He came through the rain-buffeted darkness, slipping silently along a wall, avoiding the triangular patches of light. His stealth was second nature because he had lived with stealth so long. And who knew but what death walked with him into the leaden gusts which swept through the streets of Fort-de-France, Martinique?
He was big, heavy boned, and he had once weighed more than he did. His eyes were silver gray, almost luminous in the night like a wolf ’s. His black hair was plastered down on his forehead, his shirt was dark, soggy with the tempest, and at his waist there gleamed a giant brass buckle. Capless and gaunt, feeling his way through the sullen city, he heard voices issuing from behind a door.
He stopped and then, indecisively, studied the entrance. Finally he rapped. A moment later a dark, fat face appeared in the lighted crack.
“Qu’est-ce que c’est?”
“I want food. Food and perhaps information.”
“The police have forbidden us to open so late. Do you wish to cause my arrest?”
“I have money.”
The doors opened wider. The mestizo closed and bolted the double door. A half a dozen men looked up, curiously, and then returned to their rum punch.
“Your name is Henri,” said the tall one, standing in a puddle of water which oozed out away from his shoes.
Henri raised his brows and rubbed his hands, looking up and down the tall one’s height. “You know my name? And I know you. You are the one they call Captain Spar.”
“Yes, that’s it. Then you got the letter?”
“Yes, I received the letter. I do not often associate with . . . convicts.”
Captain Spar made no move. “I have money.”
“One hundred dollars.”
Henri waved his fat hands. “It is not enough. There are police!”
“I have one hundred dollars, that’s all.”
“I expose no risk for a hundred dollars. Am I a fool? Go quickly before I call the gendarmes.”
“I’ll attend to getting out of here by myself. I want only food, perhaps some clothes.”
Henri subsided. “But how did you come here?”
“Stowaway. The captain found me, allowed me to get ashore here, would carry me no further. Our friend wrote you in case that happened.”
“He did not say that you would only have a hundred dollars. Let me tell you, young fellow, an American is conspicuous here on a black island. I run no risks for a paltry hundred dollars. If you are caught, you will be sent back and I will be sent with you. I disclaim any interest in you or knowledge of you. If you want food, I will serve it to you as a customer. That is all.”
Henri waddled away, his neck sticking like a stump out of his collarless white-and-blue striped, sweat-stained shirt. Henri was greasy to a fault, thought Captain Spar. Slippery, in fact.
Presently Henri came back, bringing the makings of a rum punch—syrup, rhum vieux, limes and a bowl of cracked ice. Captain Spar made his own drink and as he sipped it, he said, “Would you know of a man here who calls himself the Saint?”
Henri shook his head. “Who is that? Can it be that you actually came back into French territory, risking your neck, to find a man?”
“Perhaps for some of that hundred—”
“If your information is right, you get paid.”
“Tell me what you know of this man, first. Tell me why you want him.”
Captain Spar looked over the glass rim and then nodded. “All right. You know my name. That’s my right name, strangely enough. One time, not five years ago, it was a very respected thing, but now . . .
“Five years ago I was in Paramaribo, temporarily out of a job. I was approached by a ship’s broker who said that a man who called himself the Saint was in need of a captain. I had not heard of the Saint, but it was said that his headquarters were Martinique.
“The job was simple enough. I was to sail for New York in command of a two-thousand-ton tub of rust. The loading had already been done, so they said. All I had to do was get aboard and shove off.
“Just as I was about to sail, men swarmed down upon the ship, boarded us, announced that they were police, and began to search. In a few minutes they had dragged a dozen men from the hold. They turned all of us over to the French authorities who immediately sent us down to French Guiana.
“I was accused of trying to aid penal colony convicts to escape, and with a somewhat rare humor, they determined that I should join the men they thought my comrades at their labor in the swamps.
“That was five years ago. Two weeks ago I made my way to the sea, found this friend of mine, recovered the money he had been keeping for me, stowed on a freighter, and here I am in Martinique. I want the Saint.”
Henri nodded thoughtfully. “Yes, there is a Saint here.”
Captain Spar sat forward, his sunken eyes lighting up with a swift ferocity. “Here? Where?”
“I can tell you all about it,” said Henri, “but I do not want money for my efforts. Oh, no, m’sieu. You can do me a small favor, and then perhaps I shall tell you all about the Saint, where he can be found, how you can kill him.”
“Name the favor,” said Spar.