At a few minutes past twelve he entered the bar of the Fifth Avenue Hotel, and ordering a drink sat down at one of the small tables. The room was full, but Mr. Sabin’s attention was directed solely to one group of men who stood a short distance away before the counter drinking champagne. The central person of the group was a big man, with an unusually large neck, a fat pale face, a brown moustache tinged with grey, and a voice and laugh like a fog-horn. It was he apparently who was paying for the champagne, and he was clearly on intimate terms with all the party. Mr. Sabin watched for his opportunity, and then rising from his seat touched him on the shoulder.
“Mr. Skinner, I believe?” he said quietly.
The big man looked down upon Mr. Sabin with the sullen offensiveness of the professional bully.
“You’ve hit it first time,” he admitted. “Who are you, anyway?”
Mr. Sabin produced a card.
“I called this morning,” he said, “upon the gentleman whose name you will see there. He directed me to you, and told me to come here.”
The man tore the card into small pieces.
“So long, boys,” he said, addressing his late companions. “See you to-night.”
They accepted his departure in silence, and one and all favoured Mr. Sabin with a stare of blatant curiosity.
“I should be glad to speak with you,” Mr. Sabin said, “in a place where we are likely to be neither disturbed nor overheard.”
“You come right across to my office,” was the prompt reply. “I guess we can fix it up there.”
Mr. Sabin motioned to his coachman, and they crossed Broadway. His companion led him into a tall building, talking noisily all the time about the pals whom he had just left. An elevator transported them to the twelfth floor in little more than as many seconds, and Mr. Skinner ushered his visitor into a somewhat bare-looking office, smelling strongly of stale tobacco smoke. Mr. Skinner at once lit a cigar, and seating himself before his desk, folded his arms and leaned over towards Mr. Sabin.
“Smoke one?” he asked, pointing to the open box.
Mr. Sabin declined.
“Get right ahead then.”
“I am an Englishman,” Mr. Sabin said slowly, “and consequently am not altogether at home with your ways over here. I have always understood, however, that if you are in need of any special information such as we should in England apply to the police for, over here there is a quicker and more satisfactory method of procedure.”
“You’ve come a long way round,” Mr. Skinner remarked, spitting upon the floor, “but you’re dead right.”
“I am in need of some information,” Mr. Sabin continued, “and accordingly I called this morning on Mr.—”
Mr. Skinner held up his hand.
“All right,” he said. “We don’t mention names more than we can help. Call him the boss.”
“He assured me that the information I was in need of was easily to be obtained, and gave me a card to you.”