Malcolm Sage, Detective/Chapter 15
THE MISSING HEAVYWEIGHT
"MR. DOULTON, sir. Very important." Rogers had carefully assimilated his master's theory of the economy of words, sometimes even to the point of obscuring his meaning.
Taking the last piece of toast from the rack, Malcolm Sage with great deliberation proceeded to butter it. Then, with a nod to the waiting Rogers, he poured out the last cup of coffee the pot contained.
A moment later the door opened to admit a clean-shaven little man of about fifty, prosperous in build and appearance; but obviously labouring under some great excitement. His breath came in short, spasmodic gasps. His thin sandy hair had clearly not been brushed since the day before, whilst his chin and upper lip bore obvious traces of a night's growth of beard. He seemed on the point of collapse.
"He's gone—disappeared!" he burst out, as Rogers closed the door behind him. Malcolm Sage rose, motioned his caller to a chair at the table, and resumed his own seat.
"Had breakfast?" he enquired quietly, resuming his occupation of getting the toast carefully and artistically buttered.
"Good God, man!" exploded Mr. Doulton, almost hysterically. "Don't you understand? Burns has disappeared!"
"I gathered as much," said Malcolm Sage calmly, as he reached for the marmalade.
"Pond telephoned from Stainton," continued Mr. Doulton. "I was in Bed. I got dressed, and came round here at once. I——" he stopped suddenly, as Rogers entered with a fresh relay of coffee. Without a word he proceeded to pour out a cup for Mr. Doulton, who, after a moment's hesitation, drank it greedily.
Rogers glanced interrogatingly from the dish that had contained eggs and bacon to Malcolm Sage, who nodded.
When he had withdrawn, Mr. Doulton opened his mouth to speak, then closed it again and gazed at Malcolm Sage, who, having superimposed upon the butter a delicate amber film of marmalade, proceeded to cut up the toast into a series of triangles. Apparently it was the only thing in life that interested him.
For weeks past the British and American sporting world had thought and talked of nothing but the forthcoming fight between Charley Burns and Bob Jefferson for the heavyweight championship of the world. The event was due to take place two days hence at the Olympia for a purse of £40,000 offered by Mr. Montague Doulton, the prince of impresarios.
Never had a contest been looked forward to with greater eagerness than the Burns v. Jefferson match. A great change had come over public opinion in regard to prize-fighting, thanks to the elevating influence of Mr. Doulton. It was no longer referred to as "brutalising" and "debasing." Refined and nice-minded people found themselves mildly interested and patriotically hopeful that Charley Burns, the British champion, would win. In two years Mr. Doulton had achieved what the National Sporting Club had failed to do in a quarter of a century.
Long and patiently he had laboured to bring about this match, which many thought would prove the keystone to the arch of Burns's fame, incidentally to that of the impresario himself.
"And now he's disappeared—clean gone." Mr. Doulton almost sobbed.
Malcolm Sage looked up from his plate, the last triangle of toast poised between finger and thumb.
In short staccatoed sentences, like bursts from a machine-gun, Mr. Doulton proceeded to tell his story.
That morning at six o'clock, when Alf Pond, Burns's trainer, had entered his room to warn him that it was time to get up, he found it unoccupied. At first he thought that Burns had gone down before him; but immediately his eye fell on the bed, and he saw that it had not been slept in, he became alarmed.
Going to the bedroom door, he had shouted to the sparring-partners, and soon the champion's room was filled with men in various stages of déshabille.
Only for a moment, however, had they remained inactive. At Alf Pond's word of command they had spread helter-skelter over the house and grounds, causing the early morning air to echo with their shouts for "Charley."
When at length he became assured that Burns had disappeared, Alf Pond telephoned first to Mr. Doulton and then to Mr. Papwith, Burns's backer.
"I told Pond to do nothing and tell no one," said Mr. Doulton, in conclusion, "and when I left my rooms my man was trying to get through to Papwith to ask him to keep the story to himself."
Malcolm Sage nodded approval.
"Now, what's to be done?" He looked at Malcolm Sage with the air of a man who has just told a doctor of his alarming symptoms, and almost breathlessly awaits the verdict.
"Breakfast, a shave, then we'll motor down to Stainton," and Malcolm Sage proceeded to fill his briar, his whole attention absorbed in the operation.
A moment later Rogers entered with a fresh supply of eggs and bacon. Mr. Doulton shook his head. Instinctively his hand had gone up to his unshaven chin. It was probably the first time in his life that he had sat at table without shaving. He prided himself upon his personal appearance. In his younger days he had been known as "Dandy Doulton."
"The car in half an hour, Rogers," said Malcolm Sage, as he rose from the table. "When you've finished," he said, turning to Mr. Doulton, "Rogers will give you hot water, a razor and anything else you want. By the time you have shaved I shall be ready."
"But don't you see—— Think what it——" began Mr. Doulton.
"An empty stomach neither sees nor thinks," was Malcolm Sage's oracular retort, and he went over to the window and seated himself at his writing-table.
For the next half-hour he was engaged with his correspondence, and in telephoning instructions to his office.
By the time Mr. Doulton had breakfasted and shaved, the car was at the door.
During the run to Stainton both men were silent. Mr. Doulton was speculating as to what would happen at the Olympia on the following night if Burns failed to appear, whilst Malcolm Sage was occupied with thoughts, the object of which was to prevent such a catastrophe.
"They're sure to say it's a yellow streak," Mr. Doulton burst out on one occasion; but, as Malcolm Sage took no notice of the remark, he subsided into silence, and the car hummed its way along the Portsmouth Road.
Burns's training-quarters were situated at Stainton, near Guildford. Here, under the vigilant eye of Alf Pond, and with the help of a large retinue of sparring-partners, he was getting himself into what had come to be called "Burns's condition," which meant that he would enter the ring trained to the minute. Never did athlete work more conscientiously than Charley Burns.
As the car turned into a side road, flanked on either hand by elms, Mr. Doulton tapped on the wind-screen, and Tims pulled up. Malcolm Sage had requested that the car be stopped a hundred yards before it reached "The Grove," where the training quarters were situated.
"Wait for me here," he said, as he got out.
"It's the first gate on the right," said Mr. Doulton.
Walking slowly away from the car, Malcolm Sage examined with great care the road itself. Presently he stopped and, taking from his pocket a steel spring-measure, he proceeded to measure a portion of the surface of the dusty roadway. Having made several entries in a note-book, he then turned back to the car, his eyes still on the road.
Instructing Tims to remain where he was, Malcolm Sage motioned to Mr. Doulton to get out.
"This way," said Malcolm Sage, leading him to the extreme left-hand side of the road. Turning into the gates of "The Grove," they walked up the drive towards the house. In front stood a group of men in various and nondescript costumes.
As Malcolm Sage and Mr. Doulton approached, a man in a soiled white sweater and voluminous grey flannel trousers, generously turned up at the extremities, detached himself from the group and came towards them. He was puffy of face, with pouched eyes and a moist skin; yet in his day Alf Pond had been an unbeatable middle-weight, and the greatest master of ring-craft of his time; but that was nearly a generation ago.
In agonised silence he looked from Mr. Doulton to Malcolm Sage, then back again to Mr. Doulton. There was in his eyes the misery of despair.
The preliminary greetings over, Alf Pond led the way round to a large coach-house in the rear, which had been fitted up as a gymnasium. Here were to be seen all the appliances necessary to the training of a boxer for a great contest, including a roped ring at one end.
"He was here only yesterday." There was a world of tragedy and pathos in Alf Pond's tone. Something like a groan burst from the sparring-partners.
With a quick, comprehensive glance, Malcolm Sage seemed to take in every detail.
"It's a bad business, Pond," said Mr. Doulton, who found the mute despair of these hard-living, hard-hitting men rather embarrassing.
"What'd I better do?" queried Alf Pond.
"I've put the whole matter in Mr. Sage's hands," said Mr. Doulton. "He'll find him, if anyone can."
A score of eyes were turned speculatively upon Malcolm Sage. In none was there the least ray of hope. All had now made up their minds that Jefferson would win the fight by default.
Slowly and methodically Malcolm Sage drew the story of Burns's disappearance from Alf Pond, the sparring-partners occasionally acting as a chorus.
When all had been told, Malcolm Sage gazed for some moments at the finger-nails of his left hand.
"You were confident he would win?" he asked at length.
"Confident!" There was incredulity and wonder in Alf Pond's voice. Then, with a sudden inspiration, "Look at Kid!" he cried—"look at him!" and he indicated with a nod a fair-haired giant standing on his right.
Malcolm Sage looked.
The man's face showed the stress and strain of battle. His nose had taken on something of the quality of cubism, his right eye was out of commission, and there was an ugly purple patch on his left cheek, and his right ear looked as if a wasp had stung it.
"He did that in one round, and him the third. Kid asked for it, and he got it, same as Jeff would," explained Alf Pond proudly, a momentary note of elation in his voice. There was also something of pride in the grin with which Kid stood the scrutiny of the others.
"Do you know of any reason why Burns should have left his room?" Malcolm Sage looked from one to the other interrogatingly.
"There wasn't any," was Alf Pond's response, and the others nodded their concurrence.
"He knew no one in the neighbourhood?"
"No one to speak of. A few local gents would drop in occasional to see how he was getting on, and then a lot o' newspaper chaps came down from London." There was that in Alf Pond's tone which seemed to suggest that in his opinion such questions were foolish.
"Did he receive any letters or telegrams yesterday?" was the next question.
"Letters!" Alf Pond laughed sardonically. "Shoals of 'em. He'd turn 'em all over to Sandy Lane," indicating a red-headed man on the right.
"He wasn't much at writing letters," said Sandy Lane, by way of explanation.
"His hands were made for better things," cried Alf Pond scornfully, and the sparring-partners nodded their agreement.
"Did he turn over to you the whole of his correspondence?" asked Malcolm Sage, turning to Sandy Lane.
"Sometimes he'd keep a letter," broke in Alf Pond, "but not often. Sort of personal," he added, as if to explain the circumstance.
"From a woman, perhaps?" suggested Malcolm Sage, taking off his hat and stroking the back of his head.
"Woman!" cried Alf Pond scornfully; "Charley hadn't no use for women, or he wouldn't have been the boxer he was."
"He was quite himself, quite natural, yesterday?" asked Malcolm Sage.
"Quite himself," repeated Alf Pond deliberately; then, once more indicating Kid, he added, "Look at Kid; that's what he done in one round." There was in his tone all the contempt of knowledge for ignorance.
Malcolm Sage resumed his hat and, taking his pipe from his pocket, proceeded to stuff it with tobacco, as if that were the only problem in the world. On everything he did he seemed to concentrate his entire attention to the exclusion of all else.
"No smokin' here, if you please," said Alf Pond sharply.
Malcolm Sage returned his pipe to his pocket without comment.
"Now, what are you going to do?" There was challenge in Alf Pond's voice as he eyed Malcolm Sage with disfavour. In his world men with bald, conical heads and gold-rimmed spectacles did not count for much.
"How many people know of the disappearance?" enquired Malcolm Sage, ignoring the question.
"Outside of us here, only Mr. Papwith," was the response.
For fully a minute Malcolm Sage did not reply. At length he turned to Mr. Doulton.
"Can you arrange to remain here to meet Mr. Papwith?" he enquired.
"I propose doing so," was the reply.
"You want to find Burns, I suppose?" Malcolm Sage asked of Alf Pond, in low, level tones.
Alf Pond and his colleagues eyed him as if he had asked a most astonishing question.
"You barmy?" demanded the trainer, putting into words the looks of the others.
"You will continue with the day's work as if nothing had happened," continued Malcolm Sage. "No one outside must know that——"
"But how the hell are we going to do that with Charley gone?" broke in Alf Pond, taking a step forward with clenched fists.
"Your friend here," indicating Kid, "can pose as Burns," was Malcolm Sage's quiet reply, as he looked into the trainer's eye without the flicker of an eyelash.
"You, Mr. Doulton, I will ask to remain here with Mr. Papwith until I communicate with you. On no account leave the training-quarters, even if you have to wait here until to-morrow evening."
"But——" began Alf Pond; then he stopped and gazed at the sparring-partners, blinking his eyes in stupid bewilderment.
"Have I your promise?" enquired Malcolm Sage of Mr. Doulton.
"As far as I am concerned, yes," was the response, "and I think I can answer for Papwith. It's very inconvenient, though."
"Not so inconvenient as having to explain things at the Olympia to-morrow night," remarked Malcolm Sage drily. "Now," he continued, turning once more to Alf Pond, "I suppose you've all got something on this fight."
"Something on it!" cried Alf Pond; then, turning to the sparring-partners, he cried, "He asks if we've got somethink on it. My Gawd!" he groaned, "we got our shirts on it. That's what we got on it, our shirts," and his voice broke in something like a sob.
"You had better post someone at the gate to tell all enquirers that Burns is doing well and is confident of winning," said Malcolm Sage to Mr. Doulton, "and keep an eye on the telephone. Tell anyone who rings up the same; in fact"—and he turned to the others—"as far as you are concerned, Burns is still with you. Do you understand?"
They looked at one another in a way that was little suggestive of understanding.
"Did Burns wear the same clothes throughout the day?" asked Malcolm Sage of the trainer.
"Course he didn't!" Alf Pond made no effort to disguise the contempt he felt. "In the daytime he used to wear flannel trousers an' a sweater, same as me, except when he was sparrin', then he put on drawers. Always would have everythink same as it was goin' to be, would Charley—seconds, referee, timekeeper. Said it made him feel at home when the time came. Quaint he was in some of his ideas."
"Then from the time he got up until bedtime he wore the same clothes?" queried Malcolm Sage, without looking up from the inevitable contemplation of his finger-nails.
"No he didn't." Alf Pond spat his boredom at these useless questions into a far corner. "He was always a bit of a nib, was Charley. After he'd finished the day's work he'd put on a suit o' dark duds, a white collar, a watch on his wrist, an' all that bunko. Then we'd play poker or billiards till half-past eight, when we'd all turn in." The look with which Alf Pond concluded this itinerary plainly demanded if there were any more damn silly questions coming.
"Now I should like to see Burns's room."
Malcolm Sage and Mr. Doulton followed Alf Pond upstairs to a large room on the first floor, as destitute of the attributes of comfort as a guardroom. A bed, a wash-hand stand, and a chest of drawers comprised the furniture. A few articles of clothing were strewn about, and in one corner lay a pair of dumb-bells.
The windows were open top and bottom. Malcolm Sage passed from one to the other and looked out. He examined carefully each of the window-ledges.
"Are these the clothes he wore when he got up?" he enquired, indicating a sweater and a pair of flannel trousers that lay on a chair.
Alf Pond nodded.
Swiftly Malcolm Sage felt in the pockets. There was nothing there. A minute later he left the room, followed by the others. Descending the stairs, he passed along the hall and out on to the short drive, accompanied by Mr. Doulton and Alf Pond.
Half-way towards the gate Malcolm Sage stopped.
"You will hear from me some time to-day or to-morrow," he said. "Do exactly as I have said and, if I don't telephone before to-morrow evening, go to the Olympia as if Burns were to be there. You might have sent out to my car a pair of drawers and boots in case I find him."
"You're going to find him then?" Alf Pond suddenly gripped Malcolm Sage's arm with what was almost ferocity.
Malcolm Sage shrugged his shoulders.
"If you do as I tell you, it will help. By the way," he added, "if you have time, you might put twenty-five pounds on Burns for me. Mr. Doulton will be responsible for the amount. Now I want to look about me," and with that Malcolm Sage walked a few steps down the drive, leaving two men staring after him as if he had either solved or propounded the riddle of the universe.
For some minutes he stood in the centre of the drive, looking about him. Stepping to the right, he glanced back at the house, and then towards the road. Finally he made for a large clump of rhododendrons that lay between the road and the house.
Motioning the others to remain where they were on the gravelled drive, he walked to a clear space of short grass between the rhododendrons and the hedge bordering the road.
Going down upon his knees, he proceeded to examine the ground with great care and attention. For nearly half an hour he crawled from place to place, absorbed in grass, shrub, and flower-bed. Finally he penetrated half into the privet-hedge that bordered the road.
The sparring-partners had now joined the other two on the drive, and the group stood watching the strange movements of the man who, in their opinion, had already shown obvious symptoms of insanity.
Presently Malcolm Sage emerged from the hedge, in his hand a long cigar, round the centre of which was a red-and-gold band. For fully a minute he stood examining this with great care. Then, taking a letter-case from his pocket, he carefully placed the cigar in the hinge, returned the case to his pocket, and rejoined the group of wide-eyed spectators.
"Found anythink?" enquired Alf Pond eagerly.
"Several things," replied Malcolm Sage.
"What?" The men grouped themselves round him, breathless with interest.
"By the way," said Malcolm Sage, turning to Alf Pond, "does Burns happen to smoke long Havana cigars with a red——"
"Smoke!" yelled Alf Pond in horror. "Him smoke! You blinkin' well barmy?" he demanded, looking Malcolm Sage up and down as if meditating an attack upon him. "I'd like to see the man who'd so much as dare to strike a match here," and he glared about him angrily, whilst the sparring-partners shuffled their feet and murmured among themselves. There was just the suspicion of a fluttering at the corners of Malcolm Sage's mouth.
"I'm afraid Pond is rather excited just at present," said Mr. Doulton tactfully. By now he had entirely regained his own composure. "Burns is a great lover of tobacco, and Pond takes no risks. You were saying that you had discovered several things?"
Again the group of men drew closer to Malcolm Sage, their heads thrust forward as if fearful of missing a word.
"For one thing, Burns left his room last night to meet a woman by——"
"It's a lie!" cried Alf Pond heatedly. "It's a damned lie! I don't believe it."
"A rather dainty creature, small and well dressed. She was accompanied by several men, one of them rather stout, very careful of his clothes, and an inveterate smoker. The others were bigger, rougher men. They all came in a car, which arrived after the motor bicycle, which in turn arrived later than the small car."
The sparring-partners exchanged glances, whilst Alf Pond stared.
"Subsequently they drove off in a very great hurry. Incidentally they took Burns with them; but against his will. On the way down the girl was in the tonneau; but on the return journey she sat beside the driver. As Burns was in the tonneau, it was no doubt a precaution."
"I don't believe a word," interrupted Alf Pond. "He's makin' it all up."
Without appearing to notice the remark, Malcolm Sage turned and walked towards the gate, Mr. Doulton following a step in the rear.
"Liar!" growled Alf Pond, as he turned towards the house. "Ruddy liar!" he added, as if finding consolation in the term. "He'll never find old Charley."
"Tell me, Sage, were you serious?" asked Mr. Doulton, as they reached the gate.
"I'm afraid poor Pond thought you were making game of us," he added apologetically. "Do you mind explaining how you arrived at your conclusions?"
"Behind that clump of rhododendrons," began Malcolm Sage, "there is written a whole history. The marks of boots, or shoes, with very high heels suggests a woman, the size and daintiness of the footwear tell the rest. As Burns appeared, she stepped towards him. Her very short steps indicate both fashionable clothes and smallness of stature."
"And the man who was careful about his clothes?"
"He stood behind a holly-bush with an umbrella——"
"But how did you know?"
"He had been leaning upon it, and there was the mark where it had sunk into the soft turf up to the point where the silk joins the stick. A man who carries an umbrella on a kidnapping adventure must be habitually in fear of rain—none but a well-dressed man would fear rain.
"Then, as he had a cigar in his hand with the end bitten off, it shows the habitual smoker. He was only waiting for the end of the drama before lighting up. His height I get from his stride, and his size by the fact that, like Humpty-Dumpty, he had a great fall. I'll tell you the rest later. I'm afraid it's an ugly business."
"But the girl riding beside the driver?" burst out Mr. Doulton, bewildered by the facts that Malcolm Sage had deduced from so little.
"At the edge of a side-road there is invariably a deposit of dust, and the marks where they all got out and in are clearly visible. The hurry of departure is shown by the fact that the car started before one of the men had taken his place, and his footsteps running beside it before jumping on to the running-board are quite clear. I'll ring you up later. I cannot stay now." And with that he hurried away.
"Back along your own tracks, Tims," said he on reaching the car. He then walked on to the main road.
With head over right shoulder, Tims carefully backed the car, Malcolm Sage signalling that he was to turn to the right.
Instructing Tims to drive slowly, Malcolm Sage took his seat beside him, keeping his eyes fixed upon the off-side of the road. He stopped the car at each cross-road, and walked down it some twenty or thirty yards, his eyes bent downwards as if in search of something. At the end of half an hour he instructed Tims to drive back to London at his best speed.
That afternoon in his office Malcolm Sage worked without cessation. Both telephones, incoming and outgoing, were continually in use. Telegraph girls and messenger boys came and went.
Gladys Norman had ceased to worry about the shininess of her nose, and William Johnson was in process of readjusting his ideas as to lack of the dramatic element at the Malcolm Sage Bureau as compared with detective fiction and the films.
About three o'clock a tall, clean-shaven man was shown into Malcolm Sage's room. He had a hard mouth, keen, alert eyes, and an air suggestive of the fact that he knew the worst there was to be known about men and acted accordingly.
With a nod Malcolm Sage motioned him to a seat. Six months before he had saved Dick Lindler from the dock by discovering the real criminal in whose stead Lindler was about to be charged with a series of frauds. Since then Malcolm Sage had always been sure of such "inside" information in the bookmaking world as he required.
"How's the betting now?" enquired Malcolm Sage.
"Nine to two on Jefferson offered; and no takers," was the reply. "There's something up, Mr. Sage; I'll take my dying oath on it," he said, leaning across the table and dropping his voice.
"Any big amounts?" enquired Malcolm Sage.
"No, that's what troubles me. The money's being spread about so. The funny thing is that a lot of it is being put on by letter. I've had a dozen myself to-day."
Malcolm Sage nodded slowly as he filled his pipe, which with great deliberation he proceeded to light until the whole surface of the tobacco glowed. Then, as if suddenly realising that Lindler was not smoking, he pulled open a drawer, drew out a cigar-box, and pushed it across, watching him closely from beneath his eyebrows as he did so.
Lindler opened the box, then looked interrogatingly at Malcolm Sage.
"Didn't know you smoked the same poison-sticks as the 'Downy One,'" he said, picking up a long cigar with a red and gold band, and examining it.
"Old Nathan Goldschmidt, the stinking Jew."
"I'm sorry," said Malcolm Sage; "that should not have been there. Try one of the others."
Lindler looked across at him curiously.
"Personally, myself," he said, "I believe he's at the bottom of all this heavy backing of Jefferson."
Malcolm Sage continued to smoke as if the matter did not interest him, whilst Lindler bit off the end of the cigar he had selected and proceeded to light it.
"Several of his crowd have been around this morning trying to load me up," he continued presently, when the cigar was drawing to his satisfaction. "Must have stayed up all night to be in time," he added scathingly.
"Have you seen Goldschmidt himself?"
"Not since yesterday afternoon."
"Does he usually carry an umbrella?"
"The boys call him 'Gampy Goldschmidt,'" he said.
"You really think that the Goldschmidt gang is Backing Jefferson?"
"They've been at it for the last week," was the response. "They know something, Mr. Sage. Somebody's going to do the dirty, otherwise they wouldn't be so blasted clever about it?"
"Putting on all they can on the Q.T.," was the response.
"Find out all you can about Goldschmidt and his friends. Keep in touch with me here if you learn anything. Incidentally, keep on the water-wagon until after the fight."
"Right-o!" said Lindler, rising; "but I wish you'd tell me——"
"I have told you," said Malcolm Sage, and with that he took the proffered hand and, a moment later, Dick Lindler passed through the outer door. As he did so, he almost collided with Thompson, who had just jumped out of Malcolm Sage's car and was dashing towards the door. Thompson rushed across the outer-office, through the glass-panelled door, and passed swiftly into Malcolm Sage's room.
"It's the car right enough, Chief," he said, making an effort to control his excitement. "I picked it up outside Jimmy Dilk's. There were three men in it."
Malcolm Sage nodded, then, opening a drawer, produced a sealed packet.
"If I'm not back here by half-past four," he said, "ring up Inspector Wensdale, and ask him to come round at once with a couple of men and wait in the outer office. Give him this packet. There's a letter inside. If he's not there, get anyone else you know."
Thompson stared. In spite of long association with Malcolm Sage, there were still times when he failed to follow his chief's line of reasoning.
"If I telephone or write cancelling these instructions, ignore anything I say. Do you understand?"
"I understand, Chief," said Thompson.
Malcolm Sage picked up his hat and stick and left the room.
Tims, who had been waiting at the outer door, sprang to his seat and, almost before the door of the car had closed, it jerked forward and was soon threading its sinuous way towards Coventry Street.
Five minutes later Malcolm Sage pressed a bell-push on the fifth floor of a large block of flats known as Coventry Mansions. The door was opened by a heavily-built, ill-favoured man. In response to Malcolm Sage's request to see Mr. Goldschmidt, he was told that he couldn't.
"Tell him," said Malcolm Sage, fixing his steel-grey eyes upon the man in a steady gaze, "that Mr. Malcolm Sage wishes to see him about something that happened last night, and about something more that is to happen to-morrow night. He'll understand."
A sudden look of apprehension in the man's eyes seemed to suggest that he at least understood. He hesitated for a moment, then, with a gruff "Wait there," shut the door in Malcolm Sage's face. Three minutes later he opened it again and, inviting him to enter, led the way along a passage, at the end of which was a door, which the man threw open.
Malcolm Sage found himself in a darkened room, from which the light was excluded by heavy curtains. For a moment he looked about him, unable to distinguish any object. When his eyes became accustomed to the gloom, he saw seated in an armchair a man with a handkerchief held to his face.
"Mr. Goldschmidt?" he interrogated, as he seated himself in the centre of the room.
"Well, what is it?" was the thickly spoken retort.
"I came to ask your views on the fight to-morrow night, and to enquire if you think the odds of nine to two on Jefferson are justified."
There was an exclamation from the arm-chair.
"If you've got anything to say," said the thick voice angrily, "get it off your chest and go—to hell," he added, as an afterthought. "What do you want?" the voice demanded, as Malcolm Sage remained silent.
"I want you to take a little run with me in my car," said Malcolm Sage evenly. "Fresh air will do your nose good."
"What the——" the man broke off, apparently choked with passion, then, recovering himself, added, "Here, cough it up, or else I'll have you thrown out into the street! What is it?"
"I want either you, or one of your friends, to come with me to where Charley Burns has been taken."
There was a stifled exclamation from the chair, then a howl of agony as the hand holding the handkerchief dropped. At the same moment three men burst into the room. Malcolm Sage's back was to the door. He did not even turn to look at them.
Somebody switched on the light, and Malcolm Sage saw before him the puffy face of a man of about sixty, in the centre of which was a hideous purple splotch that had once been a nose. A moment later the handkerchief obscured the unsavoury sight.
"What the hell's all this about?" shouted one of the men, advancing into the room, the others remaining by the door.
Slowly Malcolm Sage turned and regarded the three men, whose appearance proclaimed their pugilistic calling.
"I was just asking Mr. Goldschmidt to be so good as to accompany me to where Charley Burns is——"
He was interrupted by exclamations from all three men.
"What the hell do you mean?" demanded he who had spoken, a dark, ill-favoured fellow with a brow like a rainy sky.
"I will tell you," said Malcolm Sage. "Last night Mr. Goldschmidt, accompanied by certain friends, went to Burns's training-quarters to keep an appointment made in the name of a girl friend of Burns. He came out quite unsuspectingly, was overpowered, and subsequently taken in Mr. Goldschmidt's car to a place with which I am unacquainted, so that he shall not appear at the Olympia to-morrow night."
He drew his pipe from his pocket and proceeded to fill it. His air was that of a chess player who knows that he can mate his opponent in two moves.
"It's a damned lie!" roared one of the men, whilst Goldschmidt shrieked something that was unintelligible.
"You drove out by way of Putney Hill, Esher, and Clandon Cross Roads. You backed the car to within two hundred yards of 'The Grove,' where you all got out with the exception of the driver. You then entered 'The Grove,' taking cover behind a large clump of rhododendrons."
"It's a damned lie," choked Goldschmidt.
"By the way," continued Malcolm Sage, "your fair friend drove out in the tonneau; but returned seated beside the driver, and one of you was nearly left behind and entered the car after it had started."
The men looked at one another in bewilderment.
"You, Goldschmidt, carried an umbrella," continued Malcolm Sage, "and took cover behind the holly bush; but you came out a little too soon, hence that nose. Burns was playing 'possum. You were rather anxious for a smoke too. I am a smoker myself."
A stream of profanity burst from Goldschmidt's lips.
"You see I am in a position to prove my points," said Malcolm Sage calmly.
"Oh! you are, are you?" sneered the spokesman, as he moved a little closer to Malcolm Sage, "and I am in the position to prove that we're four to one."
"Three to one," corrected Malcolm Sage quietly. "Your friend," indicating Goldschmidt, with a nod, "is scarcely——"
He was interrupted by a stifled oath from the armchair.
"Good old Nigger!" murmured one of the men by the door.
"Well, and what about it?" demanded Nigger.
"If Burns is delivered over to me within two hours, unharmed and in fighting trim, and a cheque for £1,000 is paid to St. Timothy's Hospital by noon to-morrow, there will be no prosecution, and I will not divulge your names. If not, during the next twenty-four hours, London will probably have its first experience of lynch-law."
With that Malcolm Sage struck a match and proceeded to light his pipe.
"That all?" sneered the man. "Ain't there nothink else you'd like?"
"I cannot recall anything else at the moment," said Malcolm Sage imperturbably, as he looked across at the fellow over the top of the burning match.
"You dirty nark," burst out the man by the door, who had hitherto remained silent. "A pretty sort of stool-pigeon you are."
"Spyin' on us, wasn't you?" demanded Nigger, edging nearer to Malcolm Sage.
"It's ten minutes past four," remarked Malcolm Sage coolly, as he glanced at his wrist-watch.
"Oh, it is, is it?" was the retort, "and in another hour it'll be ten minutes past five."
"I have to be back at my office by half-past four." Malcolm Sage looked about for some receptacle in which to throw the spent match.
"You don't say so." Again Nigger edged a little nearer; but Malcolm Sage appeared not to notice it.
"Well, I may as well tell you that you don't leave here until eleven o'clock to-morrow night, see?"
There were murmurs of approval from the others.
"Then, perhaps, you will send out and buy me a tooth-brush," was Malcolm Sage's quiet rejoinder.