“That’s what we were looking after; had some complaints lately.”
“Sure, I been kickin’ ’bout it for a month. You fellers have another beer on me.”
He walked back toward the bar, pausing an instant to whisper a word to the taller man who still stood there staring moodily at the table. What he said apparently determined action, for the fellow addressed, crossed the room to where West and Sexton sat, deliberately pulled up a vacant chair, and joined them.
“Bring me another, Mike,” he ordered. “That is, if these gents don’t object to my joining ’em awhile.”
West smiled pleasantly, glad the man had taken the initiative, thus naturally opening up a way for asking certain questions. Whatever his own immediate object might be in thus scraping an acquaintance made no difference. It would doubtless develop in time, but meanwhile here was the opportunity sought to discuss the affairs of the neighbourhood. Yet the subject must be approached with due caution. The very indifference of the bar-tender coupled with the evident desire of this hanger-on to form an acquaintance, served to reveal the real nature of “Mike’s Place.” Plainly enough strangers were viewed with suspicion, and this was no ordinary saloon, catering to whatever trade drifted within its doors. More than likely it was rather a thieves’ hang-out, ever suspicious of the activity of the police.
Yet this fellow bore no outward semblance to the common conception of the under-world. Nor did his actions or words exhibit any motive other than ordinary good-fellowship. He was well dressed, easy of manner, with an exceptionally intelligent face, blue eyes meeting West’s gaze frankly, a carefully trimmed moustache, with white teeth good humouredly showing when he smiled, and threads of grey in his hair. His very appearance invited confidence and comradeship, while his outspoken words increased this impression.
“Excuse my butting in,” he explained genially. “But it’s damn dull around here tonight. Nobody to talk with but a couple o’ bums. You see I don’t belong around here; just dropped in for a bit of business with Mike.”
“I see,” admitted West, puzzled, and wondering how far he dared venture. “You can get lonelier in a big city than anywhere else.”
“You bet you can. I like some one I can talk to; some guy with ideas. You see I run a broker’s office down town, an’ its pretty blame slow around a dump like this—you get me?”
“Sure; this seems to be a pretty quiet place.”
“Quiet! Hell! it isn’t always so quiet. I’ve dropped in here when it was lively enough, believe me. But tonight it’s the limit. Fact is I come up for a little excitement, as much as anything else, but must have struck an off night. You’re a smoke inspector, Mike says?”