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    Chapter 28

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    Chapter 28
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    If Pinto Silva had a hobby, it was the Orpheum Theatre. The Orpheum had been in low water and had come into the market at a moment when theatrical managers and proprietors were singularly unenterprising and money was short. Pinto had bought the property for a song, and had converted his purchase into a moderate success. The theatre served a double purpose; it provided Pinto with a hobby, and offered an excuse for his wealth. Since it was a one-man show, and he produced no balance-sheet, his contemporaries could only make a guess as to the amount of money he made. If the truth be told, it was not very large, but small as it was, its dividends more or less justified his own leisure.

    There had been one or two scandals about the Orpheum which had reached the public Press--scandals of a not particularly edifying character. But Pinto had managed to escape public opprobrium.

    The Orpheum, at any rate, helped to baffle the police, who saw Silva living at the rate of twenty thousand a year, and were unable to trace the source of his income. That he had estates in Portugal was known; but they had been acquired, apparently, on the profits of the music-hall. He was not a speculator, though he was a shareholder in a number of companies which were controlled by the colonel; and he was certainly not a gambler, in the generally accepted sense of the term.

    Whilst he was suspected of being intimately connected with several shady transactions, he could boast truly that there was not a scrap of evidence to associate him with any breach of the law. He was less inclined to boast that evening, when he turned into the stage-box at the Orpheum, and pulling his chair into the shadow of the draperies, sat back and considered his position. He had returned from Yorkshire in a panic, and had met the fury of the colonel's reproaches. It was the worst quarter of an hour that Pinto had ever spent with his superior, and the memory made him shiver.

    The stage-box at the Orpheum was never sold to any member of the public. It was Pinto's private possession, his sitting-room and his office. He sat watching with gloomy interest the progress of the little revue which was a feature of the Orpheum programme, and his mind was occupied by a very pressing problem. He was shaken, too, by the interview he had had with the Huddersfield police.

    He had had to fake a story to explain why he left the library, and why, in his absence, Mr. Crotin had committed suicide. Fortunately, he had returned to the house by the front hall and was in the hall inventing a story of burglars to the agitated Lady Sybil when they heard the shot which ended the wretched life of the bigamist. That had saved him from being suspected of actual complicity in the crime. Suppose they had--he sweated at the thought.

    There was a knock on the door of the box, and an attendant put in his head.

    "There's a gentleman to see you, sir," he said; "he says he has an appointment."

    "What is his name?"

    "Mr. Cartwright."

    Pinto nodded.

    "Show him in, please," he said, and dismissed all unpleasant thoughts.

    The new-comer proved to be a dapper little man, with a weather-beaten face. He was in evening dress, and spoke like a gentleman.

    "I had your letter, Mr. Silva," he said. "You received my telephone message?"

    "Yes," said Silva. "I wanted to see you particularly. You understand that what I say is wholly confidential."

    "That I understand," said the man called Cartwright.

    He took Pinto's proferred cigarette and lit it.

    "I have been reading about you in the papers," said Pinto. "You're the man who did the non-stop flight for the Western Aeroplane Company?"

    "That's right," smiled Cartwright. "I have done many long nights. I suppose you are referring to my San Sebastian trip?"

    Pinto nodded.

    "Now I want to ask you a few questions, and if they seem to be prying or personal, you must believe that I have no other wish than to secure information which is vital to myself. What position do you occupy with the Western Company?"

    Cartwright shrugged his shoulders.

    "I am a pilot," he said. "If you mean, am I a director of the firm or am I interested in the company financially, I regret that I must answer No. I wish I were," he added, "but I am merely an employee."

    Pinto nodded.

    "That is what I wanted to know," he said. "Now, here is another question. What does a first-class aeroplane cost?"

    "It depends," said the other. "A long distance machine, such as I have been flying, would cost anything up to five thousand pounds."

    "Could you buy one? Are they on the market?" asked Pinto quickly.

    "I could buy a dozen to-morrow," said the other promptly. "The R.A.F. have been selling off their machines, and I know just where I could get one of the best in Britain."

    Pinto was looking at the stage, biting his lips thoughtfully.

    "I'll tell you what I want," he said. "I am not very keenly interested in aviation, but it may be necessary that I should return to Portugal in a great hurry. It is no news to you that we Portuguese are generally in the throes of some revolution or other."

    "So I understand," said Cartwright, with a twinkle in his eye.

    "In those circumstances," Pinto went on, "it may be necessary for me to leave this country without going through the formality of securing a passport. I want a machine which will carry me from London to, say, Cintra, without a stop, and I want a pilot who can take me across the sea by the direct route."

    "Across the Bay of Biscay?" asked the aviator in surprise, and Pinto nodded.

    "I should not want to touch any other country en route, for reasons which, I tell you frankly, are political."

    Cartwright thought a moment.

    "Yes, I think I can get you the machine, and I'm certain I can find you the pilot," he said.

    "To put it bluntly," said Pinto, "would you take on an engagement for twelve months, secure the machine, house it and have it ready for me? I will pay you liberally." He mentioned a sum which satisfied the airman. "It must not be known that the machine is mine. You must buy it and keep it in your own name."

    "There's no difficulty about that," said Cartwright. "Am I to understand that I must go ahead with the purchase of the aeroplane?"

    "You can start right away," said Pinto. "The sooner you have the machine ready for a flight the better. I am here almost every night, and I will give orders to the collectors on the barrier that you are to come to me just whenever you want. If you will meet me here to-morrow morning, say at eleven o'clock, I can give you cash for the purchase of the machine, and I shall be happy to pay you half a year's salary in advance."

    "It will take some time to clear my old job," said Cartwright thoughtfully, "but I think I can do it for you. At any rate, I can get time off to buy the machine. You say that you do not want anybody to know that it is yours?"

    Pinto nodded.

    "Well, that's easy," said the other. "I've been thinking about buying a machine of my own for some time and have made inquiries in several quarters."

    He rose to leave and shook hands.

    "Remember," said Pinto as a final warning, "not a word about this to any human soul."

    "You can trust me," said the man.

    Pinto watched the rest of the play with a lighter heart. After all, there could be nothing very much to fear. What had thrown him off his balance for the moment was the presence of Stafford King in Yorkshire, and when that detective chief did not make his appearance at the police inquiry nor had sought him in his hotel, it looked as though the colonel's words were true, and that Scotland Yard were after Boundary himself and none other.

    He sat the performance through and then went to his club--an institution off Pall Mall which had been quite satisfied to accept Pinto to membership without making any too close inquiries as to his antecedents.

    He spent some time before the tape machine, watching the news tick forth, then strolled into the smoking-room and read the evening papers for the second time. Only one item of news really interested him--it had interested the colonel too. The diamondsmiths' premises in Regent Street had been burgled the night before and the contents of the safe cleared. The colonel had arrested his flow of vituperation, to speculate as to the "artist" who had carried out this neat job.

    Pinto read for a little, then threw the paper down. He wondered what made him so restive and why he was so anxious to find something to occupy his attention, and then he realised with a start that he did not want to go back to face Colonel Boundary. It was the first time he had ever experienced this sensation, and he did not like it. He had held his place in the gang by the assurance, which was also an assumption, that he was at least the colonel's equal. This irritated him. He put on his overcoat and turned into the street. It was a chilly night and a thin drizzle of rain was falling. He pulled up his coat-collar and looked about for a taxi-cab. Neither outside the club nor in Pall Mall was one visible.

    He started to walk home, but still felt that disinclination to face the colonel. Then a thought struck him; he would go and see Phillopolis, the little Greek.

    Phillopolis patronised a night-club in Soho, where he was usually to be found between midnight and two in the morning. Having an objective, Pinto felt in a happier frame of mine and walked briskly the intervening distance. He found his man sitting at a little marble-topped table by himself, contemplating a half-bottle of sweet champagne and a half-filled glass. He was evidently deep in thought, and started violently when Pinto addressed him.

    "Sit down," he said with evident relief. "I thought it was----"

    "Who did you think it was? You thought it was the police, I suppose?" said Pinto with heavy jocularity, and to his amazement he saw the little man wince.

    "What has happened to Colonel Boundary?" asked the Greek irritably. "There used to be a time when anybody he spoke for was safe. I'm getting out of this country and I'm getting out quick," he added.

    "Why?" asked Pinto, who was vitally interested.

    The Greek threw out his hands with a little grimace.

    "Nerves," he said. "I haven't got over that affair with the White girl."

    "Pooh!" said the other. "If the police were moving in that matter, they'd have moved long ago. You are worrying yourself unnecessarily, Phillopolis."

    Pinto's words slipped glibly from his tongue, but Phillopolis was unimpressed.

    "I know when I've had enough," he said. "I've got my passport and I'm clearing out at the end of this week."

    "Does the colonel know this?"

    The Greek raised his shoulders indifferently.

    "I don't know whether he does or whether he doesn't," he said. "Anyway, Boundary and I are only remotely connected in business, and my movements are no affair of his."

    He looked curiously at the other.

    "I wonder that a man like you, who is in the heart of things, stays on when the net is drawing round the old man."

    "Loyalty is a vice with me," said Pinto virtuously. "Besides, there's no reason to bolt--as yet."

    "I'm going whilst I'm safe," said Phillopolis, sipping his champagne. "At present the police have nothing against me and I'm going to take good care they have nothing. That's where I've the advantage of people like you."

    Pinto smiled.

    "They've nothing on me," he said easily. "I have an absolutely clean record."

    It disturbed him, however, to discover that even so minor a member of the gang as Phillopolis was preparing to desert what he evidently regarded as a sinking ship. More than this, it confirmed him in the wisdom of his own precautions, and he was rather glad that he had taken it into his head to visit Phillopolis on that night.

    "When do you leave?" he asked.

    "The day after to-morrow," said Phillopolis. "I think I'll go down into Italy for a year. I've made enough money now to live without worrying about work, and I mean to enjoy myself."

    Pinto looked at the man with interest. Here, at any rate, was one without a conscience. The knowledge that he had accumulated his fortune through the miseries of innocent girls shipped to foreign dance halls did not weigh greatly upon his mind.

    "Lucky you!" said Pinto, as they walked out of the club together. "Where do you live, by the way?"

    "In Somers Street, Soho. It is just round the corner," said Phillopolis. "Will you walk there with me?"

    Pinto hesitated.

    "Yes, I will," he said.

    He wanted to see the sort of establishment which Phillopolis maintained. They chatted together till they came to the street, and then Phillopolis stopped.

    "Do you mind if I go ahead?" he said. "I have a--friend there who might be worried by your coming."

    Pinto smiled to himself.

    "Certainly," he said. "I'll wait on the opposite side of the road until you are ready."

    The man lived above a big furniture shop, and admission was gained by a side door. Pinto watched him pass through the portals and heard the door close. He was a long time gone, and evidently his "friend" was unprepared to receive visitors at that hour, or else Phillopolis himself had some reason for postponing the invitation.

    The reason for the delay was explained in a sensational manner. Suddenly the door opened and a man came out. He was followed by two others and between them was Phillopolis, and the street-lamp shone upon the steel handcuffs on his wrists. Pinto drew back into a doorway and watched. Phillopolis was talking--it would perhaps be more accurate to say that he was raving at the top of his voice, cursing and sobbing in a frenzy.

    "You planted them--it is a plant!" he yelled. "You devils!"

    "Are you coming quietly?" said a voice. "Or are you going to make trouble? Take him, Dempsey!"

    Phillopolis seemed to have forgotten Pinto's presence, for he went out of the street without once calling upon him to testify to his character and innocence. Pinto waited till he was gone, and then strolled across the road to the detective who stood before the door lighting his pipe.

    "Good evening," he said, "has there been some trouble?"

    The officer looked at him suspiciously. But Pinto was in evening dress and talked like a gentleman, and the policeman thawed.

    "Nothing very serious, sir," he said, "except for the man. He's a fence."

    "A what?" said Pinto with well-feigned innocence.

    "A receiver of stolen property. We found his lodgings full of stuff."

    "Good Heavens!" gasped Pinto.

    "Yes, sir," said the man, delighted that he had created a sensation. "I never saw so much valuable property in one room in my life. There was a big burglary in Regent Street last night. A jeweller's shop was cleared out of about twenty thousand pounds' worth of necklaces, and we found every bit of it here to-night. We've always suspected this man," he went on confidentially. "Nobody knew how he got his living, but from information we received to-day we were able to catch him red-handed."

    "Thank you," said Pinto faintly, and walked slowly home, for now he no longer feared to meet the colonel. He had something to tell him, something that would inspire even Boundary with apprehension.
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