Room 13

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Chapter 25

ON Thursday afternoon, Emanuel Legge came out of the elevator at the Highlow Club, and, with a curt nod to Stevens, walked up the heavily carpeted corridor, unlocked the door of his tiny office and went in. For half an hour he sat before his desk, his hands clasped on the blotting-pad before him, motionless, his mind completely occupied by his thoughts. At last he opened his desk, pressed a bell by his side, and he had hardly taken his fingers from the push when the head waiter of the establishment, a tall, unpleasant-looking Italian, came in.

"Fernando, you have made all the arrangements about the dinner to-night?"

"Yes," said the man.

"All the finest wines, eh? The best in the house?"

He peered at the waiter, his teeth showing in a smile.

"The very best," said Fernando briskly.

"There will be four: myself and Major Floyd, Mr. Johnny Gray and Peter Kane."

"The lady is not coming?" asked Fernando.

"No, I don't think she'll be dining with us to-night," said Emanuel carefully.

When the waiter had gone, he rose and bolted the door and returned to an idle examination of the desk. He found extraordinary pleasure in opening the drawers and looking through the little works of reference which filled a niche beneath the pigeon-holes. This was Jeffrey's desk, and Jeff was the apple of his eye.

Presently he rose and walked to a nest of pigeon-holes which stood against the wall, and, putting his hand into one, he turned a knob and pulled. The nest opened like a door, exposing a narrow, spiral staircase which led upward and downward. He left the secret door open and pulled down a switch, which gave him light above and below. For a second he hesitated whether he should go up or down, and decided upon the latter course.

At the foot of the stairs was another door, which he opened, passing into the cellar basement of the house. As the door moved, there came to him a wave of air so super-heated that for a moment he found difficulty in breathing. The cellar in which he found himself was innocent of furnishing, except for a table placed under a strong light, and a great, enclosed furnace which was responsible for the atmosphere of the room. It was like a Turkish bath, and he had not gone two or three paces before the perspiration was rolling down his cheeks.

A broad-shouldered, undersized man was sitting at the table, a big book open before him. He had turned at the sound of the key in the door, and now he came toward the intruder. He was a half-caste, and, beyond the pair of blue dungaree trousers, he wore no clothing. His yellow skin and his curiously animal face gave him a particularly repulsive appearance.

"Got the furnace going, eh, Pietro?" said Emanuel mildly, taking off his spectacles to wipe the moisture which had condensed upon the lenses.

Pietro grunted something and, picking up an iron bar, lifted open the big door of the furnace. Emanuel put up his hands to guard his face from the blast of heat that came forth.

"Shut it, shut it!" he said testily, and when this was done, he went nearer to the furnace.

Two feet away there ran a box-like projection, extending from two feet above the floor to the ceiling. A stranger might have imagined that this was an air shaft, introduced to regulate the ventilation. Emanuel was not a stranger. He knew that the shaft ran to the roof, and that it had a very simple explanation.

"That's a good fire you've got, eh, Pietro? You could bum up a man there?"

"Burn anything," growled the other, "but not man."

Emanuel chuckled.

"Scared I'm going to put a murder point on you, are you? Well, you needn't be," he said. "But it's hot enough to melt copper, eh, Pietro?"

"Melt it down to nothing."

"Burnt any lately?"

The man nodded, rubbing his enormous arms caressingly.

"They came last Monday week, after the boss had been shot," said the other. He had a curious impediment in his speech which made his tone harsh and guttural. "The fellows upstairs knew they were coming, so there was nothing to see. The furnace was nearly out."

Emanuel nodded.

"The boss said the furnace was to be kept going for a week," said Pietro complainingly. "That's pretty tough on me, Mr. Legge. I feel sometimes I'd nearly die, the heat's so terrible."

"You get the nights off," said Emanuel, "and there are weeks when you do no work. To-night I shall want you… .Mr. Jeff has told you?"

The dwarf nodded. Emanuel passed through the door, closing it behind him; and, contrasted with the heat of the room, it seemed that he had walked into an ice wall. His collar was limp, his clothes were sticking to him, as he made his way up the stairs, and, passing the open door of his office, continued until he reached the tiny landing which scarcely gave him foothold. He knocked twice on the door, for of this he had no key. After a pause came an answering knock, a small spyhole opened and an inquiring and suspicious eye examined him.

When at last the door was opened, he found he was in a small room with a large skylight, heavily barred. At one end of the skylight was a rolled blind, which could be drawn across at night and effectively veil the glare of light which on occasions rose from this room.

The man who grinned a welcome was little and bald. His age was in the region of sixty, and the grotesqueness of his appearance was due less to his shabby attire and diminutive stature than to the gold-rimmed monocle fixed in his right eye.

In the centre of the room was a big table littered with paraphernalia, ranging from a small microscope to a case filled with little black bottles. Under the brilliant overhead light which hung above the table, and clamped to the wood by glass-headed pins, was an oblong copper plate, on which the engraver had been working—the engraving tool was in his hand as he opened the door.

"Good morning, Lacey. What are you working at now?" asked Emanuel with a benevolent air of patronage appropriate to the proprietor in addressing a favourite workman.

"The new fives," said the other. "Jeff wants a big printing. Jeff's got brains. Anybody else would have said, 'Work from a photographic plate'—you know what that means. After a run of a hundred, the impression goes wrong, and before you know where you are, there's a squeak. But engraving is engraving," he said with pride. "You can get all the new changes without photography. I never did hold with this new method—'boobs' are full of fellows who think they can make slush with a camera and a zinc plate!"

It was good to hear praise of Jeffrey, and Emanuel Legge purred. He examined the half-finished plate through his powerful glasses, and though the art of the engraver was one with which he was not well acquainted, he could admire the fine work which this expert forger was doing.

To the left of the table was an aperture like the opening of a service lift. It was a continuation of the shaft which led from the basement, and it had this value, that, however clever the police might be, long before they could break into the engraver's room all evidence of his guilt would have been flung into the opening and consumed in the furnace fire. Jeffrey's idea. "What a mind!" said the admiring Lacey. "It reduces risk to what I might term a minimum. It is a pleasure working for Jeff, Mr. Legge. He takes no chances."

"I suppose Pietro is always on the spot?"

Mr. Lacey smiled. He took up a plate from the table and examined it back and front.

"That is one I spoilt this morning," he said. "Spilt some acid on it. Look!"

He went to the opening, put in his hand, and evidently pressed a bell, for a faint tinkle came from the mouth of the shaft. When he withdrew his hand, the plate that it held had disappeared. There came the buzz of a bell from beneath the table.

"That plate's running like water by now," he said. "There's no chance of a squeak if Pietro's all right. Wide! That's Jeffrey! As wide as Broad Street! Why, Mr. Legge, would you believe that I don't know to this day where the stuff's printed? And I'll bet the printer hasn't got the slightest idea where the plates are made. There isn't a man in this building who has got so much as a smell of it."

Emanuel passed down to his own office, a gratified father, and, securely closing the pigeon-hole door, he went out into the club premises to look at Room 13. The table was already laid. A big rose-bowl, overflowing with the choicest blooms, filled the centre; an array of rare glass, the like of which the habitues of the club had never seen on their tables, stood before each plate.

His brief inspection of the room satisfied him, and he returned, not to his office but to Stevens, the porter.

"What's the idea of telling the members that all the rooms are engaged to-night?" asked Stevens. "I've had to put off Lew Brady, and he pays."

"We're having a party, Stevens," said Emanuel, "and we don't want any interruption. Johnny Gray is coming. And you can take that look off your face; if I thought he was a pal of yours, you wouldn't be in this club two minutes. Peter Kane's coming too."

"Looks to me like a rough house," said Stevens. "What am I to do?" he asked sarcastically. "Bring in the police at the first squeal?"

"Bring in your friend from Toronto," snapped Emanuel, and went home to change.

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