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THE COLONEL AT SCOTLAND YARD
The two men had not met since they had parted at the door of the North Lambeth Police Court, and there was in Colonel Boundary's smile something of forgiveness and gentle reproach.
"Well, Mr. King," he said, "come in, come in, won't you?"
He offered his hand to the other, but Stafford apparently did not see it.
"No malice, I trust, Mr. King?" said the colonel genially. "You know my friend Mr. Silva? A business associate of mine, a director of several of my companies."
"I know him all right," said Stafford and added, "I hope to know him better."
Pinto recognised the underlying sense of the words, but not a muscle of his face moved. For Stafford King the hatred with which he regarded the law lost its personal character. This man was something more than a thief-taker and a tracker of criminals. Pinto chose to regard him as the close friend of Maisie White, and as such, his rival.
"And to what are we indebted for this visit?" asked the bland colonel.
"The chief wants to see you."
"Sir Stanley Belcom. Being the chief of our department I should have thought you had heard of him."
"Sir Stanley Belcom," repeated the other; "why, of course, I know Sir Stanley by repute. May I ask what he wants to see me about? And how is my young friend--er--Miss White?" asked the colonel.
"When I saw her last," replied Stafford steadily, "she was looking pretty well, so far as I could tell."
"Indeed!" said the colonel politely. "I have a considerable interest in the welfare of Miss White. May I ask when you saw her?
"Last night," replied Stafford. "She was standing at the door of her apartments in Doughty Street, having a little talk with your friend," he nodded to Pinto, and Pinto started; "also," said the cheerful Stafford, "another mutual friend of ours, Mr. Crewe, was within hailing distance, unless I am greatly mistaken."
"So you were watching, eh?" burst out Pinto "I thought after the lesson you had a couple of weeks ago, you'd have----"
"Let me carry on this conversation, if you don't mind," said the colonel, and the fury in his eyes silenced the Portuguese.
"We have agreed to let bygones be bygones, Mr. King, and I am sure it is only his excessive zeal on my behalf that induced our friend to be so indiscreet as to refer to the unpleasant happenings--which we will allow to pass from our memories."
So the girl was being watched. That made things rather more difficult than he had imagined. Nevertheless, he anticipated no supreme obstacle to the actual abduction. His plans had been made that morning, when he saw in the columns of the daily newspaper a four-line advertisement which, to a large extent, had cleared away the greatest of his difficulties.
"And if Mr. King is looking after our young friend, Maisie White, the daughter of one of our dearest business associates--why, I'm glad," he went on heartily. "London, Mr. King, is a place full of danger for young girls, particularly those who are deprived of the loving care of a parent, and one of the chief attractions, if I may be allowed to say so, which the police have for me, is the knowledge that they are the protectors of the unprotected, the guardians of the unguarded."
He made a little bow, and for all his amusement Stafford gravely acknowledged the handsome compliment which the most notorious scoundrel in London had paid the Metropolitan Police Force.
"When am I to see your chief?"
"You can come along with me now, if you like, or you can go to-morrow morning at ten o'clock," said Stafford.
The colonel scratched his chin.
"Of course, I understand that this summons is in the nature of a friendly----" he stopped questioningly.
"Oh, certainly," said Stafford, his eyes twinkling, "it isn't the customary 'come-along-o'-me' demand. I think the chief wants to meet you, to discover just the kind of person you are. You will like him, I think, colonel. He is the sort of man who takes a tremendous interest in--er----"
"In crime?" said the colonel gently.
"I was trying to think of a nice word to put in its place," admitted Stafford; "at any rate, he is interested in you."
"There is no time like the present," said the colonel. "Pinto, will you find my hat?"
On the way to Scotland Yard they chatted on general subjects till Stafford asked:
"Have you had another visitation from your friend?"
"The Jack o' Judgment?" asked the colonel. "Yes, we met him the other night. He's rather amusing. By the way, have you had complaints from anywhere else?"
Stafford shook his head.
"No, he seems to have specialised on you, colonel. You have certainly the monopoly of his attentions."
"What is going to happen supposing he makes an appearance when I happen to have a lethal weapon ready?" asked the colonel. "I have never killed a person in my life, and I hope the sad experience will not be mine. But from the police point of view, how do I stand suppose--there is an accident?"
Stafford shrugged his shoulders.
"That is his look out," he said. "If you are threatened, I dare say a jury of your fellow countrymen will decide that you acted in self-defence."
"He came the other night," the colonel said reminiscently, "when we were fixing up a particularly difficult--er--business negotiation."
"Bad luck!" said Stafford. "I suppose the mug was scared?"
"The what?" asked the puzzled colonel.
"The mug," said Stafford. "You may not have heard the expression. It means 'can'--'fool'--'dupe.'"
The colonel drew a long breath.
"You still bear malice, I see, Mr. King," he said sadly.
He entered the portals of Scotland Yard without so much as a tremor, passed up the broad stairs and along the unlovely corridors, till he came to the double doors which marked the First Commissioner's private office. Stafford disappeared for a moment and presently returned with the news that the First Commissioner would not be able to see his visitor for half an hour. Stafford apologised but the colonel was affability itself and kept up a running conversation until a beckoning secretary notified them that the great man was disengaged.
It was King who ushered the colonel into his presence. Sir Stanley was writing at a big desk and looked up as the colonel entered.
"Sit down, colonel," he said, nodding his head to a chair on the opposite side of the desk. "You needn't wait, King. There are one or two things I want to speak to the colonel about."
When the door had closed behind the detective, Sir Stanley leaned back in his chair. Their eyes met, the grey and the faded blue, and for the space of a few seconds they stared. Sir Stanley Belcom was the first to drop his eyes.
"I've sent for you, colonel," he said, "because I think you might give me a great deal of information, if you're willing."
"Command me," said the colonel grandly.
"It is on the matter of a murder which was committed in London a few months ago," said the commissioner quietly and for a moment Colonel Boundary did not speak.
"I presume you are referring to the 'Snow' Gregory murder?" he said at last.
"Exactly," nodded the commissioner. "We have had an inquiry from America as to the identity of this young man. Now, you knew him better than anybody else in London, colonel. Can you tell me, was he an American?"
"Emphatically not," said the colonel with a little sigh, as though he were relieved at the turn the conversation was taking. "I came to know him through--er--circumstances, and exactly what they were I cannot for the moment remember. I had a lot to do with him. He did odd jobs for me."
"Was he well educated?" asked the commissioner.
"Yes, I should say he was," said the colonel slowly. "There was a story that he had been to Oxford, and that's very likely true. He spoke like a college man."
"Do you know if he had any relations in England?"
The commissioner eyed the other straightly and the colonel hesitated. How much does this man know? he wondered, and decided that he could do no harm if he told all the truth.
"He had no relations in England," he said, "but he had a father who was abroad."
"Ah, now we're getting at some facts," said the commissioner and drew a slip of paper towards him. "What was the father's name?"
The colonel shook his head.
"That I can't tell you, sir," he said. "I should like to oblige you but I have no more idea of what his name was than the man in the moon. I believe he was in India, because letters from India used to come to Gregory."
"Was Gregory his name?"
"His Christian name, I think," said the colonel after a moment's thought. "He went wrong at college and was sent down. Then he went to Paris and started to study art, and he got in trouble there, too. That's as much as he ever told me."
"He had no brothers?" asked the commissioner.
"None," said the colonel emphatically. "I am certain of that, because he once thanked God that he was the only child."
"I see," the commissioner nodded; "you have formed no theory as to why he met his death or how?"
"No theory at all," said the colonel, but corrected himself. "Of course, I've had ideas and opinions, but none of them has ever worked out. So far as I know, he had no enemies, although he was a quick-tempered chap, especially when he was recovering from a dose of 'coco,' and would quarrel with his own grandmother."
"You've no idea why he was in London? Apparently he did not live here."
The colonel shrugged his massive shoulders.
"No, I couldn't tell you anything about that, sir," he said.
"He was not an American?" asked the commissioner again.
"I could swear to that," answered the colonel.
There was a pause and he waited.
"There's another matter." The commissioner spoke slowly. "I understand that you are being bothered by a mysterious individual who calls himself the Knave of Judgment."
"Jack o' Judgment," corrected the colonel with a contemptuous smile. "Those sort of monkey tricks don't bother me, I can assure you."
"I have my theories about the Jack o' Judgment," said the commissioner. "I have been looking up the circumstances of the murder, and I seem to remember that on the body was found a playing card."
"That's right," said the colonel, who had remembered the fact himself many times, "the Jack of Clubs."
"Do you know what that Jack of Clubs signified?" asked the commissioner, but the colonel could honestly say that he did not. Its presence on the body had frequently puzzled him and he had never found a solution.
"There is a certain type of ruffian to be found, particularly in Paris, who affects this sort of theatrical trade-mark--did you know that?" asked the commissioner.
The colonel was suddenly stricken to silence. He did not know this fact, in spite of his extraordinary knowledge of the criminal world.
"These men have their totems and their sign manuals," said the commissioner. "For example, the apache Flequier, who was executed at Nantes the other day, invariably left a domino--the double-six--near his victim."
This was news to the colonel too.
"I've been giving a great deal of thought and time to this case," said the commissioner, "and I was hoping that perhaps you could help me. The most workable theory that I can suggest is that this unfortunate man was destroyed by a French criminal of the class which I have indicated, the bullying apache type, which is so common in France. Why the murder was committed," the commissioner fingered his paper-knife carelessly, "what led to it and who committed it, and more especially who instigated the crime, are matters which seem to me to defy detection. Do you agree?"
"I quite agree," said the colonel, licking his dry lips.
"Now I suggest to you," said the commissioner, "that your Jack o' Judgment, whoever he is, is some relation to the dead man."
He spoke slowly and emphatically and the colonel did not raise his eyes from the desk.
"It is not my business to make life any easier for you," the commissioner was saying, "or to assist you in any way. But as the Jack o' Judgment seems to me to be engaged in a wholly illegal practice, and as I, in my capacity, must suppress illegal practices, I make you a present of this suggestion."
"That the Jack o' Judgment is related to 'Snow' Gregory?" asked the colonel huskily.
"That is my suggestion," said the commissioner.
"And you think----"
The commissioner raised his shoulders.
"I think he is your greatest danger, colonel," he said, "far greater than the police, far greater than the clever minds which are planning to bring you to the dock and possibly," he added, "to the gallows."
Ordinarily the colonel would have protested at the suggestion in the speech, protested laughingly or with dignity, but now he was stricken dumb, both by the seriousness of the commissioner's voice and by the consciousness of a new and a more terrible danger than any that had confronted him. He rose, realising that the interview was ended.
"I am greatly obliged to you, Sir Stanley," he said clearing his throat. "It is good of you to warn me, but I'd not like you to think that I am engaged in any dishonest----"
"We'll let that matter stand over for discussion until another time," said the commissioner dryly, as Stafford King came into the room. "You might show the colonel the way to the street. Otherwise he will be getting himself entangled in some of our detention rooms. Good morning, Colonel Boundary. Don't forget."
"I'm not likely to," said the colonel.
He recovered his poise quickly enough and by the time he was in the street he was back in his old mood. But he had had a shock. That sunny afternoon was filled with shadows. The booming bells of Big Ben tolled "Jack o' Judgment," the very wheels of the taxi droned the words. And Colonel Boundary came back to Albemarle Place for the first time in his life with his confidence in Colonel Boundary shaken.
There was nobody in save the one manservant he kept by the day, and he passed into the dining-room overlooking the street. He had work to do and it had to be done quickly. In one of the walls was set a stout safe, and this he opened, taking from it a steel box which he carried to the table. There was a fire laid on the hearth and to this he put a match though the day was warm enough. Then he proceeded to unlock the box. Apparently it was empty, but, taking out his scarf-pin, he inserted the point in a tiny hole, which would have escaped casual observation, and pressed.
Half the steel bottom of the box leapt up, disclosing a shallow cavity beneath. The colonel stared. There had been two letters put in there, letters which he had put away against the moment when it might be necessary to bring a recalcitrant agent to heel. They had gone. He slid his fingers beneath the half of the bottom which had not opened and felt a card. He drew this out and looked at it, licking his lips the while.
For the space of a minute he stared and stared at the Knave of Clubs he held in his hand. A Knave of Clubs signed with a flourish across its face: "Jack o' Judgment." Then he flung the card into the fire and, walking to the sideboard, splashed whisky into a tumbler with a hand that shook.
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