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Title: The Guv'nor and Other Stories Author: Edgar Wallace * A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook * eBook No.: 1401101h.html Language: English Date first posted: Mar 2014 Most recent update: Aug 2016 This eBook was produced by Roy Glashan. Project Gutenberg of Australia eBooks are created from printed editions which are in the public domain in Australia, unless a copyright notice is included. We do NOT keep any eBooks in compliance with a particular paper edition. Copyright laws are changing all over the world. Be sure to check the copyright laws for your country before downloading or redistributing this file. This eBook is made available at no cost and with almost no restrictions whatsoever. You may copy it, give it away or re-use it under the terms of the Project Gutenberg of Australia License which may be viewed online at http://gutenberg.net.au/licence.html To contact Project Gutenberg of Australia go to http://gutenberg.net.au
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THE affair of Mary Keen was never forgotten by Robert Karl Kressholm. He was a good hater, as Mr. J.G. Reeder was to say of him one day.
Yet it was an odd circumstance that Mary, dead and buried in Westbury Churchyard, should remain as a raw place in the mind of a man who was, to all appearance and certainly by protestation, madly in love with a child— she was little more—who was twenty years his junior. But Bob Kressholm was like that. He was vain, had complete and absolute confidence in his own excellences. He might congratulate himself that he was young at thirty-seven and looked younger; that he was good-looking in an instantly impressing way and looked little older than at eighteen, when Mary had chosen Red Joe Brady in preference to himself.
Mary was dead of a broken heart—she passed three days after Joe had been released from a short-term sentence in Dartmoor. If Bob could have found her he would have offered consolation of sorts, but Joe had very carefully hidden her and his boy.
Kressholm never went to prison. He was too clever for that. Banks and jewellers' stores might become impoverished in a night, but "the Guv'nor" could not be associated with the happening. He was, he believed with reason, the greatest organiser in what is picturesquely described as "The Underworld." Nobody had ever brought a mind like his to the business of burglary. He had his own office and plant in Antwerp for the reconstruction of stolen goods. In Vienna a respectable broker handled such bonds and negotiable stock as came his way. He could boast to such intimates as Red Joe that he was "squawk-proof" and was justified in the claim. He came down to Exeter, where Haddin's Amusement Park was operating, partly to see and partly to dazzle Joe out of his dull but respectable mode of living. A big Rolls limousine was an advertisement of his own prosperity.
He did not see the balloon ascent, but the parachute dropped square in the road before his car, and the chauffeur had just time to pull up on the very edge of a tangled mass of cord, silk envelope and laughing girlhood.
"Where the devil did you come from?"
"Out of the everywhere," she mocked him.
She wore a boy's trousers, a blue silk shirt and a beret—an unusual head-dress in those days—and she' was lovely: golden-haired, fair-skinned and supple.
This was Wenna, daughter of Lew Haddin.
He drove her to the fair and delivered her to her father. Having come for the day, he stayed for the week; Red Joe had a bed put for him in his own caravan. Joe had a second van—a motor caravan, but this was not in the fair-ground. It was garaged in the town. His guest heard about this and drew his own conclusions—at the moment he was not interested in Red Joe's dangerous hobby.
And every day he grew more and more fascinated by the girl. He brought flowers to her, which she accepted, a jewelled bracelet, which she refused. Fat Lew Haddin offered lame apologies, for he was a good-natured man who gave things away rather readily and would have married off his daughter to almost anybody rather than worry.
Red Joe added to his unpopularity and stirred up all the smouldering embers of hatred by speaking very plainly to his guest.
"She's only a kid, Bob, and what have you and I to give any woman? The certainty of getting her a pass on visiting day and the privilege of writing her a letter once a month."
Kressholm answered coldly:
"Personally I've never been in stir, and I don't know what the regulations are about wives visiting husbands, and that sort of thing. Are you after her?"
"She's about the same age as my boy," said Joe wrathfully.
"Oh, you want her for the family, eh? You think you've got a call on all the women in the world. You're getting bourgeois, Red, since you've become a monkey dealer."
Red Joe wasn't quite sure what "bourgeois" meant, but he guessed it was applied offensively. Bob lived mostly in Paris and spoke two or three languages rather well. He was more than a little proud of his education, which was the basis of his superiority complex. Wenna, who had been a woman at twelve, had no doubts about Mr. Kressholm.
"What am I to do with this feller, Joe? The old man is no protection for an innocent maiden; he wanted me to go riding with his lordship yesterday, and saw nothing wrong in the idea that I should go up to London for a week and stay with Kressholm's friends. Fathers are not what they used to be."
Joe did not want to quarrel with his former associate; there were very special reasons why he should not. But before he could discuss the matter with Bob Kressholm, the girl had settled the affair.
There were two slaves of hers in the circus—Swedish gymnasts, who would have strangled Bob Kressholm and sat up all night to bury him, but she did not ask for outside help.
It happened in a little wood near the grounds on the last evening of the fair. She gave nobody the details of the encounter, not even Red Joe. All he knew was that Kressholm had left Exeter very hurriedly just as soon as the knife wound on his shoulder was dressed and cauterised by a local surgeon.
Wenna had learned quite a lot about knife play from one of her Swedish gymnasts, who had left his country as a result of his dexterity in this direction.
Thereafter Bob Kressholm had another grievance to nourish. A few months after he returned to Paris he learned that Mr. J.G. Reeder was interesting himself in a new issue of "slush" which, in the argot of the initiated, means forged money. And then he remembered the locked motor caravan which was Joe Brady's, but which he never slept in, or even brought to the fair ground. He returned to London on the very day Mr. Reeder had reached a certain conclusion.
"BRADY'S work," said J.G. Reeder.
He had fixed the bank-note against a lighted glass-screen and was examining it through a magnifying glass.
It was the fourteenth five-pound note he had inspected that week. Mr. Reeder knew all that there was to be known about forged bank-notes; he was the greatest authority in the world on the subject of forgery, and could, as a rule, detect a "wrong 'un" by feeling a corner of it. But these notes, which had been put into circulation in the year 1921, were not ordinary notes. They were so extraordinary that it required a microscopic examination to discover their spurious nature. He looked gloomily at the chief inspector (it was Ben Peary in those days) and sighed.
"Mr. Joseph Brady," he repeated; "but Mr. Joseph Brady is now an honest man. He is following a—um—peaceable and—er— picturesque profession."
"What profession?" asked Peary.
"Circus," replied Reeder soberly. "He was born in a circus—he has returned to his—um—interesting and precarious element."
When Red Joe Brady had finished a comparatively light sentence for forgery, he had announced his intention of going straight. It is a laudable but not unusual decision that has been made by many men on their release from prison. He told the governor of the gaol and the chief warder, and, of course, the chaplain (who hoped much, but was confident of little) that he had had enough of the crooked game and that henceforth...
He told Mr. Reeder this, taking a special journey to Brockley for the purpose.
Mr. Reeder expressed his praise at such an admirable resolution, but did not believe him.
It was pretty well known that Joe had money—stacks of it, said his envious competitors—for he was a careful man. He was not the kind that squandered his illicit gains and he had made big money. For example; what happened to the hundred thousand pounds bank robbery which was never satisfactorily explained: Kressholm had his cut, of course, but it was only a quarter. Bob used to brood on this; it was his illusion that there wasn't a cleverer man at the game than he. Anyway, the red-haired athlete, who had once been billed as Rufus Baldini, the Master of the High Trapeze, and was known in the police circles as Red Joe, had a very considerable nest-egg, maintained his boy at a first-class boarding school and, generally speaking, was rich.
He came out of prison to take farewell of a dying wife at a moment of crisis for Lew Haddin, of Haddin's Grand Travelling Amusement Park. That fat and illiterate man had employed a secretary to manage his private and business affairs, and the secretary had vanished with eighteen thousand pounds which he had drawn from Lew's London bank. And at the time Lew was wading through a deep and sticky patch of bad trading.
Joe was an excellent business man and, outside of his anti-social activities, an honest man. The death of his wife and the consciousness of new responsibilities had sobered him. He arrived at the psychological moment, had in an accountant to expose the tangle at its worst, and bought a half-interest in the amusement park, which for two years enjoyed exceptional prosperity.
The underworld also has its artists who work for the joy of working. There was no reason why Joe should fall again into temptation, but his draughtsmanship was little short of perfection, and he found himself drawing again. He might have confined himself to sketches of currency for his own amusement if there had not fallen into his hands the "right paper."
Now, the "right paper," is very hard to come by. As a rule, it does not require such an expert as Mr. Reeder to detect the difference between the paper on which English bank-notes are printed and the paper which is made for the special use of forgers. You can buy in Germany passable imitations which have the texture and the weight, and, to the inexpert finger, the feel of a bank-note. It is very seldom that paper is produced which defies detection.
Eight thousand sheets came to Joe from some well-intentioned confederate of other days, and his first inclination was to make a bonfire of them; but then the possibilities began to open up before his reluctant eyes... There was sufficient electric power at his disposal from the many dynamos they had in their outfit, and there were privacy and freedom from observation...
Mr. Reeder located Joe and put him under observation. A surreptitious search of his caravan revealed nothing. One morning Mr. Reeder packed his bag and went north.
There was a great crowd of people in the Sanbay Fair Ground when Mr. Reeder descended from the station fly which brought him to the outskirts of the town; he had not come direct from the station. He and his companion had made a very careful search of a caravan in a lock-up garage at the Red Lion.
Haddin's Imperial Circus and Tropical Menagerie occupied the centre of the ground. The tower of Haddin's Royal Razzy Glide showed above the enormous tent, and Haddin's various side-shows filled all the vacant sites. The municipality did not wholly approve of Haddin's, his band wagons, his lions and tigers, his fat ladies and giants, but the municipality made a small charge for admission to the ground, "for the relief of rates."
Mr. Reeder paid a humble coin, stoutly ignored the blandishments of dark-eyed ladies who offered him opportunities for shooting at the celluloid balls which dipped and jumped on the top of a water jet, was oblivious to the attractions of ring boards and other ingenious methods.
He had come too late for the only free attractions: the balloon ascent and the parachute jump by "the Queen of the Air." She was at the moment of Mr. Reeder's arrival resting in the big and comfortable caravan which was Mr. Haddin's home and centre.
But it was to see the "Queen of the Air" that Mr. Reeder had taken this long and troublesome journey. He sought out and found Red Joe Brady, whose caravan was a picture of all that was neat and cosy. Brady opened the door, saw Reeder at the foot of the steps, and for a moment said nothing; then:
"Come up, will you?"
He had seen behind Mr. Reeder three men whose carriage and dress said "detectives" loudly. "What's the idea, Mr. Reeder?"
Mr. Reeder shook his head sadly.
"All this is very unpleasant, Joe; and very unnecessary. I have searched that caravan of yours at the garage. Need I say any more?"
Joe reached his hat and overcoat from the peg. "I'm ready when you are," he said.
Joe was like that. He never made trouble where trouble was futile, nor excuses where they were vain.
Wenna heard the news after he had been taken away, and wept, not so much for Joe as for Danny, the boy who had spent his holidays with the circus and who had found his way into her susceptible heart.
Mr. Reeder was in the vestibule of the Old Bailey one day, and was conscious that somebody was looking at him, and turned to meet the glare of two eyes of burning blue fixed on him with an expression of malignity which momentarily startled him. She was very lovely and very young, and he was wondering in what circumstances he had deprived her of her father's care, when she came across to him.
"You're Reeder?" Her voice was quivering with fury.
"That's my name," he said in his mild way. "To whom have I the honour—"
"You don't know me, but you will! I've heard about you. You're the man who took Joe—took away Danny's father! You wicked old devil! You— you—"
Mr. Reeder was more embarrassed to see her weep than to hear her recriminations. He did not see her again for a very long time, and then in circumstances which were even less pleasant.
Generally speaking, Red Joe Brady was lucky to get away with ten years. Men had had lifers dished out to them for half that Joe had done.
AFTER his sentence Joe asked if he could see Mr. J.G. Reeder, and Mr. Reeder, who had no qualms whatever about meeting men for whose arrest and conviction he was responsible, went down to the cells under the court and found Red Joe handcuffed in readiness for his departure by taxi-cab to Wormwood Scrubbs.
Such occasions as these can be very painful, and it was not unusual for a prisoner to express his frankest opinions about the man who had brought him to ruin. But Joe was neither offensive nor reproachful. He was a spare man of medium height, and was in the late thirties or the early forties. His neatly brushed hair was flaming red—hence his nickname.
He met the detective with a little smile and asked him to sit down.
"I've no complaints, Mr. Reeder—you gave me a square deal and told no lies about me, and now I want to ask you a favour. I've got a boy at a good school; he doesn't know anything about me and I don't want him to know. I had the sense to put a bit of money aside and tie up the interest so that the bank will pay his fees, and give him all the pocket money he wants while I'm away. And a good friend of mine is going to keep an eye on him. The police don't know anything about the boy or his school. They're fair, I admit it, but they might go nosing around and find out that he's my son. They're fair, but they're clumsy, and it might happen that they'd give away the fact that his father was in stir."
"It's very unlikely, Joe," said Reeder, and the prisoner nodded.
"It's unlikely but it happens," he said. "If it does I want you to step in and look after the boy's interests. You can stop them going too far."
"Who is your 'good friend'?" asked Reeder, and the man hesitated.
"I can't tell you who he is—for reasons," he said.
There was something of uneasiness in his tone; only for the briefest moment did he reveal his doubt.
"I've known him years; in fact, he and I courted the same lady—my poor little wife, who's dead and gone. But he's a good scout and he's got over all that."
"Is he straight?" asked Mr. Reeder.
Joe was silent, pondering this question.
"With me, yes. Bob Kressholm—well, you know him, but he's never been 'inside.'"
Mr. Reeder said nothing.
"He's clever too. One of the wisest men in this country."
Reeder turned his grave eyes upon the man.
"I'd like to help you, Joe; but you'd be wise to give me the name of the school. I might do a little bit of overlooking myself."
Joe shook his head.
"I can't do that—I've asked Bob, and it would look as if I didn't trust him. All I want to ask you to do is to cover up the kid if anything comes out. I want that boy never to know what a crooked thing is."
The detective nodded, and they rose together. The taxi-cab was waiting and two warders stood by the open door. Joe changed the subject and considered his own and immediate misfortune.
"I can't understand how you got me," he said. "I thought I was well away with that second caravan. I hand it to you, you're smart."
Mr. Reeder offered him no enlightenment, nor did he ask the name of the boy. He knew that to the wild-eyed girl Red Joe was just "Danny's father." The next day he went in search of Bob Kressholm.
He found Bob sipping an absinthe frappé in a café near Piccadilly Circus. He was a lithe, dark man, who, in his confidence, surveyed the approach of the detective without apprehension; but when Mr. Reeder sat down by his side with a weary little sigh, Kressholm edged away from him.
"I saw a friend of yours yesterday, Mr.—um—Kressholm."
"Red Joe—yuh! I saw he'd gone down."
"Looking after his son, eh? Guardian of innocent childhood, H'm?"
Kressholm moved uneasily.
"Why not? Joe's a pal of mine. Grand feller, Joe. We only quarrelled twice—about women both times."
"You're a good hater," said Mr. Reeder gently.
He knew nothing then about Wenna Haddin and her ready knife. Nor what she had said to him about Danny.
He saw the man's face twitch.
"I've forgotten all about it—women do not interest me really."
Mr. Reeder sat, his umbrella between his knees, his bony hands gripping the crooked handle.
"H'm," he said, "a good hater. Joe wanted to know how he was caught. I didn't tell him that somebody called me up on the 'phone and told me all about the second caravan."
Kressholm turned his scowling face to the other.
"Who called you up?" he demanded truculently.
"You did," said Mr. Reeder softly. "You were under observation at the time—you didn't know that, but you were. I knew you were a friend of Brady's. I believe you were in the graft but I could never prove it. And you were seen to telephone to me from a public booth in the Piccadilly Tube at eleven twenty-seven one night—that was the hour at which the information came to him. Be careful what you do with that boy, Mr. Kressholm. That is all."
He got up, stood for a moment staring down at the uneasy man, and made his leisurely way from the restaurant.
Kressholm left London a week later, and very rarely returned; in the years that followed he proved himself an excellent organiser.
Danny Brady went out to him in less than a year.
In some mysterious way the story of his father's antecedents had reached the headmaster of his select school, and his guardian was asked to remove him. The boy came to see Wenna Haddin when the fair was at Nottingham. She was less depressed by his expulsion (for it was no less) than exhilarated by the prospect of his going to Paris.
A tall stripling, with dark auburn hair, he had grown since the girl had seen him last. She listened gravely to the recital of his plans, and her heart ached a little. If she did not like Mr. Reeder she hated Bob Kressholm.
"He's a queer man, Danny. I hope you'll be all right."
"Stuff! Of course I'll be all right," he scoffed. "Bob's a grand man—he wants me to call him Bob. Besides, he's a great friend of my father's."
She did not reply to this. Wenna was older than her years, knew men instinctively, and bitterly regretted all she had said about Danny that day in the wood, when she put into words the fantastical marriage plan of Danny's father.
So Danny went out; he came back a year later, a man, a careless, worldly young man, who had plenty of money to spend and had odd ideas about men and women, and the rights of property.
She used to correspond with him. Sometimes he answered her letters, sometimes months went past before he wrote to her.
Years went on, and Wenna seemed not a day older to him when he came back under a strange name. The old troth was re-plighted. He had had some experience in love-making. She felt curiously a stranger.
Two days after he left she heard of a big jewel robbery in Hatton Garden, and, for no reason at all, knew that he was the "tall, slight man" who had been seen to leave the office of a diamond merchant before his unconscious figure was found huddled up behind his desk. For by now Danny was an able lieutenant of the Governor.
ALMOST everybody associating with the criminal world had heard of "the Guv'nor." Scotland Yard referred to him jestingly. Inspector Gaylor did not believe in governors, except the "guv'nors" who ran the whizzing gangs, and he was acquainted with them because he had met and testified against these minor bosses, and had had the satisfaction, which only a policeman feels, in seeing them removed in the black van which runs regularly between the Old Bailey and Pentonville Prison.
But the real Governor, the big man, was a myth, a mariner's tale. Even when the jewel robberies began to assume serious proportions, nobody dared suggest that this visionary character had any connection with the crimes.
But to hundreds of lawless men, who spent the greater part of their lives in the cells of convict prisons, the Governor was a holy reality. He was immensely wealthy, he paid large sums to poor guys for their work and spent fortunes to keep them out of prison. At the very suggestion that a newcomer to Dartmoor was a highly paid lieutenant of the Governor, he was treated with respect which amounted to reverence.
This shining and radiant figure was, alas, unreachable. Nobody knew his identity. There was no channel by which a poor and bungling burglar might approach his divinity. They told stories about him—half-true, half-imaginary. He was a titled gentleman, who lived in a great house in the country and had his own motor cars and horses. He was a publican who kept a saloon in Islington. He was a trusted member of the C.I.D., who misused his position to his great advantage.
Certainly he chose discreet men to serve him, for never had any crime been brought home to him through the failure or loquacity of an assistant.
"The Governor!" said Inspector Gaylor scornfully, when there was first suggested to him the authorship of the Hatton Garden robbery. "You've been reading detective stories. That's Harry Dyall's work."
But when they pulled in Harry Dyall, his alibi was police-proof, and the more closely the crime was examined the more satisfied were the police that the robbery had been carried out by a master—which Harry was not.
"That's no corporal's job—it's a general's. If Bob Kressholm was in England I should say it was his," said Gaylor, who was called in by the city police.
It is very difficult for the police to believe in organised systems of crime carried out under the direction of one man.
"They meet in a dark cellar, I suppose," he sneered at the subordinate to whom the Governor was becoming a reality. "Wear masks and whatnots. Get that idea out of your mind, Simpson. Those things only happen in books."
The Governor and his general staff did not meet in dark cellars, nor did they wear masks. There is a big hotel near the Place de l'Opera in Paris which is rather noisy and rather expensive. The noisiest of all the rooms is the big saloon situated in one corner of the block. Here the incessant pip-squeak of taxi-cabs, the deep boom of motor horns, the thunder and ramble of cumbersome omnibuses are caught and amplified.
Four men played bridge; a fifth, and the younger, looked on impatiently.
The eldest of the four helped himself to a whisky and soda from a little table at his side, and threw down a card. The others followed suit mechanically. Nobody worried about the game. The cards might be convenient if some unexpected visitor arrived, though it was very unlikely that any such interruption would come.
"They called in Reeder over that Hauptman job of ours—you know that, Tommy?"
The man he addressed nodded.
"Reeder?" asked the young watcher. "Isn't he the fellow who pinched my father?"
Bob Kressholm nodded.
"Reeder is hot, but he doesn't as a rule touch anything but forgery. You needn't worry about him, Danny. Yes, he pinched your father. You owe him one for that."
The young man smiled.
"I remember—Wenna loathes him" he said. "Funny how women hold on to their prejudices. I was talking to her last week—"
Bob Kressholm's eyelids snapped.
"Talking to her—was she in Paris?"
For a moment Danny was embarrassed.
"Yes; she came over with her father to see a turn at the Hippique."
Kressholm was about to say something, but changed his mind.
"Anyway, Reeder's working with the police—he is in the Public Prosecutor's office now. You're not known in London, are you, Peter?"
Peter Hertz grunted something uncomplimentary about South Africa, a country where he was known, and Kressholm chuckled.
"Fine! But they don't send their prints over to Scotland Yard, so you're safe. Now listen, I've got a job for you boys..."
They listened for half an hour, and under his direction drew little plans on the backs of bridge markers. At eleven they separated. Danny Brady would have gone too, but the other asked him to wait behind.
"Stay on—I want to talk to you, kid." Kressholm was greyer than he had been when Red Joe went down for his ten.
"Why didn't you tell me Wenna was over?" he asked.
Danny looked uncomfortable.
"I didn't think you'd be interested, Bob," he said. Kressholm forced a smile.
"Always interested in Wenna—she doesn't like me. I saw her a couple of months ago and she treated me like a dog! God, she's lovely!"
That came out involuntarily. Danny's discomfort increased.
"She said nothing about me?" The young man lied with a head shake. "You and she are good friends, eh?"
"Why, yes. As a matter of fact, I gave her a ring—"
Kressholm nodded slowly; his blazing eyes were fixed on the carpet lest they betrayed him.
"Is that so? Gave her a ring? That's fine. I suppose you'll be thinking of throwing in your hand after this and settling down, eh? There's circus blood in you too."
Danny's face went red.
"I'm not going back on you," he said loudly. "I owe a lot to you, Bob—"
"I don't know that you do," said the other.
Here he did an injustice to himself as a tutor. For five years he had revealed wrong as an amusing kind of right, and black as an artistic variant of white. Crime had no shabby background in the golden flood-light of romance; its shabby rags, in the glamour with which he had invested them, became delightful vestments.
"You're doing the job—you're the Big Shot in the game, Danny. I wouldn't trust anybody but you. And talking of big shots—"
He went into his bedroom and came back with something in his hand that glittered in the lights of the chandelier.
"That's the first time I've trusted you with a gun. Don't be afraid to use it—you're not to get caught. There will be three cars planted for you with the engines running. I'll give you the plan. I'll have an aeroplane just outside of London. If you're pinched, don't worry: the Governor will get you out."
The young man examined the revolver, fascinated. His hand trembled; he had a moment of exaltation, such as the young knight must have felt when the golden spurs were fastened to his heel.
"You can trust me, Governor," he breathed; "and if there's no get-out, send me the Life of Napoleon."
The Life of Napoleon had a special interest for the Governor's friends.
He stayed on for an hour whilst Bob talked about West End jewellers, their peculiarities and weaknesses...
MR. J.G. REEDER began to take a solicitous interest in West End jewellers' shops soon after the Hauptmann affair. For the Hauptmann affair was serious; that a shop manager should be bludgeoned in broad daylight and three emerald necklaces snatched from a show-case was bad enough; that the two thieves should escape with their booty was a very black mark against police administration.
Questions were being asked in Parliament, an under-secretary interviewed a police chief and made pointed comments on efficiency. Then it was that Mr. Reeder was asked to "collaborate." He was a member of the Public Prosecutor's staff, and for some strange reason was persona grata at Scotland Yard—which is odd, remembering how extremely unpopular non-service detectives are at that institution.
So it came to be that Mr. Reeder spent quite a lot of time wandering about the West End of London, his frock-coat buttoned tightly, his square-topped bowler hat at the back of his head, a disconsolate figure of a man. Jewellers came to know him; they were rather amused by his helplessness and ignorance of the trade.
One of them spoke to Inspector Gaylor.
"What use would he be in a raid? He must be a hundred years old!"
"A hundred and seven," said Gaylor soberly. "At the same time I wouldn't advise you to stand in his way if he's in a hurry."
Griddens was robbed that night, the contents of the strong room taken; the night watchman was never seen again. Then the Western Jewellers Trust had a visit which cost the underwriter twelve thousand pounds. Mortimer Simms, the court jewellers, was robbed in daylight.
Mr. Reeder was in bed when two of these robberies occurred. When he appeared after the Mortimer Simms affair he was subjected to a certain amount of derision.
But Mr. Reeder was not distressed. He continued his studies and delved into the mysteries of precious stones. He handled diamonds which were not diamonds but white sapphires, to the top of which a slither of diamond was attached. He examined samples of the faker's art which were entirely new to the detective. He learned of Antwerp agencies which were exclusively run for the disposal of stolen gems, and of other matters of criminal ingenuity which, he confessed in a tone of mingled admiration and shocked surprise, he had never dreamed about.
After the Mortimer Simms robbery he seldom left the West End; actually lived in a small hotel near Jermyn Street, and applied himself more closely to the study of jewels and their illicit collectors.
There was a long and blameless interval during which the Governor's men did not operate. Then one day a typewritten letter came to Mr. Reeder. It ran:
"Keep your eyes skinned. The Seven Sisters are going—and how! Conduit Street will be getting lively soon."
There was no signature. The paper on which the letter was written had a soft, matt surface such as you may find in the racks of any French hotel, and the "e" in "eyes" had been inadvertently typed "é." A week passed and nothing happened.
Then, on a dreary afternoon...
The Seven Sisters lay glittering in their blue velvet case for all who cared to stop and admire. They had been written about and photographed, and usually there was a sprinkling of people before Donnyburne's plate-glass window, doing homage to these seven perfectly matched diamonds which had once adorned a royal crown.
To-day, because it was raining and a gusty wind was blowing, people hurried down Conduit Street without pausing before the big jeweller's store to pay homage.
A big two-seater car drew slowly to the side of the kerb, passed in front of a stationary taxi-cab and came to a halt twenty yards west of Donnyburne's. A young man, wearing a long trench coat, got out at his leisure, examined one of the front tyres carefully, and walked slowly to the back of the car. A taxi driver, who stood on the edge of the kerb, smoking a short clay pipe, looked at the young man curiously, though there was little reason for curiosity, for there was nothing extraordinary about him. He was rather good-looking; his skin was a deep olive; on his upper lip was a small reddish moustache. The hair under the soft hat was red too, but nobody observed him very closely at the moment.
He walked back to Donnyburne's and stood before the window, examining the Seven Sisters. Then, without haste, he seemed to be drawing a circle with his finger. There was a curious squeaking sound, and when he pushed at the window the circle of glass fell inward. He lifted the case, snapped down the lid and walked back to where his car was waiting. The taxi driver had his back towards him, and saw him pass and jump into the car, which stood with its engines running. Then:
"Stop that man!"
Somebody screamed the words from the doorway of the jeweller's. It was unfortunate that a policeman turned the corner and came into sight at that moment. He saw the gesticulating shop assistant, and as the car moved he leaped upon the running-board and caught the left arm of the driver. For a second the young man jerked backward, but he could not loose the hold. His knees gripped the steering column as the car gathered speed; his right hand fell into his side pocket.
"That's yours," he said very calmly, and as cold-bloodedly as a butcher might destroy a beast, he shot the policeman through the face.
It was done in a second. He dropped the gun to his side, gripped the wheel and spun round the corner.
He had not seen the elderly man with the side whiskers and the queer top hat, a man who, in spite of the rain, did not wear an overcoat nor was his umbrella unfurled. If he had seen him he might not have considered Mr. Reeder a serious obstacle to his plans. Indeed, he gasped his amazement when, just as the car took a turn, he jumped to the running-board.
The driver dropped his hand to his side. Before he could raise it something sprayed into his face, something that took the breath from his body and left him fighting for air.
Mr. Reeder switched off the engine, guided the car to the kerb, and allowed it to crash itself violently to a standstill against a stationary lorry. It had hardly stopped before he gripped the young man and dragged him on to the sidewalk.
Police whistles were blowing; he saw two policemen running, and handed over his prisoner.
"Search him before you take him to the station," he said gently. "It is quite permissible in the case of a man who is carrying dangerous firearms."
He picked up the pistol from the seat of the car, examined it carefully and dropped it into his pocket. The young man had recovered from the shock of the ammonia fumes that had been vaporised into his face, and by this time he was handcuffed. A cab drew up to the edge of the kerb, and the policeman signalled him.
"No, no." Mr. Reeder was very insistent. "There is too little room in a cab. Perhaps that gentleman would help us."
He nodded to a stout man in a big limousine which had pulled up to give its occupant an opportunity of satisfying his curiosity.
The stout man went pale at the suggestion that his car should be used for the conveyance of a murderer, but eventually he took his seat by the driver. It was to Marlborough Street that the prisoner was taken, and whilst the inspector was telephoning to Scotland Yard Mr. Reeder offered intelligent advice.
"Take every stitch of his clothing from him and give him new clothes, even if you have to buy them," he said. "I'm afraid I have a—um— rather—um—criminal mind, and I am just putting myself in this—er—unfortunate young man's place, and wondering exactly what I should do."
The clothing was removed; an old suit was discovered, and, by the time Chief Inspector Gaylor arrived from Scotland Yard, Mr. Reeder was making a very careful examination, not of the pockets, but of the lining of the murderer's discarded waistcoat. Between the lining and the shaped cloth of the breast he found a thin white paper which contained as much reddish powder as could be put upon the little finger-tip. In the lining of the coat he found its fellow. In the heel of the right boot, running the length of the sole, was a double-edged knife, thin and very flexible and keen.
"Pretty well equipped, Mr. Reeder." Gaylor viewed the discoveries with interest. "It almost supports your view."
"It quite supports my view, Mr. Gaylor, if you will allow me to say so." Mr. Reeder was apologetic. "As a rule I do not believe in—um— organised crime. The story of Napoleon Fagins at the heads of large bodies of men banded together for—um—illegal purposes is one at which—well, frankly, I have smiled hitherto."
"He got away with the Seven Sisters, eh?" Mr. Gaylor looked around. "Where are they?" Mr. Reeder shook his head.
"I'm afraid they're not here. That is one of the mysteries—indeed, the only mystery—of the raid. The assistant saw him from the moment he committed the crime till the moment he got into his car. When we arrested him we found neither the diamonds nor the case. The car is in the yard, being scientifically dissected, if I may employ so gruesome an illustration. I picked up the machine as it came round the corner, and there was no chance of his getting rid of the diamonds whilst he was under my eye.
"I searched his pockets the moment the police came up. And that—um—is that."
It was no coincidence that he had been in the region of Donnyburne's that afternoon. Mr. Reeder did not as a rule pay very much attention to anonymous "squawks," but he had been impressed by the paper, and the "e" with the acute accent. Such an afternoon was climatically most favourable for such a raid, and it was only by a fluke that he was not an actual witness of the murder. He had heard the shot and almost instantly the murderer's car had come into sight.
"He has given the name of John Smith, which is highly unimaginative. There are no papers to identify him. The car was hired from the Golston Garage—hired by the week, and a substantial deposit paid. John Smith has been seen in the West End of London, but nothing is known against him, and for the moment it is impossible to trace his address. I should imagine that he was living at a good hotel somewhere in the West End of London. He has lived in Paris, I should think; his shoes, his shirt and his necktie are French made. He probably arrived in London a week ago."
There was nothing to be gained by questioning John Smith. He seemed to feel the disgrace of wearing block-made clothes more acutely than the brand of murderer, and when the inspector questioned him he was indifferent and unrepentant.
"There's one thing I'd like to ask you—was that old bird who gassed me J.G. Reeder? I'd like to have him alone for a few minutes."
"You with a gun, I suppose?" said Gaylor savagely.
He was no philosopher where a comrade had been killed in the execution of his duty. People who kill policemen receive no consideration from such of the police as happen to be alive.
"With your hands, eh? He'd beat the life out of you, you dirty murderer!"
John Smith was amused.
"I shan't hang, don't worry," he said, almost airily. "Don't ask me who my confederates are, because I wouldn't dream of telling you. Besides, the new police regulations prevent your asking me questions, don't they?"
He showed two rows of even white teeth in a smile.
HE was as confident the next morning, the more so since his hotel address had been discovered and he was allowed to wear his own clothes, after they had been carefully searched.
The proceedings at the police court were formal. An indubitable murderer was in custody, and for the moment the police were concentrating on their search for the missing diamonds. Whither they had gone was a mystery. The taximan whose cab was near Donnyburne's said he had seen the murderer carrying a blue velvet case in his hand; that was the first thing that aroused his suspicion. He had not seen the murder committed; he had been looking round at the moment for his fare, a middle-aged lady whom he had picked up at Victoria and who had kept him waiting an hour, and eventually had not returned.
"It's the first time I've been bilked for ten years," he said. He had this little trouble of his own.
He had heard the shot, had seen the car go round the corner, leaving a dead man lying half in the road and half on the sidewalk, and had run to his assistance. A woman who was walking on the other side of the road, who also had heard the shot and had seen the machine pass on, was emphatic that nothing had been thrown from the car, nor did it seem likely to Mr. Reeder that the robber should attempt to throw away the gems he had won so dearly.
The car, as he had said, had been inspected, the lining removed, and had been stripped to its chassis and the inner panelling unscrewed. But there was no sign of the seven diamonds.
Not for the first time in his life, Mr. J.G. Reeder was up against the unbelievable. He had scoffed at gangs all his life; and here undoubtedly, and in the heart of London, was operating no mere confederacy of two or three men, whose acts were dictated by opportunity and expediency, but a body directed by a master mind (Mr. Reeder shuddered at the discovery that he was accepting such a bogey as a master criminal), operating on pre-determined plans and embodying not one branch of the criminal profession but several.
After the police court proceedings he went, as usual, by tramcar, a sad-looking figure, sitting in a corner seat, resting his hands upon the handle of his umbrella and expressing his gloom on his face.
The long journey was all too short for him, for he was resolving many things in his mind.
It was dark when he came to Brockley Road. As he alighted from the car and cautiously crossed that motor-infected thoroughfare he was amazed to see a familiar figure standing on the corner of the street. Gaylor did not often honour him by visiting the neighbourhood.
"You are here, are you?" Inspector Gaylor was obviously relieved.
Another man had alighted from the tramcar at the same time as Mr. Reeder, but he had hardly noticed him.
"It's all right, Jackson." Gaylor addressed him familiarly. "You'll find Benson up the road. Stay outside Mr. Reeder's house. I will give you fresh instructions when I come out."
They passed into Mr. Reeder's modest domicile together.
"You've got a housekeeper, haven't you, Mr. Reeder? I'd like to talk to her."
Mr. Reeder looked at him, pained.
"Aren't you being a little mysterious, my friend? You may think it odd, but I detest mysteries."
He was saved the trouble of ringing for his housekeeper, for that amiable lady came from some lower region to meet her employer.
"Has anybody been here?" asked Gaylor.
Mr. Reeder sighed, but did not protest.
"Yes, sir, a gentleman came with a letter. He said it was very urgent."
"Nothing else?" asked Gaylor. "He didn't leave a parcel?"
"No, sir," said the housekeeper, surprised.
The two men went to Mr. Reeder's study. The curtains were drawn, a little fire burned in the grate. It was one of those high-ceilinged rooms, and had an atmosphere of snug comfort. Gaylor closed the door.
"There's the letter." He pointed to the desk.
It was typewritten, addressed to "J.G. Reeder, Esq." and marked "Very Urgent."
"Do you mind seeing what it says?"
Mr. Reeder opened the letter. It was a closely typed sheet of manuscript, which had neither preamble nor signature. It ran:
Re John Smith. I am asking you what may seem at first to be an impossible favour. You are one of those who saw the shooting of Constable Burnett, and your evidence will be of the greatest importance in the forthcoming trial. I do not hope to save him if he comes into court. If you will help him to escape by such methods as I will outline to you, I will place to your credit the sum of fifty thousand pounds. If you refuse, I will kill you. I am putting the matter very clearly, so that there can be no mistake on either side. It is not necessary to tell you that fifty thousand pounds will provide you with comfort for the rest of your life and place you in a position of independence. I promise you that your name will not be connected with the escape. John Smith must not hang. I will stop at nothing to prevent this. Nothing is more certain than that you will meet your death if you refuse to help. If you are interested, and you agree, insert an advertisement in the agony column of The Times next Tuesday, in the following terms:
"JOHNNY,—meet me at the usual place.—JAMES."
and we will go further into this matter.
Reeder put down the letter and stared incredulously at his companion.
"Well?" said Gaylor.
"Dear me, how stupid!" murmured Mr. Reeder. He looked up at the ceiling. "That makes forty-one, or is it forty-two?"
"Forty-two what?" asked Gaylor curiously.
"Forty-two people have threatened to take my life if I didn't do something or other, or because I have done something—or is it forty-three?"
"I have had a similar letter," said Gaylor. "I found it at my house when I got home to-night. Reeder, this is one of the biggest things we have ever struck. It is certainly the biggest thing I have ever known in my experience as a police officer. It is something more than an ordinary gang. These people have money and probably influence, and for some reason or other we have hurt them pretty badly when we took this young man. What are you going to do?"
Mr. Reeder pursed his lips as if his immediate intention was to whistle.
"Naturally, I shall not put in the advertisement as our friend suggests," he said. "Why next Tuesday? Why not to-morrow? What is the reason for the delay? The letter was urgently delivered; it is sure to call for an urgent reply. It is a little too obvious."
"That is what I thought. In other words, nothing will happen to you until next Tuesday. My impression is that we are in for a troublesome time almost immediately; that is why I telephoned to the Yard to have one of my men pick you up and shadow you down here. These people will move like lightning. Do you remember what this fellow said this morning in court? The whole story was a fabrication and a case of mistaken identity. That is a pretty conventional excuse, Reeder, but it was very well timed. Who are the witnesses against this man? You are one of the principals; I am, in a way, another. The shop assistant is a third. The two policemen who arrested him hardly count. Huggins, the taxi-driver, one of the most important, disappeared at six o'clock this evening."
Mr. Reeder nodded at him thoughtfully. "I foresaw that possibility," he said.
"His taxi-cab was found in a side street off the Edgware Road," Gaylor went on. "There was blood on the seat and on the window of the cab. He lives over the mews very near the place where it was found. He hasn't been home, and I don't suppose he'll come home," he added grimly. "I have got two men looking after the shop assistant, who lives at Anerley. He also has had a warning not to go to court. Does that strike you as interesting?"
Mr. Reeder did not answer. He loosened his frock coat, put his hat carefully on a side table and sat down at his desk. He stared absently at Gaylor for some time before he spoke, then, opening a drawer, he took out a folder and extracted two sheets of foolscap.
"It is very bad to have preconceived ideas, Mr. Gaylor," he said. "I did not believe in gangs. I thought they were a figment—if you will excuse the expression—of the novelist's imagination, and here I am discussing them as seriously as though they were a normal condition of life. By the way, I knew the cabman had disappeared. It was silly of us not to have arrested him—in fact, I went to arrest him, and then I heard of the—um—accident."
Gaylor gaped at him.
"Arrest him?" incredulously. "Why on earth?"
"He had the Seven Sisters—the diamonds. Obviously nobody else could have had them. They were tossed into the cab by Smith—whose name, I think, is Danny Brady—as he passed. In fact, the cab was planted there for the purpose. Huggins—an interesting name— was one of the gang. The blood-stained cab is picturesque, but unconvincing. I should have the Channel ports very carefully watched and circulate a description of the—um—deceased."
MR. REEDER'S theory had a rapid confirmation. "Huggins" was picked up the next night, not at a Channel port, but at Harwich, and he took his place in the dock as an accessory to the murder.
Friday came and passed. There was no evidence of reprisal. Gaylor would have placed detectives on guard before and in Mr. Reeder's house, but that gentleman grew so unusually testy at the suggestion that the inspector decided to let his colleague die any way he wished.
"Die be—um—blowed!" said Mr. Reeder, and apologised for his vulgarity. "That letter was what is called in America a—um—'front.' In other words, it was a show-off and meant nothing. I suspect friend Kressholm is establishing an alibi."
"A little late for an alibi," said Gaylor.
"Not so late as you think," was Reeder's cryptic reply.
It was during the trial of Daniel Brady that Kressholm came to London. There was no reason why he should not. He held a British passport, and there was not a scrap of evidence to connect him with the crime.
He had not been at his hotel five minutes when they telephoned from the inquiry office to ask him if he would see a lady. Before they told him Wenna's name he knew who it was.
Sorrow had refined, as it had aged, her. He never realised how much older than Danny she was till he saw that pale, haggard face.
"I've seen Danny," she said breathlessly. "He told me that he was coming to London. I've called here three times this afternoon. He believes in you—"
"What did he tell you?" His voice was sharp.
Danny's confidence in him did not outweigh his alarm. That he should be even remotely associated with this crime...
She shook her head impatiently.
"You needn't worry, Kressholm; I know you are in this. No, no, he didn't tell me, but I know. What can we do? You've got to save him."
He was staring at her hungrily, and, distressed as she was, she did not realise that even in this tragic moment his interest was for her and not for the man who stood in the shadow of the scaffold.
"I don't know what we can do. I'm getting the best lawyers. Only Reeder's tied him up pretty completely."
"Reeder" she gasped. "That old man! Has he done this?"
Bob Kressholm nodded.
"He's always been down on the Bradys," he said glibly. "That old bird will rather die than let up on Danny. He was waiting for him—in fact, he arrested him."
She sat down heavily in a chair and buried her face in her hands. He stood looking at the slim, bent back. That must be the ring that Danny gave her —the glittering sapphire on her finger. He went angrily hot at the thought.
It must be ten years since that disagreeable episode in the wood. She had forgotten all that perhaps... he had been a little raw. At any rate, she had forgiven him or she would not be here.
"I hate to see you like this, Wenna," he said. "I'll fix Reeder for you one of these days."
She sprang to her feet, her eyes blazing.
"One of these days—you? Don't worry, Kressholm, I'll fix him. If anything happens to Danny—" Her voice broke.
He soothed her with the clumsiness which was part of his insincerity.
She would have attended the trial, but he dissuaded her; she would upset Danny, he said. In truth he was anxious that she should not meet Reeder, that astute man who had a disconcerting habit of telling unpleasant truths, and he was glad that the girl had taken his advice when, on the opening day of the trial, Reeder approached him outside the Old Bailey.
"You're giving evidence, of course, Mr. Kressholm?"
The other man turned his suspicious eye upon his questioner.
"What do I know about it? I know Danny, of course, but I've been out of the crooked game so long that he wouldn't have told me he was going to do a fool thing like shooting a copper."
"Indeed?" Mr. Reeder inclined his head graciously. "I suppose that governors do not take risks—"
"Governors!" said the man scornfully. "Where did you get that word? You've been listening to those penny-dreadful flatties at the Yard! No, I tried to keep the boy straight he's the son of my pal, and that's why he is having all the legal assistance that money can buy."
"And Mr. Huggins—who, by the way, was identified this morning by a South African police officer, who happened to be in London, as Peter Hertz —is his father a friend of yours?"
For a second Bob Kressholm was embarrassed.
"Naturally I shall look after him," he said at last. "I don't know the bird, but they say that he is a friend of Danny's. I don't even know the gang."
Mr. Reeder looked down at the pavement for a long time.
"Is there anything wrong with my boots?" asked Kressholm facetiously.
Mr. Reeder shook his head.
"No—only I shouldn't like to be standing in them," he said. "Red Joe Brady is due for release in a month's time."
He left the master-man with this unpleasant reminder.
The trial ran its inevitable course. On the second day the jury retired and returned with a verdict of guilty against Brady and Hertz. Danny was sentenced to death and Hertz to fourteen years' penal servitude.
Mr. Reeder was not in court. It was not his business to be there, so he did not hear the commendations of the judge, or see Danny's frosty smile as the sentence of death was passed and there came to him the realisation that the all-powerful Governor was for once impotent. He had listened to Reeder's evidence closely, and only once did he appear startled; that was when the detective told of the warning he had had that the Seven Sisters were threatened.
Mr. Reeder read the account in the late editions of the newspapers and sighed drearily.
Kressholm was not in court at the last, and had asked for an interview with the young man, a request which was refused.
It was nearly midnight and Mr. Reeder was preparing to go to bed, when he heard the front bell ring. He had had installed a small house telephone on to the street. It saved him a lot of trouble when his housekeeper had gone to bed. He pressed the knob which lit a small red lamp in the lintel of the street door and incidentally showed the concealed receiver of the 'phone, and asked:
"Who is there?"
To his surprise, "Kressholm" was the reply.
Kressholm was the last man in the world he expected to see that night. He went downstairs slowly, switched on the light in the hall and opened the door. The man was alone.
"I'm sorry to disturb you—" he began.
"I'll take your apologies in my office," said Reeder. "Do you mind walking ahead of me?"
He followed the visitor into the big room which was office and living-room, and, closing the door, pointed to a chair.
"I'll stand," said Kressholm shortly.
He was nervous. His restless hands moved from one button of his overcoat to the other. He put down his hat in one place, took it up and put it down in another.
"I want you to understand, Reeder," he began.
"Mister Reeder," said that gentleman gently. "If ever I put you in the dock you can call me what you like; for the moment I would rather be called 'mister' which means 'master,' and I will be your master sooner or later, or my name is Smith!"
Kressholm was taken aback by the correction. He scowled a little and then laughed nervously. "Sorry, Mr. Reeder, but this case has rattled me. You see, the boy was in my charge. His father and I were old friends."
Mr. Reeder had sat down at his writing-table. He leaned back now and sighed.
"Is all this necessary?" he asked. "It is not conscience that has brought you here; it is blue funk, isn't it?"
Kressholm went an angry red.
"I am afraid of nobody in the world." He raised his voice. "Not you —, and not that damned—"
"S-sh!" J.G. Reeder was apparently shocked. "I do not like strong language. You are afraid of nobody but Red Joe. I wonder, too, if you are afraid of that little circus girl who has paid several visits to your hotel? Miss Haddin, isn't it?"
Bob Kressholm stared but said nothing. He found a difficulty in speaking.
"She was—um—engaged to the young man. A fiery young woman; I remember her—yes. If she knew what I know—"
"I don't know what you mean," said Kressholm huskily.
"Then let me tell you why you have called on me," said Mr. Reeder.
He folded his arms on the table and fixed the other with a steely eye.
"When I see his father, you want me to tell him that I and Mr. Gaylor were offered fifty thousand pounds to secure his escape. We were also threatened with death if we did not agree."
Kressholm's face was ludicrous in its blank amazement.
"That is just what you wished to ask me," Mr. Reeder went on; "but you don't exactly know how to broach the subject. Well, it is difficult to convey to a police officer the fact that you have both tried to bribe and threaten him without involving yourself in a lot of trouble. I will save you a little trouble, anyway. You were establishing your defence. You trained this boy the way he has gone, and it is going to take the whole Metropolitan Police Force to save your life. If you are wise you will go back to France and let Red Joe give the French police the bother of arresting him for your murder."
"If you think I am afraid of Red Joe—"
Mr. Reeder nodded.
"You are terrified, and I think you have very good reason."
Reeder walked to the door and opened it.
"I don't want to talk to you any more, Kressholm." He glanced down. "I see you are wearing shoes this evening. Well, I should not like to be in those, either."
Kressholm gave no further explanation. None of his gang, seeing him now, would have recognised the ruthless Governor they knew.
DANNY BRADY was a foolish young man, but he had quite enough intelligence to know that his appeal, which he would make automatically, was doomed to failure. He was completely satisfied on the subject when the governor, making his morning visit to the condemned cell, told him that a parcel of books had arrived for him.
He showed Danny the list and told him he could have one volume at a time. Danny chose The Life of Napoleon. He spent the greater part of the day writing a letter to the girl he would never see again, and took The Life of Napoleon to bed with him. About eleven o'clock he put the book on the floor.
"Leave it there," he said to one of the watchers. "I don't think I am going to sleep very well to-night."
Now, a condemned prisoner may not sleep with his face covered. When Danny drew the coarse sheet over his head one of the watching warders admonished him.
"Turn down that sheet!" he said.
Just at that moment the sheet began to go red very rapidly, for Danny had cut his throat with a safety razor blade which had been carefully bound into the cover of the book.
All the available doctors could not save Danny's life; he died before twelve. The prison governor and four warders sat up all night long taking evidence from the warders concerned.
Mr. Reeder went down and saw the book. Afterwards he called at a London hotel where he knew Kressholm was staying. The man had recovered something of his old poise. He expressed his deep sorrow at the death of his young friend, but could give no information about that fatal Life of Napoleon. He admitted that in his youth he had been a bookbinder—that fact was registered on his documents at Scotland Yard, for Bob Kressholm had been twice in the hands of the police.
"I know nothing about it," he said. "I only put 'bookbinder' because I thought I'd get an easy job in prison. I don't see how the razor blade could be put into the binding—"
"It is a very simple matter," said Mr. Reeder patiently. "The boy had only to tear off the inside paper, and it was easy, because it was stuck with gum that had not even been set."
He and Gaylor made a search of the man's baggage, but found nothing in the nature of a bookbinding outfit. There was not sufficient evidence to have justified an arrest, but Kressholm spent that night in Scotland Yard answering interminable questions, and was a weary man when they had finished with him.
The sensation came into the afternoon papers in the shape of a short paragraph issued by Scotland Yard.
"Daniel Brady, lying under sentence of death, succeeded in committing suicide last night at eleven o'clock. The weapon was a safety razor blade which had been smuggled into the prisoner, bound in the cover of a book, by some person or persons unknown."
It was the next day that the inquest provided the full story of the tragedy. Mr. Reeder read it from start to finish, though he had heard the evidence of every witness before the case came to court. He was reading the newspaper in the room where he had interviewed Kressholm, and had put it down by his side, when there was a tap at his door and his housekeeper came in.
"Will you see a man named Joseph Brady?" she asked.
Mr. Reeder drew a long breath. He looked from the woman to the newspaper, then picked up the paper, carefully folded it and put it into his wastepaper basket.
"Yes, I will see Joseph Brady," he said softly.
Joe had not changed, save that his hair, which had been red, was almost white, and the smooth face that Reeder had known was drawn and haggard.
Reeder pushed up a chair for the stricken man, and he dropped into it. For fully five minutes neither spoke, then Joe lifted his head, and said:
"Thank God he went that way!"
"I read about the case in prison." Brady's voice was even and steady. "I thought I'd get to London in time to see him, but I got there the morning after it happened. I could have seen him then, but it would have meant going to the inquiry and giving evidence, and telling a lot of things that I want to keep to myself."
There was another long interregnum of silence. The man sat, head bent, his arms folded on his breast. He showed no other evidence of his emotion. After a while he looked up.
"You're as straight a man as I've ever met, Reeder. I've heard other lags say they look upon you more as a pal than an enemy, but that isn't why I've come to see you. I've come to talk about"—there was a pause— "Kressholm—Bob Kressholm."
"Why bother with him?" asked Mr. Reeder, and knew he was saying something very inane.
A quick smile came and left the man's face.
"I thought I'd tell you something. I know all that Kressholm's done to my boy, and I know why he did it—about this kid Wenna, I mean. No, I haven't seen her, I won't see her yet. I've been talking with the boys, you know—the underworld, you call it—"
"I don't, but quite a lot of people do. And what did they tell you?"
"They say Danny was caught on a squeal—that somebody planted you to get him. The same man, I guess, who told you about my printing plant in the caravan." He paused expectantly, and when Mr. Reeder said nothing he laughed harshly. "I thought so! I've got money—stacks of it. I'm one of the few crooks who have ever made a fortune and kept it. I'm going to spend that money wisely. I'm going to use it to kill Kressholm."
Mr. Reeder murmured something admonitory, but the man shook his head.
"I'm telling you that I'm going to kill him. That's going to be my little joke. But I shan't be caught, and I shan't be punished. I'm going to hang him, Reeder—hang him by the neck till he's dead. That's the sentence I've passed on him! And neither you nor any other man will know it. That's the thought that's keeping me sane."
"You're mad, you fool," said Mr. Reeder, with unusual roughness. "No murderer ever gets away with it in this country. I'm not taking too much notice of what you say—I feel terribly sorry for you. If I were not an—um—officer of the law I should say he deserved almost anything that's coming to him. Get out of the country—go to the Cape or somewhere. I'll help you at Scotland Yard—"
Red Joe shook his head.
"I stay here. I'm not leaving this country even if Kressholm leaves. He'll come back—there's nothing more certain than that—and I'll kill him, Reeder! I came to tell you that, and to tell Scotland Yard that."
He picked up his hat and walked to the door. For once in his life Mr. Reeder found himself entirely devoid of speech. He walked to the window and looked out: a taxi-cab was waiting; he saw the man enter and drive off, and, going back to the telephone, he called Gaylor.
The inspector was out and was not reachable. Mr. Reeder contented himself with writing the gist of the interview and sending it by express post to Scotland Yard.
It occurred to him afterwards that it was his duty to arrest the man summarily; he was a convict on licence, and had uttered threats to murder, which in itself was a felony. But somehow that solution never occurred to Mr. Reeder. And it must be admitted, although he was on the side of the law, that it took him a long time to energise himself into ringing up the hotel where he knew Kressholm was staying. He did not expect to find that good hater, and was surprised when, after a short delay, Kressholm's voice replied to his.
The man listened and laughed scornfully. Evidently something had happened which had removed his fear of Red Joe, and what that something was Mr. Reeder was curious to know, but was not satisfied. It was Bob Kressholm who pointed out the strict path of duty, and Mr. Reeder was pardonably annoyed.
"If he threatened me why didn't you pinch him?" demanded Kressholm. "You'd look silly if he did me in—but he won't."
"Why are you so sure, my dear friend?" asked Mr. Reeder gently.
"Because, my dear friend," mocked Kressholm's voice, "I am a pretty difficult man to reach."
MR. REEDER was well aware of the fact; Kressholm never moved without his escort of gunmen. He had seen them hovering in the background that day at the Old Bailey. Not for nothing was he called "the Governor"; the very title presupposed a following. He had doubled his escort since he heard that Red Joe was out of prison. His men slept in the rooms on either side of his. He had a guard outside the hotel.
Kressholm would have gone to Paris—he knew the bolt holes better there, and had a certain pull with important officials, and, but for Wenna, he would have left England on the day of the inquest. But Wenna was unusually humble and pathetically helpless. Old Lew Haddin came down to London to bring her back to the show. He was not so much concerned by the tragedy which had broken her as by the loss of an attraction.
"I'll come when I'm ready," she said.
Lew complained sadly to Kressholm that girls were quite different from what they had been in the days of his mother.
"No respect for God or man—or fathers," he quavered. "She's afraid of nothing. She was making lions jump through hoops when she was ten, and she thinks no more of dropping two thousand feet on a parachute than you and me would think of walking downstairs."
He complained, but left her alone.
She had so far forgotten her old detestation of Bob Kressholm that she used to go to dinner with him in his suite. If she contributed nothing to his happiness—for she would sit for hours, hardly speaking a word, staring past him—she added zest and determination to this man who was in her thrall. He saw a grand culmination to these years of disappointment and rebuff. Red Joe he did not fear—he would be "taken care of." If he were uneasy at all it was because Joe made no direct attempt to see him, did not communicate by word or letter.
Though he professed to be without fear, he heaved a sigh of relief when he heard, from the man whom he had set to shadow him, that Brady had left one afternoon for the Continent. For one moment he had an idea of ringing up Scotland Yard and reporting this irregularity. A convict is not allowed to leave the district to which he is assigned, and a breach of this law might bring about his return to prison to complete his sentence.
Only once he spoke to Wenna Haddin about Joe. She answered his question with a shake of the head.
"No, I haven't seen him—poor man; I expect he's too heartbroken to see anybody. I think if anybody loved Danny as much as I did it was his father."
She thought for a long time, then she said: "I'd like to see him. Perhaps he'd help."
"With Reeder?" And, when she nodded: "Don't be silly! Joe thinks Reeder is the best chap in the world! That surprises you, doesn't it? But then, you see, Joe doesn't know what Reeder's done for him. That old man is as artful as the devil. If you told Joe he'd laugh at you."
She was eyeing him steadily.
"Why? If you can convince me you could convince him."
He was rather taken aback.
"I didn't convince you, I merely told you the truth," he said.
She did not answer this, and he reached out and laid his hand on hers. She made no attempt to withdraw it.
"Poor Red Joe!" Her voice softened.
He never knew how simple or complex she was; whether she was either, or just a humdrum medium made radiant through the eyes of his passion. Old Lew Haddin, white-haired and obese, could talk for hours in his monotonous, sleep-making voice and always the subject was Wenna and her peculiar values. Red Joe once said she had the brains of a general, but, by accounts, some generals are rather stupid.
"Why poor Joe?" he asked, and suddenly tightened his grip on her hand.
"We have kept his caravan just as he left it," she said. "Nobody uses it, of course; I tidy it every week. Lew grumbles at the cost of haulage" (she invariably referred to her parent in this familiar way) "and deducts it from Joe's share; he owns half the park." As she spoke she looked at him oddly. "You are a friend of Joe's?"
"Then I can ask you something. He was charged with forging bank-notes, wasn't he? Could they imprison him again supposing they found something else against him?"
Kressholm became suddenly very attentive. "Like what?" he asked.
"Bonds and letters of credit. I found the plates in the wall lining of the caravan. He had a sort of secret panel there. Nobody knew it."
Bob Kressholm's heart leapt.
"Are they there still?" he asked. He tried to give a note of carelessness to his inquiry.
"Yes, the plates, and the papers, and everything, Could the law punish him for that?"
He considered this.
"I shouldn't think so," he said.
He had hazy notions about the English law, but here he saw the making of a second charge, which might easily dispose of a serious menace. She told him that Joe had had an assistant, a man who still worked with the circus, and who was the only person beside herself who had access to the van.
When he left her that night Kressholm had made up his mind. He tried to get in touch with the detective, but J.G. Reeder was out of town. He was working on a case in the South of England. What that case was Kressholm learned from the newspapers, and his hopes rose higher.
MR. REEDER was very heavily engaged, but found time to call at Kressholm's hotel.
"I'd have come to you—" began Bob.
"I'd rather you didn't." J.G. could be offensive on occasions. "I have already a—um—bad name in Brockley."
Kressholm swallowed this with a grin.
"I noticed in the newspapers that you were working on a case, and I wondered if I could help you," he said. "I'd like to do you a turn if I could."
"I'm so sure of that," murmured Mr. Reeder. "It is a great joy to know that one's efforts are appreciated by the—um—unconvicted classes."
Without further preliminary Kressholm told him of what he had learnt from the girl, and J.G. Reeder listened without apparent interest. Yet, if this story were true, here was a big link in the chain he was piecing together with such difficulty.
"Are you sure that this story isn't suggested by the foolish paragraph you read in the newspapers?" he asked.
"If I die this minute—" began Kressholm.
"You would go straight to hell," said Mr. Reeder gravely. He was one of those old-fashioned people who believed in hell.
"No, this is straight, Mr. Reeder," protested Kressholm. "I thought that you ought to know this. I'm not telling you this because I am scared of Joe, so that I want to get him out of the way. I am telling you—well, because I feel that you ought to know."
Mr. Reeder nodded slowly.
"In the interest of justice, of course," he said. "Very—um— commendable. Where is this—er—entertainment park at the present moment?"
"They will be near Barnet next Monday," said Kressholm; then, anxiously: "What is the law on the subject, Mr. Reeder?"
J.G. pursed his lips thoughtfully.
"I'm not a lawyer," he said. "But, of course, it is very, very wrong to —um—be in possession of the instruments of forgery. And this assistant, you say, is still carrying on the—er—bad work?"
"So she—so I understand," Kressholm corrected himself hastily.
He offered a suggestion which was received without comment: Joe's caravan was invariably parked on the outside edge of the camp, and could be approached without observation. The night watchman who patrolled the fair-ground rarely went as far.
"I will undertake to get you the key of the van. As a matter of fact, I am staying the night on Monday. I suppose you could get a search warrant and that sort of thing; but I am asking you as a personal favour to make sure I'm right before you get a warrant. I do not want to be brought into this."
"You don't want to be brought into anything, Mr. Kressholm," said Reeder unpleasantly. "Hitherto you have been very successful. Is the young lady a friend of yours now?"
If he had stopped to think Bob Kressholm would have realised that no young lady's name had been mentioned.
"We have always been good friends," he said, and then realised his mistake. "I suppose you mean Miss Haddin I don't know what she's got to do with it."
"A nice young lady, but rather—impetuous," said Mr. Reeder. "She thought I was responsible for Joe's arrest, when really it was you. She probably thinks I was responsible for Danny Brady's death, when it was —um—you know, I think, who it was. It is all very interesting."
Mr. Reeder had something to think about. Nobody credited so staid and matter-of-fact a man with such an insatiable sense of curiosity as he possessed. All that night until he retired to his chaste bedroom he pondered the information Bob Kressholm had offered. His acquaintance with the law told him that the re-arrest of Red Joe would be followed by an acquittal. The man had served imprisonment for an act of forgery and if some other act, which had occurred concurrently, was revealed, the law would take a lenient view.
The mysterious assistant was another matter. Mr. Reeder had not heard of an assistant, but then there was quite a number of happenings about which he knew nothing.
It was a coincidence that he had been occupied for two or three days with the matter of forged letters of credit. There was no secret about this. The fact that the forged letters had been cashed and that Mr. J.G. Reeder, "the well-known forgery expert," had been in consultation with certain bank managers in Brighton had been published in the morning newspaper, and had been read by Kressholm. The man who was passing the letters had also negotiated some bearer bonds of a spurious character. That fact, too, was public property.
And yet all the evidence he had accumulated pointed to a certain hochstapler in Berlin, about whom the Berlin Criminal Police were pursuing close inquiries. There was a German end to it beyond any doubt, but that did not mean that the letters had not been forged in England. A search warrant would be easy to secure, and as easy to execute. Yet he hesitated to make the necessary application. If the truth be told, Mr. Reeder had a sneaking sympathy with Red Joe.
The police thought they had removed every kind of plate and press from the van. It was quite possible that the press had been renewed and was being employed to print from the plates which only Joe could have made. He consulted Gaylor on the subject, but the inspector was not enthusiastic. It was one of those frequently recurring periods when the police were unpopular because they had failed to secure two important convictions, and the usual questions were being asked in the House of Commons.
"It's the German crowd, I should think. Where did you get the information from? I'm sorry."
That was a question that police officers did not ask Mr. Reeder; he either volunteered the source or refused it, for he was very jealous about betraying the confidence of the least worthy of men. There was reason in this, because such revelations frequently compromised other and more important "squeaks."
Reviewing all the possibilities, J.G. Reeder decided not to pay a nocturnal visit to the Haddin menage, and when Mr. Kressholm rang him up at his home, he cut short the elaboration of that gentleman's instructions.
It was a disappointed man who travelled to Barnet on the Monday afternoon, though his discomfort was short lived.
He had re-established contact with Wenna Haddin—an amazing accomplishment, all the more remarkable because he had recovered all the old fascination she had exercised. Ten years is a very long time; men and women change in that period, especially women.
But time had stood still for Wenna; the slim beauty of her went to his head like wine, and when she gave him a cold welcome at the door of the big caravan which old Lew had built for her, he could have shut his eyes and believed that it was only yesterday that their acquaintance had ended dramatically in that little plantation near the Exeter fair ground.
"Lew is away," she said. "He has gone to Liverpool to see a shipment of wild beasts that have arrived from Africa. You will sleep in his van."
He glanced at her sleeping bunk, covered now with a gaily coloured cloth. Above the head of the bed was a framed photograph of Danny Brady—the only picture in the van.
"Poor old Dan!" he said. "I feel responsible." She looked at him steadily.
"Why?" she asked.
Kressholm shrugged his shoulders.
"I should have given him a better training. Honestly, I tried to keep him out of the crooked game, Wenna."
She smiled faintly.
"He was too useful for you to keep him out," she said. "Let us be sincere with one another as far as we can be."
She had the disconcerting habit of directness—nobody made Bob Kressholm feel so foolish as she did.
"You're 'the Governor,' aren't you? I've heard about you, of course," she went on. "We have all sorts of queer people working for us—old gaol birds and people who should be if they had everything that was coming to them. Were you in London when Danny was arrested?"
He shook his head.
"I rarely leave Paris." And then, feeling that the occasion called for a little frankness: "I'll tell you the truth, Wenna. I knew that Danny was doing this job. He was one of my best men. He was impetuous and undisciplined. The last thing I said to him before he left Paris was 'For God's sake don't carry a gun.' He promised me he wouldn't."
She was looking past him out of the curtained window, and she sighed.
"Reeder, of course, knew as much about the business as I did—I'll hand it to that old bird; he's got the best information bureau in the world."
She looked round at him.
"And yet he's never caught you," she said. "That's queer, isn't it?"
Bob Kressholm chuckled.
"The man who catches me has got to be up very early in the morning," he said complacently.
WENNA changed the subject abruptly, told him the news of the camp. They had had to shoot an elephant the previous week; he had got out of hand and attacked his keeper. Four new turns were coming from Germany, they were acrobats; and a new woman rider.
He learned from another source, when he was wandering about the grounds, watching the men renovating the vans, that Wenna had had a narrow escape from death when the fair was at Nottingham. The old balloon in which she made her spectacular ascent had burst in mid-air, and she had only just time to release herself. Even then, the parachute did not open until she was less than a hundred feet from the ground. Fortunately, she had fallen on the top of a straw rick, uninjured.
He talked to her about this over the meal she had served in her van.
"It was nothing," she said carelessly. "I was hoping the parachute wouldn't open—I'm glad it did now. There's something I want to do very badly. Lew's got a new balloon; it's the one you saw being filled in the grounds."
"You've got to cut this parachute jumping, Wenna," he said.
"Why?" she asked. She did not raise her eyes from her plate.
"You're going to cut the circus business altogether." His voice shook a little. "This morning you said I was the Governor—I am. I've made a fortune, Wenna, and I'm cutting my little circus too. I've bought a villa at Como, where I'm going to live half the year, and I'm going to travel the other half. I'm going to call it the Villa Wenna."
"Why?" she asked again, and when he spoke his voice was husky.
"I've wanted you all these years, and now more than ever. I've only loved two women in my life, Wenna, and you make me forget the other one."
She pushed the plate away from her and looked up at him suddenly.
"Is this a marriage proposal or are you suggesting one of those attachments that are so popular in circuses?" she asked coolly.
Her self-possession took his breath away.
"Why, of course—marriage," he blurted. "You're thinking of what happened that time at Exeter? I've hated myself ever since. Wenna, I'm crazy about you."
He reached out for her hand, but this time she drew it away.
"I'll think about it," she said brusquely, and at that moment the big Swede who was her servant came in with a huge pot of coffee.
He was a big man, hideously ugly, and lame in one leg, the result of a bad fall; he and his brother had been Wenna's bodyguard as long as she could remember. They were both past the age for active work in the ring, but Kressholm had always thought, and had no reason to change his opinion now, that he would prefer the hug of a bear to a rough and tumble with these broad-shouldered giants.
"Stephan wears well," he said, when the man had gone, and added jocularly: "I believe if you told him to cut my throat he'd do it."
She seemed disinclined to discuss Stephan, and when the table was cleared she found a pack of cards and they played piquet together. Throughout the game she seldom spoke, and he had the impression that her mind was far away from the cards, though she played with all her old skill. But in other respects she was vague, distraite, and when she spoke at all, which was rarely, she gave him the impression that she was making a conscious effort.
At the end she threw down her hand and leaned back in her folding chair with a sigh.
"So you're going to marry me, are you, and take me away out of all this? Como?" She shivered, and her face hardened. "That's where we were going, to Como—Danny and I," she said, very evenly. And then she changed the subject with that odd abruptness which he had observed of late. "Have you seen Reeder?"
The question startled him out of his self-possession. "Reeder?" he stammered. "No; why should I see Reeder? You've got that man on your mind."
"Yes, very much on my mind. You haven't seen him?" Her eyes were searching his face.
Kressholm laughed. He realised how artificial that laugh was. Wenna turned to a cupboard set in the wall by the bed head, and, opening it, took out a key.
"You asked me if you could look over Joe's van—here is the key of it. You won't find the plates, and you're not to make any attempt. I'm trying to get in touch with Joe. I want him to take the things away."
She was going to say something, but checked herself, walked to the door and opened it.
"Good-night," she said.
He tried to take her hand, intending no more than to kiss it, but she snatched it away from him and slammed the door before he was half-way down the steps.
He found the Swede waiting to show him to his van.
"You want to see Joe's van, don't you?" He had a hoarse, deep voice which was hardly human.
"Sure," said Kressholm. "You might show me where it is. I don't think I'll look at it to-night; I'll wait till the morning."
The Swede led the way in silence past shrouded wagons and traction engines, stopping before a van the contour of which, despite the darkness, Kressholm recognised. He only wanted to locate it, in case Reeder changed his mind. Then he followed the Swede back to his own sleeping place, bade him good-night, and went inside, bolting the door.
Wenna puzzled him. He had the sense that she was expecting some tremendous happening—her mind was certainly not upon her visitor.
By the aid of a travelling lamp which the Swede had lit for him, Kressholm sat down to finish some important work that he had begun before he had left London. It was true that he was surrendering the title of which he was so proud, and the chieftainship of the group of gangs which he had directed so skilfully. There was reason more or less; his jewellery factory at Antwerp had been visited by the police, and from the fact that they were accompanied by an English detective Bob Kressholm guessed that this search was a direct consequence of the Seven Sisters raid.
The French police were working too. He had received news that a "club" of his had been raided; worse still, his own private apartments on the Etoile had been visited by detectives and searched.
Unless he had fallen into some error, it was impossible that he could be associated either with the gang or with the Antwerp establishment. His connection with questionable enterprises was hidden four deep, and the police would be clever to connect him with any of the big jewel robberies which had exercised European police circles during the past five years.
Now was a good time to finish, with Joe on his track, and Reeder knowing considerably more about him than he had guessed.
He was totalling up his investments and bank balances in various parts of Europe, and the sum of them was most satisfactory.
He undressed, put out the light and went to bed. He did not sleep well, though the bed was comfortable enough. Somewhere in the fair-ground a lion was roaring hungrily throughout the night. He dozed, only to wake to a sound which, even in his sleep, had got on his nerves.
He looked at his watch; it had stopped, and, heaving out of bed, he went to the door, drew aside the curtains and looked out.
He uttered an exclamation under his breath.
A man moved out of the shadow of a covered wagon a dozen yards away; and then, to his amazement, he saw a girl's figure go to meet the unknown watcher. A distant church bell boomed four o'clock.
The man and the girl had disappeared. Presently they came into view again —it was Wenna. There was no other figure like hers in the world; he could not be mistaken.
She stood for a little time, talking in whispers to the Swedish giant, then stole away as softly as she had come.
He was puzzled, a little alarmed. What were they doing there at that hour of the morning? He resolved to ask the girl at the first opportunity. Though he had advertised his fearlessness, he shot a second bolt on the door and went to bed. It was daylight when he woke to the hammering on the door. The Swede was wearing his Sunday best suit and a collar that fitted awkwardly round his muscular throat.
"If you want any breakfast you'd better have it," he growled. "Hans and I are going away for the day."
He brought in a tray and put it on the bed whilst he fixed the table folded against the wall of the caravan. When Kressholm had dressed and shaved he went to the girl's van and found her sitting on the steps, a cigarette between her white fingers. There was no evidence that she had been up all night; she was as fresh and rested as though she had slept the clock round.
"How did you sleep?" she asked, without looking at him.
"Badly. You ought to give those lions something to eat. Wenna, what were you doing near my caravan at four this morning?"
He expected her to deny this, but to his surprise she did not attempt to conceal her presence at that hour.
"Somebody left open a door of the monkey cage and a couple of them got out," she said. "They usually obey me—we found them. Did I disturb you, or was it the lions? They're old, and angry because they can never get enough to eat. I want Lew to shoot them and get another pair. Sims, the trainer, is afraid of them, which is bad—Lew will have to fire that man. When a trainer is scared of the animals he's taming, he ought to quit."
"I'll do a little taming," he said good-humouredly.
"You!" was all she said, but it annoyed him.
Before he could express his annoyance she went on.
"There was only one man who could deal with lions, and that was Joe. They'd stand on their heads for him, though he was never a trainer. Give me that key."
He had forgotten all about the key.
"I thought of looking round Joe's van," he said. "I've changed my mind."
She was waiting on the step to take the key from him.
Something was wrong; how badly wrong he could not guess. He did not know that she had been waiting all that night for the advent of Mr. Reeder, and that she had counted on his treachery to bring the detective into her hands. Her hatred of the man who had brought her lover to his death was an overwhelming obsession. Reeder did not know this; it was unguessed even by Kressholm. He was to make a discovery before the night was out.
MR. REEDER had had a heavy day. He had been successful in isolating, if not in capturing, the authors of the letter of credit. They were, as he suspected, a German gang operating in Leipzig. That afternoon he spent the greater part of an hour on the telephone, speaking to the German police, and, though weary in mind and body, he had the satisfaction of an accomplishment as he made his way home.
He left Scotland Yard just before dark, and reached home without any mishap. His housekeeper came to him and reeled off the names of callers and the gist of telephone messages. She had an unusual memory and rarely committed telephone messages or even names and addresses to paper. He listened with closed eyes, stirring his tea, as she went through her record.
"A man called a quarter of an hour before you came in; a very tall man —a foreigner, I think. He wanted to see you. He said his name was Jones."
"A very foreign name," murmured Mr. Reeder, in a facetious mood. "One of the Joneses of Constantinople."
The housekeeper, who had no sense of humour at all, said she wasn't sure about that.
"What did he want—just to see me?"
"That's all, sir. I thought he acted a bit odd." Mr. Reeder smiled benevolently.
"All people act odd according to you, my dear lady. I'm afraid you have a mystery complex. You read too many—um—detective stories. Did anybody else call and act odd?"
She couldn't recall anybody who was not absolutely normal. Strange people did come to this modest house in Brockley Road, and they had names that were stranger than Jones. Mr. Reeder did not regard the personality or business of this particular visitor worth considering, and settled himself down to spend a peaceful evening preparatory to an early retirement. He had hardly finished his toast when his housekeeper came bustling in.
"He's called again—Jones. He says he's got a message from Mr. Brady—Mr. Joseph Brady."
"Show him up."
He had never before seen the big man who came awkwardly into the room; he could not have forgotten a face like Stephan's.
"I come from Mr. Brady." He spoke very slowly, in the sing-sing tone of a Scandinavian, and he was obviously ill at ease.
"What is the message?" asked Reeder. The man cleared his throat.
"He asked me to say you come to him because he is ill, and he dare not come out because of all these talks about credit letters."
Mr. Reeder frowned. So far as he knew, Joe Brady was abroad.
"Where is he now?
"He is out of bed, got up," said the man, "and now he himself is downstairs in the car."
"Tell him to come here."
The man shook his head.
"He will not come, that he says. If you will speak with him a little while, he shall be very pleased. I was with him working at the circus, the assistant of him."
Mr. Reeder remembered the mysterious assistant whom for a short space of time he had suspected.
"All right; go down and wait. I will be with you very shortly."
It was not extraordinary for him to have these furtive interviews with men who, wisely or wrongly, refused to come to his rooms, and although it was not what he expected of Red Joe, there might be a very special reason, and there was no harm in learning what it was.
When he got downstairs and closed the front door behind him he saw the man waiting on the pavement. A spatter of rain was falling; the beginnings of a north-west gale swept the deserted street. Near to the kerb was what Reeder thought was a tradesman's small delivery van. He did not give it a great deal of attention until the man pointed to the curtained back of the vehicle.
"He is there. Because of his sickness we have to carry him on a bed."
J.G. Reeder was half-way to the van when he smelt the trap.
It was too late: an arm like a steel bar closed round his throat, a huge hand covered his mouth. But it was no feeble old gentleman that the Swede was throttling. Reeder wrenched round and, freeing his arm, struck a blow which would have paralysed any man of ordinary strength.
A second man leaped through the opening at the back of the van. Mr. Reeder did not feel the stick that struck him. When he recovered he was lying full length on a mattress. The car was apparently moving along a main thoroughfare, for he could hear the clang of tramcar bells. His hands and his legs were tied together, but they had not attempted to gag him.
"If you make a noise I hit you with this iron bar," said a threatening voice.
Stephan was squatting by his side.
Mr. Reeder's head ached a little, but not very much. He had, he boasted, the thickest skull of any man associated with the police force. But he would have dearly loved to have his hands free, and suggested this course in a weak voice which advertised his feebleness to the hearers. But they were adamant.
Where were they taking him? He tried to catch a glimpse of the road they were following, but the tarpaulin covers at the back of the van had been laced tight. They were still on the tram lines, and after a while he guessed by the fall in temperature that they were crossing the river.
He was resigned to anything which might happen and was ready to justify whatever disaster might overtake him. His stupidity had been unbelievable. To be caught by a trick which would not deceive the most junior detective that ever patrolled a London street! For that he deserved everything that happened.
But why—why? He had no active enemies; none certainly who could contrive so theatrical a vengeance. There were many who disliked him intensely, and prayed nightly for something unpleasant to happen to him; but they were first-year men, languishing in Dartmoor and Parkhurst, and no scheme of reprisals survives the first twelve months of prison. They would meet him when they were discharged with a self-conscious smile, and apologise to him for all the things they had promised when they were sentenced.
Kressholm's gang? It was hardly likely. Kressholm had nothing to gain ...
Mr. Reeder then remembered the story of the caravan, the obvious step that had been made to bring him to the amusement park. Kressholm couldn't get him there one way, so he was trying another. And yet Kressholm had no reason for taking a step which might jeopardise his own safety.
The solution came like a flash. Kressholm had been the dupe. Of course, it was the girl who had told him all this fanciful story about forged plates, and Kressholm had fallen for it. She knew he was a traitor, then? That was some satisfaction, though little comfort. Mr. Reeder began to take a serious view of the position. Men he knew, and he could foretell to an nth what steps they would take in certain eventualities; but a woman was a mystery to Mr. Reeder, and had always remained so. If this fiery young woman had any reason for avenging the death of Danny Brady there might be some unhappy consequences to this ride.
The journey seemed interminable, but after something that was over an hour and seemed just within the limits of eternity, the car turned from the road and jolted over a rough track. Mr. Reeder's hearing was very good, though there were times when he pretended to be slightly deaf. He heard strange sounds which could only have one significance. He was being taken to a circus, and the mental prediction he had made was fulfilled.
There had been a scheme to get him here, but he was perfectly certain that Kressholm was not in it.
As the car stopped, Stephan leaned over, and folded a silk handkerchief over his prisoner's mouth, knotting it tightly behind. He and the other man, who descended from the driver's seat, lifted the detective and carried him across the field.
Rain was falling more heavily now, and the wind was so strong that the men staggered under their burden. Their progress took them past a monstrous, pear-shaped object which swayed and rolled so far that it touched one of his bearers.
This was the balloon on the trapeze of which Wenna swung to the awe of rustic crowds.
Presently he felt himself being lifted into a caravan, and a few seconds later was lying on the dusty floor. Red Joe's caravan—he recognised it, and well he might, for he had once searched it most thoroughly. Stephan dragged him partly to a sitting position and propped him against the wall before he unfastened the handkerchief about the prisoner's mouth.
The only light came from a tiny oil lamp hanging on the wall, and by this he saw that the windows of the caravan were shattered, as also was the glass upper half of the door. Hans went out, but Stephan waited.
"I hope you won't have to wake the young lady from her beauty sleep," said Mr. Reeder politely.
"You shut up!" growled the Swede. "You'll be sorry when she comes!"
"I shan't be sorry when you go," said Mr. Reeder frankly. "You have certainly the most unpleasant face I have ever seen. I hate to hurt your feelings, but—ugh!"
Before the Swede could answer him the door was pulled open, and Wenna Haddin came in. She wore no hat or coat; her blouse was spotted with rain, her hair wildly dishevelled. She looked what she was, the very spirit of fury.
"You know me?" she breathed.
He looked at her critically.
"Yes, I think so..."
"Danny's girl—you know that! You trapped Danny... I've always hated you. You caught him, and then, when you knew he would appeal..."
She stopped. The words would not come.
"I found another means of killing him?" said Mr. Reeder. "Did Kressholm tell you that too?"
"You know what I'm going to do to you, don't you?" she went on breathlessly. "I'm going to put you in the lions' cage, and if anybody wants to know how it happened we'll tell them about a man who was prowling in the night—a sneaking, prying old detective!"
She turned quickly. Somebody was turning the handle. Before she could shoot the bolt Kressholm was in the caravan, looking from one to the other.
"What's the idea?... What are you doing?"
"What I tried to do last night," she said. Her voice was like steel. "I've got Reeder to the camp, where I wanted him! I thought you'd bring him— you told him all that I told you? Well, that was a lie—there are no plates here. I read in the newspaper that he was looking for forged letters of credit—and I passed this yarn on to you because I was sure you'd squeal. Joe always said you were a squealer!"
"And Joe," said Mr. Reeder, "was right."
There was a certain flippancy in his tone, though there was little excuse for light-heartedness.
"What are you going to do with him?"
Kressholm looked from the prisoner to the girl. The Governor governed nobody now; he was ludicrously impotent.
"He's going into the lions' cage—that's where! Into the lions' cage—and if you interfere I'll put you there too!"
She was half-hysterical. The actualities were more ugly than the plans of vengeance she had dreamt of. She was stricken with horror at the thing she planned to do.
The three of them stood looking down at where Reeder sat. Their backs to the door, none saw it open, until a rush of cold air made the girl turn.
"Hallo! Giving a party?" said the newcomer.
And then he saw Reeder and his mouth opened wide.
"The man who murdered your son, Joe! Reeder—he sent you to prison ..."
Her voice was shrill, unnatural. Watching her closely, Mr. Reeder saw that she was on the verge of collapse. He saw something else: the white-faced Kressholm edged back along the side of the big caravan, but he did not pass Red Joe, whose hand shot out and gripped him.
"Is that so?" Red Joe's voice was a drawl. "Untie that gentleman. Hi, you Swede, I'm talking to you!"
There was an automatic pistol in his other hand. The giant was glaring at the intruder; at a signal from the girl he would have leaped to his death, but she put out a shaking hand.
"Untie him. You don't know what you're doing, Joe."
"I guess I do," said Red Joe.
Mr. Reeder rose and stretched himself. By the time he had recovered the circulation of his numbed hands he was alone in the locked caravan. He thumped at the door, but without success. There was nothing to do but to sit and wait.
Two hours passed, and then a key grated in the lock; the door swung open. It was Red Joe. He came in, closing the door behind him, his hands thrust deep into his pockets.
"There's a car waiting for you to take you home, Mr. Reeder," he said. "I'm sorry this happened. This girl was mad. I guess she's always been a little bit that way. She knows now—Kressholm told her the truth."
"Where is he?"
Joe's shoulders rose in a shrug.
"I've killed him," he said calmly. "She doesn't know; the two Swedes don't know. I sent them to their caravan. But I killed him as I said I'd kill him. I was going to shoot him, but then the other idea came to me. It gave me a chance of keeping my promise—to kill him so as you'd never find his body. I'm telling you this—we're alone together. If you can catch me I'm willing to be caught."
"You're under arrest," said Reeder.
All that night the police searched the fair-ground but there was no vestige of Kressholm. The night watchman had heard nothing; but then, he had been busy pegging down flapping canvas, and an hour before dawn the balloon had broken from its moorings and sailed away. The only people who ever saw that balloon again were officers on a homeward-bound Cape boat. They saw the big, sagging bag falling into the sea; there was no car attached to it, but something was swaying to and fro in the gale.
"Almost looks like a man hanging from that balloon," said the chief officer. He did not check the speed of the boat; the balloon had fallen five miles away and a heavy sea was running.
This conversation was not repeated to Mr. Reeder for years afterwards. Even then it was quite superfluous. He had already decided to his own satisfaction the way Bob Kressholm went.
MR. MANNERING was called "the Captain" in the village of Woodern Green, which is on the southern edge of Buckingham. Possibly because of his military appearance and the frigidity of his manner; though why captains are supposed to be frigid nobody knows.
He lived at Hexleigh Manor, which was a small house in a large park, and by all accounts he was a gentleman who had no great store of money. The Manor was something of a derelict when he rented it at a ridiculously low sum. The repairs upon which previous would-be tenants had insisted were apparently executed by the new tenant without the assistance of local builders, according to their account.
The captain had a staff of three, two of whom lived in the house and the third in a cottage within the grounds. They were three hard-faced men, who never came to the village, and it was believed that they were old soldiers who had served with the captain during the war.
It was to the cottage that all the provisions were delivered by local tradesmen—none of them was invited to go farther. The bills were paid weekly by cheque on a London bank.
One curious circumstance: no letters, save the inevitable appeals by secretaries of local working men's cricket, football or other clubs, were ever addressed to Captain or Mr. Mannering. He seemed to have no friends.
He had been there a year when he blossomed forth into something grander than an impecunious military gentleman. Vans arrived from London filled with expensive furniture; the dour man at the cottage engaged three gardeners; a local builder was called in to decorate the house, and an era of prosperity set in.
Mr. Reeder, of the Public Prosecutor's Department, became acquainted with Hexleigh Manor in a peculiar way. His hobby, as all the world knows, was chickens. He had a big poultry farm in Kent, and raised the choicest and the rarest birds in the kingdom. The stocking of the Hexleigh Manor poultry farm —a new branch of Captain Mannering's activities—brought down Mr. Reeder in his capacity of poultry expert.
Captain Mannering was in town—he drove to London almost every day in his closed sedan car—and the caller saw only the new poultry man, who was talkative. When the business was at an end Mr. Reeder climbed up into the seat of the little van which had brought him and his birds from London, and drove down the drive. His profit on the transaction was microscopic, but the satisfaction he had as a poultry fancier was of infinitely greater importance.
They passed the cottage, outside which the surly servant of the establishment was smoking. He looked up and Mr. Reeder saw him. He did not notice the angular man who sat beside the driver.
"Dear me!" said Mr. Reeder, mildly surprised, for he had seen the cottager before.
He had a motto, which was that one should live honestly and let others live honestly, which is not quite the same as the less elaborate adage. But he was also very curious, and curiosity can be a nuisance to all sorts of people.
At Scotland Yard they called him "lucky," and pointed out amazing coincidences that had helped him to the solution of important mysteries; but Mr. Reeder used to suggest that he was responsible for all the coincidences that helped him.
In his spare time he came to Woodern Green and made a few inquiries, not because he expected that the results would be of any service to him, but because he wished to know. Knowledge was his working capital, and he would go to great trouble in its gathering. He hoarded facts as some women hoard scraps of silk, or mechanics hoard nuts and screws and odd nails and useless scraps of machine parts, not because they were of any immediate use, but because, some day...
His chief asked about his visit to Bucks, and Mr. Reeder sighed.
"Unfortunately I have—um—a very bad mind. I see—er —the worst, as it were, in everybody and the most—um— sinister meanings in the most innocent things—in fact, I have the mind of a criminal. Had I the courage, which of course I have not, I should have made—um—an interesting lawbreaker."
His superior smiled.
"Good. Go down and see that pompous gentleman at Mabberleys to-morrow and expound what your criminal instincts suggest for the better protection of his business."
So Mr. Reeder, in his mild way, quarrelled with a great man and later was by premeditation offensive to one who was not so great. The great man was Sir Wilfred Heinhall, K.B.E., and the rest of it. He was director of seventeen corporations and chairman of eight of these. He knew everything about business and economics, and trade balances and world conditions, but he didn't know much about men.
Mr. Reeder went down to the city, representing the Public Prosecutor, and in the course of a conversation which had as its subject the prosecution of an unfaithful servant, suggested that the methods of this particular corporation were rather antiquated.
"If I—er—may be permitted to offer the view—um —your checking system leaves—er—much to be desired."
"Stuff and nonsense!" said Sir Wilfred. "Are you telling me how to conduct my business? Did the Public Prosecutor send you down here to lecture ME on Filing Systems? Good heavens!"
He said a lot more, and Mr. Reeder said nothing much. There were few opportunities. He went meekly forth into the city street and boarded a bus that deposited him near to the Home Office.
It was in the afternoon, when he was leaving Whitehall, that he had occasion to stop a gentleman in the street. The gentleman did not wish to stop, but Mr. Reeder hooked his arm with the crook of his umbrella and pulled him back. It was a shockingly undignified action on the part of a reputable man, but Mr. Reeder did it with all the aplomb of a music-hall performer.
"What are you doing in town, Mr. Higson?" he asked.
The good-looking man of forty, brought to a standstill so unceremoniously, looked murder and smiled.
"Mister Reeder," murmured the detective. "What is the game—snide or just ordinary thieving?"
Higson was well dressed, but that was part of his graft. Nobody could remember seeing Hymie Higson looking anything but in the bandbox class. He had a gold cigarette box in his pocket, and his watch-guard looked platinum and probably was.
"I'll tell you." Hymie's tone was neither respectful nor humble. "When you put me in with your damned perjury I had a snug bit of money put away. That breaks your so-and-so heart, you dirty old something-or-other! Fifteen thousand quid! I've done my time and you can't touch it. I'm going straight because I can afford to go straight—if I couldn't afford to, I'd be selling snide fivers and making a good living, and this time you wouldn't catch me, you old—"
Mr. Reeder tapped him on the ear with the heavy handle of his umbrella. It wasn't a heavy tap, but it was painful, and Hymie's hand went up with a cry.
"Don't be rude," said Mr. Reeder mildly, "or I'll trip you on to your back and push the ferrule of my umbrella into your right eye—or left eye, whichever is most convenient."
There was in Mr. Reeder something cold-bloodedly ferocious which Hymie suddenly remembered. He blinked at the detective, still holding his ear, and then abruptly turned and hurried away.
"Very curious," said Mr. Reeder.
But it was not so curious as the incident of the parlourmaid.
Few people would have given a thought to the parlourmaid. Certainly there was nothing in her appearance or manner to stimulate an interest in her relations. She was plain, long-faced and anaemic; her legs were broomsticks, her feet grotesquely large. Mr. Reeder was conscious of her long before she was completely conscious of Mr. Reeder.
She dusted his room with amazing caution, broke nothing that was valuable, made no attempt to tidy up his desk, was never in the way. She thought of him as "elderly," wondered why he was so old-fashioned as to wear square-topped felt hats and square-toed boots, and why he didn't shave his side-whiskers. All this in a vague way. She was never realty interested in Mr. Reeder until his housekeeper told her he was a detective.
"Mr. Reeder," said the housekeeper, more correctly.
"A copper?" definitely sceptical.
"Not a policeman, though he goes to Scotland Yard a lot—he's in the government."
"Good Gawd!" said the housemaid.
Her name was Elizabeth, and she was of the class that shortens that stately name to Lizzie.
She pondered on Mr. Reeder after that, surveyed him furtively, craned her head out of upstairs windows to see him "come from business," dangling his closely furled umbrella and playing with his eye-glasses.
The question of Ena very naturally came into close association with Mr. Reeder. Ena's Ernie was Lizzie's absorbing problem. Ena was lovely, with a skin like ivory and teeth like white porcelain. She had the figure of a sylph and legs that people used to turn in the street to look at again. She was Lizzie's sister—nobody quite understood how this came about. Ena had worked in the city, where she had earned some fifty shillings a week for typing letters all of which began: "In reply to yours of even date." Now she didn't work anywhere; lived at home in a room which she had had specially furnished; drove hither and thither in taxi-cabs, and once or twice had come home in a beautiful car. On her fingers were two all too lovely diamond rings. She had three evening dresses, and withal was respectable. For Ena was engaged to be married to a young gentleman of fortune named Ernie Molyneux. He lived in the country, and came to town or to Brighton only for week-ends.
There was nothing odd about this engagement. Mr. Molyneux was a young and pallid man of twenty-six, slightly chinless but otherwise goodish looking. He was madly in love with Ena, whom he had met at a cinema and had brought home by train, calling upon her parents and being asked into the parlour and asked his views about the weather and the state of trade. And since he had given satisfactory replies to these questions, and had passed the test which mother always applied and had answered that he did not go much to church nowadays, but that he had sung in the choir, he was accepted. This was before his uncle in Australia died and left him all his money, and consequently before the taxi-cabs and the diamond rings.
There was nothing about this which worried Lizzie Panton. It was the advent of the gentleman from the West End which had disturbed the Panton household. He was a gentleman wearing evening dress and a heavy black moustache and dark-rimmed eye-glasses. He had come to Friendly Street, where the Pantons lived, at twelve o'clock one Saturday night. The Pantons were all in bed except Lizzie. She was washing out some stockings and things— being a "daily" she had little chance of doing her own work—and she it was who answered the knock.
"I'm sorry to bother you," said the stranger in a deep, aristocratic voice (the description is Lizzie's); "but is this Mr. Panton's house?"
"Yes," said Lizzie.
"Is that Ena?"
The stranger took a step into the passage and peered at her.
"You're the slav—the servant girl?"
Lizzie knew that he had been on the point of saying "slavey" and bridled.
"I'm parlourmaid at Mr. Reeder's," she said.
After a longer pause he made her repeat that. "At Mr. Reeder's—which Mr. Reeder?"
"In Brockley Road."
She heard the quick intake of his breath. "Really! Is Ena at home?"
"She's just gone to bed. Is anything wrong with Ernie?"
The stranger hesitated.
"No; you're her sister, aren't you?" And, when Lizzie admitted the fact: "Ernest and she wrote out a paper to-night—a sort of advertisement. That must not appear."
Ena had come home early that night and the advertisement had been very completely discussed. As a matter of fact, it was Lizzie's idea originally to announce the engagement. "It will tie him down," she had said. And it had been "agreed," as the lawyers say, in this form:
"A marriage has been arranged and will shortly take place between Mr. Ernest Jakes Molyneux of Overdean, Birmingham, and Miss Ena Panton of Brockley."
Now, Friendly Street is distinctly in Deptford, but Ena thought Brockley was more respectable. "Has it been posted?"
"No, it hasn't," said Lizzie. "Wait a bit, I'll see Ena—won't you come in?"
No, he wouldn't come in. He preferred the unlighted passage way. Presently Ena came down in her new dressing-gown. She was a little peevish, for Ernie had been rather trying that night—shilly-shallying about the notice.
"Who are you, anyway?" she demanded. "I am Ernie's guardian," said the stranger.
It was evident to the shrewd Lizzie that he was controlling his impatience with an effort.
"I think the announcement is absolutely unnecessary, and it may spoil his chances with his other uncle, who doesn't want him to marry."
Ena was impressed. Her young man had not mentioned any other uncle, but uncles are an unlimited commodity.
"All right, I'll tear it up," she said reluctantly. "I was putting it in the Kentish Mercury, but if you don't think it's right—"
"May I have the paper that Ernest wrote?"
She had it upstairs, and, going up, brought it to him. Lizzie watched him walk back to the end of the street, where a taxi-cab was waiting for him, and then came in and shut the door.
"It's very funny," she said.
"It is funny," agreed her sister. "Ouch!" She gave a little scream.
"What's the matter?"
"I put my foot on a mouse or something!" panted the pretty sister, who was bare-footed. "Stuff! Mouse!"
Lizzie reached up and lit the gas. It was not a mouse—it was a furry something of familiar shape. Stooping down, she picked it up.
"A false moustache—why, that was what he was wearing!" she gasped.
The two girls looked at one another in amazement.
"That's funny," said Lizzie again.
Ena sat up half the night, writing to her boy. She often wrote, but he never replied by letter except once when she had had a note posted in mid-week in Birmingham. Her letters were invariably addressed to a place off the Haymarket which she discovered was a block of service flats. The "funniest" thing of all was that that same week came a letter from Ernie, saying that everything was a mistake, and that, though he loved her, it was best for everybody if they parted. He told her to keep all the presents he had given to her.
Ena wept, of course. She made a personal call at West End Mansions, to learn that Mr. Molyneux had given up his flat and had left no instructions as to where his letters were to be sent.
To Lizzie the crux of the mystery was that false moustache, until it was superseded by the second mystery. It was a letter addressed to Ena—a wild, more or less incoherent, adoring letter. It was from Ernie and bore the postmark, Birmingham Central, and no address. It was written on scraps of paper evidently torn from larger sheets.
"I love you more than anything... can't stop thinking about you... You alone could save my soul from the tyrant who is sucking my blood... If I could only see you and explain everything—but no, he stands behind me and it's all oil, oil, oil... Sometimes I wake up and say to myself suppose it's a lie. How can you tell if you're not on the ground? You can't see oil. I've read up the Encyclopaedia and it doesn't say anything like that. Only eight weeks to the thirty-first—what horrible thoughts possess me! It is the Inspector's fault. If he had done his duty the first time he would have seen through it, instead of which he was in a hurry to catch his train."
"I can't make head or tail of it," sniffed Ena.
"Except that he loves you," said her homely sister.
"I knew that," said Ena.
No further letter came from Ernie. One day Lizzie took her courage in both hands and carried the letter and the moustache to Mr. Reeder.
She chose an occasion which was favourable. It happened to be an evening off, and Mr. Reeder was dozing before the fire. She began an introduction which was full of "I hope you will excuse me, sir's" and "I don't know whatever you will think of me's."
Mr. Reeder blinked himself awake.
"Dear me, what is all this about?" he asked benevolently.
He then observed the parlourmaid for the first time.
"It's about my sister, sir," said Lizzie breathlessly. Mr. Reeder straightened himself, drew up to his desk and put on his glasses.
"About your sister—yes?"
He had a very extensive knowledge of Lizzie's class, and realised that, though it might be a very small matter, it was tremendous for her. A very conventional tragedy, perhaps, the sort of thing that breaks hearts daily in small and unimportant houses.
"It's her young man," began Lizzie, and told her disconnected story, reserving till the last the grand denouement of the false moustache.
Mr. Reeder listened, forgot nothing, filled in gaps, and could have recited the whole history of Ena's love affair without flaw, and much more accurately than could her breathless sister.
"May I see the letter and the moustache?" he asked.
She produced these articles from her apron pocket and laid them on the table.
"I haven't told Ena about the letter—I mean, taking it away —but I knew she kept it in the top left-hand drawer..."
There were some things which surprised Mr. Reeder in the story; there were some which did not surprise him at all. The paper the letter was written on, for example. He would have been surprised if it had been any other kind of paper. The moustache set him frowning. It was very well made, something better than one can buy in shops, the product of an expert theatrical wig-maker. There was gum on the upper edge of it, unevenly applied, and not the spirit gum which should have been applied.
He asked her many questions, few of which she could answer. In fact, he never seemed to stop asking questions, about all sorts of odd matters which had no bearing upon Ena's lover and the false moustache. Had Ernie given the girl money? Had Ena ever met the man with the moustache in Ernie's company, or anybody who might be he? Did Ernie ever talk about going abroad, to America, perhaps?
Mr. Reeder was amazingly interested, much more than she had ever expected him to be, in the love affair of her sister. Ernie was a nice chap, she explained.
"Is that his writing?"
He tapped the letter.
"Are you sure it's his writing?"
Lizzie was absolutely sure; she had seen his writing before. No, Ena had never received letters from him, but once he had written something in Ena's autograph book.
"Did you see him write it?" asked Mr. Reeder eagerly.
"How did he hold his pen like this?" Mr. Reeder seized a pen-holder.
"And before he wrote did he make one or two flourishes like this?"
He sent the point of the pen twirling round before it dropped to the paper, and Lizzie gaped at him.
"That's just what he did do!" she said. "I said to Ma at the time, by way of a joke, 'He doesn't know what to write, so he's sort of marking time —'"
Mr. Reeder nodded.
"That's what he was doing, marking time."
"Do you want to know what he wrote in the autograph book?"
Mr. Reeder hesitated for a fraction of a second. "Well—er— yes," he said.
It was quite unimportant, but he would be interested to know.
Ernie had written a little bit of poetry about the advantage of a young lady being good rather than clever, and doing noble things not thinking about them.
"Very—um—admirable," said Mr. Reeder,
TO say that he was interested was to understate Mr. Reeder's emotions. There was no mystery here except the mystery of Ernie's identity. And the greater mystery, more difficult to probe, who was the man with the aristocratic voice and the moustache who came down to Deptford, knocking up respectable people at twelve o'clock at night in order to prevent the insertion of an advertisement? Had she a copy of this? Lizzie could claim triumphantly that she had written it down word for word in an old memorandum book, and had it at home.
"What I think is this, sir," she said. "This young man is trying to give our Ena the go-by. When I say 'him' I mean perhaps his father or his mother —especially his mother. You know what these people are—they think their sons are marrying beneath them, when really they're marrying a heart of gold. I always say there's more happy marriages amongst the lower classes than amongst the upper classes. Look at the divorce courts—"
"Yes, yes," said Mr. Reeder absently. "I am sure. Though personally I —um—never look at divorce courts at all. But I am certain you're right."
He rose from his chair and began to stride up and down the room slowly, his hands in his pockets, his shoulders down, a frown on his classic face.
"Another thing," Lizzie went on, conscious of the impression she had made. "Suppose they stopped his allowance, they've got enough to live on in a quiet way for years—I mean, Ena's jewellery. It's worth two or three hundred pounds—"
"Could I see Ena? I suppose she knows you've come?" interrupted Mr. Reeder.
Lizzie felt and looked guilty.
"Well, to tell you the truth," she said awkwardly, "she doesn't. What she'll say when I tell her I've been to a detective I can't bear to think."
"Tell her," he said gently, "and bring her to see me to-morrow evening about this time. And ask her—um—to bring any other letters she may have. I—er—shall read them with the greatest sympathy and understanding."
He wanted to keep the letters which Lizzie already had, but she was firm on the point, and carried them off with her.
She spent the greater part of the night sitting up in bed, persuading her sister to see Mr. Reeder. Ena had been shocked, rather shrilly reproachful, had accused Lizzie of being underhand and sly, finally had wept and surrendered.
The next night she came to see Mr. Reeder's house with greater willingness because in the course of the day a further communication, even more mysterious, had been received from Ernie. It was a registered letter, containing three notes each for a hundred pounds, and a very short letter.
"When you get a wire from me giving a certain address say nothing to anybody, burn the wire and come straight to me. I cannot live without you. Go to Cook's and get a passport at once. Don't tell mother or Liz, but the clouds are breaking."
On the back of the letter was scrawled in pencil a long column of figures, evidently written in haste. They totalled to 310,740.
Mr. Reeder was not the kind of man that Ena had expected to meet. In truth, he was not the kind of man that anybody expected to meet; and he had long since classified new acquaintances as those who were disappointed when they first met him, and those who were relieved. Ena was in the relieved class.
He was very kindly and gentle, and not at all the hectoring, bullying detective she had expected. He asked her a lot of questions, very delicately put; questions which she did not realise were questions at all until afterwards; and she told him much more than she had ever imagined she could tell anybody. She was very fond of Ernie; she liked him ever so much; he had always been the gentleman, and, except that she had once heard certain reports, had never displayed the least inclination to fastness.
"He only had to tell me he didn't want me, and I would have understood," she said.
"But he does want you," said Mr. Reeder gently; "although I am afraid —" He shook his head.
"You don't think he means that?" asked the girl anxiously. "I mean, about going out there to him, and the passport?"
"Yes, I think he means that," said Mr. Reeder slowly. "I was thinking of something else. Um."
"I don't know really why I should be making a fuss at all," said Ena, jerking up her pretty chin. "It seems awful to tell all these things to strangers. I suppose his parents are against the match. But after all we've got to live our own lives, haven't we, Mr. Reeder? I mean, I believe in honouring your father and mother, but you can carry that sort of thing too far."
J.G. Reeder neither agreed nor disagreed.
"Did he ever tell you he was taking you abroad?" he asked.
Ena shook her head.
"Or tell you any place where you were likely to spend your—um —honeymoon?"
Ena had to admit that they had never discussed honeymoons. She said vaguely that she had kept him off the subject.
Mr. Reeder rubbed his nose, a little embarrassed. "So you can't tell me anything about any foreign towns you were likely to visit?"
She shook her head, and was within measurable distance of losing patience with him; for it seemed to her that the question of a suitable spot for a honeymoon was a little superfluous in view of the fact that she might not be having a honeymoon at all.
She had all the propriety of her class.
"Naturally I couldn't go out to him unless mother came with me," she said.
"Naturally," murmured Mr. Reeder.
She knew nothing about Ernie except that he was a gentleman. He had never spoken to her about work; that he was wealthy, two hundred pounds' worth of bank-notes testified. He stayed in Birmingham because he "had something to do with works." But what those works were, or where he had his private residence, she could offer no explanation.
"The point is this," said Ena hotly; "I don't allow any man to make a fool of me. If Ernie's given me up because I'm not good enough for his mother and father, there's as good fish—"
"In the sea as ever came out," suggested Mr. Reeder. "I think you're perfectly right."
He took up the little moustache and fingered it, asked her a number of questions about the height, the voice and the dress of the visitor. He was in evening dress, she thought. She had never seen him before or since.
As she walked home with her sister she discussed, not without acerbity, the waste of her time.
"I must say he's not my idea of a detective," she said, "with his hums and his haws and his ridiculous questions. He never once so much as looked at my rings to see if they were genuine."
"You know they're genuine," retorted Lizzie tartly.
Her sister was rather inclined to agree that Mr. Reeder had been a disappointment. He had hardly looked at the false moustache, which she had hoped would have struck him all of a heap, and had said practically nothing about it except that it was well made.
"And he's got a nerve to keep my letters!" fumed Ena, her sense of grievance growing.
"It's only one letter, and I can get it in the morning by asking for it," said Lizzie.
"Did I get it to-night by asking for it?" stormed the pretty little virago. "If that's the kind of man you're working for, I should change my job."
Lizzie said nothing. Already there was moving in her mind a very uneasy suspicion, and it was not directed to her employer.
Mr. Reeder went to his office the next morning with quite a lot to think about. It was very rarely that he hadn't. All the way up to town—he invariably travelled by tramcar—he turned over and over in his mind the problem of the parlourmaid's sister and her eccentric lover. Though he could not place his finger at the moment upon Ernie, he knew all about him, and just what that letter meant.
He was at some pains to explain the situation to the Assistant Public Prosecutor, who listened with interest to the theories he expounded. When Mr. Reeder had finished he shook his head.
"One could initiate inquiries, of course, but I doubt if that's our job. You might pass a note over to the chief constable, who may care to pursue the matter, but it is certainly not for us. The question will come to this department quite soon enough."
Mr. Reeder agreed, but he did not send any particulars to Scotland Yard, not even when he was called in for consultation on a matter which was that day, and for many weeks, to be the top-liner in every newspaper which loved a good mystery.
In reality it was a group of mysteries, each having no association with the other. The first was the affair of the Eton master. Mr. Friston was a Master of Arts, a man who was known to hold very strong and definite views on most subjects, particularly on the question of trade with Russia. He had spoken on this subject at important meetings in London, and his views had become so pronounced, so uncompromising, that he had been requested by his college authorities to limit his oratorical activities.
The master was a man of forty-eight, strong, active, and in one sense eccentric. It was his habit to rise at an unconscionably early hour. It was his boast that the maximum amount of sleep he required was five hours a day, and since it was his practice to go to bed at about nine o'clock every night, he was usually to be found working in his study at three o'clock in the morning, after a brisk walk through the deserted streets of Windsor. The Windsor police knew his habits, and when he came swinging past them, with a cheery "Good-morning," at an hour when modern folks were calling upon a dance band for an encore, they offered him only the polite attention which they were prepared to afford to Windsor Castle itself.
On this particular morning there was a light ground mist, but Mr. Friston was recognised by a policeman who stood under the shadow of the castle wall as he swung down the hill towards Eton. He turned to the left, and was not seen again until the policeman who had originally seen him was patrolling towards the college. By this time the mist had changed into a slight drizzle of rain. It was a quarter-past three when the slowly patrolling policeman, smoking a surreptitious cigarette, saw, lying half on the sidewalk and half in the road, the figure of a man. He hurried forward and flashed his light on its face. To his horror, he recognised the master.
Summoning assistance and an ambulance, the unconscious man was rushed to the hospital, where he was found to be suffering from concussion.
Searching the roadway, the police made a sensational discovery. This was no less than a bloodstained spanner—a long, narrow tool, peculiarly suitable to the purpose for which it had evidently been employed. It lay within a yard of where the unconscious man had been found. It was immediately packed in tissue paper and reserved for examination.
The Chief Constable of Berkshire, who had been communicated with, called in Scotland Yard; and this precaution was justified, for Mr. Friston died at noon without ever regaining consciousness or giving the slightest clue as to his assailant.
Mr. Reeder went down to Windsor with a small party of C.I.D. men, saw the body and the weapon. There was no question whatever that the spanner had been the instrument employed. Considerable violence must have been used, judging by the injuries.
"This is the weapon all right," said the inspector in charge. "There's blood and hair on the end of it, and the doctor says that one end of the spanner exactly fits the wound."
Mr. Reeder examined the gruesome relic and put it down without a word.
He was puzzled, much more puzzled than any of the officers who were with him. Obviously this spanner had caused the injuries from which the unhappy master had died, but there were certain peculiar features of the case which made him reject immediately the theories which were put forward as to motive.
"It couldn't have been robbery," said the chief inspector. "He had about ten pounds in his pocket when he was found. No, he's got on the wrong side of somebody in the political world, and they've waited for him. He has been threatened several times. This case might turn into a very big political sensation. Don't you agree, Mr. Reeder?"
Reeder shook his head.
"I—um—am afraid I don't," he said gently. "A sensation, yes, but not a political sensation. It is a peculiar case."
"I thought you might think that," said the inspector sarcastically. "I've had a feeling it was something like that ever since I came into it."
"It's a peculiar case," Mr. Reeder went on. "When Mr. Friston was found, his soft felt hat was still on his head, badly cut and battered, but still on his head. His servant, whom I took the liberty of interviewing, said that that was an eccentricity of his master, to wear his hat pulled tightly down almost over his ears—it was so tightly wedged that it did not fall off when he fell."
"It was cut through," said the inspector.
Mr. Reeder nodded.
"Certainly. Part of the hat was embedded in the wound, and, as you say, considerable violence must have been used."
He looked from one to the other pathetically.
"I—er—hate interfering with your work, inspector, or even to advance my own humble theories. I admit I'm puzzled."
"We're all that," said the inspector good-humouredly; "but isn't that a feature of every case, Mr. Reeder; you're puzzled at first, but after a bit of hard work the whole thing becomes as clear as daylight. The man who did it—"
"That isn't puzzling me so much," said Mr. Reeder. "The question which is rather distressing me is this—who was the other man who was killed?"
The inspector stared at him.
"The other man? Only one body was found." J.G. Reeder inclined his head.
"Yes, but there was another person killed by that spanner. For example, there is blood on it and hair."
"Well?" said Inspector Laymen. "You'd expect to find blood and hair after a murder like this."
"I don't think so," said Mr. Reeder gently; "not when—um— the actual weapon did not come into contact with the wound, and when the unfortunate gentleman is—um—bald."
Laymen gaped at him, ran his fingers through his hair.
"That's right," he said slowly, "there was practically no blood, and, as you say, he was bald!"
He unwrapped the spanner to make sure.
"It is all very disconcerting," Mr. Reeder went on. "Whoever killed the respected gentleman had already destroyed somebody else with the same weapon; or if he had not killed him, had injured him very severely."
Acting on this theory, the inspector ordered an extensive search of the neighbourhood, and the river bank for two miles was scrutinised carefully, without, however, discovering anything that might elucidate the second mystery.
Mr. Reeder spent the greater part of his day pursuing solitary inquiries; he did not rejoin the inspector and his party, but journeyed to London by train. At Paddington he bought all the evening newspapers and read the account of the tragedy with the greatest care, for newspaper men have sometimes a trick of picking up an odd and important clue which has escaped the official eye. There was nothing here, however, that helped toward a solution, and, after boarding his tram at Westminster Bridge, Mr. Reeder settled down to read the remainder of the news.
He was a careful and systematic reader of newspapers; no item escaped his attention. He read even the advertisements carefully, and had been seen secretly marking the cross-word puzzles with a stub of pencil.
The tram had passed the ganglion of the Elephant and Castle when he saw a headline: "Dollars in Hayrick. Farm Labourer's Surprising Discovery."
"A farm labourer named Ward, in the employ of Mr. John Carter, a farmer, of Farnham, made a remarkable discovery this morning. He had occasion to go to the top of a hayrick, the thatching of which had been blown off in last week's gale. He was about to begin work when he noticed a flat packet lying on the top of the hay. Picking it up, he carried it to his employer, being unable to read, and Mr. Carter found the packet to contain twenty-five thousand dollars. They were fastened together with a rubber band, and, except that a few notes were sodden by the rain, they were undamaged. He immediately communicated with the Farnham police, who have taken charge of the notes and have instituted inquiries. There have been many burglaries in the neighbourhood during the past three months, and it is believed that this package was part of the proceeds, since several wealthy Americans were in residence here during the summer. Mr. Carter and his labourers made an exhaustive search of the hayrick, but no other valuables have been found."
Mr. Reeder kept a mental file of all important crimes, and though it was perfectly certain that there could have been burglaries in that neighbourhood, he could remember nothing of importance, nor could he recall the fact that any very important loss had been reported to the police.
He turned to the stop press and found two brief references; the first was to the hayrick discovery, and was headed:
DOLLARS IN HAYRICK
(see page 1)
"A further packet containing twenty-five thousand dollars was discovered in a dry ditch within a mile of the first discovery."
"Humph!" murmured Mr. Reeder, and devoted his attention to the second item:
MYSTERY OF BURNT CAR
(see page 6)
"The car was bought by a man who gave the name of Stevenson at the Brickfield Garage, Waterloo Road."
He turned back to page 6, a little annoyed with himself that he had overlooked a news item so important that it called for further reference in the stop press. It was not a very exciting piece of news. A car had been found by the side of the road between Shrewton and Tilshead in Wiltshire. It was completely burnt out, and its owner or driver had disappeared. Neither the Shrewton nor the Tilshead police had had any report of the occurrence.
"Humph!" said Mr. Reeder again.
Half his success as an investigator came from his ability to build up stories from the flimsiest foundations. The truest and probably the cleverest thing that had been said about him was that he had an instinct for accurate association—accurate or not, he could join up disconnected incidents to make the most incredible stories. They were not only incredible but often fantastical, and more often than not had no other value than to afford him the interest and amusement which only the inventor finds in his creations.
All the way home J.G. Reeder made up stories, which brought in a burnt car, two packets of American bank-notes and an eminent master of Eton College struck down in the middle of the night by an unknown assailant.
Mr. Reeder never pursued these dream stories of his, unless there came to him that queer sense of conviction which belongs rather to instinct than to reason. They served to fill an idle hour, to serve as mental gymnastics to amuse him.
He had reached Brockley and was munching his evening muffins when he began his second story, and he was half-way through the preliminaries when he had that eerie sense that he was telling himself something which was true. He put down an unfinished muffin on the plate, gulped the remainder of his tea, and, wiping his buttery fingers on a serviette, rang the bell. The housekeeper came.
"Clear all this away," said Mr. Reeder. "I'm going to work."
His idea of work was peculiar; for two hours he sat at his desk, his hands clasped on his waistcoat, staring fixedly at his blotting-pad. Only at long intervals did he pick up the pencil and scribble a note on a sheet of paper or strike out some memorandum that he had previously written down.
At half-past ten he went to his room and changed into evening dress. It was an unusual outburst of gaiety on the part of Mr. Reeder. His housekeeper was almost shocked.
IT was a quarter to twelve when Mr. Reeder strolled into the Ragbag Club, which is situated in Wardour Street and is only heard of by the general public when it is periodically raided. In spite of the fact that he was a very rare visitor, he was recognised, and the head waiter found a corner table for him, and produced his inevitable bottle of Vichy and the as inevitable fried egg and bacon.
"Nobody here, Adolph?"
"Not yet, Mr. Reeder. They start coming in after the theatre."
The head waiter was a little nervous.
"Anything doing, sir?" he asked.
Mr. Reeder took a yellow carton of cigarettes from his trousers pocket, and lit one carefully before he replied.
"If you mean by that, Adolph, are the police raiding this speakeasy, I am unable to afford you any information. I should imagine, however, that you will be safe for to-night."
The head waiter looked his relief. Such a speculation on the part of his visitor was tantamount to a guarantee, and, indeed, Mr. Reeder had, before his arrival, notified Scotland Yard where he was spending the evening.
"Are you expecting anybody?"
The head waiter shook his head.
"Nobody you know, Mr. Reeder."
This was a mechanical assurance; Reeder had had it before.
He picked daintily at his bacon.
"Mr. Higson, now?" he suggested. "Mr. Hymie Higson?"
The head waiter looked uncomfortable.
"He hasn't been here since—"
"Let's have the truth," said Mr. Reeder softly. "If I deal fairly with a man I expect him to deal fairly with me. About a year ago"—he was devoting himself entirely to his supper, and apparently the story he now related was something to make conversation—"about a year ago there was considerable trouble, I believe, with a man whose name I forget for the moment, but whose offence was the passing of forged money. The money was traced here, to this delightful club, and to its very nice, polite head waiter, who is also the proprietor. I investigated the matter on behalf of the—um—authorities, and I discovered that you were perfectly innocent in the matter. I could, of course, have made matters very unpleasant for you, but, being a perfectly honest man and having no desire to inconvenience the general public, I—um—did not bring you into court as witness."
The head waiter cleared his throat.
"That's true, Mr. Reeder. I told you then that if I could ever do anything for you—"
"Well?" Mr. Reeder looked up, and this time the head waiter was not uncomfortable.
"Hymie hasn't been here since last Sunday night," he said; "but I'm expecting him to-night. In fact, he telephoned to me and asked me to have a hot supper ready for him in the private room. But the private room has been booked, so he's got to take it in the restaurant. I'm expecting him every minute now."
"When did he telephone?"
The waiter thought.
"This evening. He said he was very anxious to have the private room."
"Is he bringing somebody?"
The man shook his head.
"No, sir, he said nothing about that. He's only ordered supper for one."
"I'll wait," said Mr. Reeder.
The head waiter looked at him, troubled.
"There's nothing wrong, is there? I mean, if you have to make any kind of pinch, I wish you'd do it outside the club, Mr. Reeder. We've got such a bad name lately with the police—"
"I'm not going to pinch anybody," said J.G. cheerfully. "I merely want to renew an old and unpleasant acquaintance."
His opportunity came five minutes later, when Hymie Higson came in. He was wearing a long overcoat, which he slipped off and handed to the waiter at the door. Evidently the occasion was not a festive one, for he was not dressed for any party. He glanced round the room and then his eyes fell upon Mr. Reeder. He was all for pretending that he had not seen his bête noire, and was turning away when Mr. Reeder beckoned him.
The room was still sparsely tenanted, and there was no excuse whatever for the newly arrived visitor to make a hurried exit, and reluctantly he came across to where the detective was sitting.
"All alone?" asked Mr. Reeder pleasantly. "Sit down."
"I'm expecting some friends." Hymie was very cool and watchful. He stood at the table, ignoring the invitation.
"I think you'd better sit down," said Mr. Reeder amiably.
With great reluctance Hymie sat. He was a wiry man, with a keen, dark face and abnormally long, thin hands.
"Well, get it over." His tone was offensive. "It doesn't do me any good being seen speaking to a copper."
"It doesn't do me any good or any harm," rejoined Mr. Reeder. "Anybody who knows you and me will imagine that I am questioning a second-class crook, and an amateur at that. A buyer and passer of snide notes, a forger of acceptances, a card-sharper who robbed his young brother officers and was expelled from the service which he never adorned, a born confidence man, possibly a murderer, certainly a wholly undesirable citizen."
He said this with the greatest blandness, and with every accusation Hymie's eyes grew harder.
"You'll be able to write the story of my life," he said.
"I shall be able to contribute many interesting items," said Mr. Reeder suavely. And then, without a pause: "You had very bad luck with the money."
Master as he was of his emotions, Hymie blinked quickly twice.
"I don't get that."
"Fifty thousand dollars." Mr. Reeder did not look up. "Ten thousand pounds. An awful lot of money to leave behind you in ditches and hayricks."
"Ditches and hayricks?" Hymie spoke slowly. "Is this a new joke or a new puzzle or what? I don't understand you." And then he chuckled. "Good Lord! You mean the stuff in the evening papers about the fellow in Kent who found some American money on the top of a haystack? That's funny—one of the funniest things I've heard. Why should I know anything about it?"
"It wasn't in Kent," said Mr. Reeder carefully; "it was a place called Farnham."
"I've never been there in my life," smiled Hymie, "and that you can take as gospel truth, Reeder. I've never been there in my life. If I had been there I should hardly have been chucking bundles of thousand dollar-bills into hayricks. And if that's all you've got to talk to me about, you're wasting your own time and mine."
He rose abruptly, but Reeder's hand caught his arm.
"Sit down," he said. "There are one or two other questions I want to ask you."
"Ask 'em by letter, or better still go read an article I read the other day about the truth machine. You strap it on a man and when he lies you get a reaction. They tried it on a bird who'd murdered—"
He stopped suddenly. Reeder saw his face go suddenly hard and pinched.
"Who'd murdered?" he suggested.
"I haven't come here to tell you granny stories," he said.
Hymie shook off the detaining hand and stalked away. He would have gone with less comfort if he had known that J.G. Reeder had also read that article on the truth machine which had appeared in an American magazine.
Hymie's meal was a frugal one, Mr. Reeder noticed. He was not in the restaurant long before he paid his bill and departed.
J.G. Reeder had a number of other inquiries to make, but none of these proved very satisfactory. He visited clubs less reputable than the Ragbag, dingy places where his evening dress excited guffaws of amusement; little upstairs rooms, clouded with smoke, where he was recognised and a deadly silence fell on his appearance. He buttonholed the most unlikely people and plied them with mysterious questions. He was a tired man when he got back to Brockley. The clock was striking three as he slipped into bed and pulled the coverlet over his shoulder, but he could not have closed his eyes before he heard the bell of the front door ringing. It rang incessantly, and, rising, he opened the window still further and looked out.
He saw an indistinct figure standing on the step. "Who's that?" he asked.
"It's Lizzie, sir. Can I see you? An awful thing has happened!"
"Wait a moment."
He closed the window, switched on his light, and, dressing hastily, went downstairs and admitted the sobbing parlourmaid. It was a long time before she became coherent, though he learned the object of her visit before she could relate the circumstances.
"Ena's gone... been took away... Oh, I'm sure something's happened to her, Mr. Reeder..."
He gave her some water, and after a while she became calmer and told her story. She had gone to bed at eleven o'clock. She and her sister slept in the front room, looking on to the street. They had talked for an hour on the inevitable subject of Ernie and his peculiar behaviour, and they must have fallen asleep somewhere about midnight.
At one o'clock Lizzie, who was a heavy sleeper, was awakened by voices. Stupid with sleep as she was, she sat up in bed and found Ena in her dressing-gown going out through the door. She had asked what was the trouble, and Ena had whispered: "It's Ernie. He's outside. He wants to see me for a minute."
Still half-asleep, Lizzie lay and waited. She heard no sound of voices, and presently she became wide awake. She heard the noise of a car driving off, and, getting out of bed, went to the door and listened. There was no sound. The narrow hall below was in darkness, and, lighting a candle, she went down the stairs in search of her sister. The front door was wide open, but her sister was nowhere visible.
Lizzie ran into the street and looked up and down. The thoroughfare was deserted. In the passage she found one of Ena's slippers, and, in alarm, she went upstairs and woke her mother. Ena had vanished. She had gone to the interview in a dressing-gown over her night-dress, had not even put on her stockings. The night was chilly, with a slight fog, not the kind of night that Ena would choose for a stroll, even if she were fully dressed.
"Have you notified the police?" asked Mr. Reeder quickly.
The woebegone Lizzie shook her head.
"Mother didn't want the disgrace of bringing in the police—" she began.
Mr. Reeder forced the disgrace upon this family by reaching for the telephone and calling the nearest police station. He had the good fortune to find the divisional inspector, and arranged to meet him at the house in Friendly Street.
As they walked together down Tanner's Hill Lizzie told him of her last talk with her sister.
"No, she said nothing unusual, but, naturally, the American money coming was a great surprise to us all."
Mr. Reeder stopped in his stride.
"The American money?" he said quickly. "What American money was this?"
"Dollars," said the girl; "foreign money—American—twenty-five notes for a thousand dollars, and a thousand dollars is worth more than two hundred pounds... Ena was surprised, and so was I. We had never seen so much money in our lives. Five thousand pounds, Mr. Reeder."
"Tell me about this," he said as they walked on slowly.
"It came by express post, not registered or anything, yesterday morning by the first post. Ena didn't tell mother anything about it, because Ernie said, 'Don't mention this to a soul.' She only told me because it got on her mind."
"He wrote a letter with it, did he?"
"Not a letter, just a scrap of paper fastened inside the band that went round the bank-notes. Just that—'Don't tell a soul about this, not even Lizzie.' Those were the very words. I'll show them to you."
"What did she do with the money?"'
The girl considered this.
"I don't know. Oh, yes, I do," she said suddenly. "She put it under her pillow just before she went to sleep. I'd forgotten all about it."
"Where was it posted?"
"In London," said Lizzie. "I specially noticed this—London, W.1. It was posted the night before. Ena said, 'It's funny, Ernie being in London and not coming to see me'—that's what we were talking about last night."
She was certain that there was nothing more than this admonition, written on a scrap of paper fastened to the notes by a rubber band.
"But you'll see for yourself," she said, "and the envelope. Ena kept the money in the envelope. She's a very careful girl, is Ena—poor darling!"
She began to weep softly, and Mr. Reeder was uncomfortable.
When they reached the house they found that the divisional inspector and one of his men had already arrived, and were interviewing the tearful mother. Reeder went straight upstairs to the bedroom, and his first act was to turn back the pillow, still bearing the impression of Ena's pretty head. There was nothing beneath the pillow, neither letter nor notes. He pulled over the mattress, but the money was not there; nor was it in the locked drawer where she kept her treasures.
"She didn't put it in the drawer," insisted Lizzie. "I actually saw her put it under the pillow just before she went to bed. She had a little joke about having money to fall back upon."
Mr. Reeder pursed his lips.
"Did you see her when she was leaving the room? Did she have anything in her hand?"
Lizzie was uncertain. The room was dark, the blind drawn. The only thing she was sure about was that Ena was in the doorway and had spoken to her. She was so sleepy that she could not even remember the girl's exact words.
"I'm such a heavy sleeper," she confessed, "that Ena might have been having a long talk through the window. It was open; in fact, it was the cold air that woke me up."
One thing was clear to Reeder: whoever had called, and whatever was the whispered conversation they had held between window and pavement, the caller had asked her to bring with her the American bank-notes.
For whom would she go down in the middle of the night? He questioned Lizzie on this, but her memory was vague. It could not have been anybody who bore the slightest resemblance to the man with the false moustache, but, against this, Ena had not seen him.
The constable on the beat was found, and he was able to give a few vital details. He had seen a car drawn up at the end of the street, and had thought it belonged to a doctor. The only machines of importance that came into Friendly Street in the night were usually associated with births or deaths. He had spoken to the chauffeur, but, having no curiosity as to the ownership of the car, had asked him no questions. He had had the impression that there was somebody sitting inside the car, but he wasn't very sure about this, and when he had returned on his second visit, which was a quarter of an hour after Ena had disappeared, the "doctor's" car had gone.
A rough examination of the street by flashlight produced another clue —the second of Ena's slippers. It lay in the gutter, and had been run over, evidently by the car, for on the silken uppers was the mark of a diamond tyre tread. The slipper was found at a point midway between where the car had been seen waiting and the girl's home. The divisional inspector brought it into the house and examined it carefully, but it afforded them no assistance, the only suggestion it offered being that the slipper was kicked off between the house and the car by Ena in the course of a struggle.
The divisional inspector had a ready-made solution to the mystery, which was more flattering to Ena's enterprise than to her modesty, but this Reeder rejected.
"She didn't go willingly—of that I'm certain," he said, and here he was right.
ENA PANTON did not fall asleep immediately her head touched the pillow. Her mind was excited. She was baffled by the amazing conduct of a young man towards whom she had pleasant feelings, though she could not, in the strictest sense of the term, regard herself as being in love with him.
Ernie was one of those indistinct and eager courtiers who impress not so much by their personality as by their sincerity. He had been in love, very much in love, and after the manner of her sex the girl had played on his emotions without finding them communicated to herself. She liked him; she was flattered by him. When he became munificent she was a little impressed by him. But she had never loved this chinless young man, with his sleek hair and his tiny moustache. Now he was a factor in life that gave her tremendous importance. Under her head reposed a fortune. She put her hand beneath the pillow and touched the envelope to make sure she was not dreaming.
She heard the clock strike hour by hour, and she was wide awake when the first pebble struck the window pane. She got out of bed, pulled up the blind gently so that she should not disturb her sister, and looked out. She saw a motor car standing by the kerb a little way along the street, and beneath the window a man muffled to the chin by the collar of his overcoat. Foreshortened as he was, and in the darkness—the house stood midway between two street lamps—she could not distinguish him. But it might be Ernie. She raised the window carefully and looked out.
"Is that you, Ena?" said a voice.
"Who is it?" she asked in the same tone.
She had never known till then that Ernie had a brother.
"What's the matter?" she asked.
"Ernie wants to see you; he's in the car. Can you come down for a second?"
She hesitated, looked towards her sister, who, if the truth be told, was snoring.
"I don't know if I can," she said. "Can't you tell me?"
"It's about the money," whispered the voice urgently. "Bring it down with you and I'll explain. The police are after Ernie, and they may be after you."
This was a terrific shock to the respectable Ena, and threw her off her balance. A greater shock, since she had had some doubt as to whether any person in the world could possess so vast a sum as five thousand pounds without having acquired it dishonestly.
"I'll be down," she said, put on her slippers and her dressing-gown and, taking the money from under her pillow, opened the door.
It was at this point that Lizzie woke.
"It's all right. It's a man who wants to see me about Ernie," whispered the girl, and went pattering down the stairs.
She took off the chain, unlocked the door and opened it.
"I can't ask you in—" she began.
Nevertheless, he took a step into the passage and before she realised what had happened, a strong arm closed round her, a hand covered her mouth and nose.
"If you make a noise I'll kill you!" breathed an unpleasant voice in her ear.
Momentarily she was paralysed with fear, allowed herself to be led out into the cold street, and was only conscious that she had lost a slipper when her bare foot touched the pavement. This brought her back to sanity. The hands were still over her mouth, and with a jerk she tried to free herself. For a moment there was a breathless struggle, until he lifted her bodily and ran with her to the car. The chauffeur had opened the door, and the man got in, dragging her after him and flung her on the seat by his side.
"If you make a fuss I'll kill you," he said again. "I mean that. I could break that little neck of yours as easy as breaking a stick."
She subsided into the corner, sick and trembling, and, stooping, he picked up a rug and flung it over her, pulled down the blinds and settled himself by her side.
She could not see where the car was going. She felt it breast a hill, and guessed they were going into Lewisham. She began to cry and wail, and this her captor tolerated. Then suddenly she remembered.
"What have you done with the money, you thief? You're not Ernie's brother Jack... He has no brother."
The man laughed.
"What do you know about Ernie or his brothers or sisters or aunts or cousins?" he asked flippantly. "But you're quite right about the money; I've got it, in my pocket. I've lost too much through that damned fool's stupidity."
"Where is Ernie?" she asked.
He made no reply to this.
"What are you going to do with me?" she demanded after a long silence.
"It's not what I'm going to do, it's what you're going to do," he said. "You're going to write a letter to your mother or sister or your friend Mr. Reeder, and tell them that you've gone abroad with Ernie, and that you're perfectly happy, and that you'll be coming back in a year— and—"
"I'm not going abroad with you or Ernie," she stormed. "You'll be locked up for this—taking me out of the house—"
"You must be very pretty," said her captor cynically. "I haven't had a good look at you, but you must be very pretty. You're so damned unintelligent that there must be some points about you that would attract even a nit-wit like that copper-hearted bird."
The mention of Mr. Reeder gave her an idea.
"Mr. Reeder will find me," she said. "You'll not get away with it. He knows everything about Ernie. I showed him the letters that Ernie sent—"
"What letters?" asked the man quickly, and she realised she had made a mistake.
"One letter, anyway. The letter he sent from Birmingham."
She heard him gasp.
"Did he write to you from Birmingham? Was—was there any address on the letter?"
She hesitated, and she heard his sigh of relief.
"There wasn't," he said. "Reeder's got the letter, has he?"
She did not reply, and leaning over, he caught her by the shoulders and shook her roughly.
"When I speak to you, answer," he said. "Now, tell me all that Reeder knows."
She began to cry softly.
"If you snivel I shall be sorry for you, and if I'm sorry for you I shall kiss you," he said, and she sat bolt upright, stiff with fear.
There was nothing subtle about Ena. She had not even a native cunning.
"Lizzie took the letters to him, and he asked her a lot of questions as to how Ernie wrote, whether he made—you know—little circles in the air before he started to put his pen on the paper."
She heard the man whistle.
"He asked that, did he—the old devil!"
She realised she had to propitiate him, and it was not difficult for Ena to propitiate men, even men met under the present distressing circumstances.
"It was awful of you to take me away like this," she said. "You'll get into ever such trouble—"
"Never mind about that," he said curtly. "Go on telling me what Reeder said."
There was very little she could tell him, he realised after she had been talking for a little while.
"Does he know about the money—the money that was sent to you this morning—yesterday morning?" he corrected himself.
"No, but Lizzie will tell him."
"Was she awake when you left?" he asked quickly.
"Yes, she was—and I'll bet she took the number of this car, so the best thing you can do is to say it's a joke and take me back."
"That is not my idea of a joke," he said.
They did not speak again for the greater part of an hour. The car was flying through the country. Twice it passed over a long bridge. She asked where they were going. It was the third time she had put that question.
"You're going to a nice, quiet, country spot," said the man. "You'll have a little suite of your own, and if you've any brains you will sit down and amuse yourself with knitting. I'll get you some clothes to-morrow and if you don't make any attempt to escape you'll be treated decently. If you do try to get away—" He did not finish the sentence.
She fell asleep in the last half-hour of the journey, and was awakened when the car stopped. He took a large silk handkerchief and bound her eyes before he assisted her into a house which smelt close and musty, and guided her feet up the stairs which were so broad that, reaching out her hand, she could feel no balustrade.
He kept her waiting for about a quarter of an hour in a small, unfurnished room, and here she sat shivering on a chair, with a rug round her shoulders, until he came for her, and showed her into a bigger room that had evidently been hastily furnished with a bed. The windows were covered with wooden shutters. The room had been newly papered, and had the luxury of a small bathroom which led from the apartment, a bathroom which was apparently entirely without windows.
"I'll get you some food, and to-morrow I'll bring you books and anything you need."
He stood revealed now in the light he had switched on; a tall man, lithe, keen, good-looking. It was the first time Hymie Higson had seen the girl, and he could admire and approve Ernie's choice.
"You're a good-looker but dumb," he said good-humouredly.
"I can talk if I want—" she began.
"I don't mean that kind of dumbness." He tapped his head. "Maybe we'll improve your mind down here; and in the meantime I'll give you my word for what it is worth, that you won't be molested unless you attempt to escape. There's a man on guard below your window; there will always be somebody up in the house, and your chance of getting away is practically nil. What is more important, you'll be very sorry if you attempt to make your escape. I'm telling you."
He went away and came back with some hot tea and sandwiches, which he put on a table.
"You're a sensible girl, and you don't need me to tell you that if I'd go to the trouble of abducting you, which carries a sentence of ten years penal servitude, there's very little I'd stop short at. When I told you I'd break that little neck of yours I meant it. It would be harder to do now I've had a good look at you—but I'd do it! Will you please regard me as a sleeping dog and let me lie! And don't kick me!"
There was a certain refinement in his tone. She thought it was rather "aristocratic," and then in a flash remembered the man who had come in the false moustache, and promptly charged him with that visit. He nodded.
"That's true. I was trying to do you a turn. You didn't know it, but I was. If your sister hadn't gone to that"—he checked himself— "that man Reeder, if she hadn't spilt the beans to him, you wouldn't be in this mess. I wouldn't have minded the money the treacherous little dog sent you—after all, you're probably entitled to your cut."
Since she did not realise the significance of this innuendo it passed unchallenged.
He left her, and after some hesitation she drank the tea and finished the sandwiches, in some trepidation.
It was not until the first streaks of dawn showed through the cracks in the shutters that weariness overcame her, and, lying down on the bed, she pulled a rug over her and went to sleep. She must have slept throughout the day, for it was dusk when she woke up and, switching on the light, pushed the bell which Hymie had shown her.
It was some time before an answer came, in the shape of Hymie himself, carrying a tray.
"I'm sorry to keep you waiting," he said with mock humility; "but as I'm head cook and warder of this establishment, and I've no lady's maid to wait upon you, you'll have to be satisfied with the best I can give you."
The best was boiled eggs and new bread, and delicious butter. Being young and healthy, and with a young and healthy person's appetite, she was more concerned in the satisfaction of her hunger than in her immediate danger.
He went out of the room and came back with a bundle of clothes, which he threw on the bed.
"They're all new, and they've all been collected with considerable trouble from a dozen London stores. I guess old man Reeder has been circulating warnings to outfitters. If they had all been purchased at the same place, some copper-hearted chicken would have blown the works."
"What do you mean by 'copper-hearted'?" she asked curiously, and he was pleased to explain that a copper-hearted was one who had an affection for policemen and was predisposed to supply information to these indispensable servants of civilisation.
"That's all there is to it, baby."
"Are you American?" she asked, and he smiled, showing his white teeth.
"English by birth, American by education. I had the honour of spending my eighteenth birthday in an American college called Sing-Sing—you may have heard of the establishment."
"It's a prison, isn't it?" she said, and he chuckled.
"This growth of education on the part of the lower orders can be traced to the movies. Yes, my child, the college was Sing-Sing, and the actual form I was in was located in the death house, from which a well-directed 'life-boat'* rescued me in time to serve with distinction in the Great War."
(* Footnote: i.e., Pardon.)
He waved his hand to the clothing.
"There's everything there that a lady requires," he said. "Not that you're a lady, but no doubt you dress like one. If I have omitted something, I hope you'll be immodest enough to tell me."
He went away after this and she bolted the door on him and dressed. Beyond the fact that the shoes were a size too large, the clothing fitted her, and she felt more at her ease. It was when he came back that he discovered that the door had a bolt.
"I overlooked that," he said when he was admitted.
He went to the door and called a name. Presently a man came in, who, without so much as looking at her, proceeded to remove the bolt.
"It isn't necessary if you play square," said Hymie, "and if you didn't play square that bolt would be no more use to you than post-cards in hell!"
MR. REEDER'S views on the deplorable state of his mind were familiar to most people, but he was never quite so much a criminal as he was in the twelve hours which followed the disappearance of Ena Panton.
He had suspicions amounting almost to certainty. But Scotland Yard is a very cautious machine, not easily set in motion. "Maybe's" and "Very likely's" do not send the wheels grinding. More important, it is very careful to hide from those on whom suspicion falls that they are suspect, and this care often arrests too close inquiries. But Mr. Reeder was not at Scotland Yard. He was an extraneous force that moved sometimes independently of, and sometimes in conjunction with, that establishment, but he was not entirely bound by the methods and formula of Scotland Yard.
He interviewed the Assistant Director of Public Prosecutions, and this gentleman said all that Mr. Reeder expected him to say, which was that he should pass any exact information he had to the Criminal Investigation Department.
Between conjecture and exact information yawns a deep, wide gulf. Mr. Reeder might suppose all manner of things, but the only fact he had to go on was that a little typist, living in the poorest part of London, had left her house, scantily attired, in the middle of the night and had disappeared. There was not even definite information upon which the police could act that she was in possession of five thousand pounds in dollar currency. They had only the evidence of her sister, who admittedly knew little or nothing about foreign currency, and, in addition, there was a peculiar want of title to the money, supposing it had been under the girl's pillow as Lizzie had stated.
All that he could say in his minute to the C.I.D. was that the girl had disappeared, and all that Scotland Yard could reply politely, yet with a hint of flippancy, was that young ladies had heretofore walked out of their houses in the middle of the night, and even in the middle of the day, and flown to mysterious love nests which were of a quite innocuous character.
Inspector Grayson, who came over to consult with Mr. Reeder, put the matter from his point of view.
"There may be something very big behind it. On the other hand, you know how these people romance. For all you can tell the girl may have been fully dressed and waiting for the arrival of this young man. The fact that her old clothes were found in the room may mean nothing more than that she had something better to wear. This is disappearance six hundred and seventy-three, and against that you've got to balance four or five hundred that have turned up, very sorry for themselves, and hoping that everything will be forgotten and forgiven. The money part of it is a bit of a puzzle, but I think I've found the explanation of that."
He took out his pocket-book and produced some newspaper cuttings. They dealt with the finding of the two packets of bank-notes near Farnham.
"That is what started this yarn. She has read this in the paper and has probably invented the rest. You know what liars these people are— they'll do anything to get themselves into the limelight."
Mr. Reeder sighed. He always sighed when anybody else took a low view of human nature.
It had been a bluff on his part to connect Hymie Higson with the discovery of the money on the hayrick, part of one of his fantastical stories, which had once seemed real and now had gone back to its old perspective. He rather wished he could see Higson again, because there was something about the man...
Was it Higson? Was Higson the abductor? He asked why he should be, and found no satisfactory answer.
Mr. Reeder sat down at his desk and fell to storytelling all over again, imagining the worst of everybody, imputing motives far from commendable to every man and woman associated in his mind with the case.
Ena might turn up again and make them all look foolish. He had only the evidence of a sleepy girl, not too intelligent, possibly not too truthful; a young lady whose passion for sensationalism had been stimulated by her devotion to the pictures.
On one point, however, he was certain; when the blow fell, as he knew it must inevitably fall, he was prepared for an event which shocked ten millionaire directors to their core, if indeed they possessed such a moral stiffening.
He was sent for the next day as soon as he reached the office. The Assistant Director was very perturbed.
"I want you to go down to the city and see Sir Wilfred Heinhall. It's very important, Reeder, so please don't go by bus—take a taxi."
"Certainly," said Mr. Reeder. "I will go the quickest way."
Actually he went by tube.
They were waiting for him in the stately anteroom to Sir Wilfred's palatial boardroom; two managers and a managing clerk escorted him into the gilded room with its crystal chandeliers and priceless paintings.
"Mr. Reeder, Sir Wilfred," they announced in hushed voices, and left him.
Sir Wilfred was pacing up and down a large and expensive Persian rug. His hands were thrust into his pockets, his whitish, sandy hair was disarrayed in a picturesque and alarming manner. He looked like a man who had not slept for a month.
"Sit down, Mr. Reeder," he said in a hollow voice. "Sit down! A most dreadful thing has happened, and I cannot help but recall your fateful words —yes, I think I could describe them as 'fateful'—the last time we met. I refer to our business system, with which I was all too satisfied —all too satisfied!"
He made a gesture of despair. Mr. Reeder sat down on the edge of the chair, his umbrella between his legs, his hands grasping the knob, and waited.
"When you told me, Mr. Reeder, that the system on which the Central and Southern Bank is run was archaic and out of date, I admit I scoffed. I have a distinct recollection of scoffing. I may have been rude to you."
"You were," murmured Mr. Reeder.
"I am sorry! I can say nothing more than that—I am sorry. A terrible thing has happened—the most terrible thing in the history of the bank. Mr. Reeder, we have been robbed of a fortune. Not here in London, Mr. Reeder, but—" He paused dramatically.
"In Birmingham?" said Mr. Reeder, and Sir Wilfred opened his mouth wide.
"In Birmingham? I have not told a soul where it was. I did not even tell the Public Prosecutor. I have not mentioned it even to my managing director —it was Birmingham, yes."
Mr. Reeder nodded slowly.
"By a clerk. I don't know what his surname was, but I imagine his Christian name was Ernest." Sir Wilfred sat down heavily.
"You knew?" He almost squeaked the words. "You knew that we were being robbed? His name is Ernest Graddle—an awful name, one which of itself should have sown suspicion in the mind of any careful manager. Ernest Graddle! A clerk earning a few pounds a week, who has been robbing the bank systematically for the past twelve months, beginning, it seems, with small sums, and gradually increasing until his last act was to convert a sum of eighty-five thousand pounds to his own use! Eighty-five thousand pounds!"
Mr. Reeder was not impressed.
"I thought it would be a pretty big sum. What is the total?"
"Three hundred and ten thousand pounds," said Sir Wilfred huskily. "An enormous sum. And we have been robbed by the simplest of tricks. One of our customers, a retired steelmaster, is something of an eccentric. He is also unfortunately something of a recluse. Instead of his money being invested he maintains a large current account; his balances sometimes are as much as half a million. Although banks are not supposed to pay interest on current accounts, we do allow him a small percentage—three per cent. It is on this account mainly that the money has been drawn. Our client, as I say, lives a retired life. He is extremely religious. I almost said that he was a religious maniac. He may not be a religious maniac, he may be just simply a maniac. No man would keep such an enormous sum on a current account. The bank manager has expostulated with him, but has received no reply to his expostulations. We have, I might say, taken every precaution, and yet this" —he tried to describe the absent Ernest, but failed—"this wretched fellow, scarcely more than a boy, has managed to take the money under the very eyes of our inspectors, under the eyes of our managers, under the eyes of the district manager! It is the most appalling thing that has happened in the history of banking."
Mr. Reeder knew better. More appalling things had happened in the history of banking, but he made a certain number of allowances for Sir Wilfred's natural indignation.
"I presume it will not affect the credit of the bank?" he asked, and Sir Wilfred swelled indignantly.
"Affect the credit of the bank, my dear sir? Stuff and nonsense!" He was quite his old self. "We have ten millions of reserve. The sum involved is, so to speak, a fleabite—in a sense. In another sense it is a colossal loss."
He would have enlarged upon the stability and security of the bank, but Mr. Reeder turned the conversation to a more practical direction.
"When was all this found out?" he asked.
It had been discovered two days before, explained Sir Wilfred. The clerk in question, Ernest Graddle, had not turned up to work. The manager, thinking he was ill, sent a message to where he was lodging, and then heard for the first time that Mr. Graddle, though he maintained the address, was very seldom in the habit of sleeping at home. He had left for London the previous night, taking with him all the possessions he kept at his lodgings. He had paid his landlord and had gone away about eight o'clock in a small, black motor car which he himself drove. The manager became suspicious, sent for an inspector.
"We had the auditors in, and of course, the moment these incompetent jackasses got down to the situation, they discovered what had happened. Graddle handled the account from which the money was stolen, and two or three hours' work on the books showed us just what had happened. Naturally, I have notified the police, who are now searching for him, and I have sent for you, Mr. Reeder, to take complete control of the case on behalf of the bank."
Mr. Reeder smiled.
"I'm afraid you can't do that," he said quietly. "I shall probably take a limited control of the case on behalf of the Public Prosecutor."
He could excuse Sir Wilfred's error, for he had spent many years of his life in the service of the Bankers Trust, and in the course of that association had saved them so many millions that when he retired from his position he was presented with a piece of plate which must have cost nearly twenty pounds.
He explained just where he could help, and Sir Wilfred for once took an intelligent view of the situation.
The manager, accountant and bookkeeper of the Birmingham branch were within call, and these J.G. Reeder took into the sub-manager's office, one by one, and questioned. The manager was quaking. The hour of an honourable retirement was near at hand. It looked to him as though the whole of his career with the bank must go for nothing, for Sir Wilfred had hinted to him that the handsome gratuity which the Central and Southern Bank paid to their managers on retirement might be withheld.
"I know nothing whatever about it. I am responsible, of course, for the account, but Graddle was immensely capable, and I don't know anybody I would have trusted sooner than him. The truth is, Mr. Reeder, our system is wrong. I've pointed this out to Sir Wilfred a dozen times. By the present method it is quite easy for a young clerk, especially if he has a confederate, to wipe out the entire branch balance!"
"Had Graddle any vices?"
The manager thought not. He was a quiet young man, a member of a debating society, and there was no breath of scandal against his name.
"Did he bet?"
Here the manager was emphatic. Graddle abominated gambling, and at local societies had twice given lectures on the evil effects of sweepstakes. There was no woman in the case; Graddle did not drink, nor had he any other objectionable habits.
"He was very ambitious, and often told me that if he were a very rich man he would play on the Stock Exchange as a man plays on a piano. He said that fortunes could easily be acquired, and it was only the lack of capital which kept any man poor."
"That is probably true," said Mr. Reeder gravely, and the manager hastened to explain.
Graddle was keenly interested in the oil market, though there was no evidence to prove that he had ever speculated a shilling on that or any other mart. His interest, however, was such that he had attended technical evening classes on oil engineering, was something of an authority on oil lands, or, if he was not, pretended to be.
It was his practice to spend his week-ends in London, and most of his spare cash went in this luxury. In his desk at the bank they had discovered a number of letters from people who had advertised interests in oil properties. Apparently he never passed an offer of oil lands without writing to the advertisers to discover the strength of it, though again there was no evidence that he had invested money.
Armed with this information, Mr. Reeder made the rounds of the city, and after a while he came to the London offices of an American bank, and discovered where the last eighty-five thousand pounds had been exchanged for American currency. Some four hundred and twenty odd thousand dollars had been paid to a young man, who had brought a covering letter from the Central and Southern Bank, and who had paid for his purchase in English notes. The bank had been warned days in advance that a customer was requiring a large sum in American money, so they were prepared. The description of the youth who made the exchange corresponded with the description furnished of Ernie.
Boiled down, it was a vulgar, commonplace bank theft, an "inside job" readily engineered, because of loose clerical systems, by an employee. It had its hundreds of parallels, and differed in only one respect from a score of similar cases.
In that one respect, however, the difference was marked. Ernie had no vices. He did not bet, he did not speculate. Mr. Reeder, however, knew differently. He interpreted that reference to oil in his letter to Ena, and it was not so difficult to see how the clerk had fallen into the toils. A large number of oil properties are advertised in the agony columns of the leading daily newspapers in the course of the year, and not all of these are genuine. A sensible proportion are inserted by sharks who are quite happy if they touch the little money of the hazardous speculator. Who was the shark?
Later in the day all the documents which had been collected from Ernie's desk were sent by train to London, and Mr. Reeder examined them very carefully. He had already sent a clerk to search the files of the leading dailies for advertisements extolling the potentialities of undeveloped oil-fields. Happily, he had English newspapers to deal with; had this happened in New York a few years before, not a clerk, but an army of clerks would have been required to check up these flattering offers.
Ernie's interest in oil had begun less than twelve months before, if he could judge by the letters, and had probably started with his reading of books on the world's oil production. A copy of one of these was found in his lodgings, well thumbed and annotated—he had left it behind when he had made his hurried flight. Mr. Reeder had therefore been fairly accurate in putting a year as the period to be covered by the searcher after alluring newspapers.
It made a formidable and voluminous collection of documents when it came into Mr. Reeder's hands that night. By the morning these would be checked up and the advertisers traced, if they were traceable.
Descriptions of the wanted man had been circulated by telegraph especially to motor-hire companies and to garage proprietors. At eight o'clock that evening Mr. Reeder was called on the telephone by the Chief Constable of Scotland Yard.
"We've traced that boy, Mr. Reeder. Do you remember the case of a motor car being found on the side of the Shrewton road, burnt out?"
Mr. Reeder almost jumped out of his chair. One of his stories was coming true!
"Well, that was his! He gave the name of Stevenson. The garage proprietor recognised the photograph."
J.G. WAITED up till three in the morning to hear the report of the officer who had been sent specially down to examine the car and to gather fuller particulars. The car had been deliberately set on fire. That had been the police theory from the moment they found two empty petrol tins thrown into a near-by ditch. The number-plate had been broken off, and the machine had been identified by the chassis number. The newest discovery that the police made was that the car had been set on fire by a delayed fuse, and probably did not burst into flame until nearly half an hour after the man had deserted it.
Stevenson had also been identified by the proprietor of an inn at Andover. The boy had arrived late at night, driving the car which was afterwards found burnt, and had ordered supper, which was served to him in the coffee room. He carried with him a small suit-case, was very pale and agitated, and one of the waiters had remarked to the manager of the inn that he thought the visitor had been crying! He was certainly in a state bordering upon hysteria.
After he had finished and paid for his supper, saying that he was going on to Bournemouth, something went wrong with his car. He could not start it, and he behaved like a lunatic, screaming and raving at the motor mechanic who tried to put the matter right. The car required very little treatment; Mr. "Stevenson" had forgotten to switch on the ignition.
All the time he was at the inn he did not let go of his suit-case, and when he drove off it was between the steering column and his left knee.
At first the burnt-out car had not been connected in the mind of the motor mechanic with the Stevenson car. It was not until he saw it in a police station yard that he recognised it and reported his suspicions to the local inspector.
Now, to make Mr. Reeder's story true, this young man had to be hysterical! If he was calm and collected and in full possession of his senses, what had happened that fatal night was impossible. Certainly no packets of bank-notes would have been discovered on the tops of hayricks and in ditches; no eminent master of Eton would have been struck down and destroyed without warning.
Mr. Reeder could claim, though he never made such a claim, that he had known from the very beginning that Ernie was a bank clerk. He had an extensive knowledge of business papers; he knew the paper of the Central and Southern Bank, because the lower right-hand corner was invariably cut off as bank-notes are cut; and he knew that Ernie was a clerk, because bank clerks have a trick of making flourishes with their pens before they write, the reason being the necessity for making absolutely sure of the statement or figures they are copying, the flourish giving them just that amount of time to check up.
But bank clerks are not necessarily thieves because they possess money and give expensive presents to girls. Mr. Reeder was certain that if the explosive Sir Wilfred had been aware that he was in possession of these facts he would have regarded him as an accessory; but Sir Wilfred did not know, and Mr. Reeder's conscience was clear. That was one of the peculiar qualities of Mr. Reeder's conscience, that nothing clouded it.
He secured a powerful car from the police, and went alone on a voyage of discovery, the area of his search being Buckinghamshire. A search of the records of a certain ministry had told him practically nothing. Mr. Mannering, who was also Mr. Hymie Higson, might have a real name—it was certainly neither Mannering nor Higson.
Reeder made many calls. If he had a weakness it was for working alone; and if he had a vice it was that he was uncommunicative. There were Scotland Yard officers who complained bitterly that he worked for "solo glory." But to do him the barest justice, Mr. Reeder never bothered about glory, any more than a man who plays a difficult game of patience takes any comfort from the thought that his success will win the plaudits of the crowd.
That was his system, to play patience in a closed room for the satisfaction of his own curiosity. If he failed, as he sometimes failed, he published his discredit; if he succeeded, he often hugged his triumph to himself, and none knew how great it was.
So that when he went down into Buckinghamshire he told nobody, and at the end of the day, after he had been deposited in Whitehall and the car dismissed, he stopped only long enough to eat muffins at a near-by restaurant before he strolled away to Paddington and travelled by train to Maidenhead. Here he chartered a cab, and in the darkness of the night was deposited near the home of Mr. or Captain Mannering.
The iron gates were closed; the wall in their vicinity was formidable. A quarter of a mile along a side road the ground was more vulnerable. In the dark of night Mr. Reeder found himself trudging through dead bracken to his objective.
Ena Panton might, as her keeper said, be "dumb," but she had the power of shrewd observation. One of the first things she observed, after she had settled down to her captivity, was that her prison had been most carefully prepared for her. It was as though her gaoler had planned her abduction weeks before he carried her away. The windows were shuttered, and the shutters were screwed into place so that they could not be opened. A ventilator grating had been recently placed in a wall high up out of reach, and a certain number of books had been provided for her entertainment. They were not books in which she herself was greatly interested, being mainly elementary works of science, two or three books about oil and oil-fields, and an amount of other literature equally dry and equally unappealing.
A day after her arrival a new set of books made their appearance, more to her liking. With them came magazines, fashion papers and the more interesting of the illustrated weeklies.
She challenged Hymie, with whom she was now on almost friendly terms.
"You've been planning to get somebody here for a long time."
"How did you know that?"
"Look at all the preparations you've made," she indicated, and he smiled.
"True, O dumbell!" he said. "Fancy you noticing that! Yes, I've been looking forward to the pleasure for a month."
She shook her head.
"No, you haven't. You had this place prepared for somebody else— for Ernie."
He stared at her.
"What makes you think that?" he asked.
She shook her head.
"I don't know. I've got a feeling. Where is Ernie?"
"He's gone abroad."
"Why?" she asked, and he sighed wearily.
"How many times have I told you not to ask questions?"
He went to the end of the room, pulled aside a curtain that hid a heavy door, and unlocked it.
"Come along for your little walk," he said. "Put your coat on—it's cold."
She struggled into the coat he had bought for her, and together they passed through the door on to a landing and down an outside staircase into the dark grounds. At first she had refused to go out with him, and he had not insisted.
"If you want to keep well you've got to take some exercise," he said. "If you prefer to live inside you can—the only thing I can tell you is that you're not going out by yourself."
She saw the wisdom of the arrangement, and the second night when he invited her she went with him meekly. She could see nothing except trees, and far away a dull red glow in the sky. She asked him where this was, and he refused to tell her.
"London?" she suggested.
"Very likely," was the answer.
On this, the fourth night, he took her out and she was feeling at her friendliest, was curious rather than frightened, questioned him as to what he intended doing with her and how eventually she was to be disposed of. He would have liked to supply a practical answer, for he was already feeling the embarrassment of her presence.
They were returning after a longer walk than usual. She had reached the foot of the stairs, when suddenly, without the least warning, he picked her up in his arms and kissed her. She fought back at him like a tiger cat, battling with wild rage. He said nothing, followed her when she went up the stairs and locked the door upon her. When he brought in her supper she retreated to a corner of the room, watching him.
"It's all right, you fool," he growled. "I lost my head, that's all —too much moonlight in my system."
If she could only get the key of that door! He carried it in his side pocket, making no attempt to hide the fact. She practised picking pockets, hung a woollen jacket over the back of a chair and filched from the pocket nuts that she had saved over from her meal. In a few hours she felt herself an adept, but he never gave her another opportunity, kept away from her, and she dared not risk a closer approach.
That night she went to bed with a sense of apprehension, fastened a chair under the knob of the main door leading to the building. It was nine o'clock when she retired. She woke two hours later suddenly and instantly. She had heard a sound, the stealthy movement of a key in a lock, and it came from the direction of the door that led down into the grounds.
In an instant she was out of the bed, switched on the light and slipped into her dressing-gown. She was white and shaking; her knees all but gave way under her as she moved stealthily across the room in the direction whence the sound had come.
There it was, a queer, tinkling noise, the fumbling of steel against steel.
"Go away!" she called shrilly. "If you come in I'll kill you. I have a knife."
The noise ceased. She waited tensely, listening. There was no other sound, but when she put her ear to the door she thought she heard feet moving.
There came another sound that sent her spinning round. A key had been thrust in the main door at the other end of the room, the lock snapped back, and Hymie came in, glowering.
"What are you trying to do—make a getaway? Go back to bed."
"Wasn't it you... trying to get through that door?" She pointed.
His voice changed. Crossing the room swiftly, and taking a key out of his pocket as he came, he unlocked the door and pulled it open. Nobody stood on the landing outside, nor was any person visible on the narrow stairs.
"Is this a fairy story or are you—"
He saw something, and, stooping, touched the landing. It was a wet footmark; his fingers, when he examined it, were muddy. Somebody had been there recently.
Locking the door, he hurried from the room and was gone a few minutes. When he returned he was wearing an overcoat and carrying a hand-lamp, and with this he examined the landing and the stairs. He tried the door at the foot of these; it was unlocked, and he was certain that he had locked it behind him when he had come in. It was raining; the ground under his feet was wet.
Hurrying back the way he came, he passed through the girl's room, and along a passage down the wide stairs to the hall. A man was sitting there, reading by the shaded light of a lamp. It was the thick-set man who had torn off the bolt in Ena's room.
"Wake up the boys," said Hymie. "Get Janny up from the cottage."
"What's wrong?" asked the man, putting down his newspaper.
"Somebody tried to get into the house through the outside staircase."
The man grinned.
"Burglars?" he asked sardonically, and Hymie showed his teeth to him.
"Do as you're told, will you!" he snarled.
Mr. Reeder's visit to the neighbourhood had not passed unnoticed. It had been disconcerting, but there was no immediate cause for alarm. He did not doubt for a moment that Reeder knew he was living here under the name of Captain Mannering; but Reeder would not suspect that the girl was here, and Hymie's greatest secret of all was hidden beyond fear of discovery.
Hymie was no ordinary criminal; he maintained an intelligence staff in unsuspected places. No search warrant could be applied for and issued without his knowledge—he banked upon this. The very hint that such a warrant was on its way would be sufficient to start him moving. But he had questioned his informant only that night over the telephone, and had been completely assured that Scotland Yard was not taking the step he most dreaded.
Reeder was different. Hymie knew the detective by repute. He did things which officialdom would never sanction, and a search warrant, for J.G. Reeder, was an absurd superfluity. It was Reeder; nobody but Reeder would dare... Reeder had probably watched him as he had come from the stairway.
When he had got his men together Hymie explained his plan.
"I'm taking this girl to France to-night," he said.
"She ought to have gone there first. I'll arrange to have her looked after and be back by to-morrow night. Have a car ready, and 'phone the hangar."
Hymie had served in the Air Force during the war, and he owned a powerful little two-seater 'plane that had been very useful to him. He housed this in a field behind Wycombe, but, as Mr. Reeder had suspected, the flying licence he held was issued neither to Mr. Higson nor Captain Mannering.
"I'll bet you that's what he's been looking for," said one of the men, and Hymie turned on him sharply.
"Who do you mean—Reeder?"
"He hasn't been snooping around the country for nothing," the man went on. "Didn't you say that when you met him at the club he was asking you why you left bundles of bank-notes lying around?"
"That was a guess," said Hymie hastily.
The man shook his head. It was the gardener who lived at the cottage, and he had excellent reason for knowing Reeder.
"He came here the day we got those damned chickens in," he said, "and I was sitting at the door of the cottage when his van passed. He couldn't help recognising me—he had me for a snide job four years ago, and that fellow is camera-eyed! If he knows you, he knows your record. He knows you're an airman, and that's why he's been down here—looking for the hangar. And if he's down here to-night, he's looking for the girl. If you take my advice, guv'nor, you'll have all the cars round and beat it."
Hymie considered this proposition, and it seemed reasonable. He had been a fool ever to hamper himself with this brainless little typist. On the face of it, this dangerous adventure had the appearance of a supreme act of folly. It is possible that Hymie thought there might be a pleasant solution, for he was not without his attractions.
"Get the cars ready. I'll go up and tell her," he said.
He ran up the stairs, along the passage, and, unlocking the door, flung it open. The room was in darkness.
"Get up and dress," he commanded. "We're going a little trip."
There was no answer.
He took a step to the left, felt for the light switch and turned it.
"Don't move," said Mr. Reeder's amiable voice.
He was sitting at the table, his square hat on the back of his head, his woollen muffler untidily disposed about his neck, and in his mittened hand was a long-barrelled automatic.
FOR a second Hymie stared at him, dazed, shattered. He was paralysed to inaction for just the time it takes a man to count twenty.
"The young lady is waiting for me outside the other door—" began Mr. Reeder.
Hymie moved swiftly. With one hand he knocked up the light switch and the room was in darkness. In another second he was flying along the corridor and down the stairs. There was nobody in the hall. Hymie jumped for the front door, and, flinging it open, flew out into the night. He wore thin slippers and a dressing-gown. He scarcely noticed the gravel under his feet as he tore down the drive just as the first of the cars backed out of the garage behind the cottage.
"Get the gate open!" he roared
One of the men flew to the gate, turned the key and pulled, but the iron barrier moved only a few inches and then stuck. Somebody had slipped a handcuff around two bars, that effectively held it.
"Get an axe," breathed Hymie; "quick!"
One of the men ran into the garage and came back with a crowbar. It would seem a simple matter to smash one steel link, but it was nearly three minutes before the connecting handcuff was broken and the gate swung open.
"Your tyres are flat," said a hateful voice from the darkness. "I— um—took the liberty of deflating them. And even if I hadn't—"
As he spoke there came a whirr of wheels. A big car drew up with a jerk opposite the gate and across the path, barring all escape. Hymie turned and fled across the little park. He saw a dark figure standing by the side of the drive and fired from his hip. It was all that was necessary for Mr. Reeder, for he was a law-abiding man and could not bring himself to shoot unless he were shot at. Two sharp reports followed; Hymie felt the sting of a bullet in his thigh; one leg gave under him and he went crashing to the ground.
"Oh, yes," said Mr. Reeder apologetically, "I am afraid I did go down into Buckinghamshire without notifying Scotland Yard. But being, as I have always insisted, a—um—timid man, I did take the precaution of telephoning to the Buckinghamshire police, telling them what I was doing, and asking them to send a squad car to pick me up in an hour's time.
"I have always known that this pleasant country retreat was occupied by at least two crooks. The prosperity of Mr. Hymie Higson was such that I should have been foolish to the point of recklessness if I had not detailed one of my assistants to trail him; and once he was trailed, there was no difficulty at all in establishing the fact that Captain Mannering and Hymie were one and the same person.
"I was puzzled as to why Hymie should purchase a country estate, even though that estate was purchased very cheaply, until I made an examination of his American record, and found that his favourite pose was that of country gentleman, in which role he had fleeced quite a number of distinguished but unintelligent young men of the jeunesse dorée—a foreign expression meaning, I believe, the golden youth.
"Whether Hymie originally intended to try that method of earning a livelihood in England on his release from prison, or whether it was forced upon him by the circumstances of finding the mug—if you will pardon the expression—I have not yet discovered. It is certain that he was in the habit of advertising oil properties for sale, and that he was by this means enabled to secure quite a considerable sum of money from various dupes. When first he heard from the unfortunate Ernest Graddle, he may not have realised the extent of his good fortune. Later, when they met, and Graddle handed to him a sum which he knew no bank clerk could have obtained honestly, it is possible that, under the threat of exposure, he learned the system by which Graddle had been robbing the bank of small sums for many years.
"Once he knew this, the rest was easy. Graddle made a systematic attack upon the account of a rich man who entrusted his money to the bank, and by a method so simple that a child of ten could have defeated it, was able to go on deceiving his manager, hoodwinking the inspectors—the reference in his letter was obviously to a bank inspector—and extracting huge sums, which he, like all people engaged in embezzlement, imagined he would be able to return when fortune smiled upon him, and delivering instantly the bulk of these monies to Mr. Hymie Higson.
"They were never seen together in London after their first meeting. Hymie was too clever to associate himself physically with a thief who, sooner or later, would be found out. They had certain rendezvous where they met; a flat in the Haymarket, a Maidenhead pleasure garden, and one or two other places which I have not yet been able to trace.
"On one of his excursions to London Ernest Graddle met a girl with whom he fell violently in love. She was undoubtedly pretty, and although she was poor, that fact would not weigh heavily with this young man who, if he had lived on his salary, would have been in her class. He bought her presents, gave her sums of money, and when the strain of his deception began to grow on him, made arrangements to marry her.
"The girl had social instincts, and asked that the engagement might be announced. Ernest agreed, I imagine, with some reluctance, and must subsequently have told Hymie, who would be furious. Such an announcement might attract attention to the girl, and indirectly to the young man. Immediately he obtained the offending advertisement, and in the course of his visit to Deptford learned that Ena's sister was in my employ. That, I— um—flatter myself, must have been a shock to Mr. Higson. I may be taking an immodest view of the—um—terror of my name, but I think I am right in saying that he was shocked.
"Naturally, he disguised himself when he came. In no circumstances must he be identified as having the least connection with Ernest Graddle. I imagine —though he will not confess this much—that he insisted upon the young man making one big steal and bolting. Then it was that Ernest was obstinate, insisted that he could not live without Ena Panton, though it was probably not until the night before he bolted that he confessed that he had broken his promise, and had again communicated with Ena and had sent her a portion of the stolen money, which he had changed into American currency.
"When Hymie learned that he had sent a package of bills to the girl he must have been beside himself with fury. The bills could be traced and the inevitable exposure precipitated. He must also have been having a very trying time with Ernest Graddle, who was love-sick, mad with fear and remorse, and in a state bordering upon dementia.
"The only evidence we have is the evidence given by the motor mechanic at Andover, and his description of Ernest is, I should imagine, a fairly faithful one.
"Hymie's plan was as follows. He would fly in the afternoon to Salisbury Plain, land in the dark—he is one of the cleverest night fliers that ever was thrown out of the Air Force—and Ernest was to go by road and pick him up at an agreed spot which was a quarter of a mile beyond Stonehenge. Hymie seems to have landed on the plain without attracting any attention. There is a big aerodrome within a few miles, and the appearance of a plane, even late at night, would not be regarded as remarkable.
"He must have told Ernest that he was taking him out of the country, probably to the South of France. In reality he had other plans. Ernest was too dangerous a man to be left at large in France where, when the robbery was known, his description would be circulated, and where most certainly he would be free to telegraph the girl to join him.
"A room had been prepared, a prison room, at Hymie's country house, and after the car had arrived, the baggage transferred to the plane, and the car saturated, and left with a delayed action firer, the machine took off without mishap. They could not have gone far before Ernest made the discovery that the 'plane was going in the wrong direction, and then Hymie must have told him the truth—that it was too dangerous for him to go abroad, and that he was taking him to a safe hiding place.
"What happened after this one can only conjecture. The boy was hysterical, mad with fear and fury. He may have suspected Hymie and threatened that none of the money in the suit-case should be his. He certainly opened it, with the intention of flinging its contents over the side of the 'plane. Two packets, and probably more, were actually jettisoned, before Hymie turned upon the demented young man and struck him with an iron spanner which lay to his hand. There was probably a struggle, in the course of which the spanner fell over the side of the aeroplane—with tragic results, as we know, for it struck an unoffending Eton master and killed him.
"If you take a map of the south of England and you draw a more or less straight line from the place where Hymie picked up his passenger to the hangar, you will see that it crosses Farnham, Windsor and Cookham, the slight deviation in those tracks being caused by a heavy ground mist which lay over a portion of Wiltshire, and which the airman was at some pains to avoid.
"I don't know how many times Ernest was struck. He was undoubtedly dead when the 'plane came to earth at the flying field which Hymie had first rented and subsequently bought.
"What was done immediately with the body it is impossible at the moment to say. It may have been left all day in the hangar. The evidence I have is that the shed was locked throughout that day, and that a man sat outside or wandered about it, not attempting to seek shelter, though the day was very wet and gusty.
"Higson's danger was not yet over. There remained the girl, and that ill-fated package of twenty-five thousand dollars, which was all the more significant since the mysterious discovery of similar packages on a Hampshire farm. It might be that he was even more concerned with the possibility that the young man had written very fully to his sweetheart, giving particulars of his crime, or, what was as bad, naming a rendezvous where they could meet. If I may be allowed the immodesty, the situation was further complicated by the fact that I was already in the case, and had seen both Ena and her sister. When I met Hymie at the club he was on his way to perform this bold stroke.
"The need for silencing the girl was an urgent one. This young lady tells me that he threatened to kill her, and I have not the slightest doubt that if she had been less attractive he would have put his threat into execution. As it was, she has taken no harm, and has something to talk about for the rest of her life, besides figuring—and this will give her the greatest pleasure—in an interesting murder trial. The moment her portrait is published in the newspapers she will receive hundreds of offers of marriage from that half-witted section of the population which exists for no other purpose than to offer marriage to notorious persons. So that, generally speaking, I do not think we need waste our sympathy on this young lady, and I am especially asking the bank, in view of the information she was able to give to me, to refrain from demanding the jewels which were donated to her by her unhappy lover. Oh, yes, she knows he is dead, and she has paid him the tribute of her—um—lamentations.
"Hymie went down to Deptford and carried out his plan as arranged. It was easier than he had imagined, and, as he had a hiding-place already prepared for her lover, there was no insuperable difficulty about finding some place where she could be hidden. Exactly what he intended doing eventually, I do not care to think.
"That gentleman is the solution of many minor mysteries, and, incidentally, releases from suspicion the three violent socialists who on a certain occasion had threatened Mr. Friston, and are, I believe, at this moment under police observation."
Mr. Reeder had an audience consisting of the heads of Scotland Yard, the chiefs of the Berkshire police and the Assistant Public Prosecutor. There was also an official stenographer.
"That's all right, Mr. Reeder," said Grayson. "A very interesting story, and I have no doubt we shall be able to check up every point. You've done marvellously, though I've always had in my mind the possibility that the discovery of the money at Farnham had something to do with the murder of the Eton gentleman—"
Mr. Reeder murmured something; whether derisive or not, nobody could quite gather.
"I think, sir"—Grayson addressed the Assistant Public Prosecutor —"the matter may be left now in our hands."
"Where is the body?" asked Mr. Reeder. There was a little glint in his eyes, as though he were enjoying a secret joke.
"We'll find that—I had a talk to Hymie in the cells this morning, and of course he denied everything, and said exactly what you're saying: 'Find the body. You can't prosecute a man for murder without a body. I think that's the law.' But we'll find it—with the assistance of our friends from Berkshire," he added politely.
Mr. Reeder scratched his chin.
"You won't want my assistance in that respect? I have made a few inquiries—"
"No, no, no, you can leave it to us, Mr. Reeder."
There is nothing malicious about a Scotland Yard officer, very little petty jealousy, but since an official of that institution depends for his very living and his promotion upon discoveries for which he himself can take credit, he was not unnaturally desirous of coming in at the end. The Chief Constable said as much to the Assistant Public Prosecutor as they were walking along Whitehall to lunch.
"We'll have to come back to old Reeder. He's a sly old dog, and if Grayson hadn't been so cocky we should have known all the facts by now," he said, and here he was right.
Mr. Grayson had undertaken the most difficult problem of the case. An army of detectives searched house and grounds, dug up foundations, overturned hearth-stones, dragged the river, made examinations of garage floors, but the body of the murdered man was not discovered. It was the one secret which J.G. Reeder had not revealed.
He was an assiduous reader of American magazines and especially those lurid representatives of the magazine press which dealt with crime. And had not Hymie Higson once most incautiously mentioned the truth machine? And had not Mr. Reeder read the very article?
"There is only one place to hide a body," he said, when the Assistant Public Prosecutor hinted that for his own private information he would like to know his assistant's theory. "Have you ever heard of an elderly tramp named Peters? The name is unfamiliar to you, sir? It was unfamiliar to me. I never met the man in my life, partly because I do not associate with tramps, and partly because I did not know tramps had names. But there was such a person—Peters the tramp."
"You're being mysterious," smiled his chief.
Mr. Reeder shook his head. He was a little indignant that such a charge should be brought against him.
"There's no mystery except the peculiar workings of my mind. I have heard of the man Peters and of Hymie's great generosity to him—perhaps if you mention this to Scotland Yard, sir, they will immediately leap at the solution. As it is, I fear it is going to be difficult to bring home to Mr. Higson, or Mannering, or Brates—that is the name in which his aeroplane licence was issued—the responsibility for the death of this unfortunate young man."
Hymie held the same view. His confidence grew with the remands which were ordered of his case. Neither the wheedling, the threatening nor the bluff of police officers shook him. Eventually Mr. Reeder was sent for— Scotland Yard had capitulated.
"We can't get this bird to talk, and all our efforts to find the body have come to nothing," said Grayson irritably.
Mr. Reeder produced from his overcoat pocket a magazine with an horrific cover.
"You may not have read this publication," he said; "but I subscribe to it, and so apparently does Mr. Higson or Mannering or Brates. Indeed, I learned some years ago that with the big shots of American crime this is the most favoured publication. It tells of past murders and of interesting developments in criminal detection. Not the least interesting of these is an article on the truth machine, the invention of a young Chicago scientist. A band is placed round the chest, another round the arm, and a cardiograph is taken. A man so treated is asked a question, and if he tells the truth the little pointer on the ribbon shows no visible sign of agitation. If he lies, the pointer swings left and right, and the farther it swings the bigger is the lie. If you peruse this article you will read the story of a young motor salesman who disappeared, and was suspected of being murdered. The man so suspected was arrested and put under examination. The inquiry was never completed, because the criminal, realising his danger, secured an injunction from a Supreme Court judge to stop the experiment. But before it was arrested he had revealed several interesting facts. First, that he had killed the man he was supposed to have killed; secondly, that he had buried him in a certain section of space; thirdly, that the place he had chosen for burial was —a cemetery!"
Mr. Reeder nodded.
"I can imagine no more suitable place," he said. "It is certainly the last place you would disturb in your search. On the day following the murder of the young clerk, a tramp named Peters who had died in the neighbourhood was to have been buried in a common grave. Some unknown benefactor bought the plot, so that he should rest alone. That same night the grave was re-opened, and the body of Ernest Graddle was also interred."
About three months after Hymie Higson was effectively disposed of by the officers of the law, Lizzie the parlourmaid asked Mr. Reeder for a day off.
"Ena's getting married," she said, "to such a nice boy! She's ever so fond of him, and after all the poor girl's been through, it's a blessing! And do you know, Mr. Reeder, that the police won't give her back all those bank-notes that were taken away from her? They say the money belongs to the bank, although Ernie gave it to her, and if they took away the notes why didn't they take away her rings?"
Mr. Reeder was too weary to discuss a matter of ethics.
"Take your day off, Elizabeth," he said, "and be so kind as to bring me some muffins."
WHEN Mr. Reeder went to New York in connection with the Gessler Bank fraud he was treated as though he were a popular member of a royal family. New York policemen, who are more accustomed to seeing humanity in all sorts of odd shapes and appearances, and with that innate politeness and hospitality which is theirs, saw nothing amusing in the old-fashioned coat, which he kept tightly buttoned, in his square hat, or even his side whiskers. They offered him the respect which was due to a very great detective. They were less deceived by his seeming timidity and his preference for everybody's opinion but his own than were their English colleagues.
His stay was a comparatively short one, yet, in the time at his disposal, he glided through the police headquarters of four great American cities, saw Atlanta prison, and, two days before he sailed, travelled by train to Ossning, passed through the steel gates of Sing-Sing and inspected that very interesting building under the guidance of the Deputy Warden, from card index to death house.
"There's one man I'd have liked you to see," said the Deputy Warden just before they parted. "He's an Englishman—he's called Redsack. Have you ever heard of him?"
Mr. Reeder shook his head.
"There are so many people I've never heard of," he murmured apologetically, "and Mr. Redsack is one of them. Is he staying here— er—for a long time?"
"Life," said the other laconically, "and he's lucky to escape the chair. He's broken three prisons, but he won't break Sing-Sing—the most dangerous man we have in this institution."
Mr. Reeder rubbed his chin thoughtfully. "I—um—would like to have seen him," he said. The Deputy Warden smiled.
"Just now he's not visible, but he'll be out tomorrow," he said. "We had to put him in a punishment cell for trying to escape. I thought you might know him. He's had four convictions in the United States, and he's probably guilty of more murders than any prisoner inside these walls; he certainly has the biggest brain I've met with since I first dealt with criminals."
Mr. Reeder smiled sadly and shook his head.
"I have never yet met—um—anything that resembled a brain in the criminal world," he said, with a deep melancholy. "Redsack? What a pity his crimes were not committed in England."
"Why?" asked the Deputy Warden, in surprise.
"He would be dead by now," said Mr. Reeder, and heaved a deep sigh.
The departure of Mr. Reeder's ship was delayed twenty-four hours, and he filled in the time very profitably be gluing himself to the record department at Police Headquarters, New York, and making himself acquainted with Mr. Redsack.
Redsack was a consistently elusive person. There was no photograph of him that had not been cleverly distorted by his own facial manoeuvres. It was not true to say that he was an Englishman; he had been born in Vancouver and had been educated in London; and at thirty had a record that would have made him respected in any criminal circle and nowhere else. Almost Mr. Reeder, albeit reluctantly, agreed with the Deputy Warden that this man showed evidence of genius. He was clever, he was ruthless. In the bare police records, and even without the assistance of an explanatory dossier, the investigator noticed three samples of the operation of a brilliant mind.
Mr. Reeder sailed at midnight on the following day. As, clad in his gay pyjamas, he climbed into his bed, he could have no idea that, five decks below him, working in the galley, was the man he had left in the punishment cell at Sing-Sing and, oddly enough, there was nothing in the newspapers about this astonishing fact.
When the Deputy Warden had said again at parting, a little regretfully:
"Pity you can't see Redsack. He'll be out tomorrow," he was unconsciously a prophet.
It was the most daring and the most sensational escape that Sing-Sing had known. It happened on a dull, wintry afternoon, when a dozen prisoners were at their exercises in the big yard of the old prison. They were watching, with some curiosity and interest, the manoeuvres of a balloon which, caught in a half-gale, was tacking over the Hudson in a vain effort to get back on its course. Ballooning was an unusual sport. Suddenly, without warning, something seemed to go wrong, and the big gas-bag, sagging in the middle, began to make a rapid and oblique descent. Its trail rope came over the wall of the prison yard, dragging along the ground and the nearest man to it seized it. As he did so, a heavy quantity of ballast was released from the gondola beneath the bag, and the balloon shot up, carrying with it a Mr. Redsack.
The guards saw their charge carried over their heads, and could neither fire at him nor do anything but watch helplessly.
The airship drifted across the Hudson into New Jersey, came low again.
Mr. Redsack dropped. It was near a small village. Conveniently close at hand, standing unattended by the side of the road, was a dilapidated car and on the back seat a suitcase. Nobody seemed to have witnessed his surprising descent but he drove for twenty minutes before stopping the car and changing into the clothes from the suitcase. He put the prison uniform in the empty case and left it in a convenient wood.
Near the outskirts of Jersey City, he abandoned the car, walked towards the city and boarded a bus. He came by ferry to New York and eventually to the quay where the outward mail was waiting. After that everything was very simple for Mr. Redsack.
Galley hands were scarce and money is an eloquent letter of recommendation. He had been assigned his watch, and was peeling potatoes with the greatest industry before the ship pulled out of New York harbour.
If you had told Mr. Reeder it was a coincidence that he should at this stage have been brought into contact with one of the most remarkable criminals of our time, he would have shaken his head half-heartedly and in the most apologetic terms have differed from you.
"It is no coincidence—um—that any detective should meet, or nearly meet, any criminal, any more than it is a coincidence that the glass of water you are—er—drinking should at some time or other have been part of the Atlantic Ocean."
When the people in Scotland Yard speculate upon this peculiar happening they always begin with the word "if". "If" Redsack had not been in the punishment cell; "if" Mr. Reeder had only seen him... Quite a lot of trouble might have been saved, and the L. and O. Bank was by no means the beginning or the end of it.
That Mr. Reeder forgot about Redsack is unlikely. When he reached England and went through the files the man's name was familiar. It was inevitable that his record should go down in an abbreviated form in his case-book, for Mr. Reeder despised the story of no criminal, and held the view that crime, like art, knew no frontiers.
But, strangely enough, the name of Redsack did not occur to the man from Whitehall in connection with the L. and O. Bank affair.
MR REEDER very seldom went to the theatre. When he did he preferred the strong and romantic drama to the more subtle problem plays which are so popular with the leisured classes.
He went to see Killing Time, and was a little disappointed, for he detected "the man who did it" in the first act, and thereafter the play ceased to have any great interest for him.
The unpleasant happening of the evening occurred between the first and second acts, when Mr. Reeder was pacing the vestibule, smoking one of his cheap cigarettes, and speculating upon the advisability of recovering his coat and hat from the cloakroom and escaping after the interval bell had rung and the audience had gone back into the auditorium.
There approached him a resplendent man. He was stout, rather tall, very florid. He wore a perpetual smile, which was made up of nine-tenths of amused contempt. His stubby nails were manicured and polished; Mr. Reeder suspected that they were faintly tinted. His clothes fitted him all too perfectly, and when he smiled his way up to Mr. Reeder that gentleman had a feeling that he would like to go back and see the second act after all.
"You're Mr. Reeder, aren't you?" he said in a tone which challenged denial. "My name is Hallaty, Gunnersbury branch of the L. and O. Bank. You came down to see me one day about a fellow who'd been passing dud cheques."
Mr. Reeder fixed his glasses on the end of his nose and looked over them at his new acquaintance.
"Yes, I—um—remember there was a branch of the bank at Gunnersbury," he said. "Very interesting how these branches are spreading."
"It's rather funny to see you here at a theatre," smiled Mr. Hallaty.
"I—um—suppose it is," said Mr. Reeder.
"It's a funny thing," the loquacious man went on, "I was talking to a friend of mine, Lord Lintil—you may have met him. I know him personally; in fact, we're quite pals."
Mr. Reeder was impressed.
"Really?" he said respectfully. "I haven't seen Lord Lintil since his third bankruptcy. Quite an interesting man."
Mr. Hallaty was jarred but not shaken.
"Misfortune comes to everybody, even to the landed gentry," he said, a little sternly.
"You were talking to him about me?"
Mr. Reeder spared himself the admonition which was coming.
"And—um—what did you say about me?"
For a moment the Manager of the Gunnersbury branch did not seem inclined to pursue his aristocratic reminiscences.
"I was saying how clever you were."
Mr. Reeder wriggled unhappily.
"We were talking about these bank frauds that are going on, and how impossible it is to bring the—what do you call 'ems— perpetrators to justice, eh? That's what we want to do, Mr. Reeder— bring 'em to justice."
His pale eyes never left Mr. Reeder's.
"A most admirable idea," agreed the detective.
He wondered if any helpful advice was likely to be forthcoming.
"I suppose there must be a system by which you can stop this sort of thing going on."
"I'm sure there must be," said Mr. Reeder.
He looked at his watch and shook his head.
"I am quite anxious to see the second act," he said untruthfully.
"Personally," Mr. Hallaty went on with the greatest complacency, "I'd like to be put in charge of one of these cases, on the basis of the old and well-known saying of which you've no doubt heard."
Mr. Reeder when he was most innocent was most malignant. He was innocent now.
"'Set a thief to catch a thief'? But surely not, Mr.—I didn't quite catch your name."
The man went purple.
"What I meant was Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?—a Latin proverb," he said loudly,
Fortunately the bell rang at that moment and Mr. Reeder made his escape. But it was only temporary. When he got outside the theatre that night, after the conclusion of the third and tamest act of the play, he found his banking friend waiting.
"I wondered if you'd like to come up to my club and have a drink?"
Mr. Reeder shook his head.
"It is delightful of you, Mr.—um—"
Mr. Hallaty told him his name for the third time. "But I never go to clubs and I do not drink anything stronger than barley water."
"Can I drop you anywhere?" asked Mr. Hallaty.
Mr. Reeder said he was walking and therefore could not be dropped.
"But I thought you lived at Brockley?"
"I walk there," said Mr. Reeder. "I find it so good for my complexion."
He was not unduly surprised at the persistence of this very self-satisfied man. Quite a number of people did their best to scrape acquaintance with the country's greatest authority on crime against banks; some out of morbid curiosity, some for more personal reasons, some who gave him an importance which perhaps he did not deserve, and desired to share it even to the smallest extent.
Mr. Hallaty was a type, self-important, pompous, self-sufficient and quite self-satisfied. To Mr. Reeder's annoyance a few days later, when he was eating his bun and drinking his glass of milk at a teashop, the smiling man appeared before him and sat down at the same table. Mr. Reeder's bun was hardly nibbled, his milk remained untouched. There was no escape. He sat in silence, listening to Mr. Hallaty's views on crime, the detection of crime, banking methods and their inadequacy, but mainly about Mr. Hallaty's extraordinary genius, prescience and shrewdness.
"They'd be very clever to get past me, whether they're crooks or whether they're straight," said Mr. Hallaty.
He lit a small and disagreeable cigar. Mr. Reeder looked significantly at a sign which said "No Smoking.
"You don't mind, do you?" asked Hallaty.
"Very much," said Mr. Reeder, and the other man laughed as though it were the best joke in the world, and went on smoking.
"Personally," he said, "I think professional crooks are not clever. They think they are, but when they're matched against the intelligence of the average business man, or a man a little above the average, they're finished."
He chatted on in this vein until Mr. Reeder put down his bun, glared solemnly over his half-glass of milk, and said, with startling distinctness:
"Will you please go away? I want to have my lunch."
Thick-skinned as the man was, he was taken aback; went very red, apologised incoherently, and swaggered out of the shop without paying the bill for his cup of tea. Mr. Reeder paid it gratefully.
Recalling those two conversations, Mr. Reeder remembered later that most of the inquiries which the Bank Manager made had to do with systems of search for missing delinquents. When he got home that night he very carefully marked down the name of Mr. Hallaty in a little book the cover of which was inscribed with a big question mark.
Yet it seemed impossible to believe that a man who was so aggressive could be anything but an honest man. Men engaged in the tiresome trade of roguery are suave men, polite men. They soothe and please—it is part of their stock in trade. Only the twenty shillings to the pound and look-the-whole-world-in-the-face man could afford to be boorish. And Mr. Hallaty was undoubtedly boorish.
He was, as he claimed, the Manager of the Gunnersbury branch of the London and Orient Bank, and was a man of style and importance. He had a flat in Albemarle Street, drove his own car, had a chauffeur, a valet and quite a nice circle of reliable friends. He had also a very humble flat in Hammersmith, and this was his official address.
The Gunnersbury branch of the L. and O. was in its way rather important. It carried the accounts of half a dozen big plants on the Great West Road, The Kelson Gas Works, and the Brite-Lites Manufacturing Corporation, and was therefore responsible for very heavy pay-rolls.
About a month after the teashop talk Mr. Hallaty called at the London office of the Ninth Avenue Bank on Lombard Street, and said that he had had a request from the most important of his customers for a large supply of American currency. The customer in question was an Anglo-American concern, and in order to celebrate some new amalgamation the directors had decided to pay a big bonus in dollars. Could the Ninth Avenue Bank supply the necessary greenbacks—fifty-seven thousand dollars, no less?
The American bank, after the way of American banks, was obliging. It undertook to sell dollars to the required amount, and on the Friday afternoon at two o'clock Hallaty called and exchanged English currency for American.
At the headquarters of the L. and O. Bank there was rather an urgent conference of general and assistant-general managers that afternoon.
"I'm worried about this man Hallaty," said the chief. "One of our secret service people has discovered that he is living at the rate of ten thousand a year."
"What is his salary?" somebody asked.
"Two thousand five hundred."
There was a little silence.
"He is a very careful man," said one. "He may have some very good investments." The question became instantly urgent, for at that moment came an official with a telephone message from yet another American bank— the Dyers Bank of New York. Mr. Hallaty had just purchased a hundred thousand dollars' worth of American currency. He had negotiated the purchase in the morning, giving as a reason the requirements of the Brite-Lite Corporation. The Dyers Bank had certain misgivings after the departure of Mr. Hallaty with a thousand notes for one hundred dollars tucked away in a brief case, and those misgivings were caused by a glimpse which one of the commissionaires had of the contents of the brief case—already half-full of American notes.
The bank detectives sped to Gunnersbury—Mr. Hallaty was not there. He had the key of the vault, but the detectives had taken with them a duplicate key from the safe at the head office.
There should have been, in preparation for the next day's pay-out, some 72,000 pounds in the vaults. In point of fact, there were a few odd bundles of ten-shilling and pound notes.
Mr. Hallaty was not at the flat where he was supposed to live, nor at the flat in Albemarle Street, where he actually lived. His valet was there, and his chauffeur.
The Axford airport had a clue to give. Mr. Hallaty had arrived that afternoon, seemingly with the intention of flying the small aeroplane which he kept there. He was well known as an amateur flyer and was a skilled pilot. When the aeroplane was removed from the hangar it was discovered that the wings had been slashed and other damage done which made the machine unusable. How it had happened was a mystery which nobody could explain.
Mr. Hallaty, on seeing the damage, had turned deathly pale and had re-entered his car and driven away, carrying with him his two suit-cases.
From that moment Mr. Hallaty was not seen. He vanished into London and was lost.
If the losses to the bank had been 72,000 pounds only, it would have been serious enough. Unfortunately, Hallaty was a very ingenious man, with a very complete knowledge of the English banking system. When accounts came in and were checked, when the clearing-house made its quick report and certain northern and midland banking branches presented their claims, it was found that considerably over a quarter of a million of money had vanished.
There was much to admire here in the way of perfect training and clever expedient, but the L. and O. directors were not sufficiently broad-minded to offer any testimonial to their missing Manager.
Three days after he had vanished, Mr. Reeder came upon the scene. He was in his most apologetic mood. He apologised for being called in three days after he should have been called in; he apologised to the gloomy Chairman for the offence of his unfaithful servant; he apologised for being wet (he carried a furled umbrella on his arm) and by inference regretted his side-whiskers, his hat and his tightly-fitting coat.
The Chairman, by some odd process of mind, felt that a considerable amount of responsibility had been lifted from his shoulders.
"Now, Mr. Reeder, you see exactly what has happened, and the bank is leaving everything in your hands. Perhaps it would have been wiser if we'd called you in before."
Mr. Reeder plucked up spirit to say that he thought it might have been.
"Here are the reports," said the General Manager, pushing a folder full of large, imposing manuscript sheets. "The police have not the slightest idea where he's gone to, and I confess that I never expect to see Hallaty or the money again."
Mr. Reeder scratched his chin.
"It would be improper in me if I said that I hope I never do," he sighed. "It's the Tynedale case all over again, and the Manchester and Oldham Bank case, and the South Devon Bank case—in fact—um—there is here the evidence of a system, sir, if I may venture to suggest such a thing."
The General Manager frowned.
"A system? You mean all these offences against the banks you have mentioned are organised?"
Mr. Reeder nodded.
"I think so, sir," he said gently. "If you will compare one with the other you will discover, I think, that in every case the Manager has, on one pretext or another, converted large sums of English currency into francs or dollars, that his last operation has been in London, and that he has vanished when the discovery of his defalcations has been made."
The General Manager shivered, for Reeder was presenting to him the ogre of the banking world—the organised conspirator. Only those who understand banking know just what this means.
"I hadn't noticed that," he said; "but undoubtedly it is a fact."
OTHER people had observed these sinister happenings. A bankers' association summoned an urgent meeting, and Mr. Reeder, an authority upon bank crimes, was called into consultation. In such moments as these Reeder was very practical, not at all vague. Rather was he definite—and when Mr. Reeder was definite he was blood-curdling. He came to a sensational point after a very diffident beginning.
"There are some things—er—gentlemen, to which I am loath to give the authority of my support. Theories which—um—belong to the more sensational press and certainly to no scientific system. Yet I must tell you, gentlemen, that in my opinion we are for the first time face to face with an organised attempt to rob the banks on the grand scale."
The president of the association looked at him incredulously.
"You don't mean to suggest, Mr. Reeder, that there is a definite co-ordination between these various frauds?"
Mr. Reeder nodded solemnly.
"They have that appearance. I would not care to give a definite opinion one way or the other, but I certainly would not rule that out."
One member of the association shook his white head.
"There are such things as crimes of imitation, Mr. Reeder. When some man steals money in a peculiar way, other weak-minded individuals follow suit."
Mr. Reeder smiled broadly.
"I'm afraid that won't do, sir," he said with the greatest kindness. "You speak as though the details of the fraud had been published. In three cases out of five the general public know nothing about these crimes. In no case have the particulars been published or have they been available even to the managers of branch banks. And yet in every case the crime has followed along exactly similar lines. In every case there has been a man, holding a responsible position in the bank, who, through gambling on the Stock Exchange or for some other reason or from habits of extravagance, has—I will not say been compelled to rob the bank, because a man is quite—um —a free agent in such matters, but has certainly succeeded in relieving your—er—various institutions of very considerable sums of money. These are the points I make."
He ticked them off on his fingers.
"First of all, a manager or assistant manager in straitened circumstances. Secondly, a very carefully organised plan to draw, upon one given day, the maximum sum of money which can be drawn from headquarters, the changing over of the money into foreign currency, and the complete disappearance of the bank manager, all within twenty-four hours. It is an unusual kind of fraud, for it does not involve of itself any false book-keeping. In several cases we have found that a petty fraud, in comparison with the greater offence, has been going on for some time and has been obviously the cause of the greater crime. Gentlemen"—Mr. Reeder's voice was serious—"there is something very big in the way of criminal activity in London, and an organisation is in existence which is not only directing these frauds and profiting by them, but is offering to the men who commit them asylum during their stay here and facilities for getting out of the country without detection. I'm going to deal with the situation from this angle, and my only chance of putting a stop to it is if I am able to catch one of the minor criminals immediately before he brings off the big coup. I want from every bank a list of all their suspected staff, and I want this list before the bank inspectors go in to examine the books, and certainly before anything like an arrest is made."
Instructions to this effect were immediately issued, and the very next morning Mr. Reeder had before him in his bureau at the Public Prosecutor's office a list of bank officials against whom there was a question mark. It was a very small list, representing a microscopic percentage of the enormous staffs employed in the business of banking. One man had been betting heavily, and attached to his name was a list of his bookmakers and what, to Mr. Reeder, was more important, exact details as to the period of time his betting operations covered.
Reeder's pencil went slowly down the list until it stopped before the name of L. G. H. Reigate. Mr. Reigate was twenty-eight, and an assistant branch manager, and his "offence" was that he had been engaged in real estate speculation, had bought on a rising market, and for some time past had vainly endeavoured to get rid of his holdings. His salary was 1,500 pounds a year; he lived with a half-sister in a small flat at Hampstead. He had apparently no other vices, spent most of his evenings at home, did not drink and was a light smoker.
The reports were very thorough. There was not a detail which Mr. Reeder did not examine with the greatest care, for on these minor details often hang great issues.
He went through the remaining list and came back to Mr. Reigate. Evidently here there was a case which might repay his private and personal investigation. He jotted down the address on a scrap of paper and made a few inquiries in the City. They were entirely satisfactory, for on the third probe he found a Canadian bank which had been asked if it could supply Canadian dollars in exchange for sterling, and if the maximum amount could be so supplied on any average day. The inquiry had come not from this branch, but from a client of the branch. Reeder spread his feelers a little wider, and stumbled on a second inquiry from the same client. He went to the general manager of the head office. Mr. Reigate was known as a very conscientious young man and, except for the fact that he had been engaged in real estate speculation, the exact extent of which was unknown, there were no marks, black or red, against him.
"Who is the Branch Manager?" asked Mr. Reeder, and was told.
The gentleman in question was a very reliable man, though inclined to be impetuous.
"He is a most excellent fellow, but loses his head at times. As he always loses it on the side of the bank we have no serious complaints against him."
The name of the manager was Wallat, and that week a strange thing happened to him. He received a letter from a man whose name he did not remember, but who had apparently been an old customer of the bank.
"I wonder if you would care to take a fortnight's trip to the fjords on a luxury ship? A client of ours has booked two passages but is unable to go, and has asked me to present the passages to any friend of mine who may wish to make the trip. As you were so good to me in the past—I don't suppose you remember the circumstances or even recall my name—I should be glad to pass them on to you."
Now, the curious thing was that only a week before the Manager had spoken enviously of a friend of his who was making that very trip. He had always wanted to see Norway and the beauties of Scandinavia, and here out of the blue came an unrivalled opportunity.
His vacation was due; he immediately put in a request to headquarters for leave. The request went before the Assistant-General Manager and was granted. The boat was due to leave on the Thursday night, but on the Tuesday the Manager, in a burst of zeal, decided to make a rough examination of certain books.
What he found there put all ideas of holiday out of his mind. On the Wednesday morning he called before him Mr. Reigate, and the pale-faced young man listened with growing terror to a recital of the irregularities which had been discovered. At this sign of his guilt the Manager, true to his tradition, lost his head, threatened a prosecution and, in a moment of hysteria, sent for a policeman. It was an irregular act, for prosecutions are initiated by the directors.
Panic engendered panic; Reigate put on his hat, walked from the bank, and was immediately pursued by a bare-headed Manager. The young man, in blind terror, leapt on the back of an ambulance which happened to be passing, and was immediately dragged off by a policeman who had joined in the pursuit. If the Manager had only kept his head the matter could have been corrected. As it was, he charged his assistant with the defalcations. Reigate admitted them and was put into a cell.
Bank headquarters was furious. They had been committed to a prosecution, and, as a sequel, the possibility of an action for damages. Mr. Reeder was called in at once, and went into consultation with the bank's solicitors. He interviewed the young man, and found him incoherent with terror and quite incapable of giving any information. The next morning he was brought before a magistrate and remanded.
Apparently the magistrate took a serious view, for although Reigate, who was now a little calmer, asked for bail, that bail was put at a prohibitive sum. The young man was taken to prison.
That afternoon, however, there appeared before the magistrate Sir George Polkley, who offered himself as surety. The name apparently was a famous one. Sir George was a well-known north country shipbuilder. He was accompanied at the police court by a gentleman who gave the name of an eminent firm of Newcastle solicitors. The surety was accepted, and Reigate was released from Brixton prison that afternoon.
At seven o'clock that night Scotland Yard rang up Mr. Reeder.
"You know Reigate was bailed out this afternoon?"
"Yes, I saw it in the newspapers," said Mr. Reeder. "Sir George Polkley stood surety—how on earth did he know Sir George?"
"We've just had a wire from Polkley's solicitors in Newcastle. They know nothing whatever about it. Sir George is in the south of France, and his solicitors have sent nobody to London to represent them. What is more, they have never heard of Reigate."
Mr. Reeder, lounging in his chair, sat bolt upright.
"Then the bail was a fake? Where is Reigate?"
"He can't be found. He drove away from Brixton in a taxi, accompanied by the alleged solicitor, and he has not been seen since."
Here was a problem for Mr. Reeder, and one after his own heart. Who had gone to all that trouble to get Reigate released—and why? His frauds, if they were provable, did not involve more than three or four hundred pounds. Who wanted him released on bail—immediately released? There was no question at all that, high as the bail was, the necessary sureties would have been forthcoming in twenty-four hours. But somebody was very anxious to get Reigate out of prison with the least possible delay.
Mr. Reeder interviewed the Public Prosecutor. "It's all very, very odd," he said, running his fingers through his thin hair. "I suppose it is susceptible of a very simple explanation, but unfortunately I've got the mind of a criminal."
The Public Prosecutor smiled.
"And how does your criminal mind interpret this happening?" he asked.
Mr. Reeder shook his head.
"Rather badly, I'm afraid. I—um—should not like to be Mr. Reigate!"
He had sent for the cowed and agitated Manager. He was a pompous little man, rotund of figure and round of face, and he perspired very easily.
For half an hour he sat on the edge of a chair, facing Mr. Reeder, and he spent most of that half-hour mopping his brow and his neck with a large white handkerchief.
"Headquarters have been most unkind to me, Mr. Reeder," he quavered. "After all the years of faithful service... The worst they can say about me is that I was misled through my zeal for the bank. I suppose it was wrong of me to have this young man arrested, but I was so shocked, so—if I may use the expression—devastated.
"Yes, I'm sure," murmured Mr. Reeder. "You were going on vacation, you tell me? That is news to me." It was now that he learned for the first time about the two passages for the fjords. Fortunately the Manager had the letter with him. Mr. Reeder read it quickly, reached for his telephone and put through an inquiry.
"I seem to remember the address," he said as he hung up the 'phone. It has a familiar sound to it. I think you will find it is an accommodation address, and the gentleman who wrote to you has in fact no existence."
"But he sent the tickets! They're made out in my name," said the Manager triumphantly, and then his face fell. "I shan't be able to go now, of course."
Mr. Reeder looked at him, and in his eyes there was pained reproach.
"I'm afraid you won't be able to go now, and I'm quite satisfied in my mind that you would have been very sorry if you had gone! Those tickets were intended to serve one purpose—to get you out of the bank and out of England, and to give young Mr. Reigate an opportunity of bringing home the beans—if you'll excuse that vulgarity."
Mr. Reeder was both puzzled and enlightened. Here was another typical bank case, planned on exactly the same lines as the others, and revealing, beyond any question of doubt, the operation of a master mind.
As soon as he got rid of the Bank Manager he took a cab and drove to Hampstead. Miss Jean Reigate had just returned from work when he arrived. She had read of her brother's misfortune in the evening newspaper on her way back from her office, and it struck Mr. Reeder that she was not as agitated by the news as the world would expect her to be. She was a pretty girl, a slim brunette, and looked much younger than her twenty-four years.
"I haven't heard from my brother," she said. "He's really my half-brother, but we've been very great friends all our lives, and I'm terribly upset about all this."
She crossed to the window and looked out.
Reeder thought that she was not a young lady who very readily showed her feelings. She was obviously exercising great self-control now. Her lips were pressed closely together; her eyes were filled with unshed tears, and he sensed rather than observed the tension she was enduring.
Suddenly she turned. "I'll tell you, Mr. Reeder."
She saw his eyebrows go up and smiled faintly.
"Oh, yes, I realise you haven't told me your name, but I know you. You're quite famous in the City."
Mr. Reeder was covered in genuine confusion, but came instantly to business when she hesitated.
"Well, what are you going to tell me?" he asked gently.
"I'm almost relieved. That is what I was going to say: I've been expecting something to happen for a long time. Johnny hasn't been himself; he's been terribly worried over his land deals, and I know he's been short of cash —in fact, I lent him a hundred pounds last month. But I thought he'd got over the worst because he returned the money the following week— in fact much more than the money; five hundred dollars is worth nearly two hundred pounds."
"Dollars?" said Mr. Reeder sharply. "Did he repay you in dollars?"
"In dollar bills?"
"Yes, five bills of a hundred dollars. I put them in my bank."
Mr. Reeder was now very alert. "Where did he get them?" he asked.
She shook her head.
"I don't know. He had quite a lot of money in dollars, a big roll."
Reeder scratched his chin thoughtfully, but made no comment, and the girl went on.
"I thought maybe there was something wrong at the bank, and I had an idea that he'd borrowed this money and was putting things right. And yet he wasn't very happy about it. He told me that he might have to go out of the country for a few months, and that if he did I wasn't to worry."
"Was he a cheerful sort of fellow?"
"Very," she said emphatically, "until the past year, when property went down. He used to do quite a lot of buying and selling, and I think he made a lot of money before the slump came."
"Had he any friends in London?"
She shook her head.
"None you know? You've not met any?" he insisted.
"No," she said. "There used to be a man who called here, but he was not a friend," She hesitated. "I don't know whether I'm doing him any harm by telling you all this, but Johnny is really a very good man, a man of the highest principles. Something has gone wrong with him in the past few months, but I haven't the slightest idea what it was. He has been having terrible fits of depression, and one night he told me that it was much better that his conscience should be at rest than that he should tide over his difficulties. He wrote a long statement, which I knew was intended for the bank. He sat up half one night writing, and then he must have changed his mind because in the morning, while we were at breakfast, he took it out of his pocket, re-read it and put it in the fire. I have a feeling, Mr. Reeder, that he was not acting entirely on his own; that there was somebody behind him directing him."
"That is the feeling I have, Miss Reigate," he said, and if your brother is as you describe him, I think we shall learn a lot from him."
"He has been under somebody's influence," said the girl, "and I am sure I know who that somebody was."
She would say no more than this, though he pressed her.
"Can I send him food in prison?" she asked, and learned now for the first time about the bail and Reigate's mysterious disappearance. She did not know Polkley, and so far as she was aware her brother had no association with Newcastle.
"But he knows you, Mr. Reeder," she said surprisingly. "He's mentioned you twice and once he told me that he thought of having a talk with you."
"Dear me!" said Mr. Reeder. "I don't think he kept his promise. He has never been to my office—"
She shook her head.
"He wouldn't have come to your office. He knows your address in Brockley Road." She gave the number, to his amazement. "In fact, one night he went to your house, because afterwards he said that at the last moment his courage had failed him."
"When was this?" asked Reeder.
"About a month ago," she answered.
MR. REEDER went back to Brockley that night in a discontented frame of mind. Give him the end of the thread, and he would follow it through all its complicated entanglements. He would sit patiently, untying knots, for days, for weeks, for months, even for years. But now he had not even the end of his thread. He had two isolated cases, distinct from one another, except that they were linked together by a similarity of method but, looking in all directions, he saw no daylight.
The quietude of Brockley Road was very soothing to him. From near at hand came the gentle whirr of traffic passing up and down the Lewisham High Road, the rumble of lorries and the shrill voices of boys calling the final editions of the evening newspapers.
In the serenity of his home Mr. Reeder recuperated his dissipated energies. Here he could sit sometimes throughout the night, ambling through the dreams out of which his theories were constructed. Here he could put in order the vital little facts which so often meant the destruction of those enemies of society against whom he waged a ceaseless war.
He had very few visitors and practically no friends. In Brockley Road opinion was divided on his occupation. There was one school of thought that believed he was "retired", and this was by far the largest section of public opinion, for everything about him suggested retirement from bygone and respectable activities.
No neighbour dropped in on him for a quiet smoke and a chat. He had been invited to sedate family parties during the festive season, but had declined. And the method of his refusal was responsible for the legend that he had once been in love and had suffered; for invariably his letter contained references to a painful anniversary which he wished to keep alone. It didn't matter what date was chosen for the party, Mr. Reeder had invariably a painful anniversary which he wished to celebrate in solitude.
He sat at his large desk with a huge cup of tea and a large dish full of hot and succulent muffins before him, and went over and over every phase of these bank cases without securing a single inspiration which would lead him to that unknown force which was not only co-ordinating and organising a series of future frauds and robberies but had already robbed the banks of close on a million pounds.
Lewisham High Road at that hour was a busy thoroughfare, and nobody saw the extraordinary apparition, until a taxi driver, swerving violently, missed him. It was the figure of a man in a dressing-gown and pyjamas, darting from one side of the road to the other. His feet and his head were bare, and he ran with incredible speed up the hill and darted into Brockley Road. Nobody saw where he came from. A policeman made a grab at him as he passed, and missed him. In another second he was speeding along Brockley Road,
He hesitated before Mr. Reeder's house, looked up at the lighted window of his study, then, dragging open the gate, flew up the stone steps. Mr. Reeder heard the shouts, went to the window and looked out. He saw somebody run up the flagged pathway to the door, and immediately afterwards a motor-cyclist speeding up the road ahead of a small crowd. The motor-cyclist slowed before the door, and stopped for a second. At first Mr. Reeder thought that the explosions he heard were the backfire of the machine. Then he saw the flame of the third and fourth shots. They came from the driver's hand, and instantly the motor-cycle moved on, gathering speed, and went roaring out of his line of vision.
Reeder ran down the stairs and pulled open the door as a policeman came through the gate. A man was lying on the top step. He wore a red silk dressing-gown and pyjamas.
They bore him into the passage, and Mr. Reeder switched on all the lights. One glance at the white face told him the staggering story.
The policeman pushed back the crowd, shut the door and went down on his knees by the side of the prostrate figure.
"I'm afraid he's dead," said Mr. Reeder, as he unbuttoned the pyjama jacket with deft fingers and saw the ugliness of a violent dissolution.
"I think he was shot by the motor-cyclist."
"I saw him," said the policeman breathlessly. "He fired four shots."
Reeder made another and more careful examination of the man. He judged his age to be about thirty. His hair was dark, almost raven black; he was clean-shaven, and a peculiar feature which Reeder noticed was that he had no eyebrows.
The policeman looked and frowned, put his hand in his pocket and took out his notebook. He examined something that was written inside and shook his head.
"I thought he might be that fellow they're looking for tonight."
"Reigate?" asked Mr. Reeder.
"No, it can't be him," said the policeman. "He was a fair man with bushy eyebrows."
The dressing-gown was new, the pyjamas were of the finest silk. They made a quick examination of the pockets and the policeman produced a sealed envelope.
"I think I ought to hand this to the inspector, sir—" he began.
Without a word Mr. Reeder took it from his hand, and, to the constable's horror, broke the seal and took out the contents. They were fifty bills each for a hundred dollars.
"H'm!" said Mr. Reeder.
Where had he come from? How had he appeared suddenly in the heart of the traffic? The next hour Mr. Reeder spent making personal inquiries, without, however, finding a solution to the mystery.
A newsboy had seen him running on the sidewalk, and thought he had come out of Malpas Road, a thoroughfare which runs parallel with Brockley Road. A point-duty constable had seen him run along the middle of the road, dodging the traffic, and the driver of a delivery van was equally certain he had seen him on the opposite side of the road to that where he had been observed by the newspaper boy, running not up the hill but down. The motor-cyclist seemed to have escaped observation altogether.
At ten o'clock that night the chief officers of Scotland Yard met in Reeder's room. The dead man's finger-prints had been sent to the Yard for inspection, but had not been identified. The only distinguishing feature of the body was a small strawberry mark below the left elbow.
The Chief Constable scratched his head in bewilderment.
"I've never had a case like this before. The local police have called at every house in the neighbourhood where this fellow might have come from, and nobody is missing. What do you make of it, Mr. Reeder? You've had another look at the body, haven't you?"
Mr. Reeder nodded. He had had that gruesome experience and had made a much more thorough examination than had been possible in the passage.
"And what do you think?"
Mr. Reeder hesitated.
"I have sent a car for the young lady."
"Which young lady?"
"Miss—er—Reigate, the sister of our young friend."
He heard the ring of the bell and himself went down to open the door. It was the girl he had sent for. He took her into a small room on the ground floor.
"I'm going to ask you a question, Miss Reigate, which I'll be glad if you can answer. Had your brother any distinguishing marks on his body that you would be able to recognise?"
She nodded without hesitation.
"Yes," she said, a little breathlessly. "He had a small strawberry mark on his forearm, just below the elbow."
"The left forearm?" asked Mr. Reeder quickly.
"Yes, the left forearm. Why? Has he been found?"
"I'm afraid he has," said Mr. Reeder gently.
He told her his suspicion and left her with his housekeeper whilst he went up to explain to the men from the Yard just what he had discovered.
"It was very clear to me," he said, "that the hair had been dyed and the eyebrows shaved."
"Reigate?" said the Chief Constable incredulously, "If that's Reigate I'm a Dutchman. I've got a photograph of him. He's fair, almost a light blonde."
"The hair is dyed, very cleverly and by an expert."
Reeder pointed to the dollar bills lying on the table.
"The money was part of the system, the disguise was part of the system. Did you notice anything about the clothes?"
"I noticed they smelt strongly of camphor," said one of the detectives. "I've just been remarking to the Chief Constable that it almost seems as if the pyjamas and dressing-gown had been kept packed away from moths. My theory is that he must have had an outfit stowed away all ready for his getaway."
Mr. Reeder shook his head. "Not exactly that," he said; "but the camphor smell is a very important clue. I can't tell you why, gentlemen, because I am naturally secretive."
The body was identified beyond any question by the distressed and weeping girl. It was that of Jonathan Reigate, sometime Assistant Manager of the Wembley branch of the London and Northern Banking Corporation. He had been killed by four shots fired from a .38 automatic pistol, and any three of the four shots would have been fatal. As for the motor-cyclist, there was no one who could identify him or give the least clue.
At nine o'clock the next morning Reeder, accompanied by a detective-sergeant, made a minute search of the Reigate flat. It was a small, comfortably furnished apartment consisting of four rooms, a kitchen and a bathroom.
Reigate had occupied the larger of the two bedrooms, and in one corner was a small roll-top writing-desk which was locked when they arrived.
The dead man was evidently very methodical. The pigeon-holes were crammed with methodical memoranda, mainly dealing with the properties he had bought and sold. These the two men inspected item by item before they made a search of the drawers.
In the last drawer they found a small steel box which, after very considerable difficulty, they succeeded in opening. Inside were two insurance policies, a small memorandum book, in which apparently Reigate had kept a very full record of his family accounts and, in a small pay envelope, sealed down, they discovered two Yale keys. They were quite new and were fastened together by a flat steel ring. An inspection of these showed Reeder that they were intended for different locks, one being slightly larger than the other. There was no name on them and no indication whatever as to their purpose.
He examined the keys under a powerful magnifying glass, and the conclusion he reached was that probably they had never been used. At the bottom of the box, and almost overlooked because it lay under a black card that covered the bottom, he found a sheet of paper torn from a small notebook. Its contents were in a copperplate hand; certain words were underlined in red ink, carefully ruled. It consisted of a column of street names, and against each was a time. Mr. Reeder observed that the times ranged from ten in the morning till four o'clock in the afternoon, and that the streets (he knew London very well) were side streets adjacent to main thoroughfares. Against certain of the times and places a colour was indicated: red, yellow, white, pink; but these had been struck out in pencil, and in the same medium the word "yellow" had been written against all of them.
"What do you make of those, Mr. Reeder?"
Reeder looked through the list again carefully.
"I rather imagine," he said, "that it's a list of rendezvous. At this place and at this time there was a car ready to pick him up. Originally it was intended to have four cars, but for some reason or other this was impracticable. I take it that the colour means a flower or a badge of some kind by which Reigate could distinguish the car that was picking him up.
Later at Scotland Yard he elaborated his theory to an interested circle.
"What is clear now, if it wasn't clear before," he said, "is that there is an organisation working in England against the banks. It is more dangerous than I imagined, for obviously the man or men behind it will stop at nothing to save themselves if matters ever come to a pinch. They killed Reigate because they thought—and rightly—that he was coming to betray them."
MR REEDER claimed that he had a criminal mind. That night, in his spacious study at Brockley, he became a criminal. He organised bank robberies; he worked out systems of defalcations; he visualised all the difficulties that the brain of such an organisation would have to contend against. The principal problem was to get out of England men who were known and whose descriptions had been circulated as being wanted by the police. Every port and every airport was watched; there was a detective staff at every aerodrome; Ostend, Calais, Boulogne, Flushing, the Hook of Holland, Havre and Dieppe were staffed by keen observers. No Atlantic liner sailed but it carried an officer whose business it was to identify questionable passengers.
For hours Mr. Reeder wallowed in his wickedness. Scheme succeeded scheme; possibility and probability were rubbed against one another and cancelled themselves out.
What was the organiser's chief difficulty? To avoid a close inspection of his protegees, and to keep them in a place where they would not be recognised.
The case of Reigate was a simple one. He was a man with a conscience, and though apparently he was heading for safety, that still, small voice of his had grown louder and he had decided to make a clean breast of everything. Having reached this decision, he had escaped from wherever he was confined and had made his way to Reeder's house—his sister had told the detective that the young man knew his address.
At midnight Mr. Reeder rose from his desk, lit his thirtieth cigarette, and stood for a long time with his back to the fireplace, the cigarette drooping limply from his mouth, his head on one side like a cockatoo, and cogitated upon his criminal past.
He went to bed that night with a sense that he was groping through a fog towards a certain door, and that when that door was opened the extraordinary happenings of the past few months would be susceptible of a very simple explanation.
On the following morning Mr. Reeder was in his office, and those who are not acquainted with his methods would have been amazed to find that he was engaged in reading a fairy story. He read it furtively, hiding it away in the drawer of his desk whenever there was the slightest suggestion of somebody entering. He loved fairy stories about wonderful little ladies who appeared mysteriously out of nowhere, and rendered marvellous assistance to poor but beautiful daughters of woodcutters, transforming them with a wave of their wands into no less lovely princesses, and by a similar wave turned wicked men and women into trees and rabbits and black cats. There were so many men and women in the world whom he would have turned into trees and rabbits and black cats.
He was reading the latest of his finds (Fairy Twinklefeet and the Twelve Genii) when he heard a heavy cough outside his door and the confident rap of the commissionaire's knuckles. He put away the book, closed the drawer, and said:
"Dr. Carl Jansen, sir."
Mr. Reeder leaned back in his chair.
"Show him in, please," he said.
Dr. Jansen was tall, rather stout, very genial. He spoke with the slightest of foreign accents.
"May I sit, please?" He beamed and drew his chair up to the desk almost before Mr. Reeder had murmured his invitation. "It was in my mind to see you, Mr. Reeder, to ask you to undertake a small commission for me, but I understand you are no longer private detective but official, eh?" Reeder bowed. His finger-tips were together. He was looking at the newcomer from under his shaggy brows.
"I am in a very peculiar position," said Dr. Jansen. "I conduct here a small clinic for diseases of the 'eart, for various things. I am a generous man; I cannot 'elp it." He waved an extravagant hand. "I give, I lend, I do not ask for security, and I am—what is the word?—swindled. Now a great misfortune has come to me. I loaned a man a thousand pounds." He leaned confidentially across the table. "He has got into trouble—you have seen the case in the papers—Mr. Hallaty, the banker."
He waved his agitated hands again.
"He has gone out of the country without saying a word, without paying a penny, and now he writes to me to ask me for a prescription for the 'eart."
Mr. Reeder leaned back in his chair.
"He's written from where?" he asked.
From 'Olland. I come from 'Olland; it is my 'ome."
"Have you got the letter?"
The man fished out a pocket-book and from this extracted a sheet of notepaper. The moment Reeder saw it he recognised Hallaty's handwriting. It was very brief.
"Dear Doctor,—I must have the prescription for my heart. I have lost it. I cannot give you my address. Will you please advertise it in the agony column of "The Times"?"
It was signed "H."
If Dr. Jansen could have looked under those shaggy eyebrows he would have seen Mr. Reeder's eyes light up.
"May I keep this letter?" he asked.
The big man shrugged.
"Why, surely. I am glad that you should, because this gentleman seems to be in trouble with the police, and I do not want to be mixed up in it, except that I would like to get my thousand pounds. The prescription I will advertise because it is humanity."
Dr. Jansen took his departure after giving his address, which was a small flat in Pimlico. He was hardly out of the building before Mr. Reeder had verified his name and his qualifications from a work of reference. The letter he carried to Scotland Yard and to the Chief Constable.
"Smell it," he said.
The Chief sniffed.
"Camphor—and not exactly camphor. It's the same as we found in young Reigate's dressing-gown. I've sent it down to the laboratory; they say it's camphor-lactine, a very powerful disinfectant and antiseptic, sometimes used in cases of infectious diseases."
He heard a smack as Mr. Reeder's hands came together, and looked up in astonishment.
"Dear, dear me!" said Mr. Reeder.
He almost purred the words.
When he got back to his office in Whitehall the commissionaire told him that a lady was waiting to see him. Mr. Reeder frowned.
"All right, show her in," he said.
He pushed up the most comfortable chair for her.
"Mr. Reeder"—she spoke quickly and nervously—"I have found a note-book of my brother's and the full amounts that he took—"
"I have those," said Reeder. "It is not a very large amount, certainly not such an amount as would have justified the trouble and pains they took to get him out on bail."
"And in the note-book was this." She put a little cutting on the table.
Mr. Reeder adjusted his glasses and read:
"In your dire necessity write to the Brothers of Benevolence, 297 Lincoln's Inn Fields. Professional men who are short of money, and in urgent need of it will receive help without usury. Repayment spread over years. No security but our faith in you."
Mr. Reeder read it three times, his lips spelling the words; then he put the cutting down on the table.
"That is quite new to me," he said, with a suggestion of shamefacedness which made the girl want to laugh. "I'll have a search made of the newspapers and see how often this has appeared," he said. "Do you know when your brother applied for a loan?"
She shook her head.
"I remember the morning he cut it out. That was months ago. And then one night, when he had a friend here, I brought him in some coffee and I heard Mr. Hallaty say something about his brotherhood—"
"Mr. Hallaty?" Reeder almost squeaked the words. "Did your brother know Hallaty?" She hesitated. "Ye-es, he knew him. I told you there was a man who I thought had a bad influence on Johnny."
He saw a faint flush come to her face, and realised how pretty a girl she was.
"I was introduced to him at the dance of the United Banks, but he was rather a difficult man to—to get rid of."
Reeder's eyes twinkled.
"Did you ever tell him to go away? It's a very rude but simple process!"
"Yes, I did once. He came home one night when my brother wasn't in, and he was so objectionable that I asked him not to come again. I don't know how he met my brother, but he often came to the flat, and the curious thing was that after the time I spoke of—"
"When he was unpleasant to you?"
"—He made no attempt to see me, apparently he was no longer interested."
"Did you know Hallaty had disappeared after robbing the bank of a quarter of a million?"
"It very much upset Johnny; he couldn't talk about anything else. He was so nervous and worried, and I know he didn't sleep—I could hear him walking up and down in his room all night. He bought every edition of the papers to find out what had happened to Mr. Hallaty."
Mr. Reeder sat for a long time, pinching his upper lip.
"Does anybody know you found this book and this cutting?"
To his surprise she answered in the affirmative.
"It was the caretaker of the flat. He was helping me to turn out one of the cupboards and he found it," she said. "In fact he brought it to me. I think it must have fallen out of one of my brother's pockets. He used to hang some of his clothes there."
It was late in the afternoon when Mr. Reeder turned into Lincoln's Inn Fields, found No. 297, and climbed to the fourth floor, where a small board affixed to the wall indicated the office of this most benevolent institution.
He knocked, and a voice asked who was there. It was a husky, foreign voice. Presently the door was unlocked and opened a few inches.
Reeder saw a man of sixty, his face blotched and swollen, his white hair spread untidily over his forehead. He was meanly dressed and not too clean.
"What you want?" he asked, in a thick, guttural voice.
"I've come to inquire about the Brotherhood—"
"You write, please."
He tried to shut the door, but Mr. Reeder's square-toed shoe was inside. He pushed the door open and went in. It was a disorderly little office, grimy and cheerless. Though the day was warm, a small gas fire burnt on the hearth. The dingy windows looked as if they had never been opened.
"Where do you keep all your vast wealth?" asked Mr. Reeder pleasantly.
The old man blinked at him.
Reeder had evidence, apart from a bottle on the table, that this gentleman took a kindly interest in raw spirits. There was more than a suggestion that he slept in this foul room, for an old couch had the appearance of considerable use.
"You write here—we are agents. We are not to see callers."
"May I ask whom I have the pleasure of addressing?"
The old man glowered at him. "My name is Jones," he said. "That is for you sufficient."
There were one or two objects in the room which interested Reeder. On the window-sill was a small wooden stand containing three test tubes, and nearby half a dozen bottles of various sizes.
"You do a lot of writing?" said Reeder.
The little desk was covered with manuscript, and the man's grimy hands were smothered with ink stains.
"Yes, I do writing," said Mr. Jones sourly. "We do much correspondence; we never see people who call. We are agents only."
"For whom?" asked Reeder.
"For the Brotherhood. They live in France—in the south of France."
He spoke quickly and glibly.
"They do not desire that their benevolence shall be publicised. All letters are answered secretly. They are very rich men. That is all I can tell you, mister."
As he went down the stairs Mr. Reeder was whistling softly to himself —and that was a practice in which he did not often indulge— although all his questions and all his cajoling had not produced the address of these Brothers of Benevolence, who lived in the south of France and did good by stealth.
It was too late for afternoon tea and too early to go home. Mr. Reeder called a cab and drove back to Whitehall. He was crossing Trafalgar Square when he saw a car pass his, and had a glimpse of its occupant.
Dr. Jansen was looking the other way, his attention distracted by an accident which had overtaken a cyclist. Mr. Reeder slid back the partition.
"Follow that car," he said to the taxi driver, "and keep it in sight. I will see that the police do not stop you."
The car went leisurely through the Mall, up Birdcage Walk and, circling the war memorial, turned left into Belgravia. Reeder saw it stop before a pretentious-looking building, and told the cabman to drive on. Through the rear window he saw Dr. Jansen alight and, when he was out of sight, stopped the cab, paid him off and walked slowly back.
He met a policeman, who recognised and saluted him.
"That building, sir? Oh, that's the Strangers Club. It used to be the Banbury Club, for hunting people, but it didn't pay, and then a foreign gentleman opened it as a club of some kind. I don't know what they are, but they have scientific lectures every week—they've got a wonderful hall downstairs, and I believe the cooking's very good."
Now the Strangers Club was a stranger to Mr. Reeder, and he was not unnaturally interested. He did not attempt to go in, but passed with a sidelong glance and saw a plate-glass door and behind it a man in livery. The Strangers Club formed part of an island site. At the back some enterprising builder had erected a number of high buildings, tall, unlovely, their only claim to beauty being their simplicity. One of these was occupied by a dressmaking establishment. The second building had a more sedate appearance. Mr. Reeder noted the chaste inscription on the little silver plate affixed to a plain door, and went on finally to circumnavigate the island, coming back to where he had started.
Jansen's car had disappeared. When he came again abreast with the club, the man in the hall was not in sight. He crossed the road and took a long and interested survey of the building, and when this was done, he again went round to the back. There was a pair of big gates in that building, which was indicated by a silver plate. He found a chauffeur cleaning his car, made a few inquiries, and went to his office not entirely satisfied, but with a pleasant feeling that he was on his way to making a great discovery.
MR. REEDER was a source of irritation to the staff of the Public Prosecutor's office. He kept irregular hours, he compelled attendants to remain on duty and very often held up the work of the cleaners.
What troubled him at the moment was the thought that in some way he had taken a wrong turning in the course of investigation, and that it might be straying into no man's land. For his own encouragement he had dispatched cables to various parts of the world, and sat down in his office to wait for replies.
He had hardly dipped again in his book of fairy tales, when the telephone rang.
"A very urgent message, Mr. Reeder," said the operator's precise voice. "You are through to New Scotland Yard."
There was a click. It was the Chief Constable speaking.
"We found Hallaty. Will you come over?"
In three minutes Mr. Reeder was at Scotland Yard, and in the Chief Constable's office.
"Alive?" was the first question he asked.
The Chief Constable shook his head.
Mr. Reeder heaved a long sigh.
"I was afraid of that. The trouble was that Hallaty was too clever. He wasn't in pyjamas, of course?" The Chief Constable stared at him.
"That's curious you should say that. No, he was in a sort of uniform, looking like an elevator attendant."
Late that afternoon a man riding a powerful motor-cycle had passed at full speed in the direction between Colchester and Clacton. He had stopped to ask the way to Harwich, for apparently he had missed the road. After he had gone on a light van had followed, taking the same direction as the motor-cyclist. A labourer, working in the field, had heard a staccato rattle of shots, and had fallen into the same error as Mr. Reeder had done on a previous occasion. He thought it was the sound of the motor-cycle. He saw the van stop for a short time, and then move on. He thought no more of the matter until he made his way back to the road on his way home. It was then he saw lying half in the ditch and half on the verge the body of a stout man in a dark-blue uniform. He was quite dead, and had been shot through the back. There was no sign of the motor-cycle, though the wheel tracks were visible on the road, and had swayed off onto the verge. Thereafter they were lost.
Detectives, who were on the spot from Colchester within half an hour, searched the road and discovered pieces of broken glass, obviously portions of a smashed lamp. They found also a small satchel, evidently carried by the man; it was empty.
Hallaty's head had been completely shaved. The examination of the clothes showed neither the maker's name nor any clue by which they could be identified, but when the clothes were stripped, it was found that underneath he wore a suit of silk pyjamas, similar in texture to that which was worn by the unfortunate Reigate.
Mr. Reeder made a rapid journey through Essex to the scene of the murder. He inspected the body and came back to London at midnight.
Again the Big Five sat in conference and Mr. Reeder offered his views.
"Hallaty was too clever. They all suspected that he had a plan for double-crossing them. You will remember that he was a pilot and had a plane at the Axford Airport. When he went to take it out he found that it had been damaged and was unflyable. That was their precaution. Hallaty had to go either their way, or no way. Even in this eleventh hour he hoped to fool them. That empty case was probably full of loot. Harwich? Of course he went to Harwich. He had a trunk packed there and a passport. He had another at Brighton. You know you can get from Brighton to Boulogne on a day trip."
"Did you know this?" asked the staggered Chief. Mr. Reeder looked guilty.
"I had an idea it might happen," he said. "The truth is, I have a criminal mind, Chief Constable. I put myself in their places and, having satisfied myself as to their class of mentality, I do just what they would do, and usually I am right. There isn't a cloakroom at any sea or air port in England that my agents have not very carefully searched, and Mr. Hallaty's cases have been in my care for a fortnight."
He was a very tired man, and welcomed the offer of the police squad car, which was to take him home. Tired as he was, however, he took greater precautions that night than he had taken for many years. With a detective he searched his house from basement to garret. He inspected the strip of back garden which was his very own, and even descended to the coal cellar, for he realised that he had made one false move that day—and that was to call at Lincoln's Inn Fields and interview the dirty little old man who had test tubes in his office.
He was sleeping heavily at six o'clock the next morning, when the telephone by the side of his bed woke him. He got up and to his surprise he heard and recognised the voice of Jean Reigate. It was weak and tremulous.
"Can I see you, Mr. Reeder?... Soon... Something terrible has happened."
Mr. Reeder was now wide awake. At his request the squad car had been held for him all night. It had remained parked outside his house not, as he explained, because he was afraid of dying, but because it would have been considerably inconvenient for everybody concerned if he did die that night.
He sat by the weary driver as the car sped through the empty streets and explained his system to a wholly uncomprehending and, if the truth be told, bored police officer.
"I think my weakness is a sense of the dramatic," he said. "I like to keep all my secrets to the very last, and then reveal them as though it were with —um—a bang. You may think that weakness is contemptible in a police officer, or one who has the honour to associate in the most amateur fashion with police officers, but there it is. It's my method, and it pleases me."
The driver felt it was necessary for him to offer some comment, and said:
"That was a very queer case." And Mr. Reeder, realising that his confidence if not rejected had been at least slighted, relapsed into silence for the remainder of the journey.
The caretaker had opened the main doors when Reeder arrived and was a little scandalised at this early morning call.
"I don't think the young lady is up yet, sir."
"I assure you she is not only up, but dressed," said Mr. Reeder.
As he was being taken up in the lift, he remembered something.
"Are you the man who found the small book belonging to the late Mr. Reigate?"
"Yes, sir," said the man. "Rather remarkable finding it. He had some press cutting about some brothers. I didn't rightly understand it."
"Have you told anybody about finding the book?" The man considered.
"Yes, sir, I did. A reporter from a paper came up here and asked me if there was any news. He was a very nice fellow. As a matter of fact, he gave me a pound."
Mr. Reeder shook his head.
"My friend, you have no knowledge of papers. If you had, you'd know that a reporter never gives you money for anything. And you told him about the book, I suppose?"
"As a matter of fact, I did, sir."
"And the newspaper cutting?"
The janitor pleaded guilty to that also.
Jean Reigate opened the door to him. She was white and shaking, and even now she was trembling from head to foot. The previous night she had arrived home at eleven o'clock. She had been to see some relations of her stepmother and they had kept her too late. She opened the door with her key, went inside the flat and was reaching for the light switch, when somebody came out of the hall cupboard behind her. Before she could scream a hand was placed over her mouth and she was forcibly held. Somebody whispered to her that if she did not scream no harm would come to her, and almost on the point of collapse she allowed the men—there were two apparently—to blindfold her, and, when this was done, she heard the light turned on.
She was led into her sitting-room and sat upon a chair. It was then that she became aware that a third man was in the flat. He was a foreigner and spoke with a harsh accent. Even though he whispered she noticed this, for there was an argument between two of the men.
Presently she felt somebody hold her by the arm and pull up the sleeve of her blouse, and immediately afterwards she felt a sharp pain in the forearm.
"This won't hurt you," said the voice that had first spoken to her, and then somebody else said:
"Turn out the light."
The man was still holding her arm and apparently sitting by her side.
"Keep quiet and don't get excited," said the first man. "Nobody is going to hurt you."
She remembered very little after that. When she woke up she was lying on her bed, still fully dressed, and she was alone. The curtains and the blinds had been drawn up and she had a dim idea that as she woke she heard the door close softly. It was then about five o'clock. Her head was swimming, but not aching. She had a strange taste in her mouth and when she dragged herself to her feet, her legs gave way, and she had to support herself with a chair.
"Did you send for the police?"
"No," she said. "The first person I thought of was you. What have they done, Mr. Reeder?"
He examined her arm. There were three separate punctures. Then he went in and looked at the bedroom. Two chairs had been drawn up by the side of the bed. The atmosphere was still thick with cigarette and cigar smoke. There were butts of a dozen smoked cigarettes on the hearth. But what interested Mr. Reeder most was something the intruders had left behind. It was a fountain pen, and it had been overlooked, probably because the pen was the same colour as the table. He handled it gingerly, using a piece of paper, and carried it to the light. The pen was of a very popular make, but it offered a wonderful surface for finger-prints.
When he came back to the girl Mr. Reeder's face was very grave.
"They've done you no harm at all. I don't think they had any intention to hurt you. I was the gentleman they were out for."
"But how?" asked the bewildered girl.
Mr. Reeder did not reply immediately. He got on the telephone and called up a doctor he knew. "I don't think you will have any after-effects."
"What did they give me?" she asked.
"Scapolamin. It's main effect was to make you speak the truth. Not," said Mr. Reeder hastily, "that you ever speak anything but the truth, but rather it was to remove certain inhibitions. The questions they asked you were, I imagine, mainly about myself; what did you tell me, how much I knew. And I'm afraid"—he shook his head—"I am very much afraid that you told them much more than is good for me."
She looked at him with wide, disbelieving eyes.
"But who were they?"
Mr. Reeder smiled.
"I know two of them. The third may, of course, be the most dangerous of the trio, but I really don't think he matters."
That morning there was a swift raid on the premises at 297 Lincoln's Inn Fields, but the raiders arrived too late. They had to break open the door —the room was empty. Apparently there had been a considerable amount of destruction going on, for the gas fire had been dragged out of the hearth, and the original grate behind it was full of black paper. The test tubes had gone, and so had the manuscript which Mr. Reeder had seen on the desk. Inquiries made on the premises produced very little in the way of information. Mr. Jones had occupied his office for four years. He was believed to be a Swede, and he gave no trouble to anybody. Very few callers came. He paid his rent and his rates regularly and the only adverse criticism that was offered was that occasionally he used to sing in a strange language and in a stranger voice to the annoyance of the solicitor's clerks who occupied an office immediately below him.
Undoubtedly he drank. They found ten empty gin bottles in one cupboard and fourteen earthenware bottles in another.
After the raid Mr. Reeder took counsel with himself, and examined his motives in the most candid of lights. He had, he realised, sufficient evidence to produce most of the effects which were desirable. He sent for a file dealing with the bank crimes that had been recorded in the past two years, and very carefully he went over the names of the men who had vanished, and with them considerable sums of money.
From his pocket he took the two keys which he had found in Reigate's pocket. If he could find the lock for these, the matter would be developed to its end. Mr. Reeder was very anxious that he himself should fit these keys to the right locks, the more so since he had seen, as he thought, a very likely lock in the shop building immediately behind the Strangers Club.
He fought with himself for a long time. Starkly he arraigned his dramatic instincts before the bar of sane judgement, and in the end he condemned himself and sought an interview with the Chief Constable to detail his theories.
The Chief Constable had eaten something which had not agreed with him. It was a prosaic explanation for a fall of a great man, but he was at home, in the doctor's hands, and the Deputy Chief Constable occupied his chair.
It was unfortunate that Mr. Reeder and the Deputy Chief Constable had never seen eye to eye, and that there was between them an antagonism which can only be understood by those fortunate people who have worked in or watched the work of a great government department.
The Deputy Chief was due for retirement. He had a grievance against the world, and every Superintendent and Chief Inspector at Scotland Yard had a grievance against him.
He was a little man, very bald, thin of face, and thinner of mind, and it was his boast that he belonged to the old school. It was so old that it had fallen down—if the truth be told.
When Mr. Reeder had detailed his theories,
"My dear fellow," said the Deputy Chief Constable, "up to a point I am with you. But I will not accept—I never have accepted—the master criminal theory in any case with which I have been associated. There is a great temptation to fall for that romantic idea, but it doesn't work out. In the first place, there's no loyalty between criminals and therefore there can be no discipline, as we understand discipline. If the man is what you think, he could not command implicit obedience, and certainly in this country he could not find people to carry out his instructions without regard to their own safety. The other idea is, of course, fantastical. I happen to know all about the Strangers Club. It is extraordinarily well conducted and every Thursday there is a series of lectures in the basement lecture hall; they have been given by some of the greatest scientists in this country. Dr. Jansen has an international reputation—"
Mr. Reeder was staring at him owlishly. In his soul there was a fierce, malignant joy.
"There can be no question or doubt that there is quite a lot in your theory," the Deputy Chief Constable went on; "but I could not advise action being taken until we have made very careful observations and there's no chance of our making a mistake. Personally, the fact that two men who were defaulting cashiers have been killed, suggests to me that there was a little gang operating in each case, and that somebody has tried to double-cross them."
"And the silk pyjamas?" murmured Mr. Reeder.
The Deputy Chief was not prepared to explain the silk pyjamas.
It seemed to Mr. Reeder that the two Chief Inspectors, who were present at this interview, were not so completely happy about the matter as was their superior.
"As it is," that gentleman went on (he was the type of man who always had an afterthought, and insisted upon expressing it), "we may have got into very serious trouble in raiding the office of Mr. Jones. I've been inquiring into the Benevolent Brotherhood, and they are most highly recommended by bishops and other important persons of the church. No, Mr. Reeder, I don't think I can go any further in this matter in the lamentable absence of the Chief Constable and, anyhow, a day or two more or less isn't going to make any difference."
"Does it occur to you," asked Mr. Reeder gently, "that two men have been killed, there is quite a possibility of another seven going the way of all flesh?"
The Deputy smiled. That was all—he just smiled.
Outside, in the corridor, one of the Chief Inspectors overtook Mr. Reeder.
"Of course he's all wrong," he said, "and I'm going to take the responsibility of covering whatever work you do."
Mr. Reeder made an appointment for the Chief Inspector to meet him after dinner, and alone he went back to the Strangers Club, carefully avoiding the front. There was nobody in sight and he moved carefully along the wall, until he came to a small door, inserted first one key and then the other. At the twist of the second the door opened noiselessly.
Mr. Reeder drooped his head and listened. There was no sound. He had expected at least to hear a bell. Taking a torch from his trousers pocket, he sent a beam into the dark corridor. It was a little wider than he had expected and terminated, so far as he could see, with a flight of stairs which led up round a bend out of sight. On the left-hand side there was a wide door in the wall. He shone the torch upwards and saw a powerful light fixed to the ceiling, but there was no sign of a switch; presumably the light was operated from upstairs. He closed the door carefully, tried the second key on the bigger door, but this time without success.
At the appointed time he met Chief Inspector Dance and told him what he had discovered. They sat for over an hour in Mr. Reeder's room, discussing plans. At nine o'clock the Inspector left, and Mr. Reeder opened the safe in the office, took out a heavy Browning and loaded it with the greatest care. He pushed every cartridge into the chamber and out again, added a touch of oil here and there and finally, slipping a spare magazine into his waistcoat pocket, he pressed up the safety catch of the Browning and pushed the pistol behind the lapel of his tightly fitting coat.
The night commissionaire saw him go out, wearing one big yellow glove on his left hand and carrying the other. His hat was set at a jaunty angle and there was about him that liveliness which was only discernable in this very quiet man when trouble was in the offing. To his left wrist he had strapped a large watch, and as the hands pointed to twenty minutes to ten he walked almost jauntily up the steps of the Strangers Club, passed through the swing door and smiled genially at the porter.
That functionary was tall and broad-shouldered; he had a large round head and a wooden expression. "Whom do you want?" he asked curtly.
Evidently the servants at the Strangers Club, though they might be hand-picked for some qualities, were not chosen either for their good manners or their finesse.
"I would like to see Dr. Jansen. He did me the honour to call at my office —my name is Reeder."
FOR a perceptible moment of time he saw a light dawn and die in the dull eyes of the hall porter.
"Why, surely!" he said. "I think the doctor is dining here tonight, Mr. Reeder, and he'll be glad to see you."
He went to a telephone and pressed a knob.
"It's Mr. Reeder, doctor... Yeh? He just dropped in to see you."
What the man at the other end of the 'phone said—and he said it at some length—it was impossible to overhear, but Reeder saw the man step back a little so that he could look through the glass doors into the street outside.
"No, that's all right, doctor," he said. "Mr. Reeder is by himself. You haven't got a friend, Mr. Reeder? Maybe you'd like to invite him in?"
Mr. Reeder shook his head.
"I have no friend," he said sadly. "It's one of the tragedies of my life that I have never been able to make friends."
The man was puzzled. Obviously he had heard a great deal of this redoubtable gentleman from the Public Prosecutor's office, and he was not quite sure of his ground. He gave Mr. Reeder a long, scrutinising glance, in which any antagonism there might have been was swamped by genuine curiosity. It was almost as though he doubted the evidence of his eyes.
Evidently somebody called him urgently at the other end of the wire, for he turned suddenly.
"That's all right, doctor. I'll bring him right up. Will you leave your coat here?"
Mr. Reeder regarded him with a pained expression.
"Thank you," he said. "I fear I might be cold."
At the far end of the hall there was a door. The janitor opened it, switched on the light and disclosed a comfortable little elevator. Mr. Reeder stepped in and turned so quickly that he might have gone in backwards. He had expected the porter to follow. Instead the man closed the door. There was a click and a gentle whirr and the lift shot upwards. It went up two storeys and then stopped, and the doors opened automatically—and there was Dr. Jansen, very genial, very prosperous-looking in his evening dress and his heavy gold watch guard, with an outstretched hand like a leg of mutton.
"I am most pleased to meet you again, Mr. Reeder. It is a great honour. You will follow me, sir?"
He went ahead, down a narrow passage, then, turning to the right, descended two flights of stairs, which, so far as Reeder could judge, brought him to the first floor. It was obvious that from the first floor which the elevator had passed there was no communication with this part of the building. It was almost unnecessary for the doctor to explain this.
He opened a door and disclosed a beautifully furnished room. It was long and narrow. A heavy pile carpet was laid over a rubber foundation, and the visitor had the sensation that he was walking on springs.
"My little sanctum," said Dr. Jansen. "What do you drink, Mr. Reeder?"
Mr. Reeder looked round helplessly.
"Milk?" he suggested, and not a muscle of the big man's face moved.
"Why, yes, we can give you that even."
Raising his voice:
"Send a glass of milk for Mr. Reeder," he said. "I have a microphonic telephone in my room. It saves much trouble," he added. "But you would maybe like me to shut it off?"
He turned a switch near the big Empire desk which stood in an alcove.
"Now you can talk and say just what you like, and nobody is going to listen to you. You will take your glove off, Mr. Reeder?"
"I'm only staying a few minutes," said Mr. Reeder gravely. "I wanted to see you about certain statements that have been made and which in some way suggest that this club is associated with a benevolent society run by an old gentleman called Jones."
Jansen chuckled. Whatever else he was, he was a good actor.
"Why, 'ow strange!" he said. "I know this Jones. In fact, I 'ave kept the old man alive, Is crazy, that benevolent society! But you know, Mr. Reeder, it is quite genuine. Some people get a lot of money out of those poor men who live in the south of France."
Mr. Reeder inclined his head gravely.
"It has that appearance. In fact, I was speaking with the Chief Constable tonight. We were discussing whether there was anything sinister—if I may use that expression—about the society, and he took the view that it was quite genuine. I am perfectly satisfied in my own mind that the brotherhood is responsible for giving quite a lot of money to people who felt an urgent need for it."
Jansen was watching him, projecting his mind into Reeder's, taking his point of view—Mr. Reeder knew it.
"The whole thing arose out of a discovery of an unfortunate young man named Reigate," Mr. Reeder continued. "He was shot at my door and after his death there was found in a notebook an advertisement of this brotherhood. That, and one or two other curious circumstances... Oh, yes, I remember, two keys we found in his desk, gave the case a rather mysterious aspect."
Mr. Reeder was suffering under a great disadvantage. By a curious trick of mind he had entirely forgotten the excuse on which Jansen had called at the Public Prosecutor's office. Such a thing had happened once before, and he was as a man who was walking over a bridge from which one plank was missing.
"This man Hallaty now," began Jansen, and in a flash the reason for the call was revealed. "You remember, Mr. Reeder, the man who owes me money, and who is in Holland."
"He returned," said Mr. Reeder gravely. "He was found shot in Essex. Probably he had come back from the Hook of Holland to Harwich, and now—"
There was a tinkle of a bell and Dr. Jansen opened a panel in the wall which hid a small service lift, and took out a glass of milk.
Mr. Reeder sipped at it gently. He had a palate of extraordinary keenness, and would have detected instantly the presence in that harmless fluid of any quantity which was not so harmless, but the milk tasted like milk. He took a longer sip and put it down, and he thought he saw in the face of Dr. Jansen just a hint of relief.
"And now, doctor, I am going to ask you a great favour. I am going to ask you to show me round your club, about which I have heard so much."
The smile left the doctor's face.
"That I'm afraid I cannot do. In the first place, it is not my club, and in the second, it is one of the rules of this establishment, Mr. Reeder, that there should be no intrusion on the privacy of members."
"Of whom you have how many?"
"Six hundred and three."
Mr. Reeder nodded.
"I have seen the list," he said. "They are mainly honorary members who are admitted to the ground floor for your lectures. I've yet to have the satisfaction of seeing a list—um—of your members."
Jansen looked at him thoughtfully.
"Why then," he said, "come along and meet them."
He walked past Mr. Reeder, opened the door and stood aside for his guest to pass.
"Maybe you would like me to go first?" he said, with a smile, and Reeder knew that war had been declared, and followed him up the stairs. Again they were in the long corridor, and presently the doctor stood by the door of the lift, and pressed a bell. When the lift came up it was to all appearances the same elevator that he had seen before. It had the same black and white tiled floor, and yet Mr. Reeder had a feeling that it was a little newer, a little cleaner than when he had seen it last.
As his foot touched the floor, he felt it give under him. Throwing the full weight upon his right leg, he sprang backwards. He heard something swish past his head. There was a crash where the short leaden club struck, and, recovering his balance, Reeder lashed out with his gloved hand. Dr. Jansen went down like a log, no remarkable circumstance—for under Mr. Reeder's glove was a knuckleduster.
For a moment he stood, automatic in hand, looking down at the dazed man at his feet. Jansen blinked up at him, and made a movement to rise.
"You can get up," said Reeder; "but you'll keep your hands away."
Then all the lights went out.
The detective stepped back quickly, so quickly that he collided with somebody, who was behind him. Again he struck out, but this time missed. He was deafened by the bang of an explosion. He was so close to the pistol that the powder stung his cheek. Twice he fired in the direction of the flash and then he suddenly lost consciousness. He did not feel the blow that hit him, but went painlessly down into oblivion.
"Put on the lights now, Jansen. Has he hit anybody?"
The lights went up suddenly. The bullet-headed porter was looking stupidly at a wrist and arm that were red with blood.
A shorter edition of the porter came into view round the angle of the corridor, and looked at the senseless detective.
"Help me get him into the cubby, Jansen."
Jansen only stopped to inspect the wound of the hall porter.
"There's nothing to it," he said. "Bind it up with your handkerchief. It's just a scratch. Gee, you're lucky, Fred!"
He turned his attention to the senseless man. There was neither malice nor anger, but rather admiration in his glance.
"Help me get him into the cubby," he said.
In reality he needed no help. He was a man of extraordinary strength. Stooping, he lifted the unconscious Reeder, dragged him through the passage into a little room, and dropped him into a chair.
"He's O.K.," he said.
The little man, who had come from the passage, looked at the detective with an expression of amazement.
"Is that the bull?" he said incredulously.
"That's the bull," he said grimly. "And don't laugh, Baldy. That guy's got more men in stir than any other fellow that ever broke from the pen."
"He looks nuts to me," grunted Baldy.
He had a shock of fair hair. Mr. Reeder, who was listening intently, found himself wondering, in his inconsequent way, how he had earned his name.
"Feed him some water. Here, give it to me."
Jansen took a glass from the man's hand and threw it into the face of the drooping figure. Mr. Reeder opened his eyes and stared round. His glove had been pulled off. The knuckleduster had disappeared.
"I hand it to you, Reeder," said Jansen amiably. "If I'd not been all kinds of a sap, I'd have known you had that duster in your glove."
He felt his jaw and grinned. "Have a drink?"
He turned the leaves of a table and a nest of decanters rose.
"Brandy will do you no harm."
He poured out a large portion and handed it to the detective; Mr. Reeder sipped it.
Putting his hand to his head he felt a large egg-sized bump, but no abrasion.
"All right, Baldy. I'll ring for you." Jansen dismissed his assistant. When he had gone: "Let's get right down to cases. You're Reeder. Who am I?"
"Your name is Redsack," said Reeder without hesitation. "You are what I would describe as a fugitive from justice."
Jansen nodded amiably.
"You're right first time," he said. "That Dutch accent wasn't bad though? Now how far have you got, Reeder? You and me are old-timers and hard boiled. We'll talk it right out, just as we feel, and we're not going to get sour with each other. You went out for a prize and got a blank. There's only one way of treating blanks, Reeder—and that's the way you're going to be treated. Have some more brandy?"
"Thank you, I've had enough,"
"Maybe you'd like a cup of tea?"
Jansen was genuinely solicitous. He was not acting. He had pronounced the sentence of death upon the man who had come seeking his life, but he was entirely without animosity. Death was the natural and proper sequel to failure, because dead men cannot take the stand and testify to one's undoing.
"I think I would like a cup of tea."
Jansen turned the switch and bellowed an order. Then switched it off again.
"You can't say you haven't met Jansen." He grinned again.
Mr. Reeder nodded and winced.
"No, I met him in Lincoln's Inn Fields—a very unpleasant old gentleman."
"A clever old guy," interrupted Redsack. "In his way as clever as you. I picked him up when I came to England. He was doping then, and sleeping on the old Thames Embankment. He'd been so long away from home and he had no friends in England, I thought Jansen might be as good a name for me as for him, and he didn't care anyway. It's been a grand racket, Reeder; if I clear up tonight we'll go on for a year or two.
"I came to this country with ten thousand dollars. Part of it I brought on the boat, and part of it I snitched from a passenger's cabin. It was so long since I'd been in England that I didn't know how easy it was. You're all so damn law-abiding here that any big racket, if it looks good, would surely get past."
He settled himself comfortably in his chair, but rose almost immediately to open the panel, and take out a cup of tea.
"You can drink that. If you like, I'll drink half of it. Say, these poisoners make me sick. You know what I got the dungeon for in Sing-Sing? It was for beating up a guy who'd poisoned his wife and mother-in-law. I just hated to see him around. He told them I was trying to escape and that he wouldn't stand by me. But that's ancient history, Mr. Reeder. Drink your tea."
Mr. Reeder drank and put down the cup carefully.
"I wasn't a month in this country before I found a young bank clerk who'd been playing the races and snitching money from the bank. He got tight and told me all about it, and I saw how easy it was to make big money; so I just organised him, and he got away with a hundred thousand dollars."
He leaned forward and raised a warning finger.
"Don't say I didn't play fair with him, because I did. We shared fifty-fifty. The great thing was to hide him up for a month, and the next big thing was to get him away, and that was hard. I never realised before that England was surrounded by water, and that's where Jansen came in useful. I set him up in some rooms in Harley Street, but he was never entirely satisfactory, because we couldn't keep him sober. We had one or two narrow escapes with the invalids he was escorting across the Channel. He chuckled as though it were a pleasant memory, and then with a deprecating smile: You know what it is, Reeder, when you and me have to depend on second-class people and not on ourselves. We're so near being sunk that a life-belt doesn't mean a damned thing."
"When did you start the nursing home for infectious diseases?"
Mr. Redsack laughed uproariously and smacked his knee.
"Say, I wasn't sure whether you knew about that. You're clever. You got it, did you? Why, that happened after one or two of these birds had tried to double-cross us. You see, what we did was to put this advertisement in every paper once a week. Naturally we had thousands of letters, but we waited till we got a man who could hand in the dough. You've got no idea how bank clerks don't know how to look after money! If he was just an ordinary five-cent man, we passed him on. But you'd be surprised at the number of big fellows— I once had an Assistant General Manager, who was so old that he couldn't he dishonest. But we got a good few real smarties; as soon as we picked on them, we'd tell them that, as a very special honour and on the recommendation of the Lord knows who, they'd been elected members of the Strangers Club. We got a whole range of private rooms. But naturally we didn't want any member to meet another member. We gave 'em good food, free tickets for the theatre. Just made them feel they were staying with Uncle John. How the hell they thought we did it on ten dollars a year I don't know. But I dare say you find, Reeder, that thieves are mean cusses.
"Once we got them here the benevolent brothers started their operations. I was the agent, and I had to make sure they were men you could trust. I'm not going to give you the long of it, but it was not easy to get the smarties to fall for this grand idea. Most men are thieves at heart, but the thing that scares them is: how am I going to get away without a lagging? They can get the stuff all right, but where is it going to be put? Where will they hide? How will they leave the country? We did everything for them; passports, transportation. Why, we even chartered a tug to get that guy who pulled down half a million from the Liverpool bank, from England to Belgium, and he didn't leave from Dover either. He went from London by water to Zeebrugge, and was carried aboard and ashore on a stretcher with so many bandages on his face that half the people who saw him land were crying before the ambulance took him on to Brussels. We made more than half a million bucks out of that, and he is living like a prince in Austrak.
"We give service, Reeder. That's the keynote of our organisation— service. We took 'em out of London in ambulances marked 'infectious diseases only'. Can you see any policeman with children of his own stopping them and inspecting the patients? Why, you could smell that camphor dope before you saw the ambulance.
"You guessed right when you took an inspection of our nursing home at the back, and you guessed right when, after you had opened the door, you decided you wouldn't go in. We keep all our run-aways snug in that home for a month. Sometimes two months, and no harm comes to them. They are out of the country as per contract. Service!"
He shook his head, and used the word lovingly.
"We picked 'em up from the bank, we brought 'em to London, we hid them and we got 'em out of the country, and never had a failure. Hallaty was yellow. In the first place, he didn't bring all the stuff to us; he cached nearly half of it at a small public house on the Essex road. Then he tried to get away and we naturally had to go after him. That kid Reigate, he got religious. We thought we had everything set, but he jumped out of the ambulance on his way to Gravesend, and naturally Baldy, his escort, had to stop him talking.
"I'm glad you didn't come in when you used that key. I shouldn't have had the pleasure of talking to you. We had a machine gun on you, and Baldy was all ready with his motor-cycle to cover up the sound. But you didn't come in and, honestly, Reeder, I'm glad."
He was very earnest. "You're the kind of guy I wanted to meet."
He shook his head, genuinely sad.
"I wish I could think of some other way out for you, but you're tied up to your graft, the same as I am to mine."
Mr. Reeder smiled with his eyes, and that was very rare in him.
"May I say not—um—as a matter of politeness, but in all sincerity, that if I have to go out at the hands of a desperado—if you'll forgive me using the word—I would prefer that it should be the best kind of desperado and an—um—artist." He paused.
"May I ask whether you plan to let the matter end in this interesting and complicated building, or have you a more spectacular method in your mind?"
Mr. Redsack smiled.
"You're a classy talker, Reeder, and I could listen to you for hours. Naturally you would think that I'd be thinking of something bad for a fellow who's given me the worst sock in the jaw I've ever had in my life." He touched his swollen cheek tenderly. But I've got no malice in me. I guess we'll try the grand old-time American operation. We'll take you for a ride. If you've got any particular place you'd prefer, why, I'm willing to oblige you, Mr. Reeder, so long as it gives me a chance of getting back before daylight."
Mr. Reeder thought for a minute.
"I naturally would prefer Brockley, which has been, as it were, and to use an expression which will be familiar to you, Mr, Redsack, my home town, but I realise that this highly populated suburb is not suitable for your purpose, and I suggest, respectfully, that one of the arterial roads out of London would suit both of us admirably."
Redsack switched on his loudspeaker and gave an order.
He took from the belt under his waistcoat a large-sized automatic and examined it as carefully as Mr. Reeder earlier in the evening had inspected his own lethal weapon.
"Let's go," he said.
He led the way, opened the door again, and Mr. Reeder passed through into the passage.
Mr. Reeder followed his directions, and came to the blank end of the passage.
"There's a door there that'll open in a minute," said Redsack encouragingly.
They waited a few seconds. Nothing happened. Pushing past him, Redsack rapped on the wall and a narrow crack appeared in one corner. It opened wider and wider, and the door swung open.
"Say what's the idea?" said Redsack loudly, and even as he spoke he whipped out his gun and fired twice.
It was a lucky day for Chief Inspector Dance. One bullet whipped off his hat; the second passed between his arm and his coat.
He fired back, but by this time Redsack was flying along the passage and had turned the corridor.
When they came up, halting gingerly to feel their way, there was nobody in sight. They heard the whirr of the lift, but whether it was going up or down they could not tell.
Then again the lights went out from some central control.
"Back to where we came," said Dance.
They fled along the passage, through the door, down the steep flight of stairs. These turned sharply, and Mr. Reeder saw what it was. They were out in the mews, but not quickly enough; as Dance fumbled with the lock, they heard two gates open with a crash, the pulsation of an engine and the roar of it as it shot past. By the time they were out in the mews the Strangers Club had lost its proprietor, janitor and chief attendant.
"Both keys worked," Dance reported hastily. "I gathered he'd got you and I advanced the time five minutes."
He saw Mr. Reeder rub his head.
"Hurt?" he asked anxiously.
"Only in my feelings," said Mr. Reeder.
They made a quick search of the garage and found the battered motor-cycle on which Hallaty had tried to make his escape, and the big ambulance with its warning sign, which had assisted Redsack so vitally in his ingenious scheme.
"If the Deputy Chief had given me the sanction to raid this place, I'd have had enough men here to catch 'em," growled Dance. "Where is this nursing home, and which is the way in?"
It took a long time before they finally reached the secret suites where three panic-stricken 'patients' were waiting their discharge to that life of comfort which their depredations had earned for them.
BACK at Scotland Yard, a chastened Deputy Chief Constable was anxious to do all that was possible to correct his error, for he had been on the 'phone to his sick chief, and what passed between them is not on record.
In the middle of the night a more careful search was made of the garage. Mr. Reeder had seen a door which, he had imagined, led to a store. When the lights were turned on, the thickness of the doors revealed the character of this store. It was a steel-lined safe—it was empty. The accumulations of five years' hard work had gone. A barrage, immediately laid down about London, was established too late, and at five o'clock in the morning a tug left Greenwich and proceeded leisurely down the river, made its signal to Gravesend and passed out into the open sea.
The thing that came between Mr. Redsack and his future appeared in the form of a smoky cloud in the horizon, and a grey hull. From one tiny mast broke a string of little flags, The Master of the tug reported to his chief passenger and charter party.
"A destroyer, sir," he said.
"What does he say?" asked Redsack, interested in the nautical drama.
The Master consulted his signal book.
"'Heave to, I am searching you'," he read.
Redsack considered this.
"Suppose we don't?" he suggested.
"He'll sink us," said the alarmed Master. "Why shouldn't we let him come aboard?"
"That's O.K. with me," said Redsack.
He turned to the tall janitor, yellow-faced and shivering in spite of his heavy overcoat. "If I was sure they'd take me back to Sing-Sing, why, I wouldn't mind," he said. "Sing-Sing's kind of a lucky prison to me. But now I'm so damned English that it's Dartmoor or nothing, I guess. Or maybe they don't hang people at Dartmoor."
He considered the problem as the destroyer came nearer and nearer, and then he went down to the little cabin and scribbled a note.
"Dear Mr. Reeder,—I said last night it was you or me, and I guess it's me."
He signed his name with a flourish, sat down on the hard sofa, took out a cigar. He heard the bump of a boat as it came alongside and an authoritative voice demanding particulars of the passengers.
Mr. Redsack placed his cigar carefully into a little polished stove and shot himself.
MR. J.G. REEDER did odd things. And he did oddly kind things. There was once a drug addict, whom he first prosecuted and then befriended; but there was nothing unusual in that. He did the same with a young man many years later, and as a result earned for himself the high commendation of his superiors.
But helping this drug addict led apparently nowhere. It involved a great deal of trouble, and it was an unsavoury case, and in the end Mr. Reeder achieved nothing, for the man he tried to assist died in hospital without friends and without money.
It is true that the man in the next bed knew him, and communicated a great deal of information to a ferret-faced chauffeur, who subsequently made certain inquiries.
A more satisfactory adventure in the field of loving kindness was Mr. Reeder's association with a certain well-educated young burglar. That led to much that was pleasant to think about and remember.
The story of the treasure house really begins with a man who had no faith in the stability of stock markets, and believed in burying his talents in the ground. He was not singular in this respect, for the miser in man is a very common quality, and though Mr. Lane Leonard was no miser in the strictest sense of the word, being in fact rather generous of disposition, he was wedded to the reality of wealth, and there is nothing quite so real as gold. And gold he accumulated in startling quantities at a period when gold was hard to come by. Gold in buried chests would not satisfy him; he must have gold visible and reachable—but mainly visible. That is why he hoarded his wealth in large boxes made of toughened glass, having these containers further enclosed in steel wire baskets; for gold is very heavy and the toughest of glass is brittle.
They said on the New York Stock Exchange that John Lane Leonard was a lucky man, but he never regarded himself that way. He was not a member of the house, and had begun as a dabbler in the kerb market, buying on margins and accumulating a very modest fortune, which became colossal overnight, through no prescience of his own, but rather because of a lucky accident. He was as near to being ruined as made no difference. Three partners, who had pooled their shares with him, became panic stricken at a bear raid and left him to hold the baby; and whilst he was holding this very helplessly, not quite sure whether he should drop it and run, powerful financial interests, of whose existence he was quite unaware, struck so savagely at the bears that they were caught short. The sensational rise in prices placed Mr. Lane Leonard rich in excess of his own imagination.
He was not a millionaire then, but he had not long to wait before another piece of luck brought him into the seven-figure class. If he had had a sense of humour, he would have recognised just how much he owed to the spin of somebody else's coin; but, being devoid of this quality, he gave large credit to his own acumen and foresight. There were any number of people who fostered the illusion that he had the mind and vision of a great financier. His brother-in-law, Digby Olbude, was one of his most vehement and voluble sycophants.
Lane Leonard was English, and had married an English wife; a dull lady, who hated New York and was home-sick for Hampstead, a pleasant suburb it was never designed she should see again. She died, more or less of inanition, three years after her husband had acquired both his riches and a sneaking desire for American citizenship.
By this time John Lane Leonard was an authority on all matters pertaining to finance. He wrote articles for the London Economist which were never published, because in some way they did not fit in with the views of the editor or, indeed, with the views of anybody who had an elementary knowledge of economics. Whatever Digby thought about them, he said they were great. He used to drink in those days and dabble in margins and when he lost, as he so frequently did, John Lane Leonard paid.
They parted at last over a matter of a hundred thousand dollars, and although this sum also had to be found by the millionaire, it was in his heart to forgive his erratic relative by marriage, for he never forgot that Digby completely approved of and admired him, and had helped him considerably in his preparation of a pamphlet on the American Economy. That pamphlet was so scarified by the American press, so ridiculed by the experts of Wall Street, that Mr. Lane Leonard shook the dust of New York from his feet, transferred his bank balances to England, returned to his native Kent and bought Sevenways Castle and proceeded to put his theories into practice.
He met a pretty widow with a young child and married her. Within a few years she too had died. He changed the name of her little daughter by deed poll from Pamela Dolby to Pamela Lane Leonard, and designated her his heiress. It was necessary that he should have an heiress, though he would have preferred an heir.
In those days Lidgett was his junior chauffeur, a hatchet-faced boy, country born, shrewd, cunning, ruthless; but Mr. Lane Leonard knew nothing about his cunning or ruthlessness. He received from Lidgett a whole-hearted homage which was very pleasing to him. Lidgett did not prostrate himself on the ground every time he saw his employer—he just stopped short of that. He became the confidential servant and valet as well as chief chauffeur. Mr. Lane Leonard used to talk to him about the gold standard whilst he was dressing, and Lidgett used to shake his head in helpless admiration.
"What a brain you must have, Mr. Leonard! It beats me how you can keep these things in your mind! If I knew as much as you, I think I'd go mad!"
Crude stuff, but crude stuff is effective. To Lidgett Mr. Lane Leonard revealed his great plan for the creation of a gold reserve; it took three weeks for Lidgett to realise that his employer was talking about real gold. After that he became very alert.
Mr. Leonard was an assiduous church-goer, and invariably chose Evensong for his devotions. When they were in London Lidgett used to sit at the wheel of the Rolls parked outside St. George's, Hanover Square, wildly cursing the employer who was keeping him from a perfect evening's entertainment. There was a spieling club in Soho which was a second home to Mr. Lidgett, and as soon as his master was indoors and made comfortable for the night Lidgett lost no time in reaching the green table where they played chemin de fer.
His employer was a careless man, who never missed a five-pound note one way or the other, and Lidgett was a lucky man at the table, more lucky than the dignified and middle-aged gentleman he so often met at Dutch Harry's, and who seemed to come there only to lose.
Once he borrowed twenty pounds from Lidgett and found some difficulty in repaying it. Joe Lidgett got to know all about him; rather liked him, if the truth be told.
"You ought to give up this game, mister. You haven't got the right kind of nut."
"Very possible, very possible," said the other frigidly.
Sometimes in the early hours of the morning the little Cockney and his somewhat aristocratic friend would go to an all-night restaurant for a meal before they separated, the unfortunate loser to an early train which carried him into the country, Mr. Lidgett to his duties as chauffeur-valet.
In the course of his confidences with Lidgett Mr. Leonard mentioned his brother-in-law, and enlarged upon his genius.
"He is one of the few men who really understand my theories, Lidgett," he said in an expansive moment. "Unfortunately, he and I quarrelled over a trifling matter, and I haven't heard from him for many years. A sound financier, Lidgett, a very sound financier! I have been tempted lately to get into touch with him; he is the one man I could trust to carry out my wishes if what this infernal doctor says has any foundation in fact."
"This infernal doctor" was a Harley Street specialist who had said something rather serious; or it would have been serious if Mr. Leonard had regarded himself as being completely mortal.
He saw little of his step-daughter. She was at a school, came home for dull holidays, and listened uncomprehendingly to Mr. Leonard's lectures on gold values. She saw the first treasure house built, inspected its steel doors, and thought that the vault was a little terrifying; she heard that all this was for her sake, but could never quite believe that.
One day Mr. Leonard had a fainting fit which lasted for an hour. When he recovered he sent for Lidgett.
"Lidgett, I want you to get in touch with Mr. Digby Olbude," he said. "I haven't his address, but you will probably find it in the telephone book. I have never troubled to look."
He explained just what he wanted of Mr. Olbude and Lidgett listened with interest, his agile mind working with great rapidity. Digby Olbude was to carry on the work of his brother-in-law, was to become for a number of years controller of untold wealth.
Lidgett went forth on his tour of investigation, wondering in what manner he might benefit from the change which most evidently was due.
Digby Olbude was not difficult to trace, though he seemed to have changed his name on two occasions and at his last address had no name at all. The shrewd little chauffeur came back to Sevenways a very preoccupied man. He found awaiting him a letter forwarded from London—a pathetic, pleading, incoherent letter, written in perfect English by his middle-aged gambler friend.
Joe Lidgett had an idea. A few days later his master was well enough to see him and he gave an account of his search for Digby Olbude.
"I would like to see him," said Leonard feebly. "I am afraid I'm in a bad way, Lidgett—where are you?"
"I'm here, sir," said Lidgett.
"It is rather difficult to see. My eyesight has become a little defective."
The gentleman Mr. Lidgett had found arrived by car the next morning. He went up more than a little nervously to the dying man's bedroom, and was introduced with pathetic formality to the lawyer Mr. Leonard had brought from London. He did not like lawyers, but the occasion demanded expert legal assistance.
"This is my brother-in-law, Digby Olbude..."
The will was signed and witnessed with some difficulty. It was characteristic of Lane Leonard that he did not even send for his heiress or leave any message of affection or tender farewell. To him she was a peg on which his theory was to hang—and it was not even his own theory.
She was notified of his passing in a formal letter from her new guardian, and she received the notification on the very day that Larry O'Ryan decided upon adopting a criminal career.
When Larry O'Ryan was expelled from a public school on a charge of stealing some eighty-five pounds from Mr. Farthingale's room, he could not only have cleared himself of the accusation, but he could also have named the culprit.
He had no parents, no friends, being maintained at the school by a small annuity left by his mother. If Creed's Bank had been a little more generous with his father, if the Panton Credit Trust had been honestly directed, if the Medway and Western had not forced a sale, Larry would have been rich.
It was no coincidence that these immensely rich corporations were patrons of the Monarch Security Steel Corporation—Monarchs had a monopoly in this kind of work—but we will talk about that later.
He hated the school, hated most the pompous pedagogue who was a friend of Mr. Farthingale and used his study when the house master was out—but he said nothing. After all, what chance had his word against a master's? He took his expulsion as an easy way of escaping from servitude, interviewed the lawyer who was his guardian and accepted the expressions of horror and abhorrence with which that gentleman favoured him.
Anyway, the eighty-five pounds was restored; before he left the school Larry saw the terrified thief and said a few plain words.
"I'll take the risk of being disbelieved," he said, "and I'll go to the head and say I saw you open the cash-box just as I was going into the study. I don't know why you wanted the money, but the people who investigate will find out."
The accused man thundered at him, reviled him, finally broke.
It was a grotesque situation, a middle-aged master and a lanky sixth-form boy, bullying and threatening one another alternately. Larry did not cry; on the other hand, his protagonist grew maudlin. But he restored the money. Everybody thought that it was Larry or Larry's lawyer-guardian who sent the notes by registered post; but it wasn't.
He went out into the world with the starkest outlook, looked round for work of sorts, was errand boy, office boy, clerk. No prospects. The army offered one, but the army stood for another kind of school discipline, house masters who wore stripes on their sleeves.
LARRY thought it over one Saturday night and decided on burglary as a profession. For a year he went to night classes and polished up his knowledge of ballistics. At the end of the year he got a job at a safe-makers and locksmith's at Wolverhampton.
It was one of the most famous of all safe-makers, a firm world-renowned. All that a young man could learn of locks and safety devices Larry learned. He was an eager pupil; having a pleasant and engaging manner, he made friends with oldish men who, in return for the respect he paid them, told him many things about locks and safe construction.
He became an expert cutter of keys—had the use of a shed in the backyard of the widow with whom he lodged, and worked far into the night.
A gymnasium attached to a boys' club lent strength to skill.
When he left Wolverhampton his successes were startling and, in a newspaper sense, sensational. Creed's Bank lost forty thousand pounds in American currency held to liquidate certain demands which were due. Nobody saw the burglar come or go. The steel doors of the vault were opened with a key and locked with a key.
Then the Panton Credit Trust suffered. A matter of a hundred thousand pounds went in less than a hundred and twenty minutes.
At his third job he fell, due largely to the precautions taken on behalf of the Medway and Western Bank by a middle-aged detective who read the lessons of the earlier robberies aright; and had discovered that other banks had vault doors recently delivered and erected by the Monarch Safe Corporation.
Inquiries made at the works identified the enthusiastic young workman with a young gentleman who lived in a Jermyn Street flat and who had an account at the bank.
"It was," said Mr Reeder apologetically, "more by—um—luck than judgement that I succeeded in—er—anticipating this young man."
He liked Larry from the first interview he had with him, and that was in a cell at Bow Street. Larry was quite unlike any of the criminals with whom Mr. Reeder had been brought into contact. He neither whined nor lied, neither boasted nor was evasive. Mr. Reeder did not know his history and was unable to trace it.
"It's a great pity you're so clever, Mr. Reeder. This was to have been my final appearance as a burglar—hereafter I intended living the life of a well-to-do citizen, and hoped in course of time to become a Justice of the Peace!"
Mr, Reeder rarely smiled, but he did now.
"The other incursions into the burglar's profession were, I presume—um —Creed's Bank and the Panton Trust?"
It was Larry's turn to smile.
"That is a matter we will not discuss," he said politely.
Mr. Reeder, however, was more anxious to keep the matter in discussion, for there was a sum of a hundred and forty thousand pounds to be recovered.
"You will be ill advised, Mr. O'Ryan," he said gently, "to withhold these very important facts, particularly the whereabouts of—um—a very considerable sum which was taken from these two institutions. A complete disclosure will make a very considerable difference to you when you— er—come before the judge. I do not promise this," he added carefully; "I am merely going on precedents, but it is a fact that judges, in passing sentence, take into consideration the frankness with which an—um —accused person has dealt with his earlier depredations."
Larry O'Ryan laughed softly.
"That's a lovely word—depredations! It also makes me feel like one of the old robber barons of the Rhine. No, Mr. Reeder—nicely but firmly, no! In the first place, the two—depredations was the word, I think, you used?—to which you refer, are not and cannot be traceable to me. I have read about them and I know the facts which have been revealed in the newspapers. Beyond that I am not prepared to admit the slightest knowledge."
J.G. Reeder was insistent in his amiable way. He revealed his own information. He knew that O'Ryan had been employed by the Monarch Security Steel Corporation, he knew that it was possible he might have secured an understanding of the locks which had been so scientifically defied; and since all three institutions had obtained their steel vaults, their unbreakable doors, their gratings and secret locking arrangements from this company, there was no doubt in his mind (he said) that O'Ryan was responsible for both burglaries. But Larry shook his head.
"The burden of proof lies with the prosecution," he said with mock solemnity. "I should like very much indeed to help you, Mr. Reeder. I have heard of you, I admire you. Any man who in these days wears high-crowned felt hats and side-whiskers must have character, and I admire character. I hope that reference is not offensive to you; it is intended to be nothing but complimentary. I know quite a lot about you. You live in the Brockley Road, you keep chickens, you have an umbrella which you never open for fear it will be spoilt by the rain, and you smoke unspeakable cigarettes."
Again that rare smile of Mr. Reeder's.
"You're almost a detective," he said. "Now, let us talk about Creed's Bank—"
"Let us talk about the weather," said Larry.
All Scotland Yard, and the Public Prosecutor's Department, and Mr. Reeder, and various narks and noses, and the parasites of the underworld were concerned in the search for the missing hundred and forty thousand pounds, even though there was not sufficient evidence to indict Larry for these two crimes.
In due course he appeared before a judge at the Old Bailey, and pleaded guilty to being found on enclosed premises in possession of burglar's tools, and to house-breaking (he had entered the bank at four o'clock on a Saturday afternoon) and, after a rather acrimonious trial, was found guilty and sentenced to a term of twelve months in prison.
The trial was acrimonious because the counsel for the prosecution took a personal and violent dislike to the prisoner. Why, nobody knew; it was one of those prejudices which occasionally upset the judgement of intelligent men. It was probably some flippant remark which Larry made in cross-examination, a remark which counsel regarded as personally offensive to himself. He was not a big man, and he was rather a self-willed man. In his address to the jury he referred to the Creed's Bank robbery and the burglary at the Panton Trust. At the first reference to these affairs the judge stopped and warned him, but he was not to be warned. Although no evidence had been called, and no charge made, in relation to these crimes, he insisted upon drawing parallels. He emphasised the fact that the prisoner had been employed by the company which made the locks and steel doors of both vaults; and all the time Larry sat in the dock, his arms folded, listening with a smile, for he knew something about law.
There was an appeal; the conviction was quashed on a technical point, and Larry O'Ryan went free.
His first call was on Mr. J.G. Reeder, and he prefaced his visit with a short note asking whether his presence was acceptable. Reeder asked him to tea, which was the equivalent of being asked by the Lord Mayor to his most important banquet. Larry came it the highest spirits.
"May I say," asked Mr. Reeder, "that you are a very fortunate young man?"
"And how!" said Larry. "Yes, I was lucky. But who would imagine that the idiot would make a mistake like that! Are you sure you don't mind my calling?"
Mr. Reeder shook his head.
"If you hadn't come I should have invited you," he said.
With a pair of silver tongs he placed a muffin on Larry's plate.
"It would be a waste of time, Mr. O'Ryan, and I rather think a breach of —um—hospitality, if I made any further reference to those other unfortunate happenings, the—um—Creed's Bank and Panton Trust affairs. As a detective and an officer of state, I should be most happy if I could find one little string of a clue which would enable me to associate you with those—um—depredations is the word, I think, you like best?"
"Depredations is my favourite word," mumbled Larry through the muffin.
"Somehow, I don't think I shall ever be able to connect you," Mr. Reeder went on, "and in a sense I'm rather glad. That is a very immoral statement to make," he added hastily, "and against all my—um—principles, as you probably know. What are you going do for a living now, Mr. O'Ryan?"
"I am living on my income," said Larry calmly. "I have investments abroad which will bring me in, roughly, seven thousand a year."
Mr. Reeder nodded slowly.
"In other words, five per cent on a hundred and forty thousand pounds," he murmured. "A goodly sum—a very goodly sum." He sighed.
"You don't seem very happy about it." Larry's eyes twinkled.
Mr. Reeder shook his head.
"No, I am thinking of the poor shareholders of Creed's Bank—"
"There are no shareholders. The Creeds practically hold the shares between them. They tricked my father out of a hundred thousand pounds—a little more than that sum. I have never had the full particulars, but I know it was a hundred thousand—snapped it out of his pocket, and there was no possibility of getting back on them."
J.G. looked at the ceiling.
"So it was an act of poetic justice!" he said slowly. "And Panton's Trust?"
"You know the Panton crowd," said Larry quietly. "They have been living on the edge of highway robbery for the past twenty-five years. They've made most of their money out of crooked companies and tricky share dealing. They owe me much more than—they lost."
A beatific smile passed over Mr. Reeder's face. "You nearly said, 'than I took'," he said reproachfully.
"I nearly didn't say anything of the kind," said Larry. "No, don't waste your sympathy on them. And I could tell you something about the Medway and Western Bank that would interest you, but I won't."
"Poetic justice again, eh? You are almost a romantic figure!"
Mr. Reeder grasped the teapot and refilled the young man's cup.
"I'll promise you something; we'll not discuss this matter again, but I'll be very glad to see you any time you find life a little wearisome and would like to discover how really dull it can be. At the same time, I feel I should —um—warn you that if you—er—fall from grace and desire to wreak your poetic vengeance upon some other banking institution, these little visits will cease, and I shall do my best to put you behind locks which were not manufactured by the Monarch Security Steel Corporation!"
Larry became a fairly frequent visitor to the house in Brockley Road. Some people might have suspected Mr. Reeder of maintaining the acquaintance in order to secure further information about the earlier robberies. But Larry did not suspect Mr. Reeder of anything of the sort, and J.G. appreciated this compliment more than the young man knew.
Larry got into the habit of calling at night, and particularly when an interesting crime had been committed. He knew very little of the so-called underworld, and surprised Mr. Reeder when he told him that he had never met a crook until he was arrested.
This oddly matched pair had another interest in common, the British Museum. A visit to the museum was Larry's favourite recreation. Mr. Reeder, whenever he could find the time, invariably spent his Saturday afternoons in its heavily instructive atmosphere. And they both found their interest in the same psychology. Mr. Reeder loved to stand before the Elgin marbles and picture the studio in old Greece where these figures grew under the chisel of the master. He would stand for hours, looking down at a mummy, re-constructing the living woman who lay swathed behind the bandages. What was her life, her interests, her friends? How did she amuse herself? Had she children? What were they called? Did she find life boring or amusing? Did she have trouble with her servants?
Larry's mind ran in the same direction. They would stand before some ancient missal and conjure up a picture of the tonsured monk who worked in his cell, illuminating and writing with great labour the black lettering which was there under their eyes. When he opened the cell door and walked out into the world, what kind of a world was it? To whom did he speak?
Sometimes they varied their Saturday afternoons by a visit to the Tower. Who put that stone upon the other? What was his name? Where did he live? In what hovel? Who were his friends? A Norman artisan, brought by William across the seas. Possibly his name was Pierre, Mr. Reeder would hazard after a long, long silence.
"Gaston," suggested Larry.
Only once did they even speak of Larry's grisly past. It was an evening which they spent together in town. Mr. Reeder had just completed the evidence in the Central Bank robbery and was weary. They were dining in a little restaurant in Soho, when Larry asked:
"Do you know anything about the Lane Leonard estate?"
Mr. Reeder took off his glasses, polished them, put them on again and allowed them to sag and drop.
"Before I answer that question will you be good enough to tell me what you mean by that inquiry?"
"There's no need to be cautious. I'll tell you what brought the subject up —that iron grille before the cashier's desk. It's almost the same pattern as one we made for the Lane Leonard estate. I suppose they've got trust deeds to guard. They've certainly got one of the strongest steel vaults that's ever been supplied to a corporation that wasn't a bank."
Mr. Reeder beckoned a waiter and ordered coffee.
"The Lane Leonard estate is presumably the estate of the late John Lane Leonard. He was a millionaire who died three years ago, leaving an immense fortune to his step-daughter—I forget the exact amount, but it was somewhere between one and two million pounds."
"He wasn't a banker?" asked Larry curiously.
Mr. Reeder shook his head.
"No, he was not a banker. So far as I know, he was an American stockbroker, who was a very heavy speculator in shares, a man who had the intelligence to keep the money he had won on the Stock Exchange. He had a vault made, you say?"
"The strongest I've ever seen. Not large, but triple steel-plated walls and two doors, and all the tricks and safeguards that money could buy. I looked it over when it was completed, and I had a talk with the men who assembled it."
He thought for a moment.
"That must have been just before he died. It was just over three years ago. He must have had some pretty hefty securities, but why shouldn't they be kept at the bank?"
Mr. Reeder looked at him reproachfully.
"There are many reasons why securities should not be kept at the bank," he said, "and you are—er—one them."
Mr. Reeder thought of the Lane Leonard estate on his way back to Brockley. Unusual happenings fascinated him. He tried to recall the particulars of the Lane Leonard will. He had read it at the time, but he could not recall that there was anything remarkable about it.
When he got home he looked up a work of reference.
Miss Lane Leonard, the heiress, lived at Sevenways Castle, in Kent; Sevenways being a little village in the Isle of Thanet. He could recollect nothing about the family which was in any way interesting, or that had interested him. He had never seen the place, for duty had not brought him into the neighbourhood; but he remembered dimly having seen a photograph of an imposing mansion, and had a faint idea that at some time it had been a royal property, that of the seventh or eighth Henry.
IT was shortly after this little talk that J.G. Reeder made the acquaintance of Mr. Buckingham. It was made in a public place, to Mr. Reeder's embarrassment, for he hated publicity. On that same day he had had an exchange of words with the Assistant Public Prosecutor. That official had sent for him and was a little embarrassed.
"I don't want to bother you, Mr. Reeder," he said, "particularly as I know you have your own peculiar method of working. But a report has come to this office that you have been seen very frequently in the company of the man who was charged at the Old Bailey and whose sentence was quashed on appeal. I think you ought to know this. I have told those concerned that you are probably trying to get information about the other two robberies. I suppose I am right in this?"
"No, sir," said Mr. Reeder, "you are most emphatically not right."
When Mr. Reeder was definite he was very definite.
"I am not even trying to keep this young man to the path of rectitude. A detective, sir, is like a journalist; he may be seen in any company without losing caste. I like Mr. O'Ryan; he is very interesting, and I shall see him just as often as I wish to see him, and if the department—um— feels that I am acting in any way derogatory to its dignity, or impairing its authority, I am prepared to place my resignation in its hands forthwith."
This was a Reeder which the Assistant Prosecutor did not know, but of which he had heard—Mr. Reeder the imperious, the dictatorial. It was not a pleasant experience.
"There is no reason why you should take that tone, Mr. Reeder—" he began.
"That is the tone I invariably employ with any person or persons who interfere in the slightest degree with my private life," said Mr. Reeder.
The Assistant Prosecutor telephoned his chief, who was in the country, and the Public Prosecutor replied very tersely and to the point.
"Let him do as he wishes. For God's sake don't interfere with him!" he said testily. "Reeder is quite capable of looking after himself and his own reputation."
So Mr. Reeder went in a sort of mild triumph to the Queen's Hall, where Larry was waiting for him, and together they sat and listened to a classical programme which was wholly incomprehensible to J.G. Reeder, but which he suffered rather than offend his companion.
"Wonderful!" breathed Larry, as the last trembling notes of a violin were engulfed in a thunder of applause.
"Extraordinary," agreed Mr. Reeder. "I didn't recognise the tune, but he seemed to play the fiddle rather nicely."
"You're a Philistine, Mr. Reeder," groaned Larry.
Mr. Reeder shook his head sadly.
"I'm afraid I shall never be able to appreciate these peculiar sounds which—um—so interest you," he said. "I have a liking for old songs; in fact, I think 'In the Gloaming' is one of the most beautiful pieces I have ever heard—"
"Come and have a drink," said Larry, in despair.
This was during the interval, and they made their way to the bar at the back of the stalls. It was here that Mr. Buckingham made his dramatic entrance.
He was a tall, broad-shouldered man, red of face, rough of speech; his hair was unruly, his eye a little wild, and he moved in a nidor of spirituous liquor. He stared glassily at Mr. Reeder, reached out a big and ugly hand.
"You're Mr. Reeder, ain't you?" he said thickly. "I've been thinking of coming to see you, and I would have come, only I've been busy. Fancy meeting you here! I've seen you often in court."
Mr. Reeder took the hand and dropped it. He hated moist hands. So far as he could recall, he had never met the man before, but evidently he was known to him. As though he read his thoughts, the other went on:
"My name's Buckingham. I used to be in 'L' Division." Leaning forward, he asked confidentially, "Have you ever heard such muck?"
Evidently this disrespectful reference was to the concert.
"I wouldn't have come, but my girl friend made me. She's highbrow!" He winked. "I'll introduce her."
He dived into the crowd and returned, dragging a pallid-looking girl with a long, unhealthy face, who was not so highbrow that she despised the source of Mr. Buckingham's inspiration, for her eyes too were a little glassy.
"One of these days I'll come and talk to you," said Buckingham. "I don't know whether I'll have to, but I may have to; and when I do you'll have something to talk about."
"I'm sure I shall," said Mr. Reeder.
"There's a time to be 'igh and mighty, and a time to be 'umble," Buckingham went on mysteriously. "That's all I've got to say—there's a time to be 'igh and mighty, and a time to be 'umble!"
The Oracle of Delphi could not have been more profound.
A second later Mr. Reeder saw him talking to a little man with a hard and unprepossessing face. Evidently the man was not a member of the audience, for later Mr. Reeder saw him going out through the main entrance.
"Who is he?" asked Larry when the man had gone.
"I haven't the least idea," said Reeder, and Larry chuckled.
"You've one thing in common at any rate," he said; "you both think classical music is muck. I'm going to give up trying to educate you."
Mr. Reeder was very apologetic after the concert. He liked music, but music of a kind. He had a weakness for the popular airs of twenty-five years ago, and confessed a little shamefacedly that he occasionally hummed these favourite tunes of his in his bath.
"Not that I can sing."
"I'm sure of that," said Larry.
Two days later Mr. Reeder saw the two men again. It was on the north side of Westminster Bridge. Immediately opposite the Houses of Parliament there was a traffic block. At this point the road was being repaired and the police were marshalling the traffic into a single line. Mr. Reeder was waiting to cross the road and was examining the vehicles that passed. To say that he was examining them idly would not have been true.
He never examined anything idly. He saw a new grey van and glanced up at the driver. It was the thin-faced man he had seen in the Queen's Hall bar, and by his side sat Buckingham.
Neither of the men saw him as they passed. Mr. Reeder could guess by the movement of the body that the van carried a fairly heavy load, for the springs were strained and the strain on the engine was almost perceptible.
Odd, thought Mr. Reeder... van drivers and their assistants do not as a rule choose concert halls as meeting places. But then, so many things in life were odd. For example:
It was a very curious friendship that had developed between himself and Larry. Reeder was the soul of rectitude. He had never in his life committed one act that could be regarded by the most rigid of moralists as dishonest. He had chosen, for the one friend he had ever had, a man who had only just escaped imprisonment, was undoubtedly a burglar, was undoubtedly the possessor of a large fortune which he had stolen from the interests which it was Mr. Reeder's duty to protect.
Such thoughts occurred to J.G. Reeder in such odd moments of contemplation as when he shaved himself or was brushing his teeth; but he had no misgiving, was unrepentant. He looked upon all criminals as a normal-minded doctor looks upon patients; they were beings who required specialised attention when they were in the grip of their peculiar malady, and were amongst the normals of life when they were cured.
And to be cured, from Mr. Reeder's point of view, was to undergo a special treatment in Wormwood Scrubbs, Dartmoor, Parkhurst, Maidstone, or whatever prison was adaptable for the treatment of those who suffered from, or caused, social disorders.
The next time Larry called, which was on a Sunday a fortnight later, he had an adventure to tell.
"Respect me as a reformed crook, and salute me as a hero," he said extravagantly, as he hung up his coat. "I've saved a distressed damsel from death! With that rare presence of mind which is the peculiar possession of the O'Ryans, I was able—"
"It wasn't so much presence of mind as a lamp-post," murmured Mr. Reeder; "though I grant that you were—um—quick on the—shall I say, uptake? In this case 'uptake' is the right word."
Larry stared at him.
"Did you see it?" he asked.
"I was an interested spectator," said Mr. Reeder. "It happened very near to my office, and I was looking out of the window at that moment. I fear I waste a great deal of time looking out of the window, but I find the traffic of Whitehall intensely interesting. A car got out of control and swerved on to the pavement. It was going beyond the ordinary speed limit, and the young lady would, I think, have been severely injured if you had not lifted her aside just before the car crashed into the lamp-post. As it was, she had a very narrow escape. I applauded you, but silently, because the rules of the office call for quiet. But I still think the lamp-post had almost as much to do with it—"
"Of course it had, but she might have been hurt. Did you see her?" asked Larry eagerly. "She's lovely! God, how lovely!"
Mr. Reeder thought she was interesting, and said so. Larry scoffed.
"Interesting! She's marvellous! She has the face and figure of an angel —and don't tell me you've never met an angel—and she has a voice like custard. I was so knocked off my feet by her that she thought I was hurt."
Mr. Reeder nodded.
"I saw her. In fact, I—er—looked rather closely at her. I keep a small pair of field glasses on my desk, and I'm afraid I was rather inquisitive. Who is she?"
Larry shook his head.
"I don't know. I didn't ask her her name, naturally: she was rather upset by what had happened, and she hurried off. I saw her get into a Rolls-Royce that was evidently waiting for her—"
"Yes," said Mr. Reeder. "I saw the Rolls. It is a pity."
"It is a pity. If I'd had any sense I'd have told her my name. After all, the least she can do is to write and thank her brave preserver."
"She may yet—no, no, I wasn't thinking of that."
The housekeeper came in and laid the table, and during the operation Mr. Reeder was silent. When she had gone:
"I wasn't thinking of that," he went on, as though there had been no interruption of his thoughts. "I was thinking that if you had been properly introduced you might have asked her why such a strong safe was ordered."
Larry looked at him blankly.
"Strong safe? I don't know what you're talking about."
Mr. Reeder smiled. It pleased him to mystify this clever young man.
"The lady's name was Miss Lane Leonard," he said. Larry frowned.
"Do you know her?"
"I have never seen her before in my life."
"Then how the devil do you know she was Miss Lane Leonard? Have you seen her picture—?"
Mr. Reeder shook his head.
"I've never seen a picture of her. I have neither seen her since nor before; I have received no information from any person immediately concerning her identity."
"Then how the devil do you know?" asked the astonished Larry.
Mr. Reeder chuckled.
"A person who has a car number has also a name. I was interested to discover who she was, 'phoned across to Scotland Yard, and they supplied me with the name that is attached to that particular car number. Miss Lane Leonard, 409 Berkeley Square, and Sevenways Castle, Sevenways, Kent. 409 Berkeley Square, by the way, is an expensive block of residential flats, so that if you feel that she would be happier for knowing the name of her —um—brave deliverer—I think that was the phrase —you might drop her a line and explain, with whatever modesty you can command, just how much she owes to you."
Larry was very thoughtful.
"That's queer. Do you remember we were talking about the Lane Leonards' strong-room only a few weeks ago, and wondering why such an expensive contraption had been ordered. A lady worth a couple of millions."
"I'm sorry," Mr. Reeder smiled. "I've spoilt your romance. You would have preferred that she were poor—um—but honest. That her father, or preferably her mother, was in the grip of a cruel—um— usurer, and that you might have rescued her once more with the magnificent capital which you have acquired by illicit and altogether disreputable means."
Larry went red. He was a dreamer, and he was annoyed that anybody should know him as such, so annoyed that he abruptly changed the subject.
It was that night for the first time that J.G. Reeder learned the story of Larry O'Ryan's boyhood, and the circumstances which had determined him in his career.
"I'm glad you've told me, Mr. O'Ryan." (Curiously enough, during all the years he knew Larry he never addressed him in any other way.) "It makes you more understandable than I thought you were, and excuses, as far as abnormal tendencies can be excused, your subsequent—um—behaviour. You should, of course, have gone to the head master and told the truth, and probably in later years, since thinking the matter over, you have come to the same conclusion."
"Have you met the man since—the master who stole the money?"
"No," said Larry, "but I should have probably met him if I had made Wormwood Scrubbs en route to Dartmoor. Only a born crook could have stolen from Farthingale, who was a good-hearted soul and hadn't too much money. I sent him a monkey, by the way, last week. His wife's had an operation, and I know the little man hasn't a great deal of money."
"A monkey being twenty-five or five hundred pounds? I have never quite accustomed myself to these sporting terms," asked Mr. Reeder. "Five hundred pounds? Well, well, it is nice to be generous with other people's money, but we won't go into that."
He sat, drumming his fingers on the table.
"Once a crook, always a crook—that is your real belief Mr. O'Ryan? But at heart you're not a crook. You're just a young man who thought that he was taking the law into his own hands and was perfectly justified in doing so, which of course is absurd. If everybody thought as you do—but I am getting on to a very old and a tedious subject."
The telephone bell rang shrilly. Mr. Reeder walked to his desk, picked up the receiver and listened, answering monosyllabically. When he had finished:
"I'm afraid our evening is going to be spoilt, Mr. O'Ryan. I am wanted at the office."
"It must be something very important to take you up on Sunday evening," said O'Ryan.
"Everything that comes to me from the office is very important, on Sunday evening or even Monday evening," said Reeder.
He took up the telephone directory, called a number and gave explicit and urgent instructions.
"If you're hiring a car, it is important!"
Mr. Reeder inclined his head.
"It is rather a matter of urgency," he said. "It is, in fact—um —a murder."
ON this Sunday morning a policeman patrolling the very edge of the Metropolitan area, at that point near Slough where the County of Buckinghamshire and the County of London meet, had seen a foot sticking up apparently from the grass. It was in a place where no foot should have been, a rough, uneven field, crossed by an irrigation ditch which was now dry. The fact that there was a ditch there was unknown to the policeman until he opened a gate leading into the field and investigated.
As he opened the gate he noticed the marks of car wheels leading into the field, and saw that the padlocked chain which fastened the gate to a post had been broken. The policeman noticed this mechanically. He crossed the rough ground, wet with recent rain and came to the ditch, and the mystery of the foot was revealed. A man lay there on his back. He was dressed in his underclothes and a pair of socks, and one glance at the face told the policeman what had happened. He hailed a passing motorist and sent him off to the station to procure assistance. A police surgeon and an ambulance arrived, and the body was removed. Within an hour Scotland Yard was working on the case.
They had little guidance for their investigations. The man's clothes were innocent even of laundry marks; there was nothing whatever to assist in his identification. The curious fact which struck the investigating officers was that the underclothes were silk, though the man himself was evidently a workman, for his hands were rough and his general physique and appearance suggested that he belonged to the labouring rather than to the leisured classes.
Experts who examined the car tracks could throw no light upon the subject. It had been a big car, and presumably the hour at which the body had been deposited was between two and four o'clock in the morning. By the curve of the track the police decided that the car had come from the direction of London. That was all that was known about it. Cars on the Bath Road are frequent on a Saturday night, and no patrolling policeman had seen the vehicle turning into the field.
One thing was clear to Mr. Reeder the moment he had the facts in his possession, which was not until very late that afternoon, and it was that the car owner must have reconnoitred the spot and decided exactly where the body was to be deposited. He must have known of the existence of the chain which held the gate, and of the ditch beyond.
The field was the property of a small company which was buying land in the neighbourhood—the Land Development Corporation, which had an office in the City. Its business was to buy suitable building sites and to resell them on easy payments.
It was growing dark by the time Mr. Reeder finished his personal investigations.
"And now," he said, "I think I would like to see this unfortunate man."
They took him to the shed where the murdered man lay, and the Inspector in charge gave him the gist of the doctor's report.
"He was beaten over the head, his skull fractured; there is no other sign of injury, but the doctor said these are quite sufficient to cause almost instantaneous death. An iron bar must have been used, or something equally heavy."
Mr. Reeder said nothing. He went out of the shed, and waited while the door was padlocked.
"If we can only get him identified—" began the Inspector.
"I can identify him," said Mr. Reeder quietly. "His name is Buckingham —he is an ex-constable of the Metropolitan Police Force." Within two hours Reeder was examining Buckingham's record in the Inspector's office at Scotland Yard. It was not a particularly good one. The man had served for twelve years in the Metropolitan Police Force and had been six times reprimanded for conduct prejudicial to discipline and on one occasion had narrowly escaped expulsion from the force. He had a history of drunkenness, had twice been before the Commissioner accused of receiving bribes, once from a bookmaker and once from a man whom he had arrested and had subsequently released. Eventually he had retired, without pension, to take up a position in the country. Particulars of that position were not available, and the only information on file was his last address.
Reeder charged himself with this investigation; he went to a small house in Southwark, discovered Buckingham's wife living there and broke to her the news of her husband's death. She accepted the fact very calmly, indeed philosophically.
"I haven't seen him for three or four years," she said. "The only money he ever sent me was ten pounds last Christmas, and I wouldn't have got that only I met him in the street with a girl—and a sick-looking creature she was!—and had a row with him."
She was a little inconsistent in her indignation, for she told him quite calmly that she had married again, relying upon a law which is known only to the poor and certainly unknown to any lawyer, that if a husband deserts a wife and is not seen for two years she may marry again. And Mrs. Buckingham had undoubtedly married again.
Mr. Reeder was not concerned with this blatant act of bigamy, but pressed her as to where the man had been employed. Here he came against a blank wall. Her husband had told her nothing, and apparently throughout their married life his attitude had been one of reticence, particularly with regard to his financial position and his private affairs.
"He was a bad husband to me. He's dead; and I don't want to say anything against him. But I'm telling you, Mr. Whatever-your-name-is, that I'm not going into mourning for him. He's deserted me three times in my married life, and once he gave me a black eye, and I've never forgiven him for that. It was my right eye," she added.
Mr. Reeder could wonder if there were any greater enormity in blacking the right than the left eye, but he did not pursue inquiries in this direction.
All the woman could tell him was that her husband had taken a job in the country, that he was making a lot of money, and that when she had seen him in town he was "dressed flash, like a gentleman."
"When I say a gentleman," she said, "he might have been a waiter. He had a white shirt front on and a black tie, and he was looking as though he'd come into a fortune. Otherwise I wouldn't have asked him for any money."
So far as she knew, he had no friends; at any rate, she could not supply the name of any person from whom particulars of his life might be secured.
"When you say he worked in the country, which part of the country? Have you any idea what station he came from or went to?" he persisted.
She thought a while.
"Yes, Charing Cross. My brother saw him there one night, about two years ago."
She had none of his belongings, no notebook or papers of any kind. "Not even," she said, "as much as a tobacco tin."
She had cut herself completely and absolutely adrift from him, never wanted to hear from or see him again, and her accidental meeting with him in the street was only to be remembered because it was so profitable.
Mr. Reeder returned to headquarters, to consult with investigators who had followed other lines of inquiry, and learned that they too had come to a dead end. J.G. Reeder was puzzled and exhilarated, and could have wished that he controlled the inquiries instead of being an independent seeker after knowledge.
Here was a man, an ex-policeman, so prosperous that he could afford the finest silken underwear, found in a field, with no marks to identify him, obviously murdered, obviously conveyed from the scene of the murder by a car and deposited in the dark in a ditch which only those closely acquainted with the ground could have known existed.
There was another woman in London who could give him information: the "highbrow lady" with the pallid face, who loved classical music and strong drink. London would be combed for her; there was a possibility that she might easily be found.
The next morning he went early to the concert hall and interviewed the attendant. Mr. Reeder might know little about music, but he knew something about music-lovers, and if this woman was a regular concert-goer, the attendant might remember her. Fortune was with him, for two men knew her, one by name. She was a Miss Letzfeld and she was especially to be remembered because she suffered from an inferiority complex, believed that attendants deliberately slighted her and pestered the management with letters of complaint. By luck, one of these letters had been kept. Miss Letzfeld lived at Breddleston Mews in Kensington.
Mr. Reeder went straight to the address and, after repeated knockings, gained the attention of the occupant. She came down to open the door, rather unpleasant to see in the clean daylight. A thin, long-faced girl, with sleepy eyes and an ugly mouth, wrapped in a dingy dressing gown.
To his surprise she recognised him.
"Your name's Reeder, isn't it? Didn't Billy introduce you—at the Queen's Hall? You're a detective, aren't you?" And then, quickly: "Is anything wrong?"
"May I come up?" he asked.
She led the way up the narrow stairs, her high-heeled shoes drumming unmusically on the bare, uncarpeted treads.
The room into which he was ushered was expensively furnished, but most cheaply maintained. The untidy remnants of a meal were on a table. The room gave him the impression that it had neither been dusted nor swept for a week. Over one chair were a few articles of women's apparel, which she snatched up.
"I want to say this, Mr. Reeder," she said, almost before he was in the room, "that if there is anything wrong I know nothing about it. Billy's been very good to me, but he's trying. I don't know how he got his money, and I've never asked him."
To Mr. Reeder fell the unpleasant duty of telling her of the fate that had overtaken her man, and again he found that the tragic end of ex-Constable Buckingham evoked no very violent emotions. She was shocked, but impersonally shocked.
"That's terrible, isn't it?" she said breathlessly. "Billy was such a good boy" (the description sounded a little ludicrous even in that tragic moment), "though he wasn't what you might call particularly intellectual. I only saw him now and again, once a fortnight, sometimes once a week."
"Where did he come from?" asked Reeder. She shook her head.
"I don't know. He never told me things; he was very close about his private life. He worked in the country for a very rich man. I don't even know what part of the country it was."
"Had he plenty of money?"
"You mean Billy? Yes, he always had plenty of money, and lived well. He had an office in the city somewhere, something to do with land. I wouldn't have known that, but I saw a telegram that he left behind here one day. It was addressed to the Something Land Corporation, but it wasn't in his own name—"
"The Land Development Corporation?" asked Mr. Reeder quickly. "Do you remember the address?"
The girl wasn't sure, but she knew it was in the City.
She had nothing of the man's in her possession except—and here was the most important discovery—a photograph of Buckingham taken a year before. With this in his possession Mr. Reeder drove to the City.
The Land Development Corporation had an office in one of the big blocks near the Mansion House. It consisted of one room, in which a clerk and a typist worked, and a smaller room, very plainly furnished, where the Managing Director sat on his infrequent visits.
For an hour Mr. Reeder plied clerk and typist with questions, and when he got back to Scotland Yard he was in possession of so many facts that contradicted one another, so many that were entirely irreconcilable, that he found it difficult to put them in sequence.
The plain, matter-of-fact report which he put before his superior may be quoted in full.
"In the case of William Buckingham. Line of investigation, Land Development Corporation. This corporation was registered as a private company two years ago. It has a capital of 1000 pounds and debentures amounting to 300,000 pounds. The Directors are the clerk and the typist and a Mr. William Buck. The bank balance is 1300 pounds, and the company is proprietor of a large number of land blocks situated in the south of England, and evidently purchased with the object of development. A considerable number of these have been resold. Mr. Buck was undoubtedly Buckingham. He came to the office very rarely, only to sign cheques. Large sums of money have been paid into and withdrawn from the bank, and a superficial inspection of the books suggests that these were genuine transactions. A further examination, necessarily of a hurried character, reveals considerable gaps in the accounting. The field where the body of Buckingham was found is part of the property of this company, and obviously Buckingham would be well acquainted with the land, though it is a curious fact that he had been there recently twice by night..."
THE next morning a portrait of Buckingham appeared in every London newspaper, together with such particulars as would assist in a further identification. No news came until the afternoon of that day. Mr. Reeder was in his office, examining documents in relation to a large and illicit importation of cocaine, when a messenger came in with a card. "Major Digby Olbude," it read, and in the left-hand corner: "Lane Leonard Estate Office, Sevenways Castle, Sevenways, Kent".
Mr. Reeder sat back in his chair, adjusted his unnecessary glasses and read the card again.
"Ask Major Olbude to come up," he said.
Major Olbude was tall, florid, white of hair, rather pedantic of speech.
"I have come to see you about the man Buckingham. I understand you are in charge of the investigations?"
Mr. Reeder bowed. It was not the moment to direct what might prove an interesting and informative caller to the man who was legitimately entitled to have first-hand information.
"Will you sit down, Major?"
He rose, pushed a chair forward for the visitor, and Major Olbude pulled up the knees of his creased trousers carefully and sat down.
"I saw the portrait in this morning's newspaper—at least, my niece drew my attention to it—and I came up at once, because I feel it is my duty, and the duty, indeed, of every good citizen to assist the police even in the smallest particular in a case of this importance."
"Very admirable," murmured Mr. Reeder.
"Buckingham was in my service; he was one of the guards of what the local people call the treasure house of Sevenways Castle."
Again Mr. Reeder nodded, as though he knew all that was to be known about Sevenways Castle.
"As I say, my niece reads the newspapers, a practice in which I do not indulge, for in these days of sensationalism there is very little in newspapers in which an intellectual man finds the least pleasure and instruction. Buckingham had been in the employment of the late Mr. Lane Leonard, and on Mr. Lane Leonard's death his services were transferred to myself, Mr. Lane Leonard's brother-in-law and his sole trustee. I might say that Mr. Lane Leonard, as everybody knows, died very suddenly of heart failure and left behind a considerable fortune, eighty per cent of which was in bullion."
"In gold?" asked Mr. Reeder, surprised.
The major inclined his head.
"That was my brother-in-law's eccentricity. He had amassed this enormous sum of money by speculation, and lived in terror that it should be dissipated by his descendants—unhappily, he has only a daughter to carry on his name—in the same manner as it was amassed. He also took a very pessimistic view of the future of civilisation and particularly of the English race. He believed—and here I think he was justified— that for ten years there would be no industrial development in the country, and that English securities would fall steadily. He had a very rooted objection to banks, and the upshot of it all was that he accumulated in his lifetime a sum in gold equivalent to over a million and a half pounds. This was kept, and is still kept, in a chamber which he had specially built practically within the walls of the castle, and to guard which he engaged a staff of ex-policemen, one of whom is on duty every hour of the day and night. It is unnecessary for me to tell you, Mr. Reeder, a man with a commercial knowledge, that by this method my brother-in-law was depriving his daughter of a very considerable income, the interest at five per cent on a million and a half pounds being seventy-five thousand pounds per annum. In ten years that would be three-quarters of a million, so that the provisions of this will mean that nearly four hundred thousand pounds is lost to my ward, and almost as much to the Treasury."
"Very distressing," said Mr. Reeder, and shook his head mournfully, as though the thought of the Treasury losing money cut him to the quick.
"There is a separate fund invested in high-class government security," the major went on, "on which my niece and myself live. Naturally, the custody of such an enormous sum is a source of constant anxiety to me—in fact, only two years ago I ordered an entirely new strong-room to be built at a very considerable cost."
"And Buckingham?" asked Mr. Reeder gently.
"I will come to Buckingham," said the major with great dignity. "He was one of the guards employed. There are in all seven. Each lives in his own quarters, and it is against the rules I have instituted that these men should meet except when they relieve one another of their post. The practice is for the guard on duty to ring a bell communicating with the quarters of his relief, who immediately comes to the treasure house and, after being identified, is admitted. Buckingham should have come on duty at six o'clock on Saturday night. His predecessor at the post rang the bell as usual, but Buckingham did not appear. After an hour the man communicated with me, by telephone—there is a telephone connection between my study and the dome—I call it the dome because of its shape—and I set immediately to find the missing man. His room was empty, there was no sign of him, and I ordered the emergency man to take his place."
"Since then you have not seen him?"
The major shook his head.
"No, sir. Nor have I heard from him."
"What salary did you pay this man?"
"Ten pounds a week, quarters, lighting and food. All the guards were supplied from the kitchen of the castle."
"Had he any private means?"
"None," said the other emphatically.
"Would you be surprised to know that he has been speculating heavily in land?" asked Mr. Reeder.
The major rose to his feet, not quickly, but with a certain stately deliberation.
"I should be both surprised and horrified," he said.
"Is there any way by which he could have had access to the—um —treasure house?"
"No, sir," said Olbude, "no method whatever, except through the door, of which I hold the key. The wall is made of concrete twelve inches thick and lined with half-inch steel. The locks are unpickable."
"And the foundations?" suggested Mr. Reeder.
"Eight feet of solid concrete. It is absolutely impossible."
Mr. Reeder rubbed his chin, looking down at the desk, his lips drooping dismally.
"Do you often go into the—um—treasure house?"
"Yes, sir, I go in every month, on the first day of every month. In other words, I was there last Friday."
"And nothing had been disturbed?"
"Nothing," said the other emphatically.
"I presume the bullion is in steel boxes—"
"In large glass containers. That was another of Mr. Lane Leonard's eccentricities. There are about six hundred of these, each containing two thousand five hundred pounds' worth of gold. It is possible to see at a glance whether the money has been disturbed. The containers are hermetically closed and sealed. They stand on reinforced concrete shelves, in eight tiers, on three sides of the treasure house, each tier holding seventy-five containers. The treasure house, I may explain, consists of two buildings; the inner shell, which is the treasure house proper, and another separate building, as it were a box placed over this to give protection to the guard and sufficient space for them to promenade. The outer building contains a small kitchenette, with tables, chairs and the necessary accommodation for the comfort of the guard. Attached to this is a lobby, also guarded with a steel door, and beyond that an iron grille, above which is a powerful electric light to enable the inner guard to scrutinise his relief and make sure that he is the right man—that is to say, that he is not being impersonated."
Mr. Reeder was a little puzzled, but only a little. "Very extraordinary," he said, "Can you tell me any more about Buckingham?"
The major hesitated.
"No, except that he went to town more frequently than any of the other guards. For this I was responsible, I am afraid! I gave him greater freedom because he was the doyen of the guards in point of service."
"Extraordinary," said Mr. Reeder again.
The story had its fantastical and improbable side, and yet J.G. Reeder regarded it as being no more than—extraordinary. Misers there had been since there were valuable things to hoard. Every nation had its safe place where unproductive gold was hoarded. He knew of at least three similar cases of men who had maintained in vaults vast sums in bullion.
"I should like to come down to—to—um—Sevenways Castle and see this man's quarters," he said. "It will be necessary to go through his possessions. Had he any friends?"
The major nodded.
`"He had a friend, I believe, in London—a girl. I don't know who she was. To tell you the truth, Mr. Reeder, I have an idea that he was married, though he never spoke of his wife. But what were you telling me about his having money? That is news to me."
J.G. Reeder scratched his chin and hesitated.
"I am not quite sure whether I have absolute authority for saying that he was the head of a certain land corporation, but as his staff have recognised his photograph—"
He sketched the story of the Land Development Company, and Major Olbude listened without interruption.
"Then it was in one of his own fields that he was found? When I say his own fields, I mean on land which he himself owned. That is amazing. I am afraid I can tell you no more about him," he said, as he took up his hat and stick, "but of course I am available whenever you wish to question me. There may be some things about him that I have forgotten, but I will write my telephone number on your card and you may call me up."
He did this with his pencil, Mr. Reeder standing by and watching the process with interest.
He accompanied his guest down the stairs into Whitehall, and arrived in time to witness a peculiar incident. A Rolls was drawn up by the kerb and three persons were standing by it. He recognised the girl instantly. Larry's back was towards him, but he had no difficulty in identifying the broad shoulders of that young man. The third member of the party was evidently the chauffeur. He was red of face, talking and gesticulating violently. Mr. Reeder heard him say:
"You've got no right to speak to the young lady, and if you want to talk, talk in English so as I can understand you."
The major quickened his pace, crossed to the group and spoke sharply to the chauffeur.
"Why are you making a scene?" he demanded.
Larry O'Ryan had walked away, a surprising circumstance, for Larry was the sort that never walked away from trouble of any kind.
Mr. Reeder came up to the group. The major could do no less than introduce him.
"This is my niece, Miss Lane Leonard," he said.
She was lovely; even Mr. Reeder, who was no connoisseur, acknowledged the fresh beauty of the girl. He thought she was rather pale, and wondered whether that was her natural colour.
"What is the trouble, my dear?" asked the major.
"I met a friend—the man who saved me from being run over by a motor car," she said jerkily. "I spoke to him in—in French."
"He speaks English all right," growled the unpleasant-looking chauffeur.
"Will you be quiet! Was that all, my dear?"
"You thanked him, I suppose? I remember you telling me that you did not have the opportunity of thanking him before. He went away before you could speak to him. Modesty in a young man is most admirable. And it was in Whitehall that it happened?"
"Yes," she nodded.
Mr. Reeder felt that she was looking at him, although her eyes were fixed upon her uncle. He saw something else; her gloved hand was trembling. She was trying hard to control it, but it trembled.
The major turned and shook hands with him.
"I shall probably be seeing you again, Mr. Reeder," he said.
He turned abruptly, helped the girl into the car and the machine drew away. Reeder looked round for Larry, saw him staring intently into a doorway, and as the car passed him, saw him turn so that his back was to the vehicle.
Larry walked quickly towards him.
"Sorry," he said; "but I wanted to see you and I was hanging around till you came out."
His eyes were bright; his whole attitude was tense, electric; he seemed charged with some suppressed excitement.
"You met the young lady?"
"Yes. Interesting, isn't she?"
"Why didn't you stay and meet her uncle?"
"Rather embarrassing—fine-looking old boy. Perhaps I was a little conscience-stricken. That chauffeur..."
He was not smiling; his eyes were hard, his lips were set straight.
"He never had a narrower escape than he did today. Have you ever wanted to kill somebody, Mr. Reeder? I've never had it before—just a brutal desire to maim and beat, and mutilate—"
"Why did you speak in French?"
"It's my favourite language," said Larry glibly. "Anyway, she might have been French; she's got the chic of a Parisienne and the loveliness of an Italian dawn."
Mr. Reeder looked at him oddly.
"Why are you being so mysterious?" he asked.
"Am I?" Larry laughed. There was a note of hysteria in that laugh. The bright look had come back to his eyes. "I wonder if he did?"
"Did what?" asked Mr. Reeder, but the young man answered him with a question.
"Are you going down to call on our friend? By the way, did he employ the man Buckingham?"
"What do you know about Buckingham?" asked Mr. Reeder slowly.
"It's in the papers this morning. I mean the man who was killed."
"Did you know him?"
Larry shook his head.
"No. I've seen his portrait—a commonplace-looking hombre, hardly worth murdering, do you think? Lord, Mr. Reeder, isn't it great to be alive!"
A few spots of rain were falling. Mr. Reeder was conscious of the fact that he was bare-headed.
"Come up to my office," he said. "I'll take the risk of being—um —reprimanded by my superior."
"All right, I'm all for it," he said, and followed Mr. Reeder up the stairs.
J.G. shut the door and pointed to a chair.
"Why the excitement?" he asked. "Why the—um—champing of bits, as it were?"
Larry sat back in his chair and folded his arms tightly.
"I've got an idea I'm being six kinds of a fool for not taking you entirely into my confidence, but here's adventure, Mr. Reeder, the most glorious adventure that can come to a young man of courage and enterprise. And I think I'll spoil it a little if I tell you. I'll ask you one favour: was the major wearing his glasses when he came into the street?"
Mr. Reeder nodded.
"I don't remember that he took them off," he said. Larry frowned and bit his lip.
"I'll tell you something. Do you remember when I lifted that young lady out of the way of a car? It was right outside this office, wasn't it? She had just left her own car, and left it rather hurriedly, and was coming— where do you think? To this office, no less! She didn't tell me so, but I'm pretty sure that was where she was bound. And the chauffeur was flying after her. I didn't realise it at the time, but I realise it now. On the day before that happened there was an article in the Megaphone about you, rather a eulogistic one, and a pencil sketch of you. Do you remember?" Mr. Reeder blushed.
"There was rather a stupid—um—ill-informed— um—"
"Exactly. It was rather flattering. I don't know how flattering it was, but your own conscience will tell you. I worked it out in two seconds; that was why she was coming to see you. This misguided and ill-informed writer in the Megaphone said you were the greatest detective of the age, or something of the sort. It probably isn't true, though I'll hand you all sorts of bouquets on a gold plate, for you certainly embarrassed me on one never-to-be-forgotten occasion. And she read it, found out where your office was—anyway, she wants to see you now. She said that much."
"Wants to see me?" said Mr. Reeder incredulously. Larry nodded.
"Isn't it amazing! I couldn't have been speaking to her for more than a minute, and she's the beginning and end of life to me."
He got up and began to pace the room excitedly.
"To me, Mr. Reeder, a crook of crooks, a burglar. But she's worth a million and a half, and absolutely unreachable. I couldn't propose to her. But if she said, `Walk into the middle of Westminster Bridge and jump into the river,' I'd do it!"
Mr. Reeder stared at him.
"It almost sounds as though you like her very much," he said.
"It almost does," said Larry savagely.
He stopped in his stride, pointed a finger of his extended hand towards Mr. Reeder.
"I'm not going to jump from the middle of Westminster Bridge. It's a far, far better thing that I do—or rather, I'm going to do a far, far better thing, and it's going to make all the difference in life to me if I succeed."
"If you will sit down," said Mr. Reeder mildly, "and talk a little less obscurely, perhaps I could assist you."
Larry shook his head.
"No; I've got to blaze my own trail." He chuckled. "My metaphors are a bit mixed, but then, so is my mind. When are you going to Sevenways Castle?"
"She told you she lived there, did she?" asked Mr. Reeder.
"When are you going?"
"Tomorrow—tomorrow afternoon probably." And then: "You don't know Buckingham?"
"No," said Larry. "I recognised him, of course, as the fellow who came up and spoke to you when we were at the Queen's Hall. Odd coincidence, meeting him at all, wasn't it?"
He walked to the door and opened it.
"I'll go now, Mr. Reeder, if you'll excuse me. Perhaps I'll call and see you tonight. By the way, are you in the American market?"
"I never speculate," said Reeder primly. "I don't think I have bought a stock or a share in my life, and certainly I should not buy now; I read the newspapers, of course, and I see the market is down."
"And how!" said Larry cryptically.
He was a little confusing. His reference to the stock market interested Mr. Reeder to the extent of inducing him to wade through the tape prices that night. Stock was falling rapidly in Wall Street; there was panic selling and gloomy forecasts of a complete collapse. He could only wonder how Larry's mercurial mind could have leapt to this mundane fact in his emotional moment.
He had a considerable amount of work to do that afternoon, inquiries to pursue at certain banks, reports to read and digest, and it was nearly nine o'clock before he went home, so tired that he fell asleep almost before he pulled the covers over his shoulders.
PAMELA LANE LEONARD drove back into Kent that morning, silent, resentful, a little frightened.
"Why do you allow Lidgett to talk to you like that, Uncle Digby?" she asked.
Major Digby Olbude blinked and looked at her.
"Like what, my dear?" he asked irritably. "Lidgett is an old friend of the family, and retainers have certain privileges."
"Did you tell Mr. Reeder that he and Buckingham had quarrelled?"
Olbude did not answer for a while.
"I wasn't aware that they had quarrelled," he said, "and I certainly should not have told Mr. Reeder—how do you come to be acquainted with Mr. Reeder?"
She shook her head.
"I'm not acquainted with him. I've read a lot about him—he's very clever." And then: "Why do you allow Lidgett to talk to you so rudely, and why do you let him talk to me as if I were—well, a servant?"
The major drew a long breath.
"You're altogether mistaken, my dear. Lidgett is a little uncouth, but he's a very faithful servant. I will speak to him."
Another long silence.
"When did they quarrel—Buckingham and Lidgett, I mean?" asked Olbude.
"I saw them in the woods one day. Buckingham knocked him down."
Olbude ran his fingers through his grey hair.
"It is all very difficult," he said. "Your lamented father gave special instructions to me that on no account was Lidgett to be discharged; and until you are twenty-five I am afraid you have no voice in the matter, my dear."
"What did you say to that young man?"
This was the second time he had asked the question.
"I've told you," she answered shortly. "He's the man who saved me from being killed by a car, and I thanked him."
She was not telling the truth, but her conscience was curiously clear.
There was something she wanted to tell him, but she could not. The very fact that the man she hated and feared was sitting within a yard of her, beyond the glass panel which separated chauffeur from passenger, was sufficient to stop her; it was Olbude who returned to the subject.
"Lidgett is a rough diamond. You've got to put his loyalty in the scale against his uncouthness, Pamela. He is devoted to the family—"
"He is devoted to me!" she said, her voice trembling with indignation. "Are you aware, Uncle Digby, that this man has asked me to marry him?"
He turned to her, open-mouthed.
"Asked you to marry him?" he said incredulously. "He actually asked you? I told him that in no circumstances was he to dare mention such a thing—"
It was her turn to be amazed.
"Surely he hasn't discussed it with you? And did you listen to him? Oh, no! Didn't you—uncle, what did you do?"
He moved uneasily, avoiding her eyes.
"He's a rough diamond," he repeated in a low voice. "There is a lot about Lidgett which is very admirable. Naturally, he is not particularly well educated, and he's twenty years older than you, but he's a man with many great qualities."
She could only subside helplessly in the corner of her seat and regard him with wondering eyes. He might have thought that she was impressed by his eulogy, for he went on.
"Lidgett is a man who has saved a lot of money. In fact, I think, thanks to the generosity of your stepfather, Lidgett is very rich. And the disparity of your ages isn't really as important as it appears."
Then, as a thought struck him, he asked quickly: "You didn't tell O'Ryan this?"
"O'Ryan?" she repeated. "Do you know him?"
"You seem to," he answered quickly. "Did he tell you his name in the few seconds you saw him?"
"Yes, he told me his name. Where did you meet him?"
He evaded the question.
"That's neither here nor there. I don't suppose he knows me. He was quite a child when I saw him last—he didn't say he knew me, did he?" he asked anxiously.
She shook her head.
"No, we hardly discussed you."
"What did you discuss?" he asked.
"Nothing that would interest you," she said.
She went straight to her room when she arrived, and sat down to write a letter. It would probably go the way of other letters she had written; the servants of Sevenways were completely dominated by Lidgett, and she knew by experience that every letter she wrote passed through his hands.
The situation was an intolerable one, but she had grown up in it. Ever since she had returned from school, Lidgett had been master of the house, and her uncle the merest cipher. It was Lidgett who chose the servants, Lidgett who discharged them without reference to his employer; Lidgett took out the car when he wanted it, even ordered improvements to the estate without consulting his employer.
He had walked into the drawing-room one afternoon when she was reading, and without preliminary had put his monstrous proposal.
"I dare say this is going to shock you, Miss Pamela, but I've saved a bit of money and want to get married, and I'm in love with you, and that's the beginning and end of it."
"With me?" She could hardly believe her ears.
"That's the idea," he said coolly. "I haven't talked the matter over with the major, but don't think he'll object. Lots of ladies have married their chauffeurs, and I will make you as good a husband as any of these la-di-dah fellows you are likely to meet."
That had been the proposal, in almost exactly those words. She had been too staggered to make an adequate reply.
She was desperate now. Lidgett made no disguise of his dominant position. He had dared even in the presence of Larry to order her into her car and, even as she was writing, there came a knock at her door and his hateful voice called her. She put the letter hastily between sheets of blotting paper, unlocked the door and opened it.
"What was that fellow saying to you in French?" he asked.
"What he said was unimportant, Lidgett," she said quietly. "It is what I said that mattered. I told him that I was virtually a prisoner in this house, that you were in control and had asked me to marry you. I told him I was terribly afraid, and asked him to communicate with the police."
His face went red, livid, then a sickly white.
"Oh, you did, did you?" His voice was high and squeaky. "That's what you said—told lies about me!"
He was frightened; she recognised the symptoms and her heart leapt.
"The day I nearly had the accident," she went on, "I was on my way to see Mr. Reeder, the detective. I will not be treated as you are treating me. There's something wrong in this house and I'm going to find out what it is. Major Olbude has no authority; you govern him as you govern me, and there must be some reason. Mr. O'Ryan will find out what that reason is."
"Mr. O'Ryan will, will he? You know what he is, I suppose? A lag— he stood his trial for burglary. That's the kind of friend you want!"
He spoke breathlessly. Between rage and fear he was as near to being speechless as he had ever been.
"Well, we'll see about that!"
He turned on his heel and walked quickly away. She closed and locked the door. For the first time there came to her a feeling of hope. And who knew what the night would bring? For she had said something else to Larry O'Ryan, something she had not revealed to her gaoler.
Mr. Reeder slept soundly, invariably for the same length of time every night. He had gone to bed a little after ten: it was a little after four when he awoke, rose, put on the kettle for his tea, and turned on the water for his bath.
At half-past four he was working at his desk. At this hour his mind was crystal-clear, and he had fewer illusions.
He had an excellent library, dealing with the peculiarities of mankind. There was one volume which he took down and skimmed rapidly. Yes, there were any number of precedents for the gold store. There was the case of Schneider, and Mr. Van der Hyn, and the Polish baron Poduski, and the banker Lamonte, and that eccentric American millionaire Mr. John G. Grundewald—they had all been great hoarders of gold. Two of them had left wills similar to Mr. Lane Leonard's. One had made so many eccentric requests in his will that the court put it aside. There was nothing remarkable, then, about Lane Leonard's distrust of stock. Mr. Reeder had to confess that the latest news from America justified the caution of the dead millionaire.
He tried to reconstruct the business life of Buckingham. Here was a man who acted as a guard for treasure of immense value. It could not be truly said that he had opportunities for stealing, and yet in some way he had obtained immense sums of money, and that money had been paid into the bank in gold. That was the discovery that Reeder had made on the previous afternoon. Large sums of gold had been paid into the account of the Land Development Company, as much as fifty and sixty thousand pounds at a time; so much so that the company had been asked politely to account for its possession of so much bullion, and had retorted, less politely, that if the bank did not wish to act for the directors, other banking accommodation would be found.
When could it have been stolen? The man was found dead on the Sunday, and Major Olbude had visited the vault on the Friday. Probably that morning, when he again made an inspection, Mr. Reeder would receive an urgent telephone message calling him into Kent.
It began to get light. Mr. Reeder pulled up the blinds and looked out into the rain-sodden street. Overhead the skies were grey and leaden. J.G. brewed himself another cup of tea, and when it was made walked again to the window and stared down into the deserted thoroughfare.
He heard the whine of the car as it came round from the Lewisham High Road, pursuing a groggy course which suggested that the driver had overstayed his supper. It was a red sports car, nearly new, with a long bonnet; to Mr. Reeder's surprise it finished its erratic course in front of his door. A little time passed before a man staggered out, clutching for support to the side of the car. He walked unsteadily through the gate and stumbled up the stone steps. Before he reached the door Mr. Reeder was down the stairs and had opened it. He caught Larry O'Ryan in his arms and steadied him.
"I'm all right," muttered Larry. "I want some water. Can I sit down for a minute?"
Mr. Reeder closed the door with his disengaged hand, and led the young man to the hall seat.
"I'll be all right in a second. I've lost a little blood," muttered Larry.
The shoulders of his light mackintosh were red with it, and his face was hardly distinguishable under the broad, red streaks.
"It's all right," he said again. "Just a little knight errantry." He chuckled feebly. "There's no fracture, though driving was rather a bother. I'm glad I didn't carry a gun—I should have used it. I think I can move now."
He got up, swaying. Mr. Reeder guided him up the stairs through his room into the bathroom, and, soaking a towel in water, cleaned his face and the long and ugly wound beneath his matted hair.
"I think it was the chauffeur; I'm not sure. I parked the car about half a mile from Sevenways Castle, and went on foot to reconnoitre."
All this jerkily, his head bent over a basin of red water whilst Mr. Reeder applied iodine and cut away long strands of hair with a pair of office scissors.
"Anyway, I saw her."
"You saw her?" asked Mr. Reeder in astonishment.
"Yes; only for a few seconds. She couldn't get out of the window— it was barred. And the door was locked. But we had a little talk. I took a light, collapsible ladder with me to reach the window. You'll find it in a plantation near the drive."
Mr. Reeder looked at him glumly.
"Are you suggesting she is a prisoner?"
"I'm not suggesting, I'm stating the fact. An absolute prisoner. There are servants in the house, but they've all been chosen by the same man. And the best part of his money is gone."
J.G. Reeder said nothing for a while.
"How do you know?" he asked.
"I went in and looked," was the calm reply. "The major will probably say that I pinched it, but that was a physical impossibility. I always intended to see that treasure house—I have photographs of every key to every strong room that the Monarch Company turned out in the last twenty years. There is a duplicate room in the office. I won't tell you how I got the photographs, because you would be pained, but I did. And I got into the treasure house as easily as falling asleep."
Larry incautiously shook his head and winced.
"Ouch! That hurt! There are no guards. That story is bunk. There probably were in Lane Leonard's time, but not now. I got in all right and I got out. More than half the containers are empty! I managed to get away from the park and I was within a few yards of my car when I was attacked; whoever it was must have spotted the car and waited for my return; and I always thought I was clever—prided myself upon my wideness. I saw nobody, but I heard a sound and turned round, and probably that saved my life. Cosh!"
"You didn't see the man that hit you?"
"No, it was quite dark, but I'll know him again, and he'll remember me for a long time. I carried a sword cane—one of those things you buy for a joke when you're in Spain and never expect to use. As I wasn't taking a gun because of my awful criminal record, I thought I'd be on the safe side and take that. Fortunately, I didn't lose hold of it, and before he could give me a second blow I gave him two slashes with it that made him yap and bolt. I couldn't see anything for blood, but I heard him smashing through a hedge. I don't know how I got back to the car and how I got to London."
"May I ask," said Mr. Reeder, "exactly why you went to Sevenways?"
"She asked me to see her last night—asked me in French; and she asked me in French because she didn't want the chauffeur to hear her. That's when she told me she wanted to see you. Her room is on the park side of the house—it's called a castle, but it's a Tudor house really— three windows on the right from the portico. As I say, the window was barred, so my plan came unstuck."
"What on earth were you going to do?" asked J.G.
"I was running away with her," said Larry calmly. "It was her idea."
Mr. Reeder was a picture of amazement.
"You were running away with her?" he said incredulously.
"That was the idea. She asked me to take her away. It sounds mad, but there it is. She must have trusted me, or she was desperate. I think a little of each."
Mr. Reeder went out to telephone, Larry protesting.
"Really, I don't want a doctor. A whack on the head is nothing."
"A whack on the head that cuts four inches of skin and exposes the scalp is a very important matter," said Mr. Reeder, "and I am one of the few remaining people who believe in doctors."
A surgeon came in half an hour and did a little fancy stitching. Mr. Reeder insisted that Larry should stay in the house; a very unusual request, for he never encouraged visitors, and this was the first guest he had had within the memory of his housekeeper.
It was early in the afternoon when Mr. Reeder reached Sevenways Castle. It stood in an extensive park and, as Larry had said, there was very little about it that had the appearance of a castle. Its architecture was Tudor, except that on one end there stuck out a rather ugly, modern addition which was built, it seemed, of dressed stone and visible from the drive. This must be the treasure house, he thought.
He had telephoned the hour he expected to arrive, and Major Olbude was waiting for him under the porch. He led him into the panelled library, where a red fire glowed on an open hearth.
"I've been trying to make up my mind whether I should wait for you to arrive or whether I should send for the local police. Some ruffian attacked a gamekeeper of mine with a sword last night. I've had to send him away to London to be medically treated. Really, Mr. Reeder, the events of the past few days have made me so nervous that I felt it prudent to send my niece to Paris. With one of my guards killed and my gamekeeper attacked, it almost looks as though there is some attempt being organised against the treasure house, and if I were not bound by the terms of the will I should send the whole contents of the place to the strong-room of a London bank. It is very disconcerting. By the way, you will be relieved to learn that I made a very careful inspection of the vault today, and none of the containers has been touched; all the seals are intact, as of course I expected they would be. I need hardly tell you that I am a little relieved, though there was no real cause for worrying. The strong-room is impregnable and, unless Buckingham was the most expert of thieves, he could not have forced the door without it being instantly detected. The key never leaves me day or night. I carry it, as a matter of fact, on a silver chain around my neck."
"And none of the containers has been touched?" asked Mr. Reeder.
"None. Would you like to see the vault?"
Mr. Reeder followed him along the broad corridor of the castle into a little room which apparently was the major's study, and through a steel door, which he unlocked, into a small lobby, illuminated by a skylight heavily criss-crossed with steel bars. There was another steel door, and beyond this they came to a narrow stone passage which led to the treasure house proper.
It was a huge concrete and steel safe, placed within four walls. The only adjunct to the building was a small kitchenette, where the guards sat, and this was immediately opposite the steel door of the vault.
"I think we're entitled to call it a vault," said the major, "because it is sunk some five feet below the level on which we are at present—one goes down steps to the interior—"
Mr. Reeder was looking round.
"Where is the guard?" he asked.
The major spread out his hands, despair in his good-looking face.
"I'm afraid I lost my head, after what you told me. I dismissed them with a month's wages and packed them off the moment I came back. It was stupid of me, because I'm sure they are trustworthy, but once you've become suspicious of men in whom you've placed the greatest confidence, I think it is best to make a clean sweep."
Mr. Reeder examined the steel door carefully.
He saw, however, at a glance that only the most expert of bank-smashers could have forced his way into the treasure chamber, and then only with the aid of modern scientific instruments. It was certainly not a one-man job, and decidedly no task for an amateur.
He came back to the house, his hands thrust into his pockets, the inevitable umbrella hooked on his arm, his high-crowned hat on the back of his head. He stopped to admire one of the pieces of statuary which lined the broad hall.
"A very old house," he said. "I am interested in the manor houses of England. Is there any possibility of looking over the place?"
Major Olbude hesitated.
"There's no reason why you shouldn't," he said. "Some of the rooms, of course, are locked up; in fact, we only use one wing."
They went from room to room. The drawing-room was empty. He saw on a low table a book. It was open in the middle, and lying face down on the table; a book that had been put aside by somebody who was so interested in the story that they were anxious to continue at the place they left off. Near by was a pair of reading glasses and a case. He made no comment, and went on to the dining-room, with its Elizabethan panels and deep mullioned windows; stopped to admire the carved crest of the original owner of the building, and listened intently while Major Olbude told him the history of Sevenways.
"You don't wish to see upstairs?"
"I should rather like to. The old sleeping apartments in these manor houses have a singular interest for me. I am—um—something of a student of architecture," said Mr. Reeder untruthfully.
AT the head of the grand stairway stretched a passage from which opened the principal bedrooms.
"This is my niece's room."
He threw open a door and showed a rather gloomy looking apartment with a four-poster bed.
"As I say, she went to Paris this morning—"
"And left everything very tidy," murmured Mr. Reeder. "It's such a pleasure to find that trait in a young lady."
There was no sign that the room had been lived in and there was a slight mustiness about it.
"There's little or nothing in this other wing, except my bedroom," said the major, leading the way past the staircase.
He was walking more quickly, but Mr. Reeder stopped opposite a doorway.
"There's one remark that was made by a Frenchman about an English manor house in the reign of Charles," he said sententiously. "Do you speak— er—French, Major?"
Now, the remarkable thing about Major Olbude was that he did not speak French. He had a knowledge of Greek and of Latin, but modern languages had never appealed to him, he said.
"His remark was this," said Mr. Reeder, and said something in French. He said it very loudly. "If you are in the room, move your blind when you hear me talking outside the house."
"I'm afraid that is unintelligible to me," said the major shortly.
"It means," said Mr. Reeder glibly, "that the Englishman's idea of a good house is a comfortable bed inside a fortress. Now," he said, as they went down the stairs together, "I would like to see the house from the outside."
They walked along the gravelled pathway running parallel with the front of the house. The major was growing obviously impatient; moreover, he was displaying a certain amount of anxiety, glancing round as though he were expecting an unwelcome visitor. Mr. Reeder noticed these things.
When he came opposite the third window from the right of the porch, he said loudly, pointing to a distant clump of trees:
"Was it there your gamekeeper was attacked?"
As he spoke, he glanced quickly backwards. The white blind that covered the third window to the right of the porch moved slightly,
"No, it was in the opposite direction, on the other side of the house," said the major shortly. "Now would you like to see the sleeping quarters of Buckingham? The police have been here this morning—the Kentish police —and have made a thorough search, so I don't think it is worth while your examining the place. As far as I can gather, they found nothing."
Mr. Reeder looked at him thoughtfully.
"No, I don't think I want to see Buckingham's quarters, but there are one or two questions I would like to ask you. May I see the inside of the vault?"
"No, you may not."
Olbude's voice was sharp, frankly unfriendly. He seemed to realise this, for he added almost apologetically:
"You see, Mr. Reeder, I have a very heavy responsibility. This infernal trust is getting so much on my mind that I'm thinking of asking the courts to relieve me of my guardianship."
They were back in the library now. Mr. Reeder was no longer the languid, charming and rather timid gentleman. He was the hectoring, domineering Mr. Reeder, whom quite a number of people knew and disliked intensely.
"I want to see your niece," he said.
"She's gone to Paris."
"When did she go?"
"She went by car this morning."
"Let me ask you one question; is your niece short-sighted? Does she wear glasses?"
Olbude was taken off his guard.
"Yes; the doctor ordered her to wear glasses for reading."
"How many pairs of glasses has she?"
The major shrugged.
"What is the idea of these ridiculous questions?" he asked testily. "So far as I know, she has one pair, a sort of blue-shaded tortoise-shell—"
"Then will you explain why she took a long journey and left behind her the book in which she was so interested, and her reading glasses? You will find them in the drawing-room. I want to see her room."
"I have shown you her room," said Olbude, raising his voice.
"I want to see the third room from the left of the grand staircase."
Olbude looked at him for a second, and laughed. "My dear Mr. Reeder, surely this is not the method of the Public Prosecutor's Department?"
"It is my method," said Mr. Reeder curtly.
There was a pause.
"I will go upstairs and get her," said the major.
"If you don't mind, I will come with you."
Outside the door of the girl's room the major paused, key in hand.
"I will tell you the truth, though I don't see that this matter has anything to do with you," he said. "My niece has been very indiscreet. As far as I can gather, she made arrangements to run away with an unknown man, who, I have since ascertained, has a criminal record—you will be able to confirm this, for I understand you were in the case. Naturally, as her guardian, I have my duty to do, and as to my little fiction about her going to Paris—"
"Perhaps she will tell me all this herself," said Reeder.
The major snapped back the key and threw open the door.
"Come out, Pamela, please. Mr. Reeder wishes to see you."
She came out into the light, her eyes upon her guardian.
"I think it is true, is it not, that you had made arrangements to leave this house, Pamela, and that because of this I locked you in your room?"
She nodded. The girl was terrified, was in such fear that she could hardly stand. Yet, as Reeder sensed, it was not the major who inspired the fear.
"This is Mr. Reeder; I think you met him yesterday. Mr. Reeder seems to think there is something sinister in this act of discipline. Have I in any way ill-treated you?"
She shook her head, so slightly that the gesture was almost imperceptible.
"Is there anything you would like to say to Mr. Reeder—any complaint you wish to make? Mr. Reeder is a very important official in the Public Prosecutor's office." There was a note of pomposity in his tone. "You may be sure that if I have behaved in any way illegally, he will see that you are—"
"Quite unnecessary, isn't it, Major Olbude?" said Mr. Reeder's quiet voice. "I mean, all this—um—prompting and terrifying. Perhaps if I had a few minutes with the young lady in your library she might give me some information."
"About what? You would like to ask her a few questions about me, would you?" asked Olbude.
"Curiously enough, I have come down here to investigate the murder of a man called Buckingham. If you are concerned in the murder of that man, I shall certainly ask her questions about you." Reeder's eyes did not leave the man's face.
"If, on the other hand, that is a matter which does not concern you, the result of our conversation will be in no way embarrassing to you, Major Olbude. Did you know Buckingham, Miss Leonard?"
"Yes," she said. Her voice was low and sweet. "But not very well. I have seen him once or twice."
"We had better go back to the library," Olbude broke in; his voice was unsteady. "I don't suppose this young lady can tell you very much that you want to know, but since you're intent on cross-examining her, there's no reason in the world why I should put obstacles in your way. Naturally, I haven't any desire that a young girl should discuss a beastly business like murder, but if that is the method of the Public Prosecutor's office, by all means go ahead with it."
He took them back to the library, but made no attempt to leave them alone. Rather did he plant himself in the most comfortable chair in the room, within earshot.
She knew little about Buckingham. Mr. Reeder could not escape the conviction that she was not terribly interested in that unfortunate man. She had seen the picture in the newspaper and had drawn her uncle's attention to the tragedy. She knew nothing of the treasure house, had only seen it from the outside, and had met none of the guards.
She was not overawed by Olbude's presence, but with every answer she gave to the detective's inquiries she cast a frightened glance towards the door as though she expected somebody would come in. Mr. Reeder guessed who that somebody was.
He looked at his watch, and his attitude towards the girl suddenly changed. He had been gentle, almost grandmotherly with his "um's" and "er's", and now the hectoring Mr. Reeder reappeared.
"I'm not quite satisfied with your answers, Miss Leonard," he said, "and I am going to take you up to Scotland Yard to question you still further."
For a moment she was startled, looked at him in horror, and then she understood, and he saw the look of relief come into her eyes. The major had risen slowly to his feet.
"This is rather a high-handed proceeding." he quavered, "and I think I can save you a lot of trouble. I'll make a confession to you, Mr. Reeder; I have been shielding this man Buckingham. Why I should do so, heaven only knows, except that I didn't wish to incur undesirable publicity for my niece. When I visited the treasure house this morning I found that four of the containers were empty. You asked me if you might see the vault, and I refused. I think it was stupid of me; and now, if you wish, I can throw a great deal of light, not only upon the robbery, but upon the disappearance of this wretched man—"
"Let me tell you something," said Reeder. "It is an old story, part of which was told me by a boy from your school, and part I have unearthed in my own way."
The major licked his dry lips.
"It is a story about a namesake of yours," Reeder went on, "a rather clever man, who had a commission in the Territorial Army. He was, in fact, of your rank, and if I remember rightly, his Christian name was—um —Digby."
He saw the colour fade from Olbude's face and heard his quick breathing.
"He was, unhappily, a victim of the narcotic habit," said Mr. Reeder, not taking his eyes from the man's face, "and I will do him this justice, that he was heartily ashamed of his weakness and when he sank, as he did sink, to the level of a peddler of cocaine, he took another name. I was responsible for his arrest, with several other people engaged in that beastly traffic; and to me he confided that he had very rich relations who might help him. He even mentioned the name of a brother-in-law named Lane Leonard. At this time he had reached, as I say, a pretty low level. I am not a philanthropist, but I have a weakness for helping the hopeless, and the more hopeless they are —such is my peculiar—um—perversity—the more I endeavour to produce miracles. I rarely succeed. I did not succeed with Major Digby Olbude. I kept in touch with him after he came out of prison, but he managed to drift away beyond my reach, and I did not hear of him again till I learned that he had died in St. Pancras Infirmary. He was buried in the name of Smith, but, unhappily for everybody concerned, there was an old acquaintance of his in the hospital at the same time, and this old acquaintance formed the link by which Lidgett was able to trace this unfortunate man."
Olbude found his voice.
"There are quite a large number of Olbudes in the world," he said, "and Digby is a family name. He may have been a connection of mine."
"I don't think he was any relation of yours," said Mr. Reeder gently. "I think I had better see Lidgett, and then I would like to telephone to Scotland Yard and bring down the officer in charge of the Buckingham case. I'm afraid it is going to be a rather unpleasant experience for you, my friend."
"I know nothing about Buckingham," said the man huskily. "I had little to do with the guards. I saw them and paid them, and that is all."
"When you say 'guards' you mean 'guard'," said Mr. Reeder. "There have been no keepers of the treasure house since shortly after Mr. Lane Leonard's death, the only man employed being Buckingham. It only needed the most elementary of inquiries to dispose of that absurd story. You have the key of the treasure house, by the way?"
The other shook his head.
"Suspended round your neck by a silver chain?" suggested Mr. Reeder.
"No," said Olbude brusquely. "I have never had it. Lidgett has it."
Mr. Reeder smiled.
"Then there is all the more reason for interviewing that enterprising chauffeur," he said.
Pamela had stood silent through this exchange. There were significant gaps which she could fill.
"Lidgett is in his room," said Olbude at last. "I suppose it's going to be very serious for me?"
"I'm afraid it is," said Reeder.
The man bit his lip and stared out of the window.
"Nothing can be very much worse than the humiliating life I have lived for the past few years," he said. "I never dreamt that money and wealth could be purchased at such a ghastly price."
He looked at the girl with a quizzical smile.
"In this precious treasure house there is very nearly five hundred thousand pounds," he said. "I made a rough survey the other morning."
Lidgett was kind enough to let me have the keys—in fact, he had to allow this, because I flatly refused to make any statement concerning the condition of the Treasury until he let me satisfy myself that the money was not entirely gone. "He and Buckingham were fellow gamblers. I've never quite known how Buckingham came into his confidence, but I have a fancy that Buckingham was necessary for the transport of the gold. I will say this, that I was not aware that the money was being stolen, although I confess I was a little suspicious. When I taxed Lidgett with plundering the treasure house he very frankly admitted the fact, and defied me to take any action against him.
"I know they quarrelled a great deal, and, as Miss Lane Leonard will tell you, there was some fighting in which Lidgett got the worst of it. The murder was probably subsequent to this. And now I think I had better call Lidgett."
He went out of the room and up the stairs, past the far end of the left wing and knocked at the door. A surly voice asked who was there, and when he replied he heard the shuffle of slippered feet across the bare floor and the key was turned in the lock.
Lidgett was in a dressing-gown, his face covered with sticking plaster.
"Has he gone?" he growled.
Major Olbude shook his head, a smile on his good-looking face.
"No," he said lightly. "At the moment he is in the library with Miss Lane Leonard."
Lidgett gaped at him.
"With her? Talking to her? What the hell's the idea?"
"The idea is that I have told Mr. Reeder as much of the truth as I know. I naturally couldn't tell him exactly the circumstances leading to the murder of Buckingham, because I don't know what preceded it. I gather from your activity in the garage the next day, and the amount of washing down you did, that the murder was committed in the garage. I know you burnt clothes in the furnace, but all this is quite unimportant."
Lidgett stood, speechless. And then, as he realised all that was implied:
"You swine!" he screamed.
Mr. Reeder heard two quick shots and then a third. He flew up the stairs, arriving simultaneously with a manservant. When he came back to the girl his face was grave.
"I'm going to take you up to London, young lady," he said. "I have asked one of the maids to pack your things and bring them down."
"I can go up—" she began.
"There is no need."
"What has happened?" she asked.
"We'll talk about it in the car," said Reeder.
In truth he did nothing of the sort. He did not even tell her that the key attached to a silver chain, which he carried in his pocket, had been taken from the neck of the dead Lidgett and was still spotted with his blood.
"The story, so far as I can piece it together," said Mr. Reeder to his chief, "is somewhat complicated, but is not by any means as complicated as it appeared. Which, sir, is a peculiarity of most human stories.
"The real Major Olbude was a drug addict who died in St. Pancras Infirmary. He was a relative of Lane Leonard's, and at one time there had been certain business associations between them. When Lane Leonard found he was approaching his end, his mind went back to his brother-in-law and he sent Lidgett in search of him. By a stroke of luck Lidgett was able to trace Olbude, and discovered that he had died at St. Pancras Infirmary and been buried under the name of Smith.
"You must realise that Lidgett was a very shrewd and possibly a clever fellow. He was certainly cunning. He knew that unless a guardian were produced the estate would be thrown into Chancery and he would lose his employment, for he had never been a favourite with Miss Pamela. He conceived the idea of producing a spurious Major Olbude, and his choice fell upon a man he had met at a gambling house in Dean Street, a rather pompous schoolmaster who had this unfortunate failing, and was in the habit of coming to London every week-end to play at the club.
"Mr. Tasbitt was a master at Fernleigh College, a public school at which Larry O'Ryan was a scholar and from which he was expelled. There is no doubt whatever that the boy was innocent, and that the real thief was this same Tasbitt. Depending upon his master's failing senses, Lidgett took Tasbitt, who probably agreed to fraud with the greatest reluctance and in some terror, to Sevenways Castle. Tasbitt was introduced and accepted as Olbude; there was very little risk; few people knew Olbude. I have only today learned that his title of major was a piece of vanity on his part, and that he had only served some twelve months in the Territorial Army and had not risen beyond the rank of second lieutenant. But that is by the way.
"All might have gone well if Buckingham and Lidgett had not quarrelled, probably over the division of the loot. The two men were running a land development company, and though this was not very successful it was by no means a failure. I have now been able to trace Lidgett's account, and, a very considerable portion of the missing money will be in time restored to its owner when certain properties are liquidated.
"It was unfortunate for Tasbitt that O'Ryan was in the vicinity of my office the day he called on me, for he was instantly recognised and, as it appeared, the recognition was mutual."
When the Assistant Public Prosecutor heard the story he asked a pertinent question.
"Will this young lady marry O'Ryan?"
Mr. Reeder nodded.
"I think so," he said gravely.
"Isn't there a possibility that he's after her money?"
Mr. Reeder shook his head.
"He has quite a lot of money of his own," he said, a little regretfully.
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