Room 13

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Chapter 19

"WHAT do you think of him for a busy?" asked Jeffrey contemptuously.

She did not answer. Contact with the man had frightened her. It was not like Lila to shiver in the presence of detectives.

"I don't know what he is," she said a little breathlessly. "He's something like a… good-natured snake. Didn't you feel that, Jeffrey?"

"Good-natured nothing," said the other with a curl of his lip. "He's worse than Golden. These big corporations fall for that kind of man. They never give a chance to a real clever busy."

"Who was Golden?" she asked.

"He was an old fellow too. They fired him." He chuckled to himself. "And I was responsible for firing him. Then they brought in Mr. J. G. Reeder with a flourish of trumpets. He's been on the game three years, and he's just about as near to making a pull as he ever was."

"Jeff, isn't there danger?" Her voice was very serious.

"Isn't there always danger? No more danger than usual," he said. "They can't touch me. Don't worry! I've covered myself so that they can't see me for overcoats! Once the stuff's printed, they can never put it back on me."

"Once it's printed." She nodded slowly. "Then you are the Big Printer, Jeff?"

"Talk about something else," he said.

When Emanuel returned, as he did soon after, Lila met him at the gate and told him of Reeder's visit. To her surprise, he took almost the same view as Jeff had taken.

"He's a fool, but straight—up to five thousand, anyway. No man is straight when you reach his figure."

"But why did he come to Jeff?" she asked.

"Doesn't everybody in the business know that Jeff's the Big Printer? Haven't they been trying to put it on him for years? Of course he came. It was his last, despairing stroke. How's the boy?" he asked.

"He's all right, but a little touchy."

"Of course he's a little touchy," said Emanuel indignantly. "You don't suppose he's going to get better in a day, do you? The club's running again."

"Has it been closed?"

"It hasn't exactly been closed, but it has been unpopular," he said, showing his teeth in that smile of his. "Listen." He caught her arm on the edge of the lawn. "Get your mind off that shooting, will you? I'll fix the man responsible for that."

"Do you know?" she asked.

It was the first time he had ever discussed the matter calmly, for the very mention of the attack upon Jeff had hitherto been sufficient to drive him to an incoherent frenzy.

"Yes, I know," he said gratingly. "It was Peter Kane, but you needn't say anything about that—I'll fix him, I tell you."

"Jeff thinks it was—"

"Never mind what Jeff thinks," he said impatiently. "Do as I tell you."

He sent her into the house to brew him a cup of tea—Emanuel was a great drinker of tea—and in her absence he had something to say to his son.

"Jeff, there's a big call for your stuff," he said. "I've had a letter from Harvey. He says there's another man started in the north of England, and he's turning out pretty good material. But they want yours—they can place half a million on the Continent right away. Jeff, what Harvey says is right. If there's a slackening of supply while you're ill, the busy fellows are going to tumble to you."

"I've thought of that," said Jeffrey. "You can tell anybody who's interested that there'll be a printing next week."

"Are you well enough to go up?" asked his father anxiously.

Jeffrey nodded, and shifted himself more erect, but winced in the process.

"Reeder's been here: did she tell you?"

Emanuel nodded.

"I'm not worried much about Reeder. Down in Dartmoor he's a bogey, but then, they bogey any man they don't know. And they've got all sorts of stories about him. It's very encouraging to get near to the real thing."

They laughed together, and for the rest of the day discussed ways and means.

Jeffrey had said no more than was true when he had told the girl he was well covered. In various parts of the country he had twelve banking accounts, each in a different name, and in one of the safe deposits, an enormous sum in currency, ready for emergency.

"You've got to stop some time, I suppose," said his father, "but it is mighty tempting to carry on with those profits. It's a bigger graft than I ever attempted, Jeff." And his son accepted this respectful tribute with a smirk.

The old man sat, his clasped hands between his knees, staring, out over the sea.

"It has got to end some day, and that would be a fine end, but I can't quite see how it could be done."

"What are you talking about?" asked the other curiously.

"I'm thinking about Peter—the respectable Mr. Peter Kane. Not quite so respectable in that girl's eyes as he used to be, but respectable enough to have busies to dinner, and that crook, Johnny Gray—Johnny will marry the girl, Jeff."

Jeffrey Legge winced.

"She can marry the devil so far as I'm concerned," he said.

"But she can't marry without divorcing you. Do you realise that, my son? That's the law. And she can't divorce you without shopping you for bigamy. That's the law too. And the question is, will she delay her action until Johnny's made a bit, or will she start right in? If she gives me just the time I want, Jeff, you'll have your girl and I'll have Peter Kane. She's your wife in the eyes of the law."

There was a significance in his words that made the other man look at him quickly.

"What's the great idea?" he asked.

"Suppose Peter was the Big Printer?" said Emanuel, speaking in a tone that was little above a whisper. "Suppose he was caught with the goods? It could be done. I don't mean by planting the stuff in his house—nobody would accept that; but getting him right on the spot, so that his best friend at Scotland Yard couldn't save him? How's that for an idea?"

"It couldn't be done," said the other immediately.

"Oh, couldn't it?" sneered Emanuel. "You can do any old thing you want, if you make up your mind to do it. Or if you're game to do it."

"That wouldn't get me the girl."

Emanuel turned his head slowly toward his heir.

"If they found the Big Printer, they'll have to find the big printing," he said deliberately. "That means we should all have to skip, and skip lively. We might have a few hours start, and in these days of aeroplanes, three hours is four hundred miles. Jeff, if we are caught, and they guess I've been in this printing all the time, I shall never see outside again. And you'll go down for life. They can't give you any worse than that—not if you took the girl away with you."

"By force?" asked the other in surprise. The idea had not occurred to him.

The father nodded.

"If we have to skip, that's the only thing for you to do, son. It's no offence—remember that. She's your wife." He looked to left and right, to see if there was the faintest shadow of a chance that he would be overheard, and then: "Suppose we ask Peter and his girl and Johnny Gray to dinner? A nice little dinner party, eh?"

"Where?" asked the other suspiciously.

"In Room 13," said Emanuel Legge. "In Room 13, Jeff, boy! A nice little dinner. What do you think? And then two whiffs of sleep stuff—"

"You're mad," said the other angrily. "What's the good of talking that way? Do you think he's going to come to dinner and bring his girl? Oh, you're nutty to think it!"

"Trust me," said Emanuel Legge.

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