“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.”
“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.”