a treasure-trove of literature
treasure found hidden with no evidence of ownership
Title: Saul and the Spinster Author: Aidan de Brune * A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook * eBook No.: 1700971h.html Language: English Date first posted: Oct 2017 Most recent update: June 2019 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
GO TO Project Gutenberg Australia HOME PAGE
THIS book is a product of a collaborative effort undertaken by Project Gutenberg Australia, Roy Glashan's Library and the bibliophile Terry Walker to collect, edit and publish the works of Aidan de Brune, a colourful and prolific Australian writer whose opus is well worth saving from oblivion.
DIZZY LAINE, baptised Paul Disraeli Laine, crime expert of the Post-Advertiser refers to Detective-Inspector Saul Murmer's most celebrated case under the title of "Saul and the Spinster."
Inspector Murmer blushes, insofar as any Inspector of police, be he English or Australian, can be said to blush.
Mrs. Dizzy Laine, nee Eva Poulton, and once subject of Inspector Murmer's official suspicions, laughs gently and slightly; Miss Paddy Burke, a young lady who figures rather intimately in the case, matches the Inspector, blush for blush, glancing furtively at a certain young gentleman who appears incapable of proceeding more than six linear yards from her side.
There appears to be some doubt as to the exact point when Inspector Murmer first came in contact with Miss Mathilde Westways, the well known Sydney modiste, owner of "Florabella" and—the Spinster in the case.
Official records indicate that the investigation was not allotted to Inspector Murmer by his superior officer, Superintendent George Dixon. Dizzy Laine voices the popular theory when he states that the case did not become official until just before Inspector Murmer discovered the solution of his problem; that the famous detective became involved in the matter through a very reprehensible habit he had acquired of frequenting notorious night-clubs when free from official duties.
Inspector Murmer retorts that journalists of the "Dizzy" persuasion should be confined in "unnamed" places when police matters are under discussion. Dizzy is rather too fond of referring to the affair; his wife prettily matronly and with her husband in complete subjection, sometimes bars discussions. Dizzy obeys, with a grin; to intimate friends he confides that his spouse shows no such reticence in the privacy of the connubial chamber, there frequently speculating when "it" will take place, and whether "Florabella" will be converted into a limited liability company with Inspector Murmer's term of exchange expires, and he returns to the ugly red-brick building on the Thames Embankment, named New Scotland Yard.
So much will serve to introduce the leading honest characters in what can be claimed to be-the most extraordinary case Inspector Murmer handled during his sojourn in Australia. Lacking the Inspector's official reports for this narrative, Dizzy Laine's rather highly-coloured journalese and personal reminiscences have been taken as a basis, amplified by Miss Paddy Burke's retrospective suggestions. Both authorities declare the curtain to rise at the Green Lagoon night-club—and Miss Mathilde Westways raises no objections to this.
SAUL MURMER left Police Headquarters shortly after five o'clock on the 6th day of September, 1931. Passing through the big gates to Central-lane, he nodded recognition of the salute from the constable on duty, and walked up to Castlereagh Street. There he mounted a city-bound tram, and alighted at King Street. A short interval spent in shopping, and he boarded a car for King's Cross. A few yards along Darlinghurst-road from the tram stop he entered a block of flats and ascended in the elevator to his own quarters. A shower and a change, and he went down to the restaurant in the building and dined.
This dally routine well performed, he returned to his sitting-room and gave his exclusive attention to that day's newspapers. This last duty, in the mind of Inspector Murmer, was as essential as his dinner. He considered newspapers mines of information, especially regarding the activities of his frailer fellow-men. Many times the Inspector had speculated, sitting in the comfortable armchair fitting his rotund figure so perfectly, that if criminals realised the dangers of the publicity they sought in vanity, the tasks of magistrates, judges and juries would be considerably lighter, while the police force, and especially the detective branch, would be vastly overworked.
A little after eight o'clock Saul Murmur stacked his newspapers neatly on a side table and went to the house telephone. For some moments he lingered, the receiver to his ear, listening to the bell ringing in Inspector John Pater's flat, in the same building. He realised that John Pater was not at home, and a few seconds later thanked the switch-girl for conveying that information to him verbally. He went to his bedroom and arrayed himself in the conventional evening attire of the Englishman the world over.
Descending to the main hall of the building, he paused at the office window, and again inquired regarding Inspector Pater. He was told that the officer had not yet returned home, and sighed. He had a feeling that he deserved companionship—and had elected John Pater victim. Now he would have to find entertainment for himself. He strolled out to the pavement and acknowledged the inquiring eye of an alert taxi-driver with a brief nod.
"Where to, sir?" asked the man when Saul Murmer was comfortably ensconced in the car. The Inspector pondered. Now he wondered why he had arrayed himself for the evening. Had he done so because he anticipated John Pater as companion to one of the gilded halls of Sydney entertainment? That might be correct. But John Pater was not with him. If he had anticipated being left to his own resources, would he have troubled to dress, or would he have arrayed his ample figure in a simple lounge suit and indulged himself in a stroll through one of Sydney's quieter suburbs, speculating on the houses and the people he passed in the past, similar strolls had proved profitable to his reputation.
"Try the Green Lagoon," decided, after a considerable pause.
"The Green Lagoon. Yes, sir." The man closed the car door and trotted round the vehicle to his seat. A moment, and the car joined the stream of traffic heading city-wards.
Outside the noted night-club a commissionaire who gave the impression that he had recently resigned the field-marshalship of a South American army, deigned to open the car-door, saluting smartly. Saul Murmer alighted and descended the long flight of softly-carpeted stairs beyond the gaily illuminated doorway, to the lounge of the nightclub. There he was received by a severely garbed head-waiter, who bowed and preceded his important guest to a table set in a coveted corner of the large supper-room; an advantageous corner from which a full view of the dancing floor and the adjacent tables could be obtained.
Saul Murmer was well known at the Green Lagoon, and his partiality for this particular table understood and acquiesced in. Hardly had the inspector arranged his ample form to the chair, held by the head waiter, than the table waiter appeared at his elbow, carrying in a cradle basket a dirt-encrusted bottle, partly shrouded by a very white napkin.
"Expecting m'sieu, I took the liberty of ordering a bottle of wine," announced the waiter in a soft whisper.
"And pubs shut at six—or should!" commented Saul Murmer. "The lowly navvy goes home thirsty, while we, in these glided haunts of vice—"
"Sir." The head waiter, who had been standing close by, looked shocked—insofar as a valued client could shock a well-trained head waiter.
"Never mind," decided the detective. "I will have a glass. I have an idea I telephoned the order for wine this morning."
"M'sieu remembers!" agreed the night-club official, with a beaming smile.
"But didn't I order two bottles? I shouldn't be surprised if I had not," continued the stout Inspector. "If John Pater turns up, I shall certainly want them. His thirst—"
"Supper, m'sieu?" A menu slid discreetly on the cloth before the detective.
"Ten-thirty." Saul Murmer accepted the silver pencil tendered, and ticked off a series of dishes, "Um-m! I think that will do."
"M'sieu performs admirably," applauded the man. Suddenly the inspector found himself alone at the table, a glass of wine beaming benevolently up at him—and the intriguing bottle reposing in its cradle to one side.
Again settling himself comfortably in his chair, and savouring his first sip of the wine, Saul Murmer glanced about the room, discreetly lit to a dusky evening glow that partially hid, partially revealed, the few tables yet occupied. So far as his inquisition showed he had no acquaintances in the place. He did not want them or the moment; certainly not the usual acquaintances one makes at a night-club.
John Pater might follow him, although he had not left word of his destination at the flat-offices. Dizzy Laine might arrive; he and Mrs. Laine often danced. There were a few more whose company he might welcome, and the rest—His wandering eye came to a table on the opposite side of the dancing floor.
At it was seated a lady of middle age, very well dressed and preserving many of the charms of her youth, with an old-world air of dignity and reserve.
"Fine woman," thought Saul Murmer, who was himself comfortably fleshed. "Apparently plenty of money; plenty of brains, too, Good business head. Someone's wife having a lonesome night out? No."
He had caught sight of a ringless left hand. "Spinster! Now what—"
The lady looked in his direction, and Saul Murmer quickly resumed his scrutiny of the room. He feared the lady might be embarrassed if she fond him staring at her.
"Though," thought the inspector, "she is not the sort to show embarrassment at anything not entirely out of the ordinary; more likely to call the head waiter and send him with a message for me to abate the nuisance!"
He chuckled. "And I a detective-inspector of police!"
Automatically his eyes returned to the lady's table. To his astonishment he found that she was looking at him, and that without a shade of embarrassment. Their eyes met for an instant and, to the detective's amazement, the lady made a beckoning gesture with her fan—a fan that glittered in the pale greenish twilight that flooded the hall.
Saul Murmer hesitated, doubtful if the lady's signal was intended for him. The gesture, slight and imperative, was repeated. The Inspector covered a sudden grin.
"A pick-up! I am surprised" he muttered. "Naughty! Does she realise that I'm a police officer? What a shock I'd be! But, who knows. Now—"
Inspector Murmer's greatest grievance against Fate swept on him again with renewed force. He was totally unlike what a detective should be, in real life or in fiction. He was short; when he had joined the metropolitan police force he had barely topped the height standard, while succeeding years had, apparently, taken from those scanty inches. Girth had come to him, in spite of exercise and a pathetic devotion to patent reducing drugs. Big baby-blue, innocent-staring eyes looked out from a round face of girlish-textured skin, requiring but slight attention from the morning razor. His nose was small and, on the authority of an old schoolmate, now Chief-Inspector Murchison, of the "pug" variety. A well-formed chin was topped by a set of lips that might have been taken as a model of the perfect Cupid's bow; and they were red, as if lip-sticked.
He was not a detective; not in appearance, Saul Murmer's ideal detective stood five feet ten inches; had a slim body, of the strength and flexibility of whalebone; a sun-weathered countenance; and thin, hard lips that held dexterity in rolling black, rank cigars from side to side of his mouth.
The Inspector came out of his reverie to find Luke Lenoire, mâitre d' hôtel of the Green Lagoon, silently awaiting his pleasure; before him on a small silver tray, lay a plainly engraved visiting card.
"Madame's compliments, and she will be grateful if m'sieu will give her a few minutes of his most valuable time," said the man gravely.
"A pick-up!" The Inspector puckered his full, red lips impishly. "Do you allow that sort of thing in your gilded halls of vice, Luke?"
"M'sieu jests." The man smiled. "Madame is well-known at the Green Lagoon, and is of the most discreet."
The Inspector glanced at the card before him. "Miss Mathilde Westways," he read.
"Luke—" he paused. "Yes, Luke, will, you inform Madame I shall have the pleasure of attending her—in a few moments, when I recover from the shock, in a few moments." The mâitre d'hôtel bowed, and faded into the gloom of the synthetic evening.
A minute, and he reappeared on the opposite side of the dance-floor. Miss Westways glanced up quickly, smiled and nodded. At the sign of approval the Inspector struggled to his feet and ambled across to the opposite table. Before the lady he halted and bowed, regretting that he had not Luke Lenoire's supple figure and easy, practised obeisance.
"Detective-Inspector Saul Murmer." Miss Westways' voice was low, sweet and assured. "We have never been introduced, I believe, but—" she hesitated. "Really, this is most embarrassing."
A sudden suspicion came to the detective's mind. "Shall we name this interview 'official,' Miss Westways?" he asked; in very official tones. "You will understand, police inspectors on duty don't wait for introductions."
"How nice of you," beamed the lady, obviously relieved. "May I assume that Mr. Paul Disraeli Laine has informed you—"
"Paul Disraeli—" Saul Murmer stuttered in amazement. "Oh, you mean Dizzy—"
"That is even better." Miss Westways was now, entirely at ease. "May I understand that Dizzy has informed you of my trouble and—"
"Your trouble, Miss Westways—" The detective showed his perplexity. "What trouble?"
"My dilemma, yes, Inspector." Miss Westways interrupted, speaking in matter-of-fact tones. "Someone is threatening my life."
"PLEASE sit down, Inspector." Miss Westways indicated the chair on the opposite side of the-table.
"Thank you." Saul Murmer felt he was in need of a seat. It was not a strange experience for the Inspector to be informed by individuals that their lives were threatened. Investigation usually showed that the facts did not agree with conclusions, in spite of the wealth of details accompanying the complaints.
Saul Murmer smiled, recalling the case of Sir Abbeyford Aldersham, who almost caused the resignation of a Chief Constable, gave sleepless nights to a number of hard-working policemen, and agitated the press of England. A solution of the threatening letters was only obtained when, enraged by the authorities' refusal to arrest his nephew and heir, Sir Abbeyford turned his hitherto unsuspected abilities as a letter-writer to an anonymous attack on the Chief Constable of his county.
A movement at his elbow caused him to look up. Henri was standing close beside him, his brows well-defined interrogation marks. The detective nodded and the man disappeared, to return almost immediately with the cradled bottle and glasses.
"If I may be permitted, Miss Westways." The Inspector lifted his glass, watching the bubbles rise through the amber liquid. He felt he needed that drink; had already earned it. He drank delicately.
"You were saying, Miss Westways—?"
"I believe that my life is being threatened." The lady repeated her statement gravely; then laughed. "No doubt you think I am mad, Inspector?"
"Not at all;" Saul Murmer was polite and abstractly truthful. If the lady had said "unbalanced" he would have been forced to silence, or untruthfulness. "Er—quite a number of people's lives have been threatened at times."
"And yet live out their numbered days. Is that what you intended to say, Inspector?" Miss Westways laughed gently. "You were inferring that I have no reason to worry—yet you have no knowledge of the circumstances."
"Is there a case—" The Inspector appeared to be addressing the tablecloth. He glanced furtively at the woman on the other side of the table. Somewhere in the forties, he decided; then flushed. He suddenly remembered that he was forty-six. And—she was wonderfully attractive! Brown hair, with a few peeping grey hairs that lent an illusion of moon-halo; a fair skin bearing just the right amount of make-up to perfect its attractiveness; a well-developed body, its charms accentuated by a dark grey dress that softly whispered "Paris"—and worn with that exclusive accent so rarely seen outside the city of feminine authority. And the card the mâitre d'hôtel had brought him had borne in one corner a single, quoted word.
No address was needed. Even essentially masculine Police Headquarters knew of "Florabella," the Mecca of every Australian woman—the leading modiste establishment of Sydney.
"So many people desire death!" Saul Murmer looked up, his full girlish lips parted in a smile, the baby-stare eyes twinkling.
"Not for themselves, but for those they consider—er—redundant. Their reasons? Mainly an overworked inferiority complex! Er—you were saying, Miss Westways—"
The lady smiled; the exclusive feminine how far from gods they may be.
"You think I am—er—unbalanced, Inspector?"
"Not at all, Miss Westways." The detective hastened to refute the idea. "I have admired the cool, collected manner in which you—er—discuss their—er—threat." He paused helplessly.
Miss Westways went to his rescue.
"Why should be flurried and distressed?" A note of asperity came in her voice. "In a business matter—"
"Blackmail?" Saul Murmer nodded, speaking in a whisper. "In a sense, yes." Mathilde Westways also nodded.
"I have received messages."
"Ah!" Inspector Murmer sighed. He liked documentary evidence, especially in a blackmailing ease. "And the letters—"
Not wishing to embarrass the lady in the disclosures he now believed to be inevitable, Saul Murmer had half-turned from the table and was staring down the room in the direction of the entrance. Suddenly he stiffened slightly, then laughed. All he had seen was Mrs. Laine entering the room preceding a brilliantly dark young girl and her husband.
Eva Laine saw Miss Westways and directly she entered the room. She waved gaily, crossing the room directly to their table. Saul Murmer watched the group form, somewhat relieved that his tête-à-tête with Miss Westways had been interrupted. He had started the evening with thoughts anticipating enjoyment. Apparently he had been slated for disillusionment. John Pater had let him down, and Miss Westways had shown decided signs of repeating the performance.
Eva Laine's appearance suggested relief; beside the most perfect dancing floor in Sydney she would permit nothing that savoured of serious life. In regard to the blackmailing letters, Saul Murmer decided that he could obtain them from Miss Westways at some other interview. He felt suddenly elated at the thought of another interview with this fascinating lady.
"Room for three more?" Eva called gaily as she came to the table.
"Only myself, a husband, a little girl. Auntie Westways, may I introduce your niece in a perfectly perfect new 'Florabella' gown."
The young girl curtsied deeply, spreading out the voluminous skirts of the lovely red frock. "Isn't it adorable, Mattie. I couldn't resist it this afternoon." She swung with a flurry of flounces and frills on the waiting detective, holding out her hand frankly. "You're Dizzy's friend, Inspector Murmer, aren't, you? I'm not going to say 'Pleased to meet you', for that would make Eva jealous; she looks on you as her own, private, particular lion, guaranteed to roar for her alone. She's awfully mean, even with her husband! Why, this afternoon she wouldn't even let me kiss him—and haven't kissed—"
"Paddy!" Miss Westways' tones were very firm.
"Yes, Mattie." Paddy's voice was suddenly meek. "Oh, the frock! I did tell Miss Lancing to put it down to my account, truly! And I haven't had a frock for ages and ages. And I haven't a rag—"
"There's hardly a rag this side, Paddy," said Dizzy judicially. He was standing behind the girl.
"Pig." Paddy turned on the journalist. "For that—"
"Paddy, are you aware your allowance is sadly overdrawn." Mathilde Westways spoke softly, a twinkle of affection in her eyes.
"So is the national exchequer, it the Post-Advertiser financial expert is telling the truth," observed Dizzy lazily.
"Then Paddy's allowance account looks like a diminutive national exchequer," laughed Eva. "She came to me the—"
"Telling tales, out of school!" The girl shook her black curls. "For that—Dizzy, you shall dance with me, and if you kiss me in that dark corner by the band I won't even bleat!"
"Oh, you children!" Miss Westways reproved. "There's plenty of time to dance. Sit down, all of you!"
Dizzy Laine pulled out a chair for his wife, glancing from the Inspector to the table, which Henri was busily setting for supper. "Who wouldn't be a detective-inspector of police," he said lugubriously. "Eva, you made a mistake when you picked a journalist for a soul-mate. You should have sought a police officer; they can afford the material joys of life—wine, women and—"
"Eva! If Dizzy sings I shall go straight home," said Paddy explosively.
"For your sins, Murmer—" The newspaper man grinned, "Paddy, for your and his sins, you shall sit next your latest 'nice' man. Good! Now, perhaps I shall have one evening's, quietness amid a torrid desert of dancing nights. Miss Westways, please extend your well-known abilities as a chaperone to protect me from the evil designs I see glittering—"
"You—and a chaperon!" Paddy's pretty lips curled scornfully. She moved into the chair next the Inspector. "Please don't take any notice of Dizzy, Inspector."
"I don't." Emphasis empressed the detective's voice. "He is a newspaper man—one of those annoyances, like mosquitoes, ants, and other things, sent to try us good people."
The girl clapped her hands. "So you know him as well as that!"
Without waiting for a reply, she spoke across the table to Miss Westways. "Mattie, what do you think of my dress? It's one of yours, you know."
She turned quickly to Saul Murmer. "I mean, it came out of her shop—not her wardrobe."
"Paddy!" expostulated Miss Westways.
"We all have them," retorted the young girl defensively. "Wardrobes, I mean; though sometimes they're more a deficit than an asset."
The elder lady sighed, though the shadow of a smile hovered at the corners of her lips.
"That is why we named her Paddy," explained Dizzy carefully. "Because of her peculiar ability to say the wrong thing at the right moment."
"Is Miss Burke Irish?" asked Saul Murmer, with very apparent innocence.
"Only by etymological adoption." explained Eva. "By birth she is a Jewess. I have a suspicion that her Irish veneer was induced by a frantic, but hopeless, passion for Dizzy."
"Gott in—" Dizzy leaned back in his chair limply.
"Eva!" Paddy's high, clear voice rose above the murmur of laughter. "Why will you not respect my girlish confidences Now he will pester me to run away with him, but I won't go unless you come, too."
With the quick turn of thought characteristic of her, she turned to the Inspector.
"Do you know, I'm quite thrilled to sit next to you, Mr. Murmer. Please tell me what you and Mattie were discussing before we came. My sins?"
"Nothing so important, Paddy," replied Miss Westways quickly. "I was telling Inspector Murmer of those strange missives I have received lately."
"Aren't they thrilling!" exclaimed the girl.
"I don't know," replied Saul Murmer guardedly.
"He uses lovely notepaper—the kind you get at Salfvalley's for sixpence a dozen sheets, and violet ink," the girl continued. "But he can't match colours, or draw, not a weeny bit."
"Sounds interesting," observed Dizzy. "Why haven't I heard of these love-letters before?"
"Because you're dangerous," retorted the girl. "Eva says you wrote up your own wedding for the newspapers, and then sent them bills for the 'news' at space rates."
"Well, it cost a lot to marry Eva," said the journalist defensively. "I had to get it back somehow. Wait until you are married—"
"I'll do my own publicity, thank you." Paddy turned her well-defined nose up. "Besides—I shall never marry—"
"Is that a vow of celibacy—or a hint at something improper? As a good Jewess you're an anti-assimilationist, and I haven't forgotten that Theo is a heathen Gen—ough!"
Dizzy broke off suddenly, bending and rubbing his shin.
"But what of those letters?" asked Saul Murmer.
"They're not proper letters," interposed Paddy before Miss Westways could speak. She added, hastily: "I don't, mean they're improper, as Dizzy understands it, only they're drawings, not words."
Eva Laine lifted her glass and sipped meditatively. "Paddy, I do happen to know this is your first glass of wine—"
"I had a cocktail with Theo when we had dinner at Prince's!" exclaimed the girl.
"Do modern University students run to cocktails and dinners at Prince's?" asked Dizzy.
"Why wasn't I—"
"I wouldn't have married you if you had been," Eva laughed. "Theo is a—"
"University student," completed her husband.
"He's a B.A.," announced Paddy complacently. "And his father has oceans of money."
"You can't, really, Paddy," protested Dizzy, in mock alarm.
"Eva did," replied the girl darkly.
"Eva's a Gentile," defended the Journalist.
"She assimilated you—and looks as if she's had mental indigestion ever since!" Paddy put in her thrust triumphantly. She turned to her aunt. "What is it, dear."
"You are talking too much." Miss Westways hesitated. "Our new generation is so-so—
"We don't want brains," drawled Dizzy "We've got wireless."
"But what of those letters?" asked Saul Murmer inquisitively, when the laughter had died down. Miss Westways opened her bag and took out a thick mauve envelope. She handed it to the detective.
The police officer took it delicately and extracted a folded sheet of mauve paper. He spread it open on the tablecloth. The paper was of fair quality, matching the envelope. On it had been drawn, in violet ink, a crude Illustration of a box. There was no other mark on the paper.
For some moments Saul Murmer examined the drawing in silence. A strange, creepy feeling grew on him. He could not suppress the idea that the sketch was intended to represent a coffin. He fumbled in his waistcoat pocket and produced a very thick monocle. Screwing this into his left eye, he bent again to the paper.
"Isn't that dinky?" Paddy clasped her hands admiringly. "Mr. Murmer, when we're married I shall insist on your always wearing a monocle."
"While you wear his bracelets," suggested Dizzy, laughingly.
"Ugh! Not his kind," retorted the girl with a little shiver. "It you please, I'll choose my own, I hate bracelets to match, except on the same wrist."
She paused, a sudden thought striking her, and touched the engrossed Inspector on the arm. "Mr. Murmer, please lend me your handcuffs."
"My—what?" Saul Murmer looked up astonished.
"Your handcuffs, please. Don't tell me you haven't brought them!" Paddy was growing excited. "Mattie! I've got a simply gorgeous idea! A new fashion! Oh—it's a wow! A real humdinger! Listen, all of you!" Her excited hands swept over the table, nearly sending several glasses to destruction. "Sorry, dears; but this is important! I've found a new fashion. Listen! Listen!"
"Quiet, darling!" Dizzy spoke soothingly. "You'll tell the world, and then Miss Westways won't be able to make a million or two out of it."
"It's great! It's a booster-boost; the king of wiggle-boys!" In her excitement Paddy rose to her feet. "Listen! I'm going to get a pair of silver handcuffs made, and wear them."
"Thank heaven!" Dizzy lifted pious hands. "My cigarettes and your aunt's purse will at last be safe."
"Not on different wrists, silly-darling," Paddy patronised. "Both on the same arm. Isn't it great, Eva? We'll set a new fashion, and Mattie shall pay us well tor the idea, and advertising it—and then I won't have any deficit for you to worry about. And I can have all the frocks I want. Eva, I saw a perfect dream of a dance-fr—"
"Sans back, tight-fitting breastplate in front, a bewildering mass of frills and furbelows at foot, to twine and twist round a poor man's ankles—" complemented Dizzy.
"Poor men don't come to expensive night-clubs," chided the girl.
"Journalists are taken to nightclubs by wives—and they're poor men," defended the newspaper-man. "But go to it, Paddy. It you can show Eva how to relieve the deficit in the domestic budget, I'm all for—"
"Oh, there's Theo!"
In a moment the girl was running, down the room to greet a tall, blonde young man, standing, just inside the doorway, a somewhat vacant look on his round, pleasant face.
"Wireless triumphant over brains," observed Dizzy, somewhat disparagingly.
"You're jealous. He's only typical," retorted Eva. "He's working for his. M.A."
"Or his father is." Dizzy was in one of his obstinate moods, determined to have the last word.
From the half-lights appeared Henri and a subordinate waiter, carrying laden trays. Inspector Murmer folded the mauve notepaper, replaced it in its envelope, and slipped it into his pocket. He sat back, to watch Paddy Burke approach the table, her hand in the crook of the tall youth's arm.
"Here's Theo—Theo Manning, people," announced the girl. "Henri, we shall want another chair, please. Sit up tight, for Theo's going to sit with us. Now, Mattie, no scowls. If you frighten him away to another table, I shall go, too—and that will shock all your Early Victorian minds."
"The feminine Victorian mind, or the University Victorian mind?" asked the newspaper-man, with apparent innocence.
"Bother those streamers," The Green Lagoon was festooned with a number of gay paper streamers, dependant from the floor of the gallery over the tables, and arching over the dancing floor. One of these had broken loose from its fastenings on the wall, and had fallen between Dizzy and the waiter, busy arranging the dishes on the table.
The journalist caught at it and tugged. To his surprise it would not break. It fell against the edge of the table again. Theo Manning leaned across Dizzy, drawing the streamer towards him. It caught on the edge of the table and, at the same moment, was hauled boldly up by someone in the gallery above. The table tilted sharply, and before anyone could interfere dishes, glass, cutlery and wine were cascaded into Inspector Murmer's lap.
Miss Westways blanched to the lips; a frightened look came in her eyes.
"I expected that," she said softly. "What on earth does it mean?"
MANY times during his service with the police, in England and Australia, seriously-speaking men and women had informed Detective-Inspector Saul Murmer that their lives were threatened. Many persons, were willing, even eager, to furnish elaborate details; but in no instance had a previous statement been followed by the decanting of an elaborately laid supper into his lap. The incident of the overthrown table gave Murmer reason to take Miss Westways' statements seriously, apart from the lady's undoubted personal charms.
The table had not been overthrown accidentally. The streamer had not fallen accidentally; nor had the swift hauling of the cord, concealed in the streamer into the gallery above, been a coincidence. Saul Murmer had been in the gallery above the table at which his party had been seated within sixty seconds of the first, hors-d'oeuvres reaching his immaculate trousers.
The place was deserted, the idle chairs and bare tables looking ghostly disconsolate in the dim lights reflected from the hall below. The mâitre d'hôtel, Luke Lenoire, volubly assuring him that the gallery was closed that evening to Green Lagoon clients; that it was never used except on carnival nights, and then only when the main floor accommodation was insufficient. Scanning the ruins of the once immaculate garment he believed fitted perfectly, Saul Murmer gave a liberal discount to Luke Lenoire's assurances of "impossibilities."
The search he insisted on resulted in the discovery of a silken cord, slight but of undoubted strength, under one of the tables, the gaudy papers of the streamer now only half-concealing it. It was only then that he allowed himself to be escorted to the dressing room, and temporary repairs executed.
When the detective rejoined the party, the younger members were inclined to make a joke of the affair and chaff the Inspector on his monopoly of the good things.
Miss Westways, however, noticed Saul Murmer's uneasiness, his surreptitious rubs and concealments of his damaged raiment, and decided she was tired. She asked the Inspector to escort her home, and in her flat at Elizabeth Bay ensconced her new friend in a well-fitting chair, a generous glass filled with an enticingly aromatic liquid on a low table beside him.
His suspicions of the contents of the glass fully confirmed, Saul Murmer sighed comfortably and looked at Miss Westways, seated in a similar chair to the one he occupied, and, on a low table beside her, a miniature delicate glass to the one that had provoked his admiration.
"Mathilde," he thought, "a really fascinating name for a very charming lady."
"I suppose you think me very foolish, Inspector." Miss Westways broke the long, satisfying silence. "But—"
"Not at all," said Saul Murmer; and for once felt he meant it.
"The letters alone are not worrying me," continued the lady. "There have been other things."
"Other things?" queried the Inspector comfortably.
"Surely you understand, Mr. Murmer?" A slight accent of asperity in the lady's tones awoke the police officer to the knowledge that not even a high official of the New South Wales Police Department could be in a spinster's flat at midnight without impropriety, unless chaperoned by "business."
"Oh, yes, certainly. Yes, surely!" A short effort, and he was sitting upright. "You are thinking of the—er—supper incident?"
"Yes." Miss Westways settled comfortably on her cushions again. Saul Murmer pondered the suggestion. He could not see a light.
"Young men and girls sometimes lose their little wits at night clubs," he suggested indifferently. Then more boldly: "It may have been a practical Joke."
"Bosh!" said Miss Westways.
Silence came on the two persons in the comfortably furnished sitting room. Saul Murmer began to find the chair, on which he sat not quite so comfortable: the liquor in the tall sparkling glass seemed to have a—something! The cigarette between his lips "bit" his tongue. It was his own tobacco, so he could not complain of that. He shifted uneasily in the deep chair—and suddenly remembered a cosy flat at King's Cross. That was it. He looked at his watch.
"There are five of those mauve envelopes, each containing a drawing of a box." A slight gesture of Miss Westways' right hand indicated a small pile of letters on the table beside the Inspector. "Directly after each letter arrived there was a—" the lady hesitated—"a practical Joke."
"Five letters—and five—er—practical Jokes—" The round baby blue eyes opened wide wits astonishment.
"That is so." Miss Westways spoke emphatically. "The first letter was followed by Paddy finding a live mouse in the letter-box." She paused and resumed speaking meditatively: "I have since wondered who was the most startled—I put salt, instead of sugar, in my tea. Paddy can scream!" Again Miss Westways paused. "I understood nothing frightened the modern girl!"
"So long as it wears—er—pants," explained the Inspector gravely. "Nothing! And—the other occasions, Miss Westways?"
"Things just as silly! Someone took the main electric light fuse the night before the second letter came, then—"
"Hello, everybody!" The sitting room door swung quickly open, and Paddy Burke came into the room with a flurry of draperies and a breath of the cool, clean, night air.
Inspector Murmer looked at the girl with interest. She was beautiful, with her dark, glowing, almost Eastern colouring, the vivid sparkle of intense young life in her western eyes. Not yet for her the meditation and remorse of this world of doubts. Her life was still in the present; her thoughts hesitating on the threshold of womanhood, her feet still treading the paths of adolescence.
Theo Manning had entered the room, immediately following the girl. The youth had been a problem to the Inspector all the evening. He had rarely spoken, never unless directly addressed. Yet he was not sulky; keen, rather old-worldly eyes had followed every incident since he had joined the party. He was tall and very blonde; light blue eyes not relieving an almost colourless, expressionless face.
The youth had puzzled the police officer. He had wondered what attraction the youth held for the girl. That there was an attraction he had no doubt, the proof was in her tones and gestures, careless though they seemed. Saul Murmer sighed. He admired the girl immensely; he felt he would like to make her a friend, in one of those semi-avuncular relationships that only can take the place of equality between the very young and those who have lost the fires of life's morning.
"Found the box, Mr. Murmer? Let me have a look, please—or is this only an informal evening call?"
"This latter would be ruled out of order at this time of night!" remarked the detective with a smile. He glanced at his wrist-watch, shrugged, and commenced to rise to his feet. Two firm little hands pressed against his shoulders, forcing him back on the seat.
"That's not fair," Paddy protested. "It's only half-past one, and you look so comfy." She perched herself on the arm of the detective's chair. "You know, I'm only allowed out until one, sharp, and Mattie waits up for me, even when I'm with Theo; and he wants a chaperon more than I!"
"Don't worry Mr. Murmer, Paddy." Miss Westways spoke with a suspicion of petulance. "Police Inspectors are not always detecting."
"I observe that." The girl spoke with a little restraint. She hesitated a moment. "Eva took Dizzy home."
"I expected they would bring you home," observed Miss Westways carelessly.
Miss Burke shook her dark curls. "Theo had his car," she explained. "At least, it's his father's car—but that's the same thing."
Inspector Murmer changed the subject. The ladies were tired and cross; yet there were questions he wished answered before he left. The sketches, the small practical jokes, must have some hidden meaning.
"Miss Burke," he said. "Have you seen anything about your home resembling the box of the sketches?"
The girl shook her head. "Nor at 'Florabella?'" he continued.
Saul Murmer thought the girl answered almost too quickly. She changed the subject, glancing down at the Inspector's attire. "So Mattie cleaned you up. Awfully mean to collar all our supper like that! Still, Mr. Lenoire did well for us—and Henri told us you said to save the bill for him—and Theo almost fought him for it; didn't you, Theo?"
The tall, thin young man nodded. He was lounging against the wall, staring solemn-eyed at the girl. Paddy nodded gaily to him. "I just adore Theo," went on the girl. "I love talking, and he never interrupts. Other boys—" she made a little moue—"think they have to entertain a girl—and think that they should talk for heaps more than half the time." She paused! "Theo did say something last week, and I was so surprised that I could not remember what I had been talking about for a full minute."
"Paddy!" Miss Westways expostulated gently. The girl turned slightly sideways on the chair-arm, swinging a shapely leg and kissing her fingers to the elder lady. She glanced down at the watching police officer.
"Isn't auntie pretty, Mr. Murmer," she whispered semi-confidentially. "You know, if I were a man I should fall desperately in love with her." Then noticing Saul Murmer's look of surprise, she added. "Didn't you know that Mattie was my aunt, Inspector? I don't think much of you as a detective, if you didn't detect that!"
"I didn't," said Saul Murmer gravely. "You see, missy, in the days of my youth, little girls didn't call their aunts by their given names."
Paddy laughed. "I am supposed to be rebuked," she replied; then sprang to her feet, facing the detective. "But detective, dear, if you only knew how safe it makes one to feel, especially for a girl as young as I am. And—and I do call her 'auntie' sometimes—when I know the people about me, or when we're quite by ourselves, and I know it's absolutely safe."
Saul Murmer stared his astonishment. Miss Westways made an apologetic gesture.
"Don't you understand, really?" Miss Burke looked down, almost pityingly on the Inspector. "Surely you know that the girls of today emancipated from crinolines, bustles, leg-o'-mutton sleeves, and chaperones—poor auntie tries to be a very competent latter—have to be so very, very careful; especially when they possess young and pretty aunties—" The girl watched the Inspector's face, amusement, dancing in her fine eyes. "You are stupid," she considered. "You don't understand one bit—and you call yourself a detective! Have you remembered that when auntie marries—"
"Paddy!" said Miss Westways sharply.
"Of course you are going to get married, auntie." Paddy turned swiftly, then again faced the seated Inspector. "You see, Mr. Murmer, when that happens, and I've a hunch it won't be so many months ahead of us, I shall have to call her husband 'uncle,' if I call her 'auntie' now! And, just imagine! Supposing I don't like him. To call him 'uncle' and just hate the sight of him will be too awfully shrieking! Why—" She glanced over her shoulder at Miss Westways, and then at the detective, and there was subtle meaning in her glances. She broke into a series of little giggling laughs. "—so, you see, I call her 'Mattie' just for the time, and until I know whom she intends to marry. When she does make up her mind, and takes a pick from the nice men trailing on her skirts, I promise, faithfully, to call him 'uncle'—and her, of course, 'auntie'—haven't I, Mattie? But if she takes one of the nasty ones, however much she loves him, I'll—"
"Paddy, dear—" Then Miss Westways laughed. "Inspector, you will come to believe I live in a constant state of 'Paddy, dear,'" she continued; "Though she is a bit of a handful—"
"A dear," corrected the girl. With a swing of her voluminous skirts she again seated herself on the arm of the Inspector's chair, swinging her legs and showing rather more of silk-clad limbs than before. She rested her arm on the back of the chair, bending down to peer into the police officer's face. "I know auntie thinks I'm everything that's awful—and everything nice; and I think she's the dearest, darlingest, bestest auntie that ever a girl could have! And I think you're nice, too, Mr. Murmer. Your name is Saul, Isn't it—and Dizzy's Paul. Isn't that funny—"
She paused and again scanned the smooth skinned, round face just below the level of her shoulder. "I do think you're nice, Mr. Murmer. No, I'll call you 'Uncle Saul.' Now, isn't that just too sweet? And, let me whisper. Uncle Saul—I think Mattie thinks the same as I do."
"Paddy!" exclaimed the horrified lady.
"Oh, but she does, in spite of that 'Paddy'—and I daresay she'll give me a big, big kiss and-a bear-hug, when you've gone—so that I'll know that it I have said something—something I shouldn't have said—though I won't understand why—" She laughed, looking teasingly at Miss Westways. She hesitated. "Yes; I think I could very easily call you 'Uncle Saul'—and mean it—and now and then give you big, big, uncley kiss—when you do something I like very especially."
Miss Burke swayed dangerously on the arm of the big chair towards the stout inspector, her eyes glowing with mischief. For a moment Saul Murmer thought she was going to experiment in a—a perfectly "uncley" manner, and his ingrain English Puritanism caught fire. He struggled to rise to his feet, glancing suggestively at his wrist-watch. From his wrist-watch Inspector Murmer glanced at the girl above him. With an effort, he covered his embarrassment with a veneer of officialdom.
"I—er—suppose, Miss Burke, you have seen nothing of a box in any resembling the—er—drawings sent to Miss Westways," he asked, apparently forgetting that but a short quarter-of-an-hour before he had asked a very similar question.
"The box—Oh! But, Mr. Murmer, you are not going to leave us?"
Paddy had a single-track mind. "Oh, please don't go; I was just beginning to—No, I said that at the night-club. But, you know, Uncle Saul, it you go, Theo will have to go, too—you really can't leave a sheik like him with two unprotected females at this time of night. Don't go, please!"
Saul Murmer shook his head. He felt there was safety in flight. Also he noted Miss Westways' face, and gathered from her expression that an adjournment of the evening would meet with her entire approval. Again he shook his head. Suddenly Paddy smiled, waltzing across the room with a little shriek of delight.
"I know! Uncle Saul, you live at King's Cross, don't you? Then Theo shall drive you home. It's on his way, and he has his car—I mean his father's car." She beckoned imperiously to her cavalier. "Theo, you are to drive Inspector Murmer home—and, Theo, none of your speeding tricks while he's in your charge—" She broke off with a squeal of delight, clasping her hands to her breast and gazing rapturously at the police officer, "Oh, isn't it gorgeous, Mattie! Just think of it! Theo, with his craze for speed, doing it through Sydney suburbs with an inspector of Police in his car!"
She swung to the youth again. "Theo, you can speed as much as you like, and the faster you go the more I'll love you—" She paused, glancing from one to the other; then, impatiently: "Oh, don't you see? He can't arrest you for speeding while you're the means of him getting safely home at this hour of the night! Yes, yes! Inspector Murmer, we've got the goods on you, and over the night-club affair, too! You paid for our supper—and it included spirituous liquors bought after licensing hours!" She turned to her aunt, rapturously: "Oh, gorgeous! gorgeous! He's delivered right into our hands for ever and ever! We've got the—the goods on him—as he tells all the nice crooks when he puts them in those nasty, dark, damp cells! Oh, good-o!"
Saul Murmer grinned, and something like a smile dawned on Miss Westways' slips. Miss Paddy Burke was, in her own phraseology, something of a handful. The Inspector clasped the slender hand frankly extended to him, with a visible thrill of pleasure. He knew the girl liked him—and he was absolutely certain he liked her. He went to take leave of the elder lady, in somewhat incoherent words, for all his life he had been a very lonely man, and the homely chaff of the girl had brought back memories of what might have been had he devoted less time to business. As he turned to the door, the girl sped before him.
"Sit down, Mattie, I'm seeing, 'Uncle Saul' out. You know, I can't trust you early Victorians—or early Edwardians—which is it, Theo, with your tender love-passages in our little hall at two in the morning. Come on, Theo, it doesn't take you all night to say 'good-bye' to Mattie. Yes, I'm turning you both out. Theo, you're to drive Uncle. Saul home and then—then I'm not going to be responsible for you—until we meet again."
In the car, on the silent suburban streets, and throughout the drive to King's Cross, Theo Manning preserved his pose of silent watcher.
Only when Inspector Murmer had alighted from the car and was turning to thank him for the lift home, he abandoned his sphinx pose, making his first spontaneous remark for the evening.
"Paddy's a goer, isn't she?" he observed suddenly. "Awfully pretty and a good kid, though. Think so?"
Saul Murmer nodded. He was not prepared to discuss the ladies with this very wordless young man.
"Say, Inspector—" Theo broke in on the detective's thanks. "Paddy's got a wheeze."
"Is that original?" asked the Inspector coldly.
"She's got a wheeze," repeated the young man imperturbably. "It's a wheeze that we—she and I—should hunt up this artist feller who's drawing those boxes and sending them to Miss Westways. Awful bore, y' know; but what's a feller to do when the girl says so!" He paused, then added, in less lazy tones. "I thought perhaps you might—" His voice faded beneath the Inspector's stony stare.
"You thought I might, what?" asked Paul Murmer.
"Well, it's like this—" The light, lazy voice drawled on. "Just like this. If Paddy says 'So,' its 'So'—and so I've got to line up with Sherlock Holmes, Dr. Thorndyke, Deadwood Dick, and all them beastly masters of energy. Y' know, they don't have classics on detecting at the 'varsity, though why, I don't understand, or I'd swot, it up there. So I thought you'd give me a few pointers on how you fellers go about the biz. Not that I want you to give away any of your patents, or copyrights, or anything like that. That wouldn't be fair to you fellers who have to earn your living at the swot. All I want is just a few hints on how to catch the feller—see?"
Saul Murmer laughed. He considered; perhaps it would not be a bad thing to give this empty-beaded youth something useful to do—though, of course, he would not allow him or the girl to run themselves into any real danger.
"A few hints!" Inspector Murmer apparently considered. "Well, I don't see any reason why I shouldn't. Suppose you and the young lady just keep your eyes open—for the man who drew those sketches, and—and for the box they refer to. You may get on to something—" He paused, and his voice took a stern note. "That's all you can do: just watch. When your certain someone is taking a suspicious interest in Miss Westways and her business, come to me. Do nothing else. I'm not going to have you children run your heads into danger. Understand?"
He waved a brief farewell, and turned towards the block of buildings. Almost as his foot touched the step, the youth's voice halted him. "Hey, Inspector! There's one thing Paddy and I have seen. There's been a feller hanging about 'Florabella' quite a lot of late. Tall feller, wears a monocle; drawls his words, like all you English—" The Inspector thought this rather rich of the young man, even though he claimed Australian birth. "Dresses well, and all that," continued Theo. "Oh, and remember. He's got quaint eyebrows, or at least one them—the left one, I think, comes right down to a peak—and then he has a bit of a limp—"
"Which leg?" asked Saul Murmer sharply. "Left. Goodness—why he's all left, I remember. Left eyelashes, left leg for the limp; and monocle screwed in his left eye. By Jove! That's quaint! All left! Know him, Inspector?"
The detective considered a few moments, repressing thoughts that had sprung to his mind. "Can't say that I do," he replied carelessly. "That limp sounds interesting; and those eyelashes should certainly place him. I'll have a few inquiries made, but it you should see him again, just tip oft any of our men who happen to be near." Murmer paused, then added hastily; "I mean you—not Miss Paddy. You don't want to mix her up in this sort of thing."
"Couldn't keep her out of it," drawled Theo Manning, with his usual wan smile, "She's the sort who takes to dangers and adventures like a puppy laps milk. Goo'-night!"
Manning accelerated the engine of the car, and Saul Murmer turned again to the entrance of the block of flats. Suddenly the sounds from the engine died away and, involuntarily, the Inspector turned. The youth beckoned him to come to the car window again.
"Say, Inspector, I forgot!" There was no trace of excitement in the young man's voice. "The johnnie wears one of those queer old-fashioned tailed coats—what the English call morning coats. Awfully quaint! Say, dad says he's going to send me to England when I've finished at the coll.—to study the people. He says they're worth it, but I don't know! And—"
He paused and bent again to the gears. "S'pose you want your beauty sleep, so I won't keep you. Just keep one eye open for the feller—and when you see him call on me. We'll have him in Long Bay, or wherever you keep those johnnies before he—"
The car shot forward trailing a "W-e-l-l, s-o-o l-o-ng!" behind it.
For a few moments Saul Murmer stood on the pavement watching up the road in the direction the car had travelled. He turned to the steps leading up to his home, a puzzled frown on his round, good-humoured face.
"Peaked eyebrows, limp, monocle, old-fashioned morning coat! Yes—I guess I'll know that man!"
He put the matter from him as he ascended to his floor in the lift, and ten minutes after unlatching his front door, was fast asleep.
THE people of the city of Sydney boast of many things. They claim their city to be the biggest in the southern hemisphere, and that it has the largest shops and most dignified office buildings. They boast of their fine parks—and their harbour. Of late years they have added a bridge to their repertory, as proof that they inhabit the finest city in the world. They forget to mention that Sydney possesses some tortuous and inconvenient streets. And they do not boast of their public buildings. It is possible their constant evidence of the "Bridge" is to offset that structure against their Parliament House, which, in appearance, suggests suffering from a permanent "night out."
The city police headquarters executive offices, as is usual in the public service of the State, are situated in a building in one street, and the working departments in another street, far distant. To interview a working officer of the Police Department is an interesting experiment in archaeology, science and adventure. Adventure dictates an expedition to one of the most tortuous and narrow sections of Pitt Street. There a very narrow lane must be located—a lane that looks no different from its many fellows surrounding it. Half-way down this lane is a dark gateway, the doors of which slant permanently open. Beyond this gateway lies a gloomy maze of pillars—mute evidence that the latest contribution to science was not unknown to builders of a bygone generation. Searching amid these pillars, a narrow doorway, the interior several shades gloomier than the pillars area, may be located. Just inside the door is a large notice-board, recording a list of "Missing Persons."
Irreverent newspapermen have been known to observe that the names on the board should include those from whom they require information.
Occasionally adventurers, penetrating far into the bowels of Police Headquarters, have chanced upon a quaint little office, of three walls and a glass door, occupied by "Sergeant" Ben Bunty.
It must be recorded that the rank of sergeant is entirely honorary, for Ben Bunty had never risen past the rank of second-class constable. His pre-emption of this office was preceded by a lengthy sojourn in hospital, owing to a difference of opinion with a "wanted" gentleman from a certain city far south of Sydney. Returning to the Department labelled by the medical, authorities "permanently unfit for active duty," Ben Bunty found that a sympathetic Commissioner of Police had created for him the post of "messenger" to the Superintendent of Detectives.
As George Dixon, the present superintendent, preferred to "run" his own messages, "Sergeant" Ben found himself possessed of considerable leisure. Had the Police Department been other than a makeshift, in strict accordance with the permanent policy of the State, "Sergeant" Ben would have found his true vocation amid the archives of headquarters. To explain not as an exhibit, but as a memory stultified by tradition.
Sergeant Ben possessed a memory—a memory that soon came to be recognised by everyone concerned, from the Commissioner to the newest recruit. Failing messages to run, Sergeant Ben found his vocation in life by taking daily journeys through the police buildings, particularly through the passages between cells, surveying the occupants with satisfaction to himself and value to the Department. He frequented the police courts, and was particularly inquisitive concerning those escorted in the buildings by Zealous officers.
He had, also, a penchant for portraits—none of which would have been considered artistic by curators of galleries. As time progressed, Sergeant Ben's little foible for "portraits" became of increasing value—and various incumbents of the office of Superintendent of Detectives willing forwent the few little services they had hitherto exacted from their reputed "messenger." Amid the rank and file of the Department, Sergeant Ben became the last Court of Appeal. His recognition of a visitor as "Sydney Tones" was stubbornly accepted in spite of all protests that the gentleman's real name was Albert Lithe.
His identifications were accompanied by such a wealth of data that investigations among the musty files of the Department invariably supported his contentions, quite good alibis had a habit of fading into questionable untruths under the stare of the light-brown eyes in the big ruddy, round face.
Within a week of his arrival in Sydney, from London, on exchange duty, Detective-Inspector Murmer was escorted to the little "office" to be formally introduced, to Sergeant Ben. Saul Murmer had heard of the man, and stared at the little cubby-hole of an office and its occupant with much interest. He was somewhat disappointed, for he had expected to see an office crammed with filing cases, the desk littered with photographs and papers. Instead, he saw a apace approximately six-by-six, containing a small desk, a chair, and quite a number of charcoal portraits, of cartoon nature, drawn on the whitewashed walls.
Wedged in the chair, between table and wall, was a stout, ruddy man, in a constable's uniform. The large head was almost entirely bald, possibly due to the sergeant's habit of exciting thought with the palm of his left hand. Beneath the shining dome were very heavy brows and light-brown, small eyes. Further south appeared a snub nose, apparently supported by a huge, brown moustache. When Sergeant Ben smiled, two rows of even, very white teeth glowed as—as pearls among seaweed.
Some days later curiosity again led Saul Murmer to the cubby-hole and its occupant. Later, he made other visits. These were discovered by the alleged wits of the Department. On his next visit to Sergeant Ben he found a thin red string leading from the door of his office to the cubbyhole, The Inspector accepted this as a reply to a complaint he had uttered, that Police Headquarters should be supplied with direction signs.
The morning following his evening at the Green Lagoon, Inspector Murmer found himself, still lamenting the loss of a favourite pair of evening trousers, slated for an interview with his superintendent. Affairs of importance adjusted to the Superintendent's satisfaction, Saul Murmer sought Ben in his alleged office.
Inspector Murmer, like other visitors to Sergeant Ben, made his interview from where the door-mat should have been. He found Sergeant Ben intently surveying a remarkable series of charcoal sketches by famous Sydney cartoonists; all the cartoons being of the noted "sergeant," although some not too flattering.
On seeing the Inspector, Sergeant Ben sat upright and saluted smartly. He did not rise to his feet—that would have meant vacating his office.
"Morning, sir! Fine day!"
This was pure conjecture on the sergeant's part, as there was no window to the office—and he was optimistic regarding Sydney climate.
Saul Murmer shook his head sadly, surveying the portly figure in the chair.
"Sergeant Ben," he said mournfully. "When, you develop as far as I have developed, you will have to requisition for a new office."
Sergeant Ben dissented. "I'd be sorry to leave the old spot," he answered, surveying what he could see of his office with pride and affection. "Though, as you say, it is somewhat of a tight fit. Tain't as large as the one I 'ad at old p'lice headquarters, an' the dust be truly awful; but it's 'ome from 'ome, as you might say; for I'm like you, Inspector: I ain't found a woman as is good enough to marry a police officer." He shook his head sorrowfully. "There ain't many as is made that way."
"Perhaps women don't think police officers, are good enough for the homes they make," suggested the stout detective. "That's a thought you might ponder, Sergeant Ben. Police officers are a bit—er—irregular in their habits—not that I'm suggesting they're at all irregular in their conduct."
"I'm as regular as the Central Station clock." Sergeant Ben bridled. "I come 'ere at eight-thirty each morning, and I leaves at five-thirty, except on Saturday, when I leaves at twelve or thereabouts. No man can be more regular than that."
"No." Inspector Murmer spoke with a slight drawl. He changed the subject. "I've been having a little conversation with the Superintendent, Sergeant Ben."
The old man shook his head lugubriously.
"About night-clubs, sir, if I may be so bold as to mention the subject?"
Again Sergeant Ben shook his head. "He knows your partiality for sich places, as I've heard 'im say on more than one occasion. Not as I agrees with the superintendent—not by no manner of means, 'e does things as I can't agree with—not as 'e ain't got th' authority, but authority ain't allus right, if you understands what I mean?"
Shortness of breath, or perhaps the sharp edge of the office-table against the lower portion of his anatomy, caused Sergeant Ben to pause. Sergeant Murmer waited.
"It ain't right, by no means whatsoever," continued the Sergeant, trying to push the table through the office wall. "It ain't right, an' me sitting here from eight-thirty to five-thirty, except on Saturdays, when I leaves at twelve, as I've said. And, what if I do take a little stroll round the precincts of the courts, as I acknowledges I do sometimes. It's only to give the boys a hand, as you might say. But it's the Sooperintendent's duty to sit at his desk and press the little knob as is marked 'Messenger.' For how can he see you gents as wants to see 'im, if he's running his own messages?"
Again Sergeant Ben paused, gathering new breath, "As I ses, an' as you'll say, he ain't no more right to do it than for them h'English perdoocers to come here to Orstralyer and make pictures as makes us out ter be convicts and blackfellers, and kangaroos and bushrangers. Not as we ain't got some of the best convicts in the world. I stands up for Orstralyer in that, as I does in everything else. There's convicts as we've got as we're proud of—real proud to 'ave in our prisons."
Again Sergeant's Ben's voice faded into nothingness. Inspector Murmer nodded agreement in general, gravely.
"Perhaps Superintendent Dixon occasionally rings his bell, and you're not here."
"P'haps I wasn't here," agreed, Sergeant Ben, in no way abashed by the suggestion that he had been absent from duty. "But if I wasn't here I was still on public duty. There ain't messages allus to run, Inspector, as you may say. If there ain't no messages, then I turns my attention to other but them's always police duty, as I'm paid to perform and does. There's clues, sir, as you well know, and them has to be handled by experts—and where in this Police Department will you find them with the experience as I've got. As you know, sir, I ain't one to sit down with folded arms and feet."
Sergeant Ben broke off suddenly, noting that Inspector Murmer's eyes were gravely surveying the little office, bare of any sign, of paper record.
"It ain't papers and them things as I makes knowledge, sir," reproached Sergeant Ben. "Papers, and files, and card indexes be good for them people as ain't got memories, and there's plenty of 'em in this department, if I may be so bold as to say it. No, sir! Sooperintendant 'as a 'abit of running his own messages—and draws a salary from th' Department. With the Sooperintendant doing what he does, I had to find work becoming a man of my experience. And I found it, sir. There's those in the Department as ain't ate up in their own pride and consequence as 'as found Sergeant Ben useful, if he ain't ornamental. They knows as they've only to give me one look at a questionable party, and if I ain't seen him for twenty years—"
"Yes, Inspector," continued Sergeant Ben, when an interval had replenished the internal atmosphere. "You mayn't know, Mr. Murmer, if I may make so bold as to drop your title for the moment, not being one of our regular officers, as I've got a memory as is known in this Department. I ain't one to boast, sir, but it was me as ses to Inspector Williams; 'That's Ooke Kettigan in th' dock, when he fooled 'em he wasn't.'" Sergeant Ben coughed. "You didn't know Ooke, Mr. Murmer; no, he was afore your time, but he was a great kidder. They hadn't his finger prints, for it was in them days when we couldn't take their finger prints afore they were convicted. He called himself Algernon Courteney, and he was brought in for the Western States affair—and I laughed. I knew no mother 'ud let her son wander into a cold, hard world with a moniker like that hanging on to him; and I thought, and I presently I wanders close to the dock, and I ses, in a quiet and conversational voice: 'Hullo, Ooke, and how's the little second-hand book-shop down Redfern these days?'—and you should have seen him collapse—"
Sergeant Ben suddenly deflated himself. He struggled for fresh air, and words. Inspector Murmer interposed:
"Ever come across an Englishman with a partiality for a morning coat and striped trousers?" Saul Murmer winced at thoughts of trousers and his recent bereavement. "A tall man with a long, thin face, and a monocle in his left eye. Speaks with a drawl. Walks with a limp in his left leg—" The detective paused. "Thought you might remember him, especially as his left eyelashes come down to a peak on his cheek when he closes his eyes. Quite a strange malformation."
Sergeant Ben muttered the word "malformation" thrice. He was fond of words—especially unusual words. Inspector Murmur waited. If this man had ever come into the hands of the New South Wales Police Department, Sergeant Ben would remember him.
Clasping his hand behind his hack, and teetering on his toes, be waited: not for long, as it happened. "Left eyelashes come down to a peak," muttered the old constable. "A malfermentation! 'Course it would be! You're right, Mr. Murmer, sir, though he ain't been in the 'ands of the police, as you may say, quite official."
"How's that, Sergeant Ben?"
"Well, sir, it happened like this, and it's some time ago. The boys put up a raid on one of them clubs as they have in Darlinghurst, and they brought in the catch here—and a fine squeeze we had in the cells, for a time. Some of them had friends, as they telephoned to come, and bail them out. A few weren't quite so lucky, and had to make themselves comfortable for the night as best they could. We let 'em send out for breakfast in the morning, and anything else they fancied, except spiritualous liquors, of course. One of 'em as hadn't luck was this man with the malfermentation. I remember the malfermentation when I saw it in the line-up, when I went down to see as it I could pick out them as we wanted for other things. That was the time when I spotted 'Bingo' Samuels, the bloke as we wanted for the Landley jewellery robbery, not as he took much; there wasn't much in the shop to take. And didn't he just say things when I spotted him 'and called him by name—though why he should try to be rude, I can't say as you may say—"
"What about the man with the peaked eyelashes?" asked the Inspector.
"Oh, him?" Sergeant Ben went searching back in the wilderness of words he had released on the Inspector. "Oh, him! He got the usual; a quid for being on unlicensed premises, and drinking. That was, all, though he looked as if a h'angel 'ad come from 'eaven when, he saw Gaoler Franklin open the dock door and let him out."
Inspector Murmer laughed quietly. "You missed that time, Sergeant Ben. You had 'Winny' Demmage in your hands and let him go. And, now Scotland Yard wants 'Winny' badly. They hadn't an idea he had come to Australia or this department would have been notified. If you see him again, let me know before handing him the key of the street."
"Glad to, Mr. Murmer." Sergeant Ben beamed with pride. "I'll keep an eye open, sure!"
Inspector Murmer was turning from the small office when he was halted by the old man, with a question: "If I may make so bold, Inspector, just what has 'Winny' done?"
As the Inspector hesitated he added: "You see, sir, it's all meat for the cat, as you may say. If I know his usual lay can look for him among the usual gents as come in on that game. They ain't, original, as you well knows, sir thing, so as to say—"
"Blackmail; snow-drifting; anything with easy money and no hard work," said Paul Murmer briefly.
"Ah, is that 'so?" Sergeant Ben nodded his heavy head thoughtfully. "No hard work! Yes, sir; cracking a can is hard work, as they tells me, an' no mistake about it."
THERE are quite a number of people in the city of Sydney who know the Salom Club; but usually they prefer that this knowledge shall be tucked away in some private corner of their minds. On occasions, some frequenter of the club receives a shock when one sees some friend or business acquaintance escorted through the premises by the proprietor, Captain Artimus Pontifex. Between the two, for a few moments, recognition may be awkward, but relations are soon on a normal footing, and old-time friendship closer by reason of a mutual secret.
The Salom Club has a history. Popular rumour states that it was founded by certain army bloods in the history of Captain Bligh, and that its history is continuous from that date. Members are shyly proud of this record, while not prepared to openly confirm it. Tradition enters largely into the history and procedure of the Salom Club. Just as drinking and gambling were the primary objects in its early days, to-day, gambling is its chief object, under the benevolent proprietor—though not personally indulged in.
It is difficult to locate the Salom Club. The inquirer has to penetrate the wealth of small, winding streets, rock-bound and narrow, on the west side of Circular Quay. The club-house is of stone and shows signs of its many years' resistance to storm and sunshine. In appearance it is an ordinary dwelling-house, standing amid a welter of old-fashioned dwelling houses, now converted into factories and stores.
Captain Pontifex's immediate predecessor had been a good business man. Deliberately avoiding publicity, and approaching only men of wealth who care for a little "flutter" far from any chance of limelight, he had considerably increased the club membership during his term of proprietorship.
Finding within the original building a certain lack of accommodation, he had purchased the two houses in the rear. The three yards of the building, under a competent architect, had become an adequate supper-dance hall. The three main buildings had been comfortably linked with this hall, and the upper floors converted into chambers where matters not approved by the forces of law and order were operated.
Captain Pontifex was proud of his establishment; it was his daily custom, when he arrived at the corner of Gatlow Court and Platlow Street, to pause and observe the sombre grey-faced building he owned, with pride and satisfaction. Often he reflected on past days when he had not dared to dream of his present comfortable circumstances—days in London, New York, Paris, Berlin—and the gradual slow descent in the social scale to Singapore and Suez. At the latter place he had barely managed to obtain a living, until a noble Englishman with a passion for exploration and gambling had one night frequented his lowly establishment.
The Englishman had opened his eyes to the next day's daylight in a small hovel on the outskirts of the town, which he found he was sharing, democratically, with a Turk, a negro, a Senegalese, and a dago of obese and perfumed frame. Captain Pontifex had left before dawn for parts unknown, to reappear in Sydney, Australia.
Only chance had brought the gallant captain to Australia—the chance of the first discreet ship he could find. Now he flattered himself he was set for life. He preened himself that he had learned lessons from past experiences; he believed he had schemed out a means to an adequate livelihood that would last him until—
At that point he always stopped. He had never employed an auditor; he had never audited himself—and he dreaded his appearance before the Final Auditor of Human Lives.
While the gallant captain, regiment unknown, prided himself that his: club was only known to, and appreciated by, those, who found their needed pleasures within its walls, the New South Wales Police Department had quite a respectable dossier regarding the place, its proprietor, and its frequenters. Had Captain Pontifex known that his club and himself had occupied many hours of a conference of Police Department heads, he would, doubtlessly, have journeyed to fresh fields and pastures new, without the preliminary work, or packing.
That the knowledge did not filter to Captain Pontifex was satisfactory not only to his swelling banking account, but to the authorities. The conference had decided that the Salom Club was a nuisance, but a necessary nuisance. In result, orders were given to leave the police severely alone—and that membership should be obtained for certain officers, who were made responsible for the seasonal plucking from its branches those with who the Police Department had inquisitive occasions. These memberships were obtained without the proprietor being aware of the purposes behind the applications for membership, and through the nominations of city men of repute, who had a passion for what a former generation terms "slumming."
Not long after his arrival in Australia, Inspector Saul Murmer heard of Captain Pontifex and his Salom Club, Disregarding an old axiom that curiosity is far worse than a disease, he investigated. To his gratification his discovered in Captain Pontifex an old London acquaintance. If Captain Pontifex did not feel the same gratification as the police officer, he nobly concealed his real feelings.
Saul Murmer became, a valued member of the Salem Club. He was not so Innocent as to register under an imaginary name, knowing the physical disabilities which made the disguise impossible for him. All he required from Captain Pontifex, beyond the necessary permission to frequent the club, was a discreet silence regarding his occupation, and a complete "red-herring" when any club frequenter became knowledgeable and inquisitive.
So complete was Captain Pontifex's control of his club and members that it was more than two months after the Inspector's initiation before Superintendent George Dickson knew of the fact. Police rumours state that Superintendent Dixon, on receiving the news, swore very emphatically.
The Salom Club opened, or rather unbolted, its steel-lined doors exactly at mid-day on seven days of the week. Its hours of business, from mid-day to nine in the evening, were "light grey" compared with its hours of relaxation, from nine onwards past midnight. It is a coincidence that from six each morning, until Commissioner McFee arrived at his office, is occupied by worthy officers of the department in writing detailed reports in which the name of the Salom Club frequently appears.
The eighth morning after Inspector Saul Murmer met Miss Mathilde Westways at the Green Lagoon night-club, the Englishman attended by request, at Superintendent Dixon's room. The conference, and it would have been called a "conference" by Sergeant Lionel Leyland, who doted on such conferences, surrounded the history of one, Montgomery de Leuce, formerly named by misguided but doting parents, Benjamin O'Connors.
Montgomery de Luece had been, in an English existence, a teacher of handwriting in a large public school. The advent of shorthand, typewriting, dictographs, and the peculiar trend of modern education—establishing the theory that the more illegible a student's handwriting the higher his culture and education—rendered handwriting experts superfluous. M. de Luece had, as time progressed, found his fine upstrokes, his graduated down-strokes, and well-contrived loops, a drug on the scholastic market. He had to bewail the fact that the fine German script of the Victorian era had fled before Georgian motor-cars, aeroplanes, and a radio-whines.
Mistakenly, he took his only asset to the commercial markets. There, a slight slip in the curvature of a loop had proved the down-stroke of his career. M. de Luece rested, at a benevolent Government's expense, while then-Sergeant Murmer pondered deeply on the whereabouts of a sum of three thousand and ten pounds, nineteen shillings and sixpence. M. de Luece had always been artistic in detail, even while signing other people's cheques.
While a guest of His Britannic Majesty, in one of the palatial castles situated in lonely spots in England, Signor Montgomery de Luece became interested in history. He learned of the old-time punishment of transportation, and directed his attention, therefore, to such history of Australia as could be obtained in the country of his birth.
He found Australia intriguing, and when freedom came, transferred himself and his ambitions to the land under the Southern Cross. There he found men of wealth who had never learned the secrets of expert handwriting, and returned to his former artistic, work. Again the cheering cup betrayed—and Superintendent Dixon evolved a supreme desire to discuss handwriting with so great an expert. Naturally, he called on Inspector Murmer to secure an interview at an early date.
Leaving his Superintendent's office, Saul Murmer decided to walk down to Circular Quay. After the long and technical interview his primary desire was a longing for air; at the foot of Pitt Street he acquired a secondary desire—for information, and turned westwards. He arrived in Platlow Street to witness Captain Pontifex performing his morning genuflections to his property.
Quickening his steps, Saul Murmer drew level with the club proprietor at the moment he was reaching out a hand to press the little knob to announce his arrival to the stalwart doorkeeper unless that individual mistook the summons to be that of another "sheep" announcing his intentions to contribute his mite of fleece to this city-grazier's coffers.
"Consider the shearer of the lilies," misquoted Saul Murmer softly. "Solomon in all his glory—"
"Lilies?" Habit brought Captain Pontifex to a smart military salute. "Lilies?" he repeated. "I wouldn't call them lilies, my dear sir!"
"No?" Saul Murmer tilted his soft hat well to the back of his head and wiped his fevered brow. He disliked walking. "Then—shall we call them lambs?"
"Lambs?" The gallant captain spoke scornfully. "No, sir, we'll not call them lambs."
"Neither lilies nor lambs," the stout Englishman pondered mournfully; "Really, captain, you are difficult to please. Now a shearer—"
"A shearer is a common person who shears sheep," stated the club proprietor in the tone of one instructing abysmal ignorance.
"How clever!" Saul Murmer's tones held reverence. "May I ask, my dear captain, if you acquired that profound knowledge while earning a precarious living as a line sergeant in His Britannic Majesty's army—Arthur Wesley?"
THE secret history of Sydney records that a stern and grasping employer of labour, who had absorbed wealth in spite of the relentless battle waged against him by self-sacrificing high-souled labour leaders, once purchased for his son and heir an elaborate electric model railway system—and kept the apparatus in his office, in full work, for six consecutive weeks. When, reluctantly, he determined to part with the toy to the expectant recipient, he had first to call in an expert to repair working parts and install new batteries.
This example has only been quoted to exemplify the childish nature of man, who in spite of accumulated years, delights to prick any bubble. In the above sense of mischief, it may be conceived that Saul Murmer witnessed the sudden and complete collapse of Captain Pontifex, with delight. For long moments he watched the deflation his two uttered words had wrought. "Now, Insp—Mr. Murmer!" Glassy eyes and a pendulous lower lip showed to what depths the club proprietor had been plunged. He spoke pleadingly; "Er—I don't mind you having your little joke—but—but can't you forget that? There's a limit. You know, Mr. Murmer; there's black sheep—and I'm confessing I'm one—in every good family."
"Even in the family of a Walworth Street greengrocer?" Inspector Murmer simulated surprise. "Now I must remember that, for future use." The lazy blue eyes, scanned the deflated military form curiously. "I—er—thought you were going to take me into your excellent club."
Still Captain Pontifex did not move. His lips were working spasmodically; the glassy gaze in his small, predatory eyes had faded into one of malignant hatred. He struggled for speech.
"What do you want?" he said at length. "I'm striving to run straight to put a discoloured past behind me."
"Did you consider the roulette board at the Winter's Night Club quite straight?" asked Saul Murmer innocently.
Again the captain squirmed. "A lapse of integrity on the part of an underling" he muttered, recovering in some measure his acquired poise. "You know, Insp—Mr. Murmer, I paid the fine—and the magistrate accepted my explanation like the gentleman he was."
"While Bert Jones, the underling in question, retired to a poultry farm of long ambition," added the detective. "And—Bert Jones had four and tuppence in his banking account on the morning of the raid." He paused, then added: "I understand Bert Jones is doing excellently—on the poultry farm."
"I am not interested." Captain Pontifex reached out a steady hand and pressed the bell-knob firmly. "However, I am delighted to hear that a former—er—employee, who dropped into—er—error, has reformed and is making good. Er—are you coming in, Insp—Mr. Murmer?"
"As you so kindly invite me, I think I will."
"Always delighted to welcome you to my poor house of amusement." Captain Pontifex waved the clouded Malacca cane in airy salute to the doorkeeper.
Now completely ignoring the detective, Captain Pontifex strode firmly towards the interior of his club. He was on familiar ground; where he was master of men. He passed through the large supper room and an adjoining office, opened a door and ascended a flight of narrow, steep stairs to the upper floor. Outside the door of his private office he became aware that he was not alone. It was hardly a shock to recognise behind him the portly form of the English detective.
"You wish to consult me, Mr. Murmer?" The assurance which had grown while passing through his domain, fell abruptly from Captain Pontifex's shoulders.
"My dear captain, your conversation is always so charming—" Casually Inspector Murmer pushed past the hesitant club proprietor and entered the handsomely furnished office. For a moment he stood blocking the captain's entry, surveying the room. Then, having apparently selected the most comfortable armchair in sight, he ambled across the room and carefully lowered his full bulk into it.
"Yes?" Captain Pontifex entered his own office as if afraid of hidden trails. For a moment he stood before his official chair and his desk.
"I merely called to inquire if you had seen an old and valued mutual friend—one 'Winny' Demmage."
"Winn—" The club proprietor sat down so suddenly that the room shook, "Is Winny—is he in Australia? I thought—" He finished in a stuttering blur of words.
"Where the carcase is—" Saul Murmer smiled sweetly. "Not that I'm calling you a 'carcase', or even one of the vultures."
A few efforts at contortion, and Saul Murmer succeeded in reaching into a side pocket of his jacket and extracting a rather crushed packet of a popular brand of cigarettes. "May I offer you a smoke, captain? Those black cigars to which you are addicted are really bad for your nerves—and your nerves this morning! Tut, tut!"
With a visibly shaking hand the club proprietor reached across his desk and flicked back the lid of a large humidor, extracted one of the cigars disapproved of by the detective. Mechanically, he bit off the end and searched for a match.
"A light, captain?"
Captain Pontifex ignored the lighter extended towards him. He struck a match which flickered out. Throwing it down with unnecessary violence, he struck another. His elbow resting firmly on the desk top, he succeeded in applying the tiny flame to the end of the cigar.
"So it's a split!" The gambler spoke bitterly. "Another split; what I have to pay for the privilege of conducting a decent business decently." He turned on the lounging detective.
"I suppose if I don't split, you'll tell 'Winny' that Captain Pontifex is—"
"I should be very sorry to encourage major crime to that extent." Saul Murmer did not look pained, in spite of his words. "Shall, we say that you—"
"An infernal split!" Captain Pontifex spoke to infinity.
"Do you think Bill Stevens entirely trustworthy, captain?" Saul Murmer spoke in the tones of a director of a company consulting with the managing director the sins of an employee. "I have watched him at the tables."
A queer, swift motion of the detective's hands illustrated the remark. "I noticed that—an—er—important client of this establishment did not appear—er—too satisfied the other night. He appeared to think that Stevens was—er—too efficient. Of course, I understand I am discussing a very delicate matter."
"I'll sack him!", declared the virtuous captain explosively.
"Would that be wise?" The Inspector blew two successive smoke rings towards the ceiling. "He might—you know—"
"He—can't." The Captain's heavy hand descended on the desk top with a force that set its equipment dancing.
"You keep a members' book, captain?" Many people found Saul Murmer's habit of changing subjects in top gear disconcerting. Then noticing Captain Pontifex's hand dropping to a certain drawer of the desk, he added: "Please, Captain! It would pain me exceedingly to read your record of my erring Sydney brethren. If you would be so good as to inform me if a certain gentleman, named Manning—"
Captain Pontifex looked blankly at his interlocutor.
"A captain of modern finance—an influence in the church—a powerful politician—umph! Ah, yes, a certain Carrington Manning—" Saul Murmur murmured in easy, indifferent tones. Still Captain Pontifex stared bleakly before him. A short pause, and the detective officer announced:
"He is the proud possessor of a son. A Mr. Theodore Manning, in appearance a tall, distinguished blonde—and silent. Yes, silent—one of those strong silent characters women are reputed to love to distraction. A student, possibly, at our University—he may be only a daily visitor there. Certainly a student at Prince's and similar unhallowed haunts of Sydney vice, where they charge you six and eightpence for addressing a haughty waiter, and thirteen and fourpence for speaking familiarly to the band conductor."
"I don't know Mr. Manning," stated Captain Pontifex flatly. He turned suddenly in his chair. "What's the joke, Insp—"
"Hush!" Saul Murmer's soothing tones cut short the captain's fevered and almost impassioned speech. "Not here, in the sacred precincts of the Salom Club, hallowed by a history running back into the dim aeons of a convict ancestry. Not here, where—But, tut, tut, man! What would my superintendent say if he knew I was—"
"I hope he'd say a lot!" answered the club proprietor unkindly. "I hope he'd, say 'Get out!'"
"Surely not before you've enlightened my ignorance," Saul Murmer meditated. "So Mr. Carrington Manning does not indulge in a little secret flutter? A pillar of the church and—What a pity—My dear Captain, you must know him; I am only quoting a lady of my acquaintance—and they always know what they mean, even when mere man considers they are slightly ambiguous. Now, my dear captain, a captain of finance, a pillar of the church, is surely useful, especially when the baccarat table is under suspicion—"
"The whole cursed place is under suspicion, according to you," snapped the captain. "Now, listen here, Murmer—"
"Mister Murmer." The lids fell over the baby-blue eyes tiredly; the cupid bow lips pursed sweetly. "Please, Mister Murmer—I am entitled to it, I think, captain."
For a brief moment the eyelids lilted, then dropped again. "I always call you 'captain'—and I do like the truth."
Captain Pontifex suddenly wilted. He passed his hand wearily over his high brow. "What do you really want to know, Mr. Murmer." The bold voice was now very conciliatory.
"Just what do you know of Winny Demmage."
"Dem—" A groan strangled in the club proprietor's throat. He struggled for words; at last they came: "Say, Inspector, you're joking, aren't you. Winny ain't in Australia—Now, straight?"
"Winny is interested in a lady of my acquaintance; he is also interested in art." Saul Murmer was choosing his words carefully. "I am afraid he is a bad artist. I do not approve of his drawings—they are far, far too crude and in subject are open to suspicion."
A certain satisfaction peeped from the dimples surrounding the full red lips. The half-opened eyes were bland, yet in their depths held the content of the hunter who sees his prey at his mercy—and has none for it. For many seconds the Inspector waited, lolling back at ease in the comfortable chair. Captain Pontifex did not speak.
"Am I to understand that you have no knowledge of Winny Demmage; that you are unaware he is in Australia—and above all, that you and he are not bosom friends?"
"Him?" The club proprietor blazed to sudden passion. "If I could—"
"Forgive your friends; do to them who hate you." The gentle smile had returned to the detective's lips. "I always do. Stern fate has cast me for the part of the gentlest shepherd—"
"And I'm the blooming sheep!" Captain Pontifex spoke bitterly.'
"Aren't you mixing your metaphors?" asked Saul Murmer gently.
"Metaphors shouldn't interest you dicks," snarled the club proprietor. "S'pose you're inferrin' I'm the bloomin' goat! Well, I am, and I know it—sitting here talking to the likes of you—"
"Walworth Road on a Sunday morning!" Saul Murmer viewed the ornate ceiling of the office through a haze of his own tobacco smoke. "You're afraid of Winny, Captain, Now, I wonder—just why?"
"It you've got a search warrant—"
"What is that?" The full, round face showed surprise. "Really, Captain Pontifex! I'm only Mr. Murmer—Saul Murmer—a man with a rather thick streak of inquisitiveness regarding—"
"Goodness! I'd say thick—" Captain Pontifex cast up his eyes devotedly. "Not a streak—No, a whole bloomin' bucketful. Bah!"
There are times when the whole English language—admittedly the widest and most voluminous in the world—becomes entirely inadequate; and Captain Pontifex believed he had stumbled on one of these rare occasions. For a moment he fervently wished he knew German—a language in which every word, carefully uttered, can be made to sound the very depths of defamation; where word combinations can be infused with a strength of objurgation that would hasten the Recording Angel to turn to a new and unsullied page in his library of ledgers.
Captain Pontifex merely stuttered, stuttered again, felt calmer, paused, then spoke: "So you haven't a search-warrant, Inspector. Sorry! You'd need that, you know, for I don't like 'inquisitive streaks'—or whatever other fancy names you like to call them. I've got other—"
"Please don't say 'other fish to fry,'" urged the detective, not making any attempt to vacate his chair. "May I suggest? Say—"
A low knock came on the door panel. It was so soft that it merely caused Saul Murmer to stop speaking, yet be doubtful whether there had been a knock or not. It was repeated. Captain Pontifex heard this time, and growled an order for the interrupter to enter. The door opened; slowly, and a man stood in the room. At sight of the Inspector in the room, he muttered something and made to retreat.
"Don't mind me, Freddie," said Saul Murmer kindly. He smiled benevolently on the man. "I wouldn't like to disturb the usual routine of this establishment through a friendly morning chat with my dear friend, Captain Pontifex."
"Yes, sir. If you please, sir!"
"Well, what is it?" The club proprietor did not look at the man in the doorway, his whole attention being centred on the detective, lolling comfortably back in the deep chair, apparently set for a long and painful interview.
"It's the gentleman in No. 4, sir." The waiter backed quickly into the passage as Captain Pontifex turned suddenly and glared at him. "I think they have been quarrelling, and—and—"
"Well!" barked the club proprietor.
"I thought I heard a sound, sir!"
"A sound? How strange!" Saul Murmer opened inquisitive eyes. They scanned the man idly, then wandered to where Captain Pontifex sat, gaping surprise.
"He heard a sound! I thought you had the walls of this palatial edifice specially deadened, captain?"
The club proprietor jumped up from his chair, his face suffused with anger.
"I've just about had enough of—"
"Of noises," interjected Saul Murmer, nodding entire, agreement. "Sydney is a city of noises. There are tramcars, railway trains, aeroplanes, and radios, not to mention bridge clubs, tea-shops and motor bikes, politicians and Domain orators. And if we try to avoid these painful accessories of modern civilisation, and wander into the sylvan retreats so generously provided by paternal Governments, you find out-of-work musicians practising banjo accompaniments to soul-harrowing songs, labour leaders of personal zeal, politicians of brands unknown to Whitaker's Almanack, and teachers of religions so weird and fantastic that one wonders if the hereafter is not a continued Christmas pantomime complete with Columbine and Harlequin; not to mention a first-class clown in cassock and surplice. Various and different, you say, yet they have one thing in common; a speech that would have made the Tower of Babel builders appear to be talking an ancient Esperanto, and with a volume that makes one hope that there are limits beyond which loud speaker inventors will not be permitted to go."
The detective shifted lazily in his chair, until he had a better view of the man in the doorway. "What sort of noise, my man? A noise like someone imbibing an unexpectedly offered drink, like a Salvation Army hymn in a quiet street, or merely our friend the milkman at an unusually unearthly hour of the morning—"
"It sounded like a motor-car backfiring, sir," replied the man, stolidly. "But I don't think it was, for—"
"For the Salom Club doesn't run to motor-cars on the premises," completed the detective. But the man was not now listening. Captain Pontifex had reached the the door in a couple of quick, lengthy strides, and had shoved him into the passage. Saul Murmer was not far behind him. In spite of his girth he had slipped out of his chair very easily. A bland, childlike smile on his full lips, he ambled up the stairs on the club proprietor's heels. On the second floor of the building Captain Pontifex led down a narrow passage to a certain door, pushing the waiter before him. At the door, Saul Murmer slipped in front of the two men.
"Knock at the door," he commanded the waiter. The man knocked quietly. Saul Murmer, his ear pressed against the panel, could not hear any sounds within the room. At the detective's signal the man knocked again, then let his hand fall to the door-handle. The Inspector brushed him aside hastily.
"You say there are some gentlemen in this room?" he asked, still addressing the waiter.
"What are their names?"
The man hesitated, looking at his employer. Pontifex answered: "I understand they are Mr. Buller, Mr. Myson, and a friend."
"How do you know?" Saul Murmer spoke quickly. "You came into the club this morning with me. You have been with me since you entered, and I know you have not spoken to anyone without my hearing."
Captain. Pontifex scowled. "They spoke to me about the room last night," he said. "Myson told me he and Buller wanted a room this morning to discuss business with a third party."
"Business? A business conference!" The detective lifted well-arched brows. He turned to face the waiter. "And you heard a—er—backfire?" For a moment he pondered, then turned to the club proprietor.
"Do you know, my dear friend, I have the opinion we shall only find one of your friends here—and he won't—er—answer questions."
Captain Pontifex backed so hastily from the door that he stepped on the waiter's toes. The man emitted a groan, which made the gallant captain jump in alarm.
"Tut, tut!" reproved Saul Murmer. His eyes were sparkling maliciously. "Very careless! It would have been far more to the point if you had jumped forward—to open the door, as I do."
Draping his handkerchief carefully over the door-handle, the detective grasped it delicately, and released the lock. He pushed the door back slowly. Unconsciously the two men behind him crowded forward, pushing him into the room.
Saul Murmer saw before him a medium-sized room, well furnished. In the centre of the room stood a large baize-covered table. Above the table hung an inverted frosted globe, in which a powerful electric bulb still glowed. Opposite the door was an old-fashioned open grate, in which stood an ornate radiator. Against one wall stood a fair-sized buffet, showing that, in spite of fair attention by the club servants, it bore a large and expensive part in the room's use. Half-a-dozen high-backed chairs were scattered about the room and the table, while before the fireplace were two deep lounge chairs, with the necessary accessories for masculine comfort close at hand. Thee eyes of the three men did not linger on the appurtenances of the room. A quick glance around the room, and their eyes focussed on the table, and the man sprawling across it. His head rested on the green baize, and about it the cloth was stained a deep, dark crimson.
The man was dead; it did not need an expert to tell the detective that; every muscle limp and awkward, supported the evidence of the dark liquid stain spreading across the green of the table.
Instinctively, Saul Murmer's left arm went out to the far doorpost, barring entrance.
"Undoubtedly." The perfectly shaped lips were rounded. "As I thought—only one person."
He turned sharply on the club proprietor. "Artemus, my friend, I shall have to trouble you to ring up Police Headquarters." He thought a moment. "Yes, distasteful as the task will be to one of your susceptibilities, you must handle the telephone, and no other."
As Captain Pontifex reluctantly turned to the door, Saul Murmer added; "Ask for John Pater, Artemus—and there is no need to mention that I am here—or have been here. Simply inform Inspector Pater, with your sincere compliments, that a friend of yours has—er—met with an accident—and that you will appreciate his official presence here."
Artemus Pontifex still lingered in the passage, grumbling under the wide-flowing moustache he nervously pulled. Slowly his restless eyes scanned the contours of the room. Saul Murmer backed into the passage, pulling the door closed, and turning the key in the lock. A moment, and he turned, resting his broad shoulders against one of the door-posts.
"Artemus, my friend!" Inspector Murmer's slow voice had again assumed the customary lazy drawl. "You will forget that I am here. I don't want to be here—unless you force me to be here—and then I may be very, very, unpleasantly—for you—here. I may even be so short-sighted to facts within my cognisance that I may accuse you of being accessory before and after the—er—murder. Now, most righteous one, man of unblemished impeccability, the telephone—and linger not, or worse befall thee, friend."
Captain Pontifex turned towards the head of the stairs, his limbs moving uncertainly. Half-way to his immediate objective; he paused and looked back:
"I am not here," said Saul Murmer, very kindly, yet the baby-blue eyes had acquired a hard, puzzling stare. "Please understand, friend of my boyhood days—I am not here. But I shall be here, outside this door, until I hear your loud and very impressive cough while you escort Detective-Inspector John Pater and the myrmidons of the law to this room. It may be that the cough you will—er—utter, will break the spell, dissolving my wraith-like form into the atmosphere—to your immediate satisfaction. Yes, dear friend, look at me! You may not think it possible for me to disappear—but I shall do so. But not until I know John Pater is with you. Thank you for your kind attention, Artemus."
Captain Pontifex had retreated to the head of the stairs before the flow of Saul Murmer's eloquence. Dazedly, he took a few steps down in the direction of his office, and halted; turning and showing to the waiting detective the upper part of a magnificent torso, discreetly clad, a round, red face, ornamented by flowing moustaches, tangled with overmuch exercise.
"But Insp—Mr. Murmer. There is only one way out of the place—er—the front door."
Saul Murmer shook his head gravely. "Heaven will provide," he said devoutly. "He, and you, Artemus, and this gentleman in the baize apron, who will stay with me, know that I am not now interested in front doors—not a fraction as much interested in them as you are in the contents of this room. Inspector Pater will be interested—and I shall not be here to be interested, Now, Artemus—"
A shrug finished the sentence, very eloquently for the gallant captain. He went downstairs to his office, leaving the portly form of the detective pacing the passage outside the murder-room, fearfully watched by a fascinated club-waiter. Twenty minutes later, heavy steps sounded on the stairs. From down in the depths of the building came the rolling, sonorous voice that had once ordered privates in His Britannic Majesty's military forces. A lighter voice spoke, indistinctly—and Saul Murmer, listening, smiled.
Then came a cough—a cough so severe that it appeared to shake the old building to its foundations. The ascending steps sounded more plainly. Again Captain Pontifex coughed. It was, as if he had acquired a serious and malignant form of influenza since be had parted with Saul Murmer. The detective smiled secretly, turning to the waiting waiter:
"Now, Tommy-John, or whatever your name is, we do our famous fade-away act. On this floor there is a room—and a door. I know of them—you know them. Please don't shake your head; you wouldn't, if you knew Inspector Pater. He is of the hard, cold callous world, which delights in third degrees, loaded lengths of rubber hose, and similar inflictions that make my gentle soul shudder. And, if he saw me, I might have to tell him that you know everything. Get me, everything—about—this—murder. Now—"
"But, sir—" stammered the man.
"The room—and the door, Tommy-John. And quickly!"
"Then—" The man showed astonishment. "You know—"
"I know nothing," repeated Saul Murmer soothingly. "You know nothing. Two nothings make nothing, if not—"
Thirty seconds later Inspector Pater turned the angle of the stairs, and his head and shoulders rose to a level with the passage-way. The long space before, him was empty—yet the detective had an uneasy feeling, that he had heard a sound somewhere at the far end of the passage.
AT Police Headquarters Inspectors John Pater and Saul Murmer were considered privileged persons. Authority had, for some reason, set apart a small chamber in which they were supposed to pursue those cogitations, and other mental gymnastics, which resulted in the undoing of New South Wales malefactors. This private office measured approximately ten by twelve. In it stood two small desks of undoubted vintage, two supposedly desk-chairs, which daily squeaked protests at overdue retirement age; a very comfortable, broad, lounge chair, assuming far more than its fair share of the room; and two high-backed chairs of supposedly Windsor pedigree for visitors.
The walls of this palatial abode had once been distempered; the ceilings had, by records, once known a whitewash brush intimately. The door, skirting, and an alleged picture rail, were, by courtesy, painted. The floor was covered with open-work linoleum, through which seeped the dust of disintegrating floor-boards. At times, former occupants of the room had sought, by pages culled from various magazines, to allay the greeny-yellowy tone of the four walls. Other literary enthusiasts had overlaid these gems of art with publications in single-sheet form, issued by the Government printer who, obviously, had no soul for art.
On taking possession of his office, Inspector Pater had spent considerable time enlarging the space at his disposal by stripping the walls. Some space had thus been obtained—and then a callous Commissioner had absorbed still more space, and added to the rooms decoration, by decreeing that Saul Murmer be of the room a fixture. Additional space was used by the introduction of a desk for the Englishman's use—and a desk chair, blood-brother to that used by Inspector Pater. Saul Murmer introduced the space-filling lounge chair—and the desk and chair allotted by an unobservant furnisher to the newcomer was used as a depository for papers of all sizes, sorts and condition, not immediately required by the room's legitimate occupants. The lounge chair was Inspector Murmer's unofficial abode while he was constrained within Police Headquarters.
Strangers visiting the Inspectors were considerably startled on entering this office. The escorting constable, knowing the area beyond the door, opened it gently, and then stood well back in the corridor. The visitor barged in—to recoil in amazement; wondering if he had seriously damaged the tall, military-looking gentleman just beyond the opening, or rebounded from the rotundity of the gentleman asleep in the oversized chair. The second time he entered more cautiously and found a seat in the corner of the room—the one corner available. The door was closed by the constable—and a feeling of restriction came over the room's three occupants.
Only Dizzy Laine entered with the feeling that God was in his heaven, and all was well on this noble earth. The morning following the murder at the Salom Club, Inspector Saul Murmer disorganised tradition by appearing at Headquarters shortly before eight-o'clock. Tradition shattered when Superintendent Geo. Dixon walked through the big gates and sought his office exactly as the clocks were holding their eternal dispute as to the correct second of the hour. So much did this dereliction from things ordered disturb Constable A. Quarts, on duty that morning, that he mentioned the double event to Inspector Pater when he walked past him at nine o'clock. Yet the lounge chair before the open window, overlooking the solitary plane tree, was vacant when Inspector Pater reached his office. It was still unoccupied when Inspector Pater received the information that Superintendent Dixon would be glad of his invaluable advice on a matter of departmental interest.
Inspector Pater had been astonished to learn of Saul Murmer's early arrival; he had been still more astonished to find the lounge chair unoccupied; he was astounded to find Superintendent Dixon alone in his office. Stupefaction overwhelmed him when he was informed that Inspector Murmer would not be with him on the Salom Club case, and that his right hand and confidant in the matter would be one, Sergeant Lionel Leyland. Words failing, he grunted something that might be taken for assent to organised authority. He did not like Sergeant Lionel Leyland; considering him a pushing pest and a foul blot on the otherwise impeccable escutcheon of Police Headquarters.
Thus it was that Inspector Pater returned to his office in a mind totally adverse to the critical, phlegmatic, impartial, dignified and authoritative attitude imposed on Inspectors by police regulations. Saul Murmer greeted his return to the fold—i.e., office—with a casual wave of a cigarette-decorated hand, without looking up from a perusal of Dizzy Laine's eloquent account of the Salem Club affair in the Post Advertiser.
Inspector Pater strode to his desk and sat down heavily; so heavily that little jets of wood-dust spurted through the openwork pattern of the oil cloth. Saul Murmer sneezed. For some time John Pater sat fluttering documents on the blotting pad before him, really seeking some conversational opening with his partner. At length, abandoning pretence, he swung round in the protesting chair.
"Say, Saul," he sputtered, "have you ever noticed how certain letters of the alphabet become associated with certain nations?"
Saul Murmer cooked a halt-open eye.
"For instance," continued the tall detective, "the letter M is intimately connected with Italy You know: Mussolini, Marconi, macaroni—and quite a number of other things."
Saul Murmer smiled. He gave the problem a moment's thought.
"Bad deduction," he announced. "If you are going to argue on those lines you're going to say that you have your own particular 'L'; Lyons, Latham, Lang, and—What's on your mind, John?"
"I'm solo on the Salom Club affair." blurted the tall detective, colouring slightly, "At least, solo except that Sergeant Leyland is detailed as my assistant. I'm waiting for him now. What I want to know is—"
"Well?" The baby blue eyes made a further appearance when John Pater paused.
"Why aren't we working together as usual?" The colour in Inspector Pater's cheeks deepened. "We've always been together since you came out here, except when there's been a rush of important cases—and that is not so now."
"There's no reason why we should not talk over things, if you wish, John."
The very innocent eyes came fully into view. Almost a sigh of relief escaped the Australian's compressed lips.
"Well, if you feel like that, Saul—"
"Dixon has put me on to an English investigation," stated Saul Murmer, awkwardly. He did not like deceiving his old comrade; yet he could not say that he had requested Superintendent Dixon to relieve him from participation in the Salom Club affair on the grounds that it would negative certain investigations he had been making into the club and its members.
"Well, that's good enough, Saul; yet I feel like a fish out of water without you. And Leyland—"
"You know I'll do what I can, John." The Englishman levered himself more upright in the big chair. "Unofficially, of course, in this case."
The desk chair uttered its usual protest when John Pater swung back to his blotting pad. It became a wail of anguish when the Inspector, having retrieved the notes he wanted, swung again to face the man in the window seat.
"Now, listen! Twenty minutes past one yesterday I received a personal telephone call from Captain Artemus Pontifex, stating that there had been an accident at his Salom Club. Sergeant Leyland happened to be the only ranking officer in the common room, so I took him along." John Pater hesitated a moment, then continued: "Suppose that's the reason Dixon has foisted him on me in the inquiry now."
"Umph!" Inspector Murmer wore an expression of utter ignorance. "Why did Artemus Pontifex—or should I say, Arthur Wesley—ask for you and not for Superintendent Dixon." He grinned. "Can't it be that Police Headquarters secrets are public property, and that it is generally known that Superintendent George Dixon invariably lunches between one and two, or acquires a heavy grouch on everything for the rest of the day?"
Inspector Pater smiled sympathetically. "Well, anyway, he rang me up, and I went. When I got to the Salom Club, Pontifex met me at the front door and escorted me through the binding." He broke oft suddenly. "Say, Saul, I never knew the place covered so much ground."
"It is big," assented the Englishman. "You'll get to know how big it is presently."
"Pontifex took us upstairs to the room where the 'accident' happened," continued Pater. "Accident—I like that. The man had been deliberately shot—through the head, left temple, and at approximately a distance of four feet. The doctor confirmed that when he arrived."
"Anyone else there?" John Pater turned and stared intently at the Englishman for some seconds.
"Strange you should ask that question, Saul. I noticed that Pontifex made considerable noise when we were going upstairs, coughing and talking loudly. Warning someone, I thought. Leyland agrees with that conclusion—one of the few times he agrees with anyone. I'm certain there was someone in the passage outside the murder-room and that Pontifex was warning them of the arrival of the police. Still, when we got there, we saw no one." Pater paused again. "I'll swear, though, I heard footsteps at the other end of the passage—"
"What did you: do?" asked Saul Murmer lazily.
"Sent Leyland, with a couple of men to search the floor."
"Not a soul." Inspector Pater paused. "Yet I'll swear there was someone up there while we were on the stairs."
The convenient cigarette stifled the inconvenient smile that parted the cupid-bow of the Englishman's lips.
"Carry on," he commanded, when he could control his voice and features.
"Well, we found no one." Inspector Pater paused. "I waited about the doorway until Leyland returned. In the meantime the fingerprint men and the photographers did their stuff."
"Then, with Leyland, you turned your attention to the room. There was only the dead man. There wasn't a scrap of paper, nor a fingerprint—"
"That's so." Inspector Pater nodded. "How did you know?"
"Guessed. Our modern murderers don't leave clues—only in mystery books."
Yet Saul Murmer was astonished. How had Pontifex managed to clean the room. It had been cleaned, because he had a suspicion that the club proprietor had certain interests in the murder room that he had waited outside the door until he knew Inspector Pater was with the man. Almost he was sorry that he had not started the investigation himself.
"Did you get the murdered man's name?" he asked, after a pause.
"Only as 'Mister' Catlow. Pontifex stated that he didn't know the man's given name. He said there were three men in the room most of the morning. They came soon after ten o'clock and were taken up there by one of the cleaners. I had the man fetched, and he said they were on perfectly friendly terms when he closed the door on them."
"And the other men?"
"Names, Alfred Myson and Arthur Duller. I find that both of them have English records. Catlow hasn't a record, so far as we can discover at present, but, of course—"
"Time will tell," suggested the sleepy-looking inspector. "So, Messrs. Myson and Duller were absent."
"And Pontifex swears there is only one way from the room to the street—the way we came up."
"Yet there is another," said Saul Murmer firmly.
"I'll swear to that." John Pater waited a moment. "And I'll find that other way if I have to pull the damned place to pieces!"
"What did Pontifex have to say?" asked Saul Murmer.
"Quite a lot," Inspector Pater grinned. "I hope he didn't think I believed it all. He lies like a—"
"An angel," suggested the Englishman.
"I'm not specifying colour." John Pater grinned.
"What of the others on the premises?"
"All of them had clean alibis." The Australian looked perplexed. "They all swear they had not been on the floor since ten o'clock that morning—and they were all able to give names of other attendants who had been in their company most of the time." John Pater flushed angrily. "I'd have the cursed place shut up if—"
"If it wasn't so useful to us." Saul Murmer wriggled round on his chair and gave a little attention to the world outside the window. "How many 'wanteds' have we plucked from the Salom tree in our time, John?"
Inspector Pater nodded. He realised that the Salom Club had to be considered inviolate by the Police Department for the good of the city and State.
For long moments there was silence in the room, broken by an imperative knock on the door panel. He barked an irritated permission to enter, and the door was thrust open.
There are types of police Officers who do not endear themselves to their associates. They are few, considering the number of police enlisted for the preservation of law and order. Of this class, Sergeant Lionel Leyland was not an average example; he was far, far above the average—so far that certain officers cursed under their breath at the mere mention of his name.
Sergeant Lionel Leyland had a firm and implicit belief in Sergeant Lionel Leyland, a belief that was only shared, for brief periods, by the newest recruits to the plain-clothes squad. Also, he had a grievance—and a wide flowing, dark-brown moustache. He stroked both frequently, and Inspector Saul Murmer declared that he could not decide which purred the loudest.
No-one, inside or outside the department, denied that Sergeant Leyland was a fine figure of a man. He would never deny that statement himself; his wife would not deny it. One of the traditions of headquarters was that in the privacy of his connubial chamber, Sergeant Leyland had established a full-length plate glass mirror—and because of that proud possession, was invariably late for duty. He dressed expensively, and rather flashily, pluming himself that he was the "perfect gentleman" in every grade of society.
Hyde Park nursemaids and chophouse waiters saw through this deception. Arrayed in full-evening dress, he gave a very passable imitation of a second grade variety comedian who, in making up, had forgotten to paint his nose red.
Detective-Sergeant Lionel Leyland—he always, insisted on the "detective" in reference to himself, and looked down on the personnel of the uniformed branch with utter disdain—had once informed Superintendent George Dixon that he had read every published book on criminology. Geo. Dixon's reply became a classic in the Department, though carefully guarded from the common herd without headquarters' walls. In result, quite a fair trade grew up between America and England on the one hand, and Australia on the other, in pamphlets and superior tomes on such subjects as "How to Become a Secret Service Agent;"; "Fingerprints and Crime;" "Be a Detective and Enjoy Fortune;" and "The Fine Art of Criminal Detection."
At one time Sergeant Leyland wondered greatly at receiving from the City of New York, U.S.A., a statement from the Police Board that they regretted his application for the post of Commissioner could not be entertained—on the grounds that the present incumbent was still in good health. Incautiously, a puzzled Sergeant Leyland spoke of this letter to a casual intimate in the common room—and three very junior officers celebrated well, though not too wisely, that night.
Following the imperative knock on the door of Inspector John Pater's office, Sergeant Leyland strode into the room, announcing an aggressive "good morning." Without invitation he drew forward a chair and, seating himself, threw back the left lapel of his coat. From an imposing array lining the top left-hand pocket of his waistcoat he selected a long, black cigar and tucked it carefully under the spreading moustache.
Saul Murmer coughed; he could not stand rank tobacco smoke. Sergeant Leyland turned swiftly on his chair, and "froze" the disturber in a super-concentrated glare. Sergeant Leyland considered Inspector Murmer superfluous in New South Wales. If the Scotland Yard required any education in the ways of Australian crooks then he, Sergeant Leyland, was quite willing, for an adequate consideration, to journey there and devote his profound wisdom for their instruction.
"Morning, Inspector." Lionel Leyland, confident that he had won a Battle of Hastings over the English, turned his attention to his superior officer pro. tem. "We've got work to do, I believe." The inference that Inspector Murmer was unnecessary in his own office was so obvious that the Englishman snuggled closer into his comfortable chair.
John Pater grinned.
"About that Salom Club affair," continued the sergeant. "I had a word with the Commissioner this morn—"
"Indeed!" Inspector Pater stiffened.
"He's in the building, y' know." The sergeant's tones suggested that his Inspector was derelict in duty not to be aware of that important fact. "He came in at the gate with me, and—"
"John, you were speaking of the association of letters of the alphabet in certain countries." Saul Murmer's voice was low and pleasant. "I rather doubted your conclusions at the moment, but now—now I am beginning to think we have but own particular 'L' in this very building."
Inspector Pater's laughter intrigued Sergeant Leyland. He swung round on his chair and stared hostilely at the stout figure in the chair before the window.
"What's the joke?" he asked suspiciously.
"Didn't the Commissioner make one?" queried John Pater.
"He did say 'Good morning,'" added Saul Murmer.
A dim idea was penetrating Sergeant Leyland's mind that in some unfathomable manner the joke was on him. He faced Inspector Pater squarely, a very cold shoulder turned towards the Englishman.
"About this Salom Club affair," he repeated, doggedly.
"Yes?" replied John Pater. "Have you brought in Myson and Buller?"
"I think we should have a conference in private," stated the Sergeant.
"A—what?" asked the Inspector.
"A conference." Sergeant Leyland was emphatic. John Pater dared not meet the police officer's eyes. He stared past him and found Saul Murmer's face. One eye in the placid round face gently opened and closed. Inspector Pater gained the impression that he had been winked at.
"Is there an office-boy in the department?" asked Saul Murmer of the disgruntled plane-tree without his office window. "They're awfully useful—sometimes."
"I think a conference should be postponed until these men have been brought in," suggested John Pater.
"Buller has a nasty reputation," suggested Saul Murmer dreamily. "He used to carry a gun in England; and—"
"Oh, a gun!" Sergeant Leyland was contemptuous.
"He used it—on occasions," continued Inspector Murmer. He knew the Sergeant's horror of firearms in the hands of crooks.
"I believe both Buller and Myson have reputations as killers." Inspector Pater choked on the words. Saul Murmer chuckled gleefully at the picture John Pater's words conjured up. Myson, a slinking hypocrite, frightened at his own shadow, with a gun in his hand, his back against a wall, the spectre of the noose at the end of a rope behind the oncoming police, throwing lead to resist capture, was enticing. Suddenly the plane-tree in the yard became intensely interesting.
"They're both big men," he contributed over his shoulder, when he could trust his voice. "I wouldn't care to tackle either of them single-handed."
Sergeant Leyland bridled. "I'll take a few men and bring them in at once. But—" his aggressiveness shed, "I think a conference would be advisable before we move in the matter."
"A conference? No, I think not. You know all the facts, Sergeant." Inspector Pater was now very official. "Please keep away from Pontifex; I'll handle him. Take Matthews with you to track down Myson and Buller; he's a good man. I don't think you will require anyone else, until you have located your men."
"Located my men!" Sergeant Leyland rose suddenly. "I'll have them both downstairs this afternoon."
Conscious that he had not made the impression he had intended, Sergeant Leyland swung on his heels and strode to the door—one long step. He caught at the handle and pulled suddenly, forgetting to turn it; then swore under his handsome moustache. He wrenched again, turning the handle, and the door swung open. As he made to go through the doorway he drew back abruptly. A constable was standing outside. As the sergeant drew back, the man entered the room.
"A gentleman to see you, Inspector Pater."
Saul Murmer's cupid-bow lips pursued in a soundless whistle as a slender man of medium height, very blonde, and faultlessly dressed, walked into the room. He passed the upright Sergeant without so much as a glance. Sergeant Leyland sniffed officially, and waited.
"Good morning, Mr. Arthur Buller," said the Englishman sweetly. "Delighted to see you in New South Wales."
"Buller!" Sergeant Leyland took a step forward, his right hand raised aggressively.
"Thank you, sergeant." Inspector Pater's voice cut like the snap of a whip. "I will let you know when I require you. Please shut the door after you, carefully."
QUITE a large number of persons, particularly those of the gentler sex, may be unable to locate the Commonwealth Bank, Parliament House, or their local suburban lock-up, but few of these persons would fail to take honours in an examination regarding the precise location of "Florabella" in Sydney.
A lady writer, whose articles adorn a well-known newspaper, once described "Florabella" as "the inner shrine of modernistic fashions." Dizzy Laine, by accident, for he is not a reader of "ladies' realms," saw the article and, cutting it out, forwarded it to Lieut-Col. Malcolm Wade, the noted press agent for "Florabella," and with soaring hopes whenever chance or work took him into the presence of the proprietress. Unfortunately the gallant colonel, in an excessive desire to please, used the phrase in an advertisement, thereby evoking derisive comments from those Sydney journals who delight in exposing the errors of their contemporaries. He is still endeavouring to live down the affair.
For the information of the insignificant one per cent of Sydney's population who live in abysmal ignorance, it may be recorded that "Florabella" is situated in Swayne Row, a very quiet backwater to the strenuous flowing stream of humanity in Pitt Street. Its exclusiveness is not only due to the fact that Swayne Row is a "cul-de-sac."
Swayne Row is more a square than a row and, supreme dignity, it is paved with huge blocks of time-weathered stone on which stand large green painted pots overflowing with ambitious shrubs. Between these green pots are iron seats frequently re-painted, to the startled horror of cavaliers who serve, long standing and waiting.
Swayne Row is not exclusive to "Florabella." Its square contains Manson's Parlour, where hats of extreme simplicity sell at prices that make bank managers gasp with envy. "Viola" also has a place in "The Row," and "Viola's" cosmetics have a value that sometimes make even well-trained husbands groan in their sleep. "The Capstone" library and bridge club occupies a supposedly private house at the far end of the Row. As a library, it contains exactly 24 books, handsomely bound in vellum and carefully locked in a glass case. As a bridge club, it has 70 tables, and imports its cards direct from England.
Behind Manson's Parlour, "Viola," and "The Capstone" in the revolution against "Florabella's" exclusiveness in "The Row" are a few minor establishments, such as "Alford's," who will supply furs straight from highly subsidised animals all over the world, at appropriate prices. Lieutenant to "Alford's" is "The Afternoon," specialising in confections, not the confections dispensed by "Florabella" and other establishments who pander to the outer woman, but confections succulent and tasty, meet only for those who do not take two bites at a 20-shilling cherry, glacé or otherwise. "The Afternoon" claims to be more exclusive than "Florabella," and the "Mrs. Suburbia" who happens to have a wealthy squatter cousin to escort her to afternoon tea there, boasts of the episode for the rest of her life. Other lady subordinates who have no wealthy cousins, yet get escorts who can afford "The afternoon," go there at the risk of their reputations.
Entering Swayne Row from Pitt Street and dodging the banked array of potted shrubs screening this holiest of holies from public gaze, the adventurer may notice a small script sign on a modest doorway. Only the word "Florabella"—but that is sufficient. Next to the door is a framed space—in other streets called a shop window. This is always camouflaged as a lady's boudoir, with one, and perhaps the most essential, wall missing. The scene portrayed by a display artist who considers that Cabinet Ministers are ill-remunerated for their labours, usually consists of a glove, carelessly dropped, R.U.C., a flop-jack, open, with accompanying puff, on a chair, L.D.C., a carpet, that looks as if it had been imported direct from Aladdin's Cave, all over the stage, a lady, of a beauty and cubist possibilities unimagined by modern artists, C., dressed in a "Florabella" creation, a stock, so squat and ugly that its value must be enormous, I D.C., and a mirror, B.U.C., of a design so exquisite that any French queen must surely have lost her head over it.
Of the contents of the "boudoir," only shows the front view of the creation; the mirror, a very realistic view of where the back of the dress will be when "Florabella's" designers and work-people have had time to finish the model. The door to "the inner shrine of modernistic fashions" opens far more easily than the door to Aladdin's Cave. Male creatures, attending their womenfolk on visits to "Florabella" have listened intently for the magic password of entrance, only to be disillusioned when stumbling over a very diminutive page in russet-brown livery. They venture a few steps forward, to be halted by a twin brother of the doorkeeper, who relieves them of hat, stick, gloves and other such articles of male attire as it is considered indiscreet to admit into "The Shrine."
It is peculiar to "Florabella" that while male visitors must be stripped to the ultimate of decency, furs, bags, handkerchiefs of remotest use, umbrellas, lipsticks, powder-puffs of strange shapes and unknown origins, books, hats, gloves, and such oddities of feminine attendance, are scattered about in bewildering profusion—and rarely miss finding their exclusive owners when required.
The space in "Florabella" between the door and the "Inner Shrine" is described by Miss Westways and her staff of beautiful mannequins as "The Vestibule." Here ordinary male cavaliers are strongly discouraged from thoughts of further explorations, provided with literature entirely feminine and leaving nothing to their feeble imaginations, and left to their own devices. The furnishings of this vestibule are melancholy, reminding the male intruder very painfully of his last visit to his dentist—the analogy is obvious, unless he has forgotten his cheque-book.
On rare occasions, such as the first visit of an adoring, just-returned-from-the-honeymoon bridegroom in attendance on his bride, or favoured male things on Miss Westways' private list of privileges, are males allowed to penetrate beyond the vestibule. In ordinary, they emerge from the "Inner Shrine" mopping heated brows with very damp handkerchiefs, wilted collars and hoarse voices mumbling strange sequences of figures and words, in which one word, "Bankruptcy" appears to be predominant. In 99.9 per cent of cases where a second visit is proposed, the male half of the proposed expedition invariably "has to see a man about a loan!"
It may be added that "Florabella" is a word very strictly barred in Australia's clubland, and heatedly spoken in the offices of lawyers who specialise in arranging domestic differences.
Dizzy Laine, by virtue of his standing as super-journalist of Sydney's leading daily, his preponderance of Irish blood, and a definitely adventurous spirit not yet properly haltered by matrimony, is a frequent visitor to "Florabella"—not only to the vestibule, but to the "Inner Shrine." Diminutive doorkeepers, cloakroom attendants and messengers, respectfully salute him, beam broadly at his jokes; mannequins smile on him, and head-girls nod most cordially. Mrs. Dizzy Laine says she has suspicions, but so far has made the statement with a smile.
For Dizzy, Miss Westways always has a greeting, while Miss Lancing, who considers herself the main pillar of the structure, relaxes her habitual frown—and almost smiles. In fact Dizzy is a privileged person at "Florabella," yet even he has not dared to penetrate to regions where bare shoulders flash, silk rustles, and women are more than natural.
Almost at the moment when Inspector Murmer introduced Arthur Buller, of London, to Inspector Pater, of Sydney, and prepares for an interesting talk, Mrs. Eva Laine, followed by Miss Paddy Burke, and a "husband," enters the guarded door inscribed "Florabella." Dizzy is buttoning up his coat. The gesture is instinctive but, peculiarly, most male things who penetrate "Florabella" button up their coats—and if possible their pockets. A few original souls have a habit of discovering about this time, that they, have left pocket books and cheque books at their offices. Dizzy does not descend to such subterfuges. Mrs. Dizzy Laine is a practical woman, and realises the limitations of her husband's income.
In the vestibule, Dizzy surrenders hat, gloves and stick. He also makes to pull off a signet ring he wears on his left little finger, and hoist from nether pockets key-container and cash. This gesture merely excites the attendant page to derision. He winks and coolly turns a diminutive back.
Paddy Burke led through the Inner rooms. Here she was queen in her throne-room, saluting mannequins, show-girls and apprentices with swift smiles and complexly-worded greetings. Beyond the second display room, which to masculine eyes held nothing to display, she opens a door leading into a room which, at first glance, appears to be a luxuriously furnished boudoir. In reality, it is "Miss Westways" private office.
Dizzy, instructed male, knows that the general business offices lay still further forward towards the heart of the establishment, opening directly on to Marlowe Lane, another backwater from the Pitt Street stream.
This afternoon Miss Westways was seated at a Chippendale writing table of apparently fabulous value. She glanced up as the girl impetuously entered the room, smiled at her, and nodded to Dizzy and Eva, then returned to her letter, Paddy whispered to Eva, who nodded, and whispered shortly to her lord and master. Both girls then disappeared through another door.
Dizzy, understanding that he had received the equivalent to the dog order: "Lie down," obeys by staring intently at etchings by famous Australian artists decorating the walls of the boudoir-office.
"Where are the girls?", asked Miss Westways, her letter finished, speaking through the intimate gesture of sealing it.
"I blush to think; I fear to guess," answered Dizzy sombrely. "Yesterday I received a pay-envelope—this visit today is significant."
Miss Westways laughed. "Eva won't sting you," she declared. Then, abruptly; "Have you seen Inspector Murmer lately?"
"Why do you ask me that?" An emphasis on the "me" brought a slight colour to Miss Westways' cheeks. She hastened to reply.
"I haven't seen him for weeks," announced Dizzy—and the accent was again noted by the lady. "Not since the night before last when he so callously absorbed our suppers."
"The night at the Green Lagoon," supplemented the lady.
Dizzy ignored the correction. He was busy interviewing a Norman Lindsay portrait of a lady who, obviously, did not patronise "Florabella"—or any other known modiste.
"I have had another of those strange letters," said Miss Westways after a pause.
"Is Inspector Murmer calling?" asked Dizzy of the lady in the picture.
"I have not Informed him of this letter." Miss Westways tones were frigid.
"He is a detective—or supposed to be one," protested the journalist. "I happen to know that he draws immense sums from the Government, on that supposition."
Miss Westways laughed again. "You are a very ridiculous young man, Dizzy. I don't know how Eva puts up with you, unless the Post-Advertiser bribes her to keep you in good humour." Miss Westways hesitated, then add. "After all, there cannot be anything in those stupid drawings."
"Have you asked Saul Murmer," suggested Dizzy, who possessed a single-track mind.
"I do not see the slightest necessity to trouble Inspector Murmer. He has been most kind in bearing with my stupid complains—And, after all, what are they but simply childish, meaningless drawings."
Dizzy could not answer. He had been married ten months, and already could have passed an elementary examination in the feminine art of saying one thing and meaning another. He devoted himself to a more critical survey of the feminine figure divine, as depicted by the famous Australian artist. The silence grew oppressive, Dizzy began to worry. Feminine silence is not soothing; it frequently betokens a rising anger.
Carefully addressing the portrait of a lady who had lately forgotten her slimming exercises, he spoke:
"When I was young, we were forced to learn Euclid's definition of a straight line." His voice was very mournful.
Eva Laine entered the room quietly at the moment Dizzy spoke, She glanced from her husband to Miss Westways, then back to her lord.
"What is troubling my poor darling?" she asked. Not receiving an immediate answer, she went to a couch and curled herself up thereon, in excellent imitation of a domestic cat. "Don't be frightened, Mattie, Dizzy talks like that. He hasn't taken to writing verse—yet."
"Waste of time," grumbled the journalist, "while the artists are usurping all the privileges of our highbrow poets. Where's Paddy?"
"Very, very much engaged," smiled Mrs. Laine. "I'm sorry, dear, but you will have to put up with the undiluted society of your lawful spouse—at least for a time."
"Another straight line," complained Dizzy.
"Well—" Eva bridled, laughed, and subsided again on the couch. "Mattie, Dizzy called either me, or this gown which you own—if he hasn't yet paid your bill—a straight line."
The newspaper-man grinned suddenly. "That's all right, darling," he soothed. "I'm talking Einstein, not Euclid—and he says there's no such thing."
"No such what?"
"No straight lines, lovey. He says everything in this world is like beautiful women, discreet and lovely curves, expending into space."
Eva Laine's eyes roved perplexedly round the room. Suddenly the frown on her brow lightened. "Oh, now I understand, dear boy." She slipped to her feet with the facile grace women acquire, and strolled to where her husband stood. "You're studying art?"
"Well, these artists appear to know women."
"Apparently." Mrs. Laine glanced disapprovingly at the lovely damsel pictured in the water-colour. "Yes. Apparently."
Miss Westways' smile developed into silvery laughter. Someone knocked at the door. Miss Westways answered, and one of the diminutive pages entered and whispered a message.
"Show him here," said Miss Westways. There was a slight increase of colour beneath her rouge as he turned to Eva Laine; "Inspector Murmer has called."
"As Saul says: 'Where the carcase is—'" commented Dizzy.
"Where?" asked his lady.
"Miss Westways has informed me she has had another of those peculiar letters," explained the newspaperman patiently. He turned to Miss Westways: "I told you he was a detective!"
The ladies exchanged significant glances, and Miss Westways coloured again, Eva returned to her lounge, and Dizzy to his art studies.
The door opened to admit Inspector Murmer. He glanced quickly and somewhat furtively about the room, then went straight to Miss Westways. Dizzy sensed that the stout Englishman was instinctively seeking shelter, and grinned. It was certainly something of an ordeal for a man, especially a bachelor, to penetrate "Florabella" for the first time. He laughed.
"Hello, Saul," he said. "I was just mentioning detectives. Miss Westways has had another of those peculiar missives."
"Have you?" Eva Laine turned interestedly to the elder lady.
From a drawer of the table at which she sat Miss Westways took a mauve envelope and handed it to Inspector Murmer. He examined it carefully and placed it in his breast pocket.
"Nothing else?" he asked.
"Not yet." Miss Westways shrugged slightly. "No doubt—"
Saul Murmer waited politely for the lady to finish her sentence. When she did not, he shrugged agreement with what she had said.
"I want to have a stroll about your establishment," he said, after a slight pause.
"My hero!" Dizzy, made admiring gestures. "Do you really mean that, Saul?"
"Is it so very dreadful," asked Miss Westways, smiling.
"He's unmarried," objected Eva. "Mattie, you mustn't submit the innocence of an Englishman—"
"My dear," he said, addressing his wife. "They boast of living next door to Paris and yet preserving their pristine puritan impeccability."
Miss Westways touched a bell on her desk. Immediately the door opened, and one of the diminutive pages entered.
"Lawrence, will you please escort Inspector Murmer through the establishment, He is to go wherever he requires."
"Mortals rush in—" Dizzy buttoned up his jacket and drew a lugubrious face. "Saul, I will accompany you, whistling appropriate music from an appropriate oratorio. Let the obsequies proceed!" He nodded to the page, who swung the door open, with a smart salute.
Saul Murmer, passing the page, suddenly stopped and looked at the youngster in some perplexity.
"I know." Dizzy's expression was painfully solemn, "Miss Westways, Inspector Murmer wants to know where you get 'em." He turned to the waiting detective. "No, old man, he's not the one who showed you in here. Miss Westways has 'em by the dozens. Where they come from—page-boys to order, out of a box, alike even to the last trousers button—I don't know. The only explanation I have to offer is that either she, or Miss Lancing, breeds them."
A well-aimed cushion caught the famous journalist on the side of the head. It was followed by a wifely voice; "Dizzy!" A pause. "You're too ridiculous. Please don't take any notice of him, Mr. Murmer."
"Motion out of order." Dizzy was irrepressible. "He's noticed the specimen. I quite agree with you, Saul. This establishment should he officered by girls only—and the prettier the better. But then I understand Miss Westways' designers find these boys very useful. They expose their creation to their critical gaze. You know the old proverb: 'When youth blushes, strong men grasp the lifeline.' Will you have to report this to the Child Welfare Department, Inspector—or the Home for Incurables?"
Saul Murmer laughed. He turned to the waiting page, "Lead on, friend," he ordered, "I want to see everything."
"You mean that?" Dizzy gasped, moaned, and braced his shoulders. "Never let it be said that Dizzy let a friend down. I am with you every inch, of the way." He bowed solemnly to his wife. "Eva, you may go home and prepare the prodigal's fatted calf."
"You're sure to bring him home," stated Mrs. Laine, with emphasis. "I'm not so sure about the prodigal."
"Woman, I have taken on my shoulders the duty of chaperon, without tremor or—"
The closing door cut short the sentence. Eva Laine looked at Miss Westways, and laughed. Then, somewhere in her mind was bred the thought; Chaperones would be advisable for the weaker sex—in modiste establishments. She was going to speak, when something in the older lady's expression attracted her attention.
"What is it, Mattie?"
Miss Westways did not answer immediately. She drew a letter on the desk towards her, then pushed it away again. Very quietly she turned to face Eva, "Eva, I know what those sketches mean now." In spite of her self control her voice trembled.
Eva stared unbelievingly. "Then—why didn't you tell—"
"I dare not." Miss Westways buried her face in her hands. "Oh, I dare not."
"But Inspector Murmer is searching the place."
"I know." Miss Westways looked up, speaking almost hopefully: "But he won't find anything."
"Not find anything?" exclaimed Eva, puzzled.
"No." The elder lady straightened, her face drawn and grim. "No, he won't find anything, for it isn't there—now."
"Where is it?" Eva spoke after a pause. "Surely, Mattie, if you know what—"
"I didn't know—not until Dizzy told me. At least, I wasn't sure."
"Dizzy?" Eva went round the desk and put her hand on the elder woman's shoulder. "What does Dizzy know. You know he wouldn't do anything to hurt you."
"He can't. Dizzy doesn't know what he knows." Miss Westways' voice held a more hopeful note. "No, Dizzy doesn't know—but he said something, and then—then I guessed."
"Eva, he was strolling round the room in that queer, restless manner of his, looking at the etchings, and he said something—something—"
"Yes—" The girl interjected gently.
"He told me—he said something, and then I knew—and oh, Eva, I don't know what to do."
"Tell Inspector Murmer," replied Eva, sensibly and promptly. "If you're in a fix, he'll get you out of it. That I do know."
"That's just what I daren't do." Miss Westways was gathering her courage in both hands. "No, Eva, I daren't do that. I don't know what he might think, if he knew."
IT was strange for Detective-Inspector Saul Murmer to feel nervous—and he did not like the feeling. More, it was unusual—and in the male sex the unusual is not welcomed. On the other hand, ladies delight in the unusual—they seek and welcome it. In the same manner, they love and adore strong silent men; they delight in being abducted; or being forced into marriage with utter strangers, or near strangers—or so our lady novelists instruct us.
Saul Murmer was not subject to nerves. In his days he had followed and interviewed gentlemen who carried much lethal artillery on their persons. On one occasion, on the track of an absconding bank manager, he had suffered shipwreck; other persons of legal interest he had followed into the wild parts of the world. During the war days, and until increasing girth suffered a closer attention to gravitation, he had suffered aeroplanes which should not have been licensed, except to members of the Suicide Club—if such an organisation really exists.
Yet none of these slight episodes had induced such nervous, tremors as he felt when following his diminutive guide into the bowels of "Florabella." He looked down on the lad in russet-brown striding manfully before him, and smiled, and almost felt glad that Dizzy Laine was but a few paces in the rear, although that half-whistled, half-hissed funeral dirge was distinctly irritating. The boy before him intrigued, and he could not but compare bulk. Then, his surrounds were strange.
He smiled at the thought of the modiste establishment being paged by these boys—all small, all uniformed, and as alike as two peas in a pod. He viewed his guide again; boy, cherub, or demon? Like all good Englishmen, he had a nodding acquaintance with the work of Dante Gabriel Rosetti, and a simile rose to his mind. Was he proceeding on an investigation of one of the circles of the Inferno—a circle of which the noted author had never dreamed: for the ladies of his days and imaginations were definite; They were either fully dressed—or definitely not.
Through every room and corridor he trod warily, knowing that he was in "Florabella," where every male thing, except the page-boys, trod warily. Door after door swung open before the pressure applied by "Lawrence the Small."
Saul Murmer noticed, with some astonishment, that there were no apparent locks to these doors—also that "Lawrence the Small" had many apparent blood-brothers—and no bashfulness. With superb aplomb, the boy led amid a wealth of ladies, and the detective discovered with misgivings that there were more species of femininity than he, in his abysmal ignorance, had imagined. He saw women, tall, short, medium; fat, thin, medium; fair, dark, medium; curved, straight, medium. In time he almost came to believe that "medium" was a natural state of womanhood; yet he could see that "mediums" were individualistic to a degree.
Pondering this new problem, yet keeping a wary eye open for the unusual, the Inspector decided that women, in bulk, were unusual, but that they did not appear so in average life because of a leavening of males restoring surroundings to normality. At length, after what appeared miles of indirect travelling, "Lawrence the Small" stopped at a door and knocked. Now Saul Murmer realised that for some time he had been missing something.
He looked round and realised that Dizzy Laine was not marching in his rear, offending the air with his absurd rendering of a funeral dirge. He shrugged, and as it waiting for his thoughts to order, a rather high-pitched feminine, voice called permission to enter.
The page-boy pushed the door open, and stood on one side, saluting, as the detective entered the room. Saul Murmer stepped forward—to halt abruptly. Now he realised that he was up against the goods "Florabella" sold. His ordered mind asked a quick question: What in this year of grace did women call their attire? Mentally, he named them dresses, but some instinct told him that the word of his youth had slipped into a feminine discard. Frocks, he thought, might pass; robes appeared taboo; creations might at a pinch—His mind revolted at the subterfuge; he could only name them to himself "scraps."
And colours! He had never realised that the prism could contain so many varieties. He was certain that if some wandering rainbow managed to gain entry into this 'holiest of holies' it would hide its face in very shame. The rainbow! Saul Murmer smiled. No rainbow could compete in this bewildering fantasy of colour, reflected by mirrors set side by side in kaleidoscopic bewilderment. For the first time since he had donned trousers he doubted the dominance of the male sex. No male, he mentally vowed, could equal, much less surpass, the composure of this tall, cold, graceful, sinuously-majestic creature who floated down the length of the bewildering room to greet him.
"Detective-Inspector Saul Murmer to see you, miss," chanted the attendant imp. "Miss Westways asked me to bring him to you. I'm to wait for him, miss, and take him wherever he wants to go."
Followed the quick "chocolate soldier" salute which had amused, while bewildering, the Inspector when he had first entered the establishment. Then the boy sprung round on his heels, like a gigolo performing an intricate dance evolution, and disappeared behind a "something" that flowed voluminously on the ground while hanging by two insecure-looking threads from what might be mistaken for the torso of a woman.
"Yes?" said Miss Lancing.
"Miss Muriel Lancing?" questioned the police officer. He didn't really doubt if there were more than one Miss Lancing. It was the only thing he could think of to say at the moment.
"Yes, Inspector," The blonde coiffure before him nodded; a smile, apparently at the very obvious confusion of the strange male thing before her, parted the brilliantly-red, well-curved lips. For a moment Miss Lancing looked almost human, and the detective cautiously raised his eyes to hers. He decided her eyes looked encouraging, and continued to look.
"I should like—" he commenced.
"It is rather—" The lady said, at the same moment.
"Overwhelming," continued the detective, and paused.
"Perhaps to the average male," said the manageress, but her eyes distinctly bid the Inspector remove himself from the "average male" class.
"Do many gentlemen visit here?" asked the Inspector, as he thought, daringly.
"Well, no," Muriel Lancing smiled dazzlingly. "Perhaps, Inspector, you may prefer to come to my office. I can spare you ten minutes, then Lady Short—"
A picture of the lady mentioned rose before Saul Murmer's mind's eye. Involuntarily, he glanced back at the rather narrow door through which he had wedged a way. Could Lady Short—
"She is rather—er—" assented Miss Lancing, becoming still more-human.
Saul Murmer's eyes wandered from the door to the "models" surrounding him.
"Does she—" There was awe in his voice. Mere words could not convey; his impressions of what the lady under discussion would look like in one of the—er—by which he was surrounded.
"Lady Short does not come into this—"
"Ah!" Saul Murmer sighed with relief. As a conscientious police officer he would have had to report to his Inspector if Miss Lancing had answered in any other way. Visions of an overflowing—Resolutely he put thought and vision from him.
Muriel Lancing was walking down aisles of reflections, and Saul Murmer found himself following. She came to a door, and from behind the Inspector flashed a russet-brown streak, to hold the door open for them. In the office the lady motioned to a comfortable looking chair, and seated herself, very upright, before a small desk.
With effort—easier because he was now in a room freed from the "models" that had daunted him in the hall of mirrors—Saul Murmer took from his breast pocket the envelope Miss Westways had given him a few minutes previously. He opened it and took out the crude drawing.
"Have you seen anything like this before, Miss Lancing?" he asked. "Please have a good look at it."
Miss Lancing, glanced briefly at the sheet of paper, and nodded. "Yes," she said brightly. "Miss Westways showed me that some days ago. It is a—er—"
"A—er—," repeated Saul Murmer.
"I don't know," said the lady, rather flatly.
"What does it look like?" asked the Inspector, insistently.
"Really, I don't think I have ever seen anything it could resemble—here."
"You have no cases coming here? Cases containing—" the Inspector stumbled at the word, "dresses—imported models—it could by any chance resemble."
Miss Lancing took the sheet of paper and studied the drawing attentively. Very slowly she shook her head. "I don't think so." Yet she hesitated. "But my work lies more with our clients than with the unpacking and receipt—"
Saul Murmer pondered. Miss Lancing was difficult. He believed she could help him considerably—if he could persuade her to speak freely.
"You have a warehouse attached to this establishment?" he asked.
"Then the warehouse-man—"
"The wardrobe mistress—" corrected the manageress.
"The wardrobe mistress unpacks the dresses—"
"Models," suggested Miss Lancing reprovingly.
"—the models." corrected the detective hastily. Evidently it was the eighth deadly sin to name these wisps of silk and lace 'Dresses.' "Your wardrobe mistress unpacks these—er—models and sends them—"
"Her attendants carry them, one by one, with the greatest care, into the room we lately left, or into this room—" Miss Lancing rose gracefully from her chair, and pushed open another door of her office, holding it wide open for the Inspector to view the room beyond.
Saul Murmer's first impression of the room he now gazed on was that the miracle of Lot's wife had been repeated infinite times. Then he realised that he was viewing representations of feminine beauty: statues that even the great exemplar of Australian feminine loveliness could not have imagined in his wildest nightmares. But they held one trait in common with that great artist's creations. Saul Murmer felt grateful to the many black-gowned young ladies, who were busy supplying the defects.
While he gazed the detective noted one of the attendants pick up one of her "salted" sisters and carry her bodily through another door.
"Just so!" said Saul Murmer hastily—and retreated to the safety of his chair. "Then—" Miss Lancing hesitated a moment. When the detective did not speak, she called "Lawrence."
The familiar sprite chained to her service appeared at the Inspector's side, gazing expectantly at the manageress.
"Miss Alberts, please." Miss Lancing rose gracefully and extended her hand, palm down, to the Inspector. He wondered if he was expected to kiss the rosy-tinged finger-tips—and discovered that he would not mind.
"One moment, please." Saul Murmer turned at the door. He was growing accustomed to his strange surroundings, and bolder. For the moment he realised that the man who invented "familiarity breeds contempt" had been ill-remunerated for his wisdom, whatever he had received.
"Miss Lancing, certain—er—peculiar happenings have attended the receipt of these—ah—sketches, by Miss Westways. Have you experienced any of these—er—happenings?"
Miss Lancing's red lips had parted to speak when the door opened and Dizzy Laine strolled into the office.
"Mr. Laine!" said the lady, and flushed.
"Hullo, Muriel! Finished with the Inspector?" The newspaper-man looked curiously about the room.
"Where's Paddy—I thought she was here playing chaperone."
"Really, Mr. Laine, you must not wander about this establishment, in the manner you do!" Miss Lancing was cross. "One of these days—"
"Impossible, Muriel, dear!" Dizzy grinned. "You forget, I'm a married man—one of the sub-initiates—a past master in the wedded arts. Don't forget, girls can't always get into your what-do-you-call-'ems alone, and not all husbands can draw cheques for maids. Fact is, I'm an expert at hooks and eyes, zips, tapes, and all such things. Eva's a great teacher and her opinion of thumb-fingers—whew!"
"You haven't answered my question, Miss Lancing," suggested Saul Murmer.
Before the lady could counter this bold assertion of masculine individuality in an essentially feminine domain, Dizzy interposed:
"I will. Remember the 'robot' case, Muriel? That looked like a—"
"Like what?" asked Saul Murmer sharply. Neither the man nor the woman answered. Miss Lancing paled slightly, Dizzy was smiling, grimly.
"Ridiculous!" said the lady at length; yet her rouge stood out startlingly on her pale cheeks. "I—suppose it did look like a—"
"Like a what?" asked the detective again
"Like a coffin." Miss Lancing spoke almost in a whisper.
"Well?" The Inspector looked first at the lady, then at the journalist. It was the latter who supplied the desired information.
"A new thing-a-my-bob came here the other day—one of those things that look nothing like a woman, yet which they put their what-do-you-call-ems on. You know, a body which looks as if it had been copied from a lady who had overdone her slimming exercises, with a head that could give the best—or worst—gargoyle five points in every hundred, and a bit of iron where a lady should wear her walking apparatus." Dizzy was getting a bit mixed in his description. "Funny, the case containing her ladyship looked just like a coffin. And then—"
"Last night it was smashed to matchwood," stated Miss Lancing frigidly.
"No—the case." The lady laughed suddenly. "Oh, this is all too ridiculous for words."
"Anyway, I'll see what's left of the case." Inspector Murmer spoke alertly. "Where is it? In the warehouse?"
Miss Lancing nodded. "I'll go with you," she said.
"Don't trouble, Muriel," Dizzy drawled, moving towards the door, "Come on, Saul, I'm your chaperon."
He glanced down as Lawrence slipped past him and thrust the door open. "Hullo, kid! What are you going to do after a spot of growing?"
The boy smiled impishly at the tall journalist. "I'll have to get another job then," he answered.
"What's the fancy?" Dizzy leaned against the door-post.
"I'm going to be a physical instructor, sir."
"Humph!" The newspaper-man looked down on four-feet nothing, and smiled. "Why not a gigolo? There were days when petticoats were only slung around waists, and when—"
"Dizzy!" called Miss Lancing, warningly.
"Ever studied art, Saul?" Dizzy quieted the manageress with a wide wink. "You should. Especially the modern art of our futurist painters. You'd learn then why petticoats are not—"
"I thought you were going to see the broken packing-case?" Miss Lancing had again become the frigid icicle of modern modiste art, with only the outward semblance of humanity.
"You should see the packing-cases Norman Lindsay stands his girlies on." Dizzy grinned. "Oh, well, then; come on!"
He turned again to the door, to have it thrust back on him by one of Paddy's bewildering quick entries.
"Oh!" The girl disentangled herself from the journalist's arms. "Dizzy, you're up to tricks again!"
"I'm not," defended the journalist. "I don't know one."
"And Uncle Saul!" The girl's face was a study for 'Sorrow'; yet her eyes twinkled mischievously. "To think of finding you here and—"
"In Miss Lancing's office?" asked Dizzy innocently.
"Oh, you're always here—I don't understand how Miss Lancing bears with you! I'm speaking to Uncle Saul—"
"I—er—Miss Paddy—" Saul Murmer felt guilty, in spite of a suspicion that he was being unjustly accused. He didn't understand; so decided that an air of repentance would bring a quick solution and a possible explanation.
"Now blame it on poor auntie!" the girl challenged. "Poor auntie, who—"
"I—" The Inspector was now thoroughly bewildered and ashamed with a knowledge of unknown guilt.
"Uncle Saul, why did you let Dizzy lead you astray? You know—you—so young—so innocent—"
"In the inner shrine of modernistic fashions." chanted the girl, "Surrounded by—"
"Gargoyles!" suggested the newspaper-man. He pushed the grinning urchin before him into the girl's arms.
"Hullo, duckie!" Paddy beamed down on the boy. "Have you any more sketches to show me, Lawrence?"
"Sketches!" Saul Murmer started. "The sketches at that moment reposing in his breast-pocket looked remarkably like the work of a mischievous boy. Sketches! And this boy looked mischievous! His hand went out to the boy's shoulder—to be caught in Paddy's warm friendly clasp."
"So you're going to see the coffin, Uncle Saul? Well, in that case I'll forgive you. But, you understand, this must not happen again. I can't have my uncle and my future husband—" Dizzy whistled a few bars of the Wedding March, modulating into a popular, melancholy air from "Saul."
MISS ALBERTS, the wardrobe mistress at "Florabella," and head of the grosser, more materialistic departments of the modiste's establishment, had not proved informative.In conjunction with Peters, a raw and elderly male in a baize apron and a worried frown, Saul Murmer reconstructed the story of the "robot" case.
A dress dummy of somewhat novel design had been received from England the previous week. The wardrobe mistress had not received the usual bills of lading, nor any invoices of its cost. Miss Alberts had referred the matter to the head of the firm, and it had been decided to accept the case and its contents. In this explanation Miss Alberts stated that at times "Florabella" received new and interesting display articles from abroad on sale or return, and she and Miss Westways had assumed this dummy to come in that category, although no notice of its forwarding had been received.
"But," interjected Inspector Murmer, in surprise, "you would have to clear the case and its contents through the Customs, whether duty is payable or not. And to do that you must have the necessary papers."
On this point surely Tom Peters was emphatic. A carrier's lorry had driven up to the warehouse door and delivered the case. No, he could not definitely state who the carrier was. He had signed a receipt for the case, but did not remember being given any part of the receipt form; and—and that was all he knew—or cared.
Shrugging his ample shoulders, Saul Murmer inquired regarding the case in which the dummy had arrived. There both Miss Alberts and her attendant were more informative. The case had been placed with others at the end of the receiving room, awaiting the arrival of the contractors, who, at intervals, cleared away the superfluous cases.
Peters was emphatic that the case had not been broken in the process of extracting the contents. He remembered seeing it, entirely whole, two days previous, when he was piling more cases at the spot, and wondering when the contractor was coming to take them away. He recounted opening the warehouse the previous morning and finding his cases scattered over the floor space, and the case in which the "robot" had arrived, splintered to matchwood. Very openly he stated he knew, and cared, no more. That wasn't his job. The wood of the case? That had been placed in the lane with the dirt-tins that morning, and no doubt the kids who scoured the city lanes for firewood had taken it away.
In short adjournment was then made to one of the showrooms. There Saul Murmer was introduced to the "robot" and carefully examined it. To his inexperienced eyes it appeared only different from its surrounding fellows by being far uglier. Pleading important business, Inspector Saul Murmer declined Dizzy Laine's pressing invitation to lunch with his party.
A glance at his watch as they had entered the show rooms had indicated that it was almost on the stroke of one, and he was curious regarding what had happened at Police Headquarters that morning. He knew that Inspector John Pater made a habit of dining at Dyson's Silver Grill in Pitt Street, arriving there soon after the lunch-hour commenced; and John Pater might prove a mine of information.
Inspector Pater was a confirmed luncher. Breakfast, as a meal, was more often avoided than forgotten. The most charming ladies of his acquaintance could rarely lure him to tea-rooms during the magic hours of the afternoon. Dinner was a movable feasts dependant usually on business in hand, and often degenerating into coffee and mixed sandwiches partaken in a suburban tea-shop. But luncheon was inviolate; even the Police Commissioner knew better than to occupy that hour for a conference with his important subordinate. Unlike his brother officer, Saul Murmer considered all meal hours of the day inviolate. A missed meal was, in his opinion, of far more consequence than, say, robbing the Commonwealth Bank. In the latter case, a small amount of brain power, assisted by a little exercise and a few brother officers, might recover the loot and bring the offenders to justice. A missed meal had to be relegated, into the list of things long lamented and never forgotten.
The above should not be taken as a record that Inspector Murmer was a gross feeder. He was not; he liked dainty meals, considering an inadequate cook was just as much a subject for prosecution by the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals as the carter who over-flogged his horses.
Meals, their uses and abuses, were a constant source of argument between the two inspectors, otherwise in agreement on most subjects. In one thing they agreed cordially; that Dyson's Silver Grill could not be improved upon as a luncheon rendezvous. A further point of agreement, was that a point-steak, flanked by chip potatoes, a la Dyson, and a tall pewter-pot of bitter ale was the most satisfactory luncheon dish.
Thereafter came a cleavage of thought. Inspector Pater was a strong devotee of the sauce named "Worcestershire," and flooded his steak with that condiment. Saul Murmer, staunch Englishman, and a Worcestershire-born man, considered that his native sauce piquante took from the steak much of its subtle savour, reducing it to the status of a common, or garden, rump.
Taking farewell of Miss Westways, and "Florabella," Inspector Murmer went into Pitt Street and turned southwards. Two hundred yards along the busy, thoroughfare he entered a narrow passage-way and proceeded along it until he came well in view of George Street. There he found a narrow door and a flight of well-kept stairs. Descending these, he entered a long, low-ceilinged room, decorated in discreet imitation of a very famous London tavern, but with dainty-set tables instead of the wooden boards and horn-handled cutlery of its prototype. One end of the large room was occupied by the famous silver grill, at which, garbed in spotless white robes, presided two priests of Epicurus, holding sparkling wands of office.
Many readers are doubtless familiar with this scene, even though they have not been so fortunate to save the required admission fees; it has been photographed so often, and visited by men from so many remote parts of Australia that even the traveller in the distant unknowns of the Northern Territory, when proceeding southwards, have been farewelled with "love to Dyson's Grill." Stockmen who have visited Sydney at Royal Show times, speak reverently of the founder of the grill, affirming him to be the one man able to deal fittingly with the best brands of cattle.
At the far end of the room from the silver grill, in this temple of a noble art, in a quiet corner, stands a table set for four persons. Exactly at fifteen minutes to one each day, one of the white-jacketed waiters tilts forward all four chairs surrounding this table, in sign that for the next hour this table is reserved from the common run of mankind.
Exactly at one o'clock, or as near that hour as the inevitable and hourly disputes between Sydney city clocks permit, Inspector Pater descends the stairs and sets the chair fronting the front-wall on its four feet. A few seconds later, taking the last chime clock chiming the hour as correct, Inspector Murmer ambles softly over the well-polished floor and seats himself facing his comrade. Very rarely are the other two chairs at this table occupied. On occasions, Superintendent George Dixon has made a third at the table; on one notable occasion all four chairs were occupied, the third and fourth, by Commissioner McFee and Superintendent Dixon. A loyal and observant waiter links this notable event and the fine porterhouse steak served to these notabilities, with the downfall of the Donabetti Brothers who, emigrating to Australia, attempted to introduce to harbour-siders business methods usual in their native Chicago.
On the day Inspector Murmer had visited "Florabella," the last clock had noted the hour, of one several minutes before Inspector Murmer arrived at the luncheon rendezvous. As he drew back his chair, Inspector Pater looked up and nodded briefly. Saul Murmer nodded, just as curtly, flicked open his napkin, and tucked one end between the top buttons of his waistcoat. Both men then, as is the habit of men in dining-rooms, read every word of the long and elaborate menu-cards, although they had already ordered their luncheons.
They did not speak. Silver Grillers consider conversation before meals as irreligious as conversations during services in church. Acolytes, bearing dishes, approached the table. Saul Murmer took occasion to feel that his napkin was securely in place. John Pater broke his crisp roll. The dishes deposited with mathematical precision on the table, sharp, inquisitorial glances surveyed the sacrificial meats. Only when jerky nods of satisfaction gave permission did the waiters bow and return.
Half an hour passed, broken only by muttered requests, such as for "salt" and "pepper." The rolls dwindled to flakes of golden-brown crust; the steaks were remembered only by the aroma and the gravy-stained dishes; liquid levels in pewter pots sank low. John Pater pushed back one chair and sighed; Saul Murmer grunted, thus signifying that so far as he was concerned God was in his heaven, and all was right with a very sinful world. Then:
"All right, John?"
"O.K., Saul. How's things?"
"The Salom Club?" asked Saul Murmer.
"Progressing," replied John Pater. A further, pause. "That Lionel Leyland is a fool."
Saul Murmer struggled his right hand into a tight-fitting trouser pocket, and withdrew one penny. He passed it across the table to his comrade.
"I always pay for information," he remarked, "Still, in this case, I think I am over-generous. Why don't they have farthings in circulation in Australia?"
"I shouldn't like to over-charge you, Saul."
Both men looked up and grinned.
"Anything you want, John?" asked the Englishman.
"Perhaps."—Inspector Pater hesitated. "I'd like to talk—"
"Then talk," said Saul Murmer, and composed himself to listen.
The preliminaries being thus established, both men were more at ease. Being men, and British, they realised that a man's meal made social amenities difficult to resume—they had to descend from Olympian heights to a very work-a-day world.
"Had a devil of a job with Leyland," sighed, the tall Inspector. "After you left, he wanted to arrest Butler. Fool! The man had come to me to talk, and what could be the use of upsetting him?"
Saul Murmer nodded sympathetically.
"We want a new appointment at headquarters," he remarked. "Chairman of Conferences—or something like that. The doors of the meeting room locked and two of the heftiest patrolmen, in the department on guard outside. Inside, a permanent and non-adjourning conference—of ineffective police officers, politicians, other talkers, and—Sergeant Lionel Leyland."
"You couldn't do it," laughed John Pater. "Have you considered the effect of strictly confining so much explosive material?"
"But, curse it, man!" Saul Murmer looked up in surprise. "What would such an explosion in such a room matter—"
"Well," Pater pursed thin lips. "I over-ruled Leyland and sent him out after Myson. Told him he was to convey a polite invitation to the man to come and talk with me." He laughed shortly. "Leyland didn't like that. S'pose he will lodge a complaint with Dixon against me—but the Super will know how to deal with that; then—"
The tall Australian paused, staring bleakly into distance.
"What did Arthur Buller want see you for?" asked Saul Murmer at length.
"Apparently to tell me that the dead man was Frederick Catlow, and that he, the dead man, and Alfred Myson held a conference in that room that morning."
"Dead marines!" stated the Englishman. "Buller is always like that. He has funds of information that everyone else knows."
"U-m-m!" John. Pater nodded. "I understand that the three men were organising a pearling expedition to some unknown island in the South Seas."
"They would!" The full, red lips parted in a winning smile. "A journey from Sydney Town Hall to Vaucluse on a Government tram would make Buller as cocky as if he had ventured as far as the South Pole."
"He said the conference was to establish a small company to raise the necessary capital."
"Necessary graft!" muttered the stout inspector.
"Just so." John Pater nodded.
"How does he explain the murder?" asked the Englishman.
"There wasn't one—according to Arthur Buller. His theory is that Catlow could not raise his share of the capital required for the enterprise—and shot himself in vexation."
"Y-e-ah." John Pater nodded. "According to Buller, Catlow was given twenty-four hours to find the money, or his place in the syndicate would be filled by another. Buller states he and friend Myson left Catlow and went—to see a man about a dog. They parted—Buller and Myson—in Pitt Street, and Buller knew nothing about the accident until be met Pontifex at dinner last night."
"Life is expensive," murmured the Englishman, inconsequently.
"It may be, in this case."
"What happened next?"
"I don't know." The Australian reflected. "That brings the Salom Club affair up to twelve-thirty. At ten minutes to one I left my office. As I passed the common room I bumped into Leyland, charging out at a furious rate. S'pose he'd been having a 'conference' with the newest 'rookies.' I dropped him a hint that he could pull Buller, if he liked, and give him a bit of a sweating. That cheered friend Leyland no end. He went back into conference. S'pose he is now combing the underworld for the—er—victim."
"He would." Saul Murmer opened sleepy eyes. "Say, John, what exactly did Buller want?"
"Moses sent spies into Canaan," suggested the Australian.
"Did Buller return to his pals bearing grapes and olives?" Saul Murmer sounded sarcastic. "John, there is something big behind all this."
"Think so? I'm having another talk with Captain Pontifex."
"Alias Arthur Wesley." Inspector Murmer apparently woke up, leaning forward. "I ran up against him in London; son of a Walworth Street greengrocer—and a damned bad lot."
"Yet he is said to have held a commission—" commenced John Pater.
"A non-commission," corrected Saul Murmer.
"Is that so? I wondered where he got his military bearing from." John Pater looked up from the remains, of the roll he was industriously disintegrating for the benefit of the grill-room sweeper. "What about a raid, Saul?"
"No." The Englishman spoke more quickly than was his wont. "Do you know the captain is a married-on-the-left man?"
"Thelma Delevere, one-time Hollywood star, of the dustpan and broom. Came to Australia to show you savages of the South Seas how to produce pictures, and—"
"And—" suggested John Pater. He was a great absorber of information.
"From Kennington, London, to Hollywood, U.S.A., and then to Australia. How our girls travel!" Saul Murmer was lying back in his chair, his eyes closed, his hands folded over a more than satisfactory bay-windowed vest. "Sarah Dolman to Thelma Delevere—A two-roomed flat with seven inhabitants and dirty streets to—to a flat of seven rooms in St. John's for only two people—one the breadwinner. Pity you don't have young aristocrats out here, John; the lack of proper facilities so badly cramps our young girls styles."
John Pater laughed.
"Makes me feel melancholy," continued the Englishman. "And melancholia always makes me feel sentimental. I want to write verses—I believe I could evolve something big on the lines of 'The Valley of the Moon,' or 'Sonny Boy.' You know, what I mean, John? Those ditties so many radio announcers are fond of turning on to the air, through their gramophones."
"A Frenchman recently shot a radio-too (sic) enthusiast," stated John Pater, darkly.
"Justifiable homicide, must have been the coroner's verdict," said Saul Murmer firmly. "That Frenchman must have been discharged to loud applause. They should have—No, they don't have Victoria Crosses in France, outside the Mont de Piete—" He paused reflectively. "Now, if I wrote songs—"
"The jury would declare a verdict of suicide over your corpse," grinned Inspector Pater. "And there would be no rider as to the state of your mind. Say, haven't we travelled rather far from our subject?"
"It's returning to us." The small, baby-blue eyes turned slowly from John Pater to the stairway.
Inspector Pater's eyes followed his comrade's glances. He started, and pushed his chair still further from the table. Saul Murmer's podgy leg came forward quickly, and the Australian exclaimed, stifling his words quickly.
Inspector Pater sat back and stared down the long room. Two men had descended the stairs and were paying the customary obeisance to the sliver grill. A low whistle escaped his lips.
"Yes." Saul Murmer shifted slowly so that his back was turned to the upper part of the room.
"Captain Pontifex and Arthur Buller. You should have brought Leyland with you, John."
"Heaven forbid!" John Pater straightened from attention to his injured shin. "He'd have conferenced the cooks until the steaks were cinders. What the devil—"
"Two devils," corrected the Englishman. He was staring intently into the palm of his left hand, in which reposed a small circular mirror.
"No good, Saul," observed the Australian, after a long pause. "He's caught sight of you; you're too noticeable."
Captain Pontifex had halted with strict military precision. He caught his companion by the arm; his strong voice rang through the room; where to raise one's voice above a whisper was anathema.
"Sorry, me lad!" Heads were raised to listen to the intruder's oration. "Can't stay to lunch to-day. Important appointment—involving thousands—I may say—"
Holding Buller by the arm in a firm grip, Captain Pontifex turned to the stairs. Buller protested, but a word from the night-club proprietor reduced him to acquiescence.
"Don't be a fool, Art." Captain Pontifex thought he was whispering, but his voice carried clearly through the room. "Can't you see who's here? Man, I'd rather roast in hell than lunch with Saul Murmer in the same room."
The two Inspectors watched the inglorious exits of the crooks from the Silver Grill. When even the echoes had faded away in the distance, John Pater turned to his companion:
"What now, Saul?"
"I think I shall interview Mr. Carrington Manning this afternoon," the Englishman replied inconsequently! "The time appears ripe to—"
"Eh?" asked John Pater, much puzzled.
Saul Murmer rose to his feet, pushing his chair back firmly.
"Where the vultures gather, John," he said gravely. "But there, you don't want me to instruct you in Australian history."
DETECTIVE-SERGEANT Lionel Leyland held the firm conviction that the New South Wales Police Department held only one really efficient officer. He was also assured that influence, in its most virulent forms, dictated appointments and promotions in the department. Otherwise, he frequently asked Mrs. Lionel Leyland, why had not sheer merit been long adequately recognised?
Sergeant Leyland, in his leisure moments, was a keen admirer of detective fiction. Particularly he admired the works of a very famous author who will be known to posterity as the creator of the "Big Four" and the "Big Three" of Scotland Yard. So long, and so thoroughly, did Sergeant Leyland study these works that, soon after Inspector Murmer arrived in New South Wales, he approached him with reference to the organisation and methods of the Big Three. That the Englishman proved uninformative and amused, he considered after lengthy thought, was due to some vow of silence imposed on him by the secret rulers of London's Metropolitan Police.
Some months before Frederick Catlow met sudden death in the Salom Club, Sergeant Leyland purchased "The Emperor of the Underworld." This remarkable work of fiction, one of the great master's outstanding efforts, wore a realistic aspect. More; it detailed extensively the work of the "Big Three." Sergeant Leyland was enthralled. He considered the author had rolled aside the screen that had hitherto shrouded the inner workings of the men who so sincerely fought England's crime.
Very carefully and exhaustively he studied the book, and after much cogitation, set down in report form his matured conclusions. Spending much grudged money on perfect typing of this report, he forwarded one copy to the Chief Secretary, and another to the Commissioner of Police. Then, confident that merit could no longer be hid, he awaited his just rewards.
Inspector Pater declared that Chance, alone, dictating that Sergeant Leyland should be the only officer available at the moment when Captain Pontifex telephoned the news of the death of Frederick Catlow, brought that officer into the case.
Sergeant Leyland believed that Fate had arranged that he should have an opportunity to show the world at large and his superior officers in particular his abilities and the infallibility of his conclusions. He recognised that he had to work under a considerable handicap at the moment, for his methods depended largely on the establishment of "The Big Three" in continued consultation behind locked doors, and with a retinue of large constables on guard in the corridor without. Yet, failing comrades of "The Big Three" he was prepared to do his best. He was certain he could prove his theories right. Thus, when Inspector Pater limited him, ordered him, checked him to the defined lines of the inquiry laid down by the departmental heads, he was furious.
When Arthur Buller walked into Inspector Pater's office Sergeant Leyland was filled with joy. Here was an opportunity to put his theories into practical use. A conference arranged on the lines used by the "Big Three" amplified by methods peculiar to Mulberry Street, New York City, would certainly bring matters to a point where evidence would be obtained and an arrest made. His thoughts soared to a full confession—and the glorification of the officer who, by sheer willpower and ability, had obtained it.
When Inspector Pater ordered him, from his office on a search for Alfred Myson, Sergeant Leyland groaned in spirit. His superior officer, in rank, not ability, was throwing away every chance of solving this intricate case. Slowly, hesitatingly, and with, thoughts of an appeal to the Commissioner in his mind, he went down the corridor. He did not go to the Commissioner, or telephone him, for at the back of his mind was the thought that he alone might possibly retrieve Inspector Pater's mistake.
Could he? A sudden thought flashed into his mind. Hastening his steps, he went to the Common Room. There he found, as he had expected, two of the latest appointed constables to the branch. These he despatched to search for Arthur Buller's English record, and the list of gun licences. He remembered that Inspector Murmer had declared Buller to be a dangerous gunman. If the man carried a concealed weapon without the necessary licence, he could arrest him. Once the man was in the cells there were ways and means of forcing from him a confession.
His messengers were long completing their task, but at length reported. Sergeant Leyland's heart swelled with pride. Arthur Buller did not possess a licence to carry a weapon; his English record was one of which any member of the underworld might well be proud.
Hurrying from the Common Room, Sergeant Leyland bumped into Inspector Pater on his way to lunch. Sight of the inspector caused Leyland's heart to sink. It could only mean that Buller had been allowed to leave Police Headquarters, a free man. Again he groaned at the incapacity of his superior officer. The news that he might bring Buller back, if he could find him, cheered him slightly. With a grudging salute he went to the stairs and ascended to the upper floor.
Outside the inspector's room he hesitated, then loitered past. When the corridor was vacant he returned and swiftly opened the door, entering the room. Both desks in the room were bare of papers, and Leyland had hoped to find on Inspector Pater's desk some notes of Arthur Buller's statement or, at least, a note of the man's address. He tried the drawers of the desk. They were locked. In exasperation, he thought of forcing the drawers. Surely he was entitled to proceed to extremities when the man who should lead was proving himself not only incompetent but a decided hindrance to the investigation in hand. He hesitated, finally abandoning the burglarious idea.
He was not certain the Commissioner would stand behind his actions—the higher officers of the department were hard to convince to modern ideas, hidebound to obsolete methods which had created slums of crime in the fair city of Sydney. With a shrug, he went from the room and out into Central Lane. For the moment he must abandon much that he thought necessary; yet, given time, his opportunity would come. Again he thought, and his thoughts led to the Salom Club.
Passing down George Street, he mounted a city-bound tram, and took out his expenses book. In it he carefully noted the taxi-fare from Central Lane to Circular Quay, dealing liberally in the way of a tip with the mythical taxi driver. The slowness of the journey irked, for he was anxious to test a new theory that had occurred to him.
At the Salom Club he asked for Arthur Buller of a gentleman who wore large cauliflower ears and a broken nose in a broad, grinning face. The man declared that "Mister Buller" was not on the premises. Sergeant Leyland then asked for Captain Pontifex, and was told that he was at lunch. Where did Captain Pontifex lunch, next demanded the Sergeant, and was informed "in Sydney." The subsequent expression of disbelief caused two mighty intellects to clash. Sergeant Leyland decided the man and the premises required investigation.
When the rocking world steadied, and the walls ceased to jig, Sergeant Leyland found himself facing a short, tubby man, who wore an engaging smile. This new individual introduced himself as the "head waiter," and apologised for Captain Pontifex's absence. He professed complete ignorance of any person, or persons, with cauliflower ears and broken noses, and spoke vaguely of search warrants and such idiotic and restrictive things.
Sergeant Leyland at length considered. Perhaps he had been too hasty. Fingering a split lip and conscious of an eye camouflaged in possible rainbow hues, he decided to accept apologies and explanations from the tubby person.
Again at Circular Quay, and with a mind searching for some new angle of approach to his problem certain human clues reminded him that he had net yet lunched. Thought of lunch brought the reminder that he had promised Mrs. Leyland to meet her for lunch at 1.15 p.m., promptly. The Customs House clock declared the hour to be 1.50 p.m.—and Mrs. Leyland was not a lady it was wise to keep waiting on an appointment for lunch—or anything else. A vivid picture of his "much better half" rose before the Sergeant's mental vision. He pictured her seated in the Adele Café, bolt upright on a hard wooden seat, her eyes bright and determined, her lips firmly set, her body tensed, her mind swelling with thoughts of an errant husband—and he groaned.
The Adele Café is situated in Hunter Street. Mrs. Leyland had discovered it, and adopted it, when Police Headquarters, and the Detective Branch, were located in the ugly red-brick building at the corner of Hunter and Phillip Streets. The mere fact that the Police Powers-That-Be had decided to shift the Criminal Branch to Central Lane had not affected the lady's opinions. Ministers and Commissioners might have changeable views; Mrs. Leyland boasted that she always kept to one unswerving course.
Luncheon and a lady occupying his present thoughts, Sergeant Leyland strode up Pitt Street and at the Hunter Street corner paused. There he took time for consideration. So far he had not found an excuse wherewith to explain his tardiness. He knew Mrs. Leyland would investigate his morning activities, in detail. She would certainly discover inaccuracies, in cross-examination and that split lip and swelling eye would—Well, it just would!
He moved into Hunter Street slowly. His second stop was at a very strategic point, a jeweller's shop window. In the mirrors behind the displayed articles he had a very fair view of the fine interior of the Adele Café, while himself being carefully shielded from the lunchers' view. Expertly, he scanned the interior of the café, and groaned. Mrs. Leyland was sitting in a position from where she could keep a vigilant eye on the entrance, and a small portion of the street beyond. A great hope swelled suddenly in the sergeant's breast. Mrs. Leyland was not alone. She was lunching with someone—and that someone was a man. The sergeant noted that at intervals she inclined a very rigid body—and smiled. Mrs. Leyland was a great sticker for etiquette, and an authority on the subject in her own home. With a companion at the table she would have to accept any explanation for tardiness the Sergeant chose to offer.
True, there would be long and explosive explanations to undergo in the connubial chamber that night—but in matrimonial affairs Lionel Leyland had long since decided that delays, however short, were always for good. The hour of nightly retirement lay in the future—and in the interval much might happen.
Sergeant Leyland strode into the Café and, before Mrs. Leyland had time to recognise the stalwart form of her much-married husband, drew a chair to the table and seated himself. For a second he mentally flinched as he met her eyes. Almost he believed his wife's rigid adherence to "correctness" had been overstrained, and that, for once, the long and arduous self-tuition in "etiquette for housewives" would fail.
"Sorry, m'dear," the Sergeant muttered quickly. "Very busy at headquarters. Long conference with the Commissioner and other heads. Important decisions. Thought I'd have to miss lunch—" He grabbed up the menu; then caught at the flying skirts of a passing waitress. "Grilled steak, onions, chips, coffee, bread and butter, cheese and make it chippy, m'dear. Police business—rush it!"
"Lionel!" Mrs. Leyland spoke ominously. "Lionel, we have a visitor!"
Sergeant Leyland nodded genially to the little man, his hand straying to his trousers pocket. Had he enough to pay for three lunches? He sighed. The afternoon 'nip' would; have to be cut out—that was all.
"Afternoon, sir," Sergeant Leyland surveyed the slight little man seated beside his wife with disfavour and thankfulness, mixed.
"Mr. Alfred Myson," introduced the lady.
"Mister—" Sergeant Leyland stared, his mouth sagging, his rainbow eye hurting at the enforced protuberance.
"Mr. Alfred Myson," repeated Mrs. Leyland firmly. "I have met Mr. Myson in the city today, on business. Mr Myson is in business in the city and for his convenience I have arranged this interview in his luncheon hour."
A glint of anger-fire in the lady's eyes forbade discussion; yet the Sergeant felt he must say something. Alfred Myson! Why, he—Yes, he distinctly remembered.
"Lionel, what is the matter with your eye?" Mrs. Leyland was closely scanning her husband's face. "You've been fighting," she decided. "Yes, fighting."
"We—er—" A sudden wave of courage swept the Sergeant. "Some prisoners were—er—aggressive—"
"A terrible case," declared the sergeant. "You were saying—"
"And—your ear!" The lady's tones were ascending the scale rapidly.
"No doubt you will read the full details in the newspapers, tonight, dear."
Sergeant Leyland devoutly hoped there had been a "dust up" in the city or suburbs, somewhere, that day. He could claim that his name had been wilfully and maliciously omitted from the report. "You were saying, m'dear—in reference to Mr. Myson—"
"Yes." Mrs. Leyland took time to consider. "Time to consider" is an important axiom in Etiquette for the Housewife.
"Mr. Myson is engaged in business in this city. He requires a country residence—and we have a spare room."
Sergeant Leyland took the "we" as a word of grace. Only when Mrs was particularly pleased did she use "we." At other times she spoke of house and home with the pronoun "my" prefixed—often in the capital letters.
"I seem to remember your name, Mr. Myson." Sergeant Leyland felt that he had to say something, and this was the first thing that came to his tongue. The situation was terrific. He was to harbour in his—no, Mrs. Leyland's—home, a murderer! Yes, the facts were there; a murderer—and Mrs. Leyland—Myson was a murderer, wanted by the police for the murder of Frederick Catlow! Soon, through the city, on every police noticeboard, would be posted handbills asking for the immediate arrest of one Alfred Myson—and he would be arrested. More, through police headquarters and through the State would spread the dreadful fact; Alfred Myson had been arrested in Detective-Sergeant Lionel Leyland's Bondi residence. He groaned.
"What is the matter, Lionel?" Mrs. Leyland spoke with some asperity in her voice. "You have not expressed your pleasure to Mr. Myson."
"Delighted?" mumbled the Sergeant. "We'll do our best to make you comfortable!"
Comfortable! If Fate had only ordered that he had found Alfred Myson before that crook came in contact with Mrs. Leyland, he would have made him comfortable! Visions, of whitewashed walls of stone, plank beds, of grey blankets, of barred windows, rose before the Sergeant's mind's eye. If Fate bad not been so unkind!
For the first time since he had stood by Mrs. Leyland's side and mumbled something that a priest had taken for "I will," he thought of rebellion. Could he, dare he, rise from that table, stretch out hard and clutching hands across his wife, yank this murderer from his seat and inform him that "anything he might say—" He knew he dared not. He knew that at the first aggressive move Mrs. Leyland would fix him with a basilisk stare; she would open her mouth, and her "Lionel, how dare you?" would freeze him to immobility.
Suddenly he leaned forward, holding out his hand across the table to the—murderer. He had to be diplomatic. Later, perhaps—To his memory flashed a scene created by his favourite author. There the detective, acting under the guiding brains of the "Big Three"—or was it the "Big Four"—had shaken hands with the "Master-Mind of Crime," won his confidence, and—
"Delighted to have you in our home." The Sergeant spoke heartily. For the moment he felt hearty: his plans were set. He would cultivate this man, worm his way into his confidence, prise from him, by subtle questioning, the truth about the murder of Frederick Catlow, and then, in a brilliant blaze of glory, haul the perpetrators of the crime into Police Headquarters with every link of the chain of evidence complete. That, his final triumph, would make a supine Commissioner, ineffective, self-satisfied, Superintendents and Inspectors squirm! Yes, sir, squirm!
GRADUALLY Detective-Inspector Saul Murmer became intrigued with a problem in which he could not, at the moment, see any definite thread of crime. Yet some sixth sense—that strange instinct for lawlessness that real detectives acquire—insisted that surrounding him were problems that would presently take all his powers to solve.
When he had met Miss Westways at the Green Lagoon night-club, he had become far more interested in the woman than in the problem she offered him. The problem had appeared exaggerated. He did not believe any threat was intended. The sketches seemed to emanate from a childish mind intent on revenge for some fancied injury. He had offered to investigate—and had made a few inquiries—more from friendship and admiration for an attractive woman than in the belief he would solve some sinister plot.
He had intended to find the artist; when he did, he believed that a strong reproof, coupled with some indefinite threat of action if the offence was repeated, would serve the ends of justice. But that sixth sense—the detective sense—declared that the Salom club murder should be linked with Miss Westways and her niece!
"Why," asked Saul Murmer of himself, with some irritation, "should that be so?" There could be no possible connection; Frederick Catlow had been murdered by crooks in a place frequented by the higher circles of crooks, and possibly over a division of loot. That was a reasonable theory, and a theory police headquarters was prepared to admit. For the moment, the loot and the identity of the murdered were unknown. All the police had to work on was a strange tale told by Arthur Buller, supported by Captain Pontifex's statement that he had lent the room at the Salom Club to the three men for a business conference.
On another angle of the dual affair his sixth sense had insisted that Saul Murmer did not associate himself with the Salom Club case. Chance had dictated that he was in the building at the moment the fatal shot was fired. He had been on the murder scene within a few minutes of the man's death. Following the dictates of his "hunch" he had insisted that Captain Pontifex send for Inspector Pater and to conceal the fact that he, Saul Murmer, had been on the premises up to the moment of the detective's arrival on the scene.
Pontifex and his waiter, Catlow, Buller and Myson. Saul Murmer had reason to believe all five men crooks. He had known three of the five in London, in connection with his work at New Scotland Yard. Two of the three had been in prison on convictions the detective remembered well.
The third, Pontifex, had made frequent appearances in police courts, on charges connected with the keeping of gambling houses, and his record of fines was almost imposing. At times the "gallant captain" had been suspected of more serious offences, but the Yard had failed to secure sufficient evidence to warrant arrest and conviction.
Pontifex, Myson and Buller; Saul Murmer knew them well. But he could not place Catlow. So far as the detective was aware, he was a newcomer in crime. He was certainly English; his clothes were of English cut and fashion; the few intimate articles about his person were of English manufacture. Even his hat was English—and that alone was sufficient to indicate that he had not been long in Australia.
Then, what connection had he with the other three men? They had left England many years before Saul Murmer had sailed for Australia. How had Catlow connected with the three suspected rogues, and for what purpose? And, again, that sixth sense asserted itself in Saul Murmer's mind. It insisted that he could couple Miss Westways and her niece with the men.
The Englishman shook himself angrily. The idea was absurd, impossible! Neither of the women could be crooks, or the associates of crooks. But the idea persisted, asserted itself, bringing to his mind's surface impossible theories and conjectures in vain attempts to prove connections that could not possibly exist. What connection could there be? The incidents of the strange coffin shaped drawings? That was absurd. The meaningless practical jokes that always followed the arrival of the drawings? Again the theory appeared absurd. Had he to presume that Pontifex, Buller, Myson, or even that newcomer in the underworld, Frederick Catlow, would initiate and carry through some obscure intimidation threat by means of those strange drawings.
Now, if there had been a demand accompanying the drawings, the affair would be easy to understand. But, so far as he knew, there had been, no demand—not a scrap of other writing.
Had there been a demand? It seemed absurd to consider such an idea. Miss Westways was a wealthy woman; here niece was a petted, slightly-spoiled child, whose mind was mainly engrossed with having a good social time with her friends of Sydney's younger set. What secret could these women have that the gang could hold over them. Threat of what? The detective shrugged. The men had made no demand.
Yet the thought could not be entirely ignored. More than one person of presumably impeccable life had fallen under the dominance of blackmailers through an error in early life. Miss Westways had declared her life was threatened, had declared the drawings to be demands for money; yet she had not produced one iota of proof of either assertion.
Certainly Saul Murmer passed in review not only the three rogues, Miss Westways and her niece, but also those persons he had found surrounding these principals in the little drama. As names occurred to his mind he wrote them down, crossing them off his list on maturer reflection. At the end of his work and meditation he had one name attached to his list—a name and personality to which he could attach some slight suspicion.
And that name was Theodore Manning, son of a wealthy father, a high light in Sydney's younger set; and he was intriguing. Saul Murmer thought he sensed that the youth was not entirely what he wished others to think him. He wore a strange mask of impassivity, posing as the incarnation of male beloved by certain lady novelists—the strong, silent man. Until he met young Manning, Inspector Murmer had not thought the species existed. Theodore Manning was but a youth; Paddy Burke had declared that he was not yet twenty-one. Yet the detective decided, on reflection, that the youth looked and acted far older than his reputed years.
As a natter of routine. Saul Murmer had made some inquiries about him. He had learned that at the University Theodore Manning was not looked on as of any consequence; he had failed badly in his studies, and he look no interest in sport. In fact, generally speaking, young Manning was looked upon by the authorities and his fellow students as one of a large number of persons attending the University who have no ambitions and use the institution as a means of social standing—and to fill in time that often lays heavily on their hands. Rather regretfully, for Sam Murmer disliked the youth rather unreasonably, he had to stand him aside as of no consequence in his problem.
But Theodore Manning had a father, Carrington Manning. Report stated that Theodore was an only son and was considerably spoilt. He had far more money at his command than was for his good; he had considerable liberty, which in many ways he abused.
Reviewing the personal drama he believed was set before him, Inspector Murmer considered Carrington Manning was worthy of attention. For one thing, he was an old acquaintance. Carrington Manning had been in London during the days Saul Murmer had been working his way up in the Metropolitan Police Force. In the capital city of the Empire, Carrington Manning had been of little account. He had been one of the numerous band of commercial adventurers who labelled themselves financiers. Nothing criminal, so far as the Inspector knew, had ever been charged against him; yet he had drawn the watchful eyes of New Scotland Yard, for the "financiers" of a city are always potentialities to the ever-alert police.
Carrington Manning had disappeared from London commercial circles quite a time before Detective-Inspector Saul Murmer had been offered the opportunity to visit Australia on exchange duty with the New South Wales Police Department. Rumour had told that Manning had transferred his business activities to New York, and had taken out naturalisation papers as an American citizen. New Scotland Yard had noted that fact, and had then proceeded to file him—not to forget him.
Now Carrington Manning had appeared in Australia, with Sydney his headquarters. The unguarded inquiries instituted by the Inspector had shown him that the man was working a legitimate, though highly speculative business. He was a director of several companies—mostly of the non-dividend paying order. He appeared to be interested in anything promising tangible assets in the future; that is to say, inventions, however bizarre, immediately drew his attention. He dealt in property companies, mainly of the futuristic order. The purely speculative adventures that attract so many men of his kind did not, apparently, attract him.
He was careful to avoid contact with the known "gold-brick" sellers, the hawkers of elaborately engraved gold and other mining script and the promoters of "get rich quick" activities who throng young and rapidly-growing cities. In fact, in Inspector Murmer's opinion, Carrington Manning, was a person who would fully repay careful watching.
Immediately after luncheon at the Silver Grill Inspector Saul Murmer parted from Inspector John Pater, having decided how to employ his afternoon. His work at Police Headquarters was well in hand, and for the time did not need his personal attention, and he was intrigued with the problem that he had already labelled the "Westways case."
He thought that a few hours spent in quiet investigation might lead to results, important or otherwise, but certainly results that might shed some light on a problem that appeared at present to be shrouded in mystery.
Had the two Inspectors on that mid-day been aware of Sergeant Lionel Leyland's little luncheon party in Hunter Street, of the Sergeant's discovery of Alfred Myson, and Mrs. Leyland's adoption of that interesting person as "guest" in her suburban home, much hard and solid spade-work on the two problems of the Westways letters and the Salom Club murder would have been saved.
It was unfortunate for them that they had Sergeant Leyland working with them, and that the Sergeant had so great a belief in his personal abilities that he had decided to investigate the death of Frederick Catlow on his own account and, if possible, "scoop" his fellow-officers.
Ambling slowly down Pitt Street, Saul Murmer, to the ordinary observer the personification of a harmless, genial, stout, middle-aged gentleman of comfortable means, came to King Street and boarded an Eastern Suburbs tramcar. During the journey to Double Bay he occupied himself with one point in the Westways case he had discovered that day—the peculiar and intriguing mystery of the dress-dummy, presented to Miss Westways by some unknown overseas admirer, and the carefully smashed packing-case in which the "present" had arrived at its destination.
The tramcar rumbled through the nearer suburbs, and in due course came to a halt in the shopping centre of Double Bay. Saul Murmer descended from the car with caution and found the pavement. He saw that he was flanked by a double line of shops, most of them prosperous looking, yet during that afternoon hour not too well patronised. He walked a few steps along the street to the end of the line of shops until he came to private houses, standing in large grounds. On his north side opened a vista of country, with Sydney's famous harbour in the foreground.
He looked southwards, and before him, on gently rising ground, beheld a scene decorated with important-looking houses, set in wide gardens. He knew that beyond his horizon lay the tall cliffs guarding the continent of Australia from the wide ocean.
Retracing his steps to the township, Saul Murmer inquired from an Italian fruit-merchant directions to Harrington Street. Following the rather muddled directions he had acquired with some difficulty, and which included thumbnail portraits of local personalities and trading conditions in Double Bay, Saul Murmer at length came to the street he sought.
A couple of hundred yards along a wide, almost deserted thoroughfare, and he found large double gates. Beyond the gates were spreading lawns and elegant flower gardens. There was a wealth of trees, for trees are encouraged in Sydney suburban gardens, though not always in the Councils' streets.
Two individuals were working in the gardens, a man and a boy. At, the moment of the detective's approach they were struggling with an electric lawn-mower, a machine that, apparently, required more muscular power to drive than the non-electric variety.
The house, standing in the centre of the grounds, was of two stories, of a style very affected by Sydney architects. Before the house had been erected a marble and brick porch, guarding three near-marble steps and a small platform, all surrounded by a decoration of highly coloured tiles. The modest bellpush of dulled bronze met with the inspector's solitary approval. He had feared to be confronted with some shining example of the brass founder's art.
The application of a rather short, well fed finger produced immediate results. The door swung solidly open, revealing a pretty, and smartly dressed maid, whose roguish eyes mutely asked the detective's wishes.
"Is Mr. Carrington Manning at home?" asked the inspector, in his well-assumed sleepy manner.
The girl nodded, but did not retire from her vantage post on the doorstep.
"I would like to see him," continued Saul Murmer, when he was convinced that his admission was not at present welcomed.
"Have you an appointment?" asked the girl.
"Regrettably, no." The police officer allowed his well known baby smile to part full, red lips. "Yet I have a card."
The maid stepped back so quickly that she appeared to disappear into the gloom of the hall. Almost as quickly she re-appeared, holding a silver tray whose polish made the detective blink, Saul Murmer gave unqualified approval to the salver.
"My card." He placed a slip of pasteboard on the polished surface with great care. "I trust it will prove an appropriate key."
For a moment the girl hesitated, then stepped back, beckoning to the inspector to follow her into the wide hall, and with an over-manicured finger indicated a hard seated, very upright chair, in ebony.
Saul Murmer looked about him. Over a doorway immediately opposite where he sat was a mounted stag's head. A few eastern weapons were tastefully displayed on an adjacent wall. An ebony table, matching the chair on which the police officer sat, stood under the lethal display.
Close to hand was a large Chinese temple gong. Around the hall, suspended from a cornice shelf, were etchings. A polished parquet, covered with a few real Australian rugs, completed the surroundings.
About the time Saul Murmer had absorbed these evidences of undoubted wealth, the maid returned and placed the silver salver on the ebony table. A toss of her be-frilled cap was interpreted by the inspector as an invitation to follow her into the more intimate regions of the house.
At the end of a passage leading from the entrance hall, the girl stopped and threw open a door.
"Detective Inspector Saul Murmer, sir," she proclaimed, and closed the door quickly on the slow moving detective.
"Detective Inspector Saul Murmer, of New Scotland Yard, London, England," amplified a gentleman seated at a wide, glass topped desk in a corner of the room, close to the open French windows.
For a moment the gloom of the room caused the Inspector to stare short sightedly before him. As his eyes became accustomed to the light, he saw, seated before him a man with a big head of iron grey hair, framing a small face set with fierce grey eyes. On the determined looking nose perched gold pince-nez. Under the strong chin showed a high winged collar and straightly tied tie. Flanking collar and tie were well sloping shoulders concealed by the upper part of a high-cut smoking jacket.
Almost Saul Murmer grinned. What a model for a cartoonist!
"Please be seated." The gentleman at the desk waved a hand toward a chair set with the back from the light. "What can I do for you, Inspector?"
"Mr. Carrington Manning?" asked the detective.
"The same," said Mr. Manning genially. "Well?"
"Formerly of London?"
"And New York," amplified the man at the desk. "May I ask if you have come out from Sydney—or London—" with a quick glance at the police officer's card—"to ask me that?"
"Did I send in one of my London cards?" Saul Murmer was very innocent. "How stupid of me!" He found his pocket book and withdrew another card, scanning it carefully. "I should have given your maid this card, for the present, I am on exchange duty with the New South Wales Police Department."
"Interesting!" Carrington Manning touched a bell on his desk. "You'll have a drink, Inspector? Even from Sydney it is quite a journey to Double Bay, if you haven't an automobile."
As Manning spoke the door opened silently and the maid entered bearing decanters and glasses on a tray that could only be a brother to the one which had carried in Saul Murmer's card. Apparently the girl knew her master's technique for entertaining police officers.
"And what do you think of Sydney and New South Wales?" asked Carrington Manning, with ah excess of geniality in his manner. "Will you help yourself, Inspector?"
Saul Murmer did not hesitate. A glance at the contents of the tray had assured him that whatever guilt could be attached to his host's tastes in furnishings, his drinks were beyond reproach.
"Very like London," observed the inspector, when he had approved the liquid in his glass. "I have come across many well known faces in New South Wales."
"The world is a very small place," agreed Mr. Manning. He came round the desk, a small man with a pronounced stoop, and poured into a glass half an inch of yellow fluid, filling the glass from a soda siphon. Saul Murmer shuddered. Good whisky should be treated with every consideration—not drowned.
"Everyone is taking to travelling nowadays," elaborated the host. "What with aeroplanes—"
"I know they borrow—er—motor cars in the States," said the inspector, stolidly. "I didn't know they were trying to break Anglo-Australian records in the air."
Mr. Manning looked blank for a moment, then laughed.
"Your mind is still running on crooks, I see, Inspector," he said. "No, I don't think they are flying to Australia yet."
"Not through the stratosphere," assented the detective. The whisky was decidedly good.
"But you didn't come here to talk about crooks?" Mr. Manning raised innocent hands to an ornately decorated ceiling.
"I came to tell you Frederick Catlow was dead," spoke the detective, still more stolidly.
"Frederick Catlow?" The financier frowned. "Now, where have I heard that name?"
"Perhaps you read it in the Post-Advertiser," suggested the detective. "They gave him a grand write-up this morning. Dizzy Laine is a great journalist."
"Ah!" Carrington Manning sipped his diluted soda water. "So I did."
"And Messrs Arthur Buller and Alfred Myson are suspected of taking a—er—an interest in Mr. Catlow," continued the inspector interestedly.
"Really!" Mr. Manning's eyes glowed strangely. "I don't think I know I those gentlemen."
"They came from England and er—America," explained the inspector.
"England, America." The financier laughed. "My dear sir, in those combined countries are over two hundred million people."
"They were all three—er—inventors," stated Saul Murmer softly. "I understand you are interested in inventions, Mr. Manning."
"Of course." The financier smiled. "I believe in progress. Inventions are the mainstay of this age. We must have progress, and continued advancement in machinery."
"Messrs Catlow, Buller and Myson were not interested in machinery inventions," stated the inspector blandly, "They were interested in inventions designed to separate—er—super sensitive humans from what is generally—er—considered necessary for comfortable existence."
"Money," translated the little man. "Of course," he paused, "And because I am a financier you consider—Really, Inspector!"
"Just an idea that passed through my mind—some silly people might consider it the oddments of an epigram." Saul Murmer smiled sleepily, "I am also interested in Mr. Theodore Manning."
Carrington Manning's interest was now thoroughly aroused. "My son!"
"Quite a well grown lad," assented the detective. "I met him with some friends, at the Green Lagoon."
"At a night club?"
"Well—hardly that." The inspector frowned thoughtfully. "Shall we name the Green Lagoon a restaurant specialising in late meals and dancing, for select people. You see," he continued confidentially, "Police Inspectors are not supposed to go to night clubs. Police Commissioners' consciences are delicate plants—as delicate as alleged non-conformists' consciences. We do our best to satisfy them, though," he shrugged.
Mr. Manning did not reply.
"A well grown lad," repeated the detective. "I should say Mr. Theodore Manning is quite twenty-one."
"Just turned twenty," snapped the financier. A moment, and his usual suavity returned. "May I ask why you are specially interested in my son?"
"Mrs. Carrington Manning died in America, did she not?" asked Saul Murmer, imperturbably. "Sad for so young a boy to be deprived of a mother's care."
Carrington Manning rose abruptly from his chair. "I don't understand what right you have to inquire into my personal history—and the history of my family," he stuttered, with an assumption of dignity. "However, it is my theory that every citizen should assist the police on all occasions, whatever the cost to themselves may be. To be brief my wife died seven years ago, when my son was just thirteen."
"An unlucky age," suggested the inspector softly. "Do you know, Mr. Carrington Manning, Mr. Theodore Manning looks quite a number of years older to me."
"My solicitors will settle the matter for you, if you are interested," Mr. Carrington Manning walked to the door and opened it. "I regret, Inspector, that an important appointment does not permit me time to continue this very interesting conversation."
Saul Murmer looked only mildly interested. He reached for his glass and slowly drank the remaining contents, then carefully wiped his full red lips.
"Pity to waste a good drink," he said, equably. "Sorry about the appointment; I'll call another day."
"I may be busy; I often am." The little man was holding his temper with difficulty. "May I suggest that you either write for the information you require, or communicate with my secretary. My time is not illimitable."
"Your secretary." The stout inspector pondered the suggestion. "No, I don't think I'll trouble him or her. When I have thought over what you have told me today, and considered questions I should like to ask you, I'll let you know, I'm sure you won't mind devoting some of your valuable time to satisfying my inquisitiveness."
The financier did not answer. Saul Murmer glanced past Carrington Manning into the gloom of the hall where the maid awaited him. He bent to the little financier confidentially.
"Strange thing, Mr. Manning. You told me your wife died seven years ago—and I thought I saw her in Sydney the other day!"
Before Carrington Manning could reply the detective passed out of the room, pulling the door shut behind him. On the doorstep of the house he turned to the maid.
"Interesting man, Mr. Carrington Manning," he observed lazily "Quite a personality. I wonder what sort of woman Mrs. Carrington Manning was? Suppose there's not a portrait, in oils or bromide, in the house?"
The door shut suddenly, and in spite of padded jambs, with considerable noise.
Saul Murmer, chuckling softly to himself, walked down the gravelled drive to the gates, en route for Sydney.
DESPITE A popular and widespread superstition, ingrained in the reading public by novelists who prefer to depict gods, not men, members of the police departments of the world have allotted hours of leisure. They work and work hard, while in pursuit of criminals; they "rest" just as hard, especially those attached to British establishments, in the peculiar manner so astonishing to people of non-British races. Cricket, football, tennis, and all other forms of sport, including golf, have keen police adherents, not always of the "hill barracking" type.
Inspector Saul Murmer had, in the days of his youth, been a keen devotee of all kinds of sport. In his day he had led police teams to defeat and chortling victory against other police teams, and privileged groups from the general community. Excess of flesh, in later years, had relegated him to the English equivalent of "the bleachers." With the further advance of time, he had come to prefer solitary evenings in a comfortable chair, or the pleasures of social life.
Leaving Double Bay, not too well satisfied with his interview with Carrington Manning, Saul Murmer journeyed to the city and his office at the police headquarters, in search of any little details that might require his attention that day. To his relief, he found that all that was now required of him was to sign off duty. That formality accomplished, he leisurely journeyed homeward. Installed in his favourite chair, the daily newspapers duly scanned and piled oh the small table in the corner, a well-advertised book, not of the detective type, on his knees, and the wherewithal for a comfortable evening on the low table beside his chair, the inspector gave himself up to reflection.
He had a sense that he should be worried, that "something" in which he would be vitally interested was about to happen, yet could not define his feelings more accurately, think as he would. He had not been satisfied with his interview with Carrington Manning that afternoon; he had not been satisfied with the information he had collected during the past few days. He felt that he had been floundering in a maze of facts that should have read to him a connected story—and they were to him, at present, merely incidents.
To his store of facts he had to add two new ones, gathered that day. One was that Carrington Manning, one of the financial jackals of London, was in New South Wales a money-king. That was puzzling, yet he realised, not impossible. Many incidents in the man's history were missing; for instance, he knew nothing of the man's American history. He was well aware that many a man, counted of small importance in one country, might have travelled far under the Stars and Stripes.
The second fact he had gathered that afternoon was more intriguing. Some weeks before he had chanced upon Captain Pontifex in company with a tall, willowy, very blonde, dame. Her face had been familiar and he had sought an introduction. The gallant captain had murmured "Mrs. Pontifex—which the inspector had believed to be a sop to convention.
"Mrs. Pontifex" had appeared familiar to his memory. Some gentle probing and he had uncovered "Thelma Delevere" and that aspiring film actress had, before leaving London for Los Angeles, attracted his attention.
Memory had stirred to the knowledge that at the time Carrington Manning had scratched London's financial gutters for a living, he had been connected with a certain Sarah Dolnan, a butterfly then emerging from the grub stage of South London. Amid a certain circle, and for a period, Sarah Dolnan had posed as Mrs. Carrington Manning. Now Sarah Dolnan was Mrs. Captain Pontifex, with the background of Thelma Delevere, noted American film star—and Carrington Manning lived at Double Bay, a sad and lonely widower.
Saul Murmer chuckled. Some pieces of his puzzle had fallen into place. But those facts did not explain Theodore Manning, possibly son of Thelma Delevere and Carrington Manning. Theodore was reputed to be 20 years of age, and he looked older. But barely 20 years had passed since Carrington Manning has disappeared from London's police horizon—and the inspector had no memory that the financier had boasted a son. Thelma would never have boasted of such an event—and when had she disappeared from London society?
Saul Murmer fell into reflection. Here was fresh points he had to elucidate. The gentle tones of the door gong brought Saul Murmer from his reverie. That was John Pater, and perhaps the Australian could help him with his problem. He prised himself from his chair and ambled to the flat door—to discover his visitor was Miss Paddy Burke.
"Sight for sore eyes!" he exclaimed, his Puritan spirit causing a quick glance at his wrist watch. Nine o'clock! That was—"Come in, m'dear! Where's Theo? Have you given him the night off?"
"Bother Theo," Paddy swept into the detective's sitting-room, looking about her curiously as women always do when entering a man's special apartment for the first time. "Theo! Do you think I keep him in my pocket?" There followed a long, significant pause, while the lady found a chair to her liking. "I hate those strong, silent men!"
Well-arched eyebrows indicated thoughts the detective dared not put into words. Convincing himself that his visitor was comfortable, the slightest of feminine nods answering his half-whispered "Cocktail," he became the drink expert known and well appreciated by his men-friends.
From the sideboard, with his wide-flung doors, he cautiously watched for the moment when speech would be welcome.
"They are a nuisance, aren't they, Paddy?" he said, busy with the shaker.
"Those silent men, m'dear; they don't give the average woman just cause for complaint."
Miss Burke nodded. She accepted the cocktail and sipped it appreciatively. "Uncle Saul—" she commenced; then paused.
"Niece Paddy—" Saul Murmer, a wide grin on his full red lips, ambled back to his chair and raised the whisky bottle to the lip of his glass.
"That sounds nice and comfy." Paddy nodded and smiled. "I like it!" Then in a burst of confidence: "Uncle Saul, you're a dear!"
"A fat one, I'm afraid." Saul Murmer looked sadly at the "bay window" that occupied far more of his chair than it deserved.
"You don't talk a lot," continued Paddy. "Only just enough to make a girl feel comfy—just enough to excite her interest and to give her—"
Saul Murmer looked his alarm.
"M'dear! Is this a proposal?"
"I'd like to!" The girl giggled delightedly. "But if I proposed matrimony, I'd have to jilt you as an uncle—and you might sue me for breach of promise."
"I would." The Inspector's grin matched Paddy's smile. "That's the truth, m'dear. I'll have no trifling with my young affections." He waited a couple of seconds. "Now, m'dear. What's the trouble between you and Theo?"
"Nothing." Miss Burke's lips closed tightly.
"Then there's another man." deduced the Inspector.
"My!" Paddy held up mock-horror hands. "You are clever. I'm frightened of you!"
"There may be." Paddy had the grace to blush. She waited a moment. "Uncle Saul, I'm tired of living a useless life."
"A—what?" The detective stuttered. "Who?"
"Everyone should be of use in this world," Paddy spoke firmly. "And I'm nineteen—nearly twenty, and—a girl is not—"
"Married," interposed the Inspector. "You will be one day—"
"Just like you men!" Miss Paddy's fine nose curled indignantly. "You can think of nothing but husbands, and babies, and—"
"M'dear!" Saul Murmer's English Puritanism, never far from the surface, lifted shadowy hands.
"Well, that is what you meant," challenged the girl. The Inspector did not reply. He could not deny the charge. He had been thinking of marriage in connection with Paddy Burke—not the "baby" part of it, of course; he had the usual Anglo-Saxon objection to discussing such a subject with a young girl—or even with an old married woman, if there is such a thing. Why, even with men one spoke circumspectly!
"A girl should have a career," stated Miss Burke with emphasis, and Saul Murmer thought she was quoting. "No girl should devote her whole life to thoughts of acquiring a man as a meal-ticket; no girl should aspire to nothing better than to push a husband and a pram through the Inner Domain."
Saul Murmer decided that he had become convert to the "strong, silent man" theory. Speech, he decided, would be embarrassing; but as his visitor showed no signs of amplifying her statements. He inquired, as casually as he could:
"Well, Paddy; what do you want to do?" He paused. "Why don't you speak to your aunt—and she might find you a position in her—her establishment."
He had nearly said "shop," and that would have been a solecism with the higher hierarchy of Sydney's retail traders.
"To dress fat women in slim girl's frocks!" sneered Paddy, her lips curling enticingly. "What a career!"
"They're not all fat, m'dear," protested the detective mildly.
"Most of them are," challenged the girl. "Look at the double chins you meet in the streets!"
Saul Murmer felt he would rather not. Avoiding gender, the conversation appeared to be taking a personal tone.
"Look at the fat backs you are forced to sit behind at the theatre." continued the modern rebel. "Think of the fat ankles you have seen ascending stairs before you. Remember the—"
Inspector Murmer writhed. He murmured something that might be taken for acquiescence in the shortcomings of Australia's fair dames; or a denial of inspecting ladies' personalities.
"And you, Uncle Saul—you suggest that I should spend my youth in the impossible task of fitting twenty-inch frocks over forty-inch waists! I am surprised at you—" And the lady looked surprised.
The situation with its environments so explained, Saul Murmur came to the conclusion that he was rather surprised at himself. He had the feeling that so far he had not exhibited the restraint demanded from an English gentleman—even though only in the detective class. Mixed with a certain sex-embarrassment, and a vague fear of further revelations not for the hearing of unmarried males, he could not subdue the feeling that his fair visitor was unduly stressing adipose.
"You might become a physical instructor." he suggested, anxious to guide the conversation on to neutral lines. "That's a good idea. As a physical instructor you could wage determined war against undue—er—"
"And become myself, straight lines and granite faced." Paddy swung round, with the natural woman's gravitation towards a mirror, and smoothed down a severely plain frock over delicate curves. Her hands strayed to daintily-dressed hair. "No, thank you! I'm going to become a detective," proudly announced the girl. "I've got a good brain."
Saul Murmer acknowledged that as far as the container was concerned the brain was nigh perfection. He did not put this thought into words.
"And you're to help me," concluded the lady, triumphantly.
"I—" The Inspector held tight to the arms of his chair. For the moment the floor revolved on a bent axis: solid flooring slipped under his slippered feet.
"What—what do you want me to do?" he bleated feebly.
"You darling!" Paddy slid on to the arm of his chair. "I knew you would help me! Now listen, precious! You're to see your managing-director—or whatever else he calls himself—the very first thing in the morning, and tell him you've engaged a new assistant."
She paused for a few seconds, surveying the whisky bottle and soda siphon on the table with a concentrated frown. "I'm not going to tell you what you're to say to him—you've only got to express to him your personal opinion of me and I know he'll be pleased."
"But—" Saul Murmer believed he would never again speak without stuttering.
"Oh, I understand." Paddy leaned against the back of the Inspector's chair and spoke thoughtfully. "I understand. You don't engage new detectives, you—you—Oh, I know! You recruit them!"
"Detectives are selected from the uniformed force—not recruited," stated the Englishman with his national regard for correctness.
"Then all you have to do is to select me," Paddy laughed sweetly. "That will be nice—and it might satisfy auntie, when I tell her." she paused, meditating. "To be selected."
Again she considered the position. "Why—that's nearly as good as a proposal! Men select their wives, don't they? All that's left for us poor girls is to sweetly murmur: 'No, thank you,' if the wrong man tries to select—and then all her relations think they have a right to kick up a devil of a dust—"
The girl sighed.
"But—" The Englishman mopped heated brow with wilted handkerchief. "Detectives are not selected that way. They're selected from men who have shown particular ability while in the uniformed divisions."
Paddy slipped to her feet, smoothing down her skirt and surveying neat legs and ankles with particular satisfaction.
"Oh, Uncle Saul, won't I look a dream in uniform! I've got good legs, you know—at least I did have until the dress designers made us all wear ankle-length skirts. And I'll have to catch jay-walkers and hit-and-run motorists—" She paused, gasping. "Why, I'll catch Theo—"
"What's the matter with Theo?" asked Saul Murmer suspiciously.
"He wants to marry me."
"And he's a Gentile, is that it?" The Inspector thought he saw light. "Of course—but then—" He hesitated and boldly plunged, "Miss Westways is a Gentile, isn't she—and—
"You poor man!" Paddy returned to her seat on the arm of the detective's chair, smoothing the spot where Saul Murmer had once worn hair. "Of course you don't understand. Aunt Mattie is my mother's sister. Mother married a Jew, and so I'm a Jewess.
"Oh!" The detective felt slightly bewildered. "Then it isn't a case of—"
"There is no case at all, and you know that, Uncle Saul, if you're a real detective, instead of being a semi-satisfactory uncle," declared the young lady with the wisdom possessed only by those nearly twenty years. "No, uncle! Confess! Could you live with a silent wife!"
"Many men might grasp at such a possibility." The Inspector laughed, remembering certain incidents in his official career.
"Well, no woman could live with a silent husband," announced the girl positively. "That would be—" she hesitated.
"Torture," supplied the Englishman. "Well, that's settled, m'dear. Theo's out of the running. Now, what of the other boy?"
"What other boy?"
"The other boy." Saul Murmer spoke firmly.
Paddy bent forward, staring into the stout detective's face for several seconds. "Uncle Saul," she said, at length. "You're not as dumb as you—as you sometimes look."
The Inspector bowed his acknowledgements from his chair. "I don't mean quite that," confessed Paddy. "But—but he is rather nice."
"And possesses the youthful belief that it is the duty of all humans to do their bit to make this world a better and far fitter place for politicians and teachers," deduced the Inspector venturesomely.
"How did you know that?" asked Miss Burke much astonished. "I never said—"
"When am I to be introduced?" questioned Saul Murmer, following up his momentary advantage.
"Tomorrow night." Paddy flushed deeply. "The Green Lagoon at nine-thirty. You'll be there?"
"I wouldn't be absent for a dozen Commissioners' jobs," announced the detective. He hesitated. "But—supposing Theo—"
"Theo is off," The lady was emphatic.
"Positively!" Paddy's black curls emphasised the assertion. "Theo's a stick. He can't say 'Boo'; Now—Ted—"
"He talks beautifully!" Paddy clasped her hands to her breast ecstatically. "I can sit and listen to him for hours."
"Can he dance?" Saul Murmer remembered many eulogies on the late, unlamented Theo, regarding his gyrations on the polished floor.
"No." For the moment Paddy was downcast, then raised her eyes hopefully. "I'm teaching him, though he doesn't seem to care for it much. Just now, when I want to dance, I borrow Dizzy from Addie and lend her Ted. Dizzy's a whiz on the floor!"
"Do you know Mr. Carrington Manning?" asked the detective, suddenly.
"Mr. Manning!" Paddy panted. "Uncle Saul, why do you talk of the Mannings. I thought you didn't like Theo and—and—Uncle Saul, I came to you—Uncle dearest, I want to be a detective. I feel I shall be a great success—and I really think it is the only thing I can do."
"Detectives have to deduce quite a lot," the Inspector explained. "They have to watch and tabulate the people surrounding them."
"Then you've got me tabulated!" Paddy whirled across the floor, excitedly. "Oh, Uncle Saul, do tell me! Tell me how I'm tabulated!"
"No." The Inspector spoke firmly. Again he felt he was treading on dangerous ground. He changed the subject.
"Now, Paddy, let me see what you can do in the way of deduction. You know Mr. Manning? What do you think of him?"
Gravely and demurely, Paddy walked to her chair and sat down, daintily shod feet side by side, hands clasped in her lap. For the moment she remained the image of a reserved, old-fashioned girl; then laughed gaily. Settling her skirts anew, she crossed her legs, then quickly uncrossed them and sat up expectantly.
"Mr. Manning? Oh, he's a funny old stick. Why he kisses my hand when we meet, and calls me 'My child!' I wouldn't like to be one of his children—though he has only one. Why—" She paused.
"Yes?" said Saul Murmer, encouragingly.
"He doesn't behave like a man who has children," continued the girl gravely. "He talks to them with—with something missing."
"Yes, I understand." The Inspector nodded gravely. The same thought had struck him when Carrington Manning had spoken of Theo as his son. "Now, as to Theo—"
"Why. Theo and his father are more like friends—no, oh, you know—more like business friends—or something like that. Theo never calls his father 'dad' or 'sir,' or anything like that. Oh, how can I explain it? He speaks—speaks just like he would to you, or—"
Saul Murmer nodded, understandingly. "How old is Theo?" he asked.
"Oh, quite old. Twenty-something!" Paddy concentrated on the question keenly. "He says he's twenty-one, but I think he must be more—twenty-five, or even older."
"And he's still at the University! Rather old for education, isn't he? I wonder Mr. Manning didn't finish his son's education in England?"
"But Theo is American," corrected the girl. "He told me he had only lived a couple of years in England, and didn't like it. And—"
"Yes?" suggested Saul Murmer, when the girl paused. "And he works—really works," continued the girl. "I've heard him and Mr. Manning talking about his work. It—It's something to do with some machine—some sort of printing machine that Theo's making, and he said—he said he wasn't satisfied with it—"
She paused, frowning, then continued as if picking her words: "And Mr. Manning was quite cross with Theo. He didn't speak as if he was talking to his son, who was being quite clever; but as—as if he was talking to someone in his—his office—Oh, bother! You must know what I mean!"
And again Saul Murmer nodded. The girl was confirming many thoughts that had come into his mind. More, she was showing that beneath her light insouciance lay a power of observation, untrained, but which betokened a mind capable of thought; a brain capable of receiving and analysing impressions.
"There is no Mrs. Manning?" the detective asked at length. He tried to give his words an air of casualness, but felt he failed.
"Mrs. Manning is dead," replied Paddy soberly.
"Has she been dead long?" asked the inspector, not now attempting to disguise his interest.
"I think so," Paddy considered gravely. "I have never heard Mr. Manning or Theo speak of her. I think she must have died many years ago."
Saul Murmer fell silent, gazing thoughtfully before him. Paddy leaned back in her chair, watching him; rather puzzled and excited at the examination to which the Inspector had subjected her. She felt that she was facing realities—some instinct telling her that the Inspector was not asking idle questions. She fidgeted with the clasp of her handbag, then opened it and took out her cigarette case, to replace it quickly. The Inspector noticed the act, and, rising slowly, went to the sideboard and brought the girl a box of cigarettes.
"Quite a lot." The girl nodded. "Auntie and I have dined there several times." She paused, then added: "Mr. Manning was quite interested in 'Florabella.' He wanted to know such a lot about how a modiste's establishment is run."
"Did he?" The detective missed the point of the girl's remark; at the moment he was concentrating on the question of the missing Mrs. Manning.
"I suppose you've seen a portrait of Mrs. Manning?"
"No," Paddy spoke with certainty. "There is not a portrait of her in the house—and I've been all over it. I suppose—" She added, rather sentimentally, "Mr. Manning feels her loss so much that he cannot bear to have her portrait on view in any of the rooms. I daresay he has one in some secret place, amid his private papers."
Saul Murmer smiled quietly. He thought he could give a vastly different reason for there being no portrait of Mrs. Manning visible at Carraway. Suddenly Paddy, who had been grazing about the room during Saul Murmer's long silence, noticed the time by the desk clock on the sideboard.
"Heavens!" she sprang to her feet. "Half-past ten! And auntie asked me to be home early tonight!"
The Inspector struggled out of his chair immediately, and reached for his coat and hat. Paddy protested. "You can put me in a taxi," she ordered. "That's all, and get me a good-looking one—I mean the taxi-driver—in case I want to flirt on the way home. Now, Uncle Saul, do as you're told; or I won't join your police force!"
Obediently, Saul Murmer escorted his guest through the building to the street. On the pavement, he selected a taxi and helped the girl into it.
"You're quite sure you wouldn't like me to come with you?" he asked, with the Anglo-Saxon's unreasoned prejudice against unattended females in public vehicles after dark.
"Of course not!" Paddy laughed. "Why, I'll be home in ten minutes." She waved gaily out of the window. "Go inside, Uncle Saul, or you'll catch cold. Oh, and I'll come down and have a word with your managing director—Oh, Commissioner, is it? I'm sure he'll like to have me on his force."
Inspector Murmer stood on the pavement and watched the taxi turn into Bayswater-road. The girl's last words amused him. He wondered what would be Commissioner McFee's attitude if Paddy walked into his office and applied for a position as detective. The thought moved him to open laughter. In the opinions of members of the Police Department the Commissioner was a gentleman who required strong shocks at intervals. If Paddy gave effect to her last words, Commissioner McFee would receive a shock the next day—and not a small one. There would be those in the Detective Branch, when the story got out who would state the shock was well deserved.
In his flat with the door shut for the night, Saul Murmer moved aimlessly about considering the information he had received from the girl, fitting it into the facts he knew. A final night-cap ended the day for him, and he went into his bedroom and prepared for the night. The strident sounds of the telephone bell broke on an exciting dream-scene wherein the stout inspector was chasing an elusive Mrs. Manning, nee Delevere, through Centennial Park. Saul Murmer rolled over and said a few of the things detective-inspectors say about crooks who work at hours disliked by the best trades-union authorities. He groaned, as his warm feet met the cold floor, and ambled into the sitting-room to the instrument.
"Hullo!" he said sharply. "Who's there? Detective-Inspector Saul Murmer speaking!"
"Miss Mathilde Westways here," said an agitated female voice on the wire. "Oh, Mr. Murmer, have you seen anything of Paddy this evening? I asked her to be home early—and it is now after two o'clock!"
"Paddy?" The Inspector was now wide awake. "Yes. Why, she came to see me this evening, and just after half-past ten I put her in a taxi to drive home."
"She never arrived—she hasn't arrived." Miss Westways' voice was almost a wail. "Oh, what has become of her?"
"Not arrived?" Saul Murmer rubbed the remaining sleep from his eyes with his free hand. "Why—"
Then the official side of his nature asserted itself. "Now, don't you worry. Miss Westways. Leave it to me; I'll look into it at once. Just you leave it to me; I'm sure nothing very dreadful can have happened. I'll ring you up in a few minutes—when I've communicated with Police Headquarters."
Hanging up the receiver in the midst of Miss Westways' thanks, he dialled Police Headquarters, asking for information of accidents to taxis since ten-thirty that night. He switched the inquiry on to the Darlinghurst Station then hung up and went to his bedroom. In his mind was forming a series of figures—the licence number of the taxi in which Paddy had driven away; the number which his trained mind had automatically noted.
He had barely shed his pyjamas and struggled into his trousers when the telephone bell rang again. First, Police Headquarters reported no accidents to taxis during the period mentioned. Buttoning his collar, he was called to the telephone again. Darlinghurst had been on to all hospitals. The officer in charge reported no accidents to females or taxi-drivers. Saul Murmer was puzzled. What had happened to the girl? Giving instructions that Taxi 763 and its driver should be found and brought in for questioning, he finished his dressing and went down to the street.
MISS PADDY BURKE was an essentially modern young lady, with her generation's crave for adventure and the unusual. True to her period, she boasted she feared nothing—with mental reservations in favour of mice and cockroaches. Had she been informed, when she arose on the morning of the day she paid her visit to Inspector Murmer at his flat, that before she went to bed she would be abducted by a white-faced, sloping-shouldered taxi-driver, from under the very eyes of her adopted Uncle Saul, she would have chortled with glee. Privately she would have considered that taxi driver was attempting a job far above his capabilities. She prided herself that she was more than a match for any one man, and would prove a termagant handful for even a couple of her own sex.
When Saul Murmer closed the taxi door and motioned to her driver to proceed, Paddy leaned forward, watching the stout figure of the Inspector, on the pavement. Really, she thought, she had grown quite fond of the Englishman; privately, she returned to the matrimonial schemes she had previously harboured, for the linking up of the Inspector's, and her aunt's, lives. She watched, until the car, swerving into Bayswater-road, the intervening buildings cut Saul Murmer's waiting figure from her sight.
Naturally, in the gloom of the taxi interior, her thoughts roved amid her acquaintances, finally settling on the well-remembered figure of Theo Manning. Paddy acknowledged that at one time the tall, blonde youth had attracted her, not so much by his personal physical attributes and his father's reputed wealth, as by his strange gift of silence. His queer possessiveness, his ability to remain in the company of others, gaily chattering and laughing, without engendering restraint, was intriguing.
Paddy, when she first came in contact with Theo Manning, and noticed his strange manner, had promptly pre-empted him from her girl friends. She was rather acquisitive of oddities. For long she had realised that, while she chose to pose as madly in love with the strange youth, she really cared little for him. He possessed no sex attraction for her, and she was sufficiently modern and modernly educated to realise that love, romance, and marriage were based in the first instance on physical affinity. Her few years in Sydney's social whirl had taught her more—the absolute futility of the majority of the modern youth.
She realised that if the modern girl's training had proceeded a few steps further, few of the younger generation of males would be successful in their mate-hunting—that to a girl's free and trained intelligence the elder men proved far more attractive.
Something of this she had once expressed to a girl friend who was raving over the physical attractiveness of a suitor. Paddy had interrupted the tattler with: "My dear, we modern girls have long since abandoned S.A.—now we look for C.A.!"
"C.A.," queried the infatuated one, perplexed. "What is C.A.?"
"Cash Appeal, darling!" retorted Paddy in superior tones. "It's so much more satisfying when babies and bills come rolling in."
Paddy was quite willing to admit that Theo Manning had C.A. in large handfuls. Possibly he also possessed S.A. But she freely admitted to herself that neither his C.A. nor his S.A. appealed to her—all that had attracted her fancy was a certain popularity he had obtained in her set. He had proved satisfactory as an escort, a silent slave, willing to provide entertainment in large measure. When he developed a certain small talkativeness tending towards the possessive, she amended her views on him, quickly and with the self-arrogance of the young. She expressed her opinions freely, and was aghast when she found that her decisions were not accepted with resignation.
She did the only thing she considered possible to do. Theo was discarded as an escort, and another chosen. Occupied with her thoughts, in which a new male figured largely, Paddy did not notice that her taxi driver had turned from Bayswater-road into the perplexing maze of streets that lay to the south of that thoroughfare.
When a dim recollection of time reasserted itself, she reasoned that she should long since have arrived at Elizabeth Bay. She decided that something had happened, and rapped on the window dividing her from the driver. The man did not turn his head; his only acknowledgement of her action being an acceleration of the vehicle's speed.
She tried to open the car door, to find it fastened in some peculiar manner. She tested the division window, to find it immovable. Again she tapped vigorously on the window-slide, and the man turned his head, and grinned.
Paddy felt intrigued. She had read of abductions; was she being abducted? The thought brought no sense of fear; she believed she was quite capable of dealing with any situation which arose. For the moment she was more concerned with the personality behind the abduction. Who was he?
The taxi-driver she promptly discounted. The car sped on. At intervals they passed solitary pedestrians, wending late ways homeward. At infrequent intervals they passed shops, and twice passed over tramlines. Paddy thought of shouting out of the window, but the speed at which the car travelled precluded any attempt at rescue by any passers-by on the road. Suddenly wide Oxford-street came in view, and beyond it the massive gates of Centennial Park. The taxi-driver cut recklessly across the thoroughfare, narrowly missing a west-bound tram, and drove into the gloom of the park.
Now the roadway was only lit by the glaring headlights of the vehicle, with an occasional lamppost at long intervals. At rare occasions they passed strolling couples, but they were entirely concerned with their love-adventures, and gave little thought to the speeding taxi and its involuntary occupant.
Sitting well back in the corner, to prevent being tossed about the fast-driven car, Paddy gave herself up to her thoughts, content to await developments. Did the taxi-driver mean robbery? She had less than a couple of pounds in her bag; her jewellery would not pawn for more than that. Besides, if the man meant to rob, why had he not sought a fare who looked, and probably was, more financial.
Abduction! Personal abduction! Her gay, modern spirit soared at the thought. What fun! What a story she would have to recount to her intimates the next day. She strove to remember what she had read regarding the abduction of young girls. In cases she remembered it had proved annoying and uncomfortable for the victim—but always they had been rescued; usually by some gallant unknown. That was satisfactory; but what did the girl—the real heroine of the adventure—do?
In the old-time stories, Paddy remembered, they fainted, or screamed, or performed in some similar idiotic fashion. Paddy determined she would not scream; she doubted if she possessed the requisite knowledge to faint convincingly. She thought. She sighed. Surely her education up to date lad not been conducted on satisfactory lines, so far as abductors and their methods were concerned. She giggled. Well, she would know better next time!
About the time the car took to proceed half-way across the park, Paddy had settled on her line of action. She would behave normally and await the pleasure of the white-faced youth who had assumed the duties of god at the wheel of her chariot. When the car stopped, and she was face to face with the person whom she believed had hired this totally inadequate youth for the adventure, she would decide how to act. Face to face with the real abductor—Well, she felt she could be distinctly sorry for him!
The taxi stopped suddenly; the driver thrust open his door and sprang out of the car. Paddy waited. It was not her policy to take the initiative. Somewhat to her astonishment the door of her section of the car was not opened. She peered out of the window, but was unable to see anyone in sight. That was strange. A moment's reflection and she tried the door. To her surprise, it swung open easily. Picking up her handbag, the girl alighted—to find herself on a lonely stretch of the park road, entirely alone.
"Now what—" commenced Paddy, speaking to herself. She turned on her high heels, scanning as much of her surroundings as the deep gloom shrouding the park would permit. There was not a soul in sight. She walked a few steps from the car, then returned to it, as if to a known refuge. For a moment she reflected, then went to the driver's seat and examined the mechanism. So far as her knowledge extended, the car was in order. She looked at the gauges; and found oil and petrol in plenty.
Again she took time to reflect. A thought came. She could drive a car; they why not drive this care out of the park to some main street and there abandon it; finding another car to take her home. The police would find the car later. In the morning she would ring up the police station and report her abduction. She would tell Uncle Saul, and he would find the man—and she would be very, very sorry for him! The idea appealed. She glanced back over her shoulder at the long stretch of dark road over which she had been carried by her irresponsible driver—and giggled at the thought that the man had abandoned her without even asking for his fare. Well, that was his responsibility; that and the car. He, not she, would have the long tramp back to civilisation. Acting on her new impulse, Paddy slipped into the driver's seat and pressed the starter with her shoe.
The engine did not answer. For some seconds she fiddled with the controls, then realised that the key was not in the lock. That was awkward. She had heard that car thieves had some method of short-circuiting the lock, but she did not feel inclined to experiment at that time of night, in that lonely spot. Fuming fretfully, she alighted from the car again.
Unthinkingly, she moved a few steps in the direction of the park gates—and home. A derisive laugh and the quick pulsing of the engine made her swing round suddenly. The car was on the move, and she could see the form of the driver at the wheel. He looked back, grinning idiotically, as she thought. She sprang forward, to halt irresolutely. The car gathered speed and disappeared into the surrounding gloom.
What now? Only the long, solitary walk back to the park gates, with the irritating possibility that she would not easily discover an empty taxi at that time of night. Paddy murmured naughty words under her breath—then tried them loudly on the still night air, and felt very relieved. What a nuisance! Paddy first thought of "nuisance," then substituted a male, far more satisfying word. She breathed a prayer that luck would come to her and that she would find an empty taxi at the Centennial Park gates.
Then she commenced her solitary tramp. Exasperation and expectancy have disastrous effects on glands and pores. Paddy began to believe that her nose was shining. That had to be immediately remedied, although it was improbable that she would meet anyone on that lonely stretch of parklands. She thought—Then she discovered that she had left her handbag on the driver's seat of the inconsiderate taxi.
The abduction had not greatly disturbed her normal serenity. She had considered it something in the nature of a joke. Immediately she realised that she was being abducted, she had studied her make-up in the little mirror of her bag, and had rectified small omissions. No sensible girl would allow herself to be abducted unless looking her best.
The abandonment of the car and herself, on a lonely stretch of road, had only perplexed her: she had felt that she was not being logically dealt with—on true abduction principles. The theft of the car by its ostensible owner, had only irritated; but the knowledge that she was left without a single grain of powder, or one solitary touch of lip-stick, simply infuriated her.
Even in high-heeled shoes, Paddy was an athletic young lady, and once the necessity for the long walk came to her, strode out womanfully. Suddenly she stopped. On the still night air came the throbbing of a motor. She wondered, had the taxi driver suffered a change of heart and returned to her. That was improbable. Then the nearing motor could only belong to some chance traveller crossing the park.
She stepped into the centre of the road, where the motorist would have her under the full glare of his lights. The sounds grew louder. Presently, round a bend of the road shone bright lights. Behind the lights the girl could see the dim outline of the car. It rushed swiftly forward, towards her. The driver sounded his horn; Paddy waved desperately. She heard the grind of brakes, the slither of rubber on the damp asphalt. The car swerved and came to a stop just beside her.
"What's the matter?" asked a male voice.
"I don't know," said Paddy; and truly she didn't know. "I engaged a taxi at King's Cross to take me to Elizabeth Bay, and the driver landed me here."
"Where is he?" asked the male voice. The rear door of the car swung open.
"I don't know," repeated the girl. "He stopped the car and left it. I got out to see what was the matter; then he again jumped into the cat and drove off."
"Humph." Disbelief was expressed strongly in the exclamation; and Paddy grinned. She realised that her story sounded very weak. What must the man think of her and her tale? She knew that if she had heard it from another girl she would not have believed it.
"Where are you going?" asked the man, after a pause.
"I want you to drive me to some place where I shall be among bricks and mortar, with the chance of finding another taxi." Paddy spoke boldly. To her that seemed the only logical course of action.
"Got the money to pay the taxi driver, if we find one?" asked the man, curiously.
"No," replied Paddy, honestly. "The taxi-driver has my purse."
"Then it was robbery?" asked the voice from the dark car.
"Not exactly." Paddy was innately truthful.
"I got to the driver's seat to drive the car out of the park, and when I found the car was locked I got out again, leaving my bag on the driver's seat."
"Humph!" repeated the man in the car.
Paddy stepped closer to the car, trying to get a glimpse of her questioner. His voice sounded incredulous, and the girl did not blame him. She felt hot that she had been left to the disbelief of a passing traveller.
"How are you going to pay the taxi-driver, if you have no money?" continued the inquisitorial voice.
"I live with my aunt, Miss Westways, of 'Florabella,'" said Paddy with dignity. "When I reach home she will pay the driver." Then added rather plaintively. "I assure you he will be paid."
"Well—" The man's voice sounded incredulous still. "Well, you may as well hop in here. We'll take you to where you can find a taxi."
"Thanks." Paddy moved to the open door, and hesitated. She looked at the man at the wheel, his face dimly illuminated by the light from the instrument board. "Why, you're Mr. Saxon! I met you with Mr. Manning—Mr. Carrington Manning. I'm Paddy Burke."
"Dear me! Of course—Miss Burke! I had an idea that I knew your voice, but—but never thought to find you stranded in Centennial Park at this time of night. Jump in, Miss Burke. Let me introduce Mr. Dayton, in the back seat. Jump in."
Paddy waited for no second invitation, and stepped into the car, rather wondering why Mr. Saxon, whom she had reason to believe liked the society of pretty girls, had not asked her to share the driver's seat. Still, she was safely out of her difficulties and—
As Paddy stepped on to the running-board a hand came out of the car to assist her. She found herself being drawn strongly into the car. She murmured her thanks and sank, thankfully, on the soft seat. The man beside her leaned forward, lifting a rug from the rack. She murmured dissent, for the night was warm, leaning forward to try and catch sight of her companion's face. The rug fell open, and before Paddy could resist, its enveloping folds fell over her head and shoulders, stifling the scream that came from her lips. Firm hands held her arms to her side, subduing her struggles. "All right, Jack! I've got her." she heard indistinctly through the enveloping rug. Then the car sped forward swiftly.
MRS. LIONEL LEYLAND lived at North Bondi. Her residence stood on the side of a steep sand hill, overlooking a road that wound irregularly between several sand hills, anathema to tradesmen and the unhappy quadrupeds drawing their vehicles. The house was of the "desirable residence" type. That is to say, it was square, red-bricked, red-tiled, and detached. The bricks and tiles were of that peculiar glaring red that is only supplied by confiding manufacturers to builders who erect only suburban houses of the "desirable residence" type.
The house was approached by a series of high, cement steps, made of a large admixture of sand, and liberally powdered with the same material. A little more than half the front of the house was occupied by a partially enclosed brick veranda. The remaining part of the section consisted of a bay-window giving light to Mrs. Leyland's bedroom. A small, stained-glass window, heavily shrouded by demure curtains, prevented even the reflection of light passing from the connubial chamber to the veranda. Two wide windows in the sitting room obtained for the room what light the veranda did not absorb. These, also, were heavily draped, in true suburban style, to shield the occupants of the sitting-room from the vulgar gaze of tradesmen's employees, who would insist on using the front entrance, instead of exploring through the rear areas.
The interior of the house conformed exactly to the designs adopted by The Suburban Builders' Desirable Residences Association. That is to say, the rooms opened one from the other in bewildering sequence, giving the effect that the architect had obtained his ideas from the popular crossword puzzles. There were no passages and few doors. Only the bedrooms were sheltered by doors, and the kitchen lived on terms of intimacy with the dining-room. Apparently the idea in the designer's mind had been that the cook should not be debarred by her duties from taking part in any interesting conversation, during meals.
At the rear of this "desirable residence" was an annexe, consisting of a solitary room, apparently added to the design in a moment of misguided generosity, and named "the guest chamber."
In Mrs. Leyland's house, this room was allotted to the exclusive use of Mr. Alfred Myson. Many homes in Sydney's suburbs shelter "paying guests." In North Bondi the adjective "paying" is slurred to oblivion, though well understood by both hostess and guest. Mr. Alfred Myson became a "guest" to Mrs. Leyland, with the privilege of one intimate conversation with his hostess each Friday night, on lines similar to the following:
"Oh, Mrs. Leyland, I have—er—"
The speech is interrupted by a clumsy attempt to slip a small package in the lady's hand.
"Oh, thanks, Mr. Myson. It really didn't matter..."
But it would have, if the ritual had not been regularly and faithfully performed.
Mrs. Leyland was a social leader in Alterton-road, and had recently acquired the afternoon-tea habit. Three afternoons out of the weekly seven—the seventh was devoted by Sergeant and Mrs Leyland to reposeful recuperation from the heavy Sunday midday meal—were set apart for the entertainment of friends and the exchange of smart gossip, liquidated by weak tea, home-made cakes and 'store' biscuits.
At these gatherings, the procedure supposed to be adopted from that used by the English aristocracy, the ladies present held modernistic cups and saucers balanced on one upraised hand. On the saucer, beside the cup, reposed the remains of a cake or biscuit. Two cakes, or a cake and a biscuit, were the allowance allotted to each guest; the remaining cakes and biscuits on the stand were generally understood to typify the household profusion. Any visitor trespassing beyond the allowed cake and biscuit, or two cakes, or two biscuits, was not invited again, or made welcome at future calls.
At the first afternoon tea party after Mr. Alfred Myson entered into residence in the "guest-chamber," Mrs. Lionel Leyland hinted broadly to her visiting friends that she was temporarily sheltering a "distant cousin" from another State, who was visiting Sydney on business. The "distant cousin" was a convenience; it would explain his disappearance from Alterton-road society should he prove an unsatisfactory "guest." Temporarily, it obtained for him a certain standing in the small community—and did not indicate any loss of social leadership on Mrs. Leyland's part.
Mr. Alfred Myson won immediate approval from the participants at the tri-weekly gatherings; yet Sergeant Leyland, with male perversity, had not entirely welcomed the addition to his family circle. Males of all species are of that nature. They are solitary, suspicious animals, resenting the intrusion of other males in the caves they call their homes—yet, in the jungles of brick and mortar that compose our towns, where they hunt their prey, they mingle freely with other males in friendly intercourse. They are social only with females of the species, to the usual annoyance of such females who consider they have acquired rights to exclusive attention.
Sergeant Leyland was exclusively male. He felt that Mrs. Leyland was not treating him in the manner he had a right to expect. He considered it was "unkind," to say the least, to expect a man when he returned from professional worries at the end of the day to a particular private "cave" to find another male-thing there; and particularly a male who indicated that he considered he had a right to be entertained and considered, in repayment of a certain weekly subsidy.
Not that Sergeant Leyland had, from the moment when in half-hearted manner he had muttered "I will" to a certain official question, ever dared to express personal consideration in his own home. He recognised that he was only the bread-winner; that his primitive duty was to win and hold the cave, his payment the use of certain portions of the cave and such share of the provender he won which his life-partner thought fit to hand him. He fully recognised that in return for the many blessings bestowed on him by that muttered acquiescence to feminine correctness, he had to suffer the doubtful privilege of hearing in amplitude, for the good of his soul in this world and the next, a daily resume of his sins of omission and commission.
Whatever opinion Alfred Myson won in the Leyland household in after days, certain things had to be counted to his credit. He succeeded in effacing himself in a very satisfying manner. While retaining his right, as "guest," to use reception rooms of the desirable residence in which he found himself, he succeeded in pacifying his host by a ready acquiescence to natural rights. More, he found means to open to himself the aching heart of an ambitious man, who had come to feel that he had not been fairly dealt with by Providence, and his superiors: who had not found in his soul-mate that loving and sympathetic understanding which every man with a grievance has a right to expect.
Mr. Myson became a ready listener to police matters; a sympathiser, with an intelligence peculiarly ready to suggest lines of conduct approved by the complaint. Sergeant Leyland came to approve of his guest: the mistress of the house preened herself on acquiring him in view of his large and regular contributions to the household expenses. Again Alfred Myson proved very successful at afternoon and evening parties. He had a fund of amusing anecdotes, some of them bringing little cries of horror to the lips of fair hearers: he could, and did, perform sleight-of-hand tricks that bewildered and amazed.
Those who innocently applauded his feats with cards and small articles, little knew that their entertainer had a well-known record as a "dip" among certain discerning gentlemen who daily gazed on the broad bosom of the River Thames from the windows of New Scotland Yard, when not on business engaged.
Without realising the fact, Sergeant Leyland soon began to rely on Mrs. Leyland's guest in a marked degree. He spent hours during the evening explaining to an admiring listener how a police department should be run, and—little guessing that he was addressing an expert—the methods and failures of various criminals with whom he had come in contact. He formulated theories of crime, thereafter exploding them in a manner peculiarly his own.
In course of time, Mr. Myson also talked and his conversation was not without purpose. Mr Myson was no man's fool. During the period he had stayed under the Leyland roof he had plumbed the depths of his host mentality. The lady of the house was amenable to flattery of a rather coarse nature; the gentleman of the house could be handled through his extreme egotism. Detective-Sergeants are not over-paid for the work and responsibility expected from them. They have a sufficiency, but not the rewards they come to believe should accompany their undoubted worth.
Sergeant Leyland, in his ambitions; was sadly hampered by Mrs. Leyland's social aspirations, which drew very heavily on his pay-envelope. Mrs. Leyland, who had come to care only for leadership in her "set" felt that she, too, had a grievance—against those who framed regulations under which detective-sergeants legally looted the public treasury.
Alfred Myson allowed both parties to understand that he felt unbounded sympathy—so long as he was not expected publicly to express it. He found that the lady was comforted by sympathetic words, assured that the virtue of a social leader could not expect more from a "guest" in her household. He found that his host came to look for something more tangible.
Here, Myson, through his connections, was able to supply his host with little scraps of information which led to welcome additions to the Leyland exchequer. He went further, hinting that he was acquainted with purely legitimate means whereby a police-officer of standing could acquire welcome additions to his banking account.
Sergeant Leyland was inquisitive, finally swallowing the enticing bait. The little crook was far too wise to attempt to undermine his host's ideas of loyalty—for in his understanding, Sergeant Leyland was honest and loyal. Myson assumed, and expressed the opinion, that police officers were, in practice, "Caesar's wives"—that is to say, far above suspicion. He hinted, very discreetly, that he had friends who would appreciate and handsomely reward advice and information of a purely speculative character. He showed vast and peculiar knowledge, especially in regard to how rewards connected with the return of stolen goods could be acquired. Working on these lines, Mr. Alfred Myson song became a person of importance in the Leyland household.
Mrs. Leyland found only one cause of complain against her "guest." He was person of peculiarly irregular hours. True to the many theories she had acquired since she had entered the wedded state, Mrs. Leyland explained these irregularities by the fact that her "guest" did not possess a wife. She was a firm believer in matrimony for males; she had not the same belief in regard to the advisability of martial bliss for females.
During her wedded years a theory had grown in her mind to almost fact. She was prepared to consider that the Government should compensate wives for the disabilities of having male things about their houses. Why, she was wont to argue to certain friends of like beliefs, why should the Government largely subsidise unemployed male things? Why should not the Government subsidise women—married women? They were much more worthy to dip into the purse! A certain doubt also grew in the lady's mind regarding her "guest," and familiarity bred the usual feminine contempt for masculinity in bulk.
She disapproved greatly of the many private conferences to which her husband and guest became addicted. She smelt disloyalty to herself. In the privacy of the connubial chamber she often ventilated this grievance, with others, disdaining and ignoring the Sergeant's nebulous explanations, apologies, and the evidences of an increasing revenue, with truly wifely contempt.
Perhaps Alfred Myson might have had to search for a new hostess had not the evidence of a comfortable fullness in the ornate handbag Mrs. Leyland carried on her shopping expeditions cautioned her to wisdom, or silence. She could not ignore the fact that since she had acquired a paying guest, since he and her husband had commenced those intriguing, low-voiced conferences in the front room while she was engaged in the kitchen, she had acquired a greater spending-power and the ability to dazzle her intimates with new additions to her home and wardrobe. She recognised that she had to link facts together, yet resented her husband's very vague and manlike explanations of "business."
Business! She was well aware that any true woman could completely outclass any number of men in any phase of vocation of social life. Yet when the male members of her small household took to spending evenings far from her watchful eye, and home, she almost reconsidered her decision to wait and see. She could not believe her husband could be far from her without being in that occupation which a far-famed enemy of mankind is said to foster.
Once, indeed, she went so far as to seat herself at the near-period article of furniture she named her desk and inscribe a formal note of dismissal to place on Mr. Alfred Myson's dressing-table. Consideration came, and she went into her bedchamber and counted up the increase of revenue she had wrung from her reluctant husband: then deposited the dismissal in the kitchen stove.
On his part Alfred Myson was well content with his new quarters, and planned to make good use of them. He was particularly content that, seeking a refuge in the suburbs from police inquisition, he had chanced upon a gentleman of minor abilities and major ambitions, and who was also in a position to provide much exclusive official information of interest. As he plumbed the depths of Sergeant Leyland's acquisitiveness he saw before him larger and larger possibilities—and devoted himself assiduously to the education of a very willing pupil.
That so great a proportion of the reward for information was absorbed by the pupil irked, but the little crook had the ability to look far ahead, and satisfied the streak of covetousness in his nature by visions of a glorious and financial future, when his fish was duly landed.
Sergeant Leyland was well satisfied with his advancing prosperity. He found that he was becoming a person of note in certain quarters in Central Lane. Up to the advent of Alfred Myson his horizon had been bounded by police regulations, and a frustrated desire for quick promotion. He had learned from his "guest" that outside police regulations was a beautiful world—a world of endeavour and unbounded wealth.
That certain ideas of his new friend did not quite coincide with what he took to be the meaning of the police regulations sometimes worried him. But, he reasoned with himself, knowledge did not always deny regulations; he tried to believe it amplified them. His funds of new knowledge engendered a contempt for his comrades in the police department. He watched their growing respect for his abilities to track down stolen goods with arrogance; yet worried over their openly expressed surprise that he was not more successful in tracking down the thieves.
He comforted himself for the latter with the reflection that the average citizen had a passionate desire for the return of feloniously appropriated goods, and a small regard for the police view that the thief was of greater importance than the theft. He came to believe the matter one of extreme simplicity. A robbery was committed. Myson, in some mysterious manner, got in touch with the robbed and conducted negotiations for the reward for the return of the property. An agreement was reached, and information conveyed to him of the location of the "swag." All he had to do was to go and get it.
Only! In that word lay discontent. If only he could induce Myson to hand over the thief with the loot! Perhaps, later, that might be possible. He believed he had acquired a certain influence with his "guest." If he acquired more influence—gained some knowledge of the manner in which the little man worked; then—
Full of such cogitations, he was seated one evening in the sitting room, dimly conscious of Mrs. Leyland moving angrily about the adjoining bedroom, preparing for a social with some friends. Of a sudden he was startled by a voice: "Hey, Ley! What's the big idea for to-night?"
If there was one thing Sergeant Leyland intensely disliked, it was his "guest's" habit of abbreviating his patronymic to "Ley". He had suffered and fought for the dislike when a boy; he had scowled on the abbreviation since he had first signed himself "Detective-Sergeant" He had believed he had squashed the hateful thing—and Alfred Myson had resurrected it in a few weeks, unmindful of frowns and scowls.
Also, he objected to the silent manner in which the little crook moved about the house. He could not understand that—unconscious of the fact that years of strenuous practice had given the crook the ability to be neither seen nor heard, unless such was desirable.
"What's on?" growled the Sergeant, frowning portentously.
"Good!" exclaimed the crook, seating himself opposite the police-officer. "There's a few of the boys I'd like to introduce you to. What about us two looking them up?"
"What's in it?" asked Leyland. He had learned that a cash value could be placed on most of the little man's suggestions.
"Not much, but a social visit might lead to—to something in the future."
Myson strolled to the window, parting the curtains and looking out on the lonely road below the house. Sergeant Leyland felt in his pockets, then struggled from the armchair in which, manlike, he had been reposing on the base of his neck. He jingled the few pieces of silver that decorated his right-hand trouser pocket; he remembered that his notecase was empty. Mrs. Leyland had seen to that earlier in the evening. And pay day was still in the dim future!
"Well?" he asked, in slightly more amiable tones. He stretched lazily; then: "Got any cash?"
"A bit." Myson did not show any signs of his usual responsiveness to the question, and that seemed to the sergeant ominous. Usually the little crooks was fertile in suggestion and eager to respond to a cash hint. "Nothing on? Well, get your hat."
"Where are we going?" Leyland inquired curiously. The "guest" was not usually so abrupt.
"That you'll find out when we get there." Myson smiled crookedly. "Perhaps you'll find there other things you want."
Sergeant Leyland thought this sounded better; yet, for the moment could not remember anything in the way of loot that was being inquired for in Central-lane. He took his hands from his pocket and wandered into the small hall of the house. As he opened the coat-cupboard door, Mrs. Leyland opened her bedroom door. The sergeant immediately had the suspicion that the lady had overheard his conversation with their "guest." That was not improbable in the desirable residences erected by suburban builders.
"Where are you going. Lionel?" asked Mrs. Leyland. There was suspicion in her eyes, and in her tones.
"Out!" said the Sergeant, not too politely. He was of those who held the belief that courting days and politeness merged jointly into connubial hostility.
"I want you to stay at home this evening," stated Mrs. Leyland firmly. She shared her husband's belief regarding marital politeness—the only belief they had in common. "Mrs. and Mr. Barracross may come over for a game of cards."
If there was a man the police officer disliked, with a ferocity that amounted to almost hatred, it was Augustus Barracross, a big, blunt, aggressive man, who lived supreme over a meek little wife, just across the road. The suggestion that he entertain this couple for a whole evening alone was unbearable.
"Then you stay in and play cards with them," he suggested truculently. "If you asked them here, you entertain them."
"I'm going to Mrs. Dittle's party." The lady's voice ascended the musical scale shrilly. Mrs. Leyland always became shrill when she felt her home authority was being defied. She believed the only way to deal with a husband was by acting shrilly.
"If you please, Mrs. Leyland—" The lady retreated hastily into her room, conscious that the public parts of her attire were lacking. She held the door ajar, one watchful eye on the menfolk. "Oh, Mr. Myson!" She giggled coyly. "—and you nearly caught me."
"There's a little matter of business—er—" The guest's smooth tones spread oil on a dawning domestic strife.
"Business?" queried Mrs. Leyland. Her thoughts sped to a new and most desirable gown she had examined that day in Framer-Brown's.
"Yes, business." Myson spoke softly, yet with a softness that hinted at concealed firmness. "Sergeant Leyland and I will call and apologise to Mrs. Barracross for being absent to-night."
Mrs. Leyland's visible eye blinked; the thoughts behind the eye wavered. She did not particularly care about the Barracrosses, but she did care quite a lot what her menfolk might do when far from her watchful eye.
"Business?" she repeated, and waited.
"Yes, if you please, Mrs. Leyland. Important business."
The lady was disappointed, but not for the first time in her dealings with the little man whose smooth tongue she did not know how to combat. The watching eye blinked again; then the door shut with a snap. Through the door and the wall floated one high-pitched word:
Myson, snatching his hat out of the cupboard, motioned the Sergeant imperatively to the door. As the two men descended the concrete steps to the roadway, the police officer exploded:
"Curse the Barracrosses!"
"Just as you like," agreed the accommodating "guest." He peered into the darkness of the night.
"Ah, here's the car—down the road."
"The car?" Sergeant Leyland spoke bewilderedly.
Myson did not reply. He led the way rapidly down the road. Just out of sight of the house, he paused and whistled. From out of the deeper gloom of an alley-way a black car emerged, to halt beside the two men. Feeling conspiratorially guilty, Sergeant Leyland followed his friend into the car.
Almost before he had lowered himself on to a seat, the car shot ahead. He leaned forward, trying to distinguish the features of the man at the wheel. He could see nothing, for the driver was closely capped and goggled. All he could decipher was a large, flowing moustache, and beneath it an indeterminate chin.
"Where are we going?" he asked in slightly exasperated tones.
"You'll know presently." Myson leaned back in the far corner apparently indifferent to his companion's curiosity, and possible agitation. "Sit back, we don't want to be seen."
The car turned into an inland road, speeding swiftly through the moonless night. Sergeant Leyland peered through the window at his right elbow, trying to discover familiar landmarks. Once, at a peak of a road, he thought he could distinguish the flash of the South Head lighthouse. He watched for it to appear again, but a dip in the road now bordered by houses restricted his vision.
He sighed, stretched, and thrust his hands into his trouser-pockets. The feel of the few bits of silver that alone separated him from penury until pay-day lifted his courage again. He tried to count up the meals that lay between him and pay-day. The result was not encouraging. He felt he did not care where he was taken, so long as cash lay over the horizon.
Then, beyond the driver's head, he caught a glimpse of the harbour. Now he believed he knew where they were. He peered again through the window beside him—and was rolled towards Myson as the car turned quickly eastwards. Again the car turned to the right, into a side street, and a few yards farther on slowed, rolled through two tall iron gates, and with the crunch of gravel under the tyres, turned again to the left, and stopped.
Myson thrust open the door and slid out of the car. Leyland followed the crook, to find he was standing before a solid-looking door, under a wide portico. Almost immediately the door was opened, to reveal a wide hall, shrouded in darkness. Someone pierced the darkness with the thin pencil-light from a torch. Leyland felt Myson thrust him forward. He followed the torch-bearer until the man halted; the light from the torch illuminating a door.
"Mind your step," whispered the man who held the torch. Leyland tried to get a glimpse of his face, but the man wore a cap pulled well down over his eyes.
The door opened, and Leyland felt himself thrust forward, into the room. He blinked, under the sudden rush of light to eyes long accustomed to the night.
When he could see again easily, he found himself standing in a well-furnished library; high, well-filled bookshelves bordering the walls. Unconsciously surveying his surroundings, Leyland at length caught sight of a short, slight man with well-sloped shoulders, sitting behind a large, glass-topped desk. The man nodded and smiled, and the police officer, not knowing what else to do, smiled also.
"Come in." The man behind the desk spoke pleasantly. Then addressing Myson in far sharper tones: "Shut that door! Do you want the whole house to hear us?"
From Myson, standing behind the police-officer, the bright, fierce-looking eyes went to the Sergeant; and again the man smiled.
"Sergeant Leyland—Detective Sergeant Leyland, isn't it?" he asked. "Pleased to meet you. I've wanted to see you for some days."
The man's evident mildness reassured the detective. Throughout the night-drive his thoughts had wandered through certain incidents recorded in the works of his favourite author. At first, he thought he was being "taken for a ride" in truly American fashion. Almost he had feared; he had entered the house believing he would have to exercise much diplomacy to get out of what seemed to promise to be an awkward situation. Now the very friendly manner of the man he believed to be in some manner superior to Myson and the other men, reassured him. He felt that he had to reassert his dignity as a prominent member of the New South Wales Police Department.
"I don't understand—" he commenced loudly.
"I believe there is quite a lot you don't understand." The man behind the desk smiled—but the smiling lips appeared straightened for a threat. "It is possible that before you leave me, Sergeant Leyland, you will be far wiser."
Sergeant Leyland could not but sense the threat behind the words. For a moment he hesitated, then the animal courage he possessed in marked degree asserted itself. He strode across the room and seated himself in the chair before the desk.
"That's better," The little man nodded, his smile bright and cheery. "I don't like people to be afraid of me."
"Afraid?" The police officer bridled. There was, he thought, irony in the man's words. He added truculently: "I'm not afraid!"
"Of course not." The smile on the little man's lips broadened. "By the way, I should introduce myself. I suppose Mr. Myson did not inform you where you were being brought?"
"He told me nothing; only that some friends of his wanted to meet me."
"Quite right." The man nodded. "I like to do my own introducing. I am Mr. Carrington Manning."
"The financier!" Leyland was impressed. He held the opinion common in certain classes that the successful man is a special object of reverence, whatever means were used to attain such success.
"The financier, yes." Carrington Manning nodded genially. "And you're in my home at Double Bay, 'Carraway,' is the name of it, if you want to know." He paused. "You see, Sergeant, I am quite frank with you. There have been no thoughts of abductions in my mind. In fact, so free are you here that there is the telephone, if you want to use it. This number is PP5593, if that is of interest to you. In fact. I would like you to make a note, of it, in view of later eventualities."
Sergeant Leyland stared blankly; he was puzzled.
"Make a note of the number," commanded the little man. "You may require it later."
He waited. Laboriously, the police officer extracted from his hip pocket a memorandum book of large size, and wrote down the name, address, and telephone number of Carrington Manning, in large, uneducated script. He wondered, as he wrote, why he should be so complaisant to this man's wishes.
"That's right." Carrington Manning nodded, birdlike. "Now, I would like you to memorise that number. In all probability you will want it in a hurry one day, and it might be awkward if you had to search for it."
The detective nodded, he did not know why. He wondered what was to happen next.
"I think you and I can he very useful to each other," went on the financier. "I—"
"Have you lost anything?" questioned Sergeant Leyland, in his official voice. Visions of rewards, to which he had become accustomed of late, flashed through his mind. "If you will give me the details, sir—"
"If you will not interrupt me." Carrington Manning's voice held a snap. "I intensely dislike people who interrupt me."
"Sorry, sir." Leyland felt subdued.
"That's better." The little man nodded. "I have lost nothing—at present. It is you I am thinking of, just now."
"Me?" Astonishment was written largely on the Sergeant's round face.
"Yes, you!" The snap still held in the financier's voice. "I've had you under observation for some time, Sergeant Leyland. You're an extravagant man."
The police officer made a little gesture of dissent, but did not speak. In his heart he knew the accusation was true; yet he felt there were extenuating circumstances the man before him might have mentioned. He opened his mouth, then closed it, somewhat in the manner of a fish out of water.
"You like your comforts," continued the financier in a voice that held a strange cat-like purr. "So does Mrs. Lionel Leyland. And—a sergeant's pay doesn't go far with people who like—er—comforts." He paused, then added. "I believe you agree with me, Sergeant?"
Leyland nodded: he was beginning to wonder to where this conversation would lead. "To provide those comforts you and your wife have come to believe necessities, you have had to do quite a bit of-er-financing—" The thin lips pursed. "We'll call it that, anyway, Sergeant—and your financing took place with my friend, Mr. Jonathan Poke. You remember him, eh?"
A DULL, red colour spread over Sergeant Leyland's big, florid face, together with a strange stare of wonderment. He had never looked upon his dealings with Jonathan Poke as "financing." He had thought it to be just an everyday friendly affair, to terminate in some distant era of the future. Quite a few years before that evening an investigation he was conducting had brought him in contact with Jonathan Poke, who traded in the name of "Jonathan Poke and Sons, Financiers."
Jonathan Poke had a certain nervousness regarding the outcome of the investigations and the prosecution that would certainly follow. He had spoken of his apprehensions to the police officer in a moment of confidence, and Sergeant Leyland, who reverenced all those who controlled banking accounts, had gone out of his way to find a means of privacy for the financier. Jonathan Poke had proved grateful. Not only had he provided the Sergeant with the assistance necessary for him to overcome a small embarrassment hampering him at the moment, but he had taken large pains to assure his benefactor that the present financial offering was not to be taken, by any means, as the depth and width of his gratitude.
Leyland had taken the financier's words at their face value, and when debtors had again pressed had reminded his financial friend of his promise. Jonathan Poke had shown himself reasonable—so reasonable that the detective had come to believe he had found the proverbial goose that laid the golden eggs.
At Leyland's third call in search of assistance, Jonathan Poke had spoken of auditors, Income Tax Commissioners, and other persons of like disagreeable character. He had explained that he had to show where every penny of his money went. He had suggested that Leyland, a high official of the Police Department, would not like these inquisitive people to believe that he was receiving gifts from a mere member of the general public.
This led to the further suggestion that the name "Lionel Leyland" inscribed at the foot of certain small documents would alleviate such possibilities. As a gilded bait, in the form of certain much-desired pieces of paper, lay at the moment beside the promises to pay, the sergeant saw no reason why he should not experiment with his usual signature.
"Just so." Carrington Manning's voice broke the little silence that had come to the room. "I see you understand, Sergeant. Now—Magicians claim that the swiftness of the hand deceives the eye. If that is true, then Carrington Manning was a first-class magician."
Sergeant Leyland could not follow the quickness of the hand which produced and spread on the desk before him certain slips of paper, bearing his signature. His broad face showed the amazement which momentarily overcame him.
"Rather many of them," Carrington Manning's smile was easy, almost affectionate. "I fear you have been indiscreet, my dear Sergeant!"
"Where—" The police officer stuttered.
"Where did I get them from?" The slight, thin face behind the desk beamed. "My dear Sergeant, most things can be obtained at—er—at a price. You understand, I believe, Sergeant."
"You bought them," accused the detective. "Now—"
"Just that." The financier nodded. "I bought them. Very regrettably, Mr. Jonathan Poke has met with serious reverses in the course of his business. I heard of his—umph!—collection and suggested—"
"You bought them!" Sergeant Leyland could not progress beyond that very obvious fact. "You—but—" he stuttered again. "They aren't worth anything—just a matter of form—Poke asked me to—to—"
"Not quite a matter of form," suggested Carrington Manning, still smiling. "I believe them to be quite legal and—"
"What do you want with them?" Again Leyland became almost truculent. The notes lay before him; automatically his fingers closed on them.
"Mr. Poke lent me this money—"
"And you signed promissory notes for the money." Carrington Manning smiled. "Why distress yourself, Sergeant."
It was hardly worthwhile telling Sergeant Leyland not to distress himself. He was distressed. Jonathan Poke had had no business to part with these papers, valueless as they were. The man had promised they should not leave his safe; that they would be destroyed when they had served their purpose of convincing certain officious Government officials that a noted police officer was not in receipt of gifts.
"Don't be afraid of these things." Carrington Manning spoke in soothing tones, the finger of one white hand pointing to the promissory notes still clutched by the detective. "I am not going to demand payment."
"No?" Leyland felt somewhat relieved. But if the man was not going to demand immediate payment of the notes, why produce them; why purchase them from Jonathan Poke? He could not believe that this man was a universal philanthropist, and he had done him no service, as he had served Jonathan Poke.
"No, I shall not demand payment of those notes—yet." The strange, fierce eyes of the financier held the police officer's. "I believe you were able to be of considerable assistance to Mr. Jonathan Poke?"
"He didn't want to be mixed up in a certain case." Sergeant Leyland gave the explanation sullenly. "I happened to be in charge of the case and found that I could do without him."
"And you would do the same for me?" Carrington Manning's voice was very mild.
"I might." The detective had the feeling that he had exchanged a friend for a master. Yet his spirits, which had been hovering about zero, rose. "That is, if I could," he added.
"Of course—if you could." The financier spoke easily. He glanced towards a silver tray on the corner of the desk. "Talking is dry work, Sergeant. Have a drink?"
Leyland's eyes had already marked the attractive tray. He felt he could do with a drink, and nodded. Carrington Manning also nodded, toward the tray, and the police officer interpreted the nod as permission to help himself. A short, silent, interval, a satisfied gasp, and a careful mopping of a large, military moustache, and the detective felt himself again.
"Of course, Mr. Manning—" he started to explain.
"Mr. Carrington Manning," corrected the man behind the desk.
"Of course, Mr. Carrington Manning," the police officer corrected himself. "There are circumstances in which I must do my duty in accordance with the regulations. I can't go outside them, but I—"
"I gather you do not understand my words." The financier was most amiable. "I am asking no official privileges. A good citizen should, in my opinion, assist, not hinder, the police, on all occasions. If my evidence, my assistance, is at any time required, then—"
"Then?" queried the Sergeant. If the man did not want police favours, then, in the name of everything that mattered, what did he want from him?
"I am considering you." The amiability had changed to a tone of benevolence. "I have reason to believe—"
The phrase was familiar. Sergeant Leyland was fond of using it on all possible occasions when he did not know.
"Yes?" he said encouragingly. It is good to be able to grant favours especially to those who are the financial gods of this earth.
"I believe you are not properly appreciated in your—er—chosen profession?"
The Sergeant's heart swelled. He believed that while he was not properly appreciated within the walls of police headquarters, his undoubted abilities had, in some manner penetrated to those who had the power of knowing and appreciating. Could he use this new ally offered him to force recognition from his departmental heads? Carrington Manning was well known and wealthy, and Sergeant Leyland was of those who believed that the moneyed men of the nation dictated its policy and its Government.
He wondered. Could he ask this financier to approach the Premier with some statement of his ability; some hint that the most efficient and enterprising man in the Police Department was being suppressed, and the efficient working of the Department thereby hampered, by the jealousies of those in control? That was a possibility.
He leaned back in his chair thoughtfully, trying to arrange the opening sentences of his request. He believed he had to be diplomatic; then he remembered that he held the upper hand. Behind the words the financier had spoken lurked a hint that some favour was to be asked of him. Manning had said that he could do him a favour. In that case, he must be wary.
Leyland was of the breed that did not believe anyone would do any person a favour unless there was ample quid pro quo. Yet, was not this opportunity to be seized before the fickle damsel fled?
"There are jealousies—" he commenced, feeling his way to stating his request openly. "Of course, there are jealousies in all Government Departments."
"Just so," assented Carrington Manning. "But jealousies can be—er—circumvented."
"Of course," agreed the police officer. The conversation was tending in the direction he desired.
"There are ways—" commenced the financier.
"The trouble is—" suggested the detective.
"—to interest the man who has the power, ability, and knowledge to overcome and ignore these jealousies." amplified Carrington Manning.
"That's the difficulty." Sergeant Leyland shifted himself to a more comfortable position on his chair. He felt that he had already surmounted vast difficulties. He had been brought to this house virtually a prisoner. He had been faced with—er—should he call them, past indiscretions. He had met his difficulties bravely and with a manly, swelling bosom, as was his wont, and some small atom of modesty crept into what Sergeant Leyland named his mind, forbidding him from stating, even to himself, that he had overcome them.
At the moment he was sitting facing a man of wealth and great influence, talking with him on equal terms, dealing with equal intelligence with a subject that held a particular appeal for him. More to his purpose, and in his favour, the subject was not his granting a favour, but the proper reward of diligence and virtue to himself.
"But the difficulty is—er—twofold." Carrington Manning leaned forward interestedly.
"You mean—" Leyland considered his new friend was raising unnecessary difficulties.
"Two-manned, shall I say?" The financier laughed, rather shrilly. "Yes, I am afraid we shall meet opposition to our plans from two men. Don't you think so, Sergeant?"
The Sergeant did not think so, yet he felt he would not be safe to contradict his host. In his opinion, there were considerably more than two men in the Police Department who were interested in suppressing acknowledgement of his undoubted abilities.
"There are, of course, others." Carrington Manning had correctly interpreted the thoughts passing through the police officer's mind. "There are others, of course. You will forgive me, my dear Sergeant, from suggesting that—er—onlookers often see more of the game than the—er—players."
Sergeant Leyland had heard that phrase before, and was willing to admit it in evidence. Was that not the basic cause of his suppression by the police authorities? Those with whom he had to work were blinded to his undoubted abilities; yet this man before him, one of the general public—of course, one of the leaders of the general public because of his ability and wealth—could recognise what those in the game—if one could call the Police Department a game—were blind to.
"Two men." The financier's voice was very soft and persuasive. "Do you require me to speak names?"
"It might be wise—" cautioned the detective, hesitatingly.
"I will mention their names." Carrington Manning spoke in the tones of a Boy Scout announcing the completion of his daily good deed. "I will mention Detective-Inspector Saul Murmer and Detective-Inspector John Pater."
Incautiously, Lionel Leyland nodded. He was coming to believe that the man behind the desk had not won his financial crown unworthily. Yet—why had he omitted Commissioner McFee, Superintendent Dixon, and quite a number of others from the list? That was not fair to the two inspectors, though their behaviour had been distinctly unfair, and the Sergeant prided himself on his strict impartiality and fairness. Perhaps later, when he knew his new friend better, he would be able to suggest to him—
"Inspectors Murmer and Pater," repeated the financier with emphasis. "There are others, of course, but Inspector Murmer and Inspector Pater—"
The detective nodded. He realised that the cunning financier was not speaking all that was in his mind. Murmer and Pater! Of course! Why had he been so blind that he had not noticed the cloven hooves before?
"You must have noticed that Inspector Murmer holds many long and secret conferences with Superintendent Dixon," suggested Carrington Manning gently. The word "conferences" set Sergeant Leyland's nerves tingling. Why had he not thought of this before. That Inspector Murmer and the Superintendent were often in conference for long hours, was open knowledge in the department.
"But—" The financier paused. "Are you aware that your name often comes under discussion in these long conferences?"
Sergeant Leyland nodded vigorously. He did not know, but now he had strongly suspected the fact.
"Have I to tell you that had not Inspector Murmer, backed for selfish reasons by Inspector Pater, strongly opposed the suggestion, Superintendent Dixon would long since have asked the Commissioner to submit your name to the Minister for an Inspectorship?"
"Inspector Pater—" The Sergeant thought he should make some protest, even if he was not quite sincere in doing so.
"Inspector Pater has the ambition to be sent to England. In opposing your elevation to an Inspectorship, he is looking only to his own advantage, not the welfare of the department."
The light, thin voice had fallen to an impressive undertone. "To attain that ambition he must support Inspector Murmer who, as you know, is one of the Big Three of New Scotland Yard."
"The Big Three!" Sergeant Leyland gasped. Inspector Murmer one of the "Big Three!" And he remembered how, when Inspector Murmer had first come to New South Wales, he had approached him with questions regarding the "Big Three," only to be laughed and scoffed at!
He groaned in spirit. He had shown offence at Inspector Murmer's banter and sarcastic remarks when he mentioned the "Big Three." If only he had waited his time, played up to the Englishman, he might have won his confidence, obtaining in time some inside knowledge of the working of that remarkable body of crime suppressors. But—The Big Three! Inspector Murmer—that slow, silent, sarcastic fat, incompetent man, a member of the greatest and highest police inquisition in the British Empire! With an effort he sat silent, and merely nodded.
"Yes." Carrington Manning's voice still held the awesome half-tones. "I have the best authority for stating that at one time Superintendent Dixon had in mind not only the recommendation of yourself for an Inspectorship to the Commissioner, but to suggest that when Inspector Murmer returned to England you accompanied him. Inspector Murmer, influenced by Inspector Pater, persuaded him against that. Do you understand now?"
Sergeant Leyland felt that now he understood only too well. His heart was full of wrath and bitterness, mainly against the Englishman. For the Australian Inspector, who for personal ambitions had so far forgotten race and honour, he could only feel contempt. Yet, mingled with the contempt was a burning desire to hit back. "You must fight them; expose their ignorance and fallibility. You must show yourself in your true light," continued the financier impressively. "You must—"
"But how?" The police officer was bewildered with this huge volume of exclusive information. He felt that he wanted to get away and assimilate these facts; yet a small doubt in his mind insistently informed him that what the man behind the desk had spoken had been long existing amid his secret doubts.
"I will tell You how." Carrington Manning spoke slowly, allowing each word to sink into the receptive brain. "You must watch these officers who are so grossly untrue to their sworn oaths. You must watch and advise me—that is, if a mere member of the general public can advise an expert like you on the difficult matter of police procedure—"
"I'm sure, Mr. Carrington Manning—" Sergeant Leyland swelled out his manly chest. "I shall be pleased to do all in my power—little as it may be. But—" A quick smile broke on the solemnly-pressed lips. "But I must have knowledge. You remember the old saying: 'Two heads—'"
"Of course!" He nodded. "You understand, you have only to ask me."
"I shall be most happy to follow your advice, sir." The detective leaned forward across the desk, extending his hand. "With your valuable assistance, sir—"
"We shall defeat these men." Carrington Manning clasped the sergeant's hand. With his free hand he quickly gathered up the promissory notes that had, all this time, been lying before the police officer, and put them in a drawer. Almost as quickly as it came, he noted the frown on the Sergeant's forehead.
"You must not mind me taking care of those promissory notes." Carrington Manning smiled apologetically. "Like Mr. Jonathan Poke, I must protect my friend's interests. With these promissory notes in my possession we can claim that any arrangement between us is merely a matter of business, independent of anything I can do to forward your professional interests. Later. Sergeant—when I can say 'Inspector Leyland,' or even 'Superintendent Leyland'—then we shall be able to come to a satisfactory arrangement that will protect your personal honour. I believe you fully understand me. Sergeant Lionel Leyland cannot accept gifts—there must be no suspicion that he accepts gifts. But he has the ordinary citizen's right of entering into any business contract he considers necessary."
The detective's face broke into a satisfied smile. He had not thought of the matter in that aspect hitherto. No, nothing must be done that would give his enemies any hold over him. He looked up into the strangely fierce, yet kindly, eyes, beaming at him across the wide desk—and to his whirling mind came some poetic thoughts regarding this world being a safe and beautiful place so long as the financial gods were in their heaven of promissory notes and yellow gold.
"What shall I do?" he asked hopefully.
"Watch!" The financier's voice dropped to the old, imperative half-tone. "Watch! Watch Inspector Murmer! Watch Inspector Pater! There is no need to tell you that these men stand on the brink of failure in their present investigation. But to make your interests secure we must make certain of their failure. That is why I tell you to watch. When you discover something, you must act. You must immediately inform me. You must telephone me—don't come here unless I send tor you, and we will defeat them."
Sergeant Leyland nodded emphatically. He would watch. Yet he wondered what would follow his watching.
"Keep me fully informed. Let me know everything they discover during their investigations. I have means of information unknown to you—financial knowledge. Give me your information and I will combine it with mine. When I have your knowledge I can use these—"
He pulled open a drawer of his desk and flourished a file of papers tied with impressive red tape.
"Sergeant Leyland, you must swear that you will never reveal the existence of these papers."
Carrington Manning dropped the file into the drawer and thrust it shut. Sergeant Leyland took an oath under his breath not to mention it, even in his dreams. He did not know what the file contained—but it looked impressive!
"Those papers contain information regarding one of the State's highest officials." Carrington Manning leaned forward, resting his folded arms on his blotting pad. "With them I can approach him at any moment. With them I can ask—Wait!" He added quickly. "Don't understand for one moment that with these papers I can force one of the highest officials of the State to—No! All I will say is that with them I will ask—"
"I'll report anything I can find out," promised the bewildered but highly pleased police officer. His mind was whirling with visions of the future. If he could get sent to England! There he would undoubtedly impress the heads of New Scotland Yard with his abilities. He might be asked to resign from the New South Wales Police Department to stay in England, offered high rank in the Metropolitan Police Force—become in time one of the "Big Three."
"I'll report everything they do," he assured the little man on the opposite side of the desk, watching him with bright, fierce eyes. "They shan't move an inch without you knowing."
"Then we shall win! And you, my dear Sergeant—" Carrington Manning rose from his desk impressively. "You, my dear Sergeant—I soon hope to be able to say, my dear Inspector—" The financier turned quickly at the sound of the door being flung violently open. Into the room strode two men, one middle-aged, the other, apparently, quite a youth. They stopped quickly at sight of the Sergeant, his hand clasped in both Carrington Manning's.
"What's this, Theo?" The financier wrenched his hands from the police officer's clasp. "What is the trouble?"
"We've got her!" It was the middle-aged man who spoke. "Lord, it was easy! Fell for the taxi-trap, and then right into our arms."
Carrington Manning did not speak; his face was set and the fierce eyes blazed viciously. For a long moment he was silent, and the men standing before him shifted uneasily on their feet.
"May I have the pleasure of knowing what you two are talking about?" The financier spoke with evident restraint of the anger surging within him.
"Who have you got—and where?" As Theo Manning went to speak, his father turned on him angrily. "Hold your tongue, Theo! I'm talking to Saxon. What is this new trouble?"
"The girl—Theo's girl!" Saxon spoke sullenly. "Theo thought it would be good to get her—she's fallen out of love with him, and that's dangerous. He thought—"
"You thought, too," interrupted the younger man.
"Well, we thought it would be a good thing to corral her. She's likely to be dangerous now, so we went after her to-night. We've got her. We've taken her to—"
"Hold your tongue!" Carrington Manning strove to control his rising anger. "Let me understand things. You and Theo, without consulting me, or even advising me of your intentions, thought fit to take possession of—" He glanced furtively and quickly at the police officer, and hesitated. "You thought to take possession of a person of weak intellect and place that person in a safe place. You dared to act without my knowledge and consent. You—"
Anger overcame him; he stuttered and tell silent. For seconds no one in the room spoke, the two men just within the doorway shuffling their feet uneasily.
"I say, dad—" Theo broke the silence apologetically. "You don't understand—"
"I understand that I have to deal with a pack of fools." Carrington Manning spoke smoothly, yet there was an undercurrent of venom in his tones. "I understand you are pulling down all I have striven to build up—" Again he glanced at the interested detective. He paused, collected himself, then addressed the police officer in his usual smooth tones.
"Sergeant Leyland, I regret you have been a witness of a breach of discipline in my organisation. But the faults of others shall not affect your interests. I shall keep my promise to you, and I shall expect you to keep your promise to me. In the matter you have referred to, I shall take immediate steps to rectify my employees' gross errors. There shall be no victimization—in fact, I see a way to turn their errors to your professional advantage. Yes—" he considered a moment.
"Anything I can do, Mr. Carrington Manning." The Sergeant spoke briskly.
"You can do nothing at the moment. Later, you may be able to do much. I think it best that for the present you and Mr. Myson go home. You shall hear from me very shortly, Sergeant, and—" He lowered his voice impressively. "I believe I see a way. Yes, I see a way."
He linked his arm in the Sergeant's and passed out behind the police officer, gently urging him through the hall. Carrington Manning waved a short farewell to his late guest, then closed the door quickly; yet not before the Sergeant overheard the first words the financier addressed to the two men remaining in the room:
"I have come across a few fools in my days, but never, Theo, have I come across—"
Alfred Myson giggled involuntarily. He caught the Sergeant's arm and drew him quickly to the front door. Under the portico the powerful dark-coloured motor-car waited. The crook urged his companion into the machine and immediately the driver set the engine into gear.
SYDNEY streets, with the pedestrians governed with almost military precision, are almost impassable during certain hours of the day. Factories open their doors and close them with the same regularity as if keeping time with a military band; offices are attended with the perfection of patented robots. As individuals, everyone is trying to do the same thing as his fellow, and failing miserably. They try to sit in trams and trains, and succeed in travelling pendant from straps suspended from the roofs. They try to progress along footpaths, and find themselves interested listeners to conversations enjoyed by those who consider that pavements should be reserved exclusively for friendly meetings; they try to cross intersections, and are arrested by police officers for jay-walking. They try to take their meals at the same time and in the same restaurant, guaranteed to hold not more than ten per cent of insistent customers—and return to work suffering the agonies of indigestion.
Swayne Court, in common with other areas of Sydney, suffers from this zeal for orderliness. For half an hour every morning it is a mass of jostling, suffering humanity. The tide recedes, while the sufferers nurse their bruises—and work. Between twelve and two the Court again resembles a riot. The afternoon is given to quietness, and the city pigeons, and the day ends in a terrific rush and scramble for "home."
When the last head-girl, or proprietor, has given a last look around the establishment, seen to the security of doors and windows, and off to "late" tram or train, peace descends upon the battle-scarred areas.
Yet there are still people in Swayne Court—at least, one inhabitant, and a couple of visitors. The visitors are the patrol constable of the beat, and the watchman employed by the Watchmen's Association. The inhabitant reposes within the four walls of "Florabella" and is dignified by the name of "night-watchman."
"Florabella" occupies two houses, one standing at an angle to the other. The foremost house, if it can be called that, faces on Swayne Court and gives official title to the establishment. The rear house, partly devoted to showrooms and partly to warehouse and store, fronts a narrow lane that passes from George Street to Pitt Street, and which is just wide enough to take a lorry. Clever interior decorators, with much paint, plaster and ornamental work, have succeeded in concealing from customers the fact that "Florabella" was originally two old houses and not the one ornate building it appears to be from inside. The decorators did not attempt to deal with the outsides of the buildings; they have that habit.
When Miss Westways established her exclusive modiste business in Swayne Court, she occupied the front house only. Extensions became necessary, and the rear building was pre-empted. On the completion of the alteration then rendered necessary, "Daddy" Thornton was installed as night-watchman.
"Daddy" is one of those strange individuals which cities, such as London and Sydney, appear to evolve at will. He shows every sign of being born in old age—and of having developed, with time, to the innocence of childhood. In appearance, he is short, squat and entirely commonplace. Invariably, his clothing is nondescript, showing no signs of ever varying or ageing. He never appears dirty, nor is he, in, appearance, strictly clean.
Shortly before eight each morning, with the exception of Sundays and holidays, he disappears from Swayne Court, to reappear when closing time approaches, smoking a foul-looking pipe, to sit in the Court and wait for the ending of the labours of various char-ladies. Then Daddy carefully knocks out his pipe and enters "Florabella." An attentive passer-by in the Court might then hear noises indicating that Daddy Thornton is engaged in his first exploration of the night, shaking windows and doors to be certain that they are carefully closed against intruders.
Half an hour later, Daddy appears at the front door of the establishment, where he lounges, awaiting the pleasure of the Misses Westways and Lancing, who have, to him, the irritating habit of lingering about the premises long after the staff pass out of the Court; then he closes the front door and bars it. Until sun-up the next morning he resides in a privacy never known to be disturbed, except by "Tabby," a noted member of the night-watch in "Florabella."
"Tabby" arrived in Swayne Court in Daddy Thornton's pocket, some few weeks after he had accepted, with dignity, the onerous duties offered him by Miss Westways.
"Tabby," grown to enormous size, might have answered questions re her master's activities, or inactivities, during the watch-hours, but, like all sensible cats, she has never been known to indulge in gossip with humans. Whatever Daddy's shortcomings, "Tabby" did her duty to the utmost of her ability. Miss Westways never had cause to complain that mouse or rat profaned the sacred precincts of "Florabella."
It is a known fact in Sydney night-life that constables on patrol duty have very small regard for private night-watchmen. Constables generally assert that night-watchmen are the most peaceful and most slumbersome, of city inhabitants during the hours of darkness. They assert that after ten o'clock, night-watchmen, having eaten a hearty and heavy supper, sleep peacefully until disturbed by the early tramcars rumbling through empty city streets in the early hours of the morning.
Miss Westways scouted this legend, in regard to Daddy Thornton. She declared that her watchman could not, at any period during which her establishment was in his charge, close his eyes for more than twenty of the proverbial forty winks. She points proudly to the array of ornamental and accurate time clocks decorating various parts of her extensive establishment, asserting that should the watchman fail to insert the special key provided in each lock at the appointed time, then bedlam would be let loose over the city, to the detriment of the nerves of those whose business or pleasure kept them within hearing.
But Miss Westways was unaware that an ingenious locksmith in a near suburb of the city had given considerable time and thought to time-clocks, and from a criminally-inclined mind had evolved a master-key of intricate pattern, guaranteed to provide peace where only noise was expected. Often Daddy reflected, almost ruefully, on the many pints he had foregone when and while saving much-regretted shillings for the purchase of a set of these peace-providing keys.
During the evening of the week preceding the abduction of Miss Paddy Burke, Daddy Thornton had been ill at ease. He considered he had a grievance against the world at large. For more than a dozen years he had been night-watchman at "Florabella," opening the door to the staff each morning with the utmost regularity, after stowing in his private bag the silent ticking alarm clock and the time-lock keys that guarded his hours of repose. His period of unease had commenced on the morning he had made a leisurely survey of the premises, before opening the front door, to find that during the night the establishment had been entered and a packing case deliberately smashed to pieces.
In providing an explanation of this fact he had been forced to expend much grey matter, and he was not sure that Miss Lancing, for one, was entirely satisfied with the ingenious theory he had evolved. His conscience also worried him for, during the following days, he noticed that Miss Westways left the premises without pausing to exchange her accustomed platitudes with him.
Moodily, he considered, Bert Thornton might, in the near future, have to seek work. The thought made him shudder with horror. On this night Daddy received a new shock. Miss Lancing had followed Miss Westways into the Court without delivering her usual cautions regarding the safeguarding of "Florabella" during the coming dark hours. Not that Daddy ever paid any attention to these injunctions, except to interject an occasional "Yes, miss," at opportune periods. But the absence of the usual cautions worried him. Now he remembered the incident of the broken packing case, and—
The thought was decidedly inductive of melancholy. For long moments he stood at the front door of the establishment gazing vacantly in the direction in which the two ladies had disappeared. He shrugged, resignedly, and slowly retired into the building that was to be his castle for the next fourteen hours, forgetting for the first time in history to stoop and rub "Tabby's" back when she thrust her arched form against his leg. He went up to the small room set apart for his use, and switched on the electric kettle.
Possibly breakfast, for so he called the first meal his watch, might induce more cheering thoughts.
"Tabby" accepted her shared meal without extravagant expressions of gratitude, then went to a mat in the corner of the room and, after considerable scratchings and turnings, lay down for a short nap. Later, if dreams were kind, she might go a round of the premises in search of the ever-dreamed-of but always missing rat of fighting disposition and succulent flavour. Failing in her dream-entertainment and hoped-for repast, she would return to her mat until Daddy awoke her with his heavy treads about the room while preparing supper. "Tabby" would then arouse herself, stretch, yawn, and settle down to a comforting wash-up and brush. Possibly, during the period of the toilet, she might meditate on the theory that the life of a night-watchman's cat is a sad and dreary business.
Daddy did not sleep early that night. For long hours he sat, puzzling his problem. Yet, what could, happen—but something had happened. There was the matter of the smashed packing-case. From the time of the discovery of the damage, and the necessity of evolving a plausible explanation, until now, he had put thoughts of the matter from him, resolutely. He believed that he had lulled suspicions of his inactivity. Now he doubted that. His mind wandered over the problem. Who had entered the premises? Why had they done so?
He could not believe they had entered the premises merely to smash up an inoffensive packing case. Yet nothing else had happened in any part of the building; nothing was missing.
Daddy's mouth set grimly. If only he could discover the intruder. He knew how to deal with the villain who sought to take the bread out of the mouth of a honest working man.
Midnight chimed on the city clocks. Daddy knew that from then on no chimes from those clocks would disturb the night-air, until early morning. Wearily, unaccustomed to late hours, he rose from his chair and ambled through the building. In his thoughts he almost congratulated himself on his rectitude. Twice that night he had made the rounds. Now, pausing before the first time-clock, he felt in his pocket and brought out one of the unofficial master-keys. He inserted it in the lock and gave it the required half-turn. The key remained fixed. If he left the key in that position, he would not be troubled by that clock until he released the key on his last round of the establishment, in the early morning.
Almost-reluctantly, he went from clock to clock, making matters safe for a night of repose. Back in his cubby-hole, he sat down on a chair, looking longingly at the couch against the wall. He drew his pipe from his pocket and stuffed it with black, rank-looking tobacco—then hesitated. It was against the rules to smoke, but—half-past twelve! One pipe, then the odour would disappear before he opened the doors in the morning. One pipe—and then he would turn in for the usual "half-hour" that might extend until his alarm-clock awoke him at six o'clock in the morning.
Daddy opened his eyes to the first beams of a new day. He had the feeling that something out of the ordinary was happening. For a moment he lay still, trying to collect his thoughts. One fact struck him with force—and that was that the city had become the scene of a riot; every clock within the square mile appeared to be engaged in a deafening clangour.
His next impression was that someone was attempting to beat down the door. "Tabby" was prowling the room restlessly: going to the door and scratching the panel, returning to the couch, and clawing his clothing. Daddy knocked the cat back and rolled from the couch to his feet. Curse those bells! What was happening? His memory told him that he had neutralised the time clock before he lay down for his "forty winks." Then—
He went out of the room, to the nearest showrooms. The clock was ringing madly, and there was no illegal master-key in the look. He felt in his pockets. There were no keys there, except the legitimate master. The infernal hammering continued on the warehouse door. Striving to think clearly, Daddy made his way to the door.
"Who's there?" he asked, his voice shaking in spite of his efforts to make it sound casual.
"Open this door," came in sharp, official tones through the wood. "Make it snappy, or I'll break it in."
Mechanically Daddy withdrew the bolts and turned the key in the lock. As he released the catch the door was suddenly thrust back on him. A constable stood on the doorstep.
"What's the matter here?" asked the constable.
"Nuthin'," stated Daddy, optimistically.
"Then why are all those bells ringing fit to wake the dead?" asked the constable logically. Daddy did not answer. He could find no reasonable explanation of the bells ringing, except that the clocks had not received the attention they had been constructed to expect. He looked at the constable blankly, then down at Tabby, who was rubbing herself against his leg. Neither man nor cat appeared helpful. Then came a thought.
"Thieves!" he yelled, and dashed towards the interior of the building. He ran into the first showroom, pulling the master-key from his pocket and thrust it into the time lock.
"What's going on at the front door?" asked the constable, suspiciously.
Daddy did not want to reply; he wanted time to think. It was unreasonable to expect a man who had been suddenly aroused from sound slumber to give a lucid explanation of anything at a moment's notice. Daddy was certain that, given time, he could evolve a reasonable explanation. He had been evolving reasonable explanations for more than a dozen years, all of which had been accepted, though some with slight doubts.
"Come on," said the constable, moving the direction of the front of the building. Daddy followed the constable closely. He did not know who might be at the front door. In point of fact, at that moment he did not care who might be anywhere in the building. If he feared anything, except the loss of a night's repose or the loss of his job, it was thieves. The front door opened, revealing a tall form in a quaint semi-uniform of peaked cap above ordinary clothing.
Daddy groaned. He recognised a competitor who served the Watchman's Association. He knew that now there would be quite a number of wigs on the green. The Association had long desired Miss Westways business. For the first time they had a reasonable hope of success.
"Thought as much!" The tall man the court spoke contemptuously. "Went to sleep and left your clocks on the blink! Wonder why Miss Westways doesn't get a watchman." He glanced past Daddy and saw the constable. "Hullo! What's up here?"
"Thieves!" said the constable, in imitation of the tones Daddy had spoken the word in. "You'd better come through the place with me."
Followed by two reluctant and fearing watchmen, glaring at each other like two night-roaming tom-cats, the constable turned back into the building. A few steps, and be turned to Daddy: "Here! Stop those Infernal bells—quick!"
Daddy gaped. He felt in his pocket for the master-key, reluctantly. Left to himself he would quickly have put an end to the horrible din; but were all the clocks ringing? If the thieves had missed one, and the strangely shaped key that neutralised the action of the mechanism was still in the lock, there would certainly be trouble.
"Hurry up!" The constable spoke nastily. He was irritated and worried; entirely unaccustomed to the ringing of numerous bells during the quiet hours of the morning. Daddy did not move. Visions of Daddy Thornton lining up for the dole; pictures of Daddy Thornton sleeping in the Domain, instead of on the comfortable couch in the private room at "Florabella"; thoughts of Daddy Thornton cadging his night-doss from the few remaining charitably inclined of Sydney, swept over him.
"Here, give me your key." The Association watchman pulled Daddy's clinging hand, holding the master key, from his pocket. "This it? Right! Come on, constable. He's still asleep!"
Daddy followed the two men, feeling utterly miserable. He glanced at the face of the first clock at which they stopped. It was barely five o'clock. In a little more than three hours Miss Lancing would enter the establishment. There would be explanations and excuses to make—to he repeated when Miss Westways arrived; and he had not a single thought on which to build his story.
"You've been asleep," accused the constable, when normality had been restored through the building. "That's what happened."
"I don't fancy your job," sneered the Association watchman. "Well, well! One knows what one has to expect it one doesn't take proper precautions."
"That's enough of that," said the constable majestically. "You didn't take two days of the Easter holidays to discover that Cantley's forgot to leave their watch light burning, and then ring them up at three o'clock in the morning to tell them to come down and switch it on, did you, smarty?"
The Association watchman felt aggrieved. People with long memories shouldn't be allowed to interfere when business was under discussion. There was a nice commission in the offing, it he could get to Miss Westways and obtain her business. Why couldn't people let sleeping dogs—Why couldn't they be charitable and let the past bury its dead? He hadn't forgotten the episode to which the man in uniform referred. He wasn't likely to forget it, either. Mr. Cantley never forgot to remind him of the—er—mistake—whenever they met—but Mr. Cantley was nastily minded and seemed glad to save a few shillings out of a hard-working man's pocket.
"We'll have a look through the shop," decided the constable, after some hard work with a pencil and a notebook, during which he asked quite a list of unnecessarily intimate questions of Daddy.
"Come on!" Again the procession re-formed, now of four, for Tabby had joined the party, possibly in the hope that the constable might turn out that rat of gastronomic possibilities.
Slowly, uneasily, the little party marched from room to room, scanning any possible hiding place for signs of an unlawful intruder.
"What's up here?" The constable pointed to a pile of shimmering materials piled on the floor of a showroom. "Miss Westways don't leave her goods at night like that, does she?"
Daddy groaned again, openly this time. He surveyed the litter of silks and laces with apprehensive eyes. Someone had been in the building; someone had been in the room; someone had stripped from the dummies the frocks with which they had been adorned; and that since he had passed through that room at midnight! Now fled were the excuses which had been forming in his mind—the excuse that the clocks had suddenly departed from their orderly line of conduct and burst into clamour after he had attended to them at the appointed hour.
He might have found means of discounting the evidences of the constable and the night-watchman. Vaguely, he had planned to tell of his courageous and vigorous search for an intruder while the two men had been hammering, on the doors, too intent on his work of safeguarding his mistress's valuables to take time to admit them. He had planned to state that he had left the bells ringing while be had searched for the thieves, in the hope that they would bring him help in his search, and the capture of the burglars. That difficulty passed, he would claim that the two men were grossly exaggerating in stating that they had been at the doors for more than a few seconds before he went and admitted them. If he could put over that story he would cover himself with glory—and possibly obtain from Miss Westways a gratuity for his noble defence of her property. Again he groaned, closing his eyes.
Daddy had served long enough at Florabella to understand that something approaching sacrilege had taken place in that showroom during the preceding night. The thieves had done far worse than breaking and entering a church! To enter Florabella, to tear from the dress-dummies the creations with which they had been draped by gentle and reverent hands!
Again he groaned, closing his eyes.
"Heavens!" he groaned. "There's thousands gone!"
"Where?" demanded the constable, who was but a single, ignorant man.
"There!" Daddy pointed to the piles of dresses.
"They're all right." The constable, young, efficient and free, strode to one of the piles of materials and ignorantly lifted one of the frocks by the edge that came most conveniently to hand. "Bit crushed, that's all! That won't hurt a frock, so far as I know."
Again Daddy groaned; this time at the sheer stupidity of the man.
"You don't know," he stated firmly. "They're worth millions!"
"I don't think you know, either." The constable looked incredulous. "Where's the telephone? I'll ring up Central and report."
"I've got to get on with my job," announced the Association watchman, in superior tones. He had surmounted the Cantley episode for the umpteenth time, and again felt safe. "I can't sleep on my job." He looked Daddy up and down, with superior disdain. "You'd better come and let me out."
Wearily Daddy went again through the rooms to the front door; he unlocked the door and stepped aside for the Association watchman to pass into the Court. Just as Daddy was preparing to close the door again the night-watchman turned, to deliver his carefully thought-out parting gibe.
"Your job's putty," he stated emphatically and very clearly, in the hope that some early-riser would overhear him. "Miss Lancing will give you all you want—and more, I know—and—" he paused impressively, "—you needn't come smelling me to put in a word for you with my people—for I won't."
Full of conscious rectitude he watched for Daddy to wither under the blight of his sarcasm. But Daddy, smiled, and for the moment the Association watchman wondered.
"I won't," promised Daddy, with apparent humility. "I wont, Mr. Watson. I'll ask Mr. Cantley for the job of seeing that the Association's watchman sees that his night-light is burning."
The front door of "Florabella" closed with a slam. Charlie Watson heard the lock click as the key was turned, the heavy treads of Daddy and the constable going in the direction of Miss Lancing's office, in search of a telephone.
THE inquiries regarding the whereabouts of Miss Paddy Burke during the early hours were disappointing. Nothing was heard of the lady or the taxi. True to his promise, Inspector Murmer telephoned Miss Westways immediately the result of his inquiries among the hospitals and police stations of metropolitan districts were to hand. He had nothing to report. So far as official knowledge went, the girl and the motor car had completely disappeared.
Saul Murmer came down to police headquarters the morning following Paddy's strange disappearance (the same morning on which the burglary at "Florabella" was discovered) weary eyed and worried. He had not left the search for the girl to official routine, but had personally visited each point where there was hope of news. He was perplexed, for he could not rid his mind of the thought that the girl's abduction was in some way connected with the queer events preceding it and surrounding Miss Westways and her establishment.
Immediately he reached his office the detective was informed that the missing taxi driver had been brought to headquarters. The reporting officer stated that the man had been found asleep inside his car, drugged, and decorated with a substantial lump on the back of his head. Paul Murmer gave instructions that the man was to be brought to his office immediately.
As he had expected to find, the man did not prove to be the driver he had seen on the taxi he had engaged for Paddy the previous evening. The man who nervously confronted him was short, stout, red-faced and elderly. The man he had seen in the car was young, sloping-shouldered, thin and white-faced. Saul Murmer had expected something like this.
The taxi-driver told a straight story and one that might be expected. He had been hailed by a fare about nine o'clock the previous evening and directed to drive to an address in Surry Hills. When his fare alighted, he invited the driver into the house for a drink. The man went unsuspectingly, to be knocked out by a blow on the head. He had recovered his senses to find a constable shaking him, and himself and his car in Moore Park. His clothing was drenched with the night-dew.
Saul Murmer nodded and dismissed the man with a caution that it was not wise to enter strange houses. He was furious with himself, that he had been gulled by the simple trick preceding the abduction. He had selected the car for Paddy, and he had not taken the first car that offered. The only consolation he could find was that he had never thought of an abduction in regard to the girl, and that abduction in crowded Darlinghurst at that early hour of the night was unbelievable.
Drafting a very careful description of the man he had seen in the taxi, Saul Murmer ordered it to be broadcast throughout the State. He was not very hopeful that this means would result in locating the man who had driven the taxi. But he had now reason to believe that the wanted man was a crook, or an associate of crooks. The circular might come under the eyes of some police officer who had previous dealings with the man, could identify him, and possibly give clues where best to locate him.
Inspector John Pater was astonished to find Saul Murmer at his desk when he arrived at Police Headquarters. A few words put him in possession of the details of the case. Pater frowned, thought a moment, then remarked: "Looks like Slinky Cadby," he said.
"Slinky Cadby?" queried the stout man, "That's a new one on me. Who is the lad?"
"Not in your line, old man." John Pater grinned. "Slinky runs more with the minor members of the department. Petty thefts, pick-pockets, and that sort of thing. You've got too big a reputation to deal with—"
"I'll deal with him." The baby blue eyes steeled astonishingly.
"We'll have him brought in," The Inspector drew the telephone to him and rang up the broadcasting officer, requesting that all stations be notified that Slinky Cadby was required at police headquarters for questioning. He had hardly replaced the receiver on the hook when an exclamation from John Pater caused him to look up inquiringly.
"Seen this morning's broadcast, Saul?"
"No." Saul Murmer picked up the newly-printed sheet lying on his desk, and which he had thrust aside in the urgency of the moment. "What's fresh?"
"Only that 'Florabella' was burgled at an early hour this morning." John Pater looked up inquisitively. "Miss Westways is a friend of yours, isn't she?"
"Its her niece I've got an 'all-stations' out for," replied Saul Murmer, scanning the scanty details on the printed sheet hastily. "Now, I wonder—" He paused, tailing into meditation.
"Wonder if there is any connection?" queried the Australian.
"There might be." The Englishman spoke thoughtfully. "There's been funny things going on about 'Florabella' and Miss Westways lately."
Again Saul Murmer became thoughtful. A long pause, during which Inspector Pater waited hopefully. At length the stout detective started to speak, recounting the story of the strange sketches, the so-called practical jokes that always followed the sketches, and the abnormal and apparently senseless smashing of the wooden case in which the strange dress-dummy had arrived from England.
John Pater was interested.
"You mean," he asked, "Miss Westways received a sketch on a certain day, and the following night someone entered 'Florabella' and smashed up a wooden case that had recently arrived from England?"
"Just about that."
Saul Murmer rose from his desk-chair and ambled to his favourite seat at the window. John Pater nodded his satisfaction. Saul Murmer at his desk was a detective much worried; in his favourite chair at the window he was a detective marshalling facts, scenting clues, and formulating theories that brought him ever closer to the heart of the problem.
"Who discovered the burglary?" asked the Englishman, at length.
"The night-watchman, I suppose. I know Miss Westways employs one."
"I heard downstairs that Sam Dotty, the patrolman, reports that he heard the alarms ringing inside the establishment, and knocked. He states that the night-watchman admits being asleep, and added that the man took a lot of waking."
"Doped." Saul Murmer nodded. "Just what they would do! What did they take?"
"Nothing, so far as our men know at present. Did a bit of damage in the search for what they were after."
"Anything else?" The stout man fished in the side pocket of his jacket and extracted a crumpled paper of cigarettes. He lit one. When it was glowing freely he looked up, grinning: "By the way, John, I've discovered something. I've had no breakfast this morning."
John Pater laughed. "We'll count this one of your slimming days," he said. "Must have been interesting in Swayne Court with Dotty performing on the back door and the Association's man tattooing on the front door. Enough to wake the dead!"
"Awake the doped, you mean." Saul Murmer opened sleepy eyes. "Who's got the case?"
"Our friend, Leyland. He happened to come down early, and was sent down to 'Florabella' because there was no one else, I suspect."
"Leyland!" Saul Murmer sighed, "Like the poor, we always have Leyland with us!"
"Suits me." John Pater bit off the end of the long, black cheroot he affected. "It'll keep him busy and safe—and he's off the Salom case. I'm satisfied."
"Poor Salom Club," The Englishman sighed. "Do you think you can solve that problem alone?"
John Pater glanced over the articles on his desk, in search of a missile of substantial weight. When he looked up again, Saul Murmer, to his surprise, was ambling to the door. "Where to, Saul?"
"Dixon. Coming?" The stout man did not wait for a reply. He passed through the door before the Australian could get from behind his desk.
Throughout the short journey to Superintendent Dixon's office, the stout Englishman refused to answer questions. He thrust the door of the clerk's room open, and spoke before the man had time to look up.
"Super in, Tom? Quick!"
The portly form barred the room to Inspector Pater. The Englishman's manner was so strange, so different from his usual air of assumed indifference, that the man behind the desk sat and stared. At a reiterated "Quick!" he sprang to his feet and, went to a door, knocking gently on the panel. For a moment he disappeared into the room, then returned and held the door open.
"Superintendent will see you at once, sir," he said, his eyes wide with astonishment. Then he sought shelter behind his typewriter.
Superintendent Dixon, big, burly, with a round face decorated sixteen hours out of the twenty-four with a well-chewed cigar—Inspector Murmer's secret ideal of a detective—stared wide-eyed as the stout man came purposefully into the room.
"What's the trouble, Saul? You've frightened Tom out of half a years growth," he said, holding out a large hand across the desk. "I hear you've put out a hue and cry for a missing young lady. Hmph! That comes of frequenting night-clubs, I suppose—"
Saul Murmer grinned. "Its worse than that, Super," the stout man replied. Without waiting for an invitation he sat down heavily in a chair before the desk. "Got time to listen to an interesting story?"
"Not if it's one of your bawdy English ones." Superintendent Dixon grinned. "I know most of 'em, and you might have forgotten you'd already told it to me. Just at the moment I'm busy; it seems to be sales-time in crimeland."
"Then our criminals are following in the footsteps of our weather prophets," growled John Pater. "They get our weather in job lots."
Saul Murmer ignored the pleasantries of his companion. When John Pater was seated, he plunged into an account of the strange surroundings of Miss Westways and her business. He concluded with a summary of his private investigations, concluding with his call on Carrington Manning and the abduction of Paddy Burke. Then, taking another line of argument, he proceeded to link his own tale with the investigations of the Salom Club murder.
John Pater's eyes opened wide as the Englishman, with careful logic, linked up seemingly unconnected events. Superintendent Dixon lay back in his chair, champing strongly on the unlit cigar, his keen eyes fixed on the Inspectors. When Saul Murmer concluded his rather long narrative he asked:
"Why didn't you bring all this to me before, Saul?"
"Thought there was only some nasty practical joke being played on Miss Westways," stated the Englishman, shortly. "It wasn't until this morning—"
"This morning you connected the events through the burglary and Miss Burke's abduction?"
Inspector Murmer nodded shortly.
"That means, you link Carrington Manning and his son, Pontifex and his wife, Catlow, Buller, Myson, and the missing taxi-driver with a criminal gang, all working towards some purpose of which you have no knowledge at present."
"Looks extremely like it." John Pater nodded assent to the suggestion.
Superintendent Dixon pondered for some moments.
"You want to make this official, Saul?"
"Must, now. Miss Burke's abduction is official."
The Superintendent and John Pater nodded agreement.
"So is the Salom Club murder and the burglary at 'Florabella,'" continued Saul Murmer reflectively.
"Then what remains, if any, can be thrown in," Superintendent Dixon nodded.
"Can't make it out." Inspector Pater broke the small silence. "There doesn't seem to be any sense in the matter; yet it all links up."
"You haven't found any sense in the Salom Club matter yet, John." stated the Englishman.
"Can't find a clue to the reason of Catlow's knocking-off." The tall Australian spoke bitterly, "I've got Buller watched. Myson has disappeared, so it is possible he is the man who fired the shot. But when I find him, I've got nothing to pin that on with. There's no sense in the yarn. Buller tells that they quarrelled over the financing of a South Sea pearling expedition."
The Superintendent nodded again. "There might be some sense in shooting the lot of them."
Saul Murmer was dropping back into his old time sleepy, apparently lazy, manner. Again silence fell on the men in the room.
"You believe Carrington Manning to be the head of the gang?" asked Dixon at length of Inspector Murmer. Then, before anyone could speak, he added: "Who's on the 'Florabella' burglary case?"
"Sergeant Leyland," answered Saul Murmer, rather too quickly for a person settling into a favourite chair for a morning nap.
"He's with you on the Salom Club affair?" asked the Superintendent of Inspector Pater. "Can you spare him?"
"Easily." The Australian spoke with so much apparent relief that his companions laughed. Inspector Murmer interposed.
"I want the 'Florabella' case," he said. "It links up with the other matters."
"And apparently with the Salom Club murder," added the Superintendent.
"Inspector Pater is handling that."
"I'll hand it over," suggested the Australian detective. "Looks to me Saul's right. There's a connection somewhere."
"But—" Dixon showed perplexity.
"John and I have worked together before." Inspector Murmer was well settled down in his chair, looking comfortably sleepy. Dixon and Pater stared at him suspiciously; they knew the signs.
"You want Inspector Pater in with you?" asked the Superintendent.
"John leads; I assist." The full, red lips, with their perfect cupid's bow pursed in a soundless whistle. "That's always been the arrangement."
Superintendent Dixon considered. He had witnessed the team-work of the two men before, and found it good; though he had not quite believed the fiction that Inspector Pater was entirely in command. Still, the partnership had always brought results, sometimes of a surprising character. Why should they not work together again? At the moment all work in the branch was of a minor character, and this new problem appeared likely to loom large before the solution was found. He could spare the two men, at least for a time.
"There's a routine matter I could put Sergeant Leyland on," he suggested at length.
"Keep him where he is." Inspector Murmer's baby-blue eyes opened slightly, and a crinkly smile came round them. "We'll know he's safe, then."
There Inspector Saul Murmer made one of his few mistakes. Safety and Sergeant Leyland were not compatible in the work of the Criminal Investigation Branch, at that moment.
"All right." Superintendent Dixon came to a decision. "Clear it up quick. I can't spare the two of you all the time."
Inspectors Murmer and Pater rose to their feet. Half-way to the door Saul Murmer stopped and swung round on his companion.
"By the bye, John, what was found on Catlow?"
Inspector Pater showed astonishment in his face. Superintendent Dixon, who found cause for study in the strange mentality of the Englishman, smiled. He swung his chair round to the large safe behind him.
"Just the usual tripe," answered Pater. Dixon was untying a parcel on his blotting pad. Saul Murmer returned to the desk and bent over the collection of small articles that had been the dead man's property. For a moment he scanned the strange miscellany carefully, then picked out a roll of banknotes.
"Who did this?" he asked, examining the rubber band surrounding the notes.
"Catlow, I suppose." John Pater showed his mystification. "That's how they were when I took them from his pocket."
"Then Catlow came from the United States of America." The Englishman nodded, as if the rubber banded notes held a significance he could read. "Australians don't roll their notes; they either fold them, or keep them flat in a case. Nor do Englishman roll their paper money. No, this man was sometimes in the United States and acquired their natural habit with money—as I thought."
"What's the idea. Saul?" asked inspector Pater curiously.
The stout detective did not answer. He had slipped the rubber band from the notes and was examining them carefully, one by one; holding some of them to the light, testing others between his finger and thumb. As he finished with each note he placed it on the desk, forming three separate piles; one very large, the next smaller, and the third containing only a couple of notes.
"Anything interesting about those banknotes, Saul?" asked the Superintendent, when all the notes had been passed through Saul Murmer's curious fingers.
"Only what you and John must have noticed when examining them." A wide smile came on the full, perfectly formed lips, and a twinkle in the strangely blue eyes. "Only what you two must have immediately recognised when you handled these notes."
"And that's—" John Pater, in his impatience, caught the stout Englishman by the shoulder and shook him slightly.
Slowly Saul Murmer came out of the reverie that had come over him after perusing the banknotes. He shook the Australians hand from his shoulder, and ambled to the door. There he turned:—"And that"—he repeated. "Only what you two must surely have noticed. There's quite a collection of Bank of England notes in that collection and, with their face value at about twenty-five shillings to the pound, Australian people don't usually carry them about, as legal tender."
For a moment he paused, then added reflectively.
"And—I'm wondering why Buller and Myson didn't relieve him of them. Our crooks are not usually considerate enough to leave the funeral expenses with the bodies of their—er—victims."
"But—" Inspector Pater stuttered. "But Buller and Myson left Catlow some time before he was shot."
"Ah!" Saul Murmer smiled reflectively. "That's what they say!"
THE early beams of morning were flecking the sky over Bondi when Sergeant Leyland and his accommodating friend Myson, returned, to Mrs. Leyland's house. They found, to their exceeding regret, that the lady had not been able to enjoy her evening with her friends, the Dittles, owing to the intrusion of an absurd headache. The headache engendered the feeling that she was not at her best and brightest, and shortly before midnight, exasperated at the undoubted success Mrs. Dittle was enjoying, Mrs. Leyland escorted herself home. Her headache and exasperation were not allayed by the discovery that her husband and her guest were still absent from home, presumably on pleasure bent.
Mrs. Leyland retired to bed, but not to sleep. For a time she afterwards referred to as "hours" she lay awake, frightened to let sleep overcome her before she had expressed her opinion of things in general, and that evening in particular, to the partner of her joys and sorrows.
She heard the men enter the house, or rather the uproar occasioned by the Sergeant's attempt to enter the house without awakening her. Unfortunately, he had not the ability acquired by Mr. Myson, through long practice, of occupying a residence without disturbing the legal inmates.
Repressing her curiosity until the Sergeant was partially disrobed, and therefore at her mercy, Mrs. Leyland opened her inquisition. Her husband was not informative: to the lady, he appeared unduly elated and not at all mindful of the seriousness of a Bondi householder, and the husband of a prominent Bondi lady, wandering through the streets at early hours of the morning, in a condition ascribed to bachelors in the literature favoured by the inquisitor.
In fact, Sergeant Leyland took remarkably little notice, for the first time in his marital life, of what his spouse had to say. He was elated with the thoughts of the new friend he had found—a friend who possessed not only the importance of high financial standing, but of large and influential political affiliations.
It was after Sergeant Leyland had stretched his manly form on the feather bed Mrs. Leyland favoured for the connubial couch that he forgot to remain elated. He became annoyed. He conceived that Mrs. Leyland was forgetting the ancient curse: "That men must labour, or they shall not eat!"
Labour, to the Sergeant, began at nine in the morning—and it was now after five. A short quarter of an hour of entirely personal argument convinced him that even if he made confession in full, with all the evidences of contrition expected from Bondi repentant sinners, he would get no sleep that morning.
Exasperation grew. Flinging back the bedclothes in a manner that evoked protests of modesty from Mrs Leyland, he sought refuge with his trousers—in the bathroom.
Cold water, applied in abundance, over his head, gave a fictitious wakefulness and, outwardly, calm, but inwardly fuming, he returned to the bedroom and completed his dressing, to an obligato-recitative by Mrs. Leyland on the woes of married women. A very early morning tram carried him into the city. A short search, and he found a barber who had the gift of early rising; then breakfast, and the police officer was at a loose end. A little reflection, and the thought came that he could use the present circumstances to add to his reputation as a zealous and painstaking officer of the Criminal Investigation Branch—and he went down to Central Lane.
Sergeant Leyland's advent was hailed with enthusiasm by the officer on duty. Only a few minutes before, Patrolman Dotty had telephoned the news of the burglary at "Florabella", and the desk-sergeant was at his wits' end. Diverse happenings during the small hours of the morning had depleted the stock of detectives on hand. Sergeant Leyland on being advised of the position, immediately offered his services; he felt that at last the fates had made up their minds to recompense him for what he had suffered at the hands of his wife. He considered that here was an opportunity to act in accordance with the advice he had received from his new friend, but a few hours before—for was not Miss Westways, the owner of "Florabella", a friend of Detective-Inspector Saul Murmer?
Gathering from the plain-clothes constables in waiting, and from the uniformed staff, what he considered to be an adequate posse for the important investigation he was about to undertake, he marched his party down to Swayne Court and established his headquarters in Miss Lancing's office; then opened his inquiry. A short and sharp questioning of Daddy Thornton, Miss Westways' private watchman, and he placed his men at what he considered the strategic points of the premises. Then, telephoning the Watchmen's Association for Charlie Watson to be immediately forwarded to him, asleep or awake, he commenced a careful and conscientious hazing of Constable Dutty.
An hour later Miss Lancing, arriving for her daily labours at "Florabella", was astounded to find a large-sized uniformed constable on duty before her door. She was considerably astonished when, having surmounted certain objections to her presence in a building where, up to then, she had held autocratic sway, she found Sergeant Leyland in her particular and very private office. Not by any means a nervous woman, and though unmarried, she proceeded to deal with the situation in her finest "Mrs. Leyland" manner, and commenced to take the enquiry into her own very capable hands.
Sergeant Leyland was annoyed; he particularly objected to her examination of Daddy Thornton, and her strictures on private watchman's partiality for sleep at 'normal hours,' although but a few minutes before he had addressed similar remarks to the offender. Further dissension arose when Miss Lancing showed very plainly that she considered she had an undoubted right to take part in any proceedings conducted in her office.
In his heart of hearts Sergeant Leyland began to bewail the fact that Nature had ordained that he be born in this Age of Women. Women and women's attributes were all around him. Whichever way he looked strange things in silks and laces, patterned in weird combinations he had been taught by Mrs. Leyland to consider shocking and immodest, surrounded him. Woman, in all stages and ages of life, floated about him as workers and assistants came to what they had believed to be their daily labour—and found to be a refreshing and novel excitement apparently staged for their benefit, with a large and not unhandsome police officer playing the clown on a very feminine stage.
Before nine o'clock Sergeant Leyland was considerably bewildered and thoroughly annoyed. Serious thoughts of putting everyone in the building under arrest and conveying them to police headquarters, where he could question them amid familiar surroundings, came to his mind. He doubted the wisdom of the thought. Superintendent Dixon, he reflected, was but a man; the sudden influx of femininity might disturb him—and the Superintendent, when disturbed, had a bitter tongue.
Night-watchman Watson arrived in Swayne Court shortly after nine-thirty. In him Sergeant Leyland found an unexpected ally. Watson had been justly annoyed by his day's sleep being broken into by so trivial a matter as a police inquisition. But when he found that the officer in charge of the proceedings was almost convinced of Daddy Thornton's criminal interests in the supposed burglary, he gave evidence with zeal and relish.
At the end of the first interview he convinced Sergeant Leyland that what Daddy Thornton did not know about the affair was certainly not worth knowing. Daddy Thornton was undergoing his third and most severe cross-examination of the morning when Miss Westways arrived at "Florabella". Already worried over Paddy's inexplicable disappearance and Inspector Murmer's neglect to telephone her more than eight times in six hours, her first knowledge of happenings at her business premises was obtained when a massive policeman, the admired of the assistants of her neighbours and passers-by, demanded to know what reasons she could give for attempting to enter premises of which she held a cast-iron lease.
Miss Westways became annoyed; she was still further incensed to find her showrooms, hitherto devoted exclusively to the solace and seduction of womanhood, profaned by the presence of men, large and small, uniformed and otherwise. She saw her assistants gathered in corners, watching mere males parade where hitherto men had seldom trod; she reasoned that the work she paid for was not being accomplished. Too infuriated to speak, she went to her private office and telephoned police headquarters, demanding instant speech with Inspector Murmer.
A man—and for the moment Miss Westways believed that by some irony of Fate men were now alone in control of an otherwise well-ordered and beautiful world—answered that at the moment Inspector Murmer was in conference with Superintendent Dixon and Inspector Pater, and that on no account could that conference be disturbed.
Miss Westways felt helpless before this barrage of masculinity, and could only feebly suggest that when Inspector Murmer was available he should be informed that Miss Westways would be glad to speak with him. Then the lady's thoughts turned to Theo Manning.
She telephoned the University, to be informed that Mr. Manning was attending a lecture, but that he would be available within, a quarter of an hour, or twenty minutes. That was better. Miss Westways gave instructions that the young gentleman should immediately report to her at "Florabella", in person, Not that Miss Westways had a great opinion of the University student's mentality, but he was a male—and in her belief only male could deal intelligently with male in moments of sex rebellion.
Miss Westways' thoughts next turned to Miss Lancing. In past days—now appearing as oases of orderliness in the chaotic present—Miss Lancing had shown as a sun of organisation and fertile suggestion. In this direction Miss Westways was immediately successful. Miss Lancing sped to her employer's side; but alas, she was no longer an aid.
The manageress had her own absorbing problems, chief of which appeared to be one Sergeant Lionel Leyland, a male of the most disagreeable and hateful type; one of who nothing good could be recorded. Yet Miss Lancing, though furious, was exultant. She had come from a bitter battle with the police officer, wherein she had won Daddy Thornton from immediate arrest. Miss Lancing had to be soothed and pacified—and Miss Westways, in dire need of consolation herself, did not enjoy the task. Between spasms of exasperation at the imbecility of male creatures, Miss Lancing, talking as woman to woman, was sure that Daddy Thornton had slept through the night. Her reasoning was that Daddy Thornton had slept through every night watch, and was always asleep, even when he walked out of "Florabella" into the day's masculine world. She lapsed into incoherence when describing the influx of masculine creatures into the sacred precincts of "Florabella".
Miss Westways, almost amused amid her anxiety regarding Paddy and her desire to straighten out matters in preparation for the work of the day, came to the conclusion that Miss Lancing believed that nothing less than an immediate shifting of the modiste's establishment to other, and pure, premises could overcome the taint of masculine invasion.
Miss Westways sent for Daddy Thornton. Daddy was inclined to be self-assertive—probably due to the proximity of so many of his sex. More, he had tested his theory of what had happened at "Florabella" with some success on Sergeant Leyland until the advent of his age-long adversary, Night-watchman Watson. Against Watson's prejudice he counted Miss Lancing's late support. In former days he had not been impressed by the lady, but her valiant and strenuous advocacy before the imposing-looking police officer had shaken his prejudices. Now Daddy Thornton found the affirmations and suggestions she had, in the Sergeant's presence, taken as facts, were doubted.
Daddy mourned the inconsistency of women. Miss Westways' judgment, suspending him from duty, was almost a relief. He desired to retire for self-communion and meditation to his favourite bar, but the presence of the stalwart minion of the law at the doors of the establishment forbade withdrawal from the scene of his trials. Full of righteous wrath that Miss Westways' commands should be disregarded by these men, Daddy sought Sergeant Leyland.
"So Miss Westways says you're to go home!" The Sergeant's fine military trained moustache bristled. "Did she? Well, I say you're to stop here! Get out!"
Daddy Thornton got out—quickly. He went to Miss Westways' office to lodge his complaint. He found Miss Lancing there, anticipating him in complaint, and using language he could only listen to and admire.
"The man's impossible!" declared Miss Westways. "I'll talk to him!"
Miss Westways left her office filled with the determination to beard this unaccommodating police officer in no uncertain manner. She did not proceed far on her errand before she came face to face with Theo Manning, under escort of two hefty constables. The sight of the university youth brought Paddy's predicament to the front of her mind. A wave of her hand dismissed the constables, who had not the Sergeant's hardihood. She dragged the youth into her office.
"Theo?" she exclaimed. "Where's Paddy?"
"Paddy!" The slow-witted youth spoke cautiously. "I haven't seen her tor two or three days."
"You weren't with her last night?"
Theo shook his head. He was not given to words where actions could he made to take their place.
"She's missing." Miss Westways stared at the youth. She could not think of anything else to say. "Paddy went to see Inspector Murmer last night, and he put her in a taxi to come home—but she didn't come home!"
"No?" replied the youth. "Have you asked Inspector Murmer?"
"Don't be ridiculous!" requested the lady. "Of course I have. He tells me he placed her in a taxi."
"Then she should have been driven home," complemented the youth.
Miss Westways shrugged. She had not expected much from Theo Manning, and had obtained far less than she had expected. Her reasons for sending for him had been obscure, even to herself. For some moments she gazed at his expressionless features, puzzled. How had Paddy stood the society of this youth so long? She could only conclude that the ways of the modern girl were incomprehensible, even to feminine percipience.
"Do you know—" she commenced, feeling that at all costs she must probe this matter further.
"Who's this?" The door swung open and Sergeant Leyland, authoritative and conscious of unlimited power, stood on the threshold. Miss Westways turned to face the intruder. She was irritated that anyone should enter her room without knocking. Instinct told her who the man was, but faced with so much concentrated authority, she hesitated to speak.
"Who is this man?" demanded Sergeant Leyland again, in his best official manner. He curled the left wing of his moustache to a more acute angle.
"Theo—Mr. Theo Manning," introduced Miss Westways, in almost a meek voice.
"What do you know?" The official voice addressed the youth very severely. Then memory gained sway. Manning! Sergeant Leyland remembered the scene in the house at Double Bay the previous evening—the sudden advent of two men towards the end of his interview with Carrington Manning. The financier had spoken of one of the men as his son!
"You're Mr. Carrington Manning's son, aren't you?" the police officer asked in slightly modified tones.
Theo nodded. He did not think even this time an occasion for speech.
"Glad to meet you." The Sergeant held out a big hand. "Saw you—" he hesitated. He had been going to speak of the previous evening and suddenly remembered that the subject was forbidden.
"A few days ago."
Theo saw the Sergeant's predicament and guessed the reason.
"We met at the house of a mutual friend."
"That's so." The police officer nodded. So far he had not given the youth much attention—now he looked upon him as an ally in a fearsome world of women. "I'd like a word with you, Mr. Manning. Will you come to my office."
Miss Lancing, who had been an enforced and silent spectator of the little scene, gasped. His office! She, would have expostulated in no uncertain tones, but for Miss Westways' restraining hand on her arm.
"Let him alone," whispered the proprietress of "Florabella". "Inspector Murmer will be here soon, and then—"
The slowly checked words told volumes of what was expected of the Englishman.
In Miss Lancing's office, now devoted to the labours of Sergeant Leyland, the police officer closed the door and motioned his visitor to a seat. He went round the desk and took Miss Lancing's chair, bringing out and lighting one of his favourite cigars.
"You know what's happened here?" he asked, when he had the fumigator in full blast.
"I know there's been a burglary," announced Theo cautiously.
"And I'm investigating it." Sergeant Leyland swelled out his manly chest. "I'm in charge." He paused. "I saw you at your father's house last night, didn't I?"
The youth nodded.
"You know your father and I have—er—an arrangement?" The Sergeant lowered his voice to what he mistook for a whisper. "You know—"
"Inspector Murmer." Theo grinned vacantly.
"That's he." Sergeant Leyland seated himself comfortably in Miss Lancing's chair. "Inspector Murmer."
"Where is he?" asked Theo.
"Dunno." The police officer looked mysterious. "You know he and Miss Westways are friends."
"Then I'd ring up dad." The youth spoke after immense reflection, "Yes, I'd ring up dad."
Sergeant Leyland thought the suggestion sound. Things, as he named the investigation to himself, were not proceeding in the manner to which he was accustomed. Miss Lancing had proved—well, difficult, and exceedingly rude. Miss Westways showed indications that in the near future she would be still more—er—difficult than her manageress. Some advice from a person he knew and could trust—of course, he would only take it if it agreed with his own convictions and greater knowledge of police proceedings and regulations—might be useful.
"I'll do just that," he decided at the end of a moment given to reflection, "Sit down!" The advice was unnecessary because Theo was already seated, but it sounded official, and therefore good.
Sergeant Leyland drew the telephone toward him, then hesitated. Carrington Manning had told him to memorise the telephone number, and he had intended to do so. But Mrs. Leyland had proved an obstacle to concentration that morning, and the latter hours had been full of happenings. The number was recorded in his pocket-book, but to consult that authority might be taken as a weakness by this son of a successful and wealthy man.
"PP5593," said Theo softly.
"Ah!" retorted Sergeant Leyland. "PP5593," and fingered the dial of the Instrument.
The telephone bell rang.
"Hullo!" shouted Sergeant Leyland, surprised. He habitually spoke into a telephone as if he had trouble in reaching to the end of the connection.
"Is that 'Florabella?'" asked a voice. "I want Sergeant Leyland."
"Speaking!" roared the detective. He wondered how many more years it would take him to teach the switch-attendants at police headquarters to address him as "Detective-Sergeant."
"Hold the line. Superintendent Dixon wishes to speak to you."
Sergeant Leyland stared at the mouthpiece of the machine questioningly. What was the matter now? Of late he had come to connect messages from, and communications with, Superintendent Dixon with trouble—often spelt with very large capital letters.
A buzz sounded on the receiver he held pressed to his ear. He called: "Hullo!" and there was no answer. Again he "Hullo-ed" very loudly, and a voice spoke.
"Stop that shouting; do you think I'm deaf?" A pause, then: "Is that Detective-Sergeant Leyland? Yes. Right. Superintendent Dixon speaking. Inspector Pater is taking charge of the 'Florabella' case, assisted by Inspector Murmer. You will remain and give them the assistance they require."
A clack sounded on the receiver, and the hum on the wire ceased. Sergeant Leyland, still holding the receiver to his ear, stared at the youth on the opposite side of the desk. His voice was sepulchral when he spoke:
"Of all the—" explosively.
"What?" asked the monosyllabic youth.
"I'm superseded!" The police officer spoke bitterly. "Dixon's put Pater and Murmer on the case. I'm to act under them."
Almost he groaned. Another chance for distinction was passing him. But a short half-hour, a few more inquiries to swell out the mass of notes on the papers before him, and he would arrest the thief. Daddy Thornton, of course! Who else could it be with Constable Duffy at one door of the establishment and Night-watchman Watson at the other door, while the bells were ringing. Now to have the fruits of his labours wrested from him.
"Splendid!" Admiration and enthusiasm shone in Theo's eyes. "Now you can act as dad wants you to!"
The youth paused, as if the effort of framing so long a sentence had exhausted him, and added after a long pause: "The telephone number is PP5593—don't forget!"
INSPECTOR Saul Murmer disliked walking: Inspector John Pater was a convinced and hardened hiker; more, he was convinced that if his friend used nature's means of locomotion more frequently his figure might emerge again from a rotundity that was likely to become uncomfortable.
Great therefore was the Australian's surprise when, leaving headquarters after their interview with Superintendent Dixon, Saul Murmer turned towards Pitt-street and plodded manfully Quaywards. For some minutes he kept pace with his partner in silence, glancing concernedly down at the usually placid features of the Englishman, now set in determined, firm lines.
"What's the matter, Saul?" he asked, at length.
"Nothing." The word was spoken absently, then the stout detective grinned, as the meaning of the question penetrated his mind. "Just giving Lionel time to mess things up proper."
Very regrettably, John Pater would not accept this explanation as fact. Yet, he remained silent. Long since, he had learned that the quickest way to obtain an explanation from the Scotland Yard man lay in silence. Saul Murmer liked to be among people who talked, while himself listening and watching those around him.
They came to Swayne Court. A few quick steps by Inspector Murmer placed him in the lead. John Pater held back; the Englishman would not push himself forward without due reason.
Outside "Florabella" a small crowd had gathered, staring open-eyed at the tall, imposing patrolman, standing attentively before the closed door. He looked at ease in spite of the hundred eyes levelled at him. In Sydney, the police and other Public servant are quite accustomed to performing their duties under the gaze of innumerable self-appointed gangers. Rumour, false, lying jade, mentions in certain quarters that a road gang once threatened a strike, because nearby fire withdrew from them their usual audience.
Saul Murmer pushed gently through the group of patient onlookers, followed by Inspector Pater. He came to a stop directly before the constable, surveying his impressive form with well-assumed awe.
"He's real, John!" Saul Murmer looked over his shoulder at his companion. "I'll swear he's real." He stepped back a pace and surveyed the man carefully from head to feet; then looked up at the constable's face and asked, in a tone reminiscent of a little boy seeking information in unfavourable circumstances: "Say, mister, what's on?"
The constable grinned, and shifted uncomfortably on his feet. Saul Murmer nodded, understanding.
"Thought so, Taffy. Conscience pricking? Who organised this peep-show, and why didn't they place you in the window?"
"Sergeant Leyland, Inspector." The man grew red under an already ruddy skin. "He placed me on guard at the door."
"Did he!" The placid round face of the Englishman took on an expression of innocent wonder. "Where's the corpse, Taffy?"
"There isn't a corpse, Inspector." Now the grin that had been struggling against official repression burst bounds. "There's been a burglary here."
"And I thought it was part of the annual Lord Mayor's show." Saul Murmer turned to his companion. "There's an idea, John. Why don't they have a Lord Mayor's show in Sydney. I'm sure it'd be popular."
Very thoughtfully the detective again scanned the now thoroughly embarrassed constable; shaking his head slowly.
"So Detective-sergeant Lionel Leyland placed you on show at the front door. Sort of opposition to the lady in female dress in the window to your right. Sorry, Taffy, but I'm relieving you of your pleasant time. Miss Westways might want to do some business to-day, and her lady customers might stay outside trying to flirt with you instead of going inside and buying frocks, to hasten the depression of their husbands' bank-accounts. How many of you are there here?"
"Four, Inspector. And there's three plain-clothes men here also."
"The Lord save us!" Saul Murmer lifted pious hands. "Well, Taffy, just to oblige me, find your four comrades and march them back to Central Lane."
"Sergeant Leyland said, sir—" commenced the constable.
"If only Sergeant Leyland would say his prayers!" Inspector Murmer studied the grinning face of his brother Inspector. "You may laugh, John, but I mean it! He wouldn't have much time for anything else, if his prayers were in direct ratio to his sins. There! I knew you'd tempt me to say something detrimental to discipline—so forget it, Taffy; or if you want to tell your pals, just remember that Mister Saul Murmer said it, not Inspector Murmer. Now, be a good chap, and do as you're told."
The constable saluted, turned on his heels, and entered the building. Saul Murmer watched him disappear, then stepped to one side and motioned to his companion to enter the premises.
"Go ahead yourself, Saul." John Pater spoke casually.
"I daren't, John!" Saul Murmer pushed his hat to the back of his head and mopped his brow with his handkerchief. "I just daren't!"
"What's the trouble?" John Pater laughed. "Afraid of Miss Westways? Well, I guess she'll be a bit riled at having her business premises turned into a guard-house."
"It Isn't Miss Westways, John. You've met her, and you know she isn't one to place blame unduly. But you haven't met Miss Lancing yet."
Again the handkerchief made play. "John, that woman's a block of ice, frigid and cold, even when she's pleased. When she's angry—well, I'd like to crawl under the Super's desk."
He winked slowly and pushed open the door. In the reception-room he again paused, surveying the little group of assistants crowded in a corner, the general disorganisation of an other-day immaculate business.
"Ten o'clock, ladies." The Englishman spoke with his best assumption of a shop-walker. "Miss Westways will be angry—"
"She is." One of the girls spoke, then giggled. "And Miss Lancing—"
"Don't!" Inspector Murmer held up a guarding hand. "I quite agree, ladles. The present influx of masculinity into this otherwise perfect retreat for the feminine sex must—"
He turned to John Pater. "John, help a fellow out; I'm getting mixed."
"Miss Westways is in her office." Another of the assistants spoke. For a moment she stared at the Englishman, then asked: "You're Inspector Murmer, aren't, you? I think Miss Westways is waiting for you."
"Then—" Inspector Murmer stopped and stood aside to allow a file of constables to march solemnly across the room and disappear into the court. He sighed. "At length we can breathe again, John. No, here comes friend Detective-sergeant Lionel Leyland!"
Sergeant Leyland made what he believed to be an impressive entry into the reception-room. Just within the door he drew himself erect and saluted the two inspectors. That was all the recognition he gave to Inspector Murmer. Deliberately ignoring him thereafter, he spoke only to Inspector Pater.
"I didn't know you were here, Inspector, or I would have come to you sooner. I've been questioning—"
Saul Murmer groaned softly. The baby-blue eyes he lifted to Inspector Pater's twinkled maliciously.
"Two guesses as to what would have happened to me if you hadn't been here, John," he observed in a semi-whisper. Then he turned to Sergeant Leyland: "What's the trouble, Sergeant?"
"Trouble, sir?" Sergeant Leyland turned cold eyes on the man he took to be an intruder. "There's been a burglary here, sir."
"A burglary? Is that all?" Saul Murmer faced the sergeant squarely. "Superintendent Dixon told me that; but when I came here I thought he must have been wrong. With half the uniformed division on guard it could be nothing less than a revolution."
"Miss Westways has quite a number of employees," The sergeant answered the question to inspector Pater again ignoring the Englishman. "I thought it wise to keep a guard in the establishment until I had had time to question them."
"Big Three methods!" Inspector Murmer nodded. "What's been taken, Sergeant?" He appeared in no ways disturbed by the man's evident intention to ignore him as far as possible.
"So far Miss lancing has not discovered that anything has been taken." Again Sergeant Leyland directed his answer to the Australian detective.
"So, to prevent any of the young ladies being—er—appropriated, you put them under arrest?" Saul Murmer ironically approved. "Quite right, Sergeant! Do you consider the uniformed division entirely unsusceptible?"
Sergeant Leyland blushed. Frigidly he turned to Inspector Pater. "You're taking charge, sir?" he asked.
"We are." John Pater stressed the pronoun. "I understand you are to act with us, Sergeant," He paused, then added: "I may inform you that our inquiry will cover not only the happenings here, but the Salom Club affair, and the abduction of Miss Paddy Burke."
Sergeant Leyland's eyes lighted. Here was gift from the gods, for which he could be duly thankful. Carrington Manning had asked him to watch the two inspectors and report to him on their activities. What better opportunities could he have than to work with them. Almost he felt kindly toward Inspector Murmer.
For a moment he wondered. Had Carrington Manning known anything on the previous evening when he had offered the suggestion? Had he known—No, that was not possible, for the "Florabella" burglary had not then taken place. Still, by some mysterious means known only to those in control of great wealth, the financier might have pulled political strings to have the two inspectors detailed to some assignment on which he could work with them—and watch! He strove to cloak his features to an impenetrable mask—and only succeeded in looking more wooden than usual.
"Very good, sir." He saluted still more formally. "Shall I give you my report now?"
"If you please, Sergeant."
"Very good, sir." Again the Sergeant saluted, feeling sorry that he was not wearing uniform, when the salutes would be still more formal and impressive. "If you will kindly come to my office—"
"Your office?" Saul Murmer opened innocent eyes. "Have you an office here, Sergeant?"
"I am using Miss Lancing's office, sir." The Sergeant spoke with dignity, "I could not be expected to conduct my examinations in the public rooms."
"And—Miss Lancing?" There was deep interest in Saul voice.
"Miss Lancing has been—if I may say so, without any disrespect to the lady—very rude." Almost pathos lay under the sternly official tones. "She—"
"Rude, sarcastic and annoyed!" The stout detective mused. "Why, Sergeant, the atmosphere of this establishment must be almost—er—homelike, to you."
The Sergeant's big, florid face flushed; he glanced at the placid Englishman with venomous hatred in his eyes. For a moment he could not control his voice. He swung on his heels, muttering:
"Very good, sir. Will you please follow me?"
Stiffly erect, armoured with a dignity he believed would turn from him, harmlessly, Inspector Murmer's little shafts of malicious wit, Sergeant Leyland strode from the reception room, through two show-rooms, to Miss Lancing's office. It was only as he went to push open the door that he remembered that he had left Theo Manning in that room. He swung open the door and allowed Inspector Murmer to enter; then barred, for a moment, Inspector Pater's way, speaking, in a low voice:
"Mr. Theo Manning is in is in my office, sir," he said. "I was questioning him when you arrived."
Saul Murmer caught the low remark and turned quickly. For the moment he believed he had underrated the Sergeant's intelligence.
"Theo Manning?" he asked, turning in the doorway and speaking softly "You suspect him, Sergeant?".
"I was consulting with Mr. Theo Manning, sir." Sergeant Leyland's voice held reproof. "Mr. Theo Manning is Mr. Carrington Manning's son, and therefore above suspicion."
Saul Murmer shrugged and turned to the room. As he entered, the tall, gangling youth rose quickly to his feet.
"Hullo, Theo!" Saul Murmer spoke easily. His doubts regarding Sergeant Leyland had disappeared. "Doing a bit of detective work, eh?"
"Hullo, Inspector," Theo Manning answered vacantly. He looked more impressively vacant than Saul Murmer had ever seen him before.
"Just as talkative as ever!" The Englishman's keen eyes shaded under the veneer of innocent wonder, scanned the room. He turned to Sergeant Leyland. "I'll say you're clever if you're getting suggestions from Master Theo. I never knew him to utter more than three consecutive words at one time—except once."
Theo Manning grinned vacantly. He picked up his hat from the desk and moved towards the door.
"Don't go, Theo." The Englishman's voice was very soft. "Your presence is so soothing. Stay awhile and consult with us."
"Er—There's a lecture—" The youth started to explain.
"On detecting?" asked the Inspector. "No, you told me they didn't have them at the University. You stay with us, and we'll give you a real demonstration of how we do it. You asked me for that once, you know. Now, don't be boyish and shy. I'm not going to let you off. Besides, Inspector Pater has quite a yearn for an audience when he's at work."
Sergeant Leyland thought it was time to intervene. He disliked seeing the son of an important and wealthy man hazed—and he had more than a suspicion that Inspector Murmer was hazing Theo Manning.
He turned to the tall Inspector: "Shall I report now, sir?"
Stepping round the desk he pulled out and held Miss Lancing's particular private chair for the Australian to seat himself, then went round to the front of the desk.
"That's right, Leyland." The Sergeant missed the quick glance the Inspectors exchanged, "You report to Inspector Pater. I'll just have a stroll about the place." He glanced keenly at the youth, standing awkwardly, fidgeting with his hat, in the centre of the room.
"You stay hero, Theo, and listen to the Sergeant. You'll learn quite a lot from him."
The door swung shut behind the portly figure of the Englishman, and Sergeant Leyland, breathing an almost audible sigh of relief, turned again to the desk.
Outside the room, Inspector Murmer thrust his hands deep into his pockets, staring about him inquisitively. Already the presence of the two Inspectors had worked a change in the establishment. Instead of crowding into corners, whispering and giggling, the assistants were working to catch up the time already wasted that morning. Saul Murmer nodded. He ambled slowly through the room and into another show-room. Here he found things in disorder. Many of the fashion figures were disrobed, the dresses they had been wearing the previous evening piled in disorder on the floor. Two or three girls, working to restore order, glanced inquisitively at the Englishman as he entered. A plain-clothes constable paced the floor leisurely.
"And yet another of you!" Inspector Murmer surveyed the man sadly. "You're Harry Peck, aren't you? Thought so. Well, where's the rest of the boys?"
"Constable Symonds is out in the warehouse, Inspector, and Constable Burt's gone on a message for the Sergeant. That's all Inspector. I'm told you got rid of the uniformed men."
Saul Murmer nodded. He turned leisurely on his heels, surveying the welter of disorder about him.
"So here's where the horrid happening occurred," he sighed. For a moment longer he scanned the room; then turned to the plain-clothes man; "What did happen, Harry?"
"Nothing, no far as I can see, Inspector." The man grinned. "It's evident burglars got in, but they didn't do anything except to strip those dummies of their clothes. What for, I can't guess."
"Horrible!" A simulated shudder shook the Englishman's portly form. "Amused themselves undressing fashion figures! What's the new generation coming to?" He paused, then inquired: "That all, Harry?"
"We cant find anything missing, Inspector."
"And because a few of Sydney's burglars wanted a little exercise in ladies' attire, the whole of Headquarters division has to be brought on the scene—" His hands thrust deep into his pockets, the Inspector wandered over to the pile of drapery. He surveyed it lugubriously, then turned again to the plain-clothes constable.
"Married man, Harry?"
"And, Sergeant Leyland, much-married police officer, subjected your innocence to the sight of this!" The broad shoulders lifted in astonishment. "He must really be more careful in the future. Still, as you are here, as for long minutes you have surveyed this mass of—er—femininity--" He went to one of the fashion figures. "Give me a hand here, Harry."
The stout Englishman lifted the fashion figure, subjecting it to a close scrutiny. A moment, and Harry Peck, gathering what was in his superior officer's mind, joined in the search. In a quarter of an hour they had carefully scrutinised every fashion figure in the room, the assistants, at the Inspector's request, disrobing those not attended to by the burglars.
"No, they didn't find it." Regretfully, Saul Murmer stood back from the fashion figure he had been examining. "Now, I wonder—"
"Didn't find what, Inspector?" Harry Peck was interested.
"The fashion figure they were looking for." Saul Murmer spoke reflectively. "No, they didn't find it, because it wasn't here."
"What did they want a dress dummy for, Inspector?" Harry Peck was frankly puzzled.
"Answer your own question, and you'll have the answer to the question buzzing in my mind for quite a time," Saul Murmer thrust his hands again into his trousers pockets. "All we have to go on is that burglars of some new and hitherto-unheard of breed came here last night—and we'll guess were searching for a special fashion figure. That's all. They started to unclothe the figures and something happened! Now, what?"
The constable answered with an incredulous stare. He watched the Inspector wander about the room.
"Time clocks." The Englishman strolled over to the clock on the wall in the corner. "Humph! Key brand! Has to be attended to every hour—and Daddy Thornton was asleep! He won't confess to that, and I don't blame him. All night-watchmen sleep; they have other things to do during the day-time! The burglars stalled the clocks—no, not that! Then—"
For seconds Inspector Murmer stood staring at the clock; then swung round to face the plain-clothes man.
"Know Joe Armeter, Harry?" he asked. "Jeweller, Darlinghurst. Know him?"
The plain-clothes man nodded.
"Joe's an expert in time-clocks, especially those of the key-brand." Saul Murmer spoke reflectively. "Someone told me that he had invented a key that was a bad dose of medicine for a time-clock. Wonder if Daddy Thornton knew him—sure to have."
The keen, yet innocent eyes never left the plain-clothes man's face. "Daddy's a watchman, and he would know Joe—" The lazy voice droned, on. "Daddy slept, therefore he must have known Joe—and if Daddy slept he had Joe's special brand of poison for time-clocks. That's so far!"
Again the Inspector paused; then continued.
"Daddy knew Joe, but the burglars didn't. Queer sort of burglars, them! Burglars use Joe's brand of keys, of course! They stop time clocks with them. But these burglars didn't know of the keys—and they found Daddy's in the locks—and felt curious.
"That's all they took, Harry." Saul Murmer continued more briskly. "Just the keys Joe sold to Daddy. And when they appropriated the keys, the clocks started to function again. And just as the burglars were satisfying their curiosity regarding ladies' attire, the clocks burst into full song—and they bolted. They were nervous. They couldn't stand noises." Saul Murmer turned on his heel and faced the time-clocks, and a little chuckle came from his lips.
"Now, who'd have thought that! Alarmed themselves! Well, well! Now, I wonder how long they were here? Some part of an hour, of course. Let me see—" He turned to survey the fashion figures scattered about the room. "Not more than quarter of an hour, and then—Lord! There must have been a devil of a row when all these clocks burst into song together."
He looked at the bewildered expression on the plain-clothes man's face, and chuckled. "You're slow, Harry, not to have worked that out. The burglars came here about a quarter to four. Pinched the time-clock keys and then started to undress the fashion figures. The clocks exploded, and woke up Dutty and the Association's man—and they woke up Daddy. Well, well! There must have been a row."
Saul Murmer ambled across the room to where the assistants were sorting out the crushed dresses. "I wonder, ladies—" The lazy voice held the tone of indifference that marked the Inspector's more intense moments. "I wonder it one of you ladies could find the missing fashion figure for me. There should be a record of what figures—" he hesitated.
"There is not a figure missing from this room," one of the girls answered. "I—shall I—" She looked at the stout detective inquiringly.
"If you would be so kind!" Saul Murmer's frontal convex became concave for a brief moment. The girl left the room. Saul Murmer, hands again thrust deep in his pockets, watched the assistants' work of renovating, absorbingly.
Some yards away from the scene of activity Constable Harry Peck stood, watching the Inspector, a worried frown on his face. He could not understand what clues the Englishman was following. He started, as the door swung open, and the assistant who had gone in search of the missing fashion figure entered the room. She went direct to the Inspector. "Miss Lancing says there is no fashion figure missing—and she wants to know how much longer Sergeant Leyland is going to keep her from her own office."
"And she, a woman, asks that question of a mere man!" Saul Murmer's light eyebrows formed interrogation points. "Young lady, I would suggest that Miss Lancing asks Sergeant Leyland that question. At the moment the whole of my energies are concentrated on the mystery of the Missing Fashion Figure."
"But there isn't one missing," insisted the girl.
"Then there should be one missing," replied the Inspector, with equal emphasis.
"But—" interjected Harry Peck, who had followed the girl towards the Inspector.
"Listen, both of you!" The Inspector was staring unseeingly into the eyes of the pretty girl before him. "Once upon a time, there was a burglary at 'Florabella.' At that burglary—like this burglary—the burglars took nothing. This time, they wreaked their vengeance on ladies' attire; last time they smashed up a packing case. Yes." The inspector's voice became more serious, "Here we have now a Missing Fashion Figure, once contained in a packing case that was smashed to matchwood on a previous visit of the burglars."
"Oh, that one," exclaimed the girl. "Why—" She ran across to one of the group of girls, whispering eagerly.
Saul Murmer, turned quickly to face Miss Westways, who had just entered the show room.
"Why, Miss Westways—"
"Have you any news of Paddy?" Mathilde Westways face was drawn with anxiety. "Can't you—can't you find her—find out what has become of her?"
"Paddy's safe." The Englishman took both of the lady's hands in his, squeezing them comfortingly. "Don't worry, Miss Westways; we'll have her back soon."
"Oh, I hope so!" Miss Westways sighed, then quickly withdrew her hands from the Inspectors grasp, as the door opened and an assistant ushered in a lady and gentleman. Saul Murmer turned quickly at the interruption. When he saw who it was, broad smiles creased his face. He went to greet the newcomers with outstretched hands.
"Well, well. Who'd have thought it!" he exclaimed genially. "Captain Artemus Pontifex and—er—Mrs. Pontifex! How well you are looking. Why, it's ages since we met—and you were then Thelma Delevere—or shall I go back further to the time when I knew you as Mrs. Carrington Manning?"
Captain Pontifex, on seeing Inspector Murmer, had half-turned, as if thoughts of flight had come to his mind. Thelma Delevere, quicker witted, if with no clearer conscience than her companion, smiled sweetly in truly Hollywood fashion, swaying alluringly towards the detective. "Why—" A little bit of perplexity was merged with the stereotyped smile. "Yes, it is! Artemus, come here and meet my old friend, Sergeant—"
"Inspector, please." Saul Murmer beamed genially on the couple. "Inspector Murmer now. Quite an undeserved step in rank, but I couldn't resist the Chief Commissioner's entreaties, after that little affair in Tottenham Court road. You remember that incident; it was when I first met you."
"The—" The woman hesitated; her face hardened slightly. Inspector Murmer had referred to an incident in her past she badly wanted to forget. She flushed heavily under her platinum blonde make-up.
"Ah, you haven't forgotten, any more than I have." Saul Murmer's smile was astonishing in its innocence; "Well, my dear, you gave me a surprise on that occasion—perhaps I can give you one now. A pleasant one, I know! Come along, m'dear!"
The detective placed his hand on the woman's arm, urging her forward. For a moment she held back, then allowed herself to be led forward passively.
"Say," Captain Pontifex's full tones rang through the room. He advanced threateningly on the Inspector, his stick held in his clenched fist. "What's this? A pinch?"
"A pinch?" The guileless innocence in the baby-blue eyes of the Inspector almost made Captain Pontifex recall all his sins. "Why no, my gallant captain! I am only escorting a mother to a reunion with her long-lost son."
SERGEANT Lionel Leyland was perplexed an annoyed; he could not explain, even to himself, which emotion was the greater. The information that he was to be superseded on the inquiry by Inspectors Pater and Murmer had displeased him; yet there appeared to be some hint of a sun shining for his benefit. He had taken occasion to get to the telephone and ring up his friend, Carrington Manning, but the financier had not sounded very assured when he was informed of the position at "Florabella." For a time, to Sergeant Leyland's fevered imagination, the financier had appeared to dally with the problem. Finally, he had suggested that the Sergeant ring him later—there he became more definitely promising that he would have certain good news.
Leaving the telephone, Sergeant Leyland had sought advice from the son of his friend. For once the youth had proved informative. He had suggested that the Sergeant keep strictly in the company of his superior officers. To the perplexed officer, that advice did not sound too original, but already he had learned not to expect originality of suggestion from the young man. As he parted from the youth, to follow the advice solicited and given, the thought came to him that had Theo Manning been the son of a less wealthy man, he would not have sought advice from him at all.
Theo Manning, left to his own devices, considered that, in his opinion, his presence was entirely unnecessary at "Florabella." He left Miss Lancing's office and wandered out in the showrooms, determined to keep at least one eye open for an opportunity to leave Swayne Court unobserved. Chance ordered that he was a witness of the meeting between Inspector Murmer and the Pontifexes—and he decided that retreat would be good strategy. As plain-clothes Constable Peck was barring the logical exit from the premises, Theo took refuge in Miss Westways' office.
From what he had overheard he believed that the Inspector would conduct his enforced guests to Miss Lancing's office; then he would again attempt to leave the premises. The spectacle of Inspector Murmer, with Thelma Delevere, entering Miss Westways' office a few seconds after his retirement there, almost overcame him. He braced himself to meet the situation he saw developing.
"Just as I thought!" Saul Murmer's voice held a dangerously gentle purr when he saw the youth in company with Miss Westways. "I thought I would find you here, Theo. Miss Westways, you know Miss Delevere, I believe, the famous Hollywood star, and a valued customer of yours. Now you shall witness my grand surprise, and see Miss Delevere in a role that will develop her abilities to the utmost."
He paused impressively. "Mrs. Pontifex, permit me to present to you Mr. Theo Manning, the son of the illustrious and wealthy financier, Mr. Carrington Manning. You surely must have heard of him, if you have resided in Sydney for any time. He is Sydney, in a financial sense, I assure you."
Saul Murmer's voice literally dripped honey over everyone in the room. Theo, recovering himself with an effort, bowed in his best society manner. Miss Westways smiled, and looked curious. She had learned that when Saul Murmer was verbose and particularly sweet in speech something startling and original was bound to happen.
"And now, my dear Pontifex, my surprise." The Englishman had assumed the airs and graces of a ringmaster of the Barnum period. "I trust the shock will not be too great for you." He glanced from the woman to the youth, and the unusually straight-set lips parted in a slight smile.
"Allow me to present Mr. Theo Manning in a new role—in the role of your long-lost and lamented son. Theo, behold your mother!"
Saul Murmer bowed and stepped back, leaving the woman and the youth facing each other. Unfortunately, in stepping back, he stepped on Inspector Pater's toe.
The muttered objurgations of the Australian tended to spoil the dramatic climax to which the Englishman had worked. For a moment Theo Manning glared at the woman, desperation in his eyes. Thelma hesitated, her face showing her conflicting emotions. Slowly she advanced a step—and broke the spell of silence that had settled on those in the room. Theo backed away hastily.
"That's a lie—" The youth turned on the detective angrily. "My mother's dead."
"Only divorced, my dear fellow!" Saul Murmer's smile was almost paternal. "Miss Thelma Delevere—Hollywood actresses never part with their maiden names—is now Mrs. Artemus Pontifex, and was once Mrs Carrington Manning. Before that—but why tread back on history's footsteps. Sufficient unto the day is the—Well, well, you know the rest of that saying. No, Theo, you can take my word that all I have said is the truth. You should be pleased at finding so beautiful and gracious a mother. You still doubt? Then perhaps Mrs. Pontifex will confirm my statements."
Age seemed to have crept suddenly on the woman, now standing facing her son in the middle of the room. For a brief, second her hand moved up and outwards. Lines showed under the heavy make-up on her face. Suddenly she covered her face with her hands, and a shudder shook her body. Tense, she turned to face, the watching Inspector.
"You beast!" Her hard eyes glared at the man, hate showing in every line of her face and body. She stepped forward quickly and struck him heavily in the face with her open hand.
"My dear Thelma—" Captain Pontifex stepped forward quickly, catching at his wife's hands, expostulating. "You mustn't—You really mustn't."
"You—you—" The woman struggled against the restraint. She turned furiously on her husband. "And you—you call yourself a man and stand there and let me be insulted like that."
With a sudden wrench she freed herself, tears streaming down her face. For a moment she glared round the little group of curious faces watching her, then rushed to the door and flung it open.
"Eh, what—" Sergeant Leyland staggered back on receiving on his ample bosom a buxom and beautiful lady. "I beg your pardon, madam."
"You needn't!" Thelma glared at the Sergeant, then thrust him to one side. Again she made for the door, to confront Sergeant Pater, who had moved quietly, to cover her exit.
"Nicely played, John!" Saul Murmer, in no way disturbed by the woman's display of temper, yet stroking carefully a smarting cheek, nodded approval. He glanced at Sergeant Leyland, staring goggle-eyed and bewildered.
"Glad you came then, Sergeant. Will you please escort Mrs. and Captain Pontifex to the showroom, where Constable Peck is on guard. They are to be held for the present."
"Then we are under arrest?" Captain Pontifex's manly bosom swelled with righteous anger. "I demand—yes, I demand to be informed of the charge against me at once."
"Dear me!" Saul Murmer was again all smiles, yet his hand tenderly caressed his smarting cheek. "I thought I said detained—not arrested."
"Confound your platitudes!" The Captain twirled his military cane vigorously. "I demand—"
"To be taken to the show room at once." The Englishman was insistent. "If you will lead the way, Sergeant, I am sure Mrs. and Captain Pontifex will be glad to follow you."
Sullenly the two adventurers followed the Sergeant from the room. With a little nod and a quiet smile to Miss Westways, Inspector Murmer urged John Pater to the door.
As they followed the trio in front, the stout detective whispered a few brief sentences to his companion. Inspector Pater nodded and grinned. In the showroom they found Miss Lancing urging her assistants to greater efforts to restore the room to normal. Hearing the party enter, she turned and glared at them.
"So sorry, Miss Lancing." Saul Murmer was all apologies and smiles. "I have every reason to believe that we shall very shortly clear up this—er—little unpleasantness. In the meantime, I am sure I may rely on your forbearance with my—er—manlike abruptness and—er—want of tact."
For the moment Inspector Pater feared he would be a witness to a second feminine attack on his stout companion. Miss Lancing's svelte figure straightened, and her eyes flashed fire. With an effort she controlled herself, nodded and turned again to her work. But Inspector Murmer was not yet finished with the lady.
"There is, I believe—" he continued, and there was subtle sweetness in his soft voice. "You will understand, my dear Miss Lancing, that I have a supreme faith in a woman's intuition—"
Over her shoulder Miss Lancing again glared at the Englishman; then turned and laughed. "What is it, Inspector?" she asked. "I quite understand you are trying to placate me, but—" The manageress hesitated, then pointed at Sergeant Leyland, who immediately strove to render himself as inconspicuous as possible—"but that man has been a little too—"
"Let me apologise for him—and try to explain." Saul Murmer exuded geniality. "Sergeant Leyland is one of our best officers, and a very fine fellow, as well as a married man. Of course, you are aware that police training does not at present extend to courses of etiquette in modistes' establishments."
Again Miss Lancing laughed; for the time her well-trained aloofness disappeared. "You are trying to inform me, Inspector—"
"To request you to use your feminine intuition, which all men respect and admire." Inspector Murmer bowed profoundly. "You will remember, a short while ago, a certain patented fashion figure was sent from England to Miss Westways. I think you will remember remarking to me on the peculiarity that a recent—er—forcible entry of this establishment only resulted in the destruction of the—er—packing case in which the figure—"
"You want the fashion figure that came to us in that case." Miss Lancing interrupted with business-like brevity. She turned to one of the assistants. "Ethel—"
The girl stepped forward. "Yes, Miss Lancing?"
"The English fashion figure—where is it?"
"In the display window, Miss Lancing. You will remember—"
"Thank you." Saul Murmer stared at the girl for a moment, then laughed.
"What's the joke, Saul?" John Pater looked bewildered.
"The joke is on the burglars, John." The Englishman was doubled with laughter, tears streaming down his face. "Just think, John! Those burglars broke in here last night, disturbed Miss Westways' beautifully arranged rooms, disturbed the peaceful repose of three noted wanderers of the night, and if they'd gone round to Swayne Court, the figure they were after was staring at them through the shop window. What a joke! They only had to break the window and collar the figure, and Daddy Thornton could have finished his night's repose in comfort!"
"But—" stuttered the tall Australian.
"May we have the fashion figure, Miss Lancing?"
Stifling his merriment, Saul Murmer turned again to the manageress. "Awfully sorry to disturb your window display, but with that figure I believe we shall clear up all the mystery in very-quick time."
"Clear up the mystery?" John Pater shrugged. "Why, we—"
"Walt a moment, John." The Englishman dug his companion hard in the ribs. John Pater made a remark, purposely inaudible, as there were ladies present.
Miss Lancing had turned to two of her assistants, giving a few brief-orders. The girls lifted one of the fashion figures in the room and went to the window. In a few minutes they returned bearing in their arms the fashion figure that, throughout the previous day and night had adorned "Florabella's" show window.
"This is the stand you mean, I believe, Inspector?" Miss Lancing looked at the fashion figure with curiosity and interest. "Do you wish me to disrobe it?"
"If you have no objection, Miss Lancing." Inspector Murmer hesitated; then came a glint of irony into his very innocent eyes. "If you wish, we men will—or—turn our backs during the process."
"I do not see any necessity for that," Miss Lancing's icy demeanour returned suddenly. She did not approve of English humour. In a few seconds the dress draping the figure was removed, and Miss Lancing stepped book, waving her hand towards the nude wax dummy.
"Is that all, Inspector?" The lady's eyes were gleaming with curiosity.
"For the present, yes."
Inspector Murmer advanced and scanned the figure closely. He turned and nodded to Inspector Pater, who went quickly to his side.
"We've got it, John!" Saul Murmer's voice held excitement. "See here!" His levelled finger wavered a moment, then traced on the abdomen of the figure a circle some inches in diameter.
John Pater bent to look closer, then shook his head.
"No? Can't see it?" Deliberately Saul Murmer toppled the figure to the ground and knelt beside it. "Well, watch!"
Again his forefinger traced the circle, this time the nail bearing hard on the wax. Twice his finger traced the circle, each time a small curl of wax preceding it. At the second circling a line appeared on the figure. For long minutes the two Inspectors worked to discover how the lid to the cavity in the figure was fastened. At length the Englishman looked up.
"Screwed in, or something like that," he observed. "And I don't want to smash the thing up, if possible. We'll see it we can prise it out; I've got to have what's underneath."
"What is underneath?" asked John Pater, puzzled.
"Sure. The contents of that cavity. Not guessed yet, John? Well, what I want is what the burglars were after. Under this lid, we'll find the answers to those strange letters to Miss Westways, the practical jokes that were not jokes at all—and I believe the solution of the Salom Club murder. Ah, thanks, constable!"
He reached up and took the heavy clasp knife Constable Peck was holding out to him. For some minutes he worked with the knife on the edge of the circle. Slowly the lid moved in a circular motion. The Englishman increased the pressure on the knife and, very slowly, the lid turned off.
John Pater, now kneeling beside his police comrade, peered into the revealed cavity. The space was packed with oblong white-papered parcels, secured with wax seals. Saul Murmer took out one of the packets.
"Guessed yet, John?" He looked quizzically at the Australian.
"Dope," hazarded John Pater.
"Lord, there's a lot of it, if it's dope." He tore the white paper aside eagerly, and lifted from its fragments thick bundles of white oblong slips of crinkly-sounding paper. With a. queer little gesture of satisfaction he waved the papers at the Australian.
"Banknotes!" Inspector Pater's eyes-almost started out of his head.
"Banknotes, and quite—"
"Quite a lot of them." The Englishman was searching the interior of the-figure. One after another he brought out bundles, similar to the first, bound in white paper and secured with wax seals. Then, groping in the far interior of the figure, he drew out smaller packets at sight of which his face became very grave.
"That's dope, I believe, John," he whispered. "Lord, what's here? Pounds of dope and reams of banknotes!" He took up the packet of banknotes he had unwrapped, and flicked them through his fingers. "See, John! All kinds of denominations here, and some of them have been in circulation for quite a while. We've made a haul, boy."
John Pater stared at the Bank of England notes with an expression that was a strange mixture of awe and amazement. Almost tearfully, he stretched out a hand and fingered the edges of the notes.
"Forged, Saul?" he said. "Jove, what a haul."
"Forged?" Saul Murmer grinned up at his friend. "I don't think so! If they are, I shall be very disappointed."
A STRANGE, tensed atmosphere pervaded the showroom. By the prone fashion figure knelt the Englishman, delving into the interior of the fashion figure with inquisitive fingers. Beside him stood Inspector Pater, gazing down in perplexity on the pile of banknotes lying between him and Saul Murmer. In his hand he held a packet of the banknotes, partly revealed by the torn wrappings, and at intervals he absently ran his fingers along an edge, producing a strangely satisfying rustle of stiff paper. Behind the Inspector stood Sergeant Leyland, his mouth partly open, his eyes staring fishlike at the exposed banknotes in the Inspector's hand, and those on the floor. Close to the head of the prone fashion figure was Miss Lancing, her eyes passing from the English police officer to the Australian. Further back from the little group stood Constable Peck, and almost surrounding him were the girl-assistants, whispering and giggling.
Sergeant Leyland slowly recovered from the amazement that had swept over him when Inspector Murmer had opened the cache in the fashion figure. He tugged mournfully at his moustaches, and occasionally bit his lips in vexation. Just his luck!
If the Inspectors had not persuaded Superintendent to place them in charge of the case he himself, would have uncovered this vast haul—and he, Sergeant Leyland, would have been the lauded and acclaimed police officer of the State. Yes. A few minutes reflection, after the cache was opened, and he had recovered from his initial astonishment, convinced Sergeant Leyland that Fate had dealt him another dirty trick. He glared venomously at the bending back of the stout Englishman.
For a single moment he wondered exactly what was the meaning of the find; then shrugged. That would have to be discovered before it could be revealed. He was not at all disconcerted by Inspector Murmer's assumption of full knowledge, and of being "led" to the find by some clues that were obscure to himself and others. That was the Englishman's habitual manner. He always looked as if he knew everything in the world—while in fact he was only guessing! Well, others could guess as well as any undersized, tubby, waddling duck of a Cockney!
The Sergeant's heart swelled with wrath! Carrington Manning had told him to wait and watch. He had told him to report to him anything that the Inspectors discovered. Should he report this find of Bank of England notes? It hardly seemed worth while. Even a rich and influential man could not take the credit of the discovery from Inspector Murmer and allot it to a more worthy recipient. The Sergeant shrugged; then doubt came. Perhaps he had better report the find to the financier. Brains that could make money in large quantities might have the ability to do other things. Yet he was beginning to doubt. Beset by indecisions, Sergeant Leyland glanced round the circle of faces, all absorbed in the actions of the stout Englishman. His eyes rested for a moment on Miss Lancing's face—and a thought came to his mind. Miss Lancing's office would be vacant—and there was a telephone in it.
Again he looked round the circle; they were all intent on the two Inspectors and the pile of Bank of England notes on the thick pile of the showroom carpet. No one would notice him if he slipped from the room for a few minutes. His eyes wandered to where Theo Manning stood, an absorbed, but perplexed, witness, of the discovery of the banknotes. The youth looked up, caught Sergeant Leyland's eyes, and nodded.
Sergeant Leyland boasted that he was always able to take a hint. In fact, the taking of hints was one of his chief failings. He originated little, preferring to wait for some indication of action from others, and then try and assume their knowledge. Now he assumed Theo Manning's hint, indicated in that brief nod.
He backed furtively from the little circle towards the door, although there was no possible reason why he should not turn and walk out of the room boldly. Once outside the door, he literally ran to the manageress's office. He dialled the Double Bay number, and waited feverishly watching the door of the room, one ear stretched for the sounds of footsteps coming in his direction. He cursed under his breath at the small delay in getting the connection and, when the bright, crisp voice of the financier came on the wire almost sighed his relief.
"Mr. Carrington Manning? Detective-Sergeant Lionel Leyland speaking, Mr. Carrington Manning."
In spite of his haste and worry he could not refrain from repeating his full name and title. "There's been a development here, sir. Inspectors Pater and Murmer have made a find."
"A find? Well, what is it, man? Hurry up! I know you're at 'Florabella,' so there's no need to go into any rigmarole. What's happened? Can't you speak? What's happened?"
"Inspector Murmer has discovered a quantity of Bank of England notes hidden in one of the dress dummies, sir. There's thousands of 'em—he's still pulling 'em out!'
"Well?" The question came after a long pause.
"What am I to do?"
There was almost pathos in the Sergeant's tones. He glanced anxiously at the door. If anyone came while he was talking to the financier there would be questions asked and—
You know, sir, this is a big score for the Englishman."
"Where's the money?" asked Carrington Manning, and Sergeant Leyland thought there was anxiety in the crisp voice.
"Piled on the floor of the showroom, with Inspector Pater standing guard over it. And there's other things, too. Inspector Pater said something about dope. Say, what can I do? They'll get a lot of credit for this! What can I do?"
"Who's there?" The voice at the other end of the telephone wire sounded more assured.
"All of them—the staff and everyone else, including Constable Peck. Oh, Miss Westways is not there. I think she's in her office."
Again the Sergeant glanced anxiously towards the door. He had forgotten Miss Westways up to that moment. It she wanted, Miss Lancing and came to that room—to find him talking to someone on the Inspector's business. She would certainly tell Inspector Murmer, and then—
"Bad!" The one word was followed by a long silence. Sergeant Leyland waited, the receiver held rigidly to his ear. Twice he "hullo-ed" into the receiver, to receive no reply. He was tempted to replace the receiver on the hook, believing that the financier had abandoned him in his troubles; yet held on, in desperate hope. Almost as his fears and impatience had crystallised to a climax of abandon, Carrington Manning's voice came through the instrument.
"We've got to have time, Sergeant. We've got to find some means to gain time," The financier's voice held its old arrogance and assurance. "Yes, time!" The man was silent for a few moments. Then: "Listen, Sergeant, and listen carefully. You must make no mistake or alterations in the course of action I am about to outline to you. Now, listen! You know there is another matter which is causing Inspector Murmer some anxiety."
"That girl!" replied the Sergeant brightly. He prided himself on his accurate guess.
"That's it! Now, listen!" For long minutes Carrington Manning spoke in certain plain sentences. Occasionally Sergeant Leyland nodded. When the financier concluded his instructions the police officer was beaming with delight.
"I've got you, sir. The girl's in a house in Surry Hills. Yes, I've got the address correct. She's held there a prisoner. Good! I'll tell Inspector Murmer at once—tell him I got it from one of my stool-pigeons. Sure! He'll, leave everything here and go after that girl. I know that. Why, he thinks she's the one and only, anyone can see that! Yes, sir, I understand. While he's rescuing the girl, you'll act. That'll put a spoke in his wheel."
Triumph gleamed in the Sergeant's eyes. "Sure, sir! You'll let me hear from you later."
"Of course." Carrington Manning's voice oozed assurance and confidence. "Get to it. Sergeant. When you've got the girl ring me again, and—" There came a quick pause; then crisper: "Tell Theo he must get in touch with me at once."
Over the line came a slight click, token that the financier had replaced the receiver on its stand. Sergeant Leyland turned from his telephone, a smile of gloating triumph on his full lips. He didn't understand the reason for what he had been instructed to do—but he knew he was quite competent and alert to take a hint. Later, perhaps—
Strange about that girl, Paddy Burke. How had Carrington Manning got to know that she was missing? Stranger still that he should have been able to trace her where the Police Department had failed. Sergeant Leyland shook his big head thoughtfully.
Of course, the man was a financier—one of the money kings of the world—and money could do anything! Men like him had avenues of information open that were closed to others, even to Police Departments.
The girl! Yes, Inspector Murmer would be pleased to know that she had been located. Yet, what tale had he to tell the Inspector to explain how he had come by the Information in a logical manner—in a way that would not cause curiosity as to the source of his information? In spite of his boast of stool-pigeons, that was the problem. He could not give Carrington Manning as his informant. The financier would be angry, and Inspector Murmer would certainly question him. He would say that he had received his information from one of the stool pigeons he had established in the underworld. Everyone at the Police Department had lately wondered at the reliability of the information he received; information that Myson had given him.
Yes, that would do! Now he had to state how he had got in touch with his stool, pigeon. If he could get down to Police Headquarters he could telephone Inspector Murmer from there. But in the case the Inspector would act by himself—and Sergeant Leyland had every possible objection to being left out of any prominent picture. He could—Sergeant Leyland stood in the centre of Miss Lancing's office, his brows creased in deep thought. He could—Yes, that was it! He could say that he had left the showroom for a moment and had heard the telephone ringing in Miss Lancing's office. He could say that he had answered the telephone and one of his informants had spoken to him—for he had given his stool pigeons that address for the morning, if they had any news to communicate to him.
Bright idea! He could do just that! The Sergeant hurried out of the room, through the intervening showrooms, to where the group still clustered about the prone fashion figure. He smiled when he saw everyone engrossed with the problem of the banknotes. Well, he would give at least one of them something else to think about: Pushing roughly through the little crowd, he bent and caught Inspector Murmer by the arm.
"Inspector Murmer, if you please, a moment!" Sergeant Leyland simulated a man who conveyed important news. "I must have a word with you, at once."
He dragged the stout Inspector to his feet, through the little crowd, to a quite corner of the room. He spoke in a low whisper.
"About that girl, Inspector, The one that was abducted last night."
"Yes?" Saul Murmer turned doubting eyes on the burly Sergeant. "The girl who was abducted last night? You mean Miss Paddy Burke, Sergeant. Now, how did you learn of that case? I understand you came here early this morning: soon after you arrived at headquarters."
"The news was through then, Inspector." For once the Sergeant departed from fiction to truth. "I heard it directly I arrived at the offices. Thought I'd make a few inquiries on my own, and telephoned some friends—you know the sort of friends I mean? You've used them yourself."
"Yes?" Saul Murmer spoke drowsily. Under his half-closed lids his eyes were wary and alert.
"Well, sir." Sergeant Leyland drew himself up, swelling out his manly chest. "One of 'em's just telephoned through to me. Says the girl is being held by white slavers in a house in Surry Hills. I've got the address, sir."
"That's interesting." The detective's voice was indifferent. "And you think your friend was telling the truth?"
"He'd better!" Again the burly chest assumed prominence. "I've got it on him, sir, and if he sends me off on any wild-goose chase, I'll—"
Not a line of Saul Murmer's face or body showed the tensed emotions which held him. He stood before the large sergeant to all outward aspects utterly indifferent to the news he had received. He distrusted the man—and his news. He did not believe him—yet he could not—dared not—neglect this clue to Paddy's whereabouts. If the girl was in the hands, of white slavers—
What option in the matter had he Whether the news was true or false, he had to accept it at face value. He had to go to Surry Hills, to this house; but Sergeant Leyland would accompany him. He could not get away from the first thoughts that had come to him when Sergeant Leyland had come to him with his news; that the man wanted to get him away from 'Florabella' and the loot that had been discovered.
Why, he could not guess; but the thought remained.
"And what does Detective-Sergeant Lionel Leyland suggest?"
The innocent blue eyes opened disconcertingly wide: the lazy voice held a slight sarcastic drawl.
"Why, sir—" The police officer looked down on the rotund Englishman with amazement. "I thought, sir—"
"You thought!" Saul Murmer's smile was disarming. "Awfully good of you to think, Sergeant. Well, now what did you think?"
"I thought you'd decide to raid the place, sir." The Sergeant lost some of his assurance. He hesitated. "Of course, my—my informant can't guarantee that the girl's there now, but he's certain she was there last night."
"But may have moved during the early hours of this morning?" The Englishman nodded; he stiffened slightly. "Yes, we'll raid this place, you and I, and it we find the girl there, Sergeant, I'll not forget you."
He swung on his heels and went to the group surrounding Inspector Pater and the fashion figure. At the edge of the group he turned again to Sergeant Leyland: "Telephone headquarters for men to surround that house, Sergeant. Ask Superintendent Dixon to send a man to meet us at the house with a search warrant, and say that you and are going direct there from here. Say we'll be there in a quarter of an hour, and to have everything ready for a quick raid. You'll have to speak in my name. Sergeant, of course."
The Englishman pushed through the little group to the side of Inspector Pater. A few words brought the gist of Sergeant Leyland's information.
"What do you think of it, Saul?" asked the tall Australian.
"Phony, maybe—but we mustn't forget that Leyland seems to have acquired mysterious sources of information of late. We can't risk it, John—though I suspect he's just trying to draw us from our kill."
Saul Murmer pondered an instant. "Yes, he did look pleased when I said I'd go and leave you alone here. Now, why? I'd have thought he would want you and I to go and to leave him in charge here."
"So?" John Pater pursed his lips in a soundless whistle. "Yes, you and he had better go, Saul. What about the mess here?"
"You're here, John." Saul Murmer grinned. "You know how to handle things in Australia better than I do. Go on with it; you've done well, so far."
John Pater shrugged. What had to be "gone on with" at "Florabella?" They had found what the burglars had sought, although they had not discovered one clue to the identity of the burglars. They had certainly discovered something—but what that "something" was he could not at present decide.
Standing guard over the piles of banknotes, John Pater watched Saul Murmer whisper instructions to Sergeant Leyland. He noticed the pleased expression that came on the police officer's stolid face. He grinned as he watched the duped man nod eagerly and hurry from the room; he laughed openly when he saw Inspector Murmer lever himself laboriously into his overcoat and look round for his hat. "Shan't be long, John." Inspector Murmer waved farewell over the heads of the whispering girls.
"I'm taking Sergeant Leyland with me. Constable Peck will help you guard your new-found wealth. S'long!"
In the general offices Saul Murmer found the Sergeant busy at the telephone. He waited until the man had finished, then beckoned him to follow into Swayne Court. There the stout Englishman waited for the Sergeant to catch up to him, and slipped his hand into the crook of the suddenly gratified man's elbow.
"You're good at getting information, Lionel," Saul Murmer flattered. "Especially of late. How do you do it?"
"I've got me lines out, sir." The Sergeant was beaming at these signs of his superior officer's favour. "A man has to have 'em to succeed in 'our work."
"Naturally," The Englishman urged his companion in the direction of Pitt Street. "You've got your lines, as you say, and you don't seem inclined to explain them." The baby-stare became more innocent, if possible. "Well, I don't blame you. The successful detective has his own methods and they differ, more or less, from the routine lines laid down by the Department. If we didn't develop our own special abilities we'd all work on routine lines and there'd be steals everywhere. There's a taxi! Give the man the address and hop in!"
Saul Murmer scrambled into the vehicle and waited until he was joined by the Sergeant. "Now, when you get to England, Lionel—" Very genially, the stout Inspector rambled on while Lionel Leyland listened, his breast swelling with pride and ambition. Gradually his opinion, of the Englishman underwent a startling reversal. The man was not so bad after all! Not clever, of course, or even cunning, but with a certain routine aptitude, that had, no doubt, served him—with some luck. One thing, he could recognise ability when he saw it, and be was not at all adverse to acknowledging a mistake. Now—
Sergeant Leyland lay back on the semi-soft cushions and pondered, if there were no guile in the man beside him, then he had won Inspector Murmer as a friend and backer. And, with Inspector Murmer freely acknowledging his former errors, there was a possibility that he would Influence the Superintendent—sweep away all Dixon's former prejudices. Then, what lay before him—Sergeant Leyland? He almost shouted his triumph aloud. An Inspectorship, of course. Inspector Murmer would see to that. A journey, to England. Well, why not? And then—at New Scotland Yard, London, with Inspector Murmer his very good friend and backer. Maybe Chief Inspector Murmer, for rumour in the New South Wales Police Department freely told that when the Inspector's term of Australian duty expired he would receive the coveted step in rank. Then, with Chief Inspector Saul Murmer, one of the Big Three—
The gentle voice of the stout police officer droned on, filling the taxi with a hypnotic dream of conquest and success. Inspector Leyland! Asked by the Chief Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, London, to resign from his present service and accept high rank and at the centre of the Empire—impressing the English authorities with his gifts of deduction, his accuracy, his swift and certain swoops on the myrmidon gangs of malefactors infesting the queen city of the British Empire.
Sergeant Leyland snapped out of his day-dream as the taxi came to a stop before a mean-looking house in a by-street of Surry Hills. He thrust open the door and stepped out, turning to give a helping hand to the stout man struggling through the narrow door.
"That's right, Lionel." Inspector Murmer gratefully accepted the preferred help. "Fat's troublesome if you don't know that now, you may some day. Ah! At one time I set my heart on a Superintendency—sometimes the gold leaves decorating the Commissioner's cap danced before my eyes in my dreams. But they don't make fat men Commissioners of Police. They wouldn't look well, when dressed up for functions, and that sort of thing. You've got to have military looking men for the show work, y' know. So I'm only an Inspector—a lucky one—good at guessing, as no doubt you've discovered, eh? Now, don't blush, man. I know, my luck, and I'm not ashamed of it."
The Englishman ceased speaking as a uniformed sergeant strolled up the street to meet them. "Ah, here's Sergeant Walton!" he continued, in the same rambling manner. "Got the place sewed up, Sergeant? Good! Then Sergeant Leyland and I will go inside. Keep 'em in, Sergeant. I'll whistle if I want help—but with Leyland with me, that's not possible."
It was only the stern sense of discipline suppressing natural inclinations that prevented Sergeant Leyland from leading the way to the front door of the house; he held back, humbly following in the short, ambling steps of his superior officer, yet his heart swelled. Behind that door lay his last step to success and recognition. The discovery of the girl in the house would be his vindication. Pah! He was already vindicated in the opinion of the fat fool walking before him. Well, well! He would know how to use him further. Yes, he would use him, but he would not forget! The memories of those months of sarcastic pin-pricks and innuendos still rankled. Yes, he would use this man. Then when he got the step in rank he deserved and expected—when he was Inspector Leyland—when he was at New Scotland Yard! There he would gain higher honours—to him, the perfect detective in form and ability, there were no ambitions beyond reach—then Inspector Murmer should know what it was to work under a keen, efficient and highly-trained superior.
A woman answered the door of the house in answer to Inspector Murmer's gentle knock. For a moment she stared, open-eyed, at the rotund Englishman on the steps, then backed quickly and strove to shut the door.
Inspector Murmer's boot blocked the action, and he laughed gently.
"Come along, Lionel!" Eighteen stone of solid flesh and bone leaned heavily against the door, bearing back on the woman. "Come along in, Lionel. I want to introduce you to an old friend, Miss Nellie Trask!"
"Yes, it's little Nellie." Saul Murmer stood in the narrow passage, within the door, his broad face beaming glad recognition on the scowling woman. "Quite an old, friend, Lionel. Now, who'd have thought of seeing you here, Nellie? Last time we met—No, you wouldn't like me to mention that last time, would you, Nellie? Bygones should be bygones, shouldn't they, Nellie?"
"What do you want?" The woman, thin, narrow-chested, round shouldered and anaemic, her platinum blonde hair in startling contrast to her skin on which dark make-up showed heavily, huddled against the wall, her sullen eyes defiant. "Say, you've got nothing on me."
"Never had, Nellie." Saul Murmer's smile was bland and genial. "I didn't put you in Bentonville, so why blame me. I only came to see you out of pure friendship—and because I thought you had some little information I lacked—and you had; you gave it to me, quite friendly and all that. So we're friends, aren't we? Now—"
The Inspector edged slowly down the hall.
"You can't come in here!" The woman suddenly shouted at the top of her voice. "I say, you dicks can't come in here."
"But we are in, dearie." Saul Murmer chuckled. "You wouldn't turn us out in the cold, dirty streets again, would you? That's not the way you treated me when I called on you while you were living in one of King George's palaces—"
"I tell you—" The woman's shrill tones rang through, the empty passages of the house. "You can't come in! You've got to have a warrant to come in here."
The Inspector stared blankly. "Now, Lionel, what does a nice, pure, innocent, lady-like little girl like Nellie Trask, know of warrants? Tut, tut, dearie; we don't talk of such things between friends—do we, Nellie dear?"
"No, I'm not!" The woman almost snarled. "You've gotta get out. There's me lodgers in here, and you'll disturb them and I wouldn't—" She backed down the passage before the advancing detectives. "Thank 'eaven they're here! I wouldn't be alone with a nasty oily snake like you for all the gold in China!"
"Tea, Nellie, tea!" Saul Murmer continued to edge forward, his eyes on a closed door behind the woman. "Only Governments have gold, nowadays. We common people have to feel we're well treated if we get a cup of tea, now and again."
"Where's yer warrant?" reiterated the woman. She had come to a stop before the closed door and showed no signs of further retreat.
"Have a look at him, Nellie." Inspector Murmer nodded back at Sergeant Leyland, now close behind him. "Won't he do for nice warrant, Nellie? He should! Fine man, Nellie; handsome and clever—but he's married. Sad, Nellie; isn't it?"
For the moment the girl was off her guard. Saul Murmer turned softly, not to the door the woman was guarding, but to the one opposite her, flinging it open and striding into the room. As he entered two men, seated at a round table in the centre of the room, sprang to their feet.
"Tony Matelli and Samuel Smithy—Senor Smith it was last time, wasn't it, Sam? Oh, come, in, Lionel. Here are some more old friends! Strange, I can find English friends wherever I go in Australia."
"Where's your warrant?" Nellie Trask thrust her way into the room, confronting the Inspector. "You look out, Murmer, I'll report you for forcibly entering my house without a warrant."
"Then you won't take Sergeant Leyland, Nellie?" Saul Murmer shook his head dejectedly. "Then I suppose he'll have to take you—and your two friends here—
"You've got nothing—" commenced Tony Matelli, backing to a corner of the room, his right hand fumbling at the top button of his waistcoat.
"Stick 'em up!" Two swift steps, and Saul Murmer was before the man; a sudden movement threw the man's hands above his head. The Inspector's hand fumbled for a moment under the man's left armpit. "Ah, a gun, Tony. Naughty, naughty! You saw him, Lionel? Thought so. And I don't believe Tony has a licence." The detective's smooth tones suddenly hardened. "Watch Smithy—he usually prefers a knife. Ah, good man! Another concealed weapon! And Nellie—"
"You can't hold me!" Mad with anger, the girl swung round on the Sergeant, struggling with the second crook. "I say you can't, you—" She swung round, round-armed at the Sergeant, striking him across the face.
"Gently, Lionel!" The Englishman's cool tones stayed Leyland's sudden anger. "Yes, we can hold you, Nellie. Assaulting and hindering a police officer in the execution of his duty. Will that do, Nellie? Or would you like something a little more modern?"
The men lined quietly against the wall, while Sergeant Leyland searched them. From Tony he took another gun; Smithy was armed with two dangerous-looking knives. At sight of this armament Saul Murmer nodded his satisfaction.
"Any more friends here, Nellie?" he asked.
"I'm going to." Saul Murmer smiled gently. "Just what I intend to do, Nellie—and I shan't ask you to accompany me" He turned to the Sergeant: "Can you handle them, Lionel. I don't want to bring in Sergeant Walton just yet. You've got their guns and knives."
Sergeant Leyland grinned largely. He looked expertly at the three crooks lined against the wall, the woman between the two men, and laughed.
"Go ahead. Inspector. They're safe. But you—"
"I'll be all right; but good of you to think of me, Lionel. Won't be long." Saul Murmer closed the door of the room where Sergeant Leyland stood ward over his prisoners, and looked about the narrow, dirty passage. He shook his head as his eyes wandered over the various doors in the passage, then made his way to the stairs.
Panting wheezily, he ignored the rooms on the first floor and mounted to the floor under the roof. He glanced into two rooms before he found the door of the third room was looked. Nodding as it satisfied, he bent and carefully examined the lock; then went to one of the other doors and extracted the key. As he had expected, the key turned easily in the lock.
"Builders' locks!" Saul Murmer chuckled. "One key fits half a million—and they call them locks!"
Catching hold of the door-knob, warily, he thrust the door opened a bare inch and listened. There was no sound within the room, and the Inspector thrust the door right back and entered. There was no carpet on the floor. Opposite the door was a ramshackle iron cot and almost at the foot of it, under the sloping window, a packing-case covered with a piece of chintz, camouflaged as a dressing table. The walls were dirty and bare, and the ceiling full of holes, through which the slates of the-roof-showed dimly. The cot was covered with a nondescript collection of rags that had once been bedclothes, and discarded wearing apparel. On this mass of junk lay the form of a young girl.
Saul Murmer smiled as he stood for a moment and watched; then-ambled over to the bed and looked down on the girl.
"Getting adventurous, Paddy, aren't you?" he asked gently.
"You?" Paddy Burke opened wide eyes. "Why, Uncle Saul—I—I knew you'd come." She gasped a moment; then turned her face to the wall, crying silently.
"There, there, old dear."
The bedstead creaked as Saul Murmer's weight tested its strength. He patted her shoulder comfortingly. "There, there, Paddy! They haven't hurt you, have they?"
"Only threatened to." Paddy smiled through her tears. "I bit one of the men, you know."
"I know." Saul Murmer smiled. "When we got into the house and I saw Tony Matelli's left hand bound up in a particularly doubtful and entirely unhygienic handkerchief, I guessed you were here."
Paddy laughed, rather hysterically. "I bit him," she repeated, and choked on the words. "And Uncle Saul, do you know, I think Theo was-one of the men who—"
"Get up and put yourself straight, Paddy." Inspector Murmer spoke surely, manlike afraid of an attack of hysteria. "We're going walks."
As the girl rolled over on the bed he noticed for the first time that a thin, strong, steel chain bound her to the bedstead. For a moment his eyes blazed angrily. "Where's the key to this?" he asked abruptly.
"On the wall, Uncle Saul." Paddy spoke meekly; she did not feel at her best, chained to the dirty bed. "The woman hung it there when—"
Saul Murmer had already located the key. In a few seconds he had the padlock unfastened and threw the chain aside; then he almost lifted the girl to her feet. For a moment she swayed dizzily. The Inspector caught her round the waist and half-carried her to a chair before the cracked mirror on the makeshift dressing table.
"But, Uncle Saul—" protested the girl.
"To a man of my years!" Saul Murmer patted the girl's shoulder, affectionately. "Even an old bachelor like myself knows that no women ever left a bed without making a beeline for the mirror—especially after being rescued from an abduction. My child, you wouldn't be seen on the streets—or by Sergeant Leyland, one of the handsomest ornaments of our Department—like—"
Paddy laughed, shaking from her dress the many, creases it had gathered during the hours of her adventure. She shook a reproving finger at the Inspector.
"You know top much, Uncle Saul."
"Pooh, m'dear! A man, who doesn't know that a mirror is the first requisite in a woman's life isn't fit to get married!"
"Oh, Uncle Saul!" Paddy swung quickly round on her chair, her fingers pressing bedraggled waves into some semblance of form. "Is it a proposal?"
Saul Murmer was seated on the bed. He looked up from the note he was writing on a sheet of paper torn from his notebook.
"Paddy, there's a lady downstairs entertaining Sergeant Leyland with a careful and vivid description of his personal charms. If you don't hurry up, so that we get downstairs and save him, she may propose—and he's a very much married man!"
"Will he mind, dear?" Paddy's eyes were very innocent; yet she gave more attention to her renovations. Inspector Murmer finished his note as Paddy turned from the mirror and announced that she was again ready for public inspection.
Downstairs in the sitting room they found Sergeant Leyland and his three prisoners. The Sergeant beamed pridefully when the girl entered the room.
"Good work, Lionel." Saul Murmer nodded approval to the proud Sergeant. "I found Miss Burke chained to a bed in one of the upstairs rooms; Now, if you will be so good as to call Sergeant Walton and his merry men we'll get these friends of crime to headquarters."
Sergeant Leyland saluted impressively and left the room. Immediately Saul Murmer drew the girl to one side and pressed into her palm a tightly-folded wad of paper.
"Paddy, when you get to 'Florabella,' give this note to Inspector Pater. Not a word of it to anyone, and don't let Sergeant Leyland know you have it."
The girl nodded understandingly. She was about to speak, but at that moment the two Sergeants and a couple of constables entered the room. Saul Murmer held up a warning finger.
"Met again, Walton." The Inspector nodded as the uniformed Sergeant entered. "Well, here's a net full for you. Take them down to Central, Sergeant, and just hold them for questioning; I'll see what charges we can make when I get there. That's for you, Walton; for you, Lionel—"
The stout Inspector paused, reflectively stroking a very smooth chin. He glanced at Paddy, speculatively, before continuing. "For you, Lionel—I think the car we came here in is waiting down the road. It will serve nicely; and as you were Miss Burke's real rescuer, I suggest that it is only fitting you should deliver her to the waiting arms of her aunt, Miss Westways." A self-satisfied purr came in the smooth voice; "What can be more appropriate? The rescued damsel and her rescuer! Quite a paragraph for the newsboys, if they haven't already smelt out the story—"
Suddenly his voice changed. "Now, Paddy, run along and relieve your aunt's anxiety. She's been terribly worried over your disappearance."
"What are you going to do, Uncle Saul?" asked the girl. "Won't you come with us?"
"I'll be along soon, m'dear." Saul Murmer's hand pressed on the girl's hand holding the folded note, meaningly. "It happens, I have a speck of work that has to be done at once—and you know, I just hate work!"
THE spectacle of Tony Martelli, "Senor" Smithy, and Miss Nellie Taske in discreet procession and under proper escort, walking from the door of No. 51 Likers Street to their waiting taxis, held almost a veneer of aristocratic seclusion that might have provoked the ire of a Communist. To the Surry Hill crowds it gave only interest that might have been expressed in subdued cheers but for the innate modesty of the witnesses in the presence of their police protectors. They watched, whispering eagerly among themselves, telling of gory deeds that might have been, of fabulous sentences that might be imposed. They lingered long after the principals in their little mystery drama had driven from sight in almost regal state; they lingered in the hope that "something" still might happen—then speculated whether Miss Paddy Burke was not a noted baby-farmer, or the adventuress of one of Mr. Phillip Oppenheim's novels—for she was certainly guarded by the most important, impressive and overwhelming of specimens from Central Lane in the cast. And still they lingered.
Instinct dictated that when Inspector Saul Murmer ambled gently out of the door of "Fifty-one," hopes grew high, for did not always the best come last. They had learned that wisdom from forefathers who, in some mysterious place and past known as "Home", had watched and thrilled to true drama in strange houses known as "The Elephant and Castle" and the "Shoreditch."
They viewed the rotund figure, the smiling, innocent-looking face, the baby-blue-eyed stare, and the well-curved red lips, with shivers of apprehension. They knew they were viewing the villain, for ever they had been taught to seek for crime under the guise of excessive innocence and benevolence.
Saul Murmer was accustomed to being stared at. He hesitated as he faced the batteries of eyes, like serried ranks of tommy-guns, directed at him directly he opened the door of "Fifty-one." His hesitation was only momentary, then he walked down the few steps to the pavement, the gaping crowd withdrawing from his slow advance in stolid awe and inquisitiveness, not willing to forgo by any hasty movement the slightest of the sensations they had come to believe were justly theirs by reason of the previous police and prisoners' processions.
They stared as Inspector Murmer glanced up and down the street, reading in his questing glances meaning that would have stirred a hot-gospeller's hell. They backed discreetly before him, eager to miss nothing, yet not willing to cramp their elected villain in the just portrayal of his part in their drama. Saul Murmer turned in the direction of Oxford street, his attendant audience following awesomely.
Once he turned suddenly and looked over the crowd's head, and the little gasp of apprehension was almost audible. They gaped, open-mouthed, closing up their ranks tightly, when a taxi drew up against the kerb and the Inspector entered it. They watched the car drive citywards, escaping out of the boundaries of the district they considered their own, then returned to the narrow, mean streets they had come to look upon as their logical abiding-places, whispering, shuddering, their imaginations supplying, as it had always had to do through their colourless lives, the nerve-essences their God-made bodies craved, and which man-made environment denied.
In the taxi, driven swiftly and smoothly citywards, Saul Murmer sat in meditation. His problems were becoming clearer; already he saw the end of the trail in sight. Yet there were many details to fill in. Almost he thrilled as he visioned what would be when his curtain was drawn aside and his drama revealed—a drama that linked across many thousands of miles of land and seas. He came out of his reverie with a start when the taxi turned sharply into the very narrow Central Lane.
Paying off the driver, he went direct to Superintendent Dixon's offices. His arched brows lifted inquiringly as he caught the eyes of the clerk.
"Yes, Inspector." The man behind the desk answered the unspoken question on the detective's face. "It's come. I'm decoding it now."
"Ah!" A slight sigh escaping Saul Murmer's lips alone betrayed how greatly he had relied on the answers to questions he had cabled to London. "Any of it ready, constable?"
"The Superintendent has some, sir." Constable Bert Wimble smiled slightly at the Inspector's evident eagerness. "He asked me to bring the flimsies to him as I decoded them."
The Englishman turned quickly toward the door of the inner room, then hesitated; "Anyone with the Super?"
"No, Sir." The man hesitated. "I know he expects you and—"
"He should." A whimsical smile came on the cupid-bow lips. "He just should!"
Knocking quietly on the panel, Saul Murmer gently opened the door and entered the room. He had the door closed behind him before the burly man at the big desk in the centre of the room looked up, and nodded.
"Thought you'd be along soon, Saul."
A motion of the grey head indicated a chair on the opposite side of the desk.
"Sit down! Got what you were after?"
"Part of it, sir." The Englishman sank wearily into the comfortable chair and reached into a side pocket for the inevitable packet of cheap cigarettes. "You've got the other part, I hear."
"This?" Superintendent Dixon placed a heavy hand on the pile of flimsies he had been studying when Saul Murmer entered the room. "Yes, there's quite a lot of it."
"And I found quite a lot, sir." The detective exhaled an almost perfect circle of blue smoke. "Anything good?"
"Look for yourself."
Superintendent Dixon attached a clip to the flimsies and tossed them across the desk. He swung round on his chair to the door of the massive safe behind him and took from it a parcel marked "Frederick Catlow."
"I haven't tried to locate any of them yet." He passed the parcel across to the Englishman, then sat back and watched from under heavy brows. Saul Murmer unfastened the parcel and took out the roll of banknotes found in the pockets of the murdered man. Presently he pushed the notes aside and drew from his pocket an envelope on which was scribbled a series of numbers.
"Well?" asked the Superintendent curiously.
"We've got it, sir." There was more weariness than triumph in the detective's voice. "We've got it—the leak that has puzzled the Yard for quite a time."
"Then—" Superintendent Dixon commenced to speak eagerly, then hesitated. "Carrington Manning, Theo Manning, a man named Saxon, Pontifex, and possibly Thelma Delevere, the woman who poses as his wife, Buller and Myson. Of course, there are others, the minor members of the gang, we don't know much of yet."
The Englishman's hand went to the telephone, then came back sharply. "May I, sir?"
"Go ahead." Superintendent Dixon nodded. Saul Murmer drew the instrument toward him and dialled a number, For the next quarter of an hour the Police Department's switchboard was extremely busy as details and instructions sped over the wires to police stations in metropolitan and country districts. At length, with the sigh of a man well satisfied with his endeavours, the Englishman pushed the instrument from him, and leaned back in his chair.
"Putting out a wide net, aren't you, Saul?" Superintendent Dixon smiled quizzically. "Suspect a leak?"
"Sure of it, sir, and I'm giving it all the pressure to show." The Englishman frowned thoughtfully. "That man Manning is nobody's fool. He has his lines out on all we're doing, and I shouldn't be surprised if he didn't know by now exactly what we have discovered."
"Lines out?" The Superintendent looked up quickly, frowning. "Whom do you suspect?"
Saul Murmer did not reply immediately; he was staring reflectively out of the window. "We couldn't keep the affair altogether covered," he said slowly, after a few seconds. "We found the dummy—they call them fashion figures—down at 'Florabella'—and it was packed full of the junk. More, with what we expected, we found other packets. I didn't open any of them, but suspect—"
Again the Inspector paused, and the Superintendent filled in the missing word: "Drugs?"
Saul Murmer shrugged his shoulders. He struggled to his feet, pointing to the cable-flimsies he had replaced on the Superintendent's blotting pad.
"You'll go through those, sir—or get someone to do that?" he asked. "I'm curious to know if the Catlow roll is recorded there."
"I'll do it myself." The Superintendent's eyes were blazing with the lust of the man-hunt. Times had been when the lure of the chase had beckoned, and he had fretted at being confined to an office while other, and younger, men went out to the attack. He caught eagerly at anything that in any form resembled action. This affair was a big thing; from it he would gain much kudos; he would be complimented and his record would be richly endowed. Letters would travel to England—the Mecca of every British detective's ambitions; letters would come back to his chief. Compliments would be showered on him by men who held high positions in State and Commonwealth. He would receive great credits; yet—
He grinned, as he looked at the stout Englishman standing on the other side of the desk. Did this apparently lethargic, placid, individual, with the outward appearance of a city alderman, the pose of a society dilettante, guess that he deeply envied him—that he would willingly stake his high position in the department for just one more opportunity to go out on the road and feel again the impulses that overwhelm the true man-hunter—to feel the zest of a firm hand on a "wanted's" shoulder. He wondered; he wished he could gain even one small clue to what lay in full security behind those seemingly innocent eyes.
"Good, sir!" Saul Murmer turned towards the door. "I'll have our find sent straight to you."
In the corridor outside the Superintendent's suite of offices, Saul Murmer hesitated, conning his problems, seeking to discover if he had left any weak links in the chain he was striving to twist round the keenest and most audacious crook he had encountered in his career. He found his work good—and nodded. From what weak evidence; from what inconsequential facts had he built up his theory testing it to known facts? Almost he felt elation—and for Saul Murmer to discover emotion in his own work was strange—very strange!
Quietly he ambled through the corridors and down the stairways of police headquarters, exchanging greetings and inconsequences with friends he met, until he came to the great court of the house and passed through the ever-open gates into Central Lane. He walked up to Pitt street and hailed a taxi, and was whirled through Liverpool, Castlereagh and Market streets to gain the entrance to Swayne Court. Dismissing the car, the detective went through the court to the door of "Florabella." He found the place apparently normal. Customers were entering and leaving; there were no signs of guarding police about the establishment.
In the waiting-room at "Florabella" he found Constable Peck, ensconced in a chair in the corner of the room and trying to look as if his sole object that day was attendance on a stuffed pocket book. Saul Murmer nodded briefly to the man and proceeded oh his way. He had known that Inspector Pater would soon bring order out of chaos. He went on to the large showroom where they had found the loot in the fashion figure. Inspector Pater rose from a chair almost under the time-clock which had betrayed Daddy Thornton, and came to meet his comrade.
As the two men met, Inspector Murmer was conscious that Miss Lancing was watching them keenly. He bowed to her profoundly, and the usually staid manageress laughed. The Englishman was fully satisfied; Miss Lancing would not even have smiled had not her well-ordered mind, patterned to the dictates of feminine decoration, been entirely at ease.
"All right, John?" The Englishman glanced inquisitively about the room.
"Just there." Inspector Pater nodded to a corner of the room occupied by a fashion figure clothed in a daring evening gown, and showing no signs of the severe handling to which it had been subjected.
"Good! And the loot?" Saul Murmer smiled.
"Sent Leyland down to headquarters with it. Miss Lancing lent me a—a dress container, to hold it."
"Had to get the fool out of the way. He's far too much of the flat-footed patrolman to have about an establishment like this." Inspector Pater shrugged. "He got on Miss Westways' nerves until—" He paused and shrugged again. "You ask Miss Lancing." Another pause. "Fine woman that, Saul."
"And lead us not into temptation." The Englishman softly muttered the petition. "Lord, John, I never thought you'd fall."
"I'll punch your fat, bald head!" John Pater flushed heavily. "Of all—"
"Leyland?" Saul Murmer's ever-working brain had found another avenue to explore. "I didn't hear of him at Central Lane."
"He's been gone quite a while," replied John Pater.
"And—" Inspector Murmer glanced about the room. "We'll wait until closing time to get that imitation lady in the corner down to Central Lane.
"Of course, we'll have to keep her, but that won't worry Miss Westways—nor Miss Lancing," he added with a sly glance at his companion. "Miss Burke arrived yet? Of course. She came here with Sergeant Leyland. She's with Miss Westways, I suppose—"
He turned to the door leading to the offices. "By the way, John, if you wish to get away from feminine influences, Harry Peck can stand guard over our young friend in the corner."
Again John Pater flushed, and Inspector Murmer left the room.
The Englishman was grinning widely as he ambled on in the direction of Miss Westways' private offices. Had the lanky Australian at last fallen to feminine wiles? That he considered a distinct possibility, if viewed in conjunction with Miss Lancing's sudden meek acquiescence to male invasions in purely feminine realms.
Paddy jumped up from beside Miss Westways when she saw Inspector Murmer enter the room, and ran to him. He backed into a corner, warding her off mockingly.
"Remember police regulations, Paddy," he warned. "Detectives are not allowed to be kissed more than once a day. It's bad for the morale of the department, and for discipline."
"If I can't kiss you, I'll go and kiss that handsome inspector you brought here to trifle with auntie's young and tenderer affections," Paddy declared. "I'm certain he won't mind."
"But someone else may," laughed the Englishman, ambiguously. For a moment the girl stared at him uncomprehendingly; then suddenly went and whispered to Miss Westways. The elder lady shook her head reprovingly; but they both laughed.
"Where's Theo?" asked Saul Murmer, casually.
"Why?" Paddy turned to the detective challengingly; then spoke with assumed carelessness. "He went down to police headquarters to meet you. So did Sergeant Leyland."
"Oh!" The Englishman stared for a moment, then frowned.
"He did, did he? I didn't know he was so eager for my society as all that."
"But, Uncle Saul—" Paddy hesitated. "I didn't make any difference to him; truly I didn't. You told me not to, and I was so careful—I just acted ordinarily."
Saul Murmer patted the girl's soft cheek caressingly. "That's all right, m'dear," he chuckled. "Miss Westways, may I use your telephone?"
Miss Westways smiled, and nodded to the instrument on the desk. The detective lifted the receiver and dialled police headquarters.
"See if Sergeant Leyland is in the building," he commanded, when he obtained connection. "And put me through to Superintendent Dixon, at once. Send Sergeant Leyland to Superintendent Dixon's offices, to there await my arrival—if you find him."
He waited for a reply to his instructions and connection, but turned as the office door opened suddenly. When he saw the newcomer was Inspector Pater, he nodded.
"Good, John. We've come to the end of the hunt, I fancy—" He ceased speaking suddenly and gave his whole attention to the instrument, For some seconds he listened, then spoke:
"Superintendent Dixon? Inspector Murmer speaking, now at 'Florabella.' Has Sergeant Leyland arrived at your office with the—er—loot we recovered here this morning, sir?" Again he listened, a little satisfied smile growing on his well-curved lips; then:
"I thought that, sir. Carrington Manning's no fool, and he seems to know, or to guess, all our moves. Yes, sir; I'll wait here for a time and keep you advised of anything that happens. Yes, sir. Captain Pontifex and Miss Delevere are not here. Inspector Pater thought it wise not to formally detain them at present. They're being trailed, and we can pick them up with the others when we're ready. Very good, sir."
He replaced the receiver and turned to face the little group watching him.
"Sergeant Leyland has not arrived at police headquarters," he said slowly. "As he has left here some considerable time for five minutes' walk to Central Lane, that means something has happened to him." He paused, and added reflectively, "I thought as much."
"Abducted?" asked Paddy quickly. "Someone's abducted a police officer—and a big one like Sergeant Leyland! How thrilling!" She laughed gleefully, then acted mock-soberly. "I think if I were an abductor, I'd rather have a nice girl. Sergeant Leyland's rather—rather—"
"A lady killer," suggested John Peter, a twinkle in his eyes.
"He told me all about his sorrowful, misunderstood life," said Paddy, forcing glistening tears to her eyes. "I was so sorry for him; I even let him squeeze my hand." She turned quickly to the Englishman: "Uncle Saul, why do all these big, masterful, impressive men so utterly misread women? And—" She turned to Miss Westways. "Oh, auntie, you couldn't imagine him as anything else than one of those big, gay-coloured English roosters, dodging about a farmyard trying to make up his mind which hen he will elect to be the favourite of his present harem."
Saul Murmer glanced at Inspector Pater, and winked. "And we call them the weaker sex, John. Surely that's only because we are so supremely jealous of their undoubted superior mental abilities."
The shrill of the telephone bell interrupted any reply John Pater had opened his mouth to make. With an apologetic glance at Miss Westways, Saul Murmer went to the desk and lifted the receiver.
"'Florabella' speaking," he said softly, then his tone changed subtly. "All right, Bert; I'm here." He glanced round at the group watching him, and his lips framed the word: "Superintendent."
"Yes, sir. Inspector Murmer. Good. I thought they'd do that. Got them? Fine work; I'll get Inspector Pater to mention them in his report of the case—"
"You'll write your own report and do your own recommending," growled the Australian. "I've never met such a lazy fellow," he added, turning to Miss Westways. "Always getting someone to do his work for him. His chief aim seems to be to avoid responsibility—for even picking up a pin."
Miss Westways smiled at the tall Inspector, but she did not speak. All her attention was centred on Inspection Murmer at he telephone.
"Got 'em at Goridge's River Bridge! I thought they'd make that line, sir. Who? Manning, his son—who by the way is not his son, but the son of Thelma Delevere—and Saxon, acting as chauffeur. Good! Yes, sir. Oh, Mrs. Leyland and Myson, on a tram. I thought he was out in that direction. Brought Buller in—good. Thanks for ringing me, sir."
Replacing the receiver, Saul Murmer turned to face the little group watching him, expectancy glowing on their faces.
"That's the end of the trail," he said quietly; yet he could not keep a note of satisfaction out of his voice. "No more trouble for you and Paddy, Miss Westways. John and I have read the riddle, and now Superintendent Dixon has gathered together our solutions."
"But what is the solution?" demanded Paddy, stamping her little foot. "Uncle Saul, you talk a lot of ambiguous rot into a telephone—and I don't know that there's anyone listening to you at the other end—and then you tell us, blandly: 'It's all right!' It isn't! Unless you—"
"Ask you to supper at the Green Lagoon, tomorrow night." Saul Murmer made gestures of surrender. "That do? All right; we'll make a party for the explanations, and all that. You shall bring that new boy you've told me so much about; and get Dizzy and Eva along. I'll ask Inspector Pater—and he can ask Miss Lancing—Eh, John?" He dodged a threatening gesture. "So—"
"But, Inspector Murmer—" commenced Miss Westways, whose eyes revealed the curiosity she was too shy to express in words.
"My dear lady." Saul Murmer bent over the lady's hand, "Don't you know, a man likes to keep a little secret—just for a little while; but a woman likes to tell a little secret—until it ceases to be a secret, even to herself." He grinned, and taking Inspector Pater's arm turned him in the direction of the door.
"Don't forget," he called back over his shoulder. "The Green Lagoon, tomorrow night. Paddy can dance to her heart's content with her new boy and Dizzy Laine, while I recount the Strange History of a Fashion Figure and a Financier—"
"Dance!" said Paddy scornfully. She glanced from one man to the other with full meaning in her fine I eyes. "It looks as if I'm going to have quite a spell of wedding-dancing during the next few months." She sighed. "Heigh-ho! A modern girl never gets any really decent time to devote to her private affairs. She has to do so much for her far-too-shy elders."
WORKING in the purlieus of Surry Hills, even with Inspector Murmer, a man he envied, hated and despised, Sergeant Lionel Leyland showed at his best; yet his malice became almost rabid as he listened to the Englishman's strange handling of the crooks.
Leyland belonged to the old-fashioned police type—a type that has almost disappeared from among the law forces of the world of men who believed that only by the excessive use of the powers with which they were invested, and an over-awing brutality of demeanour, could results be obtained. Yet in spite of his contempt of the English officer's methods, he secretly wondered at the amount of information he had obtained through his easy, apparently indifferent and inconsequent questions.
When Inspector Murmer detailed Sergeant Leyland to escort Miss Paddy Burke to "Florabella," the Sergeant believed he had been given a task for which he was eminently fitted. He had a great belief in his robust and animal-handsome physique; he looked daily on his broad, ruddy face, split almost into two divisions by the well-cultivated military moustache he affected. He admired, whenever he shaved—which he had to do twice a day if he wished to spend the evening hours in public—the formidable chin with which Dame Nature had endowed him at birth. He conceived that his hazel eyes held a challenge to every woman a challenge no woman could resist. To escort Miss Paddy Burke, a beautiful and prominent member of Sydney's Younger Set, to the arms of her aunt was a pleasure and a duty Sergeant Leyland considered he, alone, of all members of the Police Department, could adequately perform.
He knew Miss Westways to be a very wealthy woman, and from her distracted manner that morning over the abduction of her niece, he anticipated not only an overwhelming adulation of thanks, but rewards of a more substantial and lasting character.
In the taxi, he posed for Paddy's benefit, preening himself as a masterful and fascinating lady-killer. He talked largely and continuously on Lionel Leyland, pulling all the time on his luxurious lip decoration, which he believed set him above less-favoured brethren, who perforce, had to live in clean skinned faces.
For him, the journey from Likers street to Swayne Court was all too short. He greatly admired Paddy's serene dark beauty and vivacious manners yet he feared she was slightly on the skinny side. For Sergeant Leyland, true beauty lay in well-developed curves.
Paddy's volatile spirits caused her to pass the time of the short journey in pleasant speculations on her recent adventures and the fun and excitement she anticipated in recounting them to her friends.
Sergeant Leyland's monologue conversation, pleasant to himself, lent but a slightly irritating accompaniment to her thoughts—somewhat on the lines that an obtrusive orchestra obligato to an important recitative irritates a slightly deaf man, who is eager to catch what the actor has to say.
She thought, it was not for every girl in Sydney to have the luck to be abducted, confined in a dirty house in Surry Hills (shudders), and rescued by half the detective department of the State, headed by dear old Uncle Saul. She thrilled and thrilled again. Certainly, she had now a subject of conversation that should remain fresh with a freshness equal to the length of her not by any means short visiting list.
Paddy had to admit to herself that her abductors had not treated her badly. She had been provided with a sufficiency of food, sufficient to keep her spirits up to their normally high level. True, she had been chained to a bed that in regard to cleanliness still made her shudder. She had not admired the appurtenances of the room in which the bed stood; and, worst of all, she had been deprived of her bag in which reposed those essentials without which the modern girl dared not face even her own maid.
At "Florabella", Miss Westways welcomed her niece with open arms and many questions. Sergeant Leyland stood apart for the moment, watching the little scene with large benevolence and patronage. In time, when he thought sufficient attention had been paid to the rescued, and some notice should be taken of the rescuer, he attempted to intervene.
To his disgust and amazement, his efforts to recount the story of the rescue, as he visioned it, met with slight encouragement. He became annoyed and disgusted. Women! They thought only of themselves! He should know, for was he not married? Women! Pah! Entirely self-centred and male-unappreciative.
Finding that his efforts to share in the home-coming of the prodigal niece were not meeting with the success they deserved, Sergeant Leyland sought a more appreciative atmosphere. He wandered into the showroom where, some hours before, the fashion figure had been forced to disgorge great wealth before his eyes. There he found Inspector Pater, kneeling on the carpet, packing into a large suitcase the white-wrapped packets.
He licked his lips. If only that wealth belonged to him; what good use he could make of it! Almost without conscious volition he moved toward the kneeling Inspector.
"Can I help, sir?" The itch to finger so much wealth made the Sergeant rub his hands mechanically.
"Ah, Leyland! Back again; successful, I hope?" Inspector Pater looked up from his task, a gleam of interest in his eyes.
"Perfectly, sir!" Sergeant Leyland drew himself up in his masterful warrior pose. "I—we—found Miss Burke, and we—I brought her back here. She is quite well." Here the police officer paused, searching his none too fruitful mind for the appropriate ending of the phrase. Paddy, in his opinion, had not seemed at all properly distressed, and had not behaved in a manner, in his opinion, appropriate to a rescued damsel.
"No?" John Pater laughed gently. "I don't think Miss Paddy is one of the worrying sort." He wedged the last packet into the well-filled suitcase and closed the lid.
"There! That's finished! Where's Inspector Murmer, Sergeant?"
"Inspector Murmer went to headquarters, sir." The Sergeant answered with admirable official rectitude. "At least, we left him in Surry Hills, and he said he was going to Headquarters."
"Not coming back here?" Inspector Pater looked up quickly. He rose to his feet and dusted the knees of his trousers. "Well—"
"You want to get that case down to him quickly, sir?" Sergeant Leyland stared covetously at the leather hiding so much wealth.
"He may want it," the Inspector mused.
"Then, sir—" hinted the Sergeant.
"Yes." Inspector Pater made up his mind. "We've finished here—for the time, at least, though I'll wait a little longer in case Inspector Murmer does come back. You may take this case to police headquarters, Sergeant. Take it direct to Superintendent Dixon and tell him what's inside—banknotes and dope."
Almost eagerly Sergeant Leyland lifted the bag. It was great to have so much riches within his grasp, even if only temporarily. Involuntarily, the thought came: what could he not do if that bag and its contents belonged to him? The world would be his; he could rise to great heights in his chosen profession; or he could retire and live the life of a man of wealth; or he could—he could—oh, a man with all that money was—
"Take a taxi," interrupted the Inspector, prosaically. "That bag's heavy. Get it down to headquarters and give it to Superintendent Dixon; then find Inspector Murmer and ask him to telephone me here. Tell him I'll wait here until I hear from him."
"Very good, sir." Sergeant Leyland lifted the bag and strode to the door. "I'll be in headquarters in ten minutes, sir."
The suitcase was heavy and Sergeant Leyland was tired, for he had not had his accustomed eight hours' sleep the previous night; in fact, he had not slept at all; yet the sense that he carried vicarious wealth braced him to walk with truly official steps out of "Florabella".
In Pitt Street he dropped the bag to the pavement and glared up and down the street, in search of a taxi. "Well, Insp—Beg pardon, I mean, Sergeant."
A bright, brisk, light voice at his elbow made the police officer look round, and down. He stretched out a massive right hand, eagerly. "Mr. Carrington Manning—"
"On duty, I see, Sergeant." The financier smiled genially as he glanced down at the suitcase at the police officer's feet. "I didn't know they expected—er—high officers of the Police Department to carry heavy parcels through the streets?"
"Too valuable to trust to a constable, sir." Sergeant Leyland's big whisper rang above the noise in the street. He bent slightly, to his friend's ear. "I'd like to bet you couldn't guess what's in that case, sir. No, never!"
"Indeed!" Carrington Manning backed slightly from the Sergeant's heavy breath. "Indeed!" He glanced back into Swayne Court, and slight apprehension showed in his eyes. He said: "Indeed!" a third time.
"That case's full of banknotes—real Bank, of England notes, sir, an' most of 'em with high figures in the corners." Sergeant Leyland swelled with importance. "Thousands of 'em, sir; there's a million or more in that bag. I—Inspector Murmer and I found 'em, sir, and I'm taking 'em to Police Headquarters, to Superintendent Dixon. He'll be glad to see me, I bet!" A portentous wink closed the sentence.
"A million!" The little financier appeared to gasp at the figures. "I'm sure Superintendent Dixon will be glad to see you, and—"
Again Carrington Manning glanced back into Swayne Court. "—and is Inspector Murmer about?"
"Inspector Murmer is at Police Headquarters, awaiting me, sir. Sergeant—" Leyland's broad, chest assumed the curve of a long bow. "I have conferred with him and Superintendent Dixon in regard to—er—"
"How do you propose to get this heavy and valuable suitcase to police headquarters. Sergeant?" interrupted the financier.
"I'm taking a taxi, sir." The atmosphere of importance surrounding the police officer grew thick. "The department doesn't stint us when we're on duty, sir."
"A taxi?" Carrington Manning's thin lips straightened. "And that bag full of money! Surely the department should have sent one of the police cars, and an escort for you—Not that you're incapable of looking after that enormous amount of wealth, Sergeant," continued the little man, noting the doubting look that had come into Leyland's eyes. "But there are thieves in this city—desperate characters."
"And well I know that, sir." Sergeant Leyland tapped his empty hip pocket, significantly. "Well I know that—and I'm prepared."
"Ah!" A dazzling idea appeared to flash into Carrington Manning's mind; he bent and lifted the suitcase with one hand, while he slipped his other hand into the crook of the Sergeant's elbow. "I have it—"
"Here, sir!" Sergeant Leyland grabbed the suitcase. "Excuse me, sir; that's too heavy for you—and besides, it's official property now, and we're not allowed—"
"The Prime Minister wouldn't say that to me," sighed Carrington Manning, yet he surrendered the suitcase with a smile. "You carry it, Sergeant, and come with me. You're walking in luck! I have my car here—just made a business call—and I'll drive you to Police Headquarters."
A few steps down Pitt Street, Carrington Manning ushered Sergeant Leyland into a handsome private car, drawn to the curb. The Sergeant was nothing loth. He would arrive at Police Headquarters in Company with one of the richest men in the city of Sydney, and his comrades would witness that arrival. He would be able to talk of Carrington Manning after this, and his companions would envy him! Only one matter irked—he would not be able to book a taxi on his expenses account; but then, he thought, if he had taken a taxi he would have had to pay for it, even if he did add a few pence to the fare, for profit—on account of the taxi-war price.
It was only when the car swung to the left at Bathurst Street intersection that Sergeant Leyland felt a momentary discomfort. He leaned forward and tapped the chauffeur on the shoulder:
"That's not the way, my man," he said sternly. "Don't you know where Police Headquarters is? You should have kept down Pitt-street. Central Lane is halfway to Liverpool street, on the right-hand side."
The chauffeur took no notice of the instructions, and Sergeant Leyland started to rise from his seat. He found a stiff arm thrusting him back into the corner of the car, and something hard and round dug him in a place he had long since learned to recognise belonged to his lunch, at that hour of the day.
"Sit down!" The police officer booked down at the increased pressure or his middle region, then looked up into the hard eyes of Carrington Manning. "That's a revolver, if you don't know, and it may go off. Sit back and hold your tongue!"
Waiting a moment to understand if the Sergeant fully recognised his predicament, the financier, without abating the pressure of the revolver in the police officer's anatomy, reached forward and pulled down the window blind; then he fumbled behind him, eventually finding the cord of the blind on, his side, and covered that.
"Mr. Carrington Manning!" At length Sergeant Leyland found his voice. He felt as if his known world was tumbling about his head in individual bricks. "What's the—"
"I told you to hold your tongue!"
Carrington Manning's voice held a nasty-sounding note, and the pressure of the revolver was uncomfortable.
"Perhaps you recognise—and if you don't I'm telling you—this revolver has a silencer, and a shot in this car would not be heard amid the din of Sydney's streets—the greatest traffic noise in the world. Sit back and I behave yourself and you won't get hurt."
Sergeant Leyland sat back. He could not have spoken if he had tried; but he could think, and his slowly returning thoughts were not pleasant.
"That's right!" The pressure of the revolver on the empty stomach relaxed as Carrington Manning leaned back in his corner of the car. "Keep your tongue still and your hands in your lap and we won't quarrel, and—" Sergeant Leyland noted that the man had the audacity to wink at him, "—and you'll find you won't be forgotten. I'll look after you."
"What do you mean?" stuttered the police officer. He had not even yet grasped the full enormity of what was happening to him. "Do you mean—"
"I mean, I'm taking charge of you and that bag of money." Carrington Manning spoke easily, the revolver pointed ominously at the Sergeant's middle region. "Yes—" The man laughed quietly, "I'm looking after that bag of money now. Jove, the trouble I've had to get it!"
"Where was it, Sergeant?"
"The fashion figure."
"At 'Florabella's,' sir."
"Whereabouts at 'Florabella?' Confound you? Can't you speak? Where was it hidden?"
"In the window, sir." Sergeant Leyland was answering the questions automatically. He hardly heard what he was saying.
"Confound it!" The little man exploded viciously. "And the fools searched the premises before those damned clocks—" He stopped speaking, leaned forward and tapped the chauffeur on the shoulder. "Don't forget Theo, Saxon. He should be somewhere hereabouts."
A few minutes later the car slowed and stopped. The door on the Sergeant's aide was pulled open. Theo Manning thrust his head into the car, and grinned when he saw the police officer.
"Come in Theo," Carrington Manning snapped the command. "You shift over this way and be careful how you do it. Now, Theo," he added as the youth seated himself in the car, "get your gun out and keep this cop in order; we don't know what tricks he might think to play, and we can't afford added trouble now. All right, Saxon; buzz along!"
The car moved forward, gathering speed. Sergeant Leyland sat between the two men, still trying to co-ordinate his thoughts. If only he could understand. Carrington Manning and his son. A wealthy man staging a holdup! And—what was to become of him? He wondered fearfully. The financier—no, the man couldn't be a financier and do the things he was doing. Why—the man must be a crook! Then it was his duty as a police officer to arrest him. But—Leyland looked down on the gun in the little man's hand, then turned as something dug him hard in his ribs on the other side. He glanced at Theo Manning, and then caught sight of a nasty looking little automatic in the youth's hand.
Theo grinned. "If you're thinking of you wife—" commenced Carrington Manning. Sergeant Leyland was not thinking of his wife. That day he had thought as little as he could of the lady. He had acquired the belief that he had been slightly too abrupt with the wife of his bosom. He had been abrupt with Mrs. Leyland on other occasions—very few occasions—and the aftermath bad not been in any way comfortable. Mrs. Leyland had a tongue, and was expert in its use. She liked to use it, and was a lady who never denied herself anything she liked, especially when she considered she had just cause for complaint against her handsome husband.
Sergeant Leyland had the belief that Mrs. Leyland would think the events of the previous evening and the early morning "just causes of complaint." He had arrived home during the still, small hours of the morning and, according to the canons of marital relationship, had been exceedingly rude. No, he was not thinking of his wife. He preferred to forget her for quite a while yet.
"I can inform you that Mrs. Leyland is all right and is being well cared for," continued the little man. "Before I met you—and I may inform you, my dear Sergeant, that our meeting was not luck, but very carefully planned—I had a telephone message conveyed to Mr. Myson, requesting him to escort Mrs. Leyland to—"
"Where?" asked the Sergeant quickly. After all, Mrs. Leyland was his wife, and it is the duty of every husband to inquire into the happenings when single men escort their wives.
"That you will find out in time. Sufficient for you to know that I've got our getaway all set. You'll see her presently."
Presently was an ambiguous word; it might mean, any time; it might mean another world, thought Sergeant Leyland, glancing down on either side of his bulky frame and noting the guns held firmly against him. Mrs. Leyland could not help him in his present position. His thoughts passed to Alfred Myson. Mrs. Leyland had been displeased with Mr. Myson the previous evening. He wondered idly just what sort of time the little crook was having with the lady.
He felt sorry for friend Myson. Escorting Mrs. Leyland to an unknown destination, when she was not in the best of tempers would be wearing work.
Seated in the centre of the rear seat off the car, Sergeant Leyland had a certain view, through the windscreen, of the country through which they were travelling. By the time he had so far recovered that he could take an interest in matters surrounding him, he found the car had travelled through the outer suburbs and was now speeding through fairly open country. There were houses in sight, but no thoughts of rescue from them came to the gallant Sergeant.
Once thoughts of possible methods of turning the tables on his captors occurred, but a glance at the formidable weapons flanking him was intensely dampening in effect. Again he turned his attention to the brief views of the country he could obtain over the chauffeur's wide shoulders. Suddenly he wriggled on his seat; he had recognised certain land mark as they sped by. A few minutes' watching and his suspicions became certainties. He knew that within a few minutes he would see before the car the George's River bridge. Yes, he was right. There was the bridge!
Carrington Manning leaned forward and whispered in the chauffeur's ear. The man nodded, and the car slowed. It came to a halt some 50 yards behind the last car lined up for the passage of the bridge. For seconds they waited; then Carrington Manning shifted round on his seat and, lifting the flap covering the rear window, he, peered out.
"Two cars behind us and a bunch in front," whispered the ex-financier. "Confound it, Saxon! Why did you come this way?"
Still they waited. Carrington Manning shifted impatiently on his seat. He turned and stared at the police officer malevolently. "I don't quite know what to do with you, Sergeant." The little man's voice was brisk and hard. "I don't want to shoot you, for I can't afford to have a corpse in the car, in case of accidents. I could crown you. That would be painful for you and might irritate your wife—and that would discommode Myson. She might demand a new husband and—"
Theo Manning guffawed. "Poor Alf!" he said.
Sergeant Leyland looked stolidly before him. So his life was threatened. He squared his broad shoulders. Well, he could but die in this execution of his duty! He wondered what sort of funeral he would get? Surely the Commissioner would recognise that he had died in defence of property entrusted to him. He should have a proper police funeral—almost he was sorry that the regulations forbade the military to attend. They would add an impressiveness to the scene—especially when the coffin was lowered into the open grave, the buglers sounding "The Last Post" and the soldiers firing the "Last Salute." The grave—He shuddered. Almost he could hear the clods falling on the hollow coffin. Hollow! But he would be in it!
He wondered if the people in the cars surrounding him would hear him if he shouted. But, if they heard, would they take any notice, or take time to—He glanced down at the guns levelly flanking him, and decided that bullets were quicker than shouts.
"You're wise." Carrington Manning grinned. He glanced forward and noted a movement on the bridge. "Get along, Saxon; you can close up now. Sergeant Leyland has found reason."
The car rolled slowly forward, decreasing the distance between it and the other car in line before them. Again the line of cars halted, and Saxon trod on his brake. The waits seemed interminable to the Sergeant; almost he wished the cars on the bridge would make haste and clear the road. A car bumped violently into the back of the Manning car, throwing Sergeant Leyland violently forward. He was thrown just as violently back on the seat as the buffers of the Manning car struck the car in front. Again came the bump from the rear.
Carrington Manning gathered himself up from the disorder in the car, lowered the window and thrust out his head. "Say, what the—"
A shrill whistle broke the murmur of voices about them. Sergeant Leyland started. He had heard whistles like that before. He craned his neck to see over the chauffeur's shoulder at the car ahead. Then, for a second, he glanced at Theo Manning. The youth was on his feet, his face glowering with anger, his automatic pointed over Saxon's shoulder, as if he intended to fire through it at the men jumping from the car in line ahead of them.
Immediately Sergeant Leyland's dormant courage awoke. He realised that for the moment both the crooks had forgotten him. His hand went up—then some instinct caused him to glance at Carrington Manning. The little man was starting at him, the elongated revolver thrust forward.
Berserker rage suddenly overwhelmed the Sergeant. His massive fists swung out, not at the revolver but at the bright gleaming eyes beyond it. The eyes disappeared and the gun pointed suddenly at the roof of the car. A faint "plop" sounded, and the car interior stank of burnt cordite. Sergeant Leyland ignored the "plop" and the smell. He swung suddenly on Theo Manning. Again the big fist connected and a loud crash of glass indicated that Mr. Theodore Manning had found an uncomfortable seat in the still raised window.
"You would!" Sergeant Leyland received the rebounding youth in his arms. With hardly an effort he raised him in the air and thrust him down with all his strength on the head and shoulders of the chauffeur, in the front seat.
"Take that," he shouted viciously; then turned and hit to where he believed the financier to be. Carrington Manning was not there. The door of the car was open and a burly constable was dragging the man out on to the road. Sergeant Leyland overbalanced, with his fist thrust straight before him. He connected on the jaw of the constable, and police officer and prisoner rolled in the dust. Bending down. Sergeant Leyland snatched up the suitcase of money and jumped out of the car. On the road he found himself surrounded by constables and detectives.
"Snakes alive!" ejaculated Sergeant Vernon, running up to the group from the car immediately behind the Manning car. "What's the matter, Leyland?"
"Matter?" growled the burly police officer, justly incensed. "Have I got to do all the work in the police department, while you fellows just warm chairs? Think the Commissioner keeps you on the pay roll as ornaments? Here, take this—"
He thrust the suitcase of money into the Sergeant's hands.
"Look after it—there's a couple of millions or more in it—while I collect my prisoners. And don't forget, you chaps—" His bold roving eyes swept the grinning circle of faces. "They are my prisoners."
"THAT isn't fair, Paddy," exclaimed Eva Laine. "It's your turn to dance with Dizzy now. I'll take Mel."
"The married woman speaks with experience," observed Dizzy Laine, always journalist. "It may be that in a few years I shall witness Paddy turning a beloved husband over to some single girl."
"Why a single girl?" asked Paddy Burke, with apparent innocence.
"Because married women are too wise to trifle with married men, darling."
"And married men?"
"The brutes." Dizzy caught the girl round the waist and swung her into the stream of dancers on Sydney's best night club's floor. "The brutes! They take every advantage of single girls—then get elected to parliament! and propose bachelor taxes."
Saul Murmer, seated at his accustomed table in the Green Lagoon, watched the young couple merge into the throng of dancers. He turned to the handsome middle-aged lady seated beside him, idly stirring the hot, lazy air with a feathered fan.
"And—the dance, dear lady?" he inquired, making as if to rise from his seat.
"I think not," Miss Westways shook her head, perhaps a little regretfully. "To dance there must be a certain spirit a—How can I explain it? There is something that leaves us when—"
"For me, perhaps." Saul Murmer looked regretfully at the elaborate curve decorating his waistcoat. "Yes, for me."
Miss Westways shook her head reprovingly. "I am not paying compliments tonight," she laughed, "If I were, I might state that having danced with Inspector Murmer I am persuaded that he—in the words of our mâitre d'hôtel Henri—performs admirably."
Saul Murmer made a little bow, then lifted the glass against the synthetic evening glow that pervaded the hall. He watched the lazy bubbles rise through the liquid as he idly twirled the stem of the glass.
"Then there is left—" he almost whispered, and his voice held a tinge of regret. "Then there is only left—"
"Are you thinking of quoting Omar?" Miss Westways shook her head. "I am afraid Paddy would object. She is expecting a story from you tonight, and so far this evening has exhibited a restraint that can only be termed admirable—and slightly foreign to her nature."
"A story?" The Englishman replaced his glass on the table carefully. "A story?"
"You believed there was a—a counter-irritant, tonight?" Miss Westways' eyes followed the slight form of her niece, at that moment passing the table in Dizzy Laine's arms. "Well, Mel Cheriton is a dear boy—"
"I have not met him before," said Saul Murmer. An appraising look came in his eyes as he turned in his chair and searched the dancing throng for Eva Laine and her partner.
"No?" Miss Westways laughed gently. "Paddy does surprise one, doesn't she? I used to wonder, at first. Of course she is very young and one day—one day romance will come her way. At present she plays—as the young always play with the serious things of life; taking their pleasures as if they were ordained for their amusement, instead—"
"That pleasures professed are but Nature's decrees in Life's ruthless cycle" amended the Englishman, He lowered his voice. "I am afraid that I, too, fear the Wheel of Life."
"The wheel—" The idly moving fan flickered to a faster stroke. "You—"
"My term of duty in Australia is quickly drawing to a close." The Englishman spoke slowly. "In a couple of months I shall return to London."
"You will leave Australia with regrets?"
"Not altogether." The Inspector pondered. "Australia is a strange country and one to which the normal Englishman cannot take too kindly. In Australia you have very little home life—and in the old country we are heart sore on the comforts and privacies of the home. In Australia there is a crudeness, a lack of restfulness and security that those who have passed the majority of their days in England cannot understand. Englishmen feel that, welcome as Australia may make them, they are still strangers in a strange land—and life is always far too short for the middle aged to remake themselves." He paused considering. "Yet that very unrest I have spoken of, that lack of intimate home life, appears to be natural—"
"You miss the great roaring fires, the roast beef and Yorkshire puddings of life, the bitter, cold evenings without the walls of the home and the gay, intimate, comfortable existence within—" Miss Westways nodded. "I came from England when I was a child. I may return—some day."
"Perhaps." The lady glanced quickly at the stout man on the opposite side of the table. "You are very fond of Paddy?"
"I am." For the moment the Englishman was silent. "In some strange way—some way I cannot explain—she is 'natural' to me. Perhaps—" He paused again. "I am a solitary, middle aged man, having neither kith nor kin. In the days of my youth and vigour I gave all that I had to my work—to win success—"
"And you find that work alone has not satisfied?" asked the lady.
"For many years it did. For a long time the struggle—the wresting of rewards for endeavour—were everything." Saul Murmer spoke musingly. "That is man. We fight on with the daily task and think we are heading to a natural goal—and all the time we are leaving everything that really matters behind us. Only when the shadows gather on our days—when we have grasped that success we coveted and found it crumble to dust in our hands—do we gather the true perspective of real things, and sigh for what we have so carelessly missed."
"The things we have missed!" Miss Westways sighed. "The things we can never recall."
The Englishman's voice became more firm. "Through life we pass many cycles, and each cycle is complete and irrevocable. We cannot turn back the pages of the book of life. We must always write on, and with the completion of each cycle learn the regrets for what might have been, but which never can be now. Regrets grow with life."
"Yet there are compensations."
"Compensations are but the anaesthetising of our past desires. Age teaches us to avoid memories and—"
The wailing saxophones hesitated and slowed to a stop. The shuffles of the dancers' feet became more pronounced; over the falling rhythm rose a babble of excited voices. Miss Westways looked up, smiling.
"So you will go back to England, shortly. We will miss you, Inspector."
"My dear lady," Saul Murmer put his hand gently on hers. "I trust not for long. I should like—"
"Holding handies!" Paddy, appearing suddenly beside the table, placed her firm young palms on her elders' hands. "I am surprised at you, auntie. No, Uncle Saul, I am not surprised at you. You're—"
"And the woman did tempt me!" quoted Dizzy lugubriously. "I'll answer for Inspector Murmer, Paddy—it's the same old excuse. I've made it to my wife ever so often."
"Uncle Saul must answer for his own sins. Give me a chair, Dizzy and call your wife. Eva has had my boy long enough. I don't know what mischief she's done already—and I'm trying to bring him up in the way he should go."
Paddy edged her chair determinedly to the table. "Now, Uncle Saul!"
"Is Uncle Saul under ban, Paddy?" Eva Laine came to the table, followed by her partner. "Find a chair, Mel; you look quite exhausted. No, not there. Turn my hubby out of that seat and take it. He's not used to sitting next to young and fascinating damsels."
"The fascinating male—" commenced the journalist, and was immediately interrupted.
"The fascinating story—" amended Paddy. "Uncle Saul, you took possession of 'Florabella' until Miss Lancing showed grey hairs; you made promises you appear to have no intention of keeping; you—"
"By the way, where is Muriel Lancing?" asked Miss Westways. "I have not seen her and Inspector Pater since the last dance but one."
"Spoil sport," laughed Eva Laine. "I may guess, but I'm not telling." She paused. "What about this story, Paddy? I love stories—except from husbands."
"Uncle Saul is to recount 'The Mystery of the Fashion Figure and the Financier,' Eva." Paddy jerked her chair still closer to the table. "Is there anything nice in that bottle, Mel? Dizzy dances with a girl as if she were a sack of wheat."
"Nothing so precious, considering the price our baker charges for bread," denied the newspaper man. "Now, this story as I know it—"
"You don't," declared his wife. "Paddy, you're not to listen to him. I've had two tries to get this story from him, and got a different version each time. He doesn't know, and when he starts to make up his memory is so short—"
"Dizzy's squashed," declared the girl. "Now, Uncle Saul."
Saul Murmer shifted uneasily in his chair. He reached out his hand for his wine glass, but Paddy removed it! out of his reach.
"Not another drop until our curiosity is satisfied," she declared. "Dizzy, take that glass and fill it carefully—and keep it close to you, and away from auntie—who spoils Uncle Saul deliberately. Now—" she turned large and brilliant, inquiring eyes on the detective. "Once upon a time—"
"What do you want to know?" enquired the Englishman.
"Everything!" announced Paddy. "Why was I abducted?"
"Ah, yes!" Saul Murmer opened his very innocent baby-blue eyes. "A particularly poor quality set of crooks deliberately framed by Carrington Manning for us to rescue you from."
"I am disappointed," expostulated the girl. "Why, then was I abducted?"
"Theo Manning abducted you without his father's consent and knowledge and with some idea of trading you to Miss Westways for the Fashion Figure. To get out of the mess his nitwit son had created, Carrington Manning had you conveyed to Surrey Hills and then telephoned Sergeant Leyland where to find you. The poor devils we found in the house were deliberately framed to save the Mannings' faces."
"Then those strange drawings—and the practical jokes—" commenced Miss Westways.
"Let me try to get the facts straight," interposed the Englishman quietly. We should start with Carrington Manning. When I first knew him he was a superior class fence—or receiver of stolen goods—in London. We could never catch or convict him, but we, of New Scotland Yard, believed he specialised in stolen bank notes.
"You must know that stolen Bank of England notes are usually disposed on the European continent, in out of the way places. Eventually, they drift back to London and are then, of course, identified. But by that time the source through which they have been put back into circulation has been well covered."
Deliberately, Saul Murmer reached across the table and took possession of the glass of wine standing beside Dizzy Laine. He lifted the glass in salutation, to Paddy.
"Stolen banknotes give very poor returns to the thieves. In fact, those who handle them receive but a very small proportion of their face value—and the people who get them back into circulation—and accept great risks in doing so, get the bulk of their value. Now, Carrington Manning devised a plan he believed would secure to him the bulk of the proceeds on stolen banknotes.
"For this purpose he went to the United States of America, taking with him Thelma Delevere's son. Thelma had proceeded him, going to Hollywood, and there obtaining some small success. But Carrington Manning found that the U.S.A. was far too close to England—he had not sufficient time to operate with the stolen notes and cover his tracks. Therefore he looked about for another country, and decided on Australia.
"Australia offered many possibilities. It was several weeks' journey from England and, through some neglect on the part of the banks, the London offices of Australian banks were not fully advised of the numbers of stolen notes. In addition there was little or no co-ordination between the London and Australian Police on the matter." Saul Murmer paused, then added; "That was reasonable for, up to lately, London receivers had not considered Australia a fertile ground disposing of their ill-gotten gains."
"Then Carrington Manning was breaking fresh ground in crime?" asked Dizzy Laine.
"He came to Australia attracted by possibilities he visioned," answered the Englishman. "Not only did he consider Australia a suitable place for the putting of stolen bank notes back into circulation, but in Australia Bank of England notes have a far higher value than in other countries in which he could successfully and largely work. You must remember the bank exchange. In fact, the difference in exchange would almost cover all the expenses of his business.
"Carrington Manning brought with him from the States quite a considerable amount of money—and a large number of stolen and forged Bank of England notes—and also his gang. He set himself up in Sydney, promoted certain companies of little value, and by various boostings gained quite a reputation in the Australian financial world. But—" Saul Murmer's voice became more impressive, "—he brought with him one matter which caused his subsequent discomfort.
"The London Bankers' Association had for some time had agents trying to trace down the heads of the ring operating in stolen bank notes. One of the agents was named Frederick Catlow."
"The man who was murdered at the Salom Club?" exclaimed Dizzy Laine, quickly.
"That is so. Catlow had stumbled on Carrington Manning's trail in the States, and had followed him to Australia. Catlow got in touch with Duller and Myson, and arranged to meet them one morning at the Salom Club, in a private room. I do not know how far he was successful, but we have reason to believe he had persuaded Duller to split on the gang. Duller gave him certain stolen notes he had been given by Carrington Manning to put into circulation. Why Duller and Catlow brought Myson into the business I do not know. We believe Myson listened to what Duller and Catlow had to say, then turned on his companions and shot Catlow, threatening to inform Manning that Duller had turned traitor, unless he acted under his instructions."
"So that is the story of the Salom Club murder," said Dizzy quietly, "I wondered why the police were keeping the matter so much under cover."
"We knew of Catlow and suspected his murderer directly I had traced Catlow's lodgings. It was there I found his credentials. The rest wasn't difficult to piece together through the usual channels."
"But that doesn't explain the Fashion Figure, Uncle Saul?" exclaimed Paddy impatiently.
"The fashion figure!" Saul Murmer smiled quietly. "That had me puzzled for quite a time. It was only when you told me that Theo's father was the famous financier, Carrington Manning, that I could get a connection. I knew of the man's activities in London, and suspected he was up to the same game here. The drawings that so puzzled you led me to the style of the fashion figure Miss Westways received, but did not order from her agent. I was waiting for cable information regarding the stolen notes when the 'Florabella' robbery took place. When things seemed to happen all at once."
"I don't think much of that for detection," said Paddy in injured tones. "Why, they walked right into your hands, Uncle Saul."
"Crooks always do, m'dear." Saul Murmer shoved his empty glass suggestively near the newspaper man. "There's still lots to be proved, and many threads of evidence to collect, but I think I have given you a fair outline of the story.
"Carrington Manning had realised while in the States that the stolen notes game could not be played indefinitely from any one centre. He planned to make one big scoop in Australia and then move on—or retire permanently from the game; perhaps go in for some other branch of illegal work, for I don't think the man could run a straight business. For his 'scoop' he instructed his agents in England to collect a very large number of stolen and forged notes, and then set to work to form a scheme by which he could get them out to Australia safely.
"Then Theo came forward with a suggestion that helped. He had obtained an introduction to Paddy and had been introduced to 'Florabella.' He conceived the idea of the fashion figure as a container for the loot. Carrington Manning approved the idea."
"But surely they never thought I would he a party to any such scheme?" interjected Miss Westways, indignantly.
"Of course not, my dear lady" soothed the stout detective. "So far as I understand, the idea was to have the figure consigned to you, but the necessary Customs papers went to Carrington Manning, although they were made out in your name. Carrington Manning intended that when the ship discharged cargo, including the case containing the fashion figure, one of the gang, posing as a carrier, would collect the fashion figure, pay the customs dues—and disappear with it. You would not have any knowledge of the matter, as you had no knowledge of the shipment.
"Unfortunately for the scheme and the schemers, your customs agent went to the wharf very promptly after the arrival of the ship and collected all goods consigned to you. Through some accident it was not discovered at the moment that he took away an extra package, beyond those on the customs papers—and thus the fashion figure was brought here.
"When Carrington Manning was informed that the fashion figure had been delivered to you, he had no option but to send to the wharf and pay the dues on the figure in your name, to prevent any inquiry. This did not worry the man. He considered that within a very few days he would be able to stage a robbery at 'Florabella' and steal the fashion figure. After the failure of the first robbery at 'Florabella,' Carrington Manning was perplexed. He realised that you had discovered that you had in your possession a fashion figure you had not ordered from London, and was worried what you would do. That you retained possession of the figure, rather worried him."
Miss Westways laughed. "I rather liked the figure," she said. "Then, I thought it had been sent to me by my agent, and that the letter of advice had been delayed. I had been waiting to hear from London on the matter."
"So that is why the burglaries were staged!" Dizzy Laine shouted with laughter. "Gee! What a joke! Carrington Manning, his son, and his gang, stalking about 'Florabella,' unable to get at their hidden wealth!"
"In some sense it was amusing." Saul Murmer glanced longingly at his empty glass. "Er—Dizzy, I don't, mind you taking charge of the bottles, but—"
"Sorry, Saul!" Dizzy filled the glass generously.
"Well, Paddy, satisfied? Your Uncle Saul has told a jolly good story—one that will publish well, especially that part about your abduction."
"If you publish that—" exclaimed Paddy Burke wrathfully. "I'll—I'll—"
"You'll tell detective-sergeant Leyland," laughed the newspaper-man. "I won't, Paddy, Your burly friend, with the big moustaches, is far too lucky. He might pinch me and then—"
"I hope he will," said the girl vindictively. "I'd like to see him put his luck up against you—for once."
"What of Detective-Sergeant Lionel Leyland?" asked a voice behind Saul Murmer's chair.
The Englishman looked up to see the tall Australian and Muriel Lancing behind his chair. "Why bring up disagreeable subjects at meetings of friends?"
John Pater pulled out a chair for his partner, then seated himself.
"Is Lionel Leyland a disagreeable subject, Saul? He appears to be quite the hero of the hour at police headquarters. You must remember that at George's River Bridge he arrested, single-handed, the whole gang of crooks."
"Oh, lor!" sighed Dizzy, disgustedly, "And I had to write it up that way—with a photograph of the handsome Sergeant spread over a double column. The—the—"
"Wicked old fraud!" supplied Paddy. "That's the strongest term you're allowed to use, Dizzy. Remember, Detective-Sergeant Lionel Leyland is my heroic rescuer."
"He'll get his step through this," remarked John Pater reflectively. "The Commissioner can't keep it from him now. Of all the luck!"
"Sergeant Leyland is certainly lucky," observed Miss Westways. "I can't say that I like the man."
"No one loves him—not even his wife!" quoted Dizzy with a grin. "Wasn't there a row! Mrs. Leyland came down to the newspaper office to protest that we were insinuating that she was eloping with the lodger."
"Well, wasn't she?" inquired Eva Laine, cattishly. "She should be happy that she had a lodger to elope with."
"She complained that what we had published had ruined her social status in Bondi," added Dizzy.
"It's ruined her standing with her husband," laughed John Pater. "She visited headquarters to insist that Dizzy and his confreres at the Post-Advertiser be immediately arrested for criminal libel and a few other odd things. Inspector Leyland interviewed her."
"Inspector Leyland?" exclaimed Saul Murmer, in surprise.
"I only anticipate the Commissioner recognising the inevitable—and sincerely hope he will post the gallant officer to the uniformed division," explained Inspector Pater carefully. "Our Super isn't quite a fool, and he knew that the publicity Leyland had acquired had to be recognised—but with a step in rank outside the Criminal Investigation Branch. Anyway, Inspector Leyland sent Mrs. Leyland home with a flea in her ear. I overheard what our prospective Inspector had to say about landladies and lodgers—and most of it would interest any divorce judge. Mrs. Leyland thought so, too, judging by her expression when she left the building."
"Say, you two!" Dizzy turned cold eyes on Miss Lancing and Inspector Pater. "Where have you been hiding for the past three dances? Miss Lancing, you may not remember it, but you promised me—"
"Yes." Paddy stared banefully at the tall Inspector. "And I certainly remember that Inspector Pater beseeched a dance from me, which he hasn't—"
"If I may have the honour now, Miss Burke." John Pater pushed back his chair hastily, rising with scarlet cheeks.
"Perhaps," said Paddy doubtfully. Then more hopefully. "Yes, I'll give you this dance. Auntie," she then turned to Miss Westways, "I believe Miss Lancing is thinking of retiring from business. May I have, her job as manageress of 'Florabella?' You know—" She swung to face Saul Murmer, "You know, Uncle Saul, I am going to settle down and become a business woman. Mel is studying accountancy and is going to give me lessons—"
"Accountancy is based on facts, Paddy," warned the journalist.
"I don't want facts," declared Paddy loftily. "I can guess right every time. Facts are for men; women rely on their intuitions."
"You go and dance," laughed Saul Murmer. "You'll be able to give your intuition plenty of work steering your partner through that crowd."
"All right!" Paddy jumped to her feet. "Come along, Inspector Pater. We'll leave our old relations to discuss their wine and friends." She paused a few steps from the table, looking back wistfully: "Are you not going to dance tonight, auntie?"
"We've got affairs to discuss, Paddy." Saul Murmer smiled up at the girl. There was an undercurrent of seriousness in his voice. "I'm going back to England very soon."
"Can Englishmen dance?" challenged the girl, laughingly.
"Englishmen invented dancing," stated the detective solemnly. "I promise you shall have excellent partners in London."
"Oh!" The girl's eyes wandered from one to the other of the two middle-aged people remaining at the table. "I—see—You want me to dance at a wedding in London" The girl bent swiftly and kissed Saul Murmer on the one spot on top of his head that was giving him some anxiety at the moment. "Contracts, uncle Saul. And let it be soon, please."
"Paddy!" exclaimed Miss Westways, reprovingly. As the girl moved away, laughing, she turned to the Englishman—and somehow their hands met and held. "Really—Saul, I seem to be always saying 'Paddy' in reproving tones."
"A bad habit, m'dear." The Englishman's clasp on the lady's hands tightened. "You'll have to be careful or, perhaps one day you'll be saying 'Saul' in reproving tones."
The lights in the hall suddenly dimmed. Swift moving coloured lights played over the circling couples on the dance floor. Behind one of the pillars, Luke Lenoire, famous mâitre-d'hôtel of the Green Lagoon, who was approaching to see that his esteemed customer, Inspector Saul Murmer, lacked nothing, turned quickly away, his hand discreetly shielding an involuntary smile. He glanced back once, and murmured to himself. "M'sieu surely performs admirably."
This site is full of FREE ebooks - Project Gutenberg Australia