Текст книги

Edgar Wallace
Jack O' Judgment

Crewe locked the door.

"Now then," said the colonel, "what the devil were you doing listening at my door? Was that his game, Mr. Silva?"

"That was his game," said the other, brushing his hands.

"What have you got to say before I send for the police?" asked the colonel virtuously. "What have you got to say for yourself? Sneaking about a gentleman's flat, listening at keyholes!"

The man, who had been roughly handled, had risen and was putting his collar straight. If he had been taken aback by the sudden onslaught, he was completely self-possessed now.

"If you want to send for the police, you'd better start right away," he said; "you've got a telephone, haven't you? Perhaps I'll have a job for the policeman, too. You've no right to assault me, my friend," he said, addressing Pinto resentfully.

"What were you doing?" asked the colonel.

"Find out," said the man sharply.

The colonel stroked his long moustache, and his manner underwent a change.

"Now look here, old man," he said almost jovially; "we're all friends here, and we don't want any trouble. I daresay you've made a mistake, and my friend has made a mistake. Have a whisky and soda?"

The man grinned crooked.

"Not me, thank you," he said emphatically; "if I remember rightly, there was a young gentleman who took a glass of water in North Lambeth Police Court the other day, and–"

The colonel's eyes narrowed.

"Well, sit down and be sociable. If you're suggesting that I'm going to poison you, you're also suggesting that you know something which I don't want you to tell. Or that you have discovered one of those terrible secrets that the newspapers are all writing about. Now be a sensible man; have a drink."

The man hesitated.

"You have a drink of whisky out of the same bottle, and I'll join you."

"Help yourself," said the colonel good-naturedly. "Give me any glass you like."

The man went to the sideboard, poured out two pegs and sent the soda-water sizzling into the long glasses.

"Here's yours and here's mine," he said; "good luck!"

He drank the whisky off, after he had seen the colonel drink his, and wiped his mouth with a gaudy handkerchief.

"I'm taking it for granted," said the colonel, "that we've made no mistake and that you were listening at our door. Now we want no unpleasantness, and we'll talk about this matter as sensible human beings and man to man."

"That's the way to talk," said the other, smacking his lips.

"You've been sent here to watch me."

"I may have and I may not have," said the other.

Pinto shifted impatiently, but the colonel stopped him with a look.

"Now let me see what you are," mused the colonel, still wearing that benevolent smile of his. "You're not an ordinary tradesman. You've got a look of the book canvasser about you. I have it—you're a private detective!"

The man smirked.

"Perhaps I am," said he, "and," he added, "perhaps I'm not."

The colonel slapped him on the shoulder.

"Of course you are," he said confidently; "we don't see shrewd-looking fellows like you every day. You're a split!"

"Not official," said the man quickly.

He had all the English private detective's fear of posing as the genuine article.

"Now look here," said the colonel, "I'm going to be perfectly straight with you, and you've got to be straight with me. That's fair, isn't it?"

"Quite fair," said the man; "if I've been misconducting myself in any manner–"

"Don't mention it," said the colonel politely, "my friend here will apologise for handling you roughly, I'm sure; won't you, Mr. Silva?"

"Sure!" said the other, without any great heartiness.

He was tired of this conversation and was anxious to know where it was leading.

"You're not in the private detective business for your health," said the colonel, and the man shook his head.

"I bet you're working for a firm that's paying you about three pounds a week and your miserable expenses—a perfect dog's life."

"You're quite right there," said the man, and he spoke with the earnestness of the ill-used wage-earner, "it is a dog's life; out in all kinds of weather, all hours of the day and night, and never so much as 'thank you' for any work you do. Why, we get no credit at all, sir. If we go into the witness-box, the lawyers treat us like dirt."

"I absolutely agree with you," said the colonel, shaking his head. "I think the private detective business in this country isn't appreciated as it ought to be. And it is very curious we should have met you," he went on; "only this evening I was saying to my friends here, that we ought to get a good man to look after our interests. You've heard about me, I'm sure, Mr.–"

"Snakit," said the other; "here's my card."

He produced a card from his waistcoat pocket, and the colonel read it.

"Mr. Horace Snakit," he said, "of Dooby and Somes. Now what do you say to coming into our service?"

The man blinked.

"I've got a good job–" he began inconsistently.

"I'll give you a better—six pounds a week, regular expenses and an allowance for dressing."

"It's a bet!" said Mr. Snakit promptly.

"Well, you can consider yourself engaged right away. Now, Mr. Snakit, as frankness is the basis of our intercourse, you will tell me straight away whether you were engaged in watching me?"

"I'll admit that, sir," said the man readily. "I had a job to watch you and to discover if you knew the whereabouts of a certain person."