely nothing."

    He took the cigar from his mouth and blew a cloud of smoke.

    "That's the way I've built the business up--no letters, no documents, nothing that a lawyer can make head or tail of."

    "What about the documents that Hanson talked about?"

    The colonel frowned and then laughed.

    "They're nothing but records of our transactions, and they're not evidence. Why, even the police have given up the search for them. By the way, I haven't done with Crotin," he said after a while.

    "He's done with you, I should think," said Pinto grimly.

    The colonel nodded.

    "I guess so, but he hasn't done with the gang. You can take him on next."

    "I?" said Pinto in affright. "Now look here, colonel, don't you think it's time we laid low----"

    "Laid low!" said the colonel scornfully. "We're either going to get into trouble or we're not. If we're not going to get into trouble, we might as well go on. Besides, we want the money. The business has slackened off, and we haven't had a deal since the Spillsbury affair, and that won't last very long. We've got to split our loot six ways, Pinto, and that leaves very little for anybody."

    "Where are you going now?" asked the other, as the colonel changed his direction.

    "It just struck me that we might as well go over to the bank and see how our balance stands. Also, with the exchange going against us, I want to tell Ferguson to buy dollars."

    The handsome premises of the Victoria and City Bank in Victoria Street were only a stone's throw from the park; and, whatever might be the views of Ferguson, the manager, as to the colonel's moral character, he had a considerable respect for him as a financier, and Dan Boundary was shown immediately into the manager's office.

    He was gone some time, whilst Pinto waited impatiently outside. The colonel never invited other members, even of the inmost council, to share his knowledge of finances. They all knew roughly the condition of the exchequer, but really the balance at the Victoria and City was the colonel's own. It was the practice of the Boundary Gang (as was subsequently revealed) to share, after each coup, every man taking that to which he was entitled. The money was split between five, the sixth share going to what was known as the Gang Account, a common fund upon which all could draw in moments of necessity.

    The Gang Fund was not so described in the books of the bank. It was known as "Account B." The expenses of operations were usually paid out of the colonel's private account, and credited to him when the share-out came. He was absolute master of his own balance, but it required three signatures to extract a cheque from Account B. One of the objects of the colonel's visit was to reduce this number to two, the death of Solomon White having removed one of the signatories.

    He returned to Pinto, apparently not too well satisfied.

    "There's quite a lot of money in the Gang Account," he said. "I've struck off Solly's name, and your signature and mine, or mine and Crewe's, is sufficient now."

    "Or mine and Crewe's, I suppose?" suggested Pinto, and the colonel smiled.

    "Oh, no," said he. "I'm not a great believer in the indispensability of any man, but I'm making the signature of Dan Boundary indispensable before that account is touched."

    They walked back through the park, and the colonel expounded his philosophy of wrong living.

    "The man who runs an honest business and mixes it with a little crooked work is bound to be caught," he said, "because his mind is concentrated on the unpaying side of the game. You've got to run a crook business in an honest way if you want to escape the law and pay big dividends. They call our system blackmail, but it ain't. A blackmailer asks for something for nothing, and he's bound to get caught sooner or later. We offer spot cash for all the things we steal, and that baffles the law. And we're not the only people in London, or in England, or in the world, who are pulling bargains by scaring the fellow we buy from. It is done every day in the City of London; it is done every day by the trusts that control the little shops in the suburbs; it is done even by the big proprietary companies that tell a miserable little tradesman that, if he doesn't stop selling one article, they won't supply him with theirs. Living, Pinto, is preying. The only mistake a crook ever makes is when he goes outside of his legitimate business and lets some other consideration than the piling up of money influence him."

    "How do you mean?" asked Pinto wearily. He hated the colonel when he was in this communicative mood of his.

    "Well," said the colonel slowly, "I shouldn't have been so keen to go after Maisie White if it hadn't been that you were fond of her and wanted her. That's what I call letting love interfere with business."

    "But you said you were afraid of her blabbing. You don't put it on to me," said the indignant Pinto.

    "I was and I wasn't," said the colonel. "I think I almost persuaded myself that the girl was a danger. Of course, she isn't. Even Solomon White wasn't a danger."

    He stopped dead, and, speaking slowly and pointing his words with a huge forefinger on the other's chest, he said:

    "Bear this fact in mind, Pinto, that I have no malice against Miss White, and I don't think that she can harm me. As far as I'm concerned, I will never hurt a hair of her head or do her the slightest harm. I believe that she has nothing against me, and I give orders to anybody who's connected with me--in fact, to all of my business associates--that that girl is not to be interfered with."

    Slowly, emphatically, every word emphasised, the colonel spoke, but Pinto did not smile. He had seen the colonel in this gentle mood before, and he knew that Maisie White was doomed.
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