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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Profiteers - Chapter 4
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The Profiteers - Chapter 4 Post by :solidbank Category :Long Stories Author :E. Phillips Oppenheim Date :May 2012 Read :3076

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The Profiteers - Chapter 4


Wingate made his way from the City to Shaftesbury Avenue, where he entered a block of offices, studied the direction board on the wall for a few minutes, and finally took the lift to the fourth floor. Exactly opposite to him across the uncarpeted corridor was a door from which half the varnish had peeled off, on which was painted in white letters--MR. ANDREW SLATE. A knock on the panel resulted in an immediate invitation to enter. Wingate turned the handle, entered and closed the door behind him. The man who was the solitary occupant of the room half rose from behind his desk.

"What can I do for you?" he asked.

Wingate was in no hurry to reply. He took rapid stock of his surroundings and of the man who had confronted him. The room was small, none too clean and badly furnished. It reeked with the smell of tobacco, and notwithstanding the warmth of the June day, all the windows were tightly closed. Its occupant, a lank man with a smooth but wizened face, straight white hair and dark, piercing eyes, was in accord with his surroundings,--shabby, unkempt, with cigarette ash down the front of his coat, his collar none too clean, his tie awry.

"Hm!" Wingate remarked, "Seems to me you're not taking care of yourself, Andrew. Do you mind if I open a window or two?"

"My God, it's Wingate!" the tenant of the room exclaimed. "John Wingate!"

Wingate, who had succeeded in opening the windows, came over and shook hands with the man whom he had come to visit.

"How are you, Andrew?" he said. "What on earth's got you that you choose to live in an atmosphere like this!"

Slate, who had recovered from his surprise, slipped dejectedly back into his place. Wingate had established himself with caution upon the only remaining chair.

"I've had lung trouble over here," Slate explained, "This heavy atmosphere plays the devil with one's breathing. I guess you're right about the windows though. How did you find me out?"

"Telephone directory, aided by my natural intelligence," Wingate replied. "What are you doing these days?"

"Trying to run straight and finding it filthily difficult," the other answered.

"What do you call yourself, anyway?" Wingate asked. "There's nothing except your name on the board downstairs."

Slate nodded.

"I'm the only one in the building," he said, "who isn't either a theatrical agent or a bookmaker. I've got just a small connection amongst the riffraff as a man who can be trusted to collect the necessary evidence in a divorce case, especially if there's a little collusion, or find a few false witnesses to help a thief with an alibi. Once or twice I have even gone so far as to introduce a receiver to a successful thief."

"Hm!" Wingate observed. "You see all sorts of life."

"I do indeed," Slate admitted. "What do you want with me? I can find you a murderer who's looking for a job, or a burglar who would take anything on where there was a reasonable chance of success, or half a dozen witnesses--a little tarnished, though, I'm afraid they may be--who would swear anything. Or I can find you several beautiful ladies--beautiful, that is to say, with the aid of one of the costumers up the street and a liberal supply of cosmetics--who will inveigle any young man you want dealt with into any sort of situation, provided he is fool enough and the pay is good. I'm an all-round man still, Wingate, but my nose is a little closer to the ground than it was."

Wingate looked thoughtfully at the man whom he had come to visit, studying his appearance in every detail. Then he leaned across and laid his hand upon his shoulder.

"Andrew," he said, "you and I have looked out at life once or twice and seen the big things. I guess there's no false shame between us. I can say what I want, can't I?"

"I should say so," was the hearty reply. "Get right on with it, John. I've passed the blushing age."

"It's like this," Wingate explained. "I've got a job for you. You can't do it like that. Walk to the door, will you?"

"Damn it, I know you're going to look at my boots!" Slate declared, as he rose unwillingly and obeyed.

"You've got it at once," Wingate acquiesced. "You're a smart fellow still, Slate, I see. Now listen. You can't do my job like that. Here's twenty pounds on account. I'm going to stroll around to the Milan Grillroom and take a table for luncheon. I shall expect you there in half an hour. You're in the neighbourhood for quick changes."

Slate took the money and reached for his hat.

"Come along, then. You take the lift down. I'll go by the stairs. I shan't be late, unless you'd like me to stop and have a shave and my hair trimmed."

"Great idea," Wingate assented. "I'll make it three quarters. There really isn't any hurry. Say an hour, if you like. I'll be sitting down inside."

The metamorphosis in Andrew Slate was complete. With his closely trimmed white hair, the dark growth gone from his chin, in a well-cut morning coat and trousers, a grey tie and fashionable collar, his appearance was entirely irreproachable. Wingate nodded his satisfaction as he approached the table.

"Jolly well done, Andrew," he declared. "You certainly do pay for dressing, my boy. Now drink that cocktail up and we'll talk business."

Andrew Slate's altered deportment would have delighted the author of "Sartor Resartus." With his modish and correct clothes, his self-respect seemed to have returned. He carried himself differently, there was a confident ring in his tone. He studied the menu which Wingate passed him, through a well-polished eyeglass, and one could well have believed that he was a distinguished and frequent patron of the place.

"Well, what is it, Wingate?" he asked at last, when the business of ordering luncheon was concluded. "I only hope it's something I can tackle."

"You can tackle it all right," his companion assured him encouragingly. "For a week or ten days you've nothing more to do than a little ordinary detective business. If I decide to carry out a scheme which is forming in my mind, it will be a more serious affair. Time enough for that, though. I should just like to ask you this. Can you find a few bullies of the Tom Grogan class, if necessary?"

"Half a hundred, if you want them," Slate replied confidently. "When I first came over, Wingate, I can tell you I felt all at sea. It seemed to me that the police had got this city in the hollow of their hands, and that there was no chance at all for the man who couldn't rely on the law to do him justice. I soon found out my mistake. There's nothing I could get done in New York or Chicago which I couldn't get done here, and at a great deal less cost and trouble. You thought I was joking when I told you at my office that I could find you a murderer. I wasn't. I could find you half a dozen, if necessary."

"We aren't going quite as far as that," he said. "Have you anything on at all at the present moment?"

"Not a thing."

"I want you altogether free," Wingate went on. "I'm talking business now because it's necessary. You're going to earn money with me, Andrew, and incidentally you are going to help me break the man whom I think that you hate almost as much as I do."

"You don't mean Phipps--Dreadnought Phipps?" Slate exclaimed, suddenly laying down his knife and fork.

"I do," Wingate answered. "We are up against each other once more, and, believe me, Slate, this is going to be the last time."

There was a smouldering fire in Slate's fine eyes. Nevertheless, he seemed disturbed.

"You're up against a big thing, Wingate," he said. "Peter Phipps has made good over here. They say that he's coining money in this new company of his."

"I'm after his blood, all the same," Wingate replied. "We've had several tussles since--"

Wingate hesitated.

"Since you nearly beat the breath out of his body," Slate interrupted, with a little shiver.

"Yes, we've had several tussles since then," Wingate repeated, "and we haven't hurt each other much. This time I think one of us is going under. Phipps wants to join issue with me in the City. I'm not so sure. I'm out to break him properly this time, and I am not going to rush in until I know the ropes."

Slate emptied a glass of wine and leaned forward.

"John," he said, relapsing once more into the familiarity of their early college days, "you couldn't have set me a job more to my heart than to have me help in brewing mischief for Peter Phipps. I'm your man, body and soul--you know that. But you've been a good friend to me--almost the only one I ever had--and I've got to put this up to you. Peter Phipps is as clever as the devil. He is up to every trick in this world, and a few that he probably borrowed from Satan himself. I'm not trying to put you off. I only want to say this. Go warily. Don't let him lure you on into risking too much on any one move. Always remember that he has something up his sleeve."

"That's all right, Slate," he said. "I promise you I'll think out every move on the board. I shall risk nothing until I can see my way clear ahead. Meanwhile, you can work on this."

He wrote a few sentences on a sheet of paper, which he folded up and passed across the table.

"Don't open it now," he said. "Think it over and don't mind putting suggestions up to me if anything occurs to you. Call here to see me every morning at ten o'clock. I have a suite in the Court, number eighty-nine. You've done with business--you understand?"

"Sure!" Slate answered. "Let's talk about that last game you and I were in against Princeton."

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