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Title: In Barkstone Lane
Author: Fred M White
* A Project Gutenberg Australia eBook *
eBook No.: 1601361.txt
Language: English
Date first posted: Dec 2016
Date most recently updated: Dec 2016

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------------------------------------------------------------------------

Title: In Barkstone Lane
Author: Fred M White




IN BARKSTONE LANE.


By


Fred M. White.


Published in the Australasian (Melbourne, Vic. : 1864 - 1946), Saturday
13 June 1925.



James Lipchin, Lechmere's elderly clerk, tapped on his master's office
door with what impatience he dared, then smote agitatedly on the
panels, rising to a crescendo of blows. The door of the private inner
office had been closed and locked this two hours past, and the cheap
American clock in Lipchin's tank pointed to 5.

Then panic gripped the decrepit little old clerk, and he fled into
the corridor of the dingy block of offices in Barkstone Lane, and
piped feebly for assistance. Up the broken stairway from the ground
floor came another white slave in the shape of a pert little Cockney,
whistling some choice fragment of song.

"Hello, Methuselum," he hailed. "Why this unseemly 'urry? Old Noah
Lechmere given you the boot?"

"Can't make him hear," Lipchin piped in his aged treble. "Been locked
in his room since just after 3. Can't make him hear anyhow. What shall
I do, what shall I do?"

"Break the lock," first aid said promptly. "Old gentleman ill, perhaps.
Come on."

The lock of the broken door gave at the first attempt. An old man sat
at a desk at right angles to the only window in the room and within a
foot or so of it. The window was wide open, for it was hot and sultry
that afternoon, and the narrow Lane, with its steady stream of traffic
rumbling on the cobbles below drew no breath of air. The old man moved
not at all as the old clerk laid a trembling hand on his shoulder.
Lipchin started back with a thin, wailing cry.

"Dead!" he broke out senilely. "Dead!"

"Murdered," Wigley amended, with a choke and a queer sickness at the
pit of his stomach. "Murdered! Look here."

He pointed down to the floor by the side of Lechmere's desk next the
window. There, on the ragged carpet, lay an old-time six-chambered
revolver. It was grimed about the muzzle as if recently discharged,
and on the left side of the dead man's head was the wound that had
undoubtedly caused his death.

"'Ere, wake up," he gasped. "Call up the Minories police station."

A policeman appeared presently, and later on Inspector Sebohm, of
Scotland Yard.

"Been long with Mr. Lechmere?" he asked.

"More or less all my life, sir. I was his chief clerk when he had one
of the largest criminal practices in London. You see, sir, when he had
the misfortune to be struck off the rolls 10 years ago----"

"Needn't go into that, Mr. Lipchin. Now, tell me in a few words
how your late employer lived after he was struck off the roll of
solicitors."

"Well, sir," Lipchin piped, "after the Barlick business the practice
was as good as dead. And when we came to grief, sir, the master
he opened this office as a sort of general adviser to people in
trouble--folk as had done wrong."

Inspector Sebohm nodded grimly. He knew all about that. City men
sailing very near the wind, company promoters desirous of knowing
exactly how far they could go without coming to grips with the criminal
law, had consulted Antony Lechmere, and not in vain.

"I think that will do," he said finally. "Give me the key to the little
outer office where you work."

At a first glance the affair clearly suggested suicide. There was the
wound on the left side of the head, there the revolver lay on the
carpet to the left-hand side of the dead man as if it had fallen from
his fingers as the fatal bullet sped home to his brain.

Questioned as to why the office door was locked, Lipchin said that it
was the habit of Mr. Lechmere when any important client called. At
about half-past 3 a client had appeared and asked to see Mr. Lechmere,
and passed into the inner office with a brief statement that he had
come by appointment. As to the appearance of the visitor, whom Lipchin
had never seen before, he was vague. A tall, gentlemanly looking
individual, with small black beard and an eyeglass. Had not noticed him
particularly at the time, as he, Lipchin, was busy.

Sebohm dismissed the stranger from his mind for the moment. Barkstone
Lane was one of the noisiest side streets in the city with its
narrowness and the rumble of traffic on the cobbles, but a shot fired
in the inner office could not have escaped the attention of the old
clerk in the tank outside. The inner office, facing the Lane, was on
the first floor and some 15 feet above the level of the street, so
there would have been no attack from that direction. And the revolver
with one cartridge exploded lay on the floor.

Sebohm looked out of the window into the street, now comparatively
quiet, since the exodus from the city had begun long ago. The offices
all along the other side were closed and silent. Nearly opposite a
tall thin, sandwich of a building shrouded in scaffoldings had been
abandoned for the day by the bricklayers and masons who were working on
it. Was it possible, Sebohm wondered, if any of the artisans engaged
there had heard the shot fired. The distance was only a matter of
yards. The inspector made a mental note of the fact.

Nothing in the office of the slightest importance. Absolutely nothing
on the desk beyond a copy of that day's "Bulletin" lying open with
the first page uppermost, the page that contained the agony column of
that extremely popular journal. One of these items caught Sebohm's eye;
it had a pencil tick against it, a blue pencil very like the one that
lay in a pen-tray within reach of the dead man's hand. It ran:--


"Binks.--Friday at 3.30. Otherwise wire. Banks."


Well, this was Friday, and at half-past 3 or thereabouts Lechmere had
entertained a mysterious visitor who gave no name. And against this
notice somebody had made a tick. And there was the very blue pencil
lying on the pen-tray. A little farther down the column was another of
these queer announcements that caught the keen eye of the inspector,
thus:--


"Black Bag.--Armistice arranged. All hands report duty Monday.
Provisional terms arrived at. To-morrow last day. Dispatch Case."


Sebohm smote himself on the thigh.

"That's an idea," he told his inner self. "At any rate worth following
up. This is where Izzy Finklebaum comes in, unless I am altogether
mistaken. We shall see."

With that, Inspector Sebohm locked the outer door of the office, and
after officially sealing it walked down the Lane and thence into the
busy bustle of Leadenhall street.

* * * * * *

An hour after the adjourned inquest on Lechmere, Sebohm strolled back
to his office, where he found a subordinate patiently awaiting him.

"Well?" he asked. "Have you found him?"

"I have that, sir," the plain-clothes man replied. "Hiding in a little
second-hand clothes shop in the Minories. With a compatriot named
Sheerman. Got the address here, sir."

"He has no idea you are looking for him, Gratton?"

"Oh, dear, no, sir," the other explained. "Directly I marked him down I
came back here, as instructed."

It was still daylight as Sebohm turned into the mean street of the
Minories and entered a beetle-browed shop, fragrant with the sour,
pungent smell of second-hand clothes. A few minutes later he found
himself face to face with a diminutive Jew, who proceeded to tie
himself into a series of sinuous knots, as if his writhing body was
racked with pain.

"Strike me blind if it isn't the inspector," he moaned. "Oi, Oi, vat a
dreadful business. I never did it, I'll thwear!"

"Then why are you hiding here?" Sebohm demanded. "It's three days since
Mr. Lechmere died, and you have lain low here ever since. When did you
see Mr. Lechmere last?"

"For the love of God, don't do it, sir," the Jew moaned. "It's as bad
as taking me and throwing me into the Thameth. Better cut my throat
than thay a thingle word. Becauth they know--thee?"

With this, Izzy gave another writhe, and from his waistcoat pocket
produced a slip of dirty paper, on which a few pregnant lines had been
typed by an uncertain hand, thus:--


"Don't you do it, Izzy, if you value your whole skin. We are fly to the
game, see? We know who pulls the nuts for the old man when it is to his
advantage to get, you know who, out of the way. Move an inch, and your
light goes out, as his has done. That's all."


"When did you get this?" Sebohm demanded.

"Three nights ago, sir," Izzy whined. "Posted to the lodgings where I
wath. I'm scared sthiff; I am, thir."

"As a matter of fact, you have nothing whatever to fear," the inspector
smiled. "On the contrary, you will probably save your life by making
a clean breast of things, Izzy, you know perfectly well where that
precious paper came from."

"I thwear to you, Mithter Sebohm----"

"Now, what is the good, Izzy?" Sebohm said, coaxingly. "Look here, I
know that the late Mr. Lechmere trafficked these later days in stolen
goods. We didn't interfere because, sooner or later, Lechmere always
gave away his principals. But he didn't do that sort of thing direct,
Izzy, he always employed a go-between. And that go-between was mostly
yourself. Oh, we know all about it. Now, what I suggest is that some
criminal, or more likely two of them working together, had a quarrel
with Lechmere. They threatened him, and he decided to put them out of
the way. And you were the fitting instrument for the dirty job. What
are you afraid of?"

An evil light crept into the eyes of the hunted Izzy. He pointed with a
shaking hand at the paper in Sebohm's fingers.

"That," he screamed. "Just that, Mithter. Becauth those devils piped
the game. If you knew as much about Mat the Major, and Flash Fingall as
I do----"

Izzy pulled up, as if conscious of having gone too far. Perhaps the
puzzled expression on the inspector's face tended to reassure him, for
he laughed unsteadily, which was a mistake, because Sebohm could be as
wooden as any country lout when occasion called for stupidity.

"Oh, well, if you won't, you won't," he said. "Only you are making a
great mistake. Izzy."

Sebohm retreated presently with the slightly dejected air of one who
has failed in his mission. But there was nothing dejected about him,
once he was back in his office in close consultation with his fidus
Achates, Detective Sergeant Gratton.

"Any luck, sir?" the latter asked respectfully.

"Not so bad," Sebohm smiled. "Mat Butler and Flash Fingall are in this,
and that will be your business. See? And one last word, Gratton--you
are up against two of the most reckless gunmen in the world. I don't
want any police shootings on this side. Looks so bad, and, besides, we
never have that sort of thing in England."

"Quite so, sir," Gratton murmured. "You can leave it to me."

* * * * * *

It was only a matter of a few days before Gratton, like a mole
underground, came on the track of the two wanted men. More than that,
he contrived to get some sort of intelligent grip on what scheme they
were plotting. It was a big thing, and needed money, so what was more
natural than that they should apply to Antony Lechmere with a view to
financing them?

"It's all right, sir, so far," he told Sebohm. "Those chaps were in
communication with Lechmere."

"That you can prove?" Sebohm snapped.

Gratton smiled, and when he had finished his story, Sebohm was smiling
too.

"Excellent," he said. "And now you can lay those rascals by the heels
as soon as you like. But they'll fight?"

"I think not, sir," Gratton said confidently. "You see, Mat Buller--the
Major--is the live wire of the party, and he is the man likely to
give most trouble. About three nights a week he goes to the Jessamine
Club in Carlton Place to dance. Rare good dancer he is. And most
nights Flash Fingall goes to some theatre. He will be at the Haymarket
to-morrow, and I know that the Major intends to look in at the
Jessamine. Clawhammer coat, white waistcoat--all up to the nines. The
same with Fingall. Nobble the latter in the crush coming out, before
he can get at his gun, and with three of my men, disguised as waiters,
rush Buller as he stands at the bar of the club----"

"Sounds all right," Sebohm murmured. "I think that I will look in at
the Jessamine myself to-morrow evening."

"Very good, sir," Gratton said. "I'll make arrangements whereby my men
at the Jessamine control the telephone, and when we have picked up
Fingall at the Haymarket, Mason there can 'phone us of the fact to the
Jessamine. Pretty sound scheme, I think, sir."

It was shortly after midnight when Sebohm strolled into the big dancing
saloon of the Jessamine, the floor of which was crowded. He was not
afraid of being recognised by the men wanted, who, so far as be knew,
had never heard of Inspector Sebohm. Not that it mattered much either
way, because the Major was not in the least likely to be scared by
the contiguity of a mere detective inspector, especially as he knew
he was not "wanted" by the London police. So Sebohm threw himself
carelessly down into a seat, and ordered a drink. A very alert waiter
came presently with a whisky and soda. On the tray was a tiny slip of
paper that Sebohm casually glanced at and placed in his pocket. It was
a brief intimation to the effect that Fingall had been quietly arrested
outside the Haymarket theatre, and was now in safe custody. There were
three other words at the end of the message that filled Sebohm with
quiet satisfaction.

Meanwhile, he could afford to wait upon events. He watched the room
fill up, he noted the glare and bustle and the air of gaiety, like some
insidious perfume that clung to the silken skirts of the dancers. Then
presently he caught the eye of the waiter with the suggestion of a wink
in it, and rose leisurely and strolled in the direction of the bar. A
fine specimen of humanity, standing with his back to the room, riveted
Sebohm's attention. A waiter in front hustled him, whilst at the same
moment two other men, dressed like the first, pressed on the drinker's
rear. The Major's hand slipped behind him.

"Here, what the devil----" he began.

The next moment he was struggling in the grip of the three dress-coated
policemen.

"Hustle him into the office, and close the door," Sebohm commanded.

"Now, my man, I am Inspector Sebohm, from Scotland Yard, and you are my
prisoner, on a charge of murdering Antony Lechmere on the afternoon of
Friday last, at his office in Barkstone Lane."

Buller's handsome face darkened to savage scowl.

"Perhaps you wouldn't mind going into a few details," he sneered. "You
see, I'm rather interested."

"Quite so," Sebohm said drily. "The death of Antony Lechmere----"

"Suicide," Buller corrected. "The jury said so."

"Oh, you read all about that, did you? Interested, perhaps?"

"Show me one of the big guys in our line who isn't," Buller snarled.
"Kept a racing stud and a villa at Monte entirely on what he screwed
out of his clients. And when the smash came he turned receiver. Made
thousands that way. And whenever one of us got too fresh, he gave us
away to the police. Not directly, mind, but through a dirty little tool
of his who gave Scotland Yard and the New York police the office."

"Man named Finklebaum, isn't he?" Sebohm asked mildly. "Yes, I know all
about him. It was he who----"

"Gave us away!" Buller shouted. "Mean to say he had the nerve after----"

"After you sent him that warning--that slip of paper? Well, not in as
many words. All the same, Izzy has his uses. I know that he had his
instructions so far as you and Fingall were concerned. Yes, we've got
Fingall all right. He was arrested more than an hour ago, and charged
with being concerned in the murder of Lechmere."

"Fingall? I haven't seen the man for weeks."

"Very likely, but you have been in close communication with him all
the same. You came here from New York on the same boat, though you
pretended to be strangers. But you were on a big thing together working
it from two different directions, until the time came when you could
meet and share the plunder. But you wanted money, and you naturally
went to Lechmere to get it. He refused, and you were so foolish as to
threaten him. Then you discovered by some means or other that Lechmere
was going to give you away at the dramatic moment, and that Izzy was to
be the informer. So Izzy had to be frightened into silence while you
got Lechmere out of the way. In other words, until you had murdered
him."

"How?" Buller asked hoarsely. "How?"

"We will come to that all in good time. Did you ever come across a
London daily paper called the 'Bulletin'?"

"Seem to have heard of it," Buller said dully. For the first time he
was showing signs of nerve strain. "What about it?"

"We shall also come to that all in good time," Sebohm went on in the
same even voice. "I suggest that when you crossed the Atlantic you had
all your plans cut and dried in case Lechmere proved recalcitrant. If
he agreed to come in with you, well and good; if not, you would have to
use threats, because when you left New York you were in very low water
financially. He did prove awkward, and you feared he would put us on
your track."

"He was a cursed rat," Buller said thickly.

"Precisely. And a dangerous rat to be made into an example. Fingall
saw him once or twice at the office in Barkstone Lane, and came to
the conclusion that Lechmere must be removed. I know that, because
Lechmere's old clerk recognised Fingall, despite his false black beard.
I showed him photographs with beard and without it. Those pictures were
supplied us by the New York authorities. Fingall called on Lechmere on
the afternoon of his death. At that very moment you were not 15 yards
away."

"Prove it," Buller shouted. "Prove it."

"Fingall went into the office in Barkstone Lane last Friday afternoon
to try and come to terms at the eleventh hour. With him he carried an
old pattern of an American navy revolver. It was fully loaded, but one
chamber had been recently fired. When Fingall went away he very quietly
placed the weapon by the side of Lechmere's chair next the window
overlooking the Lane, and immediately left. He gave a sign to you and
walked down the street."

Buller stood there, swaying to and fro with a white, set expression on
his face. But he was not quite beaten yet.

"What's all this leading to?" he demanded.

By way of reply, Sebohm produced from his pocket the identical copy of
the "Bulletin" which he had found on Lechmere's desk.

"Now, look at this," he said. "I mean that paragraph in the personal
column. 'Black Bag to Dispatch Case.' It says, 'Armistice signed.
All hands report for duty Monday. Terms arranged. To-morrow last
day.'"

"Much too subtle for me," Buller sneered.

"Not at all. It is an intimation from one individual to another that
the builders' strike has been settled, and that all hands go back
to work last Monday, as they did. When I read that paragraph in the
dead man's office it jumped to the eye that Lechmere's murderers had
suddenly realised that if they wanted to use the scaffolding and
hoardings opposite Lechmere's office as a smoke screen for the intended
crime, they had no time to spare. So long as that newly-erected
building was deserted in consequence of the strike and the hoardings
up, a man concealed behind them could see directly into Lechmere's
open window and shoot him down without fear of discovery. And that is
exactly what happened. You were hidden there, waiting for the signal
from Fingall, and directly you got it in your hiding place opposite,
you fired. You shot Lechmere through a hole in the poster on the
hoarding, and the stain of the powder is on the edges of the tear now,
because I cut the piece out. The revolver with one cartridge exploded,
before dropping the weapon by Lechmere's chair, was an ingenious way
of suggesting suicide, and probably had I not found this copy of the
'Bulletin' on Lechmere's desk I should never have got on the right
track. Of course, you had to run the risk of the shot being beard, but
it was small, with the noise of the traffic on the cobbles on Barkstone
Lane. And now, if I can prove to you----Yes, what is it, Gratton?"

Gratton came quietly into the little room, holding some bright object
in his hand.

"Here you are, sir," he said. "I found it in the prisoner's lodgings,
at the bottom of a Gladstone bag."

"Ah, the other revolver," Sebohm said quietly. "The fellow to the one
found in Lechmere's office, and undoubtedly the weapon with which the
crime was committed. How amazingly careless some of you brilliant
criminals are. Do you want to hear any more?"

But Buller had heard enough.



THE END.


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