Jack O' Judgment
"Solly never told me that—the swine!" rapped the colonel, "he's going to double-cross us, that fellow."
"I don't believe it."
It was Crewe that spoke. "Swell" Crewe, whose boast it was that he had a suit for every day in the year.
"I know Solomon and I've known him for years," he said. "I know him as well as you, colonel. As far as we are concerned, Solly is straight. I'm not denying the possibility that he wants to break away, but that's only natural. He's a man with a daughter, and he's made his pile, but I'll stake my life that he'll never double-cross us."
"Double-cross us?" the colonel had recovered his wonted equanimity. "What has he to 'double-cross'?" he demanded almost jovially. "We have a straightforward business! I am not aware that any of us are guilty of dishonest actions. Double-cross! Bah!"
He brought his big hand down with a thump on the table, and they knew from experience that this was the gavel of the chairman that ended all discussions.
"Now, gentlemen," said the colonel, "let us get to business. Ask Hanson to come in—he's got the figures. It is the last lot of figures of ours that he'll ever handle," he added.
Somebody went to the door of the ante-room and called the secretary, but there was no reply.
"He's gone out."
"Gone out?" said the colonel and bent his brows. "Who told him to go out? Never mind, he'll be back in a minute. Shut the door."
He lifted a deed-box from the floor at his feet, placed it on the table, opened it with a key attached to his watch-chain and removed a bundle of documents.
"We're going to settle the Spillsbury business to-night," he said. "Spillsbury looks like squealing."
"Where is he?" asked Pinto.
"In an inebriates' home," said the colonel grimly; "it seems there are some trustees to his father's estate who are likely to question the legality of the transfers. But I've had the best legal opinion in London and there is no doubt that our position is safe. The only thing we've got to do to-night is to make absolutely sure that all those fool letters he wrote to Lollie have been destroyed."
"You've got them?" said the girl quickly.
"I had them?" said the colonel, "and I burnt them all except one when the transfer was completed. And the question is, gentlemen," he said, "shall we burn the last?"
He took from the bundle before him an envelope and held it up.
"I kept this in case there was anything coming, but if he's in a booze home, why, he's not going to be influenced by the threat of publishing a slushy letter to a girl. I guess his trustees are not going to be very much influenced either. On the other hand, if this letter were found among business documents, it would look pretty bad for us."
"Found by whom?" asked Pinto.
"By the police," said the colonel calmly.
The colonel nodded.
"They're getting after us, but you needn't be alarmed," he said. "King is working to get a case, and he is not above applying for a search warrant. But I'm not scared of the police so much." His voice slowed and he spoke with greater emphasis. "I guess there are enough court cards in the Boundary pack to beat that combination. It's the Jack–"
"The Jack—ha! ha! ha!"
It was a shrill bubble of laughter which cut into his speech and the colonel leapt to his feet, his hand dropping to his hip-pocket. The door had opened and closed so silently that none had heard it, and a figure stood confronting them.
It was clad from head to foot in a long coat of black silk, which shimmered in the half-light of the electrolier. The hands were gloved, the head covered with a soft slouch hat and the face hidden behind a white silk handkerchief.
The colonel's hand was in his hip-pocket when he thought better and raised both hands in the air. There was something peculiarly businesslike in the long-barrelled revolver which the intruder held, in spite of the silver-plating and the gold inlay along the chased barrel.
"Everybody's hands in the air," said the Jack shrilly, "right up to the beautiful sky! Yours too, Lollie. Stand away from the table, everybody, and back to the wall. For the Jack o' Judgment is amongst you and life is full of amazing possibilities!"
They backed from the table, peering helplessly at the two unwinking eyes which showed through the holes in the handkerchief.
"Back to the wall, my pretties," chuckled the Thing. "I'm going to make you laugh and you'll want some support. I'm going to make you rock with joy and merriment!"
The figure had moved to the table, and all the time it spoke its nimble fingers were turning over the piles of documents which the colonel had disgorged from the dispatch box.
"I'm going to tell you a comical tale about a gang of blackmailers."
"You're a liar," said the colonel hoarsely.
"About a gang of blackmailers," said the Jack with shrill laughter, "fellows who didn't work like common blackmailers, nor demand money. Oh, no! not naughty blackmailers! They got the fools and the vicious in their power and made them sell things for hundreds of pounds that were worth thousands. And they were such a wonderful crowd! They were such wonderfully amusing fellows. There was Dan Boundary who started life by robbing his dead mother, there was 'Swell' Crewe, who was once a gentleman and is now a thief!"
"Damn you!" said Crewe, lurching forward, but the gun swung round on him and he stopped.
"There was Lollie who would sell her own child–"
"I have no child," half-screamed the girl.
"Think again, Lollie darling—dear little soul!"
He stopped. The envelope that his fingers had been seeking was found. He slipped it beneath the black silk cloak and in two bounds was at the door.
"Send for the police," he mocked. "Send for the police, Dan! Get Stafford King, the eminent chief. Tell him I called! My card!"
With a dexterous flip of his fingers he sent a little pasteboard planing across the room. In an instant the door opened and closed upon the intruder and he was gone.
For a second there was silence, and then, with a little sob, Lollie Marsh collapsed in a heap on the floor. Colonel Dan Boundary looked from one white face to the other.
"There's a hundred thousand pounds for any one of you who gets that fellow," he said, breathing hard, "whether it is man or woman."
Colonel Boundary, sitting at his desk the morning after, pushed a bell. It was answered by the thick-set Olaf. He was dressed, as usual, in black from head to foot and the colonel eyed him thoughtfully.
"Hanson," he said, "has Miss Marsh come?"
"Yes, she has come," said the other resentfully.
"Tell her I want her," said the colonel and then as the man was leaving the room: "Where did you get to last night when I wanted you?"
"I was out," said the man shortly. "I get some time for myself, I suppose?"