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    Chapter 32

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    Chapter 32
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    The Foreign Sailor

    There was no man more sympathetic for a fellow in misfortune than ex-Sergeant Slone. But when he discovered that the misfortune extended to himself, Slone was inclined to be querulous.

    "I don't mind you doing what you like with your own money, Marborne," he said, "but there was four hundred of mine in that safe of yours, and I've been asking you for a week to put it in your bank."

    "You wouldn't have had the money if it wasn't for me," said Marborne. "Anyway, there's plenty more where that came from."

    "But have you got plenty more?" asked the practical Slone.

    "He sent five hundred this morning. It was like getting blood out of a stone," said Marborne. "Anyway, we shan't starve. Slone, I've been sitting up all night, thinking about things."

    "I don't wonder," said Slone, his gloomy eyes surveying the empty safe. "That's The Black's work, nobody else could have done it so neatly."

    "What did he come for?"

    "Money," said Slone bitterly. "What do you think he came for--to pass the evening?"

    "You needn't get fresh with me," said Marborne sharply. "You'll pay the same respect to me, Sergeant Slone, as you did in the old days, or you and I part company. I've told you that before."

    "I meant no harm," growled Slone, "but it is a bit of a blow losing all that money."

    "The Black didn't come for it. He took it, but that wasn't what he came for. He came for this." He tapped his side significantly. "And that is what The Black has been after ever since he started operations. He's been after this! I was looking up my scrap-book this morning. I've got every one of The Black's robberies pasted, and I'll tell you what I discovered--and, mind you, Slone, I haven't been a police officer for twenty-three years without being able to put two and two together."

    "That's natural," agreed the obliging Slone. "And I'll say this of you, Marborne--there wasn't a better detective officer at the Yard than yourself--not even Welling."

    "You're a fool," said Marborne. "Welling could give me or anybody else a mile start and lick 'em sick. Now listen; every bank that's been burgled has been a bank where Hamon has had an account. In all banks there is a strong room, where customers keep their private documents, and it invariably has been the strong room that was burgled. And if it wasn't a bank it was a safe deposit, where Ralph Hamon had a private box. And he's been after this." He tapped his side again.

    "What is it?" asked Slone, consumed with curiosity, and the other man smiled contemptuously.

    "Wouldn't you like to know?" he asked, and continued: "This fellow Morlake is a rich man. I've always suspected he was a rich man----"

    "Naturally he's rich," put in Slone wrathfully.

    "Wouldn't you be rich if you'd pulled off forty-two jobs and got away with thousands and thousands of pounds? He's richer by four hundred of mine----"

    "Don't interrupt me. He is a rich man apart from that. And, besides, nobody knows that he has taken any money."

    "I know he's taken ours," said Slone bitterly.

    "Fix this in your nut, Slone. It is just as likely that he would pay me as well for this, as old Hamon would."

    "He'd sooner pinch it," said Slone with conviction, "like he pinched my money. I wish I'd been somewhere handy!"

    "You'd have been a dead man if you had, so what is the good of wishing? I'm going to think this over and if I have any trouble with Mr. Blinking Hamon to-morrow----" He snapped his fingers significantly.

    Slone went home early. He had yet to recover from the shock of his loss, and Marborne was left alone. He had plenty to occupy his thoughts. The sting of Lydia Hamon's contempt still smarted. She seemed, at that moment, less the woman of his dreams than she had been, and he harboured no other emotion in his bosom than a desire to get even with her for her gratuitous insult.

    That morning he had sent a peremptory demand to Hamon, and had received a paltry five hundred. He had instantly despatched a second message, to learn that Hamon had gone out of town, which Marborne regarded as the merest subterfuge, until he called himself and interviewed the butler. Miss Hamon had gone too, that official informed him; she had left by the eleven o'clock Continental train and was expected to be absent for a week.

    Although the night was chilly, he threw open the windows to let in the light and sound of Cambridge Circus. Almost under his eyes were the gay lights of a theatre. He sat for some time watching the audience arrive, and trying to recognise them, for he had an extensive acquaintance with West End life.

    He saw a tall, thick-set man cross the road at a run, although there was no fear of his intercepting the traffic. A foreigner, Marborne guessed. He watched him for some time, for the man did not seem quite sure of his destination. First he walked along one sector of the Circus, then he came back and stood undecidedly on one of the islands in the middle of the thoroughfare. By the light of the street standard Marborne thought he was a seafaring man. He wore a jersey up to his neck, a thick pea-jacket and a cheese-cutter cap. Turning his eyes away to watch a car drive up to the theatre, Marborne lost sight of the stranger and he passed out of his mind.

    He closed the window and, taking a pack of cards from a drawer, began to play solitaire. He was nervous, jumpy; he heard sounds and whispering voices which he knew were born in his imagination. At last, unable to bear the solitude any longer, he put on his hat and went out, wandering down Shaftesbury Avenue to Piccadilly Circus, where he stood for an hour watching the night signs. Here, to his surprise and relief, he came upon Slone.

    "I've got the creeps," said that worthy. "Marborne, what do you say to making a big haul from this fellow and getting out of the country? You remember what Welling told you--that the north of Spain is healthy?"

    Marborne nodded. Something of the same idea had occurred to him.

    "I think you're right," he said. "I'll wire to Hamon in the morning, he's staying with Lord Creith; and I'll put the matter frankly before him. It will be Italy, not Spain."

    "Hamon is in town," said Slone unexpectedly. "I saw his car passing along Coventry Street, and he was in it."

    "Are you sure?"

    "Well, you couldn't mistake him, could you?" said Slone scornfully.

    "Wait a bit." Marborne went into a telephone booth and called up Hamon's house.

    "It is no good lying," he said, when the butler protested that his master was not in. "Hamon was seen in Coventry Street an hour ago."

    "I swear to you, Mr. Marborne, he has gone to the country. I know he came back to town to do some business because I forwarded a coded message on to him and he came back for ten minutes--not longer. He's gone away again."

    "I wouldn't be surprised if he is telling the truth," said Marborne when he reported the conversation. "Anyway, we'll see him to-morrow."

    He parted from his friend in Shaftesbury Avenue and walked back to Cambridge Circus, feeling a little more cheerful than he had been when he came out. And then he saw the tall, foreign-looking sailor, and the first thing that impressed him was his big pale face and his tiny black moustache. He was standing near the door of the apartment as Marborne inserted the key, watching the ex-inspector until the door opened. Then he came forward, cap in hand.

    "Excuse me," he said, speaking with a guttural accent, "but are you Marborne?"

    "That is my name," said the other.

    "I have this for you." The stranger held up a large envelope. "It is from Mr. Hamon. But first I must be sure that you are Marborne."

    "Come in," said Marborne quickly.

    Hamon had relented, he thought joyously. That parcel meant money and Hamon employed curious messengers at times. He opened the door for the big man, who had come silently up the stairs behind him, and the messenger passed through. He looked hard at his host.

    "You are Marborne?" he said. He spoke English with great difficulty.

    "Yes, I am that gentleman," said Marborne almost jovially, and the man laid the package on the table.

    "That is for you," he said. "Will you please open and give me a sign?"

    "You mean signature."

    "That's the word--signature."

    Marborne wrenched the string from the package and tore open the envelope. For a second his back was to the visitor and Ahmet, the muleman, drew a curved knife from each pocket and struck inward and upward with a deep-throated "Huh!"
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