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"SWELL" CREWE BACKS OUT
The colonel left Scotland Yard with a sense that he had spent the morning not unprofitably. It was his way to beard the lion in his den, and after all, the police department was no more formidable than any other public department. He spent the morning quietly in Pinto's flat, making certain preparations. The workmen were making a thorough job of his damaged wall, as he found when he looked in, and the horrible odour had almost disappeared. It was to be a much longer job than he thought. It had been necessary to cut away and replace the plaster under the paper for the infernal mixture had soaked deep. Still the colonel had plenty to occupy his mind. What he called his legitimate business had been sadly neglected of late. Reports had come in from all sorts of agencies, reports which might by careful study be turned to the greatest advantage. There was the affair of Lady Glenmerrin. He had been months accumulating evidence of that lady's marital delinquencies, and now the iron was ready to strike--and he simply had no interest in a deal which might very easily transfer the famous Glenmerrin Farms to his charge at a nominal figure.
And there were other prospects as alluring. But for the moment the colonel was mainly interested in the stock value of Colonel Dan Boundary and the possibility of violent fluctuations. He was losing grip. The story of Jack o' Judgment had circulated with amazing rapidity, by all manner of underground channels, to people vitally concerned. Crewe, who had been a stand-by in almost every big coup he had pulled off, was as stable as pulp. White his right-hand man, was dead. Pinto--well, Pinto would go his own way just when it suited him. He had no doubt whatever as to Pinto's loyalty. Silva had big estates in Portugal, to which he would retire just when things were getting warm and interesting. Moreover, the British Government could not extradite Pinto from his native land.
The colonel found himself regretting that he had missed the opportunity of taking up American citizenship during the seven years he had spent in San Francisco. And what of Crewe? Crewe was to reveal himself most unmistakably. He came in in the late afternoon and found the colonel working through the litter on his desk.
"Have you started your search at Oxford?" asked the colonel.
"I've sent two men down there--the best men in London," replied Crewe.
He drew up a chair to the desk and flung his hat on a near-by couch.
"I want to have a little talk with you, colonel."
Boundary looked up sharply.
"That sounds bad," he said. "What do you want to talk about? The weather?"
"Hardly," said Crewe. A little pause, and then: "Colonel, I'm going to quit."
The colonel made no reply. He went on writing his letter, and not until he reached the end of the page and carefully blotted the epistle did he meet Crewe's eyes.
"So you're going to quit, are you?" said Boundary. "Cold feet?"
"Something like that," said Crewe. "Of course, I'm not going to leave you in the lurch."
"Oh, no," said the colonel with elaborate politeness, "nobody's going to leave me in the lurch. You're just going to quit, that's all, and I've got to face the music."
"Why don't you quit too, colonel?"
"Quit what?" asked Boundary. "And how? You might as well ask a tree to quit the earth, to uproot itself and go on living. What happens when I walk out of this office and take a first-class state-room to New York? You think the Boundary Gang collapses, fades away, just dies off, eh? The moment I leave there's a squeal, and that squeal will be loud enough to reach me in whatever part of the world I may be. There are a dozen handy little combinations which will think that I am double-crossing them, and they'll be falling over one another to get in with the first tale."
Crewe licked his dry lips.
"Well that certainly may be in your case, colonel, but it doesn't happen to be in mine. I've covered all my tracks so that there's no evidence against me."
"That's true," said the colonel. "You've just managed to keep out of taking an important part. I congratulate you."
"There's no sense in getting riled about it," said Crewe; "it has just been my luck, that's all. Well, I want to take advantage of this luck."
"In what way?"
"I'm out of any bad trouble. The police, if they search for a million years, couldn't get a scrap of evidence to convict me," he said, "even if they'd had you when Hanson betrayed you, they couldn't have convicted me."
"That's true," said the colonel again. He shook his head impatiently. "Well, what does all this lead to, Crewe? Do you want to be demobilised?" he asked humorously.
"That's about the size of it," said Crewe. "I don't want to be in anything fresh, and I certainly don't want to be in this----"
"In this Maisie White business," said Crewe doggedly. "Let Pinto do his own dirty work."
"My dirty work too," said the colonel. "But I reckon you've overlooked one important fact."
"What's that?" demanded Crewe suspiciously.
"You've overlooked a young gentleman called Jack o' Judgment," said the colonel, and enjoyed the look of consternation which came to the other's face. "There's a fellow that doesn't want any evidence. He hanged Raoul all right."
"Do you think he did it?" said Crewe in a hushed voice.
"Do I think he did it?" The colonel smiled. "Why, who else? And when he comes to judge you, I guess he's not going to worry very much about affidavits and sworn statements, and he's not going to take you before a magistrate before he hands you over to the coroner."
Crewe jumped to his feet.
"What have I done?" he asked harshly.
"What have you done? Well, you know that best," said the colonel with a wave of his hand. "You say the police haven't got you and haven't a case against you. Maybe you're right. That Greek was saying the same sort of thing to me. He was here this afternoon squealing about taking the girl to the Argentine, and wanted us to send the doctor, and he'll be waiting to meet us when we land. There's no evidence against him either. Maybe there's more evidence than you imagine. I wouldn't bank too much upon the police passing you by, if I were you, Crewe. There's something about Mr. Stafford King that I don't like. He's got more brains in his little finger than that dude commissioner has in the whole of his body. He doesn't say much, but I guess he thinks a lot, and I'd give something to know what he's thinking about me just now."
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