Onativia acknowledged my presence with a slight bob of his head, loosened the upper button of his coat, fished up a pair of glasses, stuck them on the knob end of his nose, and began devouring the plans in a way that showed both of us that it was not the first time he had looked over a set of blue-prints.
“This estimate is for the ironwork alone,” the stranger said, “and is, as you see, good for three months. The time, as you will note, has expired. Do you now ask for an additional sum, or will the price stand?” All this in the tone of a Tombs lawyer cross-examining a witness.
Mawkum murmured that, as there had been no advance in the cost of the raw material, the price would stand.
“Very well. And now, what, in your judgment, should be added for the cost of erection?”
“Can’t say,” answered Mawkum; “don’t know the coast or kind of labor, or the bottom of the reef— may be coral, may be hard-pan, may be sand. Do you know?”
“Yes—the coast is an ugly one, except four months in the year. Site is twelve miles from San Juan, exposed to the rake of the sea; bottom coral, I understand; labor cheap and good for nothing, and appliances none—except what can be shipped from here.” This came with the air of one who knew.
I now took charge of the negotiations:
“We have refused to erect the structure or be responsible for it after it leaves our dock. We told Senor Garlicho so.”
Onativia lowered his chin, arched his eyebrows and looked at me over his glasses.
“I don’t want you to erect it,” he said in a purring tone with a patronizing strain through it. “I’ll do that. What I want to know is what it would cost here? That’s what I came to New York to find out.”
“Has Senor Garlicho been awarded the contract?” I asked. It was useless to distribute any more bread upon the waters; certainly not on the ripples washing the shores of Moccador. If there were any business in sight I could very easily give either one of them an approximate cost; if there were none the bakery was closed.
“No, Senor Garlicho has not been awarded the contract. I am here to keep the affair alive. If I had thought it necessary I would have brought a certified check with me drawn to your order, which I would have handed you with my card. The standing of your firm prevented my doing so. This is business, and I want to get back home as quick as possible. Our coast is a dangerous one and the loss of life increases every year. Do you want this matter hung up for six weeks until we can communicate with Mr. Garlicho? Every hour’s delay in putting the light on the Lobo means that many more deaths.” As he spoke a peculiar smile struggled from under his black dab of a mustache, got as far as the base of his nose and there collapsed.
My duty was now clear. Senor Garlicho, for some reason unknown to me, had waited until his option had expired and had then sent Onativia in his place. This wiped out the past and made a new deal necessary —one which included the price of erection on the reef, a point which had not been raised in the former negotiation.