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   Chapter 16 A BARGAIN WITH JEAN COULOIS

Mr. Grex of Monte Carlo By E. Phillips Oppenheim Characters: 15524

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


Selingman drew out his watch and held it underneath the electric light set in the back of the automobile.

"Good!" he declared. "It is not yet half-past eleven."

"Too early for the Austria," Draconmeyer murmured, a little absently.

Selingman returned the watch to his pocket.

"By no means," he objected. "Mademoiselle is doubtless amusing herself well enough, but if I go now and leave in an hour, she will be peevish. She might want to accompany us. To-night it would not be convenient. Tell your chauffeur, Draconmeyer, to take us direct to the rendezvous. We can at least watch the people there. One is always amused. We will forget our nervous friend. These little touches, Draconmeyer, my man, they mark the man of genius, mind you. Did you notice how his eyes lit up when I whispered that one word 'Egypt'? It is a great game when you bait your hook with men and fish for empires!"

Draconmeyer gave an instruction to his chauffeur and leaned back.

"If we succeed,-" he began.

"Succeed?" Selingman interrupted. "Why, man alive, he is on our hooks already! Be at rest, my friend. The affair is half arranged. It remains only with us to deal with one man."

Draconmeyer's eyes sparkled beneath his spectacles. A slow smile crept over his white face.

"You are right," he agreed. "That man is best out of the way. If he and Douaille should meet-"

"They shall not meet," Selingman thundered. "I, Selingman, declare it. We are here already. Good! The aspect of the place pleases me."

The two men, arriving so early, received the distinguished consideration of a bowing ma?tre d'h?tel as they entered the Austria. They were ushered at once to a round table in a favourable position. Selingman surrendered his hat and coat to the obsequious vestiaire, pulled down his waistcoat with a familiar gesture, spread his pudgy hands upon the table and looked around him with a smile of benevolent approval.

"I shall amuse myself here," he declared confidently. "Pass the menu to me, Draconmeyer. You have no more idea how to eat than a rabbit. That is why you suffer from indigestion. At this hour-why, it is not midnight yet-one needs sustenance-sustenance, mark you, intelligently selected, something nourishing yet not heavy. A sheet of paper, waiter. You see, I like to write out my dishes. It saves trouble and there are no disappointments, nothing is forgotten. As to the wine, show me the vintage champagnes.... So! You need not hurry with the meal. We shall spend some time here."

Draconmeyer arrested the much impressed ma?tre d'h?tel as he was hurrying away.

"Is there dancing here to-night?" he enquired.

"But certainly, monsieur," the man replied. "A Spanish lady, altogether ravishing, the equal of Otéro at her best-Signorina Melita."

"She dances alone?"

"By no means. There is the young Frenchman, Jean Coulois, who is engaged for the season. A wonderful pair, indeed! When May comes, they go to the music-halls in Paris and London."

Draconmeyer nodded approval.

"Coulois was the name," he whispered to Selingman, as the man moved away.

The place filled up slowly. Presently the supper was served. Selingman ate with appetite, Draconmeyer only sparingly. The latter, however, drank more freely than usual. The wine had, nevertheless, curiously little effect upon him, save for a slight additional brightness of the eyes. His cheeks remained pale, his manner distrait. He watched the people enter and pass to their places, without any apparent interest. Selingman, on the other hand, easily absorbed the spirit of his surroundings. As the night wore on he drank healths with his neighbours, beamed upon the pretty little Frenchwoman who was selling flowers, ate and drank what was set before him with obvious enjoyment. Both men, however, showed at least an equal interest when Mademoiselle Melita, in Spanish costume, accompanied by a slim, dark-visaged man, began to dance. Draconmeyer was no longer restless. He sat with folded arms, watching the performance with a strangely absorbed air. One thing, however, was singular. Although Selingman was confessedly a ladies' man, his eyes, after her first few movements, scarcely rested for a moment upon the girl. Both Draconmeyer and he watched her companion steadfastly. When the dance was over they applauded with spirit. Selingman sat up in his place, a champagne bottle in his hand. He beckoned to the man, who, with a little deprecating shrug of the shoulders, swaggered up to their table with some show of condescension.

"A chair for Monsieur Jean Coulois, the great dancer," Selingman ordered, "a glass, and another bottle of wine. Monsieur Jean, my congratulations! But a word in your ear. Her steps do not match yours. It is you who make the dance. She has no initiative. She can do nothing but imitate," he added.

The dancer looked at his host a little curiously. He was slightly built and without an atom of colour. His black hair was closely cropped, his eyes of sombre darkness, his demeanour almost sullen. At Selingman's words, however, he nodded rapidly and seated himself more firmly upon his chair. It was apparent that although his face remained expressionless, he was gratified.

"They notice nothing, these others," he remarked, with a little wave of the hand. "It is always the woman who counts. You are right, monsieur. She dances like a stick. She has good calves and she rolls her eyes. The canaille applaud. It is always like that. Your health, monsieur!"

He drank his wine without apparent enjoyment, but he drank it like water. Selingman leaned across the table.

"Coulois," he whispered, "the wolves bay loudest at night, is it not so?"

The man sat quite still. If such a thing had been possible, he might have grown a shade paler. His eyes glittered. He looked steadfastly at Selingman.

"Who are you?" he muttered.

"The wolves sleep in the daytime," Selingman replied.

The dancer shrugged his shoulders. He held out his glass to be replenished. The double password had reassured him.

"Pardon, monsieur," he said, "these have been anxious hours."

"The little affair at La Turbie?" Selingman suggested.

Coulois set down his glass for the first time half finished. His mouth had taken an evil turn. He leaned across the table.

"See you," he exclaimed in a hoarse whisper, "what happened, happened justly! Martin is responsible. The whole thing was conducted in the spirit of a pantomime, a great joke. Who are we, the Wolves, to brandish empty firearms, to shrink from letting a little blood! Bah!"

He finished his wine. Selingman nodded approvingly as he refilled his glass.

"My friend and I," he confided, "were amongst those who were held up. Imagine it! We stood against the wall like a row of dummies. Such treasure as I have never before seen was poured into that sack. Jewels, my friend, such as only the women of Monte Carlo wear! Packet after packet of mille notes! Wealth immeasurable! Oh, Coulois, Coulois, it was an opportunity lost!"

"Lost!" the dancer echoed fiercely. "It was thrown into the gutter! It was madness! It was hellish, such ill-fortune! Yet what could I do? If I had been absent from here-I, Coulois, whom men know of-even the police would have had no excuse. So it was Martin who must lead. Our armoury had never been fuller. There were revolvers for every one, ammunition for a thousand.... Pardon, monsieur, but I cannot talk of this affair. The anger rises so hot in my heart that I fear to betray myself to those who may be listening. And besides, you have not come here to talk with me of it."

"It is true," Selingman confessed.

There was a brief silence. The dancer was studying them both. There was uneasiness in his expression.

"I d

o not understand," he enquired hoarsely, "how you came by the passwords?"

"Make yourself wholly at ease, my young friend," Selingman begged him reassuringly. "We are men of the world, my friend and I. We seek our own ends in life and we have often to make use of the nearest and the best means for the purpose of securing them. Martin has served me before. A week ago I should have gone to him. To-night, as you know, he lies in prison."

"Martin, indeed!" the dancer jeered. "You would have gone, then, to a man of sawdust, a chicken-livered bungler! What is it that you want done? Speak to me. I am a man."

The leader of the orchestra was essaying upon his violin the tentative strains of a popular air. The girl had reappeared and was poising herself upon her toes. The leader of the orchestra summoned Coulois.

"I must dance," he announced. "Afterwards I will return."

He leapt lightly to his feet and swung into the room with extended arms. Draconmeyer looked down at his plate.

"It is a risk, this, we are running," he muttered. "I do not see, Selingman, why you could not have hired this fellow through Allen or one of the others."

Selingman shook his head.

"See here, Draconmeyer," he explained, "this is one of the cases where agents are dangerous. For Allen to have been seen with Jean Coulois here would have been the same as though I had been seen with him myself. I cannot, alas! in this place, with my personality, keep my identity concealed. They know that I am Selingman. They know well that wherever I move, I have with me men of my Secret Service. I cannot use them against Hunterleys. Too many are in the know. Here we are simply two visitors who talk to a dancer. We depart. We do not see him again until afterwards. Besides, this is where fate is with us. What more natural than that the Wolves should revenge themselves upon the man who captured one of their leaders? It was the young American, Richard Lane, who really started the debacle, but it was Hunterleys who seized Martin. What more natural than revenge? These fellows hang by one another always."

Draconmeyer nodded with grim approval.

"It was devilish work he did in Sofia," he said softly. "But for him, much of this would have been unnecessary."

The dance was over. Both men joined enthusiastically in the applause. Coulois, with an insolent nod to his admirers, returned to his seat. He threw himself back in his chair, crossed his legs and held out his empty glass. Though he had been dancing furiously, there was not a single bead of perspiration upon his forehead.

"You are in good condition, my friend," Selingman observed admiringly.

"I need to be for my work," Coulois replied. "Let us get to business. There is no need to mince words. What do you want with me? Who is the quarry?"

"The man who ruined your little affair at La Turbie and captured your comrade Martin," Selingman whispered. "You see, you have every provocation to start with."

Coulois' eyes glittered.

"He was an Englishman," he muttered.

"Quite true," Selingman assented. "His name is Hunterleys-Sir Henry Hunterleys. He lives at the Hotel de Paris. His room is number 189. He spends his time upon the Terrace, at the Café de Paris, and in the Sporting Club. Every morning he goes to the English Bank for his letters, deals with them in his room, calls at the post-office and takes a walk, often up into the hills."

"Come, come, this is not so bad!" Coulois exclaimed. "They laugh at us in the cafés and down in the wine shops of Monaco, those who know," he went on, frowning. "They say that the Wolves have become sheep. We shall see! It is an affair, this, worth considering. What do you pay, Monsieur le Gros, and for how long do you wish him out of the way?"

"The pay," Selingman announced, "is two hundred louis, and the man must be in hospital for at least a fortnight."

Draconmeyer leaned suddenly forward. His eyes were bright, his hands gripped the table.

"Listen!" he whispered in Coulois' ear. "Are the Wolves sheep, indeed, that they can do no more than twist ankles and break heads? That two hundred shall be five hundred, Jean Coulois, but it must be a cemetery to which they take him, and not a hospital!"

* * *

"That two hundred shall be five hundred, but it must be a cemetery to which they take him!"

* * *

There was a moment's silence. Selingman sat back in his place. He was staring at his companion with wide-open eyes. Jean Coulois was moistening his lips with his tongue, his eyes were brilliant.

"Five hundred louis!" he repeated under his breath.

"Is it not enough?" Draconmeyer asked coldly. "I do not believe in half measures. The man who is wounded may be well before he is welcome. If five hundred louis is not enough, name your price, but let there be no doubt. Let me see what the Wolves can do when it is their leader who handles the knife!"

The face of the dancer was curiously impassive. He lifted his glass and drained it.

"An affair of death!" he exclaimed softly. "We Wolves-we bite, we wound, we rob. But death-ugh! There are ugly things to be thought of."

"And pleasant ones," Draconmeyer reminded him. "Five hundred louis is not enough. It shall be six hundred. A man may do much with six hundred golden louis."

Selingman sat forward once more in his place.

"Look here," he intervened, "you go too far, my friend. You never spoke to me of this. What have you against Hunterleys?"

"His nationality," Draconmeyer answered coolly. "I hate all Englishmen!"

The gaiety had left Selingman's face. He gazed at his companion with a curious expression.

"My friend," he murmured, "I fear that you are vindictive."

"Perhaps," Draconmeyer replied quietly. "In these matters I like to be on the safe side."

Jean Coulois struck the table lightly with his small, feminine hand. He showed all his teeth as though he had been listening to an excellent joke.

"It is to be done," he decided. "There is no more to be said."

Some visitors had taken the next table. Coulois drew his chair a little closer to Draconmeyer.

"I accept the engagement," he continued. "We will talk no more. Monsieur desires my address? It is here,"-scribbling on a piece of paper. "But monsieur may be warned," he added, with a lightning-like flash in his eyes as he became conscious of the observation of some passers-by. "I will not dance in England. I will not leave Monte Carlo before May. Half that sum-three hundred louis, mind-must come to me on trust; the other three hundred afterwards. Never fear but that I will give satisfaction. Keep your part of the bargain," he added, under his breath, "and the Wolves' fangs are already in this man's throat."

He danced again. The two men watched him. Draconmeyer's face was as still and colourless as ever. In Selingman's there was a shade of something almost like repulsion. He poured himself out a glass of champagne.

"Draconmeyer," he exclaimed, "you are a cold-blooded fish, indeed! You can sit there without blinking and think of this thing which we have done. Now as for me, I have a heart. I can never see the passing out of the game of even a bitter opponent, without a shiver. Talk philosophy to me, Draconmeyer. My nerves are shaken."

Draconmeyer turned his head. He, too, raised his wine to his lips and drank deliberately.

"My friend," he said, "there is no philosophy save one. A child cries for the star he may not have; the weak man comforts himself in privation by repeating to himself the dry-as-dust axioms conceived in an alien brain, and weaving from them the miserable comfort of empty words. The man who knows life and has found wisdom, pays the price for the thing he desires, and obtains it!"

* * *

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