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    Chapter 24

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    Chapter 24
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    PINTO GOES NORTH

    Had Pinto been a psychologist, which he was not, he might have been struck by the unusual reference on the part of the colonel to the funds of the gang. It was a subject to which the colonel very seldom referred, and it was certainly one which he did not emphasise. The truth was that the colonel's investigations into his own private affairs had not been as satisfactory as he had hoped would be the case.

    He was in the habit of advancing money, and the gang owed him a considerable sum, money which had been advanced for the pursuit of various enterprises. To draw that money would leave the Gang Fund sadly depleted, and he could not afford to draw upon it at a moment when they were all on edge. Not only were the two principal subordinates in the condition of mind which led them to jump at every knock and start at every shadow, but he had been receiving urgent messages from all parts of the country from the other men, and he had determined upon a step which he had not taken for three years--a meeting of the full "Board" of his lawless organisation.

    That night summonses went forth calling his "business associates" to an Extraordinary General Meeting of the North European Smelter Syndicate. This was one of the companies which he operated, and the existence of which was justified by a small smelting works in the North of England, and owed its international character to the fact that it had branch works in Sweden. Its turnover was small, its list of stockholders was select. A summons to a General Meeting of the North European Smelter Company meant that the affairs of the gang were critical, and in this spirit the call was obeyed.

    The meeting was held in the banquet hall of a West End restaurant, and the twenty men who assembled differed very little in appearance from twenty other provincial business men who might have been gathered to discuss the affairs of any company.

    Their coming excited no comment, and apparently did not even arouse the attention of vigilant Scotland Yard. Nor, had the colonel's speech been taken down by a shorthand writer and submitted to the police, could any suggestion be found of the significance of the meeting. He spoke of the difficulties of trading, of the "competition" with which the company was faced, and called upon all the shareholders to assist loyally the executive in a very critical and trying time. But those who listened knew very well that the "competition" was the competition of the police, and they had their own ideas as to what constituted the trying time to which the colonel made reference.

    It was a very commonplace, ordinary company meeting, which ended in a conventional way by a vote of confidence in the directors. It was when that had been passed, and the meeting had been broken up, and members and officials were talking together, that the real business started.

    Then it was that Selby, the stout little man whose special job was to act as intermediary between the company and its more criminal enterprises, received his instructions to speed up. Selby was the receiver of letters. A burglar or a pickpocket who acquired in the course of his activities documents and letters which had hitherto been worthless found a ready market through Selby. Eighty letters out of every hundred were absolutely valueless, but occasionally they would find a rich gem, a love letter discreetly cherished, on which a new "operation" would be based. Then would begin the torturing of a human soul, the opening of new vistas of despair, the stage be cleared for a new tragedy.

    The colonel was to find that the chief anxiety of his "shareholders" was not as to the future of the company or as to the success of its trading. Again and again he was asked a question couched in identical words, and again and again he replied with a shrug of his big shoulders:

    "What's the good of worrying about a thing like that? Jack o' Judgment is a crook! That's all he is, boys, a crook. He's not the sort of man who'll go to the police and give us away; he wouldn't dare put his nose inside a police station. You leave him to us, we'll fix him sooner or later."

    "But," somebody asked uneasily, "what about Raoul, that fellow who was killed at Putney?"

    The colonel lifted his eyebrows.

    "Raoul," he said; "he was nothing to do with us. I never heard the fellow's name until I read it in the paper. As to White"--he shrugged his shoulders again--"we can't prevent people having private quarrels, and may be this Frenchman and White had one. My theory is," he said, elaborating an idea which had only at that moment occurred to him, "that Raoul, White and this Jack o' Judgment were working together. Maybe it isn't a bad thing that White was killed under the circumstances."

    He dropped his hand on the other man's shoulder and oozed geniality.

    "Now, back you go, my lads, and don't worry. Leave it to old Dan to fix Jack o' Judgment, or Bill o' Judgment, or Tom o' Judgment, whoever he may be, and that we'll fix him you can be certain."

    Coming away from the meeting, he expressed himself as being perfectly satisfied with its results. He brought Pinto and Crewe back with him in his car, and dropped the latter at Piccadilly Circus. Pinto would have been glad to have joined the "Swell," but the colonel detained him.

    "I want to talk to you, Pinto," he said.

    "I've had enough business for to-day," said the Portuguese.

    "So have I," said the colonel, "but that doesn't prevent my attending to pressing affairs. I was talking to you to-day--or was it yesterday?--about Crotin."

    "The Yorkshire woollen merchant?" said Pinto.

    "That's the fellow," replied the colonel. "I suggested you should go and see him."

    "And I suggested that I shouldn't," said Pinto; "let him rest. You'll never get another chance like you had before."

    "Rest nothing," said the colonel testily, "you're scared because you imagine Crotin is warned? What do you think?"

    Pinto was silent.

    "I suppose you think that, because Jack o' Judgment intervened at the right moment, he went back to Yorkshire feeling full of himself? Well, you're wrong. You don't understand one side of the psychology of this business. That little fellow is quaking in his shoes and wondering what his grand wife would say if the fact that he was a bigamist was revealed. And there's more reason for his fear to-day than ever there was. Look here!"

    He took a newspaper out of his pocket and Pinto remembered that, even during the meeting, the colonel had twice made reference to its columns and had wondered why. He had suspected that there had been some reference to the Boundary Gang, but this was not the case. The paragraph which the colonel pointed out with his thick forefinger was this:

    "By the death of Sir George Tressillian Morgan an ancient baronetcy has become extinct. His estate, which has been sworn at over a million, passes to his niece, Lady Sybil Crotin, the daughter of Lord Westsevern, Sir George's son and heir having been killed in the war. Lady Sybil is the wife of a well-known Yorkshire mill-owner."

    "I didn't know that," said Pinto, interested in spite of himself.

    "Nor did I till to-day," said the colonel. "The fact is, this damned Jack o' Judgment has put everything else out of our minds. And you can see for yourself, Pinto, that this business is important."

    Pinto nodded.

    "We are not only after the mill, but here's a chance of making a real big coup. Now I can't send anybody else to Yorkshire--Crewe is impossible. Crotin knows him, and the moment he puts in an appearance, as likely as not Crotin would lose his head and give the whole show away. It is you or nobody."

    He rubbed his chin thoughtfully.

    "You know, there are times when I'm sorry about Solomon White," he said, "he was the boy for this kind of business--that is to say in the old days--he got a bit above himself towards the end."

    Pinto was to find that the colonel had made all arrangements, and that for the previous two days he had been planning a predatory raid on the Yorkshireman.

    There was to be a bazaar in Huddersfield on behalf of a local hospital, in which Lady Sybil Crotin took a great interest. She was organising the fête and had invited subscriptions.

    "They're not coming in very fast, according to their local paper," said the colonel, "and that has given me an idea. You're a presentable sort of fellow, Pinto, and it is likely you'll be all the more successful because you're a foreigner. You'll go up to Yorkshire and you'll take a thousand pounds, and if necessary you'll subscribe pretty liberally to the fund, but it must be done through Lady Sybil. You can make yourself known to her and invite yourself to the house, where you can meet Crotin himself."

    He made other suggestions, for he had worked out the whole scheme in detail for the other to carry into effect. Pinto's objections slowly dissipated. He was a vain man and had all the vices of his vanity. A desire to be thought well of, to be regarded as a rich man when he was in fact on the verge of ruin, had brought him into crooked practices and eventually into the circle of the colonel's acquaintances.

    To appear amongst the fair as a giver of largesse on a magnificent scale suited him down to the ground. It was a part for which he was eminently fitted, as the colonel, a shrewd judge of humanity, knew quite well.

    "I'll take it on," said Pinto, "but do you think he'll squeal?"

    Boundary shook his head.

    "I never knew a man who was caught on the rebound to squeal," he said. "No, no, you needn't worry about that. All you have to do is to use your discretion, choose the right moment, preparing him by a few hints for what is coming, and you'll find he'll sit down, like the hard-headed business man he is, and talk money."

    Pinto pulled a little face.

    "I know what you're thinking," said the colonel. "You hate the idea of the generous donor being unmasked and appearing to anybody as a blackmailer. Well, you needn't worry about that. Lady Sybil will not know, nor will anybody else that counts. And, believe me, Crotin doesn't count. Anyway, you can pretend that you're a perfectly innocent agent in the matter, that you know me slightly and that I've dropped hints which made you curious and which you are anxious to verify."

    Pinto went off to make preparations for the journey. He had one of the top flats in the Albemarle building, a suite of rooms which, if they were not as expensively furnished as the colonel's, were more artistic. He had recently acquired the services of a new "daily valet"--a step he could take without fear that his secrets would be betrayed, since he had no secrets in his own rooms, kept no documents of any kind, and received no visitors.

    The man opened the door to his ring.

    "No, sir, nobody has been," said the servant in answer to his query, and Pinto was relieved.

    For the past two days he had been living in a condition bordering on panic. It seemed unlikely that the colonel's confidence would be justified and that the police would take no action. And yet the incredible had happened. There had not been so much as an inquiry; and not once, though he had been on his guard, had he detected one shadow trailing him. His spirits rose, and he whistled cheerfully as he directed the packing of his trunk, for he was travelling North fully equipped for any social event which might await him.

    "I am going to Yorkshire," he explained. "I'll give you my address before I leave, and you can let me know if there are any inquiries and who the inquirers were."

    "Certainly, sir," said the man respectfully, and Pinto eyed him approvingly.

    "I think you'll suit me, Cobalt," he said. "My last valet was rather a fool and inclined to stick his nose into business which did not concern him."

    The man smiled.

    "I shan't trouble you that way, sir," he said.

    "Of course, there's nothing to hide," said Pinto with a shrug, "but you know what people are. They think that because you're associated in business with Colonel Boundary you're up to all sorts of tricks."

    "That's what Mr. Snakit said, sir," remarked the man.

    "Snakit?" said the puzzled Pinto. "Who the devil is Snakit?"

    Then he remembered the little detective whom Maisie had employed and who had been bought over by the colonel.

    "Oh, you see him, do you?" he asked carelessly.

    "He comes up, sir, now and again. He's the colonel's valet, isn't he, sir?"

    Pinto grinned.

    "Not exactly," he said. "I shouldn't discuss things with Snakit. That man is quite reliable and----"

    "Anyway, sir, I should not discuss your business," said the valet with dignity.

    He finished packing and, after assisting his master to dress, was dismissed for the night.

    "A useful fellow, that," thought Pinto, as the door closed behind the man. The "useful fellow" reached the street and, after walking a few hundred yards, found a disengaged taxi and gave an address. Maisie White was writing when her bell rang. It rang three times--two long and one short peals--and she went downstairs to admit her visitor. She did not speak until she was back in her room, and then she faced the polite little man whom Pinto had called Cobalt.

    "Well, Mr. Grey," she said.

    "I wish you'd call me Cobalt, miss," said the man with a smile. "I like to keep up the name, otherwise I'm inclined to give myself away."

    "Have you found out anything?"

    "Very little, miss," said the detective. "There's nothing to find in the apartment itself."

    "You secured the situation as valet?"

    He nodded.

    "Thanks to the recommendations you got me, miss, there was no difficulty at all. Silva wanted a servant and accepted the testimonials without question."

    "And you've discovered nothing?" she said in a disappointed tone.

    "Not in Mr. Silva's room. The only thing I found out was that he's going to Yorkshire to-morrow."

    "For long?" she asked.

    "For some considerable time," said the detective.

    "At least, I guess so, because he has packed half a dozen suits, top hats and all sorts of things which I should imagine he wouldn't take away unless he intended making a long stay."

    "Have you any idea of the place he's going to?"

    "I shall discover that to-morrow, miss," said Cobalt. "I thought I'd tell you as much as I know."

    "And you have not been into the colonel's flat?"

    The man shook his head.

    "It is guarded inside and out, miss, now. He has not only his butler, who is a tough customer, to look after him, but he has Snakit, the man you employed, I understand."

    "That's the gentleman," said the girl with a little smile. "Very good, Cobalt--you'll 'phone me if you make any other discoveries."

    She was sitting at her solitary breakfast the next morning when the telephone bell rang. It was from a call office, and presently she heard Cobalt's voice. "Just a word, miss. He leaves by the ten-twenty-five train for Huddersfield," said the voice, "and the person he is going to see is Lady Sybil somebody, and there's money in it."

    "How do you know?" she asked quickly.

    "I heard him speaking to the colonel on the landing and I heard the words: 'He'll pay.'"

    She thought a moment.

    "Ten-twenty-five," she repeated; "thank you very much, Mr. Cobalt."

    She hung up the receiver and sat for a moment in thought, then passed quickly to her bedroom and began to dress.
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