Chapter XLI
 

Keith left the courtroom in a daze of incredulity. This was his first serious defeat; and he could not understand it. The case was absolutely open and shut, a mere question of fact to which there were sufficient and competent witnesses. For the moment he was completely routed.

As he emerged to the busy crowds on Kearney Street a sudden repugnance to meeting acquaintances overcame him. He turned off toward the bay, making his way by the back streets, alleys, and slums of that unsavoury quarter. But even here he was not to escape. He had not gone two blocks before he descried Krafft's slight and elegant figure sauntering toward him. Keith braced himself for the inevitable question.

"Well," it came, "how goes the trial?"

The words released Keith's pent flood of bitterness. Here was an outlet; Krafft was "safe." He poured out his disappointment, his suspicion, his indignation. The little man listened to him in silence, a slight smile, sketching his full, red lips. When Keith had somewhat run down, Krafft, without a word, took him by the arm and led him by devious ways down to the water-front portion of the city. There he planted him near the entrance of a dark alley.

"Now you wait here," Keith was told.

Keith obeyed. The interval was long, but he had much to occupy his mind. After a time Krafft returned in company with a slouching, drink-sodden bummer of powerful build and lowering mien, the remains of a forceful personality. This individual shambled along in the wake of the dapper little Krafft quite meekly and submissively.

"Here you are," said the latter briskly, and with a sort of nonchalant authority. "Come, now, Mex, tell Mr, Keith what you know about the Cora trial. Go on!" he urged, as the man hesitated. "He's not going to 'use' you--he doesn't even know who you are or where you're to be found, and I'm not going to tell him. Speak up, Mex! I tell you I want him to know how things stand."

Keith by now was acquainted with many of Krafft's proteges, but he had never met the delectable Mex. Evidently the latter had long known Krafft, however, for he acknowledged his authority unquestioningly.

"It's like this, boss," he began in a hoarse voice. "You don't know me, like Mr. Krafft says, but there's plenty that do. I got a lot of infloonce down here, and when anybody wants anything they know where to come to get it, which is right to headquarters--here," he slapped his great chest.

"Get on," interrupted Krafft impatiently. "We'll take it for granted that you are a great man."

Mex looked at him reproachfully, but went on:

"About this Cora trial: they come to me for good, reliable witnesses, and I got 'em, and drilled 'em. There ain't nobody in it with me for making any witness watertight."

"How many witnesses?" prompted Krafft.

"Eight," replied Mex promptly.

"How much?"

"Well, they give me five thousand fer to git the job done," admitted Mex, with some reluctance.

"Hope they got some of it," commented Krafft.

"Who gave you the money?" demanded Keith.

But Krafft interposed.

"Hold on, my son, that isn't ethics at all! You mustn't ask questions like that, must he, Mex? Very bad form!" He turned to Keith with a crisp air of decision. "That's what was the matter with your trial; I just thought I'd show you. Go on, Mex, get out," he commanded that individual, good- humouredly. "I'm not particularly proud of you, but I suppose I've got to stand you. Only remember this: Mr. Keith is my friend. Swear him out of the high seats of heaven--if you can--because that's the nature of you; but let him walk safely. In other words, no strong-arm work; do you understand?"

The man mumbled and growled something.

"Nonsense, Mex," interrupted Krafft sharply. "Do as I say.

"It's a matter of a tidy sum," blurted out Mex at last.

Krafft laughed.

"You see, you were already marked for the slaughter," he told Keith; then to Mex:

"Well, you let him alone; he's my friend."

"All right, if you say so," growled the man.

"You're safe--as far as Mex and all his people are concerned," said Krafft to Keith. "Our word is always good, when given to a friend; isn't it, Mex?"

The man nodded, awkwardly and slouched away.

Keith's depression had given place to anger. He had been beaten by unfair means; his opponent had cheated at the game, and his opponent enjoyed the respect of the community as a high-minded, able, dignified member of the bar. It was unthinkable! A man caught cheating at cards would most certainly be expelled from any decent club.

"I'll disbar that man if it's the last act of my life!" He cried, "He's not fit to practise among decent men!"

He left Krafft standing on the corner and smiling quietly, and hurried back to his office.