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THE VOICE IN THE ROOM
As Silva anticipated, the colonel was up and waiting for him. He was playing Patience on his desk and looked up with a scowl as the Portuguese entered.
"So you've been skulking, have you, Pinto?" he began, but the other interrupted him.
"You can keep all that talk for another time," he said. "They've taken Phillopolis!"
The colonel swept his cards aside with a quick, nervous gesture.
"Taken Phillopolis?" he repeated slowly. "On what charge?"
"For being the receiver of stolen property," said the other. "They found the proceeds of the Regent Street burglary in his apartments."
The colonel opened his mouth to speak, then shut it again, and there was silence for two or three minutes.
"I see. They have planted the stuff on him, have they?"
"What do you mean?" asked Pinto.
"You don't suppose that Phillopolis is a fence, do you?" said the colonel scornfully. "Why, it is a business that a man must spend the whole of his life at before he can be successful. No, Phillopolis knows no more about that burglary or the jewels than you or I. The stuff has been planted in his rooms."
"But the police don't do that sort of thing."
"Who said the police did it?" snarled the colonel. "Of course they didn't. They haven't the sense. That's Mr. Jack o' Judgment once more, and this time, Pinto, he's real dangerous."
"Jack o' Judgment!" gasped Pinto. "But would he commit a burglary?"
The colonel laughed scornfully.
"Would he commit murder? Would he hang Raoul? Would he shoot you? Don't ask such damn-fool questions, Silva! Of course it was Jack o' Judgment. I tell you, the night you were in Yorkshire making a mess of that Crotin business, Jack o' Judgment came here, to this very room, and told me that he would ruin us one by one, and that he would leave me to the last. He mentioned us all--you, Crewe, Selby----"
He stopped suddenly and scratched his chin.
"But not Lollie Marsh," he said. "That's queer, he never mentioned Lollie Marsh!"
He was deep in thought for a few moments, then he went on:
"So he's worked off Phillopolis, has he? Well, Phillopolis has got to take his medicine. I can do nothing for him."
"But surely he can prove----" began Pinto.
"What can he prove?" asked the other. "Can he prove how he earns his money? He's been taken with the goods; he hasn't that chance," he snapped his fingers. "I'll make a prophecy," he said: "Phillopolis will get five years' penal servitude, and nothing in the world can save him from that."
"An innocent man!" said Pinto in amazement. "Impossible!"
"But is he innocent?" asked the colonel sourly. "That's the point you've got to keep in your mind. He may be innocent of one kind of crookedness, and be so mixed up in another that he cannot prove he is innocent of either. That's where they've got this fellow. He dare not appeal to the people who know him best, because they'd give him away. He can't tell the police who are his agents in Greece or Armenia, or they'll find out just the kind of agency he was running."
He squatted back in his chair, pulling at his long moustache.
"Phillopolis, Crewe, Pinto, Selby, and then me," said he, speaking to himself, "and he never mentioned Lollie Marsh. And Lollie has been the decoy duck that has been in every hunt we've had. This wants looking into, Pinto."
As he finished speaking there was a little buzz from the corner of the room and Pinto looked up startled. The colonel looked up too and a slow smile dawned on his face.
"A visitor," he said softly. "Not our old friend Jack o' Judgment, surely!"
"What is it?" asked Pinto.
"A little alarm I've had fixed under one of the treads of the stairs," said the other. "I don't like to be taken unawares."
"Perhaps it is Crewe," suggested the other.
"Crewe's gone home an hour ago," said the colonel. "No, this is a genuine visitor."
They waited for some time and then there was a knock at the outer door.
"Open it, Pinto," and as the other did not instantly move, "open it, damn you! What are you afraid of?"
"I'm not afraid of anything," growled the Portuguese and flung out of the room.
Yet he hesitated again before he turned the handle of the outer door. He flung it open and stepped back. He would have gone farther, but the wall was at his back and he could only stand with open mouth staring at the visitor. It was Maisie White.
She returned his gaze steadily.
"I want to see Colonel Boundary," she said.
"Certainly, certainly," said Pinto huskily.
He shut the door and ushered her into the colonel's presence. Boundary's eyes narrowed as he saw the girl. He suspected a trap and looked past her as though expecting to see an escort behind her.
"This is an unexpected honour, Miss White," he said suavely, and he looked meaningly at the clock on the mantelpiece. "We do not usually receive visitors so late, and especially charming lady visitors."
She was carrying a thick package, and this she laid on the table.
"I'm sorry it is so late," she said calmly, "but I have been all the evening checking my father's accounts. This is yours."
She handed the package to the colonel.
"That parcel contains banknotes to the value of twenty-seven thousand three hundred pounds," said the girl quietly; "it represents what remains of the money which my father drew from your gang."
"Tainted money, eh?" said the colonel humorously. "I think you're very foolish, Miss White. Your father earned this money by legitimate business enterprises."
"I know all about them," she said. "I won't ask you to count the notes, because it is only a question of getting the money off my own conscience, and the amount really doesn't matter."
"So you came here alone to make this act of reparation?" sneered the colonel.
"I came here to make this act of reparation," she replied steadily.
"Not alone, eh? Surrounded entirely by police. Mr. Stafford King in the offing, waiting outside in a taxi, or probably waiting on the mat," said the colonel in the same tone. "Well, well, you're quite safe with us, Miss White."
He took up the package and tore off the wrapping, revealing two wads of banknotes, and ran his finger along the edges.
"And how are you going to live?" he asked.
"By working," said the girl; "that's a strange way of earning a living, don't you think, colonel?"
"You'll never work harder than I have worked," said Colonel Dan Boundary good-humouredly. And, looking down at the money: "So that's Solly White's share, is it? And I suppose it doesn't include the house he bought, or the car?"
"I've sold everything," said the girl quietly; "every piece of property he owned has been realised, and that is the proceeds."
With a little nod she was withdrawing, but Pinto barred her way.
"One moment, Miss White," he said, and there was a dangerous glint in his eye, "if you choose to come here alone in the middle of the night----"
The colonel stepped between them, and he swept the Portuguese backwards. Without a word he opened the door.
"Good night, Miss White," he said. "My kind regards to Mr. Stafford King, who I suppose is somewhere on the premises, and to all the bright lads of the Criminal Intelligence Department who are at this moment watching the house."
She smiled, but did not take his proffered hand.
"Good-bye," she said.
The colonel accompanied her to the outer door and switched on all the stair lights, as he could from the master-switch near the entrance to his flat, and waited until the echo of her footsteps had passed away before he came back to the man.
"You're a clever fellow, you are, Pinto," he said quietly; "you have one of the brightest minds in the gang."
"If she comes here alone----" began Pinto.
"Alone!" snarled the colonel. "I hinted a dozen times, if I hinted once, that she'd come with a young army of police. The first shout she made would have been the signal for your arrest and mine. Haven't you had your lesson to-night? How long do you think it would take Stafford King to trump up a charge against you and put you where the dogs wouldn't bite, eh?"
He walked to the window and watched the girl. There was a taxi-cab waiting at the entrance, and as he had suspected, a man was standing by the door and followed the girl into the cab before it drove away.
"She timed her visit. I suppose she gave herself five minutes. If she'd been here any longer, they would have been up for her, make no mistake about that, Pinto."
The colonel drew down the blinds with a crash and began pacing the room. He stopped at the farther end and looked at the wall.
"Do you know, I've often wondered why Jack o' Judgment damaged that wall?" he said. "He's got me guessing, and I've been guessing ever since."
"You thought it was a freak?" said Pinto, glad to keep his master off the subject of his Huddersfield blunder.
The colonel shook his head.
"I shouldn't think it was that," he said. "It was not like Jack o' Judgment to do freakish things. He has an object in everything he does."
"Perhaps it was to get you out of the room for the morning and make a search for your papers," suggested Pinto.
Again the colonel shook his head.
"He knows me better than that. He knew very well that I would shift every document from the room and that there was nothing for his bloodhounds to discover." He thought a moment, pulling at his long, yellow moustache. "Maybe," he said to himself, "maybe----"
"Maybe what?" asked Pinto.
"The workmen may have been up to some kind of dodge. They might have been policemen for all I know." He shrugged his shoulders. "Anyway, that's long ago, and if he'd made a discovery, why, I think we should have heard about it. Now, Pinto,"--his tone changed--"I'm not going to talk to you about Crotin. You've made a proper mess of it, and I ought never to have sent you. We have two matters to settle. Crewe wants to get out, and I think you're getting ready to bolt."
"Me?" said Pinto with virtuous indignation. "Do you imagine I should leave you, colonel, if you were in for a bad time?"
"Do I imagine it?" The colonel laughed. "Don't be a fool. Sit down. When did you see Lollie Marsh last?"
"I haven't seen her for weeks."
"Neither have I," said the colonel. "Of course she has an excuse for staying away. She never comes unless she's sent for. If we've got a mug we want to lead down the easy path, why, there's nobody in London who can do it like Lollie. And I understand you had some disagreement with the young lady over Maisie White?"
"She interfered----" began Pinto.
"And probably saved your life," remarked the colonel meaningly. "No, you have no kick against Lollie for that."
He pulled open the drawer of his desk, took out a card and wrote rapidly.
"I'll put Snakit on her trail," he said.
"Snakit!" said the other contemptuously.
"He's all right for this kind of work," said the colonel, alluding to the little detective whom he had bought over from Maisie White's service. "Snakit can trail her. He does nothing for his keep, and Lollie doesn't know him, does she?"
"I don't think so," said Pinto absently. "If you believe that Lollie is double-crossing you, why don't you----"
"I'll write to you when I want any suggestions as to how to run my business," said the colonel unpleasantly. "Where does Lollie live?"
"Tavistock Avenue," said Pinto. "I wish you'd be a little more decent to me, colonel. I'm trying to play the game by you."
"And you'll soon get tired of trying," said the colonel. "Don't worry, Pinto. I know just how much I can depend upon you and just what your loyalty is worth. You'll sell me at the first opportunity, and you'll be dead about the same day. I only hope for your sake that the opportunity never arises. That's that," he said, as he finished the card and put it on one side. "Now what is the next thing?" He looked up at the ceiling for inspiration. "Crewe," he said, "Crewe is getting out of hand too. I put him on a job to trace 'Snow' Gregory's past. I haven't seen or heard of him for two days, either."
Somebody laughed. It was a queer, little far-away laugh, but Pinto recognised it and his hair almost stood on end. He looked across at the colonel with ashen face, and then swung round apprehensively toward the door.
"Did you hear that?" he whispered.
"I heard it--thank the lord!" said the colonel, and fetched a long sigh.
Pinto gazed at him in amazement.
"Why," he said in a low voice, "that was Jack o' Judgment!"
"I know," said the colonel nodding; "but I still thank the lord!"
He got up slowly and walked round the room, opened the door that led to his bedroom, and put on the light. The room was empty, and the only cupboard which might have concealed an intruder was wide open. He came back, walked into the entrance hall, and opened the door softly. The landing was empty too. He returned after fastening the door and slipping the bolts--bolts which he had had fixed during the previous week.
"You wonder why I held a thanksgiving service?" said the colonel slowly. "Well, I've heard that laugh before, and I thought my brain was going--that's all. I'd rather it were Jack o' Judgment in the flesh than Jack o' Judgment wandering loose around my hut."
"You heard it before?" said Pinto. "Here?"
"Here in this room," said the colonel. "I thought I was going daft. You're the first person who has heard it besides myself." He looked at Pinto. "A hell of a prospect, isn't it?" he said gloomily. "Let's talk about the weather!"
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