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Title: The Carson Loan Mystery Author: Aidan de Brune * A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook * eBook No.: 1701001.html Language: English Date first posted: Oct 2017 Most recent update: May 2019 This eBook was produced by Colin Choat, Terry Walker and Roy Glashan. Project Gutenberg of Australia eBooks are created from printed editions which are in the public domain in Australia, unless a copyright notice is included. We do NOT keep any eBooks in compliance with a particular paper edition. Copyright laws are changing all over the world. Be sure to check the copyright laws for your country before downloading or redistributing this file. This eBook is made available at no cost and with almost no restrictions whatsoever. You may copy it, give it away or re-use it under the terms of the Project Gutenberg of Australia License which may be viewed online at http://gutenberg.net.au/licence.html To contact Project Gutenberg of Australia go to http://gutenberg.net.au
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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.
"The Carson Loan Mystery" by Aidan de Brune is an addition to the Bookstall series, published by the N.S.W. Bookstall, Co., Ltd. As its title indicates, the novel is one of mystery, and deals with complications arising out of a loan of a large sum of money. The locale of the story is Sydney, and introduces many places familiar to those who have visited that capital."
—The Sunday Times, Perth, 27 March 1927.
An entertaining book for a couple of autumn evenings has been added to the Bookstall series, in the story with the above title. It is by Aidan de Brune, who... writes a most interesting story, concerned with the unscrupulous activities of several more or less shady characters in the multi-phased life of Sydney. The author knows Sydney, and also knows passing well the procedure in police and detective departments, besides having a passing acquaintance with newspaper staff feuds. The result is a smart novel, brightly written.
—The Gosford Times and Wyong District Advocate, 17 March 1927.
"IT'S the queerest bit o' business I've seen."
Constable Nicholls was standing on the sandhills that border Little Bay, looking down into a shallow depression, in which lay the body of a naked woman. His large, red, good-humoured face wore an expression of almost comical dismay, as he leisurely scratched his thinly covered head with the peak of his official cap. Nicholls was not recognised in the New South Wales Police Force for his readiness to grasp a situation.
The woman had been about forty-five years of age. The features, once possessing a measure of beauty, had been coarsened and lined by a life of dissipation and want. The hair, roughly bobbed, was sprinkled with grey, and the liberally applied cosmetics had formed grotesque channels through the action of the heavy morning dew.
The woman lay on her back, her knees slightly drawn up. Under her had been strewn a rough bed of rushes, and, for some reason, the murderer had carefully folded and placed across the lower part of the body the clothes the woman had worn in life. Her face was placid, but for a queer twisted smile that curved the thin bloodless lips.
Nicholls looked at his watch. It was just five o'clock, and the first rays of the morning sun were lifting above the eastern horizon. A haze, almost thick enough to be called a fog, hung over the sand-hills, giving the surroundings an effect of long distances. About three hundred yards north of where the constable stood the waters of the bay shone intermittently through the haze.
"They should be here, soon," commented Nicholls, stowing in an inner pocket the massive silver timepiece he had consulted. Then he turned to his companion, a long lanky youth of about seventeen years of age: "There's no work for you t'day, m'lad."
Archie Clarke nodded vacantly, and continued to stare down at the woman's body.
"She was like that when I found her," he said, hesitatingly.
"Likely, lad," replied Nicholls, magisterially, "Them as 'as been treated as she 'as don't move much after. Leastways, not till we moves 'em."
"I didn't touch 'er," continued the youth. "'Struth, I didn't. She's just as I told you I found 'er. I was comin' across that 'ere path, game as I've done every day this year past, to go to work, when I seed 'er."
"Is it more'n a year, or less'n a year, you've come across 'ere'?" The constable stuck his hands on his hips and frowned down on his companion. "You've got ter be exact, y'know, in these eases."
Archie looked puzzled.
"You might remember later on," added Nicholls, shaking his head, sadly. "Go on wi' yer tale, Archie. It ain't many as remembers th' exact particulars when face ter face wi' th' lor, Yer 'ave ter be trained to it."
"I've told you all I know about it, Mr. Nicholls," protested the youth.
"So yer 'ave, an' I writ it all down," replied the constable, "But it won't 'urt yer t' say it all over agen. You'll tell a better story when yer comes affore th' magistrate. I does it m'self. I goes over an' over it agen, an' agen, an' adds a bit 'ere, an' leaves out a bit there, as don't count. Y' don't know wot you're up agenst, If yer tells it wrong they may even take yer up for th' murder. They've done it affore, an' they'll do it agen, I can tell yer."
Nicholls paused, and looked down at his companion, now duly impressed.
"You're a decent lad, Archie Clarke. I've 'ad me eye on yer fer some time, you livin', so t' speak, in my district. An' I makes no complaint, tho' there's them as might seein' th' row you an' your mates make in Main Street ov a Friday night."
"We don't do no 'arm, Mr. Nicholls," argued Archie.
"P'haps not. So I gives yer a word of advice." Nicholls spoke authoritatively. "You tells your tale as you told it me, an' as I writ it down, an' don't yer make no h'errors. When we lays 'ands on th' bloke as done this, you tells your tale to th' Judge and jury—an' th' Loord 'ave mercy on yes soul."
"All right, Mr. Nicholls," answered Archie cheerfully. "They won't do anythin' to me, will they. I couldn't 'elp findin' er."
"Not if yer do as I ses," replied the constable. "An' there's one thin' more. Beware of them noospaper blokes. They'll be all over yer, er tellin' yer wot a fine feller y'are, an' ow yer saved the country by findin' this 'ere female. Then, they'll take yer words an' cut an' twist 'em, an' turn 'em up-side-down an' yer won't know wot yer sed, an' then th' H'Inspector 'll call yer a fool, an' worse, an'—Yes, sir."
The constable sprang to attention as a tall form loomed out of the mist.
"There you are, Nicholls. Had a devil of a time getting here. Ah, there she is. Bad case, eh!"
"Very bad, sir. It's—murder," announced Nicholls pompously. "This 'ere's the principal witness, sir."
Inspector Richards looked at Archie Clarke, casually; then nodded.
"I'll hear what you have to say presently, my lad," he said, brusquely. "You've not touched the body, constable?"
"No one's been down there, sir, 'cept th' murderers. Clarke and I 'ave stood up 'ere ever since 'e fetched me."
With a nod of approval the Inspector walked down into the hollow and stood beside the corpse. Bending down he looked, earnestly, into the still face. Then, silently and methodically, be circled the body, carefully examining the ground.
"Humph!" Richards climbed on to the high ground, and stood beside the constable and youth. "You don't seem to have done any damage, Nicholls. She's dead, so we'll leave things as they are until the doctor and others arrive. I'm a few minutes ahead of them."
The Inspector looked down on the dead body, thoughtfully, for a few seconds. Then he turned briskly to the boy.
"So you are the boy who found her? What's your name?"
"Archie Clarke, sir."
"Where do you live, Clarke?"
"14 Milton Street, Maroubra, sir."
"Good. Now, how did you come to find the body? Speak up, smartly."
"I've got it all writ down, sir," interposed Nicholls, importantly.
"Then keep it so," snapped Richards. "We may want it later, but I'll get my facts first-hand. Now, Clarke, tell your story."
The constable stepped back, somewhat abashed. Archie Clarke hesitated.
"Get on with it, boy. You say you live at Maroubra. Well, how did you come to be on these sandhills so early in the morning?"
"I come across 'ere every morning', sir."
"To go to work."
"Early or late, this morning?"
"'Bout usual time, sir. I leaves 'ome about 'arf-past three an' gets there about four. I shall be late this mornin'."
"Afraid you will." Richards smiled, grimly.
"What's your job, Archie?"
"Milk round, Walker's Dairy, Randwick. Can I go now? Mr. Walker told me not to be long."
"Not unless you take Constable Nicholls with you, my lad. Do you think he would look pretty on the cart. No, I can see you don't. For the present you'd better stick close to the constable. Later, you may be able to go home or go to work, just as you please. Now, lets get your tale straight. Your name is 'rchie Clarke; you live at Maroubra, and you work for Mr. Walker, a dairyman, at Randwick. Then you said you come across this track every morning between three-thirty and four o'clock. That right?"
"Then how did you come to see this woman? You can't see into this hollow from that track?"
"I wasn't walkin' right on th' track sir," replied the youth. "Just alongside, an' I saw some ov them things flutterin'. So I came over to see what it was—an' then I saw 'er."
The youth hesitated.
"Go ahead, Archie," urged the Inspector kindly. "What did you do then?"
"Ran all the way to Mr. Walker's, an' told 'im."
"Mr. Walker rang up the police station an' told 'em. Then, when Mr. Nicholls came, he told me to bring 'im 'ere. An' I did."
"That lets you out," observed the Inspector. "Wait a moment."
Richards left the pair and walked over to the track. There he carefully scanned the ground, walking along the pad a considerable distance both ways.
"Quite right, Archie," he said, when he returned to the edge of the hollow. "When I've heard the constable's report I may be able to indulge your secret passion for work. Yes, constable."
"Robert Nicholls, constable, number 41,593, stationed at Randwick, sir." Nicholls drew himself up erect, and spoke in a severely official voice. "At 4.10 a.m. received instructions from Sergeant Appleby to go to Mr. Walker, a dairyman, at Randwick, in reference to a ease of suspected murder. At Mr. Walker's saw witness, Archie Clarke, who stated he had found the dead body of a woman on the sand-hills near Little Bay. I accompanied him to the spot indicated and investigated, sir."
"Your investigations taking the form of mounting guard," commented Richards, drily. "I admire your discretion, constable."
"I was examining the witness, sir." Nicholls assumed an air of injured rectitude. "Then I was—"
"Perhaps it is as well I arrived before the examination concluded," observed the Inspector, grimly. "There seems to be few clues as it is, and if you had commenced tramping the ground down there—"
"What's that?" Archie Clarke was pointing over the sandhills to where the indistinct form of a man clad in a long white coat loomed out of the mist. He was acting in a very peculiar manner, stooping low, and dodging from bush to bush.
"Who's that?" shouted Nicholls, importantly.
The man halted, and dropped behind a clump of bushes. For some minutes the officers strained their eyes to see where he had gone to. Presently Clarke touched the Inspector on the arm, and pointed well away to the right. Richards caught a glimpse of a white coat vanishing around a clump of rushes. Beckoning to his companions, Richards led the way towards where the man had disappeared. Again Clarke pointed to the right. The man was evidently circling to get to the place where the woman's body lay.
"Halt, or I fire," Nicholls rushed forward, tugging at his revolver.
The man gave a swift look round and then started to run, curving around in the direction of Randwick.
"You damned fool," muttered Richards, angrily. "If you had kept your ugly mouth shut in the first place he would have walked into our arms. Come on, he's getting away from us."
It was heavy running on the loose sand. Nicholls plodded heavily along in the rear, groaning and spluttering. Clarke, younger and lighter, drew steadily ahead, and noticeably gained on the fugitive.
"There's a road over there," panted Nicholls, heavily.
"What's the good of that?" shouted the Inspector, testily. "A road's not a wall. It's up to that boy. He can run."
The fugitive breasted a steep sandhill that slowed the pursuing officers to a walk. Archie Clarke made up a lot of ground on the climb, and was only half a dozen yards in the rear when the man reached the summit. There, the man turned and waved a derisive farewell to his pursuers, and slid out of sight.
The Inspector struggled gamely up the loose, shifting sand, confident that when he reached the top he would have his quarry under observation into the town. Once there he halted and looked around. The man had disappeared.
At the feet of the officer lay Archie Clarke, insensible, and bleeding from an ugly head wound.
RUGH THORNTON tilted his chair back and hoisted his feet on to his desk. Business was slack, and the afternoon's Star interesting.
Twelve month's previous Rugh had been a member of the Star's staff. Investigations he had made into the activities of certain assurance company-promoters had attracted the attention of leading men of the assurance world. He had received an offer from a syndicate of the leading assurance companies to enter their employ and carry on his investigation work, and had promptly accepted. His work was interesting. Every new assurance company came under his review, and his keen insight into their methods and objects, as well as into the history of the men behind them, had resulted in making New South Wales unsafe for the unscrupulous insurance company promoter, and wild-cat companies.
The Star's account of the finding of a woman's naked body on the sandhills around Little Bay was extremely brief and pointless. Rugh was puzzled, for the Star's criminal investigator, Harry Sutherland, was a keen and clever journalist, usually well ahead of official investigations.
In the matter of the Little Bay Mystery the Star had taken a scrupulously official viewpoint. No attempt had been made at an independent newspaper investigation, and the impression conveyed was that the Little Bay Murder was one of the sordid crimes common to large cities.
The well-trained brain of the assurance investigator refused to consider the murder in the aspect presented by the Star report. There were many unexplained points that puzzled him.
The woman's body had been stripped. It was not uncommon for murderers to strip their victims in the search for valuables of one kind or another. Yet the police were confident the woman was one of the "lost sisters" of the city, and unlikely to have anything of value on her person.
Again, while the body had been stripped, the clothes had not been thrown about haphazard, but had been carefully folded and placed on the body. This, alone, presented a problem of an original character. Few murderers are sufficiently cool-headed to spare time and thought for such actions.
The man seen by the police in the vicinity of the dead woman, almost immediately after the discovery of the body, presented another problem. If the woman was one of the "lost sisters" of the city, and had been murdered by this man, why should he hang around the spot. Murderers usually place a considerable distance between themselves and their crimes, as quickly as possible.
While the official report strove to show the Little Bay murder as a common, sordid crime, it could not conceal the unusual nature of the surroundings. The report laid great stress on the doctor's report that the woman had been kicked to death, as supporting their theory of thug-murder, but neglected to explain the stripping of the body, the careful disposal of the clothes, and the return of the supposed murderer to the scene of his crime.
Rugh laid the newspaper aside with an exclamation of displeasure. It was a mystery that would have appealed to him during his journalistic career. He would have thrown himself, heart and soul, into the hunt, combing Sydney's underworld from end to end.
Those days had passed. The greater tragedies of the city were not for him. He had his work in the protection of a branch of the city's commerce. In the hunt for the murderer in the Little Bay mystery he was now but one of the great public who stand and watch the passing show.
Not altogether. Harry Sutherland, the criminal investigator on the Star's staff, was his personal friend. Harry would willingly give him inside information and discuss the mystery with him.
Rugh caught up the telephone. The girl at the Star's switchboard recognised his voice, and under a minute he was speaking to his friend.
"Rugh Thornton, by the favour of the gods," ejaculated Harry, on listening in. "The one man I wanted. I was going to hunt you up this afternoon, old man."
"Hunt round my office, now," invited the assurance man. "I'm not running away. How long will you be?"
"Five minutes," replied Harry, reaching for his hat. "Dinkum."
Less than five minutes later the Star man entered Rugh's offices and deposited his long length in the most comfortable chair he could find. Then he took off the high-powered spectacles he wore and polished the lenses carefully.
"What's the trouble, Harry?" asked Rugh. The careful polishing of the glasses was an unfailing sign of worry with Harry Sutherland.
"Same inquiry from the Star man," retorted Harry. "As you beat me to the 'phone, suppose you spill first."
"All right," replied Rugh, indifferently. "I want the correct dope on the Little Bay Mystery."
"Read the Star. All the winners, spiced with political scandals, and the dinkum official dope on births, marriages, divorces, and sudden deaths."
"Since when has the Star assumed the role of official apologists for the N.S.W. Police Force?" asked Rugh, sarcastically.
Harry pulled out his watch and studied it. Then he gave his crop of unruly black hair a characteristic rake.
"A little over three and a half hours," he replied with a cheerful grin. "To be exact, since the noon edition, a copy of which I see on your desk."
"Are you interested, old man?"
"Intensely. I em interested to know when Harry Sutherland lost his punch."
"Your people expect you to take an interest in claims against them?" asked Harry, ignoring the assurance man's question.
"Occasionally. You know they run claim inspectors for that work."
"Yet, they are liable to call on you?"
"They might. In the event of their regular men falling down on it."
"They have called on you to investigate claims?"
"What are you driving at, Harry?" asked Rugh, impatiently. "Yes, if you want to know, they have called on my services. Twice."
"Thought so. And they'll call again?"
"Possibly. Get on with your beans, you ass."
"Say, in the event of a mysterious murder?"
Rugh was silent a minute. Then he got out of his chair and strode over to where Harry was seated. "There's something on your mind," he commanded. "Spill it."
"The Little Bay Murder."
"Do you suggest any of my companies are likely to be concerned in the matter?" Rugh asked, speaking deliberately. "Your account of the police investigations presumes the murder to be of an ordinary type and likely to be quickly solved by the authorities."
"Think so?" Harry pulled out a well-seasoned briar pipe and earnestly explored the interior. "Nothing in that account that strikes you as—well, strange?"
Rugh looked at his friend, closely. Harry was intent on his pipe.
"Only that you wrote it," he said at length.
"So." The journalist carefully pieced his pipe together. "There's a Chink, calling itself a Scot, in our office."
"Name McAdoo." The investigator returned to his seat. "What's his latest?"
"Damned if I know." Harry reached out a long arm and commandeered Rugh's tobacco pouch. "He called me on the carpet this morning. Informed me space was valuable, and that an experienced journalist would not require more than a half-column for so trite an affair as the Little Bay murder."
"I guess the 'experienced journalist' had something to say?"
"Said a lot, and all to the point, but—"
"Was informed, somewhat brutally, that three-quarters of the journalists of the Commonwealth were eager to jump into the position of investigator to the Star newspaper. Eh?"
"You might have been behind the door." Harry pulled vigorously, and inquisitively, at his pipe.
"Interesting," commented Rugh.
"Damned interesting." Harry hit the arm of his chair with his open hand, angrily. "I'm coupling that up with a conversation I heard an hour or so previous. No, you old flathead, I wasn't snooping in the office. You know what the 'phone service is there. Wires all of a tangle, and when you cut in you're likely to get anything from the Governor-General to an electric shock. I got McAdoo."
"Heard two sentences before I realised I was snooping. They were: 'The police statements are all I require published.' That was a stranger speaking. Then McAdoo's sweet tones, super-oiled, replied: 'That will be difficult to arrange, Mr. Brene. But if you insist, of course I will do my best.'"
"Sam Brene!" Rugh whistled softly. "You are sure it was the murder they were discussing, Harry?"
"It links up." Harry blew out a cloud of thick evil-smelling smoke. "Story killed, on top of what I overheard. No other police matter in the paper of moment, and—"
"I didn't handle McAdoo any too gently when he called me off," confessed the journalist. "It got me on the raw, and—well, it's the best thing I've had since I took over your job on the Star. I asked McAdoo, straight, what Brene's interest in the matter was."
"Good. You've got a nerve, all right. What did he answer?"
"Stalled badly, of course. The old man can't keep a straight face when he's cornered. Asked what I meant, and looked as confused as a flapper when handed an ice-cream instead of a cocktail."
"Seems reasonable," remarked Rugh, after some minutes' reflection. "Now, where do I come in?"
"Sam Brene's not too far off when there's money floating around," answered the Star man, shortly. "You know his record. Boss of the Town Hall, jury fixer, and king of the grafters' brigade."
"You're guessing a lot, old man."
"I am." Harry abandoned his air of carelessness, and leaned forward earnestly. "I'm guessing it all. I'm guessing that within twenty-four hours you will be on the trail of the Little Bay murderer, with a stake in the game worth playing for."
HARRY SUTHERLAND'S insistence that he would shortly be officially interested in the Little Bay Murder case much perplexed Rugh Thornton, It seemed improbable that the violent death of one of Sydney's "lost sisters" should have any connection with the syndicate of assurance companies employing him. It was possible the woman had been insured for a small amount in one of the companies specialising in low priced policies, but in that event the assurance would be paid without demur. The amount would be too trivial to fight over.
Rugh had a great respect for the abilities of the Star investigator. Harry had a reputation in the journalistic world that was unquestioned. His report of the telephone conversation between Sam Brene and the Star's Chief of Staff was disturbing, though it might not apply to the murder mystery. At any rate, it showed that the Town Hall boss had a string tied on the newspaper.
The next morning Rugh went down to the Criminal Investigation Branch of the New South Wales Police and asked for Inspector Richards. At times he had come in close contact with the police officer and had learned to respect his undoubted abilities.
"You interested in the Little Bay Murder?" exclaimed Richards, when he heard Rugh's errand. "There's nothing in the case that can possibly touch the interests of your companies, Thornton. Why, the woman was one of the type you meet by hundreds in the poorer quarters of the city."
"You have traced her, Richards?"
"Sure thing. Wasn't a difficult matter." The Inspector drew a photograph from his pocket. "Do you know her?"
Rugh shook his head. It was not probable he would have come across such a woman in circumstances that would cause him to remember her. He took the photograph, and studied the pictured face. The woman had once possessed some little claim to beauty, and death, most merciful, had wiped away the coarsening lines of years of evil living.
"Didn't think you would," continued Richards. "Still, newspaper men run up against some queer people in their work. We've got a line on her. Found her husband, and got that photo from him. It's five years old, and she's aged a lot in the time."
"Her husband?" exclaimed Rugh. "Quick work, that, Richards."
"Not so slow, I think." The Inspector appeared to be well satisfied with himself. "He couldn't give us much. Hadn't seen the lady for four or five years. She left him, and went on her own."
"What about the husband?" asked the investigator.
"A decent, hard-working chap," replied the Inspector. "A bit of a pal of one of our chaps at Headquarters. Carpenter by trade, and has a good character from his employers. No, he's let out of it."
"You say she left him. What for?" Rugh was probing for a motive for the murder.
"Not fast enough, s'pose." Richards spoke carelessly. "You'd be surprised how many women in that walk of life give their hubbies the 'good-bye.' Life's too strenuous for them. They read in the papers of Jazz parties and surfing, and late suppers and flickers. It makes 'em discontented; cookin' hubby's tea and breakfast, and washing up after him, has no excitement."
"I had no idea you were a social reformer, Richards," laughed Rugh. "You're almost eloquent."
"Most of our chaps are," retorted the Inspector, soberly. "It's from this woman's class most of the serious crime comes. Take this little lady—Ruth Collins is her name. She gets discontented with her husband, and her life. Takes a drop to cheer her up. Along comes another chap, single, and with a bit of dough. Throws it about, and boasts what a good time he'll give his girl."
"So the lady falls?"
"Sure thing." Richards waved a hand, vaguely, "It's a choice between drudgery and what's called a life of pleasure. Off goes madam on the time-payment system."
"What the—" Rugh stared at the officer, amazedly.
"What else can you call it?" demanded Richards. "She goes with the man on the chance time will clear hubby out of the road. Sometimes time is kind, and the loving couple get married, and quarrel ever after. Let me tell you, my boy, I've come across a good many of these ladies in my time. They're honey itself to their lovers, while hubby's alive. Lord, if they'd given their legitimate mates half the sugar they waste on other men, married life would be a garden of Eden."
"Get back to Ruth Collins," suggested Rugh.
"Oh, in her ease hubby was too much in love with life. A hectic year or so, and the lover disappeared. Ruth couldn't go back and hubby couldn't afford a divorce. So there was another lover. It's that, or ill paid factory work."
"Finally?" queried the investigator.
"The streets. Believe what you like, Thornton, I've got a big sympathy with our 'lost sisters.' Life's damned hard on them. Virtue's its own reward, and there's damned few pleasures scattered on the straight and narrow path."
"Inspector Richards preaches an immoral sermon," murmured the investigator. "I take it, the identification of Ruth is the extent of police knowledge, at present?"
"Practically," admitted Richards, honestly, "It's early days to form theories. Why, we can't even get a dear description of the man who knocked down the boy, Archie Clarke. And I haw him with my own eyes."
"How is Clarke?"
"Improving quickly. Got a nasty bump on the head. Lucky for him it Was a slanting blow, but that wasn't the fault of our white-coated friend. He hit for murder, damned vicious scoundrel."
Rugh looked down at the photograph of the murdered woman he had held during the conversation. "May I keep this, Richards?" he asked.
"Sure. But what's your game, Thornton. Thought you were employed to guard vested interests. This dead woman isn't likely to cause a run on the coffers of your assurance companies."
"More unlikely things might happen," said the assurance man, lightly. "No one has put in a claim on her behalf, yet, but one never knows."
"If that happens the company may offer a private reward for the apprehension of the murderer," chaffed the Inspector.
"Possibly. Would it be a gift for the police force?" Richards became grave.
"We shall get that man, Thornton," he said. "There's few of 'em who succeed in baffling us."
"Look here, Richards." Rugh made up his mind to test Harry Sutherland's information. "Is there a string on this inquiry?"
The Inspector looked puzzled.
"You can guess what I mean," continued Rugh. "It would not be the first time some influence has stepped in between a criminal and justice. Are you chaps after the murderer for all you, and the department, are worth?"
The Inspector flushed with anger.
"If I didn't guess you had a good reason behind your question, Thornton, I should resent it," he said, sternly.
"I've got a reason, and a good one," replied Rugh, calmly. "I'm not saying the string is on you, but—is it on the Department?"
"If there's a string anywhere it won't affect me, and I handle this case. If I thought the N.S.W. police force was out to shield a murderer, I'd resign."
"I believe you," exclaimed Rugh, impulsively, holding out his hand.
"You had a reason for your question?" asked Richards, quickly.
Briefly, Rugh recounted Harry Sutherland's tale of the overheard telephone conversation between the Star's Chief of Staff and Sam Brene. The police officer listened, thoughtfully.
"I am not going to say there have not been attempts made to tie strings on to the police," he remarked, when Rugh finished. "Politics, to-day, is a game of string pulling. More than once big influence has been used to protect criminals—and not always has that influence utterly failed."
The Inspector paused, and looked steadily at the assurance investigator.
"But, not in murder cases." he continued, passionately. "Murderers stand alone, against the whole police force. Sam Brene may have a pull in the Star office. More than likely he has. But, he has no pull with Edward Richards, Inspector of Police. Take that from me."
Rugh strolled down to his offices, thinking deeply of his interview with Inspector Richards. The theory advanced by Harry Sutherland, that he would be mixed up in the Little Bay Murder seemed so remote as to be absurd.
His clerk met him as he entered his offices.
"Mr. Wilbur Orchard, of the Balmain and South Assurance Company, telephoned an hour ago that he would be glad to see you immediately," said the boy. Then he added, in a half-whisper: "Said it was in reference to the Little Bay Murder."
THE SUMMONS to the Balmain and South Assurance Company astonished the investigator. He had laughed when Harry Sutherland affirmed he would be involved, officially, in the Little Bay Murder, within a short time. Now had come a request to attend the managing director of the largest and wealthiest of the companies retaining his services. That request had been coupled with the direct intimation that the Little Bay Murder would be the subject of the interview.
Leaving his offices, abruptly, Rugh went down to the assurance company in Elizabeth Street. Wilbur Orchard was awaiting him, striding agitatedly up and down his room. When Rugh entered the private office he came to meet him with outstretched hand.
"Glad you were able to come right away," he said, curtly. "I rang up directly I knew the tangle we were in. Sit down, Mr. Thornton."
Rugh looked curiously at the managing director of the Balmain and South. Although that company was a prominent member of the syndicate he served, this was the first time he had come in touch with Wilbur Orchard, its controlling genius. He saw a short, thickset man of about fifty years of age. The face was square, clean-shaven, and dominated by a forceful chin. Prominent eyebrows, thickly sprinkled with grey, shaded keen grey-blue eyes. The forehead was high, and surmounted by closely cropped hair, almost white.
"Curiously, I have been making a few enquiries into the Little Bay Murder this morning," replied Rugh.
Wilbur Orchard turned abruptly to face the assurance investigator.
"A journalist friend is on the case for his newspaper. His statements of certain aspects of the case aroused my curiosity." Rugh spoke formally. He rather resented the autocratic tone of the question.
"That all?" Wilbur Orchard crossed to his desk and sat down. "Sorry if I am somewhat abrupt this morning. Had some news that upset me."
"I presume it is because of that news you sent for me?"
"Yes." Wilbur Orchard fumbled on his desk for a few moments. Then he passed a postcard-size photograph across to Rugh. "Know that woman?"
"Ruth Collins, the woman who was murdered two days ago on the sandhills at Little Bay." Rugh smiled, and produced from his pocket a similar photograph. "I am curious to know where you obtained your copy of the photograph, Mr. Orchard. When I was given my copy I was informed only a few copies had been printed."
"Never mind that. Yes, I will tell you. I sent over to the Inspector-General for it."
"You must have had a very strong reason for so unusual an action," commented Rugh.
"I had. I believe this company is to be the object of a deliberate fraud."
"Is to be," repeated Rugh. "Then any scheme to defraud has not yet been put in operation?"
"Not so far as we are aware of." Wilbur Orchard picked up a panel photograph from his desk and handed it to the assurance investigator. "Do you know that woman?"
It was the portrait of a girl in her early twenties. Rugh thought he had never seen a more beautiful face. The steadfast eyes looked out from a pure, oval face, framed in a wealth of wavy hair drawn low over the forehead. A slender, rounded, neck held the beautiful head proudly on well-shaped shoulders. The dress was short, revealing graceful legs, slender ankles, and well-formed feet.
"No." Rugh surrendered the photograph, reluctantly. "If your story connects these two photographs it will be, indeed, strange."
"It does." Wilbur Orchard leaned forward across his desk, drumming on the wood with the tips of his fingers. "Are these photographs of the same woman?"
Rugh looked up, startled.
"What exactly do you mean, Mr. Orchard?" he asked, deliberately.
"Answer my question. Would you take these photographs to be of the same person?"
"No." The assurance investigator spoke emphatically. "No sane person would suggest such a thing."
"I believe within a very short time such a claim will be made on this office." Wilbur Orchard smiled grimly as he spoke. "In fact, I have received information to that effect."
"You wish me to understand a claim will be made on this office for an assurance on Ruth Collins, the woman murdered at Little Bay?" asked Rugh, incredulously. "You know the history of that woman?"
"The Inspector-General sent over certain details. Her husband is a carpenter. She left him, lived with other men up to the time or her death. Do you know more?"
"No. You have all the information at present available. Such a woman would hardly be assured for a sum worth fighting about?"
"Do you call two hundred thousand pounds a trifle, Mr. Thornton?" Wilbur Orchard uttered the words in a low tone.
"Two hundred thousand pounds!" Rugh stared at the managing director amazedly. "Do you mean to say that woman was assured in your office to that amount?"
"I have not made such a statement." Wilbur Orchard became peculiarly calm. "I said a claim for that amount will probably be made on this company, within a few days. Perhaps I had better tell you the story in proper sequence. I intend to fight that claim, with your assistance, Thornton."
Turning to a wall safe behind his chair, Wilbur Orchard took out a bundle of papers, and opened them on his desk.
"Twelve years ago the Balmain and South Assurance Company was young and struggling." commenced the managing director. "We had only a small capital and assurance was difficult to write. Money was scarce at that time. It became necessary to raise a sum of fifty thousand pounds. Applications to the banks were unsuccessful. A financial house offered an accommodation, but the terms were extortionate. We had almost decided, however, we must accept these terms when an offer of the sum we required came from a private source."
The assurance director turned over the papers on his desk and selected a legal looking document.
"The offer came from a Mr. Colin Carson, of Roxine Chambers, Pitt Street, Sydney. He described himself as a financier. The offer was a good one."
Again Wilbur Orchard paused, and consulted the document he held.
"The terms were extremely good," he continued. "Unusual in some particulars. I will grant, but faced with the alternative of paying nearly seven times the interest per annum and hampering conditions, from the financial house we had been negotiating with, my fellow directors agreed with me that our best course was to close immediately with Mr. Carson's offer, and ignore anything unusual."
"Wait," exclaimed Wilbur Orchard, as Rugh was about to speak. "There was a condition Mr. Carson insisted on having inserted in the deed, although we assured him we did not require the money for more than a few months; six at the outside. He stipulated that if the money was not repaid to him, personally, or to his heirs, personally, on the due date, the interest should automatically increase by one per cent for every year the loan was outstanding, and interest at the same rate be paid on all interest due."
"The interest for the second year would be seven per cent.," suggested Rugh.
"Precisely. For the third year, eight per cent., and so on. Of course, a like interest would be payable on the interest outstanding."
"Your directors made no objection to so unusual a condition?" asked Rugh.
"We never contemplated the possibility of the loan standing longer than twelve months," replied Orchard.
"From your remarks I judge the loan has not yet been repaid," said Rugh. "With a company as financially strong as the Balmain and South I am surprised. The interest to-day must be very large."
"Last years interest on the accumulated sum of the loan was at the rate of seventeen per cent. As you have stated, the loan has never been repaid."
"For what reason, Mr. Orchard?"
"The absence of the lender. He disappeared. At the end of the first twelve months I wrote to the address given in the deed, informing Mr. Carson the company proposed to repay the loan on due date."
"That letter was returned to me, by the Postal authorities, marked 'addressee unknown.'"
"YOU MEAN to say Mr. Carson left Sydney without advising you where he was going, and did not return?" asked Rugh, perplexedly.
"Exactly." Wilbur Orchard had lost the air of irritableness that had characterised him during the first part of the interview, and now spoke with the direct crispness of the successful business man. "We made every endeavour to find him. Advertised. Employed detectives, but to no purpose. He literally vanished from the face of the earth."
"Leaving behind him the sum of fifty thousand pounds!" said Rugh, astonished.
"Considerably more than that," corrected the insurance director. "There was interest due, amounting to three thousand pounds."
"I take it that your directors were anxious to repay the loan at the end of the first year?"
"Yes," Wilbur Orchard smiled slightly. "You must remember that there would be a further amount of compound interest, at the rate of seven per cent., falling due the following year, if we failed to make the repayment at the time stated. Seven per cent. on a loan not required is good money thrown away."
"The loan agreement does not provide for the absence of the lender?" asked Rugh. He was seeking a motive for the peculiar business methods of Colin Carson.
"The direct stipulation provided for in the loan deed required that repayment must be made to the lender, or in the event of his death to his heirs, personally."
"It would be open to the Company to apply to the Courts to presume the death of Mr. Carson," said the assurance investigator.
"That action must, undoubtedly, be taken at an early date." The managing director shifted, uneasily, in his seat. "Do you realise, Mr. Thornton, that we are compelled to provide interest on the compounded total of the loan at the rate of seventeen per cent. Its enormous. This last year we had to set aside out of our profits a sum of over £23,000 as interest on this loan. At the interest for next year—18 per cent.—we shall be liable for a sum considerably over £30,000. A few years and the yearly interest will rapidly exceed the original capital sum.
"Why have you allowed the total to amount up in this way?" Rugh asked, curiously. "It would have been but common sense to go to the Courts for relief—to presume the death of the lender, and pay the money into some fund—years ago."
Wilbur Orchard hesitated, before replying.
"To the average man such action would appear most natural. But great organisations, such as the Balmain and South, exist on too precarious a commercial plane. You would be surprised, Mr. Thornton, if you were told the large sums of money a company such as this parts with every year rather than go to law. Cases the average commercial man would fight tooth and nail are compounded by us. Our business is too complicated and insecure to allow of law publicity."
"Insecure?" Rugh thought of the millions held in reserve by the assurance companies in Australia, alone.
"Yes. Insecure. We must be continually seeking new business, and from a fickle public. If we made a practice of resisting claims made on us we should quickly forfeit public favour. The statement would be broadcast that we were resisting legitimate claims, and a large quantity of the new business would go to our competitors."
Rugh thought deeply for a few minutes.
"You are asking a difficult thing, Mr. Orchard," he said, at length. "From what you tell me the trail is so old I shall have great difficulty in finding people who may have come in contact with Colin Carson. For instance, the solicitors who drew up the loan deed?"
"Mr. Carson asked that our solicitors should do that."
"Still, they must have interviewed him, as to details?"
"Weston, Sons and Hamilton, are our solicitors." Again Wilbur Orchard answered hesitatingly. "I believe Mr. Hamilton attended to the matter personally. He looked after our business. I regret to say he died some years ago."
"I presume you conducted the preliminary negotiations for the loan," said Rugh.
"I did. Mr. Carson called on me at this office twice. Other details were arranged by letter."
"Then you should be able to give a fairly accurate description of the man."
Wilbur Orchard laughed, shortly.
"There you have me at a disadvantage, Mr. Thornton," he exclaimed. "When Mr. Carson came to see me he was muffled up to the eyes. Said he was suffering from a severe attack of influenza, and he certainly looked like it. When I mentioned the matter to Mr. Weston he informed me he had caught but a glimpse of Mr. Carson when he called at his offices and he was then muffled in the same manner."
"But you can surely give me some description of the man?" exclaimed Rugh, in surprise.
The assurance director turned to the papers on his desk.
"The detectives we employed asked of me the same thing," he remarked, picking out a paper. "Here is the description of Colin Carson I drew up then. You will remember it was drawn up some years ago, so it is more likely to be accurate than my memory to-day."
Slipping on his glasses, Wilbur Orchard commenced to read slowly.
"Height, nearly six feet, very thin. Bald in front. Hair, scanty and black. High forehead. Eyebrows, thin and straight. Eyes, very dark brown, enlarged pupils. Nose, Roman. Remainder of face covered by thick woollen muffler. Voice, very husky and low, due to severe influenza attack. Hands, encased in thick woollen gloves, dark grey. Wore a heavy dark brown overcoat, with big collar; turned up. Kept it buttoned while in my office. Trousers, dark grey, indefinite pattern. Boots, lace-up, black. Carried an umbrella with an ivory skull as handle."
"Umbrella with ivory skull handle," repeated Rugh. "There's not many of them about."
"You must remember I am speaking of at least ten years ago," reminded Wilbur Orchard. "That umbrella is, no doubt, destroyed by this time. By the way, there is one thing I remember now I did not tell the detectives. The man had a mole high up on the left cheek-bone."
Rugh finished his notes and placed them in his pocket.
"Now, Mr. Orchard," he said, "we will go back to the two photographs. You asked me if I could trace any resemblance between them. What reason had you for such a question?"
"I thought you would come back to that," remarked the assurance director, with a smile. "Before I answer I should inform you of a conversation I had with Mr. Carson prior to the completion of the loan."
The managing director fidgeted with his papers for a while, and then continued:
"When Mr. Carson informed me of the terms he proposed I was somewhat taken aback. In particular, I questioned the clauses relating to the repayment of the loan. The fact of retaining the money for twelve months at the low rate of interest proposed was acceptable, although we had anticipated making the repayment in three or four months. I may say here, the terms proposed by the financial house we approached were, for three months' loan, at the rate of ten per cent."
"For the three months?"
"Yes. I questioned, particularly, the personal repayment clause. Mr. Carson would not give way. In conversation he stated he had a daughter, a schoolgirl, and that he had no other relatives. In the event of his death within the twelve months the money would be repayable to the trustees of his child."
"Did Mr. Carson say where the child was? If she was at school, or where?" asked Rugh.
"He promised me full particulars at a later date. Unfortunately the matter slipped my memory."
The assurance director hesitated, and then added:
"You will understand, Mr. Thornton, an institution, such as the Balmain and South was at that time, can use any amount of capital. Six, seven, and even ten per cent. are reasonable interests in building up a large business. Once we realised we were out of touch with Mr. Carson we allowed the matter to drift. It was inexcusable of us, I admit, but we thought Mr. Carson might turn up at any time, and we could come to some arrangement in regard to the accumulated and increased interest. It was only when the interest began to mount up abnormally, we began to get anxious."
"Then you have no knowledge of the daughter?"
"Yet you connect her, in some way, with the woman who was murdered on the sandhills at Little Bay. So far as I can see, Mr. Orchard, there are no grounds for such connection."
"You can see no likeness between the two women?" Wilbur Orchard asked the question, anxiously.
"There is no likeness. You have forgotten the big difference in ages."
"They are not the same women?"
"Yet I have been advised, by telephone, that a call will shortly be made on this Company for the repayment of the Carson Loan."
"That in no way connects the two women." Rugh spoke impatiently. The man before him appeared wishful to conceal information he had.
"I asked, over the 'phone, if I was speaking to Colin Carson, and received a reply in the negative. I then asked if my informant was speaking on behalf of Colin Carson's heiress."
A brutal laugh came to my ears over the wire. Then the voice said: "Oh, she's on the sandhills at Little Bay!"
"You asked who was speaking?"
"Twice. The first time the question was ignored; the second time the answer was: 'You'll know soon enough.'"
"Did you recognise the voice? Have you any remembrance of it? Was it a man, or a woman, speaking?" Rugh asked the questions rapidly.
"A man spoke. I seem to have a recollection of the voice, but at present I cannot place it."
"When did this conversation take place?"
"This morning," replied the managing director, his face blanching. "I had been reading about the murder coming in on the train. Immediately I telephoned for you."
WHO WAS the man who had telephoned Wilbur Orchard informing him a demand would shortly be made on the Balmain and South Assurance Company for the repayment of the Carson loan? Wilbur Orchard had stated he believed an attempt was to be made to defraud the Company and explained the telephone message as a piece of bravado on the part of one of the gang.
Rugh could not accept this theory. The reference to the heiress of Colin Carson being "on the sandhills at Little Bay" puzzled him. Was it an attempt to induce the belief that the murdered woman was Colin Carson's heiress?
Harry Sutherland's assertion that he would shortly be interested, officially, in the Little Bay Murder appeared to bear out this theory. On the other hand, Rugh could not trace any resemblance between the photographs or the murdered woman and Cohn Carson's daughter, and some general likeness was necessary to support the mysterious telephone message that Colin Carson's heiress would be found "on the sandhills at Little Bay."
Returning to his offices Rugh telephoned the Star offices, to be informed that Harry Sutherland was out at the moment. Leaving a message at the switchboard for the journalist to communicate with him immediately on his return, Rugh closed the door of his private office, and sat down to con over the problem.
Before him were three lines of inquiry. Slender threads but one of them might result in a clue he could follow. There was the man who had telephoned Wilbur Orchard. It was the newest clue, but a very weak one. Probably the call had originated from a public telephone booth. In that case much depended on the situation of the booth. If the man had used a booth at one of the crowded centres of the city he would have disappeared in the crowd immediately he left the instrument.
On the other hand, a man engaged on so delicate a mission might seek a booth in a situation where the chances of being overheard were slight. In that case, there was a possibility of him being remembered by someone in the vicinity. Pulling the telephone towards him, Rugh rang up "Information."
"A telephone call was put through to Mr. Wilbur Orchard of the Balmain and South Assurance Company about ten o'clock this morning," he said, when he obtained connection with the officer in charge. "Will you give me the number and address of the caller?"
"The Balmain and South have a large number of calls every day," objected 'Information.' "It may he impossible to single out the one you want."
"Quite so," Rugh laughed, softly. "Mr. Orchard will he obliged if you will give the messenger he is sending to you a list of the calls made to the Balmain and South between nine and ten-thirty this morning. All right. I will send over at once."
Opening his door, Rugh instructed Teddy Marlow, his clerk, to go to "Information" and ask for the list of calls being prepared for Mr. Orchard, of the Balmain and South Assurance Company.
Leaving his door open, so that he could watch the outer office during the absence of Marlow, Rugh returned to his desk.
The principal problem Wilbur Orchard had set him to solve was the disappearance of Colin Carson. A man of wealth has usually many anchors to civilisation. Colin Carson had been able to lend the Balmain and South a very large sum of money. Rugh had inquired on what bank the cheque had been drawn, and the managing director had stated the money had been handed over in the form of bearer securities. The financier had informed Orchard he had a daughter, a school-girl. Her name should appear in the records of some school, more probably a boarding school. Schoolgirls are prone to make lifelong friendships. Possibly he might chance on some schoolgirl-friend who still maintained a correspondence with Rita Carson.
Finally, there was the building in which Colin Carson had had his offices. "Roxine Chambers, Pitt Street," had been the address on the loan deed. This was a very slender clue. Years before, the detectives employed by the directors of the Assurance Company had no doubt searched the place. Even it they had missed a few points it would be almost impossible to pick them up after so long an interval.
The assurance investigator was roused from the reverie into which he had fallen, by the noisy entrance of the Star man.
"So." Harry Sutherland stood in the doorway, and looked down, quizzically, on his friend. "So, my words have come true. The noble protector of indigent assurance companies is on the track of the Little Bay murderer."
Rugh looked up with a start.
"What do you mean?" he exclaimed. "Look here, Harry, your remarks indicate you know more than you have told me. How do you come to know I am on the murder?"
Harry crossed the room and seated himself on the edge of the desk.
"If you desire, dear comrade, to peer into the depths of a detective's brain, catch him in maiden meditation, and let your fancy free. Seems my shot told. 'Nother thing. The famous Sherlock Holmes sent for his faithful Dr. Watson."
Rugh laughed. There was nothing else to do with Harry.
"All right," he said. "I am on the murder. At least, partially. Listen, and I will tell you how it came about."
Very briefly, Rugh went over the interview with Wilbur Orchard.
"Somewhere the two matters link up," he concluded. "You said I would be officially interested in the murder. I am. Now what reasons had you for that statement?"
"Not one iota of reason. Nothing but the bare fact that our mutual friend, Sam Brene, appears to be interested in the murder also. When that gentleman appears interested I look around with wide open eyes. His particular object in life is money, lots of it and, apparently, the dirtier, the better. Assurance companies have lots of money. Q.E.D."
"A damned long shot." commented Rugh.
"Not at all," returned the journalist, blithely. "Most people are insured, now-a-days. All Sam would consider, if he came across a dead body, would be, how much the dear departed was insured for, and, more particularly, how he could get his talons, not talents, dear comrade—on it."
"Reasonable reasoning for a Star journalist," laughed Rugh. "How's the hunt going?"
"Legions of police; hordes of the public; a few journalists, and many more 'would-be's;' fewer camera-men, and regiments of film-wasters, make Little Bay the latest, newest, and most excitingly popular seaside resort."
"Granted." Thigh leaned back in his chair and looked critically at his friend. "I should have reminded you my inquiry was not due to idle curiosity. What progress have the police made? We will deal with the social side later."
"Progress!" Harry threw up his hands in mock horror. "They've trampled the place flat. First, they drew a cordon of large footed members of the force in a circle of about a hundred yards diameter around the spot marked—'X' in brackets—and then proceeded to systematically demolish everything within that magic circle. Bushes, rushes, trees, all brought to the ground. They even trod down the sand."
"With the result?"
"Nil. Absolutely nil." Harry made an eloquent gesture. "I've had the time of my little life, lying on my little bingie on a sandhill, outside the circle, watching and learning how not to catch a murderer. Borrowed, without explanation or regrets, the sporting man's glasses. He tipped three winners straight off, off, through the shock of losing them."
"That all? I thought you would know the police theory?"
"My boy!" Harry became mock serious. "You asked for facts. I did not know you required them mixed with fiction. I am officially advised the police have found a cast-iron theory."
"From information received—to wit, a tram conductor, and a few passengers—the police are convinced Ruth Collins left the city on a Little Bay tram about four o'clock on the afternoon preceding the day her body was found. She is said to have been accompanied by a man of seafaring aspect."
"Well. What's wrong with that?" asked Rugh impatiently. "It sounds reasonable."
"Most reasonable." Harry laughed, derisively. "You will deduce from that, the woman never returned to the city."
Rugh sat up quickly, intent on his companion.
"Enough of fooling, Harry. What, exactly, do you know?"
"The woman was murdered in or near the city and her dead body conveyed to Little Bay in a motor car."
"That's serious," exclaimed Rugh. "You must have excellent reasons for that statement."
"Think, man." Harry spoke energetically. "If you'd thought over the facts you would agree with me. Listen. Three indisputable facts make my proof. First, there were no signs of struggles on the spot. The police admit that is correct. Do you think the woman lay down and meekly allowed her assailant to do her to death? Secondly, the clothes were neatly folded and piled on the body. What murderer would go to that trouble, while in the open beside the body of his victim? That alone, is proof the deed was committed in some place, such as a room, where the murderer was reasonably safe for a time. Lastly, the amount of blood around the body was remarkably small. Too small for the hideous wounds she received."
"She was kicked to death," objected Rugh.
"Another police yarn," said Harry, in disgust. "She was murdered with a blunt cutting instrument, and her clothing shows neither cuts nor bloodstains."
"YOU say the woman was murdered with a blunt, cutting knife?" said Rugh, slowly. "Are you certain of your facts, Harry. If you are correct you are bringing a grave charge against the police force."
"I know what I am saying," replied Harry, testily, "I'm not stating she was not kicked, brutally, nor that her death was not the result of being kicked. I am saying that a knife, or some similar instrument was used on the body, prior to it being conveyed to Little Bay."
Rugh sat silent for some minutes, conning over the fact Harry Sutherland had placed before him. If the Star man had not made a mistake, the police were withholding valuable information. Were they doing so for a definite purpose?
"I had a talk with Richards this morning," said Rugh at length. "He told me the only information the police had related to identification. Where did you get your information, Harry?"
"Constable Nicholls." Harry searched his pockets for his pipe. "An interesting member of the police force, my son. An officer of diligence, and activity, With a fixed conviction the detective department is composed of incompetents."
"In which theory he is ably and consistently supported by a well-known member of the Australian Journalists' Association," added Rugh.
"Got any 'bacca, Rugh. You used to keep your pouch on the desk. I hate suspiciously mean people. Where was I? Oh, Nicholls. Owing to this well-known incompetence, an intelligent member of the road-levelling brigade has taken the lonesome trail."
"Nicholls, on his own."
"Exactly. Theories are worrying things, and induce a desire for a sympathetic friend."
"Harry Sutherland, the sympathetic friend! By the little gods, Harry, you and Nicholls make a great team."
"Don't we?" Harry ran a hand through his mop of unruly black hair. "Damn this pipe. Won't draw. Pass over that spike, old man. Never mind the papers, they won't get in my way. Oh, take them off if you want to. I don't mind. Yes, sir. The new firm of Nicholls and Sutherland is on the trail. The senior partner forms the theories, and states facts. The junior partner listens. Both satisfied. Say, Rugh—"
Harry put down his pipe, and sat up, intent on a new idea that had occurred to him.
"How about a jape on the most clever, intelligent, and dignified police department of N.S.W. You've not met Nicholls. He's great. The real, dinkum, musical-comedy policeman, with more than a hint of old time melodrama."
"Something's going to break now," Rugh looked at his friend in mock alarm.
"Quit your kidding. This is serious. You can't acquire any kudos over the affair, even if you solve it—with my help, of course. 'Chink' McAdoo bars my way to fame, as the solver of the great 'Little Bay Mystery.' What about boosting Constable Robert Nicholls, as the great sleuth?"
Harry leaned back in his chair and shouted with laughter.
"Oh, it's great. All the big-wigs at Headquarters outguessed by a constable they despise and snub. Nicholls says the mighty Richards gave him an awful dressing down the morning the body was found. He's still sore over it."
"You're going too fast, young man." Rugh's eyes sparkled at the idea of the joke. In his journalistic days he had suffered, in common with other pressmen, by the cock-sure attitude of certain members of the police department. "First we've got to find the murderer, and build up the proof against him, before we can hand over a ready-made reputation to your new friend."
"The firm now is Nicholls, Thornton and Sutherland," chuckled Harry, irrepressibly. "Lord, what a mouthful. We'll succeed, all right, old man. By the way, there's a chap coming to see us here. He was coming to the Star office, but when I got your message I left word for him to follow me here."
"About the murder?"
"Sure thing. Name's Smith, Joseph Smith, Calls himself a bushman. Says he has information about the Little Bay murder."
"Why doesn't he take it to the police?"
"Says he did and they turned him down cold. That's believable."
A knock came at the door, and Teddy Marlow entered.
"The paper you required, Mr. Thornton." Teddy was always mysterious over business.
"Hullo, Teddy," greeted Harry. "How's Sexton Blake, and all his merry crew?"
Teddy grinned. A well-set youth of fifteen, he thought he had attained the ideal situation when he became clerk to the investigator. His chief study was detective literature of all kinds, and his ambition wavered between a private detective agency and journalism.
"I'm studying the Star lately," he answered, turning at the door to grin broadly at the journalist.
"I bought that," Harry shouted with laughter. "Never mind, I'll chalk it up to McAdoo's account. What have you there, Rugh?"
The assurance investigator spread a sheet of foolscap paper on the desk.
"I asked 'Information' for a list of calls made to the Balmain and South this morning, early. Here it is."
"Some list," commented the journalist. "I suppose we can leave out of account all calls from reputable firms and people'?"
This reduced the list considerably. At the end of five minutes Rugh had pencilled on a pad five numbers that appeared to require investigation.
"One of these should represent Wilbur Orchard's unknown caller," he said. "We'll ask the Balmain and South if they can identify any of them."
"Balmain and South?" he asked when be obtained the connection. "No, young lady. I want a word with you. Rugh Thornton speaking. I'm going to give you five numbers—telephone numbers. I want to know if you have had calls through them from people you know. Yes? Well, ask Mr. Orchard. He will tell you to give me the information I ask for."
Rugh turned to the journalist with a broad smile on his lips.
"The young lady is discreet. Says she cannot give me information without authority, and—"
"Yes," he spoke into the instrument. "All right? Well, listen, Y00407."
The investigator paused and wrote a few words on his pad. Then he gave the other telephone numbers in succession, pausing after each number for the switch operator's comments.
"That reduces our investigations to three," he commented, as he hung up the receiver. "The lady says W0449 and Y507 are telephones used frequently by B and S agents."
"The city numbers will give us some trouble," remarked Harry thoughtfully. "Probably both these city number, are at the G.P.O. or at city post offices."
"That leaves F3111 to be considered." Rugh lit a cigarette. "That number belongs to the Waverley district and would suit a man bent on the errand we are tracing."
"A man to see you, Mr. Thornton. Says his name's Smith, Joseph Smith," announced Teddy, putting his head in at the door.
"Bring him in, Teddy." Hurry Sutherland shifted his chair back from the desk "We're going to hear something now Rugh."
The door opened and Teddy ushered in a tall thin man, well bronzed by northern suns. For a moment he stood in the doorway, looking from Rugh to Harry. At length he advanced to Harry.
"Guess you're Mr. Sutherland," he said, holding out his hand. "Got your message at your office to come 'ere."
"Good guess," laughed Harry. "How did you do it?"
"You don't fit th' place. Leastways, not as 'e does. 'Sides, th' boy looked at 'im as if 'e was boss, when 'e opened th' door."
"Sit down, Smith," said Harry. "Let me introduce you to Mr. Thornton, whose offices we have taken possession of. Mr. Thornton is interested in what you have to tell me. That is, if it's in connection with the Little Bay murder."
"Pleased to meet you." Smith shook hands, solemnly with Rugh. "It's about th' murder I came t' speak t' you."
"Why did you come to me?" asked Harry, curiously.
"I asked a chap at t' coffee Palace, an' 'e ses I'd better go to the th' Star. So I 'phoned an' th' young lady as answered sed I'd better see Mr. Sutherland."
"What do you know about the murder, Mr. Smith?" asked Rugh.
"I knows a lot," drawled Smith, in his peculiar clipped bush speech. "I guess I can put you on to th' bloke as did it."
"You know the murderer?" asked Harry, eagerly.
"I don't know 'is name," replied the bushman. "But I guess I can give you a line on 'im as'll 'elp you t' find 'im. 'E's a tall man as weighs a good bit, an' e's lame ov th' left foot."
"A lame man!" Harry looked incredulous.
"W-e-l-1 not ter say exactly lame. But 'e's got a bad limp, all th' same. It may be natural, or it may be 'cos ov a blister, or summat on 'is 'eel."
"YOU'RE making an astounding statement, Smith," said Rugh gravely. "What are your grounds?"
Joseph Smith stretched his long legs in front of him and thrust his thumbs into the armholes of his waistcoat.
"Th' trouble wi' you towns-folk is that you can't see what's under your eyes," he said in his peculiar drawl. "I was stayin' at th' Coffee Palace when this 'ere murder 'appened an' I thought as 'ow I'd take a look round an' see if there was anythin' about as you town-fellers 'adn't noticed."
"City folks are unobservant," remarked Harry, gravely.
"You've sed it Mr. Sutherland," answered the bushman earnestly. "There's a lot on th' ground, an' in th' air, an' sky they don't see. Cos why? They ain't edicated t' it. Well, as I ses, I 'ad a look round so far as th' cops 'ud let me. That wasn't fur, for they'd got a lot ov men marchin' round in a big circle, a-warnin' peoples orf. I wanders round th' circle, an' looks about me, an' comes across a pad as led from where th' woman was lyin', down to t' beach. I'd given up 'opes ov a look round when th' cops stopped me from goin' t' where she was found, so I wanders down that pad, casual-like.
"Suddenly I saw sumthin' that made me look agen. It was a bootmark, an' looked as if it 'ud been made about th' time th' woman 'ad been murdered. I trailed it up an' found th' t' other one—that's th' left foot, an' saw as 'e was lame."
"You're certain of that, Mr. Smith?" interposed Rugh.
"You can't deceive me as t' pads," replied Joseph Smith proudly. "I've seen too many ov 'em. 'E wos goin' down to th' water, but I followed 'im up backwards, 'cos I wanted ter see where 'e'd cum from. Th' pads led right up to where th' body 'ad laid. When I got to th' police circle a cop stops me. I showed 'im th' mark, an' e calls a pal, an' they calls th sergeant. 'E looks at th' pad as if 'e'd never seen one affore, an' e asks me wot I wanted ter do."
"I told 'im I wanted ter foller 'em up, an' 'e asks: 'Wot for?' I ses, I suspicioned as th' bloke as made 'em might 'ave 'ad sumthin' ter do wi' th' murder. 'There's been a lot ov our chaps a-walkin' round 'ere,' e remarks, an' I agrees. It wos plain ter see they 'ad. 'Can you follow 'em up?' asks Mr. Sergeant, an' I answers as 'ow I might try. 'Very-well, then,' e ses, 'Come along.'"
"So I went along an' th' Sergeant went wi' me, watchin' me sharp. I showed 'im th' pads 'ere an' there, an' e ses, 'Jest so,' an' 'Certainly.' Then we comes to th' place where th' body wos found, an' there, 'arf under a big footmark as wos like th' Sergeants's, I found another pad ov th' limpin' man."
"Th' Sergeant wouldn't let me go down th' 'ollow, but I walks alon' th' edge. Presently I stops an' bends down. 'Wot d'yer see?' asks th' Sergeant. 'Th' limpin' man came over 'ere,' I ses. 'Sure?' 'e ses. 'Certain,' ses I, 'an' e came from over there.' I followed th' pads up, th' Sergeant tailin' on behind me, an' th' pads went down another 'ollow. At th' bottom I turns up th' sand a bit. 'Wot d'yer make ov that?' I asks th' Sergeant, 'andin 'im a bit ov caked sand. 'Wot is it?' 'e asks. 'Blood,' ses I. 'Th' poor creature was dumped 'ere first, an' then dragged over there. There's th' marks plain ter be seen.' But 'e couldn't see 'em. Those town cops aren't edicated enough. Th' tracks led out ov th' 'ollow an' up to th' road, an' just afore 'em was th' tracks ov where a motor car 'ad pulled orf th' road, an' stood sum time."
Rugh looked at Harry. The journalist had his lips pursed in a silent whistle.
"What did you do then?" asked Rugh of the bushman.
"Followed th' pads back agen," answered Smith promptly. "I wos curious ter see where they led to. So, wos th' Sergeant, fer 'e came with me. They went right down th' track to th' beach an' down t' where th' tide 'ad washed 'em out. I cast round a bit, an' then th' Sergeant left me. But I wouldn't give up. Th' bloke never went down there fer nothin'."
"I got a good way alon' th' beach afore I chances on wot I wos lookin' fer. It wos this."
The bushman pulled from his pocket a roll of newspaper and placed it on the desk. Harry reached over and unrolled it. In the paper lay a woman's stocking, dirty and sodden by sea-water.
"A stocking!" Harry gave a shout.
"The lost stocking. I wondered where it had got to," he cried. Then noticing Rugh's astonishment. "Didn't you know, Rugh. The clothing found with the woman was incomplete. Among the things missing was a stocking?"
"I didn't know that neither," put in the bushman. "But I did know as that limpin' man 'adn't gone down to th' beach fer nothin'."
"A limping man, a stocking, and the body dragged from one place to another," commented Rugh. "The mystery deepens."
"What's this?" exclaimed Harry, who had been handling the stocking. "There's something in it."
Gingerly he turned the stocking inside out. There rolled on to the desk a well-worn gold ring, tarnished by sea-water. It was a man's signet ring, and on the shield were engraved letters. Harry picked up a magnifying glass lying on the desk and examined the engraving.
"As well as I can make out it's a couple of 'C's,'" he remarked.
Two 'C's' exclaimed Rugh. He leaned over and took the ring from the journalist. A glance satisfied him that Harry was correct.
"Colin Carson!" Harry uttered the thought in Rugh's mind.
"Nonsense," exclaimed Rugh. "'C's' are common initials. The woman's name was Collins. Probably her husband had a christian name commencing with 'C.'"
"His name is 'William,'" stated Harry. "I've seen the man. 'William is his one and only name."
"Still this ring might not have belonged to Colin Carson," argued Rugh.
"And yet it might." Harry took the ring and dropped it in the stocking again. Then he rolled the stocking in the newspaper and handed the package to Smith.
"My advice to you Mr. Smith is, to go down to the Police Headquarters in Hunter Street, and see Inspector Richards. Give him this and explain where you found it. Make your statements as fully as you have made it to Mr. Thornton and myself."
"Sure," replied the bushman, pocketing the package. "Hope I 'avn't done wrong in comin' ter you fellers?"
"Not at all," replied the journalist suavely. "We are much obliged for your interesting narrative. At the same time I would suggest you did not mention at the Police Department your call on Mr. Thornton and myself. These 'cops' as you expressively name them, are rather jealous of newspaper men, and might resent you informing us of your find."
"I'll make a note ov that," said Joseph Smith, shaking hands formally and vigorously.
"Colin Carson, again," said Rugh, softly, as the door closed on the bushman.
"Sorry I blundered, old man," remarked Harry. "Shouldn't have mentioned the name before our bushman friend. But it was a blow under the belt."
"How did the woman come to have Colin Carson's ring?" asked Rugh perplexedly. "Of course, there is nothing to prove it is Carson's ring, but it looks bad."
"Coupled with the tale of the telephone message to Wilbur Orchard, it certainly does look bad," agreed Harry. "I was half inclined to keep the bally thing, but—"
"Wouldn't have been wise," replied Rugh. "Smith might have talked. Looks as if Wilbur Orchard was right in saying he believed a fraud on the Balmain and South was brewing."
"You've got your work cut out," commented Harry sliding down into his chair, in a characteristic attitude. "A fight to a finish between Rugh Thornton, the famous assurance investigator, and a gang of crooks."
"The purse being two hundred thousand pounds," added Rugh with a laugh. "I don't feel at all—"
The telephone bell broke in on his sentence. Rugh picked up the receiver and gave his name. Then he listened intently for a couple of minutes.
"Richards wants to see me at once," he said, as he replaced the receiver. "He says there's a new development in the Little Bay murder."
Harry looked at his watch.
"Smith hasn't had time to reach Headquarters," he observed. "Appears to me things are moving rapidly this morning."
"I'M coming with you," exclaimed Harry, reaching for his hat. "You don't mind, Rugh?"
"Not a bit," answered the assurance investigator. "Richards is an old friend of yours. He won't mind, considering the attitude your newspaper is taking on the murder."
Harry made a wry face as he followed Rugh to the lift.
"Afraid that attitude will come a bad cropper presently," he observed, when they were on the street. "I've put in a formal complaint against 'Chink' McAdoo's interference to old Osmond."
"Any results?" queried the investigator.
"Nope. But the old man won't stand for the Star running a bad second to the 'Post.' Humphries, who is doing the murder for them, is making things very willing."
"The Limping Man will make a good yarn," laughed Rugh. "Don't mention the ring, old man. I want any connection with Colin Carson kept out of the newspapers."
Harry looked doubtful.
"Richards is particularly thick with Humphries," he said. "Ten to one he gives him the tale complete. Wight as well go the whole hog, old man. After all, the Carson loan affair is, so far, between you and the company."
Rugh thought a minute. They had turned into Hunter Street and were only a few yards from Police Headquarters.
"All right," he said; and led the way up the steps into the vestibule. Richards was waiting for them in the corridor, and led the way to one of the interview rooms.
"Glad you came with Thornton," said the Inspector, as he shook hands with Harry Sutherland. "I put a call through to your office, but you were out."
"The Little Bay Mystery forges ahead," observed the Star man with a grin. "How do you like investigation work without the valuable aid of the Star, Richards?"
"It's strange," laughed the Inspector. "Truth is, the Chief simply gasps when he opens your rag. Can't get used to the new conditions."
"Why not telephone McAdoo and protest?" suggested Harry, with a twinkle in his eye.
"And get a leader on police irresponsibility," countered Richards. "He might publish that letter the Chief sent the Star some months ago, protesting against unfair criticisms of our methods."
Harry caught Rugh's eyes, and winked. From the Inspector's observations the police were running true to form.
"What's the new development you spoke of on the 'phone?" asked Rugh.
The Inspector settled himself comfortably in his chair and took from his waistcoat pocket a small article wrapped in tissue paper. While he spoke he held it in his hand.
"The Little Bay Murder is one of the biggest problems the police have tackled of recent years," he commenced, gravely "There is a total lack of motive, and clues are few."
"The identification of the woman leads to no results?" queried Harry.
"Identification was easy," answered Richards. "We guessed she would be known to some of our men who do duty in the Surry Hills district. Several men identified her, and it was not long before we traced her history back to the time she left her husband."
"You have not her record before her marriage 7"
"Not yet. We know she was married to William Collins at Bundaberg, Queensland. Collins states he has forgotten his wife's maiden name, but we can soon obtain that, if necessary."
Harry glanced at Rugh. The assurance man smiled slightly. Inspector Richards little knew the fact he set aside so lightly might influence the disposal of a large fortune.
"Our aim at present is to bring the murderer to justice," continued Richards. "We have ruled out Collins. He has not lived with his wife for the last five years, and inquiries into his record do not show he has formed any connection, or attachment, with any woman that might lead to a desire for a new marriage."
"It is not necessary to murder one wife to wed another," said Rugh, drily. "Divorce is cheap, and lots of solicitors do it on a sort of instalment plan."
"Quite so," commented the Inspector. "We have ruled Collins out of consideration for the present, at least. Our next step, in fact, our principal business, was to thoroughly examine the scene of the murder for possible clues. Immediately I arrived on the spot I drew a cordon of police around a wide area."
The Inspector was interrupted by the entry of a police officer, who handed him a folded paper. Richards read it, and made a gesture of annoyance.
"Tell him I'm engaged. He can wait, if he likes, or he can call again. I'm busy for the next half-hour."
Rugh looked across at Harry, his lips silently forming the word "Smith." The newspaper man grinned slightly. Little did the worthy Inspector know the value of the evidence he was waving aside so lightly.
"It's wonderful how many people have the idea they can beat the police to it," Richards observed, as the orderly left the room. "I've had dozens of cranks here willing to name the murderer, off-hand."
"Still, one might chance on a good piece of information." argued Harry.
"I'd rather follow a newspaper," said the Inspector, warmly. "You chaps have a certain amount of training, such as it is. Let me see, where was I? Oh, yes, immediately I had cleared the ground of the inquisitive public I set men to cut and clear the bush."
"You saw no clue in the careful folding and disposal of the clothing?" asked Harry.
"We have considered the matter," answered the Inspector impatiently. "When we discovered the husband of the dead woman we obtained from him a photograph. We published that photograph, and immediately got in touch with a Little Bay tram conductor, who is positive the woman left Sydney about four o'clock on the afternoon of the day preceding the finding of her dead body. She was, the man states, in company with a man who is described in a poster I am circulating. The tram conductor's evidence is supported by that of two travellers on the same tram. Inquiries show she has been seen in Surry Hills several times in company with the same man. We believe the man and woman had a quarrel while out at Little Bay, probably over money, and he murdered her."
"That does not explain the stripping of the body," objected Rugh.
"Our theory is," replied the Inspector, dogmatically, "the woman had something belonging to the man, probably money. They quarrelled over it, and the man murdered her in a frenzy, and stripped her to obtain what he claimed."
Harry was about to speak, when Rugh silenced him with a warning gesture.
"I stated I gave orders for the ground inside the cordon to be cleared," continued Richards. "It was a long job, and the men engaged on it deserve every credit for their industry. The result was most important. Some little distance from where the body was found the search revealed—this."
The Inspector took from the table a few postcard-size photographs and handed copies to Rugh and Harry. The prints showed an ordinary bone-handled pocket knife, with two blades, one partly open, and the other fully open.
"A pocket knife," exclaimed Rugh. "Looks like an ordinary pattern. Should say it would be obtainable almost anywhere for about half-a-crown."
"The Department attaches great importance to that knife. Will you take that photograph, Sutherland, and ask Mr. McAdoo to publish it to-morrow. We would like to get in touch with the seller."
"Any particulars?" asked Harry, pulling pencil and paper from his pocket.
The Inspector hesitated.
"There are many peculiarities about that knife," he replied, slowly. "You may say it looks like an ordinary half-crown horn-handled pen-knife; there are peculiarities that will at once identify it to anyone who has ever handled it."
"That all?" Harry asked, disappointed. "Will you not describe those peculiarities?"
"We rely on them to identify the murderer," answered Richards. "I may add the big blade of the knife shows the marks made by the rushes the murderer cut down for the woman to lie on."
"May we see the knife?" asked Rugh, somewhat impatiently.
Richards hesitated, and tapped the tissue-paper-covered article he held on the desk for a few moments.
"I have it here," he said. "If I show it to you gentlemen it must be on your word of honour not to publish any description of it, other than what I sanction. I must again impress on you the value of the knife as a clue to the murderer. You will understand when you examine it."
The two friends at once gave the required assurances. The Inspector carefully unrolled the knife, and opening the blades as in the photograph, placed it on the desk.
"Finger-prints?" queried Harry.
"Unfortunately the heavy night dew obliterated them," answered Richards. "There are the marks of the rushes."
Rugh produced a powerful magnifying glass from his pocket and carefully examined the knife.
"May I handle it?" he asked at length.
"Certainly." The officer spoke as if conferring a great favour. "You will remember your promise?"
Rugh nodded. He picked up the knife and turned it over on his palm. While the side of the knife the Inspector had exposed on the table was of grey bone, the underside was of black bone.
"You now realise the importance of the clue," observed the detective.
The assurance investigator did not reply. He was subjecting the knife to a minute scrutiny through his glass.
"Have you a polished pen-knife?" he asked the Inspector, after a lengthy pause.
Harry immediately produced an almost new penknife, with highly polished blades.
"Not yours, Harry," laughed Rugh. "Richards might think we were playing some trick on him. Thanks, Inspector."
The assurance investigator took the pen-knife offered him by Richards. Carefully wiping the blade, he picked up a piece of hard rubber eraser from the desk and cut it with a quick slashing stroke. Then he examined the blade under his glass.
"The marks you say were made by rushes were really made by rubber," he said, briefly. "Look for yourself."
He handed the knife and glass to the amazed Inspector.
"WHAT'S that, Rugh?" asked Harry, sharply.
The assurance investigator looked at the two men with a peculiar smile on his face.
"I am going to make a statement," he said, quietly. "Then I will give you the proof. This knife was once owned by a motor mechanic."
"Nonsense," exclaimed Richards. "The man with the woman seen by the tram conductor was a seafaring man."
"Then he did not own this knife," replied Rugh, emphatically. "Wait, Richards. There are plenty of proofs on the knife itself of the occupation of the owner. I have shown you, on a clean knife, marks identical with those on this knife, but made by cutting rubber, not rushes."
"There are many marks on this knife, some very old. If you claim the newer marks to have been made by cutting rushes, how do you explain the older marks? Even a seafaring man is not continually cutting rushes.
"On the other hand," continued Rugh, after a slight pause, "a motor mechanic is continually cutting rubber—tyres. Had there been but the new marks, your theory might have been reasonable, Richards. But, with the large number of old marks, some very old and all of the same nature, your theory is untenable."
"It is a slender thread on which to claim the knife belonged to a motor mechanic," objected Harry.
"Other marks on the knife support my theory, Harry," said Rugh, quietly. "Inspector Richards has referred to the knife as peculiar. It would be very peculiar if the makers had issued it in its present form. The knife has had hard wear and has been practically reconstructed by the owner, or at the owner's directions."
He turned the knife over on his hand, showing the black horn side.
"The two sides of the knife do not match," the assurance investigator continued. "The grey bone is the correct bone for the knife. The black bone has been taken from another knife to make the knife complete."
"That does not prove your motor mechanic theory," objected the Inspector, impressed in spite of his pre-convictions.
"Look at the rivets." Rugh was now speaking with more animation. "Would any jeweller—and jewellers usually undertake the repair or such articles—put in such rough work. Not only are the rivets rough but the filing has been done with coarse files, more like those to be found in a garage than in a jeweller's shop.
"I have said the knife was repaired by a motor mechanic for himself, or at the direction of the owner. The fact that the blade is marked with rubber scratches, some of long standing, is presumptive evidence the owner continually repaired motor tyres. Taking the marks and the nature of the repairs, it is fair circumstantial evidence the owner of the knife was a motor mechanic."
"How's that for deduction, Inspector," asked the Star man, with a laugh.
"I don't like it." Richards shook his head. "You say the marks on the blades are caused by rubber, not rushes. But you haven't shown that rushes will not make the same marks. Then, your theory of the repairs to the body of the knife is not conclusive. Granted, for argument, the knife has been repaired. Couldn't it have been repaired on a ship by one of the engine-room staff? No, Thornton, you'll have to give me more direct evidence than you have, to make me believe the man the tram conductor saw with the woman was a motor mechanic, and not a seafaring man."
Rugh laughed, and held out his hand.
"When you have the evidence to convict a man of the murder we will test our relative theories," he said. "Until then we will not argue the matter. By the way, Richards, where did you get the photograph of Ruth Collins?"
"From her husband."
"It must be over five years old." Rugh mused for a moment. Then he added: "And the tram conductor recognised her!"
* * *
"What did you mean by your last remark?" asked Harry, as they walked down Philip Street.
"The woman had lived a fast and irregular life for the five years following the taking of the photograph," commented Rugh, tersely. "Such a life would alter the features considerably. Yet the tram conductor recognised her by a casual glance while collecting fares."
"Humph!" Harry stopped before the big doors of the Star newspaper. "You forgot two passengers identified her as well as the conductor."
"There are people who see a likeness everywhere," retorted the investigator, sharply. "Where are you going, Harry?"
"To see the Chief. This story is too good to pass up for the Chink's' fads, or willingness to oblige his friend, Sam Brene. There's going to be a real vulgar squabble in this dignified building, if I have my way."
"You will publish Smith's story to-morrow?"
"Sure. I'm banking he gets tight, or disgusted with our pig-headed police, and does not return to interview Richards. If he does, the morning papers may get the guts of it. Anyhow, there's Richards' story to fall back on."
"He'll give that to the morning papers," objected Rugh.
"As a statement. I'll go further—"
"You cannot publish the details of the knife," reminded the investigator.
"No." There was real regret in Harry's voice. "What a bonzer story it would make, Rugh. You had it all over him with your reading of the marks on the knife. What are you going to do?"
"I?" Rugh spoke with assumed carelessness. "Oh, I shall have a wander over Surry Hills and see what I can pick up."
"Well, so long." Harry pushed open the glass door. "Let me know if you pick up a murderer or so."
Rugh turned into Elizabeth Street and sauntered along to Liverpool Street. There he stood for some minutes watching a couple of Little Bay trams come and go. He paid but little attention to the trams, his eyes wandering over the crowds that surged around that busy spot.
After a time he strolled on along the embankment of the new city railway. He was now bordering the Surry Hills district. At a small wine bar he turned in and seated himself at a table.
The shop was fairly full, a good proportion of the customers being women. Some of them smiled invitingly at the tall, good-looking assurance investigator, but he took no notice of them.
Presently one of the men behind the bar came across to him. Rugh spoke a couple of words and the man returned to the bar. In a few minutes a portly, red-faced man brought two glasses of wine to Rugh's table, and sat down.
"Didn't notice you enter, Mr. Thornton," he remarked in low tones. Then louder: "Here's how."
"I want some information from you Simpson. No," (seeing the man look around him quickly) "there's nothing your customers can't hear, but I don't want to attract attention."
"What is it, Mr. Thornton?" asked the man, guardedly. "You know we have a rough crowd here."
"Did you know Ruth Collins?" asked Rugh, abruptly.
"Came in here sometimes," remarked the man, off-handedly. "Saw her photo in the papers. Poor girl, she's gone."
"Photo like her?" asked Rugh. Then, as the man hesitated he put his hand in his pocket and produced the photograph he had received from Inspector Richards. "Newspaper Photographs are bad to judge from. Would you recognise her from that?"
Simpson took the photograph and studied it for some minutes.
"She's altered a lot," he observed. "Still, it looks like her. Say, Mr. Thornton, Ted was here some four or five years ago. Shall I call 'im?"
Receiving a nod of assent, the proprietor of the wine bar called the man and handed him the photograph.
"Blime," exclaimed the barman, when he saw the photo. "That's Ruth Collins. 'Asn't she altered. I remember 'er well when she first used ter come 'ere. A real 'andsome woman, she was, an' as nice as they make 'em. She's altered a lot ov late, though."
"When was she here last?" asked Rugh, quietly. The man looked at his employer, who nodded.
"She was 'ere off an' on all day Saturday. Let me see. She was 'ere wi' a bloke an' th' Tiger Lily a'tween five an 'arf-past, sure."
"THERE is no doubt that Ruth Collins was seen in the Cannon Wine Bar at the time the police state she was at Little Bay in the company of a seafaring man," concluded Rugh.
"So much for the police theory," grinned Harry. Immediately on turning his copy in at the Star, he had come over to Thornton's office.
"The tram conductor misled them," said Rugh. "His identification, backed by that of the passengers, appeared conclusive."
Harry grunted. The interior of his pipe seemed to hold most of his interest.
"Published much of a story?" asked Rugh, after a pause.
"Fair," Harry came back, with a jerk, to things mundane. "There's been a hell of a row, but the 'Chink's' defeated. Osmond's given me a free hand."
"That brings Sam Brene into the game again." Rugh looked thoughtful. "If the big grafter wants your story killed you're in for a fight, m'lad."
"Why not?" Harry looked up with a challenge in his eyes. "If I remember right you had more than one dust-up with our friend."
Rugh shook his head. Three times he had bumped against some mysterious influence, protecting crime. Twice, while criminal investigator for the Star, he had good stories of Town Hall corruption deliberately killed. The second occasion had led to his resignation. Later, within a few weeks of his taking up his present work, a fraudulent company promoter had walked from under a well-spread net, through deliberate jury-framing.
"'Ware fights in that quarter," he warned Harry. "Sam Brene can take on both of us with one hand tied behind his back. Still, the day may come—"
"When a tussle with the Town Hall boss will look good," added the Star man, optimistically. "Count me in when the ring's cleared."
Rugh got up from his chair and walked up and down the little office. After a dozen turns he halted, and faced his friend.
"I laughed at you when you warned me Sam Brene's finger was in the Carson Loan pie," he said, quietly. "I believe now you were right. To adopt your phraseology, Harry, the ring is cleared for a fight to a finish between the big grafter and myself."
"Whoop!" Harry jumped to his feet. "I'm on. Sam Brene's going for his life, this time. Atta boy!"
"You'll get your hands full," warned Rugh, laughing. "McAdoo will never forgive you for going to Osmond over the Little Bay murder. He'll be after your scalp to hang beside mine."
"Who cares?" Harry exclaimed, jubilantly. "What's our next step, Rugh?"
"Follow the Little Bay trail," replied the investigator. "I'm positive it joins with the Carson Loan Case somewhere. At all events I can do little on the Carson ease until I hear from Brisbane."
Harry looked the question.
"I have written for a copy of Ruth Collins' marriage certificate. Can you see nothing peculiar in a man forgetting the maiden surname of his wife?"
"I thought that," replied the journalist. "But, for the moment it did not seem important. You see, Rugh, the identity of the murderer is the paramount question in the Little Bay Mystery. What's our next line of inquiry?"
"A sweep up of the Surry Hills district," answered Rugh, promptly. "I was successful yesterday, to a certain point, but I want to find others who saw Ruth Collins late that night. Put that beastly pipe away. You don't want to choke the people we are going to see."
At the Central Railway Station, Rugh left the tram-car and walked through the station to the Chalmers Street entrance. Crossing the road, he turned up Elizabeth Street towards the Buckingham Street intersection. There he halted.
"Here's where we get busy, Harry," he said, quietly. "From what I have gathered Ruth Collins was well known around here."
For some five minutes he loitered before the Southern Cross Hotel, apparently in conversation with the Star man, but at the same time keenly scrutinising his surroundings.
"I'd like to meet the lady known as the Tiger Lily," he said. "Suppose, however, we are too early for her. She's one of Sydney's night-birds, from all accounts. Come along."
Turning down Buckingham Street, towards the Railway, he stopped suddenly before a small tobacconist's shop.
"Like a cigar, old man?" he inquired, carelessly; and, without waiting for an answer, turned into the shop.
A sturdy built man with a big, florid face, came forward, to serve them.
"Cigars," ordered Rugh, briefly. Then, when the man had turned to the shelves behind him. "Quiet round here?"
"Busy enough at night," replied the man, placing some open boxes on the counter. "I'm open till midnight, and until after six don't make enough to make the till rattle."
"You don't run the saloon after six?" asked Rugh, bluntly.
The man stiffened.
"Who th' 'ell are you?" he snapped. "Police pimps, or what?"
Rugh took a card from his pocket, and laid it on the counter.
"Oh, insurance," said the man, a little more civilly. "Nothing doing, mister. Don't make enough 'ere to make it worth while."
"Suppose the fines eat up all the profits?" laughed Rugh.
"Fines?" The look of suspicion came again into the man's eyes. "What are you gettin' at?"
"Come now, Shorty Matt," said the investigator in a low tone. "You've not forgotten me?"
Shorty Matt turned to the shelves and picked up his spectacles. Fitting them on, carefully, he picked up Rugh's card and read it slowly.
"Rugh Thornton," he said reading. "Can't say as I remember you."
"Then you've forgotten Mick Skedding, and the message you brought out of Goulburn gaol?" Rugh laid his right hand, palm up, on the counter, as he spoke.
"You!" Shorty Mac stood erect, sharply, and held out his hand. "Never believed I could forget you, Mr. Thornton, but it's a long while ago since I saw you last. Besides, that insurance fake put me off. You were a reporter on the Star when that happened.
"Left the Star, Matt," observed Rugh. "I'm retained by a syndicate of insurance companies to protect their interests."
Harry gave Rugh a warning nudge.
"It's all right, Harry," laughed the investigator. "Matt doesn't tak. Matt, Meet Mr. Sutherland, who took my place on the Star. He's safe."
"Pleased to meet you, Mr. Sutherland," said the tobacconist. "Mr. Thornton done me and a mate o' mine a good turn, an' I ain't the man to forget it. What are you after, sir?"
"Know her?" Rugh placed the photograph of Ruth Collins on the counter.
"Looks like—yes, it is—Ruth Collins. She's a lot younger 'ere, an' better looking. But it's 'er, right enough. Poor girl. She met a bad end."
"Who were her cobbers?" asked Rugh.
"Well. Sometimes she'd run with th' Tiger Lily an' 'er gang, but 'er real steady was Maudie Wheelson."
"Wheelson?" repeated Rugh, thoughtfully. "What's her lay? Same as Ruth's?"
Shorty Mac pursed up his lips queerly.
"I knows you won't go an' get me into trouble," he said, after a pause. "Y'know, them as lives round 'ere ain't supposed to spill nothin'. She lives with a bloke as ain't 'er 'usband, up in Coomber Street. Up Buckingham Street, on top ov th' 'ill. You'll know th' house. It's right oppersite a paint factory. You're not going to see her, Mr. Thornton?"
"Might." Rugh looked intently at the tobacconist. "Any reason not, Matt?"
"Only as 'e's a rough sort ov customer," replied Matt. "Still, there's two ov you."
"What's his trade?"
"Calls 'isself a labourer," said Matt, cautiously. "Can't say as 'e does much work."
"Lives on the woman," commented Rugh. Then, as Matt did not answer: "Ruth Collins lived with them?"
"Sometimes." Matt leaned across the counter and spoke in guarded tones. "Lately she been stayin' with some bloke down Ultimo. Only comes up 'ere occasionally."
"Who's the chap?"
"Big lump of a man. Name's Leo—leastways, that's what she called 'im. He's real dangerous, Mr. Thornton."
"Humph! What's he do for a crust?"
Shorty Matt made an eloquent gesture.
"Bludger, eh?" interpreted Rugh. "Say, Matt, when did you see Ruth last?"
The man thought for a few moments.
"Let me see. Yes. I remember now. I was standin' at th' door about nine last Saturday night—"
"The evening before she was found at Little Bay," interrupted Harry eagerly.
"That's it," replied Matt. "I saw 'er go past with two blokes. They were all well oiled. She called out 'good-night' to me, an' one of th' blokes gave 'er a shove."
"That was about nine o'clock at night, you say?" said Rugh, quietly.
"Yep. Or a little after. Can't be quite sure. One ov 'em was that bloke, Leo."
"Who was the other man?" asked Harry.
"They calls 'im 'Ginger.' It was 'im 'as give 'er a shove. 'E's somethin' to do with cars. Works in a garage. That's when 'e works at all."
"A MOTOR mechanic." Rugh tried to steady his voice as he spoke. "You are certain of that, Matt?"
"Sure? 'Course I am. He used to work at that big garage up Buckingham Street till 'e 'ooked up with Leo's crowd. You know the place. They hire out cars without drivers."
"Ever seen that knife, Matt?" asked Rugh, showing the tobacconist the photo of the pocket knife the police regarded as an important clue.
Shorty Matt smiled broadly, and reached into the counter show-case. He produced a card of pocket knives, closely resembling the one in the photograph.
"'Arf-a-crown each," he said. "Sell 'em by the 'undreds. Best cheap knife there is."
"Ever sell one to Leo, or Ginger?" asked Harry, casually fingering the card of knives.
"Sell one to either ov them?" repeated Matt, meditatively. "Come to think ov it, I believe I did sell a knife to Leo, one-time. 'E used ter come in 'ere a bit."
"One of these knives?" suggested Rugh.
"You've got me beat there," confessed Matt. "May 'ave been one ov these, or like another. Its some time ago."
"Did Ginger ever buy one?" continued Harry.
"Should say, never," Matt spoke with conviction. "'E ain't been in this shop, 'ardly ever."
Outside the tobacconist shop Rugh retraced his steps up Buckingham Street. At the Southern Cross Hotel, he paused.
"Do with a drink, Harry?" he asked, casually.
The journalist nodded. He realised his friend was hot on a trail, and, for the present, would not talk.
Instead of leading the way into the saloon bar, Rugh crossed the road and, entering a newsagent's shop, purchased an early edition of the Star. On the front page was Harry's story of the Limping Man, illustrated by photographs of Ruth Collins and the mysterious knife. Folding the newspaper as it had been reading it, the investigator led the way into the public bar.
It was a slack time of the day and only a couple of men were standing in the bar. Rugh ordered the drinks and then became absorbed in the murder story. When the barman served the drinks he placed the newspaper, open, on the counter.
"Excuse me." The barman picked up the paper. "Th' Star's spread itself on th' murder to day, ain't it?"
"Queer business," replied the investigator, guardedly, yet showing no unwillingness to be drawn into discussion.
"You've said it," agreed the man, "Now, this 'ere story ov th' Limpin' Man. D'yer think it's true, or only a noosepaper yarn?"
"Probably true," answered Rugh, indifferently. "What do you think, Harry?"
"Don't know what to say," drawled the journalist. There was a malicious glint, behind the powerful glasses. "Met a man this morning that used to be on the Star. He says he will vouch for the truth of it."
"Did 'e?" The barman was well interested. "'Course those noosepaper men are terrible liars. They write just wot th' paper wants 'em to."
"I believe you." Rugh I rod slightly on Harry's foot. "Its a good yarn, though. Suppose you knew the woman—what's her name—oh, Ruth Collins. Believe she used to live somewhere round here."
"She wasn't round 'ere much lately," answered the man. "One time she'd come in 'ere regular, An a girl named the Tiger Lily."
"The Tiger Lily?" questioned Harry, removing his glasses and polishing them vigorously. Rugh remained silent. The action was characteristic of Harry when interested or puzzled. "Heard of her. What's she like?"
"Real good-looker. 'Nuff to knock a man off 'is block. But she's a 'ard case. They say as she carried a knife in 'er stookin'. Not but wot she's a perfect lady when she's in 'ere."
"She and Ruth Collins were mates, then?"
"Usually there was three of them." The barman leaned confidentially across the bar. "Say, gents, wot about one on the 'ouse?"
"My turn," interposed Harry. "You'll have one with us. Who was the third?"
"Called Maudie." The barman spoke from some distance down the bar. "She was—well, you know."
"Suppose I can guess," grinned the journalist.
"You can't guess wrong." The drinks were on the bar. "Here's to you. Tell you what. Ruth wasn't a bad sort. Done a lot ov 'arm 'er linkin' up with Maudie."
"How's that?" Rugh threw some money on the bar. "Fill them up again."
"Maudie was allus gettin' inter 'ot water," observed the man. "Only last week she was mixed up in some shootin' row in Little Buckingham Street. Someone fired some shots. The woman over at the cook-shop, t'other side ov Buckingham Street, told me. Quite a story she made ov it."
"Well, I must get along," said Rugh, suddenly. "Coming my way, Harry? Good-day, to you."
"So-long," answered the barman, holding out a damp 'hand. "My name's Bob. Bob Reglar. Pleased to see you any time you're this way."
Outside the hotel Harry turned to cross the road. Rugh caught him by the arm.
"Careful, Harry," he warned. "We're in a dangerous neighbourhood. Let's get this tram."
A Redfern tram drew up and the two men boarded it. At Redfern Green they alighted, and crossed the road.
"What's the game?" asked Harry.
"Probably watched by that barman," answered Rugh. "If Mr. Reglar thought we had been pumping him he would be inquisitive as to our movements. We'll get this tram back and get out at the stop before the intersection."
A quarter of an hour later the friends entered the cook-shop mentioned by the barman. A stout, homely-looking woman was seated behind the counter.
"Nothing hot," she said briefly, as they entered. "Dinner's over a good bit now."
Harry started, then led the way to one of the tables.
"Dinner! Lord! I'd forgotten I was hungry," he exclaimed. "Say, ma'am, have a double helping of whatever you've got, and stand by for a repeat."
The woman laughed as she disappeared into the kitchen at the rear of the shop. In a few minutes she returned with a plentiful supply of cold meats, and a crisp looking salad.
"I've got the kettle on," she observed, juggling deftly with the table utensils. "Won't take long to boil. We don't 'ave many in ov a afternoon."
"You're English," exclaimed Harry, suddenly. "Couldn't mistake that accent."
The woman laughed again.
"You Australians always recognise the pommy," she answered. "Yes, me an' my 'usband's H'english."
"I'm from God's own Island," retorted the journalist. "My friend's the only dinkum Aussie in the room. That's why he prefers to feed rather than join in intellectual conversation."
"Poor feller. He's 'ungry." The woman left the room to fetch the tea.
Harry swung round on his seat and looked at the big plate glass windows earnestly for a few moments. "Good possie, here," he commented, when the woman returned. "Do a good business here, Mrs. Vaughan?"
"Tolerable." The woman looked at Harry, perplexedly. "How do you come to know my name?"
Harry pointed with his knife to the windows.
"Had to learn to read backwards," he joked. "Made such a mess of it the other way."
"My!" Mrs. Vaughan folded her arms over her ample bosons. "You chaps are sharp."
"Jolly good ham, this." Harry was making good play with the food. "Never been up this way before, Mrs. Vaughan. Bit of a rough neighbourhood?"
"Rough? I should say it was. When I first came 'ere I was so nervous I couldn't sleep ov nights. Tom, my 'usband, 'e's lyin' down upstairs, uster laugh at me. Said I'd get useter it. Well, I 'ave a bit, but even now I can't abear a fight."
"They don't fight in the shop. Tucker's too good," commented Harry, with his mouth full.
"There now. I do like to see a man enjoy 'is food. Can't complain ov Tom. 'E never seems ter be done eatin', 'e eats that 'earty. 'Corse its what you're brought up to. Tom, 'e was a boxer in H'england. No, they don't fight in th' shop. My 'usband wouldn't stand fer that."
"I think I could tackle another plate of that ham," said Harry, laying down his knife and fork with a sigh of satisfaction. "It's the best I've tackled this year."
Mrs. Vaughan beamed on Harry as she went to fetch the ham. Rugh finished his meal and lit a cigarette.
"It's a good 'am, though I ses it," commented the cook-shop proprietress, as she placed the refilled plate before the journalist. "There's plenty ov it, so don't be afraid."
"With a husband like your man you shouldn't mind a few rows," continued Harry, casually.
"An' I don't. Not when they uses fists, although some of 'em looks real orfull after. It's when there's shootin' I feels bad."
"Shooting?" Harry winked at the investigator. "They don't use guns round here, do they?"
"They didn't when we first come 'ere to live," replied Mrs. Vaughan, shaking her head. "Th' neighbourhood's gone down terrible. There's them as 'ave come 'ere t' live as carries a gun like wot y' see in them American picters. An' they uses 'em, too. Why, only last Thursday night there was shoot-in' down Little Buckingham Street."
"Not as I knows ov. I was standin' oppersite th' Southern Cross 'otel a-talkin' to Mrs. Jones, when I 'eard th' shots. 'Wot's that?' ses Mrs. Jones, an' affore I could speak three women came running out ov Little Buckingham Street, an' up th' 'ill."
"Up Buckingham Street hill?" asked Harry.
"Yes," Mrs. Vaughan continued, breathlessly. "They 'arf stopped when they wos by us, an' one ov' em sed, 'We'd better get 'ome affore he comes up 'ere.' An' then they starts runnin' agen."
"Suppose you didn't happen to recognise any of them?" asked the Star man.
"As it 'appens, I did." Mrs. Vaughan was apparently a voluminous talker. "'N' I wouldn't 'ave thought it ov 'er. Th' Tiger Lily, they calls 'er. Quite quiet an' lady-like when she comes in 'ere for a meal, although there's them as ses things against 'er."
"THE Tiger Lily?" queried Harry, quietly. "That's queer name for a girl?"
"So it is." Mrs. Vaughan nodded agreement. "An' although she's that quiet an' lady-like when she comes in 'ere, she can show 'er claws like the wild cat she is, when someone tries to take a liberty wi' 'er. I remembers one day she was sittin' in 'ere at a cup o' tea, as quiet as could be, when a big 'ulkin' brute walks in. 'Ullo, Lily,' e ses. 'You're just th' girl I want.' 'Do you?' ses she, quite sarcastic like. 'Then your luck's in.' An' th' bloke, thinkin' e's got 'er sweet, slides inter th' seat beside 'er an' slips 'is arm around 'er waist. She seemed ter let 'erself go fer a minute, then she straightens up an' ses, 'Keep orf or you'll get this,' an I sees as she'd got a wicked lookin' knife pointed at 'is breast. Keeps it in 'er stockin', as I've 'eard say."
"Nice young lady," commented Rugh.
"Well, th' girls 'as ter protect themselves," protested the cook-shop proprietress. "I don't blame 'em, with all th' bludgers an' sich like as there's now in th' place. Think of that poor woman 'as was done ter death out at Little Bay. As nice a quiet little lady as you'd meet anywhere. 'Cept that ov late she was goin' wi' a dead crook crowd."
"Yes? Ruth Collins was her name, wasn't it?" Harry was blandly innocent. "I was reading in the Star about her and the tracks of a limping man found on the sandhills."
"I won't say it isn't true." Mrs. Vaughan was a sensationalist. "More'n likely it is."
"The newspaper appears to suggest the woman was not murdered at Little Bay," remarked Harry. "At least, that seems to be the meaning of their comments on the story."
"Shouldn't wonder at that. You don't, know th' things as 'appens round 'ere at night. Why, 'arf Sydney could be murdered for all th' police care. They talk a lot, an' look fine an' 'ansome in their uniforms, but all they cares for is ter worry shopkeepers as stays open a few minutes after time, and sly-groggers."
"The police story is that Ruth Collins was seen to board a Little Bay tram last Saturday afternoon, about four o'clock." Rugh tried to lead the lady on the right track. Mrs. Vaughan looked mysterious.
"Maybe," she said, cautiously. "Though I've 'eard of those who say she was seen in th' ills long past four. The Tiger Lily could tell a tale as to that, if she wanted to. But I minds me own business, That's th' only way to live in peace round 'ere."
"Quite right." Harry winked slyly at Rugh, "If the fearful things you say happen at night it would be dangerous to talk openly. Of course, among friends—"
"That's wot I tells me 'usbaud," replied Mrs. Vaughan, vigorously nodding her head. "Wot's sed among friends shouldn't go no further. I'm sure I don't know what I'd do if those bludgers cam 'ere one night, an' me screaming like that poor woman did th' other night."
"What happened?" asked the journalist.
"I'm sure I don't know. It was on Saturday last, or to be correct, Sunday mornin', an' we'd just gone ter bed, when I 'eard 'em. I puts me 'ead under th' bedclothes, an' feels as if I'd faint. Tom sed 'e thought there was a row in Frozene Lane."
"Frozene Lane, after midnight, last Saturday," whispered Rugh. Harry frowned a warning.
"Where's Frozene Lane?" he asked, casually.
"Just alon' 'ere, about fifty yards down near Buckingham Street. It's a queer place, nearly all backyards. An th' things as goes on there at night are too orful fer words."
"So you did not see Ruth Collins on the Saturday evening?" Harry asked the direct question, as the cook-shop proprietress seemed to wish to avoid the subject.
"No, I didn't." Mrs. Vaughan pursed her lips, determinedly, "though I ain't sayin' as there's them as might 'ave seen 'er."
"I'd like to see this Tiger Lily," said Rugh, suddenly. "She appears to be interesting."
"Lily's a queer girl," replied the lady. "It 'ud depend on whether she took to you or no. If she did 'oney couldn't be sweeter, but if she didn't like your looks she'd say so, an' as plain as yer face."
A couple of men entered the cookshop at that moment, and the two investigators paid their bill and left.
"Home," declared Harry, when they reached the pavement. "It's a day, Rugh, and a good day, too."
"We've had a lot of luck," assented the assurance man. "Though where this trail is going to lead up to I can't quite guess."
"The police theory is shattered badly," said Harry, jubilantly. "Those 'Johns' are too damned cock-sure."
Rugh caught the journalist by the arm. They had wandered down to Elizabeth Street, and now stood on the corner of Chalmers Street, opposite the railway station entrance.
"Quiet, Harry," he said in a low voice. "See that man standing by the fruit barrow, opposite the station entrance—the man in the brown cap? He was one of the men who entered the cook-shop just before we left. Have an idea he picked us up at Shorty Matt's. Anyhow, he's following us."
The Star man immediately held out his hand. "Good-bye, old man. Good of you to come up here with me."
Then he continued in a whisper, scarcely moving his lips:
"Jump on a tram, Rugh. If he follows you, I'll follow him."
"What if he follows you?"
"I'll dodge into some place and borrow a telephone. You can then come and dog him."
"Good." Rugh walked down to the tram junction and boarded a city-bound tram.
Twenty minutes later Rugh's telephone rang. The caller was Harry.
"Our friend's camped on your door-step," reported the journalist. "Appears to care nothing for me. Followed you immediately you moved off."
"Good work, Harry," replied the investigator. "He's bit off more than he can chew. Meet you at Mellor's, in Castlereagh Street, in ten minutes."
Well within the time limit Rugh walked down the steps of the underground café, and looked round. Harry was seated at the far end of the room.
"Where's our friend?" he asked, when the assurance man sat down at the table.
"Keeping a lonely vigil outside my offices," laughed Rugh. "He doesn't seem to be aware there is a way out into George Street, through the King's Arms Hotel."
"Can you get back that way?"
"Up to six o'clock. Why? Do you suggest I should make it a habit to come and go by the back door?"
"Depends on who he is watching for. If its anyone with brains your private exit will soon be stopped. If it's one of the Surry Hills thugs with a bump of curiosity, an hour, or so, will damp his enthusiasm for a detective career."
"You suggest I should not return to my offices this evening?"
"No necessity, is there? Well, make it a day, for once in your young life. By the way, Rugh, do you want anything kept out of the Star? About our work to-day, I mean?"
Rugh thought a moment.
"Don't mention names and addresses," he said at length. "That would make trouble for the Surry Hills people."
"What about the Tiger Lily?"
Rugh's face brightened.
"I want that lady," he replied, crisply. "She knows a lot if she'll talk. Trouble is to get hold of her."
"Give her a good write-up in the rag," suggested the journalist.
"Have you enough to go on?" Rugh questioned, doubtfully.
"Can imagine a lot," grinned the journalist. "Guess she's the sort of lady who'd get the wind up quickly. That is, if I make it strong enough."
"Good. Go-get-'er; Harry. See if you can make her come to us. The more angry she is the better. Miss 'Tiger Lily,' in a real dinkum paddy, may help us solve many problems."
"Consider the matter accomplished." Harry drew some papers from his pocket and made a few shorthand notes. "What about to-morrow, old man?"
"I'm stumped," confessed the investigator, regretfully. "So far as I can see, we're up against a brick wall."
"We didn't do so badly to-day," objected Harry.
"We've established the fact that Ruth Collins was in Surry Hills on the Saturday preceding the discovery of her corpse. We know something of her associates, and—that's all." Rugh made a gesture of despair.
"What about the shooting business, and the row in Frozene Lane, early Sunday morning?"
"Mere conjecture. There's nothing definite to connect those happenings with the murder. No, Harry, the two principal pieces of evidence we have for our day's work are: Ruth Collins' presence in Surry Hills at nine o'clock on the Saturday night, and the fact that she was a member of a 'push,' one of which is a motor mechanic, and has access to motor cars."
"What about Richards?" asked the journalist, collecting his hat. "Are we to give him the dinkum dope?"
"No reason wily not." Rugh rose from his seat. "Will you give him a call, Harry? I'm taking your advice. It's a day."
THE afternoon Star featured The Tiger Lily in a double column front page story. Harry Sutherland had drawn freely on his imagination, but the story read true to life. The Tiger Lily was drawn as a quick-tempered, wayward girl of Slumland. A girl that lived the life of Sydney's underworld, yet contrived to keep herself unsullied and wholesome. She stood out against a sordid, shadowy background, on which flickered pictures of crude, hectic excitement. Very deliberately the writer had shown the ties of friendship which bound the Tiger Lily to the victim of the Little Bay tragedy. Maudie Wheelson was indicated, briefly, as the third of the group, and the shooting in Little Buckingham Street, detailed in a few terse sentences. Underlying the story was a deliberate provocation, designed to rouse the Tiger Lily to expostulation.
Soon after midday Harry telephoned the assurance investigator.
"Anything fresh?" he asked.
"No. The Tiger Lily story was great," replied Rugh. "Didn't think you had it in you."
"Thanks." Harry's dry tones cut clear across the wire.
"Of course, I am alluding to the sentimental side of the story," dug in Rugh, with a chuckle. "Sentiment's not your strong suit, old man. You'll never write a successful 'sob-sister' story."
"Go to ——"
"Surry Hills?" interposed the assurance man, quickly. "They fine you for using bad language over the telephone."
"Do you think it will fetch her?" asked the Star man, anxiously.
"Should do so." Rugh thought for a moment. "I'd advise you to keep in the office this afternoon. The Tiger Lily may call, but more probably she won't. My tip is she'd telephone first, suspecting a police trap."
"Humph! Probably. Never thought of that. Guess I'll hang round."
"What about McAdoo? How's he taken it?"
"Dead sore." A quiet laugh came along the wire. "Sweet as sour apples."
"Mind he doesn't get the connection," warned Rugh. "He'll smash your schemes if he does."
"Funny thing." Again Harry laughed. "He likes the 'Lily' story. Appears to think its an atmospheric story, turned in as a kind of friendship's offering. Even warned me, if the lady was real, she'd kick up a dust. Said I'd have to pacify her, if she did. He hadn't time to smooth out the kinks for staffmen who didn't know their work."
"Can you get her up here?" asked Rugh.
"Doubtful. As you say, she'll probably suspect a police trap. Any way, old man, I'll see you're in at the interview. S'long."
Rugh was disinclined to leave his office. Any moment Harry might ring up to say the Tiger Lily was at the Star, or had telephoned. On the story this girl of Sydney's underworld might tell, if she could be induced to speak, depended the direction of his future work.
For the time he had neglected the search for Colin Carson and his daughter. A visit to the agents for Rexine Chambers had resulted in the negative information that no one of the name of Carson had occupied offices in the Chambers.
One line of inquiry remained untapped. Rugh picked up the telephone, and called "Information." Getting the connection, he asked for Mr. Gleeson.
"Rugh Thornton speaking," he said, when Gleeson came to the telephone. "I want to trace a man who was in Sydney some twelve years ago. Colin Carson. No, Carson. Yes? The address? Rexine Chambers, Pitt Street. He was there twelve years ago. Gave that address on a deed."
He listened intently for a few minutes.
"No," he exclaimed. "Give me any Carsons you have registered. Any date, anywhere. Tomorrow! Yes, that will do. Thanks."
Teddy Marlow entered the office and placed a card on the desk. Rugh nodded. A minute later and Wilbur Orchard entered the room.
"Thought I would come up and see how you were getting on with the Carson Loan case," he explained, dropping into a chair by Rugh's desk.
"Nothing to report, so far," Rugh made a wry face. "There seems to be no trace of Colin Carson."
"That's what the detectives said," commented the managing director of the Balmain and South, "I thought you might have better luck."
"Why?" Rugh faced round on his visitor, suddenly. He fancied the man flinched slightly at the direct question.
"The Little Bay Murder," said Orchard, hesitatingly.
"Do you think Rita Carson is identical with the woman found on the sandhills at Little Bay?" asked Rugh.
"I don't know what to think." The assurance director made a gesture of despair. "There is the matter of the telephone message, y'know."
"A very slender clue on which to form a theory that an attempt is to be made to defraud your company," commented Rugh.
"Why did the man telephone me if there was nothing behind his talk?" queried Orchard testily.
"That is a matter I may be able to explain later." Rugh smiled. "In fact, Mr. Orchard, I hope to be able to relieve your mind on many points shortly."
"How's that?" Orchard nearly jumped out of his chair.
"I am awaiting the arrival from Queensland of the marriage certificate of Ruth and William Collins. That certificate, I am confident, will show that the dead woman was not the heiress of Colin Carson, nor, in fact, any relation at all."
"That will not solve the matter of the loan," objected the director.
"You believe a claim will be put in shortly for the repayment of the loan, Mr. Orchard," replied Rugh. "When that claim is made I shall be ready to test the legality of the claimant. Until that, all I can do is to try and find a line of enquiry that will lead me to Colin Carson, dead or alive."
"You have not succeeded in tracing Carson's daughter?"
The investigator looked at the director steadily. Wilbur Orchard appeared to be awaiting his answer with more than ordinary interest.
"You have had my advice on the question as a whole, Mr. Orchard," he answered slowly. "I am certain your solicitors will advise you to the same course of action. At the same time I can assure you I shall not abandon the quest for Colin Carson and his heiress."
The assurance director rose from his seat with almost a sigh of relief.
"I am glad you speak so confidently, Mr. Thornton," he said, as he shook hands. "Still, young men are always confident."
Rugh puzzled over Orchard's last observation. The remark struck him as almost a direct challenge. Wilbur Orchard did not believe that the investigator would succeed in his quest. He spoke as if failure would almost be a relief to him.
Rugh had hardly settled down to his work again when Inspector Richards was announced.
"What's Sutherland's game?" blurted out the burly officer as he entered the room. "These stories the Star are printing are hitting right at the police force. Causing a lot of talk, too."
"Have you asked Harry?" countered Rugh.
"He Came to me last night and spilt a lot of dope about Ruth Collins being seen in Surry Hills late on the Saturday night."
"What's the good of all this talk? We have a witness—three, in fact—who'll swear the woman went to Little Bay on a train at four in the afternoon."
"People who did not know her," commented the investigator. "Harry gave you the names and addresses of the people we dug up?"
"Witnesses!" Richardson sniffed disdainfully. "All of 'em sly-groggers we've had over and over again."
"None the worse for that, Richards," Rugh laughed, "They knew the woman intimately. Your witnesses identified her by a photograph that was so old that her intimates hardly recognised it is of her."
"They're reputable persons," protested the officer.
"Then the police have given up using pimps?" asked Rugh, in mock surprise. "I suppose, in the near future, plain clothes constables will he abolished. The whole department will he put in uniform. Say, Richards, you'll look fine, dressed up."
"No jury would believe your witnesses," argued the officer. "A smart lawyer would utterly discredit them."
"Then find witnesses who knew the woman alive, and knew her movements on the day before she was found at Little Ray. Another thing, Inspector"—Rugh's voice hardened—"there's no necessity to put plain clothes men on to dog Harry Sutherland and myself."
Richards sprang to his feet.
"What do you mean?"
"No need of heat," replied Rugh, steadily. "A plain-clothes man dogged Harry and me around Surry Hills yesterday. It appears I was the immediate object, for, when we separated, the man stuck to my trail. Harry dodged him until he camped on the doorstep of this building. He then telephoned me and I took over the job. Your man reported back at Headquarters 8.47 p.m."
The Inspector's face turned a dusky red. He muttered some unintelligible words under his breath.
"I have always advised the Department of any knowledge I considered of use to it. If the Department wishes to watch me I cannot prevent the insult, but I can keep what information I obtain to myself, and use it for my sole benefit. Another thing, Richards, the next flat-footed fool who camps on my trail will be photographed, and the photograph published."
Teddy Marlow entered the office.
"A lady to see you, Mr. Thornton."
"All right, Teddy. In one second the Inspector is leaving."
Richards hesitated a moment, and then, without a word, left the room.
The investigator glanced down at the slip of paper his cleric had placed on his desk. It bore three words:
The Tiger Lily.
RUGH snatched at the telephone, and rang up the Star offices.
"Thornton speaking. Tell Sutherland, here. Come right in."
He turned from the instrument to meet the coldly suspicious eyes of a tall, beautifully-formed girl, standing in the doorway. She stood with her left hand resting on her hip, the right hand plunged into the pocket of a rather gaudy sports jacket.
"So it was a police trap, after all," she said slowly with deep scorn in her voice. "Can't the dicks do their own dirty work?"
Rugh was silent. The girl's deep blue eyes held him fascinated. She was beautiful, in an almost barbaric fashion. Dark, with jet black hair, coiled around her head in a manner old fashioned, but wonderfully becoming. Lips full, and curved in a perfect bow, their deep scarlet accentuating the vivid colouring of her dusky beauty.
"Did you hear the number I called?" he asked at length.
The girl nodded.
"Call that number and ask who is speaking," suggested the investigator. He moved quietly away from the desk and sat down by the window.
The girl hesitated a minute. Then she crossed the room and lifted the receiver.
"Go on," encouraged Rugh, as the girl paused. The Tiger Lily replaced the receiver, and laughed. "You win. 'Sides I know the Star number. I was going to see them, but Shorty Matt said I had better see you."
"Good," Rugh rose from his seat and pushed forward a deep lounge chair, invitingly. "Sit here. It's more comfortable than the seat I reserve for ordinary callers. So you came to see me about the article in to-day's Star?"
"Yep. Shorty cays you're safe." The girl seated herself gracefully.
Rugh studied his visitor for a few minutes. The Tiger Lily was apparently of Irish descent Only from the Green Island came the large languorous blue eyes, and the luxuriant crown of black hair. Her figure was as near perfect as could be and her small shapely feet would have roused the envy of any woman.
"I don't know what to say," Rugh confessed with a slight laugh. "I can't call you the Tiger Lily, can I?"
The girl echoed the laugh, and slightly blushed.
"You might use the 'Lily' alone. That's what the 'dicks' do," she suggested with a slight grimace. "My name is Dalton, but—"
"What?" Rugh asked inquisitively.
"No one calls me that now," the Tiger Lily laughed slightly. "We don't use surnames where I come from."
"Where you come from," Rugh repeated the words half under his breath. "You don't belong there Lily Dalton."
The girl sprang to her feet, indignant.
"I do belong there," she cried, her cheeks flushing with a rich dusky colour, and her eyes sparkling. "It's my home, and they're my people. Oh, I know what you think. I can speak different from them. Do I?"
Her air of natural grace fell from her as a garment discarded. Her shoulders drooped, and the corners of her finely curved lips coarsened.
"I tells yer it's my 'ome, an' why shouldn't it be. I'm th' Tiger Lily, an' don't yer fergit it. Naw, what d'yer want wi' me?"
"Don't Lily." Rugh sprang to his feet and seizing her by the shoulders, shook her vigorously. "Drop it, I say. Drop it."
The girl stood for moment gazing deep into his indignant eves. Then with a low laugh she slipped from under his hands, and seated herself again. Rugh stood before her for a moment, a great perplexity in his eyes.
"I'm sorry," he said lamely. "I don't know why I did it. It was unpardonable."
The girl leaned forward, her eyes on Rugh's face.
"Sit down," she commanded, gently. "You are so tall it is difficult to look all the way up there, I surprised you?"
"Yes. You more than surprised me." Rugh passed his hand over his eyes, "It was like seeing a beautiful picture hideously defaced. It hurt."
"A beautiful picture?" The girl made a quaint grimace.
"Why do you live in the Hills?" asked Rugh, impulsively.
"It is my home."
"You don't speak like them. You are a lady by birth and education. What have you in common with them?"
"Humanity." The word came softly and clearly like the sound of a distant bell.
"You are a social worker, then?"
The Tiger Lily laughed.
"A social worker," she mocked. "I, the Tiger Lily. Haven't they told you. I carry a knife in my stocking. See."
She lifted her skirts slightly, and with a queer, quick motion produced a long thin-bladed knife, resembling an Italian stiletto.
"The Tiger's Tooth." She balanced the knife on the palm of her hand, her eyes mocking him. Then with a swift change of manner: "The Tiger Lily's friend."
"But why stay there? It's dangerous. Have you no relations, or friends?"
Lily shook her head slowly.
"It's my home. And home is never dangerous to those who love it. Yes. Love it." She started from her chair and walked agitatedly up and down the room. "Why do you ask me these things? I Thought I had forgotten."
"Forgotten what?" Rugh asked the question gently.
"Forgotten that I was ever other than the Tiger Lily." The girl swung round on him with a flash of defiance, "What do you want with me?"
"To help you."
"To help me?" she laughed bitterly. "You help me, To what? To softer and finer clothing. To sweeter and daintier food? To lie more softly, to speak more gently. And why?"
She made an imperative gesture, as Rugh commenced to speak.
"Men have offered me as much before. They have promised me more, that I might give them—all. No, no, Mr. Thornton. You enticed me here, nicely, but not for that." She stooped and mockingly patted her knee. "Remember the Tiger Lily's tooth. It bites deep."
The daring challenge faded out of her eyes, and, with a little shrug of self-repression, the girl returned to her seat.
"Mr. Rugh Thornton is perplexed," she gently mocked. "I thought he would have administered the third degree. Or is it that he waits for the support of his friend, Harry Sutherland, of the Star newspaper?"
"I have been told you were a friend of Ruth Collins." Rugh said slowly. "I cannot believe it."
"Poor Ruth. Cannot the unfortunate have friends?"
"But she was a—" Rugh hesitated.
"A street woman," Lily finished the incomplete sentence. "Why do you not say it. You are speaking to the Tiger Lily, of Surry Hills, not to one of your lady friends. The Tiger Lily cannot be a prude."
"You puzzle me," exclaimed Rugh abruptly. "Are you the Tiger Lily? I cannot believe it."
"Have you not seen?" Her tone was significant. "Because I come to you on your social plane using the language your mother and sisters use, you say 'It cannot be.' What proof do you want? Shall I show my teeth again, or—"
Her manner changed. The perfect lips parted in gay laughter. Her eyes sparkled.
"Rugh. Rugh Thornton, you are a quaint man I shall call you 'Rugh' and you shall call me 'Lily', Look, I trust you."
Again the flash of skirts and the keen edged blade lay on her palm. With a careless gesture she tossed it on the table.
"Rugh, I am disarmed. The Tiger Lily is at your mercy. What do you want of her?
"You asked me if I knew Ruth Collins," Lily became thoughtful. "Why? Will you revenge her? Will you seek through Sydney's underworld for her slayer and deliver him to justice. I believe you would, Rugh. You have the eyes of a crusader."
"Do you know the murderer?" asked Rugh bluntly.
"And if I do. What profit is that to you?" Lily mocked. "Will you take me to Police Headquarters, and deliver me as witness for the Crown? What would your friend Inspector Richards say? Would he thank you, or would he tell you, as he told you this afternoon, when you spoke of Shorty Matt and Mrs. Vaughan, that he must have witnesses of unimpeachable character?"
"You heard that?"
"The door was open, and the good Inspector spoke heatedly. No, my dear Rugh. He would tell you he could not believe me."
"I'd wring his ugly neck," muttered Rugh, viciously.
Lily laughed richly.
"He would call me the 'Tiger Lily', and speak of my 'tooth' that bites deeply. He would tell Rugh Thorton, assurance investigator, it was impossible to place in the witness box the Tiger Lily of Surry Hills—and Long Bay Penitentiary."
"YOU'VE been in prison?" asked Rugh, incredulously.
"Why not?" The girl laughed defiantly. "There are few living in the 'Hills' who have not been there, or had some relation in gaol. Yes, I've been in prison, my dear Rugh."
"For what?" Rugh nodded towards the knife lying on his desk.
The girl shrugged her shoulders, carelessly.
"My dear boy, you are altogether too inquisitive."
The door swung open quickly and Harry Sutherland entered, to stop dead, staring in amazement at the beautiful girl in intimate conversation with his friend, by the window.
"I beg your pardon, Rugh," he stammered awkwardly. "I was out when your message came through. You said—"
He hesitated and looked at the girl. Rugh rose to his feet.
"Come in, old man, and find a seat. And—let me present you to Miss Lily Dalton."
"Alias the Tiger Lily," laughed the girl. "Mr. Thornton, you should better prepare your friend."
"Just as well for him to have a shock or two to his conceit now and again," grinned the investigator. "I had one, you know."
Harry dragged forward a chair.
"It was a shock," he laughed. "I didn't quite expect—You know, you—"
"Speak Australian, or should I say, English?" Again the girl laughed at the puzzled expression of the journalist.
"You certainly speak, and are different to, the people I have met in Surry Hills." Harry took off his glasses and polished them vigorously.
"Then you think people should speak according to the district in which they live?" asked Lily, slightly defiant. "You wished to see me, Mr. Sutherland, and you took rather a peculiar method of securing an introduction."
"I didn't think—" commenced Harry.
"Please don't apologise," Lily laughed sweetly. "Your article might have drawn the Tiger Lily into your trap had she been the girl you supposed. I was advised to see Mr. Thornton by a mutual friend. Now you have me here had we better not get to facts. You want to know who murdered Ruth Collins?"
"Yes?" Both men leaned forward eagerly.
"I am afraid I cannot tell you that. I have no evidence, only suspicions." Lily spoke slowly. Then noticing the look on Harry's face she continued. "No, Mr. Sutherland, I do not know. If I knew definitely—"
Her face hardened and her fists clenched. It was as if the spirit of the Tiger Lily possessed her again.
"You have suspicions'?" asked Rugh.
"Yes." Lily's face cleared. "Suspicions, yes, but I want facts."
She paused and looked from one man to the other.
"Suspicions don't count. We must find the murderer. I came here to explain certain things Mr. Sutherland hinted at in his article, and to inform you of certain facts. Perhaps those facts may lead you to the men you seek."
"You are speaking of the shooting affray?" asked Rugh.
"Yes." Lily hesitated. "Perhaps you had better let me tell my story in my own way."
She sat for some minutes, looking out of the window.
"One of the girls in Surry Hills was in trouble. No, I am not going to mention her name, as she has no part in the murder. She knew me and sent word round to my rooms that she wanted to see me. Theresa was very ill, and I did what I could to help her. I wanted her to go to the hospital, but at first she refused. Later I managed to persuade her, and sent Ruth to telephone for the ambulance.
"While Ruth was away Theresa told me she had been mixed up in the big robbery at a drapery store in Newtown. Her boy was 'under the smoke' and he and his friends had left the swag with her. She whispered to me where it was hidden.
"I suppose you think I should have immediately told the police." The girl looked at the men defiantly. "But the police are our natural enemies in the 'Hills.' I did not. I promised I would see that the rent of her room was paid regularly, and keep the key in my care until she or her boy returned.
"While we were talking Maudie Wheelson came in. She must have been listening outside, for while she was talking to Theresa her eyes were roving around the room. I told Maudie I had sent for the ambulance, and she went away. Ruth came back, and a few minutes later the ambulance men and the doctor arrived. The doctor examined Theresa and asked me to prepare her for the journey to the hospital. Then they took here away.
"I tidied up the place, and Ruth helped me. Before I left I saw the woman who rented the house and told her I would pay the rent and keep the key. I warned her and her husband not to let anyone into the room.
"No one in Surry Hills questions the Tiger Lily's orders," continued the girl proudly. "The man and woman agreed to guard Theresa's room, and there are few in the district who would dare to try and force a way past him. Outside I found Maudie waiting for us. She told Ruth that Leo was looking for her. Ruth appeared much distressed.
"I don't like Leo," said Lily. "He is real bad, one of the worst men in Sydney. He's got plenty of money—I believe his people are well off—and plenty of influence. If he had not he would have been in prison long ago.
"While we were talking, Leo and a man called Ginger came up to us. Leo asked Ruth Where she had been. Ruth replied with me, attending Theresa, who had just been taken to hospital.
"Theresa. Is it Arty's Theresa?" asked Leo, glancing at Ginger.
"Before I could interpose Ruth had said 'Yes.'
"'She's got th' Newtown swag,' exclaimed Ginger. 'Thought that bloke had it. What about searchin' her room, now we've got a chance.'
"I told the men I had the key and that they would not get into the room while I had anything to do with it.
"Leo urged and tried to threaten, but I wouldn't give way. Then he turned on Ruth and swore at her for calling me in to Theresa. He called her all the filthy things he could think of, until I turned on him. He tried to grab me, but Ginger got between us and warned him it was dangerous to meddle with me. Then Leo commenced swearing at me.
"For some reason this roused Ruth. She turned on Leo and told him to shut up. He struck at her with his fist, but only grazed her shoulder. At that Ruth became strangely quiet. She said, 'You know what I said I would do the next time you struck me.' Then she walked right up to him and whispered a few words. Leo turned strangely white.
"'You've threatened that before,' he said thickly. 'I'll murder you, you she devil. I'll get you somehow, you—'
"He looked so terrible that Maudie screamed and started to run away. Ruth ran after her, and I followed.
"It was then the shots were fired. I looked back and saw Leo with a gun in his hand. He fired three shots, one of them striking the pavement at my feet. Then Ginger caught at the gun and wrenched it out of his hand.
"We ran into Buckingham Street and up the hill. At the corner of Elizabeth Street I saw Mrs. Vaughan standing with another woman. A little way past them we separated, Ruth went home with Maudie Wheelson and I went to my rooms."
Lily ceased speaking and looked at Rugh.
"I know what you are thinking," she flashed. "You, with your conventional surroundings, cannot understand the people of the 'Hills.' You think I should have found a policeman and complained to him. You forget the police are not our protectors. They are our oppressors. The police and your laws can do their own dirty work."
"I won't say that I'd go as far as that," impulsively spoke Harry, beaming at the girl through his glasses. "I'd never betray a pal, whatever he'd done. The law could be damned before I would. But these men were not your friends."
"If I had sent for the police and complained of Leo, he would have told them of Theresa and the stolen property in her room," said Lily.
"May I ask a few questions, Miss Dalton?"
"I will answer if I can," replied the girl calmly. "You will remember what Mr. Sutherland said: 'I cannot betray a pal.'"
"That's understood," replied the investigator. "You are certain Leo threatened to murder Ruth?"
"Absolutely certain," declared Lily. "He shouted it out."
"You believe he murdered Ruth?" continued Rugh.
The girl hesitated for quite a while.
"Yes," she said at length. "I believe Leo carried out his threat."
"Do you think Ruth had any information dangerous to the man?"
"I cannot doubt it." Lily looked troubled. "If you had seen his face when she spoke to him. It was terrible."
"His name is Leo—?" asked Harry.
"Leo Warrington," said the girl. "He lives somewhere in Ultimo."
"What is 'Ginger's' name?" asked Rugh.
"Where does he live?"
"At Ultimo. He left Surry Hills When he joined up with Leo's crowd."
"The shooting took place on the Thursday before the murder," commented Rugh. "When did you see Ruth Collins last, Miss Dalton?"
"She called on me late on the Saturday night," replied Lily, thoughtfully. "It was after midnight when she left my rooms. I asked her where she was going, and she said to Maudie Wheelson's. She used to live there."
"Which way would she go from your rooms to Maudie Wheelson's house?" asked Harry quickly.
Lily thought a few moments.
"She would go down Elizabeth Street to Buckingham Street, and then up the hill. There is a shorter way, but Ruth would not take that."
"Then Ruth Collins passed the end of Frozene Lane between midnight and one o'clock in the Sunday morning," exclaimed Rugh.
Lily nodded, looking inquiringly at the investigator.
"YOU say Ruth Collins went down Elizabeth Street to Buckingham Street, leaving your rooms after midnight?" said Rugh slowly. "In that event she would pass Frozene Lane about the time Mrs. Vaughan heard the screams on the Sunday morning."
"What screams?" asked Lily anxiously.
"Mrs. Vaughan told us she heard screams from the direction of Frozene Lane between midnight and one o'clock on the Sunday morning," explained marry.
"I am going to couple that with the threat uttered by Leo Warrington in your presence, Miss Dalton," said Rugh. "He threatened to get her, and—"
"He got her," concluded the journalist savagely. "Mr. Leo will have a lot to explain, it strikes me."
"Pure theory," expostulated Rugh. "Except for Miss Dalton's story we cannot connect him with the murder."
"You must not bring me into it." Lily spoke earnestly. "I will do what I can to help you, but—"
"But, what?" asked Harry quickly.
"Mr. Thornton knows. No," she added, seeing the question in Rugh's eyes. "No, I have my own quest to follow. You cannot aid me. No one can help me. I can only watch and wait."
"While there is a good deal of proof to be obtained," said Rugh, after a quick look at the girl, "we have something definite to go on, at last. Let me try and make a connected story of it."
For a few minutes he paced up and down the room in silence.
"First, we have Harry's theory. He claimed that the woman was not murdered out at Little Bay," commenced the investigator thoughtfully. "His evidence on the point is the stripping of the body; the folding of the clothes and the planting of them on the corpse; the absence of certain articles of clothing; the small amount of blood on the ground; and the fact that, while certain wounds were produced by a knife or other cutting instrument, the clothing was neither cut nor bloodstained.
"James Smith has next to be considered. His story confirms Harry's as to the body being brought to the spot after the murder, possibly in a motor car. His statement that the body was deposited in one place and then dragged to another is peculiar, but tends to show that the inference that the murder was not committed at Little Bay is correct. I am, however, perplexed by the finding of the stocking and ring on the beach. I cannot fit those facts into the problem.
"Miss Dalton confirms our investigations and adds considerably to them. She confirms our discoveries that Ruth Collins was in Surry Hills to a late hour on the Saturday night. We now know that the police theory—that the woman went out to Little Bay with a man by a tram leaving the City at four o'clock on the Saturday afternoon—is incorrect. She was seen in the Cannon Wine Bar at five o'clock. She was in Buckingham Street, and spoke to Shorty Matt between nine and half past that night. She was with Miss Dalton until after midnight.
"Ruth Collins was living with a man named Leo Warrington at Ultimo. On the Thursday before the murder this man threatened to murder her, and in fact fired three times after her and her companions. Yet on the Saturday she was seen by Shorty Matt in his company, some considerable time after the police state she was seen to leave the city for Little Bay.
"Had not Ruth Collins been seen by Miss Dalton at a much later hour, the evidence would have justified Leo Warrington being called on to explain his movements between the hours of nine o'clock on the Sunday evening and four o'clock on the Sunday morning—the time the body was found. The task before us is to find evidence that Ruth Collins arrived at Maudie Wheelson's house on Sunday morning. Alternatively, where did she go after leaving Miss Dalton's rooms?"
"That shall be my work," declared Lily, rising. "You will hear from me soon, Mr. Thornton."
As she passed the desk Lily picked up the stiletto. At the door she turned and smiled farewell at the two men.
"Well, I'm—" exclaimed Harry, polishing his glasses.
"Quite a common occurrence," observed Rugh gravely.
"The Tiger Lily is certainly a surprise. Seems to me you have roused elements you will have trouble in controlling, Harry."
"It'll take some man to control that elemental," chuckled the journalist. "She's a round dozen girls in one."
"And then a mystery."
"All women are that. The only difference in regard to the Tiger Lily is that she is more of a mystery than the average. What's the next move, Rugh?"
The investigator did not answer. He was standing in front of the window, staring out over the roofs of the buildings opposite. Harry gave him a quick glance, and then pulled out his pipe and lit it.
At length Rugh thrust his hands into his pockets and sauntered over to his desk.
"What kind of a fool do you take me for, Harry?" he asked quietly.
"Don't know," grunted the Star man, vigorously thumping the tobacco in his pipe with a discoloured forefinger. "Sometimes you're a damned lucky one. Other times, just ordinary."
"Wilbur Orchard was here this afternoon," said Rugh, with seeming inconsequence.
"He was anxious to know what progress I had made. On the Carson Loan matter," he added after a slight pause.
"You told him?"
"I told him what I thought fit for him to know Look here, Harry. You remember my story of the interview with Orchard. The time he told me the details of the Carson Loan?"
"I spoke of the photograph of Rita Carson."
"Get into top gear," advised the journalist. "Damn this pipe. It won't draw."
"You remember he spoke of Rita Carson as a schoolgirl. Do you see anything strange in him having a photograph of Rita Carson as a grown woman?"
"Eh?" Harry looked up, startled.
"I'm just a plain, ordinary fool." Rugh flamed with anger. "He put one over on me, and I swallowed, it, bait, hook and sinker."
"What's his game?" Harry tousled his unruly hair.
"His game? I'll know that before long, and then—" Rugh brought his hand down heavily on his desk. "What do you think of his story, Harry?"
"Sounds fishy. 'Specially now you mention the photo fake. Why, the man must have been in touch with Colin Carson, or his daughter, quite recently."
"Or since the girl grew up," amended Rugh. "I want that photo and then Wilbur Orchard will get the shock of his young life."
Harry did not reply. He stretched his long legs before him and laughed.
"Lord, man. To get one over on us like that. It's real rich. What suckers he must take us to be."
"I doubt whether I should have noticed it, even now," confessed the investigator. "Somehow I got thinking of the Tiger Lily, and wondering what sort of a schoolgirl she had been. Do you—no. You haven't seen the photograph yet."
"You think the Tiger Lily may be the lost Rita Carson?" asked the journalist curiously.
"No. The girl of the photograph is fair, and Lily is dark. Yet I don't know. Things are in such a muddle. The girl of the photograph may not be Rita Carson. Lily may be the girl I am looking for. You heard what she said. She had a mission to accomplish. What mission? What possible object can a girl like her have in living in that abominable hole?"
"Steady, man!" The journalist placed a firm hand on his friend's shoulder. "You're not going to fall for a mystery girl of that sort?"
"She's good enough!" A gust of temper shook the man.
"A girl who consorts with prostitutes and bludgers," said Harry gravely. "A woman who confesses to being a party to receiving stolen goods. Pull yourself together, man. There's work to do."
The journalist shook Rugh vigorously by the shoulder. With a short laugh the investigator wriggled from under his friend's heavy hand.
"All right, Harry," he laughed quietly. "I was dreaming a bit. As you say, there is work to do."
"Trouble is, its in such a tangle I don't know where to start," grumbled the Star man. "What about asking Richards to round up Leo Warrington and question him?"
"Richards is in a beast of a temper," said the investigator. "You set him going with your Surry Hills and James Smith stories."
"Good enough. Say, Rugh, are you certain the police are square?"
"Richards assured me he would resign before he would let up on the hunt for the murderer."
"Humph. Yet he sticks to that exploded tram conductor story, in spite of the evidence we've laid before him. I don't think there is much to choose between your friend of the Balmain and South and Inspector Richards, of the C.I.B."
"What do you mean, Harry?
"Both of them could tell a story we know nothing of as yet."
"You think Richards knows about the Carson Loan matter, and is holding off on the Little Bay murder because of it?" asked Rugh, much astonished.
"A bit involved, old man," grinned the journalist. "I should suggest the same strings that tie Inspector Richards hamper your friend, Wilbur Orchard."
Rugh took a dozen quick turns up and down the office. Then he returned to his desk.
"You suggest, Harry, that Ruth Collins is Rita 'Carson?'" he asked gravely.
"That, or someone is interested in making matters look so."
"Then Richards must have known of the telephone message to Wilbur Orchard stating Rita Carson would be found on the beach at Little Bay?"
"No." Harry spoke positively. "Richards is not a crook, but the man behind him is. Our police friend is holding off the direct line to the Little Bay murderer because there is a string on him. At the same time he is secretly following up the clues we have given him. Witness the two men who trailed us up Surry Hills. One dogged you, but we never saw the other again. What was his business, and what friends did he have in the neighbourhood?"
The Star man paused and poked, curiously, at his pipe.
"I'll tip Richards is holding off until the Carson Loan business matures. Then he will jump in with a sensational arrest. Get me?"
Rugh lifted the receiver from the telephone.
"I'm going after Wilbur Orchard," he said briefly. Then he gave the exchange the Balmain and South telephone number.
WILBUR ORCHARD looked up from some letters be was signing when Rugh was shown into his room the following afternoon. He nodded briefly, but did not rise from his seat.
"Hope your business is not lengthy, Thornton," he said querulously. "I'm extremely busy this afternoon. Up to my eyes in it. Can give you ten minutes, not a moment more."
"Five minutes will do," replied the investigator. He fancied the assurance director looked worn and thin. Certainly he had lost his usual business alertness, and talked too much.
"Well, what is it?"
"I want to see that photograph of Rita Carson. The one you showed me the other day."
"The photograph of Carson's girl?" said Orchard. "Of course I have it. Why do you want it?"
"I should like to see it again."
Orchard swung round on pivot chair to the wall safe. Then, with his hand on the knob of the safe he hesitated, and looked round to Rugh.
"What do you want to see it for?"
"I came across a girl the other day it might fit," answered the investigator briefly.
Orchard pulled the packet of papers out of the safe and untied them on his desk. Picking out the panel photograph he passed it over to Rugh. The investigator looked at it earnestly.
"May I keep this, Mr. Orchard?" he asked, after a pause.
"The best line of investigation I can go on is to try and trace up Rita Carson. Probably some schoolgirl friend has kept up a correspondence with her. You have no further information to give me?"
"None," Wilbur Orchard huddled the papers together and tied the tape round them. "Keep the photograph if you want to. Can't see what good you can make of it."
"Possibly it may be of the utmost value when you explain how it came into your possession," said Rugh slowly and distinctly.
"Into my possession?" The director turned a shade paler. Nervously he swung round to face the wall safe. He appeared to have difficulty in closing the door. "I told you—"
"I should dislike you to repeat what you told me at our first interview." Rugh spoke sternly. "I suggest you give me a full and true explanation of how you became possessed of a woman's photograph when you speak of Carson describing his daughter as a schoolgirl."
Orchard turned swiftly to face the investigator. His face had lost its pallor and a dull red colour had crept up to the roots of his hair.
"You are impertinent, Mr. Thornton," he said thickly. "I have given you the information I possess. Now you are deliberately insulting me to cover your gross incapacity to conduct the inquiry. I shall immediately consult my Board with a view to the Balmain and South withdrawing from the syndicate employing you."
"That is a matter I am not considering at present. Until I receive formal notice of the withdrawal of your company I shall conduct the investigation on the lines I think best."
Wilbur Orchard drew a piece of paper towards him and wrote rapidly. Signing his name with a flourish he passed it across the desk to the investigator.
"There is formal notice of the company's withdrawal from the syndicate," he stuttered. "You will be so good as to drop the matter of the Carson Loan. I shall place it in more intelligent hands."
Rugh took the paper and deliberately tore it in pieces. The scraps of paper he deposited on the desk.
"I should suggest your burning these fragments personally." The investigator laughed shortly. "I am not acting against you or your company, Mr. Orchard. Neither am I dropping the inquiry. Now, will you tell me how you became possessed of a photograph of a grown woman when you spoke of a schoolgirl?"
"Give me that photograph!"
Rugh placed the photograph in his pocket. Then he rose to his feet.
"I shall solve the problem, and the added mystery you have endeavoured to enshroud it in," he remarked confidently. "Your Board may then want to know why you withheld important information from me."
He turned towards the door. Wilbur Orchard sat glowering at him. Then, as Rugh grasped the door handle, the director made an impatient gesture.
"Come back, Thornton," he called in a low voice. "I made a mistake."
Without a word Rugh returned to his seat and waited. The managing director fidgeted with his papers for some minutes.
"You suggest I did not tell you the truth about the Carson Loan?"
"I suggest you omitted to inform me of certain essential facts," corrected Rugh. "Those omissions have hampered me."
"What do you want to know?"
"First, tell me how you became possessed of that photograph."
The director turned to the wall safe and took out the Carson papers. From them he extracted a large envelope, to which was attached a slip of paper. This he passed across the desk.
The envelope was large enough to contain the photograph Rugh had in his pocket. The investigator examined the attached paper. It had been torn off an ordinary sheet of writing paper and bore only two words: "Rita Carson."
Rugh turned to the envelope. It was made of brown manilla paper, bag-shaped. It still bore the marks showing it had contained some article similar in shape and size to the photograph. It was addressed to "Wilbur Orchard, Esq., Balmain and South Assurance Company, Ltd., Elizabeth Street, Sydney."
The postmark was badly blurred. In the circle were to be distinguished the letters "S-DN—" at the top, and in the centre Rugh could just distinguish a "3" below a "4." Underneath were the figures "-92-."
"Posted at No. 3 or 4 office about 3 or 4 o'clock within the last six years," observed Rugh thoughtfully. "The staggers used on the obliterating machine will give the year and approximate date."
"I received it about three weeks ago," replied the director.
"Why did you conceal the fact from me?" asked Rugh impatiently.
"It appeared so immaterial," the director replied weakly. "Had it not been for the telephone message saying she would be found on the sandhills at Little Bay I might not have referred to it at all."
"And thus conceal the only clue you have to Colin Carson's heiress," answered Rugh, with some bitterness. "There are three classes of people you should give your fullest confidence to, Mr. Orchard. Your lawyer, your doctor and your detective. In ninety-nine cases out of every hundred these experts seize on the one point you consider unimportant, as the vital issue."
"How can that photograph solve this problem?" asked the director.
The investigator pointed to the photographer's imprint.
"The Lycon Studio will have the name and address of the sitter. Within a couple of hours I shall know where to find this lady. The question then will be to prove whether she is Colin Carson's heiress or not. Now' Mr. Orchard, I am going to ask you bluntly if you are withholding any more information, however unimportant you may consider it."
Wilbur Orchard shook his head in the negative.
"Not one thing," he replied earnestly. "I want to apologise for my outburst of temper a while ago, Mr. Thornton. Fact is, I am not well. This matter is worrying me a lot."
"Worry won't help either of us," advised the investigator. "Place the matter in the hands of your solicitors. They will take the matter into Court and obtain the financial relief required by the company. In the meantime I will hunt up this young lady and find out if she is Colin Carson's heiress. If she's not I'll soon know why her photograph was sent to you."
"I don't like the idea of the publicity of Court procedure. Find the girl and prove her to be entitled to the money and you will not find the company ungenerous to her—or you."
The investigator walked down Elizabeth Street to the Law Courts and then down King Street. Just before he reached Pitt Street he turned in at a doorway framed with handsome showcases and climbed to the first floor.
The Lacon Studios were at that time the fashionable photographers of Sydney. The place was lavishly decorated, and a very decorative young lady in short skirts and an Eton bob, came forward to meet Rugh.
"I shall be glad if you will give me the name and address of this lady," said Rugh, producing the photograph of the presumed Rita Carson, and his card.
The girl looked at the card and seemed half inclined to refuse. A glance at the handsome face of the investigator changed her mind and, with a murmured request to wait, she vanished through a curtain-hung door. In a few minutes she returned accompanied by a short, fair, dapper-dressed man.
"Mr. Thornton?" he asked, glancing sharply at the investigator.
"That is my name."
"You have made an unusual request." The man paused and then continued: "We do not give the names and addresses of our clients to inquirers."
"You may be doing the lady a favour," said Rugh earnestly. "I may tell you confidentially I have reason to believe she is heiress to a considerable sum of money. I am acting for the company holding the fortune in trust."
"Oh, in that case." Again the man hesitated and glanced at Rugh's card. "I think I have heard of you, Mr. Thornton. You were engaged on the Priestly case?"
"Yes." Rugh's lips hardened. The escape of Robert Priestly was a sore subject with him.
"I think we can override our very strict rule on this occasion," continued the manager of the Studios. "Especially as you assure me it will be to the material benefit of the lady."
He wrote a few lines on the back of Rugh's card and handed it to him with the photograph. The investigator glanced at the pencilled words and started.
"Miss Myrtle Seaton, c/o Mr. S. Brene, Hotel Splendide, Sydney."
OUTSIDE the studios Rugh Thornton looked at his watch. It was twenty minutes past three. At four o'clock Sam Brene, the Town Hall boss, could be found at his accustomed table at the Hotel Splendide roof-garden.
The discovery that the photograph Wilbur Orchard had given him was of Myrtle Seaton had not surprised Rugh. The manner in which the photograph had been conveyed to the managing director of the Balmain and South was typical of the methods of the grafter. Myrtle Seaton was to be put forward as the heiress of the Carson fortune. What part had the girl in the attempted fraud? Why had the grafter sent the photograph to Orchard? Rugh asked the questions of himself, but could give no satisfactory answer. He had not met Myrtle Seaton, although her name was familiar to him as being one of Sydney's younger set. Vaguely, he seemed to remember that she was an adopted daughter of the grafter—he called her his niece.
While many scoundrels had gathered round the personality of Sam Brene, he had so far had the decency to keep the girl out of his schemes. She had not been allowed to come in contact with the many crooks and criminals surrounding the big grafter. Sam Brene was accessible to all who sought his aid, and had the money to pay for it, but he had drawn a rigid line between the partners of his roguery and his private life. Now Myrtle Seaton was to be brought into a scheme that aimed at defrauding one of the largest assurance companies of a fortune. She was to be put forward to claim the wealth that had accumulated in the name of Colin Carson. Was she an accessory to the fraud, or the unwitting victim of the master rogue? Rugh had not decided on a course of action when he reached the doors of the Hotel Splendide. Discarding all set lines of action, he decided to let events take their own course, and to be prepared to take advantage of any opportunity. Crossing the vestibule, he entered the elevator and ascended to the roof garden. Only a few people were gathered there, scttered among the palm enclosed tables. A few couples, half-hidden amid the luxuriant foliage, were intent on matters entirely personal. A group of most modern matrons, bobbed-haired and short-skirted, discussed early tea, and latest scandal, at a table almost in the centre of the room, making the empty spaces ring with their shrill tinkling laughter. In a half-hidden music gallery a string band softly played an old-time waltz. The place wore the look of a stage, just before the rising of a curtain. The scenery was set; it waited only the arrival of the players.
The investigator looked around until his eyes fell on a table set far in the left-hand corner and almost entirely hidden from the main portion of the room by banks of palms. In that corner, some twelve months previous, he, then a reporter on the Star staff, had interviewed Sam Brene. It had not been a satisfactory interview. The gangster, in a moment of boastful expansiveness, had spoken too freely. Rugh had seized on the admissions made by Sydney's self-elected boss, only to have his story deliberately "killed" by "Chink" McAdoo, the Star's Chief of Staff, and friend of Sam Brene.
Rugh sauntered down the room to the half-hidden corner table. He had almost reached it when he was intercepted by a soft-footed waiter.
"I'm sorry, sir. That table's engaged."
"By Mr. Sam Brene?" The investigator smiled slightly, and his fingers sought his waistcoat pocket. The man looked dubious.
"It's all right," Rugh reassured the man. "I'm not a reporter."
"The table is reserved for Mr. Brene," answered the waiter; "but I could not allow you to sit there without his permission, sir."
"I want to see Mr. Brene," said Rugh. "He does not expect me. Perhaps you could seat me at a table Mr. Brene will pass?"
CARSON LOAN MYSTERY.
His hand slipped from his pocket to his side, touching the waiter's hand on the way. The man moved to a table, and pulled out a chair.
"Mr. Brene always passes this way, sir. Tea, sir? Thank you, sir."
In a few minutes the man returned, pushing a small service waggon before him.
"The Star, sir?" he suggested, laying the afternoon paper on the table. Then in a low voice he added: "Mr. Brene will be here any minute now."
Rugh opened the newspaper. He had not seen Harry Sutherland that day, and was curious to know how the journalist had handled the information he had received from the Tiger Lily.
RANDWICK CONSTABLE SOLVES
LITTLE BAY MYSTERY.
The Murdered Woman in Surry Hills Until After Midnight.
Police Headquarters Theory Exploded
by Sensational Discovery of
Rugh laughed softly. Harry Sutherland had carried the war into the enemy's camp, and had struck a blow at the prestige of the detective branch heads. Inspector Richards would find it hard to forgive the journalist.
True to his promise, Harry had withheld the name of the Tiger Lily. The article was a review of the known facts regarding the murder, preceding the startling information they had obtained from the Mystery Girl, Lily Dalton. The central figure of the story, under the Star man's expert manipulation, was Constable Nicholls, of Randwick, and an excellent portrait of that officer occupied a prominent place amid the letter-press.
"Harry will make, or mar, that man," said Rugh to himself. He laid down the newspaper, and picked up the teapot. "Richards will fairly howl with rage."
The waiter passed the table and, without looking at Rugh, tapped the table top with his fingers. Rugh looked up. Sam Brene was entering the big glass dome of the roof-garden.
Sam Brene claimed to have come from Ireland. There are many who openly averred that, on the voyage from the Green Island to Australia, the big grafter lingered long in Uncle Sam's country, placing the finishing touches on his education. Years of fraud and lack of exercise had made the Town Hall boss gross and fat. Barely five feet six inches in height, he had a girth that made him look almost square. His legs were short and he waddled absurdly under the long over-developed body. The head was big and almost devoid of hair. Pendulous jowls overhung a short neck, buried in an over-large collar, decorated by a shoe-string tie of golden yellow. Impressively ungainly, the man waddled across the big room, obsequiously attended by the head waiter. Another attendant hurried forward to the reserved table and drew out a chair, commanding a view of the room, yet partly hidden by the palms.
Rugh set down his cup, and leaned back in his chair. If he could attract the attention of the big grafter he would have a chance to accomplish his objective.
When Sam Brene was level with Rugh's table the investigator stood up and held out his hand.
"Mr. Brene, surely you have not forgotten me?"
The little pig-eyes peered up from under the puffy lips.
"I never forget." The voice was full, almost rich. Pitched low, it held a peculiar ring of command. "Your name is Thornton. Yes, Rugh Thornton. You're a journalist. I never give interviews now."
"Nor do I ask for interviews—now," retorted Rugh, crisply. "Not for publication, at all events. I have forsaken journalism."
"Or has it forsaken you? If I remember the interview you obtained from me was never published." Brene chuckled nastily.
"You know the reason for that," replied Rugh, restraining his temper with difficulty. "But that's ancient history. I wonder if you would hare tea with me?"
Brene looked at the investigator curiously.
"What do you want?"
"The pleasure of your company at tea." retorted Rugh.
"If I let you buy me a tea, what do you want?"
The grafter was well known for his directness.
"I may be able to do you a service."
"People don't do me services without requiring a bigger service in return." Brene looked at Rugh shrewdly for a minute. "Come to my table. You shall have tea with me. That's all you'll get."
Without waiting for a reply, the grafter waddled on to the table where the patient waiter stood behind the chair. Rugh followed at the tail end of the little procession.
"Sit there." The 'boss' pointed to the chair directly opposite him. "You don't come up here often?"
"Over a year since I was here last."
"Then you have come to see me?"
"Not altogether. I came to see you, and a lady."
Sam Brene grunted. His pig-eyes searched the investigator's face.
"What are you doing now?"
"I am investigator for a group of assurance companies." Rugh hesitated, and then added: "Didn't Mr. Priestly inform you of that?"
"Of the Arctic Seas Assurance Company. He was tried for fraudulent promotion, but escaped conviction?"
"The prosecution failed?"
"The jury was squared, fixed, or bluffed. Which was it, Mr. Brene?"
The fat man laughed loudly.
"I am going to like you, Rugh Thornton," he said, when he recovered breath. "You ve got a nerve, all right."
"Thank you. I felt sore at the time, but that passed. I admire, now, the wonderful ingenuity of the scheme."
Brene slowly poured out his tea, and sugared it freely. Then, after a noisy gulp of the hot liquid, he looked up at Rugh.
"What do you want of me?"
The investigator took from his pocket the photograph of Myrtle Seaton and handed it to the grafter.
"I want an introduction to that lady," he said simply.
Not a muscle of the grafter's face moved as he looked at the photograph. Rugh could have sworn he had never seen it before. After peering at it for a while, Brene laid it on the table.
"I have information that may be of value to the lady."
"You want paying for it? How much?"
Rugh's face flamed with anger. He half rose from his seat.
"I want nothing from you or her," he answered hotly.
"Sit down." The boss's voice was cold and unemotional. "Tell me?"
"Thank you. I prefer to deal with the lady, direct." Rugh paused a minute, and then continued: "Let's understand one another, Mr. Brene. I don't trust you, and I refuse to speak until I meet Miss Seaton."
A slight smile flickered on the thin lips of the master grafter. He was looking over Rugh's head.
"Am I late, uncle? Awfully sorry, but I met Mrs. Revel and—"
Rugh sprang to his feet—to face the original of the photograph he had handed to Sam Brene.
"Myrtle, dear." There was amusement in the big boss's voice. "Let me introduce Mr. Rugh Thornton, who has been pestering me for an introduction to yon. He professes to be one of my greatest enemies. Thornton, you have your wish. My niece, Myrtle Seaton, the original of the photograph."
A QUIET smile of amusement lingered around the thin lips of the Town Hall boss as Rugh assisted the girl to her seat, and disposed of her packages. Almost imperceptibly he moved the photograph until it lay immediately beside her plate.
"My photograph." Myrtle Seaton picked up the card and scanned it rapidly. "This is not the one I gave you, uncle."
"No." Brene's eyes twinkled. "I think too much of your gift, my dear, to bring it into a public tearoom. Mr. Thornton showed it me, just before you arrived."
"Mr. Thornton?" A little pucker came between the girl's smooth brows, and her voice grew slightly formal. "May I ask how you became possessed of my photograph, Mr. Thornton?"
Rugh thought quickly. Brene had, maliciously, placed him in an awkward position. He looked up and caught the cool, level glance of grey eyes on him. Distrustful as he was of the big grafter, he could not doubt those eyes.
"Mr. Wilbur Orchard, the managing director of the Balmain and South Assurance Company, handed it to me this afternoon."
"Mr. Wilbur Orchard?" repeated the girl, puzzled. "I don't think I know him. Do I, uncle?"
The investigator covertly watched the big grafter, as he answered the girl. He had expected some sign to escape the man's abnormal control, when he deliberately laid his cards on the table. But Brene only smiled.
"I don't think we have met Mr. Wilbur Orchard," said the grafter, blandly.
"The photograph was sent to Mr. Orchard by post about three weeks ago," continued Rugh. He took from his pocket the manilla envelope with the slip of paper attached, and handed it to Myrtle Seaton.
"Rita Carson," read the girl, deliberately. "But this is my photograph. Why should it be sent to Mr. Orchard with the name of another girl on it?"
Sam Brene yawned, openly. He looked at the investigator, and Rugh could have sworn the little pig-eye deliberately winked.
"Very strange, my dear. Very strange, indeed. In fact, I am deeply interested. Perhaps Mr. Thornton can add further marvels to his story."
"The photograph was followed a few days later by a mysterious telephone message to the effect that the original would be found dead on the sandhills at Little Bay." Rugh spoke brutally, and with intent to shake this man from his unusual placidity.
"Oh." Myrtle Seaton dropped the envelope as if she had touched something unclean. The big boss sat up straight and patted her hand sympathetically.
"Mr. Thornton should not have startled you like that, dear," he said soothingly. "You must forgive him. He is a criminal investigator, and I believe men of that calling develop a certain callous bluntness."
"I must apologise," said Rugh quickly. "I should not have blurted out my information so bluntly. Mr. Brene's remark held a challenge I could not resist."
"It startled me." The colour slowly returned to the girl's face. "Do you mean to say someone sent my photograph to Mr. Orchard, and then telephoned him he would find me at—"
"I would not have startled you so much if I had told my story in the right way," interrupted Rugh, contritely. "May I commence again, and tell it in due sequence?"
"You did startle me for a moment," said Myrtle brightly. "But it is fearfully interesting. I want to hear your story, Mr. Thornton. Don't you, uncle?"
"If it continues in the same startling fashion, I shall be much interested. Go on, Thornton. I said a while ago I was going to like you."
"My story commences twelve years ago," commented Rugh, without taking notice of Brene's sarcasm. "You were then a schoolgirl, Miss Seaton."
"Eleven years old," said Myrtle, promptly, with a laugh. "I have not yet reached the years of discretion concerning my age."
"Thank you, I would have liked to ask the question, but did not dare. You understand I am speaking in confidence. Certain matters I must mention might be harmful to the company I represent."
The girl nodded brightly. Rugh did not look at the big grafter. He had no intention of speaking of anything that would give the man any hold on the Balmain and South.
"The Balmain and South at that time was in urgent need of a large sum of money," the investigator continued. "Applications to the financial houses met with demands for almost impossible terms. Luckily, the company was able to get in touch with a private lender who was willing to advance the sum required on fairly reasonable, if somewhat peculiar, terms."
"May we know the amount?" asked Sam Brene, blandly. "Money always interests me."
"Fifty, thousand pounds," answered Rugh promptly. "An unusual condition was specified by the lender. I need not deal with that in detail, only stating that the condition has greatly increased the sum repayable."
"The money has not yet been repaid, then?" murmured the big grafter.
"The loan was to have been repaid to the lender, personally, at the expiration of twelve months. Unfortunately, he disappeared, and neither he nor his daughter have been heard of since. That is, up to to-day."
"What do you mean, Mr. Thornton? Do you connect my photograph with—?" Myrtle hesitated.
"The money was lent by a Mr. Colin Carson, and was to be repaid to him, or his daughter, Rita, in the event of his death."
Rugh was watching the big grafter keenly. He expected some sign of more than ordinary interest when he mentioned Cohn Carson's name, but, save for the flicker of the half-closed eye-lids, Brene's face was expressionless.
"Colin Carson." The girl mentioned the name, thoughtfully. "I don't think I have ever heard the name before."
"Your father's name was—?" suggested the investigator.
"Seaton. Edward Seaton," put in the big boss, quickly. "Edward Seaton married my sister. Funny thing, her name was Rita."
"So is my name, uncle," laughed Myrtle. "I was named Rita Myrtle, but dad always called me Myrtle."
"So it is. I had forgotten." The podgy hand of the grafter gently patted the girl's hand. "Suppose there's a respectable sum in the bank for Rita Carson by this time, Thornton?"
"Roughly, two hundred thousand pounds," answered Rugh.
"Two hundred thousand pounds! Why that's an immense fortune." The girl's eyes sparkled with laughter. "What a pity dad's name was net Colin Carson, uncle."
"Ted Seaton was a queer chap," said Brene, thoughtfully. "I shall have to look over his papers."
"The matter will go into court," warned Rugh.
Brene laughed heartily.
"Suppose that's a warning, Thornton. No, Ted wasn't the man to leave fifty thousand pounds knocking about. He'd have been down on your company for principal and interest to the very day. Two hundred thousand pounds!"
"But why was my photograph sent to Mr. Orchard as Rita Carson?" questioned Myrtle.
"Perhaps we may ask Mr. Brene that?" said Rugh, mockingly.
"I?" Sam Brene opened his little eyes wide, in astonishment. "Really, Thornton, you are amusing."
"I'll see the matter is not amusing when I get to the end of the trail," declared the investigator, ominously.
"When you get to the end of the trail," murmured the big grafter, with a slow laugh. "Looks to me you've taken on too big a contract, boy. Others have failed, y'know."
"I don't think Mr. Thornton will fail," declared Myrtle, with a glance of encouragement at Rugh. "It have been quite a victory for him if he could have marched me down to Mr. Orchard's and presented me as the missing heiress."
Rugh did net make any reply. He was watching the big grafter. "Others have failed." Swiftly he reviewed the conversation. He had said nothing of the work of the detectives Wilbur Orchard had, over ten years ago, placed on the track of Colin Carson.
"Others have failed." Sam Brene had, for one fleeting second, lowered the guard he had held against the attack of the assurance investigator. In that brief second Rugh had looked in—on what?
Sam Brene was looking at hint with a queer, twisted smile on his cruel lips. The eyes, small and puckered, were not smiling. They bored right into Rugh's face, as if attempting to read his secret thoughts. The big grafter knew he had slipped. How would he retrieve his mistake?
The investigator looked round the tea-room. Many of the tables were now filled with careless, chattering groups. Now and again fleeting glances were cast towards the corner where sat the man who held the city of Sydney in a secret, vicious grip. They little sensed the battle fought over the tea-cups—a battle of words, resulting in the defeat of the elder man. "Others have failed." Simple words, but revealing much to the man who had watched and waited for them.
Rugh's eyes wandered towards the big glass doors. A noisy group was standing by them. Around the group came a man of medium height, square built, and with a ruddy, determined face.
Wilbur Orchard! Rugh turned swiftly to look at Brene. The big grafter was looking across the room, towards the doors. A slight twitching of the nostrils betrayed a tenseness of thought.
Orchard walked across the room as if making for Brene's private corner. A few yards away he raised his eyes, and saw the investigator. A brief hesitation, and he dropped into a vacant chair.
"Sorry my tale ended so unsatisfactorily, for you, Miss Seaton." Rugh laughed as he rose from his chair. "I am sorry I must ask you to excuse me. I have an appointment at my office in a few minutes."
The girl held out her hand frankly.
"I am sorry my father disappointed you," she retorted, smilingly. "But what would I have done with all that money?"
"Shops, theatres, and dances are wonderful aids." Brene laughed, somewhat too loudly. "Glad you stopped me, Thornton. You've given us quite an interesting time. Find me here any afternoon. Come and tell us how you get on. Myrtle will be glad to know, I'm sure."
"Of course I will," added the girl, quickly. "Come soon."
Rugh sauntered slowly up the room. At Orchard's table he stopped with well stimulated surprise. "Mr. Orchard!"
The managing director looked up.
"Hullo, Thornton. Didn't see you when I came in. Been with friends?"
"Mr. Sam Brene and his niece, Miss Seaton." Rugh spoke carelessly. "Through Brene I thought to introduce you to the missing heiress."
"No?" Orchard looked startled. "What have you discovered?"
"Too early to talk." Rugh laughed as he moved on towards the exit.
There was a small crowd waiting for the elevator. Rugh stood waiting. Presently he felt a small hand touch his arm. Looking down, he met Myrtle Seaton's troubled glance.
"Mr. Thornton," she said, hesitatingly, "it's awfully rude of me, but do you mind telling me the name of the man you spoke to after you left us?"
"Not at all, Miss Seaton." Rugh smiled into the eyes of the girl. "That was Mr. Wilbur Orchard, the managing director of the Balmain and South Assurance Company."
His eyes passed Myrtle's face and met the narrowed glance of Sam Brene standing some distance away. The big grafter smiled and nodded.
Why had Brene sent his niece to him to ask that question? The matter troubled the investigator. It was inexplicable.
RUGH walked slowly down to his offices. He had much to think of, and many of the puzzle pieces refused to fit into the places he tried to assign to them.
Sam Brene had committed himself on one point. He had known of the inquiries made by the detectives engaged on the Colin Carson Loan case, some ten years previous. How had he obtained that knowledge? The reports of the detectives had, no doubt, come before the Board of Directors. Brene would certainly be acquainted with some of the directors, although he disclaimed acquaintanceship with Wilbur Orchard.
Wilbur Orchard had, on entering the roof garden, deliberately looked across to the half-hidden table reserved for the big grafter. He was walking towards that corner when he caught sight of the investigator. Then, he had changed his mind and dropped into the nearest vacant seat.
The grafter and the managing director were acquainted, Rugh was convinced of that, but—
Sam Brene had deliberately sent Myrtle Seaton to stop him in the vestibule of the roof garden, and inquire the name of the man Rugh had spoken to on his way to the door. Why had he done this? The only reason the investigator could guess was to cover the blunder he had made.
These were pieces of the puzzle he could find no proper place for.
Teddy Marlow met him as he entered his office.
"There's a big policeman waiting to see you," announced the youth with his usual air of mystery.
"Nope. A plain 'john.' A big bulky one with a red face and road crusher feet," explained Teddy with a wide grin. "Lor, and he thinks a wonderful lot of himself."
"Mr. Sutherland been round?"
"Ain't seen him to-day, Mr. Thornton. What are you going to do with the 'john?'"
"Bring him in, Teddy, and we'll have a look at him. If he's not too big we may have him for tea. You needn't wait, son. I shall leave immediately I have attended to your 'john' friend."
At the door of his office Rugh paused.
"You remember the list of telephone calls you obtained from the Exchange, Teddy. You have not mentioned them to anyone?"
"Not likely." The boy's face flushed with indignation. "As if I should. Nothing goes out of this office, Mr. Thornton."
"Good boy." Rugh smiled gently on his sturdy little henchman. "Now bring in your 'john.'"
A big burly man in uniform entered Rugh's private office a few seconds later.
"Good afternoon, Constable Nicholls," said Rugh, quietly. "Sit down and I'll attend to you in one minute."
The slack jaw of the man dropped. He stared at Rugh in amazement.
"'Ow d'yer know my name, sir," he stuttered. "I'll swear I never saw you, affore."
"Shouldn't get your photograph in the newspapers," laughed the investigator. "Besides the sun flashed on your collar as you entered. Constable Nicholls, 41593, of Randwick, is well in my memory these days."
"That's 'ow you did it." Nicholls breathed heavily, and sat down with a jerk. "Give me quite a start, y' did, sir. I'm good at noticing detail, myself, but you beats me."
"Just a chance shot," reassured Rugh. "Now, constable I want one moment at the telephone, and I am at your service."
The investigator turned to the instrument, and gave the Balmain and South number.
"The Balmain and South. Put me through to Mr. Orchard. That Mr. Orchard. Thornton speaking. How near the exact time can you go in reference to the mysterious message last Monday? Good. Nine fifty-five. Looked at your watch just a moment before. Yes. That's all. Thanks. No, nothing fresh, yet."
The investigator opened his desk and pulled out the sheet of telephone calls Teddy Marlow had obtained from the Exchange.
9.51, B77747. Call booth, G.P.O.
9.56, B727270. Hotel Splendide,
10.0, Y0507. Matthew Cummings, hairdresser.
The lines stood out from the list. A call had been put through to the Balmain and South from the Hotel Splendide within a minute of the time given by Wilbur Orchard.
Sam Brene lived at the Hotel Splendide. He had lived there for at least half a dozen years. Was it a coincidence that an "unknown" had telephoned from the hotel where the big grafter lived, and conducted his nefarious business. It could hardly be a coincidence. Yet Brene had stated, definitely, he was not acquainted with the managing director of the Balmain and South. When Rugh had informed Orchard he had had tea with Brene and his niece, the managing director had not shown by word, or sign, he was acquainted with them.
"Now constable." Rugh turned to Nicholls. "What can I do for you?"
"I'm lookin' for Mr. Sutherland," explained Nicholls. "'E asked me t' call at 'is orffice this aft'rnoon at three."
"'E warn't there. I waited a time 'an th' young lady at th' phone ses as 'ow 'e might 'ave come 'ere, to you. So I came hover."
"He's not been here," answered the investigator.
"I happened to ask my clerk as I came in if Mr. Sutherland had called. The boy informed me he had not."
"Then, what am I t' do?" The big burly constable looked ridiculously helpless. Rugh could not but laugh as he pictured the hero of Harry's sensational story in the man before him.
"Perhaps he's at his office now," suggested the investigator. "We'll soon see."
The girl at the switchboard at the Star offices was explicit that Harry had gone out to lunch and had not returned. There had been a number of callers, and telephones for him.
"Did he say where he was going?" asked Rugh, much puzzled.
"He said he was going to lunch. Any message, Mr. Thornton?"
"Ask him to get in touch with me as soon as possible. I am going home. Let me see. What's his private telephone number? XY11141. Good. I'll give him a ring."
A call on Harry's private telephone proved fruitless.
"Went out to lunch and hasn't returned," reported the investigator to the constable, with a smile. "Harry is a bit careless over appointments."
"But 'e wouldn't miss me." Nicholls leaned forward mysteriously. "It's about th' story fer tomorrer's paper."
"That's serious." Rugh barely restrained a laugh. "Perhaps he will turn up later. He doesn't have to turn in his copy until after nine to-morrow, you know."
"An' I 'ave ter be on duty at seven t'night." Nicholls spoke woefully. "I comes orf duty at four in th' mornin', but I ain't fit ter talk then. It's 'ard work, an' takes a power o' brain, let me tell yer."
"Well, you've got from four until seven—three hours—before Harry will rouse you," suggested Rugh. "That should restore some of the wasting tissues."
Nicholls shook his head, sadly.
"A man ov my weight, an' brain power, wants a lot ov sleep."
"So am I, sir. Why there won't be no story for the people termorrer if anythin' 's 'appened ter im."
"How are you getting on with the case?" asked Rugh. It was plain Harry had roused the lion of ambition in the constable's breast.
"Gettin' on, sir." Nicholls wagged an impressive forefinger. "It won't be long affore I lays me 'ands on th' man as brought that young woman ter 'er death. An' when I gets 'im, I gets th' bracelets on 'im, an' 'e's done. 'E'll 'ang fer it. I've got th' h'evidence."
"A jolly good story in the Star to-day." observed Rugh.
"It was, if I ses it myself." Nicholls swelled visibly, "An' th' story's a credit t' Mr. Sutherland, I must say that. Th' way 'e grasped th' clues I give 'im. Why, I might 'ave trained 'im in th' Force, m'self."
"What does Inspector Richards say?" asked Rugh, curiously.
"Oh, 'im. 'E's jealous." Nicholls spat disgustedly. "Ses 'e's 'eard it all affore, an' there's nuffin' in it. Why, sir, if yer knew th' number of people in Randwick as 'ave askt me 'ow I did it you'd wonder 'ow th' State puts up wi' sich police. Not as its th' rank an' file. They're intelligent enough. It's 'em as gits th' cushy jobs, through politics an' pulls. They don't know 'ow ter go about a difficult job as this, sir."
"You're certain you know who committed the crime?"
"Certain, sir! 'Course I am. Why I'd 'ave published 'is name 'only Mr. Sutherland wouldn't put it in. 'E sed as 'ow th' paper 'ud get libelled, if 'e did."
The telephone bell rang. Rugh picked up the receiver and listened a minute. Then he turned to Nicholls.
"Harry Sutherland is in hospital," he said tersely. "Knocked down crossing Castlereagh Street this afternoon, and picked up insensible. Afraid you won't be able to see him to-day, Nicholls."
The constable had risen to his feet and stared, awestruck, at the investigator.
"First th' woman. Then Archie Clarke, an' now 'im," he ejaculated. "But I'll get 'em. I'll get 'em."
Picking up his cap the constable almost ran towards the door. Rugh turned and looked after him.
"I wonder. I wonder if you are all the fool I took you to be," he murmured, half-aloud.
"I SAY Harry Sutherland was not knocked down by a motor lorry in Castlereagh Street, yesterday afternoon. He was struck on the head with a sandbag, or some similar weapon."
Rugh Thornton made the statement coolly, and deliberately. He had come to Police Headquarters from the bedside of his chum, intent on rousing the Department from the strange apathy into which it had fallen.
"Harry was unconscious when I arrived at the hospital last night. This morning, however, he was able to talk. He describes the affair. He gives certain details of happenings prior to being struck, showing it was a deliberate assault, and not an accident."
"You are insinuating the police have been negligent in their duty, Mr. Thornton?" Inspector Richards tried to appear indignant, an attitude much marred by his obvious air of uneasiness.
"I am not insinuating, Inspector." Rugh outwardly cool, was raging with passion. "I am making a direct charge. Harry Sutherland was the 'white-haired boy' while he published the dope the police handed out on the Little Bay murder. When he kicks over the traces McAdoo tried to fasten on him, he is quickly and effectually silenced."
"I have had enough of you," Inspector Richards flamed out at the investigator. "You can get out of my office immediately. The subject of your complaint will be reported to the Inspector-General."
"You may report what you please. I am concerned with what you propose to do."
"We are not in the habit of consulting the general public on our actions." The Inspector flung open the door. "I'm busy."
Rugh did not stir from his chair.
"I am quite prepared for your attitude, Inspector," he said, significantly. "Mr. Sutherland this morning signed a power of attorney for me to act for him. Do you want to see it?"
The investigator held out a folded sheet of Paper towards the police officer. After a moment's hesitation Richards snatched it and read it rapidly.
"Your best course is to write in your inquiry, and it will be dealt with in the usual run of business." The Inspector was holding his temper with difficulty.
"Not good enough." Rugh smiled bitterly. "I are going from here to my solicitors. I shall instruct them to apply for warrants for the arrest of the owners of the lorry, the driver, and the two men riding on it, for criminal assault. Harry states a man on the lorry hit him with something. That is the only course I can pursue unless I now receive a definite assurance the police will act. There's going to be no inexplicable police delays in this matter." Richards strode across the room until he stood over the investigator.
"Am I to send for a constable to remove you," he exclaimed hoarsely.
"I shall then take proceedings against that constable for assault. Loo here, Richards, you can't get away with it. Unless I have now your definite assurance the police will take prompt action to revenge Harry, I am determined to make the matter so public that they will be forced to act. I have not forgotten Archie Clarke."
"What do you mean?"
"Archie Clarke was assaulted when within a few yards of you and another member of the police force. Yet his assailant has not been arrested, and from the general appearance of things, is likely to go free. Harry Sutherland is not going to share the same fate. Either I have your immediate and definite assurances that the persons concerned in the assault on Harry will be at once arrested, or you will give me the names and addresses of all connected with the lorry so that my solicitors can act."
"That information will be supplied to Mr. Sutherland, or his solicitors, through the usual channels."
"You will not recognise this power of attorney?"
Rugh laughed easily as he leaned forward in his chair.
"I think you will, Richards," he said, softly. "You will send into the office and get me the information I require."
"Indeed." The Inspector strode to his desk and sat down.
"You will immediately give instructions for the arrest of the driver and the other persons on the lorry. You will oppose bail on the grounds there are other, and more serious charges against these persons."
"Anything further?" Richards laughed sarcastically. "You are not running this department, Mr. Thornton."
"Only that you will finalise the inquiry into the Little Bay murder, at once, and arrest the men implicated."
"Mr. Thornton. I warn you. Leave my room, or I will have you removed."
"The police are going to great lengths to protect a murderer," said Rugh meditatively.
Richards put his finger on a desk button.
"Is Leo Warrington worth it?" added Rugh in a low tone.
The Inspector's face turned white.
"What do you mean?" he asked.
"Leo Warrington was the driver of the lorry, and Tom Pleiss, alias Ginger, struck the blow.
"How do you know that?"
"Harry saw them the moment before he was struck."
"The evidence of a man suffering from concussion of the brain would certainly not be considered conclusive by a magistrate," observed Richards contemptuously. "I cannot but think you are suffering from overwork, Mr. Thornton. You appear to have these men, Warrington and Pleiss on the brain."
"Then you refuse to give instructions for then arrests?"
"I tell you again," Richards swung round in his chair, almost shouting. "The affair is a common street accident. Also you are wrong in the names of the men on the lorry."
"Leo and Ginger are not connected with the attack on Harry Sutherland. They were not concerned with the attack on Archie Clarke? They had nothing to do with the Little Bay murder?"
Rugh paused and looked straight at the Inspector. After a second he continued in a lower tone.
"Nor were Leo Warrington, Tom Pleiss and Ruth Collins connected with the Park Murders; outrages bearing a peculiar similarity to the Little Bay murder, especially in the fact that the murderers have not, and probably will not, be discovered."
"You charge these people?" asked Richards, incredulously.
"I tell you," Rugh spoke the words emphatically. "I tell you Ruth Collins was murdered because, in a moment of anger on the Thursday preceding her death she threatened these men she would supply information to the police that would connect them with the Park Murders."
"If Ruth Collins had come to us with that information the men would certainly have been arrested. Look here, Mr. Thornton. You seem to have information you have not laid before the Department. We don't want to quarrel with you. In the past you have been a good friend to us. We can do with friends for, it seems to be the modern belief that the ordinary citizen, however law-abiding he may be personally, should take up a non-committal attitude, if not open antagonism, towards the police and their work."
"You're mistaken." The Inspector spoke earnestly. "I'm not dancing on the end of a string, as you insist on supposing, nor are my brother officers. We have made inquiries on the information you and Mr. Sutherland laid before me, and we're convinced you're mistaken. The two men you charge are clearly innocent of any complicity in the Little Bay murder."
"Have you examined them personally?" asked Rugh quickly.
"No." The Inspector spoke with reluctance.
The investigator thought for a few moments.
"Give me the information on Harry's accident I asked for. I will only use it for private investigation. In return I will give you a tip that may prove of value."
Richards turned to a pile of papers, and selected one.
"I had the information brought to me this morning to see if there was anything more than an ordinary street accident in it," he observed. "Listen."
"Harry Sutherland, journalist, employed at Star Newspaper Company Ltd. Knocked down by motor lorry in Castlereagh Street, near Park Street at 1.45 p.m. on 11th inst. Lorry owned by Cliff, Westerson and Co., Ltd., George Street South. Lorry number 04153. Driver, Tom Preston, 11 Princess Street, Bondi. Also on lorry, Richard Wills, 11 West Canterbury Street, Petersham and William Watson, 14 Collac Street, Surry Hills. Sutherland taken to Sydney Hospital on lorry and admitted suffering from severe concussion and abrasions, face shoulder, and right leg. Witnesses: William Smith, 1a Liverpool Road, Petersham; Alec Brown, Castlereagh Stores, Castlereagh Street; and Miss May Allan, typist, Wonder Motor Company, Castlereagh Street. Signed, Arthur Green, constable."
Rugh wrote down the details rapidly.
"Your constable does not mention the presence of plain-clothes officer Bailey," he observed, shutting up his notebook.
"Was he there?" Richards looked puzzled. "He should have reported, or at least signed Green's report, as a witness. I'll have a word with him."
"Don't. Wait awhile," advised Rugh. "There's a lot of funny things going on around us. Plainly Richards, I don't share your faith in the Department. I think you would get on better if you ignored a lot of the advice you get from the inside. Find out where Warrington and Pleiss were yesterday midday, and between midnight and four o'clock in the morning of the Sunday you found Ruth Collin's body."
"Is that your tip?" asked Richards, disappointedly.
"It's a good one," retorted Rugh. "But I'll give you one that may more appeal to you. I have a notion I can point out the house where Ruth Collins spent her last few days. Will you go in on a search warrant, and let me in on it?"
"Of course. Where is it?"
"Apply for a search for No. 3 Coomber Street, Surry Hills, in the occupation of Henry Wheelson."
"Get the warrant, yourself. Make it for a disorderly house, nothing else. You can't go wrong in that. Keep the whole thing dark from everyone except the chamber magistrate. Then hold off until you hear from me."
"What are you after there?"
"I'm guessing. May find something that will solve a lot of questions puzzling me to-day. Now, I'm off, Richards. I shall have a little talk with the owners of that lorry."
LEAVING Police Headquarters, Rugh Thornton turned into Elizabeth Street and entered the swing doors of the Star newspaper offices. There, after a slight delay he was admitted to the private office of Lorrimer Osmond, the managing editor.
"What's troubling you, Rugh?" asked the slight, grey-haired man who controlled the most influential newspaper in the State. "Some time since you favoured this office with a visit."
"Perhaps I have been unwilling to subject myself to the temptations of a journalistic atmosphere," laughed the investigator. "Lord, it smells good. There's something in the combination of paper, ink and oil in a newspaper office that gets into a man's blood for good."
"So you've got it?" Osmond smiled reminiscently. "I've heard the same remark from many a good man. And now. Want a job?"
"Nope. Come to see you about Harry. Saw him this morning. He told me a strange story."
"Unlucky beggar. Meant to go round to the hospital to see him to-day. Story worth publishing?"
"I should say so. Harry was sandbagged, or something of the same sort. The 'run-down' story is a police fake."
Osmond drew a piece of paper towards him and noted down the headings of the story as Rugh recounted them.
"Your trouble, chief," he concluded pointedly. "I don't want that story used for twenty-four hours."
"There's a reason behind that, young man?" queried the newspaper man.
Drawing his chair nearer the desk Rugh detailed his interview with Inspector Richards. From that he went on to the interwoven stories of the Little Bay murder and the Carson Loan.
"A queer business," commented Osmond, when Rugh concluded, "Harry told me something of this when he came to me over McAdoo's head. I have made a few inquiries, lint have reached no definite conclusion at present. Now, what do you want?"
"Harry is worrying about his story," said the investigator bluntly. "He thinks now he is out of it McAdoo will kill it."
Osmond touched a button on his desk.
"Please ascertain from duty book who is detailed for the Little Bay murder story," he said, when his secretary entered.
The two men sat silent until the girl returned and placed a slip of paper before the Chief. Osmond fitted on his glasses and peered down at the paper.
"McAdoo states the story is not worth continuing. Duty book shows nothing," read the managing editor. "Humph."
"I am going to withdraw my veto on the immediate publication of the assault story," he said. "Will you give it full space. Here are police details."
He wrote rapidly for a few minutes and passed the sheets over to Osmond.
"A 'sub' will lick that into a good scare story," he observed. "But it must have your personal O.K. to save it from the 'Chink's' waste paper basket."
"You haven't forgotten your old disrespect for McAdoo." The managing editor laughed. "I know he is down on you boys, but he's the best man at his work in the State."
"Old names stick hard, chief," replied Rugh with a laugh. "McAdoo's a good man at his work, but he always seems to have as string tied to him somewhere. I'm certain of that."
"He's too good to lose, and strings can be cut," said the Star's head. "Let me know how you get on."
Rugh turned back from the door.
"Look here, chief," he said in a low tone. "There's a big story coming in on both the matters I'm handling. Have a good man camping on my doorstep from about four o'clock this afternoon. He must be prepared to go for twenty-four hours a day until the end of the trail. I'll see he's in at the death."
Turning into King Street, Rugh cut through to George Street and boarded a south-bound tram. Twenty minutes later he alighted before a large block of buidings with the name "Cliff, Westerson and Co. Ltd." blazoned across the front in large gilt letters.
At a rough wood counter the investigator presented his card and requested an interview with the general manager. There was some delay, but when Rugh scribbled across his card the one word "accident," he was imediately shown into the private office of Mr. Bertram.
"Mr. Thornton?" inquired the head of the firm when Rugh entered the room. "We have heard nothing of an accident. Sit down, please."
"The accident happened to Mr. Harry Sutherland, a special writer on the Star newspaper," said Rugh briefly. "He was knocked down by a motor lorry bearing your name yesterday in Castlereagh Street."
"I should have been advised of that," exclaimed Bertram Cliff angrily. He struck a table bell. "Mr. Simpson, at once," he continued shortly, when a clerk entered.
A big, burly man, in shirt sleeves, entered the room.
"Mr. Simpson," said Bertram Cliff. "Mr. Thornton informs me one of our lorries knocked down a gentleman in Castlereagh Street yesterday. Why was I not informed of it?"
"That's the first I've heard of it, sir." The man looked startled.
The general manager looked at Rugh.
"Have you a motor lorry bearing the license plate No. 04153?" asked the investigator.
"Yes. She is one of our latest machines," answered Simpson. "But she was in the garage yesterday. Something the matter with her feed pipe."
"The police took the number of the lorry at the time of the accident. I obtained it from Inspector Richards this morning."
"That's very strange," said Mr. Cliff. "Are you sure, Simpson?"
"May I use your 'phone, sir?" said the man, and receiving a nod of assent, called up the garage.
"Two men called for the lorry yesterday morning," he reported after a short conversation. "They bore an order on our notehead to deliver the lorry to them. Said they would bring it back later for the overhaul ordered, but that we were pressed for haulage and had to have the use of it."
"Has it been returned?" asked Mr. Cliff.
"Then it has been stolen," exclaimed the head of the firm. "This is serious, Simpson."
"Yes, sir." Simpson turned to the investigator. "If the police stopped the lorry they took the name of the driver."
"The name given was Tom Preston. Two men were on the lorry with him. They gave the names of Richard Wills and William Watson."
"I don't know those names—" commenced Mr. Cliff.
"We've no one on the books of those names," interrupted Simpson.
"Have you anyone employed here of the name of Leo Warrington or Tom Pleiss!" asked Rugh curiously.
"No, sir. The names are strange to me." Simpson looked worried. "Looks to me as if the lorry had been stolen."
"There's no doubt of that." Bertram Cliff turned to the telephone. "We must inform the police at once."
"I should advise you to ring up Detective Headquarters," suggested the investigator. "Inspector Richards is handling the accident case. Making it a special matter as Mr. Sutherland is a personal friend."
The general manager hesitated, holding the telephone receiver in his hand. He looked suspiciously at Rugh.
"I should add," continued the investigator quietly, "I did not believe the car was involved in the accident while on your firm's business. In fact, it was not an accident. Harry Sutherland was deliberately sandbagged from the lorry."
The two men stared at the investigator in astonishment.
"Sandbagged?" exclaimed the head of the firm.
"Its too long a story to tell now. Sufficient to say Harry Sutherland was close on the track of the Little Bay murderers, and they took effective means to get him out of the way. Ring up Inspector Richards and ask him to find your lorry and the men who stole it. Also, please tell him I am in your office. He may wish to speak to me."
Bertram Cliff rang up Police Headquarters, and for several minutes talked earnestly with the Inspector, referring every now and again to Simpson for details of the lorry. Finally he turned to Rugh.
"Inspector Richards would like to speak to you, Mr. Thornton," he said, shifting the instrument across the desk.
"Thornton speaking, Richards."
"Thornton, yes. Say, it looks as if I owe you an apology for this morning. They got one over me all right. I'm putting through a general call for the lorry. Should get word any time."
"Did you get that warrant, Richards?"
"O.K. Anything further happened?'
"No. Can you execute to-night, later the better."
"Yes. Midnight will suit me. I'll be back at my office about four."
From George Street South the investigator walked sharply to the subway and through it to Buckingham Street. At the tobacconist shop Rugh stopped and entered. Shorty Matt shuffled forward, giving no sign of recognition.
Matt placed the boxes on the counter and bent forward so that his ear was only a few inches from the investigator's mouth.
"The Tiger Lily," Rugh whispered. "Tell her to telephone my office where I can see her to-night about eight."
Rugh made his selection and lit the cigar, talking pleasantly. Then with a short 'good-day' he left the shop. Shorty Matt had given no sign that he had heard the whispered words, yet the investigator knew he would hear from the Mystery Girl within a few hours.
In Elizabeth Street the investigator mounted a city bound tram and went down to his office. From there he telephoned Inspector Richards.
"Rugh Thornton speaking," he said when he obtained connection. "Any news?"
"Lorry found," replied Richards triumphantly. "Been standing outside Darlinghurst Court House all night. Man on duty noticed it, and a watch was kept to find the men in charge. No one claimed it until I put through the call."
"Anything in it?"
"Anything in it?" repeated Richards. "What did you expect to find in it?"
"Sandbag, lead-pipe or stick," said Rugh shortly.
"If a stick, Harry might be wrong. Either of the other two, or the absence of a sandbag confirms his story."
"A long guess," challenged Richards. "We shall want better evidence than that. But we'll get it."
For some time the investigator sat with his chair tilted back and his feet on his desk. The end of the complex trail was in sight, but even now he could only dimly foresee the climax. The net was closing about the murderers of Ruth Collins. That very night he confidently expected to obtain the evidence that would ensure a conviction.
In regard to the Carson Loan, he still had large spaces to fill in his line of reasoning. Still, he could now guess at the sinister hand that was pulling the strings to defraud the Balmain and South. A few more pieces of evidence and he could stretch out a long arm and—
The telephone bell interrupted his reverie.
"Wilbur Orchard speaking," came over the wire when Rugh announced his name. "I received to-day a letter from a firm of solicitors making a claim for the repayment of the Carson Loan."
"On whose behalf?" asked Rugh quickly.
"On behalf of Colin Carson. When can I see you?"
"WILL come down to you immediately," replied Rugh. Then, as the manager of the Balmain and South was about to speak, he added: "The less said through the telephone the better, Mr. Orchard."
Ten minutes later Rugh walked into the private room of the managing director. Orchard came to meet him at the door and the investigator, after a searching glance, decided that release from the long suspense had done the man good. Orchard was once again his old overbearing, brusque self, with the definite poise of the successful business man.
"I've been trying to get you all the morning," Orchard complained, when Rugh was seated by his desk. "Where have you been?"
"Harry Sutherland, the Star criminal investigator, was knocked down by thugs yesterday," replied Rugh briefly. "I've been trying to mark 'paid' to their account."
"Sutherland," said Orchard reflectively. "I don't know him. He is not connected with the Carson Loan case, is he?"
"He has been," replied Hugh grimly. "The Carson Loan case is mixed up with the Little Bay murder in a most involved manner. Harry will be in at the death for certain."
Orchard looked as if he was about to make some objection.
"Where's the letter from the solicitors?" asked the investigator.
The managing director selected a letter from the pile on his desk and passed it to Hugh. The letter was brief and direct. They simply stated they had been instructed by their client, Colin Carson, to demand the immediate repayment of the loan, with interest, in accordance with the terms of the deed.
"Leferve and Saunderson," commented the investigator. "A firm of first-class standing. What do you intend to do, Mr. Orchard?"
"The matter must go before the Board," replied Orchard. "Luckily I have been able to get a majority of the Board on the telephone this morning, and have called a meeting for this afternoon. I have telegraphed those I could not get in touch with."
"Humph. Rather informal."
"I know that," Orchard snapped. "Business is not always run on formal lines, Mr. Thornton. I intend to place this letter before the Board and to get authority to negotiate. This afternoon the secretary of the Board will issue the formal notices for a meeting of the Board this day week."
"That will suit me," remarked Rugh.
"What do you mean?"
"Do you intend to follow the advice I gave you, Mr. Orchard, and take the matter into Court for settlement?" asked Rugh.
"The Board will be averse to going into Court with the matter," answered Orchard impatiently. "I have explained the reasons to you."
"You intend to negotiate for a settlement with Mr. Carson and his lawyers?"
"That may result in the loss of a large sum of money to the company," warned the investigator.
"Publicity would perhaps result in a greater loss." Orchard was palpably irritated.
"Perhaps you are right." Rugh changed his tactics. "I may have a copy of this letter, Mr. Orchard?"
"Certainly." The managing director touched a bell. "Not much good to you, is it?"
"One never knows." Rugh laughed slightly. "I find that re-reading a document after reflection often brings new facts to light. By the way, please ask your copyist to make a complete copy. Heading and all that. Also mistakes in the letter. I see there are quite a few."
Orchard stared in astonishment, but passed the instructions on to the typist answering the bell.
"You would like me to test the genuineness of this claimant?" suggested Rugh, after a pause.
"Is it necessary?" Orchard moved uneasily in his seat. "Of course he will have to prove his identity, but that will be a matter for his lawyers."
"At the same time it's up to the company to take the fullest precautions," Rugh urged.
"Of course. Of course," Orchard exclaimed quickly. "I had forgotten that. The relief of finding this matter is to be settled after all this time has made me forget that we must move with every precaution. You will, of course, Mr. Thornton, continue to act in the interests of the company until the matter is finalised."
"I expected to," replied the investigator grimly. "You will give me an introduction to Messrs. Leferve and Saunderson, stating that I am acting for the company, and requesting them to supply me with any information I require."
"Dear me," exclaimed the managing director testily. "You appear to suggest this man may be fraudulent."
"Two hundred thousand pounds is a good prize," commented Rugh. "There are hundreds of men in Sydney who would go through hell to get their fingers on such a sum."
"All right." Orchard scribbled a note on his date pad. "I'll have it sent over to your offices. You've not got on the trail of the young lady of the photograph. Miss Caron, I mean."
"I had a talk with the young lady the other day," said Rugh briefly. He was watching Orchard closely.
"Indeed!" The managing director was plainly startled. "Then—then this letter from the solicitors did not come as a surprise to you?"
"Indeed it did," laughed Rugh. "The lady informed me her father had been dead some years."
"Dead?" Wilbur Orchard's face paled. "Are you sure you have found Miss Carson?"
"I found the lady whose photograph you gave me," replied the investigator. "Up to the present she has not furnished me with the information proving her to be the daughter of Colin Carson. She and her relative are looking through her father's papers. I believe that you or I will hear from her soon. Now, Mr. Orchard, what procedure do you suggest to adopt in regard to this claim of Mr. Carson?"
"The Board will go into the matter, and if the claimant proves his identity the Board will probably make him an offer in full settlement of his claim."
"And if he demands the full sum he is entitled to under the loan deed?"
"He won't do that."
"How can you tell? He is within his rights, unless a decision of the Courts declares those rights to be extortionate."
"I have told you we do not intend to go into Court over the matter," exclaimed Wilbur Orchard angrily.
"In the event of the lady of the photograph advancing a claim as heiress of Colin Carson, deceased, I do not see how you are going to avoid Court proceedings," said Rugh drily.
"That is a matter the Board will expect to hear from you on. Really, Mr. Thornton, you have not acted with—"
"As I have not yet placed my report before the Board of Directors, I suggest you have no right to comment on my actions, Mr. Orchard," interrupted the investigator coldly. "You have insinuated I have an interest in the decision between the rival parties, if the lady puts in a claim, or in establishing the legitimacy of any claim going before the Board. I ask, therefore, that the Board in hearing any claim acts in a manner that will give me a certain liberty of action.
"In what way?"
"I suggest your Board shall call before them the claimant or claimants, and that I shall be permitted to appear before the Board at the same time and submit any evidence or witnesses I may have for or against the claimant, or claimants."
"Most irregular," exclaimed Wilbur Orchard. "Why, you are suggesting the Board sit as a sort of informal Court of Justice."
"As you are averse to going to the ordinary Courts of justice, I can see no other course to pursue."
The managing director thought for a few minutes. Then he held out his hand in dismissal.
"I will place your suggestion before the Board this afternoon, and advise you of their decision."
"I shall have your support on the Board to my proposal?"
"The eyes of the two men met and clashed. The managing director was the first to turn away.
"Yes." he said slowly. "I am in favour of your proposal and will ask the Board to agree to it."
Rugh strolled into a café and sat down at the first vacant table. The attitude taken up by Wilbur Orchard during the late interview worried him. Why had Wilbur Orchard appeared relieved at the advent of a claimant for the Carson Loan in the person of the lender himself? The claimant could have no connection with Sam Brene, and the actions of the director in the past had given Rugh cause to believe there was some understanding between Orchard and the big grafter.
To Orchard, Rugh had deliberately suggested that Myrtle Seaton, the original of the photograph sent to the managing director, would put in a claim for the fortune. That suggestion had alarmed the director. Yet if, as Rugh suspected, the Town Hall boss and Wilbur Orchard had a secret understanding, why should the suggestion be disturbing?
Rugh had no doubt but that Wilbur Orchard was attempting to use him as a blind. By some means the Carson Loan money was to be obtained by a gang of crooks, and if the scheme miscarried the managing director was determined he should "carry the bag." Rugh smiled grimly. He knew enough to easily slip from under, and possibly within the coming week he would be in a position to pull their house of cards about the plotters' ears.
Sam Brene must be forced to move. In some manner he must be forced out into the open, and in opposition to the claims of the man posing as Colin Carson.
With two claimants it would he impossible for Wilbur Orchard to force the matter to a Board decision. It would have to be submitted to the decision of the Courts of Law.
One point troubled Rugh. His scheme would involve Myrtle Seaton. She was too fresh and sweet a girl to be involved in her uncle's roguery. Perhaps—
Anyhow the game was set. Pity that Harry Sutherland was out of it. Still, there was a week, and much might happen in that time. Rugh laughed softly as he walked up Pitt Street to his offices.
"Anyone called, Teddy?" he asked, as he crossed the outer office.
"Telephone message on your desk," answered the lad. "Man spoke. Just gave an address, but wouldn't give his name. Said you would understand, Mr. Thornton."
On the blotting pad lay a slip of paper. "14 Mason Street, Redfern. Eight to-night."
Shorty Matt had got in touch with the Tiger Lily and had forwarded the address required. Rugh wondered what sort of a home he would find the Mystery Girl lived in. She had intrigued him. What mystery could hold that girl in the sordid surroundings of Surry Hills?
"Mr. Rugh Thornton within?" A languid voice asked the question in the outer office.
Rugh swung round and sprang to the connecting door. A long, lean, languid looking young man, immaculately dressed, and wearing a monocle in his left eye, stood apparently admiring Teddy.
"Bill Short," shouted Rugh. "What's brought you here?"
"My dear-r old chappie. William, not Bill. It's frightfully common. Ah, yes. The chief, Mr. Lorimer Osmond, told me to report to you, don't y'know. Say, Rugh, old sport. What have you done to the 'Chink'? He's raving—simply raving, I assure you, my dear-r fellow. Drink your blood, and all that, don't y'know."
"OSMOND told you to report to me?" repeated Rugh. "Are you coming with us to-night?"
"I suppose I am." Bill Short sank gracefully into a chair, and arranged, with great care, the knees of his trousers. "The chief said it was likely to be an all-night job. Beastly nuisance, old bean. Puts a man off his feed, don't y 'know."
"Probably a rough house as well," warned Rugh. "Do you know we are going to raid one of the worst houses in Surry Hills."
"Dear me. How beastly jolly. Do you know, my dear boy, I often wonder how people manage to live in such places. And we are to participate in a raid? You don't say so."
Rugh looked at the journalist. For the moment he thought Osmond had played one of his rare jokes in sending Bill Stone to accompany the police on the night of the raid.
Yet the investigator was not ill-content. Short was one of the best journalists in Sydney, writing terse, vivid copy, with no trace of his peculiar mannerisms. He had no experience of criminal investigation, but that, in Rugh's eyes, was an advantage. He had told Osmond to send a journalist to accompany them, from a sentimental regard for his old newspaper. He would have liked to have had Harry with him, but that was impossible. Finally, the grotesque side of the situation appealed to him. Bill Short, with his monocle, would cause a sensation, not only in Surry Hills, but among the raiding police. There was a promise of good sport, and Rugh in reason to believe Bill Stone was not wanting in physical pluck.
For half an hour the two men sat in Rugh's office, the investigator carefully coaching the journalist in the events leading up to the raid. Short showed a keen grasp of the essential points, so much so that Rugh was confident the Star's report of the raid would do justice to the reputation of the newspaper.
"Time of raid, midnight," commented Bill Stone. "Dear old chappie, are we to sit round here, consumed by the pangs of hunger? I assure you my constitution won't stand it. True, old dea-r. usually dine at seven."
"You'll dine at six to-night," laughed Rugh. "Richards will be here any minute, and then—Ah! here he is. Come on in, Inspector."
Richards came quickly into the room, to halt on the threshold when under the fire of Bill Stone's monocle.
"Warrington and Pliess have gone 'under smoke,'" announced the Inspector. "But—"
He could not continue; Bill Stone fascinated him.
"Inspector Richards, William Stone," introduced Rugh, gravely. He was' watching the effect the journalist had on the officer. "Mr. Stone will represent the Star with us to-night. You can trust him."
Bill Stone uncurled his long length from the chair, and held out a languid, highly manicured hand to Richards.
"Charmed to meet you, Inspector," he purred, screwing the monocle more firmly in his eye. "Most honoured, I'm sure, at your kind invitation to join your little parti-e."
The Inspector gasped. Rugh was resisting a strong inclination to laugh. He could never decide whether or not Bill Stone accentuated his mannerism, on purpose, before strangers.
"Nov that we are assembled," continued Bill graciously, "may I suggest—er—that the cravings of the er—inner man, be, in some way, assuaged. I assure you, my dear old playmates, that—er—until I am in some way fortified, I shall—er—fail to contribute adequately to the—er—evening's amusement."
"Now I come to think of it, I have only had one small cup of coffee since breakfast," remarked Rugh.
"Dea-r old bean!" Bill looked much distressed. "You must be literally starving. 'Pon my soul I don't know how you do it."
He led the way from the room. Richards laid a detaining hand on Rugh's arm.
"What's he in this for?" he asked in a fierce whisper. "Do you realise there is likely to be a rough-house to-night?"
"Bill will enjoy himself, then." Rugh laughed at the Inspector's face. "Why, Richards, he'll just be in his element. He won all the regimental boxing tournaments for his weight during the war, besides a barrel of medals. Annexed everything there was, barring the V.C., and he should have got that."
"What? Him?" The Inspector stared.
"Don't judge by exteriors, Richards," warned the investigator. "There's no one I'd rather have at my back than Bill Stone. He's—"
"Dea-r old chappies," came the plaintive voice from the outer office. "I'm really starving."
In spite of his mannerisms, Bill Stone proved an interesting companion. The covert antagonism of the Inspector wore off, and before the meal was ended an unspoken, but firm, comradeship had sprung up between the burly police officer and the dude journalist.
Leaving the restaurant, Bill suggested they spend the waiting hours at a show. Richards was willing, and the proposal suited Rugh. He pleaded work and an appointment, and, with secret amusement, watched the two new friends turn into Fuller's.
It was a quarter past seven. The Tiger Lily expected him at eight o'clock. He was due back at his offices at eleven to meet the Inspector and Stone. He strolled into Elizabeth Street and boarded a Redfern tram.
Mason Street, Redfern, is a dingy dirty-looking street, lying back from the Green. Number fourteen is a low-built, rather frowsy house of two stories. On either side of it are high factories accentuating the smallness of the house. At the back stands another factory, the three high buildings seeming to stand guard over the little cottage.
A light was burning in a room of the upper storey. There was no other light visible. Rugh walked up to the door and knocked. There was no response for some minutes. Rugh stood and waited. Presently the door opened slightly, and a low voice asked who was there. Rugh gave his name. The door was shut immediately. Another minute's wait and Rugh heard the tap of high-heeled shoes on the stairs. The door swung open, and a well-remembered voice bade him enter. The tiny hall was in darkness. Rugh groped forward. A low laugh came from in front of him, and his hand was caught in a soft, firm grip.
"Are you afraid?" The question was accompanied by a little ripple of laughter. "Lights are not always safe in this quarter of the city."
Rugh did not reply. The light touch led him up the stairs and to a door. There the girl hesitated a moment. Then the door was flung open.
"Welcome to the den of the Tiger Lily."
The sudden light, the quick movements of the girl, dazed Rugh. A moment before she was standing by his side in complete darkness. Now she stood in the centre of the room holding out her hands to him, in welcome.
It was not the Tiger Lily that stood before him, but a girl out of his own world. A woman of softness and refinement, dressed in a simple frock of black, setting off her marvellous regal beauty.
It was a simply furnished room he stood in. A room that seemed to be part of the girl owning it. There was a restfulness about the place that reflected the character of the girl as she now appeared. He could not picture the Tiger Lily in it.
"Well, Mr. Thornton?"
"I beg your pardon." Rugh, advanced quickly, and caught her hands. "I did not expect—that is to say—"
"You did not expect the Tiger Lily to have a home." She laid peculiar emphasis on the last word.
"You do not like it. Then, for to-night, it shall be—"
"Lily and Rugh. You remember what you said in my office."
"The Tiger Lily spoke there." She mocked him, deliciously. "But it shall be as you say. Come, sit here, and smoke, Rugh. I like to see a man smoking. It looks homey."
Rugh produced his cigarette case, and half held it out. The girl made a little grimace.
"The Tiger Lily smokes," she confessed.
"And Lily Dalton?"
"Sometimes." She took a cigarette and bent forward for Rugh to light it.
"Why did you ask to see me?" she asked, suddenly.
"I wanted to see you." At his office Rugh could have given a dozen reasons for this call on Lily Dalton. In her presence the simple "I wanted to" appeared all sufficient.
"To know what I have discovered?"
"No." He jerked out the answer, almost savagely. "I just wanted to see you—Lily."
"You are foolish—Rugh." The girl leaned back in her chair and drew slowly at her cigarette. "Have you forgotten?"
"That I have been in prison."
"There was a mistake. You can explain it."
"Can I?" Then after a moment in an almost imperceptible whisper: "If I but could!"
Rugh was silent. He could sit there always feasting his eyes on the girl's dusky loveliness.
"Listen, Rugh." The girl spoke after some minutes' silence. "I must tell you what I have discovered before my sister comes."
"My adopted sister. You will like her. She is far different from the Tiger Lily. You did not expect the Tiger Lily to have a home."
"Perhaps that will be a reason for my not liking her," said Rugh lightly, but with a deeper meaning in his voice.
"Rugh, you are paying compliments. Now Listen, Ruth Collins did not arrive at Maudie Wheelson's house on the Sunday morning."
"Then those screams were—"
"I believe they were hers." Lily covered her face with her hands.
"Lily." Rugh spoke slowly. "Do you think the Wheelsons had anything to do with the murder?"
"I don't know. Sometimes I think they know who did it. I think they can give evidence that would convict the murderers."
"The police will raid the house in Coomber Street to-night," said Rugh under his breath.
"Is that why you have come to me?"
"If Richards had asked that question in my office an hour ago I should have said 'Yes.' Now—"
"You told Richards you were coining here? Have you discussed me with that police officer?" There was reproach in the girl's voice. "You know you have only to ask him—"
"I know." Rugh broke in on her sentence with a gesture that was a denial. "I have not spoken to him of you. When you tell me—"
"When I tell you," she repeated. "You think I will tell you one day?"
"I know you will."
"And until that day you are content to wait?"
Rugh was about to reply when a step sounded outside the door. Lily held up her finger in warning. She rose from her chair and crossed the room as a tall, fair-haired girl entered.
"Lizzie, dear. Let me present Mr. Rugh Thornton. Rugh, my adopted sister, Miss Lizzie—"
The girl broke off with a smile of mischief lighting her face.
"No," she laughed. "Lizzie, you shall be a Mystery Girl also. To-night we three are but Lizzie, Rugh and Lily."
"LIZZIE and I want to know the true story of the Carson Loan ease," said Lily abruptly.
For nearly an hour the three had gathered around the fire in gay talk. Rugh was interested. The girls talked well, and the time had passed rapidly.
"The Carson Case!" Rugh looked amazed. "What do you know of the Carson Loan case? I have never spoken to you of it."
"No." Lily's face dimpled with laughter. "I have had a feeling you have only been using me. You never mentioned the case you were really working on."
"But very few people know of the matter," said Rugh. "And every one connected with it is pledged to secrecy. I cannot understand how you obtained your information."
"Lily has marvellous sources of information," remarked the fair girl. "She sometimes puzzles me."
"The Tiger Lily," murmured the Mystery Girl, laughing.
"I hate that," exclaimed Lizzie. "Why don't you give it up? We could go away—"
Lily put her finger to her lips with an expressive gesture.
"I have my mission to accomplish," she said softly. "Perhaps, one day. Now, Rugh, stop trying to guess how the Tiger Lily gets her knowledge and tell us the inner history of the Carson Loan and its claimants."
Rugh thought for a moment. Much of the success he had had in tracking down the Little Bay murderers had been due to the almost uncanny knowledge of this girl. It was possible she could fathom the mystery that surrounded the Carson case, a mystery he could only guess at. More, there was an irresistible impulse to share his secrets and hopes with her. Step by step he went over the story of the Carson Loan, first recounting the story as told to him by Wilbur Orchard. The girls listened in silence until he finished.
"What have you done?" asked Lily briefly.
"Very little," Rugh confessed. Detailing the primary steps he had taken he went on to recount the various interviews with Wilbur Orchard, and finished with the story of the photograph of Myrtle Seaton, and the interview with Sam Brene and his niece at the Hotel Splendide roof-garden.
"Sam Brene." Lily gave a slight shudder at the mention of the big grafter. "If he is interested in the matter you can be sure the plot to defraud the company is deep and well planned."
"Do you know him?" asked Rugh curiously.
"Yes. I know him." Lily's lips closed ominously, and a peculiar light came into her eyes. "I know no good of him. One day I may tell you of a crime he committed, a crime so dastardly I wonder an offended God allows him to sully His beautiful earth."
"You will ask my help?" almost whispered Rugh.
The mystery girl turned and looked at him for a long minute, a minute in which he seemed to gaze into the depths of her soul. Then the dusky colour rose to her cheeks and stained the whiteness of her neck.
"Yes." She turned and gazed into the fire. "I will ask your help."
A brief silence, and she turned to Rugh, smiling.
"I love the fireside," she said, inconsequently. "We Australians lose a lot by not cultivating the fireside habit. Why is it? Because our climate is too hot? No, for many of our Sydney days are bitterly cold. Because we burn wood and not coal? It cannot be that, for in Europe the wood fire is looked upon as a luxury. How is Mr. Sutherland, Rugh?"
"You know of his accident?"
The girls laughed gaily.
"I like Harry Sutherland," declared the Mystery Girl. "Do you think he would mind if I went to see him at the hospital? I would take Lizzie with me."
"He will be delighted, I am sure," answered Rugh. "I will tell him when I call at the hospital to-morrow."
"No, don't," Lily laughed lowly. "I want to see him take off those thick glasses and polish them in that queer manner he has, when he sees the Tiger Lily as a visitor to his bedside."
Rugh rose to take his leave. It was just 10 o'clock and he had to meet the Inspector and Bill Stone within the hour.
"Come again, and soon," said Lizzie, as she frankly offered her hand. "Lily and I will be delighted to see you."
"There is a direct invitation from your hostess," laughed the Mystery Girl. Then noticing Rugh's questioning look. "Yes. This is Lizzie's home. I am but a dependent."
"It is your home," protested the fair girl, encircling Lily's waist with her arm. "You know it hurts me when you talk like that."
Lily kissed her apologetically.
"I am a beast," she exclaimed. "It was the Tiger Lily speaking, Lizzie. Sometimes I think I am turning into a feminine Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. My two identities are beginning to overlap."
Lily preceded Rugh to the door and down the stairs. At the street door she detained him a moment.
He could feel her sweet presence beside him, although he could not see her.
"Be careful, Rugh," she whispered. "Leo and Ginger know you are on their track. They almost got Harry, and swear they will get you."
A quick pressure of the hand. The door opened and he was standing on the pavement looking up at the light burning in the upper room.
A mystery girl. Rugh stood under thee light standard and lit a cigarette, his thoughts travelling back to the small, drab house and the girls who lived there. He could no longer disguise the truth from himself. He loved the Tiger Lily, the Mystery girl of Slumland. The girl who had sinned and had bitterly paid for her sin with the shame of prison. No. He could not believe that. She had suffered falsely. There was no guile in those blue eyes that met his so fearlessly. She had been sinned against. He would take a solemn oath on that.
She had spoken of a mission, and had promised one day to claim his aid. Rugh clenched his teeth. He would not fail her. By hook or crook he would unearth the truth, and free her from the stigma of prison. Then—
She had spoken of Sam Brene with almost fear and loathing. Had the foul blight of the big grafter fallen on her young life? She had called him foul and debased. Brene was that, and more. Too long had he been allowed to graft upon the city of Sydney. Rugh vowed he would root the big boss out. He had a triple grudge against him—for Lily, Harry and himself.
"Taxi, sir?" A car drew up beside the pavement. Rugh looked up. He had wandered down to Elizabeth Street. He pulled out his watch. It was twenty minutes to eleven.
"Yes, and hurry." Rugh got into the taxi, after giving his office address. Sitting back in the corner he thought of the work before him that night. Would he obtain the information he required? Ruth Collins had lived at Coomber Street. It was possible she had left something behind her that would give a clue to the murderers. The raid would be a shot in the dark. It was a chance, a long chance, but they wanted but little to fix the murder on to the men concerned.
The car swerved sharply and then ran down a hill. Rugh sat forward and looked out of the window. This was not Pitt Street, nor any of the surrounding streets. Again the car swerved, taking the corner at high speed. They were making down Woolloomooloo. The investigator leaned forward and called to the driver. The man shouted something back about "blocked." Rugh rose to his feet and tried to shift the glass slide between him and the driver. It would not budge. The car ran past a street lamp. For a brief second the rays of light illuminated the driver. He was red-haired.
The speed increased. Rugh slipped his hand outside the door and softly turned the handle. The door gave. It was a risky jump, but he had no intention of letting Ginger Pleiss take him, a prisoner, to the headquarters of his gang. Stepping out on the running board, Rugh shut the door and crouched down. For a moment he had an idea of attacking the driver, but that would have meant delay, and possibly the postponement of the plans for the night's raid. Already he was late for his appointment. Ginger Pleiss could wait. After to-night the whole of the police of the continent would be on the look-out for him. Watching a favourable opportunity, Rugh jumped. He struck the ground heavily, rolling over and bringing up in the gutter.
For a moment he sat dazed, feeling as if every bone in his body was broken. He could see the car mounting the hill towards Darlinghurst, the driver quite unconscious he had lost his prisoner-passenger.
It was a dusty, unkempt man who walked with a slight limp to where Inspector Richards and Bill Stone waited outside Marchmont Buildings.
"Sorry I'm late, Richards."
The two men turned, and stared in open mouthed astonishment. It was quite a minute before they recognised in the man before them the usually fastidiously attired investigator.
"My dea-r chappie!" Bill Stone fixed his monocle more securely.
"I'll be damned!" exclaimed the police officer.
"Prizes for both," grinned Rugh. "Come up to my offices a moment. I have a change there."
"What happened?" asked Richards, when the three men were in Rugh's offices, and the investigator was making a quick change.
"A little argument with friend Ginger Pleiss," laughed Rugh. "He wanted to take me for a joy-ride out Darlinghurst way, to meet some friends of his. I preferred to keep my appointment with you."
In a few vivid sentences Rugh described the adventure of the taxi-car.
"You're sure you recognised Pleiss?" asked Richards.
"Answered to his description in all points," replied Rugh cautiously. "Besides, who else would want me so badly?"
"Did you get the car's number?"
"No chance. The roads are too hard. I'll swear to the driver if you can face me with him. Also, I left a few souvenirs in the shape of my cards distributed about the taxi. Slipped in the pockets, and under and behind the seats. That might help."
"Good," snapped Richards. He strode to the desk and put through a call to headquarters. "Get every red-headed taxi-driver and search cars. If you find any card of Mr. Thornton's hidden in car arrest driver and advise me. Also have all garages searched."
Rugh finished dressing while the Inspector was engaged at the telephone.
"Ready now," announced Rugh, picking up his hat. "Good thing I keep a change here. Bill would have had a fit if he had had to stroll around Surry Hills with me as I parted from friend Pleiss."
"My dea-r old bean," expostulated Bill mildly.
"William, if you please! Abbreviations are so belittling."
AT the Buckingham Street junction with Elizabeth Street, Inspector Richards took charge of the evening's proceedings. Dismissing the taxi with a strict injunction to get out of the neighbourhood, he led the way up Buckingham Street towards Coomber Street. They had not proceeded far when two men who had been loitering outside the Southern Cross Hotel caught up to them, and exchanged a few words with the Inspector. They passed ahead but at the corner of Coomber Street again waited.
Coomber Street is dark and narrow. It runs from Buckingham Street towards Crown Street. At one time it was bordered on both sides by rows of small cottages. Many of these, in recent years have been pulled down, to be replaced by factories. The few cottages that have escaped the house wreckers' hands have fallen on evil days. At one time occupied by decent working men, they have become the lairs of bludgers and prostitutes. Few of them are occupied by one family, the greater majority being rented by some woman letting out rooms to women of questionable reputation.
Number 13 Coomber Street differed only from its neighbours in being a little more dirty and dilapidated. It was a two storey house, originally one of a terrace row. Only three of the houses remained, and a large estate agent's board attached to the balcony of the centre house, stated that houses and middle land were for sale. Number 13 was the middle house of the three. Opposite the three houses is a narrow passage-way. The north side of this passage-way is occupied by the high blank wall of a paint factory.
Turning into Coomber Street the Inspector kept to the west side of the street, and walked swiftly on until he came to the passage-way. Immediately he reached the mouth of the passage, two men materialised out of the darkness.
"All set, Tom?" he asked one of the men. "Good Boys in their places? Right. Now we're off."
He strode across the road and up to the door of No. 13. There he knocked loudly.
There was no response. Rugh and Stone waited on the pavement outside, and a couple of men lounged up, as if casual passers-by.
Richards thundered at the door. A glimmer of light showed in one of the upper windows. A heavy step was heard descending the uncarpeted stairs, and someone approached the front door.
"Who's there?" asked a man's thick voice.
"Police. Open this door. Hurry up, you can't get away with it."
Upstairs a woman shrieked. A light came in the window of the room beside the street door. After a minute the window opened and a man put through his head.
"What's the matter?"
"Open this door or I'll have it forced." Richards attacked the knocker again. "No nonsense. The house is surrounded."
The man withdrew his head, and closed the window. There was the sound of some altercation in the passage, and then the door was opened and a man, in shirt and trousers, stood in the doorway.
"What's the game," he demanded. "Can't a man get a night's sleep without being aroused by you thick-heads?"
"What's your name?" demanded Richards pushing into the passage, followed by the suddenly active men who had been standing beside Rugh and Stone.
"Bill Jones. You've got nothing on me." The man backed to the door of the room on the right.
"Where's Harry Wheelson," demanded the Inspector.
"Up there." The man jerked his finger towards the stairs.
"Fetch him." Richards spoke to the men behind him. Then he gave a low whistle. Of a sudden the passage was full of plain-clothes police. Richards moved towards the man and pushed him to one side.
"Here," expostulated the man. "You can't go in there. There's a lady in bed."
"Can't I? She won't object to me." The Inspector put his head in at the door. "Hullo, Polly. Get up and dress quick. I'll give you two minutes."
A man came quickly down the stairs and made for the front door. He was fully dressed.
"What's your name," demanded Richards, barring the way.
"Ton Smith." The man tried to push through to the door.
"Where are you going?" Richards laid a none too gentle hand on the man's shoulder.
"Where do you think? Work. I'm on night shift."
"You're a liar. Your name's Harry Wheelson. Now, none of that. Where's Maudie?"
The Inspector took the man by the scruff of the neck and threw him towards the door of the room on the right. It burst open and the man fell in.
"Bring them all down," called the Inspector to the men upstairs, "This room'll do."
A few minutes later a procession of half-a-dozen partly dressed men and women came slowly down stairs and filed into the front room. Half-a-dozen police strolled in and looked over the capture.
"Hullo, Polly," said the sergeant in charge, to the woman who occupied the room. "You haven't paid us a visit for a long time. What about it now?"
"Go t'ell." The woman sat on the edge of the bed, lazily pulling on her stockings. "What d'yer want me for?"
"Little matter of false pretences, dearie," chuckled the Sergeant. "Why, here's Bully Bitson, an Fanny. I've been longing for a quiet chat with you two. An' Soapy Miller. Say, Soapy, there's a gentleman at Goulburn says you forgot to say 'good-bye' when you left in a hurry. He's longing to see you again. Seems to me this 'ere joint's a regular smoke-'ouse."
"Made a haul, Sergeant?" grinned the Inspector,
"Should say I 'ave. Don't know what you're after but you've done me a good turn. Now, Bill get the waggon here, right smart. We'll take this company for a joy-ride."
The Sergeant marshalled his little capture.
"That clears the house for you, sir," he remarked to the inspector. "Say, what about Harry Wheelson an' is lady-love?"
"Got anything on them?"
"No." The Sergeant spoke with real regret.
"Put 'em in, too," remarked Richards, grinning. "Won't do them any harm."
"You can't," protested Maudie, shrilly. "You ain't got nothin' on us."
"Can't I?" The Inspector's lips drew back in almost a snarl. "I'm going to hold you and your boy as accessories to the Little Bay murder. Get a move on, there."
Outside the house a small crowd had collected, in spite of the lateness of the hour. The arrival of the police waggon was received with hoots and groans, but there was no attempt at a rescue. Surry Hills realised the police were in force on this occasion.
"Come boys," said the Inspector to Rugh and Bill, as the waggon drove quickly away. "We have the place to ourselves. Let's get to work."
Detailing two men to accompany them, and rapidly explaining the objects of the search, the Inspector led the way upstairs. The rooms were taken one by one, and every piece of paper, every letter, however unimportant, was placed in a bag to be carried to headquarters for examination. Bill Stone was much interested. It was the first time he had had an opportunity of seeing the police at work, and he stuck to the Inspector's side like a burr.
The investigator wandered over the house, listlessly. The work of the search was in the hands of men skilled in the job, and his help, even if accepted would be but a hindrance. Beyond that, he wanted to keep himself from the detail work. Some instinct told him something would happen to justify the raid, and that it would not be discovered among the debris in the house. In an upstairs room Rugh sat down on a ricketty chair. He was tired. The searchers had but a few minutes before left the room, taking with them a few unimportant articles and papers. They were now in the next room, and he could hear Bill's languid voice, alternating with the Inspector's deeper bass. A candle flickered on the wash-stand by the window. Outside the sky was lightening to a new dawn. It was some hours since the Inspector's knock had aroused the inmates of the house.
The ragged curtain flapped inwards, and swept across the flame of the candle. Rugh rose from his chair and crossed the room. A fire would complicate matters. He moved the candle on to the dilapidated dressing table. The candle wobbled badly in its socket, and Rugh bent forward to secure it.
There was some writing on the wall over the dressing table. He moved the candle nearer, and bent down.
"Ruth Collins, 1924, 2, 6."
The murdered woman had occupied this room. But why had she written her name over the dressing table? It was not a signature, for the words and figures were written in minute capitals. Ruth Collins had lived in this house for a considerable time. She had left it to live with the man Leo Warrington at Ultimo. Yet, at frequent intervals she had returned to this house, possibly to this room. Had she left anything hidden here? Was the writing on the wall a clue to the hiding place of something the dead woman had treasured? Rugh bent closer to examine the writing, but the light was bad.
Leaving the room be sought the Inspector to advise him of the discovery. Richards was a little depressed at the fruitlessness of the search. He was inclined to "pooh-pooh" the investigator's theory that the writing on the wall was a clue to some hiding-place. However, he accompanied Rugh back to the room.
"Humph! Ruth Collins, all right. Got the date after it. The second of June, 1924. What did she want to write it there for?"
"I'm wondering," said Rugh. "Are you certain it is a date, Richards?"
"What else can it be? There you are, 1924. Then the '2' means the second day of the month, and the '6' stands for June. June 2, 1924."
"Why write it that way?"
The Inspector stared at the writing for some minutes.
"Looks like she wrote the year first, and then, for some cause added the day and month."
"I'm not so sure," meditated Rugh. "Your explanation would be all right if the writing was a signature. But it isn't. The writing is in minute capitals. Looks more like a remembrance note."
"Out after hidden treasure?" scoffed the Inspector. "No, there's nothing in it."
"Say, my dea'r old friends," Bill Stone sauntered into the room. "All this is most deucedly interesting, what? But I'm getting most awfully sleepy. What about escorting the jolly old milk home. What have you there, Rugh, dea-r boy?"
Rugh pointed to the writing on the wall.
"Ruth Collins, 1924, 2, 6," read the journalist.
"Why, that's the name of the poor dea-r deceased."
"What's the meaning of those numbers after the name?" asked the investigator, quietly.
The Inspector was about to speak when Rugh quieted him with an imperative gesture. Bill Stone fixed his monocle firmly and focussed it on the writing. After a few minutes he stood up and looked round the room.
"Deuced interesting," he murmured. "Bett-ar than the jolly old crossword puzzles. Have you your torch, Inspector. Why the devil don't these landlords fix up their jolly old places with electric light, and all that. Must have light, dea-r old fellows."
The journalist took the torch the Inspector handed him and began to search the walls. "What are you doing," asked the Inspector, sarcastically. "Looking for bugs. There's plenty of them."
The journalist beamed at his companions over his shoulder.
"Hidden treasure, old dea-r. Awfully keen on crossword puzzles, and all that. Ah, thought so." The last two words were snapped out in an altogether different tone. The two men crowded up behind the journalist. He was pointing to a series of figures on the wall.
"Well, what of it," asked Richards, impatiently.
"Don't you see, old bean. The figures were only a guide. Look at the line of the pattern of the wall paper. I went along two rows of patterns up, and six patterns from the wall I found this. Same handwriting, y 'know. Deuced clever, what?"
In the same minute characters as the previous writing Ruth Collins had written:
"Yard, 2, 1."
"YARD, 2, 1," repeated Inspector Richards, perplexedly. "That's not going to help us much."
"Isn't it?" Rugh laughed. "Bill has struck the right scent. Atta, boy!"
Bill Stone was half-way down the stairs. All his habitual foppishness had vanished. He was following a definite scent.
The first beams of morning light were turning the eastern sky to a light blue when the three men went out into the untidy yard at the back of 13 Coomber Street. Bill led the way direct to the little gate leading out into the passage at the rear. He flashed the torch on the wood, carefully scanning it for writings.
"What are you looking for?" asked the Inspector.
"My dea-r old chappie." Bill turned from the door. "I am looking for a little ray of sunshine."
"You won't find it in Surry Hills, then," retorted Richards. "Suppose you mean by that you are looking for some sign as to where Ruth Collins hid the goods."
"The good old little grey cells work." Bill waved an airy hand. "I should dislike extremely to ask your men to pull up all the stones in this yard. Eh, what?"
Bill strode up and down the yard for some minutes, muttering broken phrases to himself. At last he went over and examined the house door. Disappointed again, he stood scanning the dirty yard. A wooden bench stood opposite the house door, holding a couple of dilapidated wash-tubs and a pile of miscellaneous household utilities. A small pile of firewood was littered against the side of the lavatory, and by the rear gate stood a broken dustbin.
"The first clue worked out all right," argued the journalist. "This'll work out right too, if I can get the right hang of it."
Fixing his monocle, Bill carefully examined the six corners of the yard, without result. Finally, he went over and stood before the dustbin. At last, he pulled it out of the corner and turned to the Inspector.
"I want a jolly old crowbar, or something like it," Bill said crisply. "We're in for a deuce of a job, old bean."
Richards called one of his men, and after a few minutes the constable returned with a piece of pointed iron.
"All I can find, sir," he reported.
Bill took the iron and looked at it, doubtfully.
"May do," he decided, testing it against the wall. "What did the dear girl write? 'Yard 1, 2.'"
Turning to the brick wall, he tapped the second brick on the first row up. Then he tried the first brick on the second row. Both were solidly fixed in their places.
"Try down," advised the Inspector, now much interested.
Again there was no result. Producing a dainty pearl-handled pocket-knife, Bill dropped on his knees and poked at the yard stones.
"Got it," he exclaimed, triumphantly. He jabbed the pointed iron in a crack. The stone gave, slightly.
Another effort and the stone moved in its bed. The Inspector knelt beside Bill Stone and attempted to lever it up with his fingers, but it was too firmly fixed. Bill jabbed with the iron again, and this time succeeded in getting the stone sufficiently far up for the Inspector to get a hold of it. A few moments' work and the stone was lifted from its place.
Rugh flashed the torch into the hole. At the bottom was a small iron cash box. The Inspector seized it eagerly.
"Victory of jolly old master mind over matter," drawled the journalist rising to his feet. Then he glanced down at the knees of his trousers. "Look at them! My dea-r fellows, I can't be seen in the city in these. Why, it would break my dea-r old tailor's heart, don't you know."
"We might find a pair to fit you in Wheelson's wardrobe," said Rugh, gravely. Bill Stone shuddered.
"I'll rake a taxi fare out of the police estimate," laughed Richards, patting the box lovingly. "You've certainly earned it."
In the frowsy kitchen the iron box was forced open. It contained some papers and a miscellany of trinkets. Poor, valueless things, the garnerings of the woman's life.
The Inspector carefully decanted the contents of the box on to the table. At the bottom were two foolscap envelopes. Both were inscribed in the same minute characters as on the wall in the upstairs bedroom, to "The Commissioner of Police."
"I shall not open these," remarked the Inspector, after some consideration. Then, noticing the look of disappointment on Rugh's face, he continued: "They are addressed to the Commissioner, and should go to him. I'll take care that you and Stone are at the examination, Thornton. It's certainly your due. We shouldn't have found these but for you two fellows."
The Inspector tucked the box under his arm, and led the way to the upstairs bedroom. There he placed the box on the dressing table.
"I'm not satisfied," he announced. "I'm going to search this room again. Will you help me, or shall I call some of my men?"
For reply, Rugh threw off his coat, and after a rueful look at the knees of his trousers, Bill followed his example.
The search was a thorough one. Every article of furniture was pulled from its place, and even the floorboards sounded. There was no result. Not one sign of the murdered woman was found excepting the writing on the wall. Reluctantly, the police officer had to admit he was baffled.
The house was cleared, save for the presence of the uniformed men who would remain in charge until the agents of the landlord took over from them. Richards gave the signal to return to Headquarters.
It was now broad daylight. Picking up the iron box carefully, Richards led the way downstairs, and ordered one of the constables to summon a taxi-cab.
Rugh lingered in the bedroom. He was vaguely dissatisfied. In that house he had hoped to find some clue to the murderers of Ruth Collins. The Tiger Lily's statement that Ruth Collins had not come to the house in Coomber Street the night preceding the finding of her body fitted in well with the story of the screams told by Mrs. Vaughan, but it completely upset the theory of the murder formed by the investigator. The facts as they stood went to show the woman had been murdered in Frozene Lane. Her body then stripped, and taken, by motor car, to Little Bay. Against this theory could be placed the fact that the clothing found with the woman's dead body was not complete. Further, the clothing did not show blood-stains. The fact could only be explained by the woman having been stripped before her death, or, having been stripped after the murder, other garments had been substituted for the blood-stained apparel.
The folding of the clothes was another point against the Frozene Lane theory. It was unlikely, whatever reason the murderers had for stripping the woman, they would take the time to fold the clothes when every moment increased their chance of detection.
The Tiger Lily must have been misinformed. Ruth Collins had undoubtedly met her death in this house. She had been killed while preparing for, or in bed.
The blood-stained night garments had been taken away and destroyed, and her day clothes taken to Little Bay with her. It was a theory fitting the known facts of the case, and such a theory definitely incriminated the Wheelsons. They were in custody, and Richards could be trusted to get the truth out of them.
The Inspector called from the floor below. Rugh heard the taxi-cab draw up before the house.
The investigator switched on the light of the torch he was holding, and swept the light about the room. The artificial light was unnecessary, for the growing daylight flooded the room.
Still keeping his finger on the button or the torch, Rugh left the room. The small landing was dark. Carelessly Rugh let the light piny round. There was something lying in the dark corner near the door of the room he had left. It had looked like a dirty rag. The investigator stooped and picked it up. It was a stocking, a woman's stocking, and almost at the top of the leg was a broad dull-red slain.
A stocking had been missing from among the articles of clothing found with the dead woman at Little Bay, The bushman, Smith, had stated he had found a stocking on the beach at Little Bay, a stocking that contained a ring of peculiar significance. Smith had professed to be ignorant that the stocking he produced to Harry Sutherland, in the investigator's offices, contained a ring. He had been more than willing for the two men to suppress the stocking and ring. More, he had been very anxious that the investigators should dictate his actions regarding his find.
Was the story of the Limping Man a fraud? Rugh smiled grimly.
"Hey, Thornton! We're waiting for you," the Inspector shouted, impatiently, up the stairs.
Rugh rolled the stocking into a small compass and placed it in his hip pocket. The mystery was clearing. With this stocking, found in the house Ruth Collins had called home, the Inspector could squeeze the truth from the Wheelsons.
"Coming, Inspector," the investigator replied, and walked down to the taxi.
A FEW minutes before ten o'clock that morning Rugh and Stone ascended the steps of the Police Department and asked for Inspector Richards. They were informed the Inspector was engaged with the Commissioner but had left word they were to be sent up to the "Chief's" waiting-room.
A little after the hour had struck, Richards came out of the Commissioner's office and beckoned to them.
"The Chief is going to open the box and examine the contents," he said, somewhat excitedly. "I've just finished a verbal report to him on the night's operations."
Sir Reginald Brinston was standing by his desk when the Inspector introduced them into the room. A tall, soldierly man, with fine, clean-cut features, he locked more of the military man than the head of the N.S.W. Police Department. He welcomed Rugh warmly, as an old acquaintance, and thanked him and Stone for the assistance they had given the police through the inquiry. Then he motioned them to seats and turned to the box lying on his table.
"In deference to a promise made by Inspector Richards to you gentlemen this morning, I have refrained from opening this box until you were present," Sir Reginald said, speaking direct to Rugh and Stone. "I understand this box contains two envelopes addressed to me. If it is at all possible I am willing to allow you to see the contents, but of course you gentlemen understand that is a matter on which I must have absolute discretion."
Without waiting for a reply the Chief opened the little box and turned the contents out on the table. The three men leaned eagerly forward.
On the top of the little pile lay the two long envelopes. Sir Reginald lifted them and examined the inscriptions. Then he placed them on one side and turned to the remaining contents.
A few rings, brooches and chains of common manufacture comprised the majority of the articles. Three things only were of value. One a ring of pearls and diamonds, Sir Reginald lifted from the desk and examined closely.
"Rather old fashioned," he observed. "But, of some value. You appeared to think Ruth Collins was a woman who had seen better days, Inspector."
"That is the impression of our men who had met her while she was alive, sir," replied Richards.
"An engagement ring, I should guess." The Commissioner passed the ring across the table to Rugh. "What do you make of it, Mr. Thornton?"
"I agree with you, Sir Reginald," replied the investigator. "I should say—"
He paused, and the three men leaned forward. Rugh took a powerful glass from his waistcoat pocket and focussed it on the inside of the ring.
"There is engraving here," he said slowly. "Will you look, Sir Reginald?"
The Chief took the ring and glass the investigator held out to him. After some moments he strode across to the window to obtain a better light.
"There certainly is an engraving inside this ring," he said at length. "Did you decipher it, Mr. Thornton?"
"I would like your interpretation first, Sir Reginald."
"The best I can make is 'C.C. to R.C.'," the Chief replied after a further pause.
"That is my reading," said Rugh gravely.
"That does not assist us in the detection of the woman's murderer," Sir Reginald looked at Rugh, gravely. "It appears to have a decided bearing on a case I understand you are interested in, Thornton?"
"A great bearing, indeed," replied Rugh, with a slight smile.
"There is a cameo brooch here with a similar inscription and a wedding ring, without inscription. Did the dead woman wear a wedding ring, Inspector?"
"Yes, Sir Reginald."
"Then we must assume the woman had been twice married."
Sir Reginald dropped the three trinkets into an envelope and sealed it. "As these may be of importance to you later Thornton, I have separated them from the rest of the articles. If you want them produced at any time, an application to Inspector Richards will make them available."
The Chief then turned to the two envelopes, sweeping the other trinkets aside. Picking up a knife he carefully slit one open. It contained half-a-dozen sheets of foolscap paper, closely written. Sir Reginald glanced down the first page, and then laid it face down on his desk.
"Inspector Richards informed me he made you gentlemen a definite promise that you should be at the examination of this box and, as far as possible made aware of the contents of these envelopes," he said gravely.
"Mr. Thornton and Mr. Stone can be trusted, sir," said Inspector Richards gravely. "I made the promise in view of the possibility that certain information in the envelopes might be of value to Mr. Thornton in regard to the Carson Loan case, he is handling."
"In that case." The Commissioner paused. "I have your word, gentlemen, that nothing occurring in this room will be mentioned outside without the express permission of Inspector Richards?"
The two investigators gave the required assurances. Brinston picked up the document again.
"This document, gentlemen, solves a series of the most mysterious crimes that have baffled the police of New South Wales," he commenced. "I may add that it also provides the clue to the murder now known in the newspapers as the Little Bay Mystery. In fact it gives the motives for the murder and, with the examination of the two people arrested last night in the house at Coomber Street, should go far towards obtaining a conviction of the murderers. The document is a statement by the woman Ruth Collins and is duly sworn to and witnessed by a Justice of the Peace."
The Commissioner cleared his throat and commenced to read:
I, Ruth Collins, a married woman living apart from my
husband, and now residing at 13 Coomber Street, Surrey Hills, Sydney, on oath
state: I am in fear of my life from the threats of three men named Leonard
Warrington, residing at Prince Street, Ultimo; Thomas Pleiss, and Walter
Reynolds, whose addresses I do not know. These men have threatened to murder
me, because, in a moment of passion, I threatened I would inform the police
of certain facts known to me. I became acquainted with Leonard Warrington
about the beginning of March, 192—. He introduced me to the other men.
At that time I was separated from my husband and living with a man named
Theodore James, as his wife. James was tired of me and had threatened to
leave me. Leo told me he would take me to live with him if I could keep my
mouth shut. I was not in love with Warrington, but accepted his offer, as I
did not know what else to do. I thought Warrington was employed as a
builders' labourer, but found when I had been with him only a few days that
he lived only by crime. He forced me to go on the streets to earn a living
and to obtain information for him from the men I met. For some reason James
sought me out again and wanted me to go back to him. I was willing, but
Warrington threatened to do for me if I left him. James told told me he was
expecting to obtain a large sum of money shortly. He would not tell me where
it was coming from. Warrington forced the information from me and then told
me to keep in touch with James, and to promise James I would go back to him,
later. James did not know I was living with Warrington. He thought I was
One day James told me he would have the money the next day, and asked me to go to him then. I told Warrington and he told me to tell James I would go to him. Warrington told me to see Harry Wheelson at 13 Coomber Street and hire a room from him for myself and to go and live there. I was to persuade James to come to me there.
James did not want to come to Coomber Street for he had taken a flat at Darlinghurst. I told him I could not give up the room just then and that if he wanted me he must come to me there. We arranged he was to come to Coomber Street for a couple of days and then I was to go to Darlinghurst. The second day he was at Coomber Street he told me he had received the money, and showed me a large roll of notes. When I could get away from him I telephoned Warrington that James had received the money. That night Warrington and Pleiss came to Coomber Street and brought some drink with them. They put something in the drink they gave to James. When he was insensible Warrington told me to go back to Ultimo and to hold my tongue. I thought they were only going to rob James. The next day I saw the account of the finding of James's body in Centennial Park, naked, and with the clothes on the body. I accused Warrington of murdering James and he said there had been an accident, and that if I did not hold my tongue he would serve me the same.
I was afraid for my life, and said nothing. One night in Elizabeth Street I met Walter Reynolds and a man named Brownlow. Reynolds introduced me to Brownlow, and whispered I was to make an appointment with Brownlow for the following night at Coomber Street. I did so. When I saw Warrington I asked him what he intended to do. He said there would be no mistake this time and told me not to go to Coomber Street.
The next day I saw the account in the newspapers of the finding of Brownlow's body in Centennial Park, with the clothes neatly folded on the body. I then left Warrington and went to live with Maudie Wheelson. Warrington wanted me to go back to Ultimo, but I told him I would tell the police if he molested me. He said he would let me alone if I promised to hold my tongue, but if I breathed a word of the matter to anyone he would get me the same way. I am afraid. Warrington and Pleiss are watching me. I know they do not think they are safe as long I am alive. I am writing this myself and will take it to a Justice of the Peace and swear to it. Perhaps the police will find it when I am gone.
The Commissioner laid down the sheet of paper and looked at Inspector Richards.
"You have warrants out against these men, Warrington and Pleiss?" he asked.
"Yes, sir. I shall now apply for a warrant against this man Walter Reynolds. We brought in Henry and Maudie Wheelson this morning as accessory to the Little Bay murder. I don't know if we can hold them for that, but we can hold them for the Park murders."
"Perhaps I can help you, Inspector, on that point," said Rugh quietly. "I picked that up on the landing outside Ruth Collins' room."
He handed over the woman's stocking, and pointed out the bloodstains. Richards examined it carefully before passing it on to the Commissioner.
"You say you found this in the house in Coomber Street, Mr. Thornton," said Brinston. "Why did you not inform the Inspector at the time?"
"Inspector Richards and Mr. Stone had already left the house. Until I examined it at my office I had but a hazy notion of the extent of my find. Even now, its value depends on whether it matches the stocking found with the body."
"There is a better test than that, Thornton." The Commissioner smiled grimly. He rolled back the top seam of the stocking and held it out across the desk. In small letters were the initials "R.C."
"Then Ruth Collins was murdered at the house in Coomber Street, and not at Little Bay," exclaimed Rugh. "I had an impression that would be found to be the case."
"We now come to the matter of the second envelope," remarked Brinston. He took the knife and slit the top.
There was a bulky package within the envelope. The Chief pulled it out and looked it over. On one side it bore the inscription "To be handed to the Tiger Lily after my death."
"The Tiger Lily," mused the Chief. "I seem to have heard of that person before."
"There is a young woman in Surry Hills who is called by that name," said Richards briefly.
"So. Will you advise her I have this package, Richards. Tell her I would like her to apply to me personally for it. I think it advisable I should see the contents when it is opened."
LEAVING the Commissioner's office, Rugh and Inspector Richards walked down the grand staircase together. In the lobby Richards turned towards his office, beckoning the investigator to follow him. The Inspector motioned Rugh to a chair and then sat down at his desk.
"I owe you an apology, Thornton," he said, after a long pause. "It isn't often I have to acknowledge I am wrong, and I don't think I can be very graceful about it, but—well, I'd just like to shake hands. That's all."
Rugh grasped the police officer's hand heartily.
"That's all right, old man," he replied. "The principal thing is that we've solved the problem. It's up to you now to lay hands on the fellows."
"With the solution of the problem your interest in the case ceases?" asked Richards, curiously.
"Not altogether." Rugh thought a moment. "Look here, Richards, I don't know how you stand, but if you can take a hand in the Carson case I'd be glad to have you with me. In fact, my opinion is that it is drifting in a great measure to a state where you, or the Police Department, will have to handle it."
"You mean to say there is criminal fraud showing?" asked the Inspector.
"Yes. Now listen."
For a couple of hours the two men sat in earnest conversation, discussing the Carson Loan Case, detail by detail. At the end of the sitting Richards had promised hearty co-operation with the investigator.
Tired and weary as he was with the long night work, Rugh determined he would get word to the Tiger Lily of the mysterious package awaiting her in the hands of the Commissioner of Police. Jumping on a tram, he went down to Buckingham Street and entered Shorty Matt's tobacconist shop.
Matt came shuffling forward in his usual slouching manner, betraying no sign of recognition. Rugh glanced into the saloon. It was empty.
"Cigar, Matt, please."
The man pulled down a few boxes, and left Rugh to make his selection while he went into the back room. In a moment he returned with some insurance forms which he placed on the counter before the investigator.
"I'm insuring this place," he said briefly. Rugh looked puzzled.
"I'm an assurance investigator, Matt," he said. "I have nothing to do with the trading part of the business."
"I'm watched," was Matt's brief reply.
Rugh pulled out his fountain pen and commenced to fill in certain particulars on the forms.
"Seen the Tiger Lily lately?" he asked softly. "What's your full name?" This last more loudly.
"Do you want her?" Matt answered. "Thomas Henry Matthews."
"Tell her police raided Maudie's. Found evidence convicting Leo and others. What's the number of this house?"
"Forty-three. Anything more?"
"Found iron box hidden by Ruth Collins with papers in it. How much are you insuring for?"
"Package in box addressed Tiger Lily. Commissioner of Police has it. Tell her to go to him for it. All safe. I'll get that put through to-day for you, Mr. Matthews."
Two men who had been loitering outside the shop entered, and looked at Rugh suspiciously as they went into the saloon. The investigator made a great show of folding up the forms and placing them in his pocket.
"Well, good-day, Mr. Matthews and thank you."
One of the men in the saloon called impatiently. Shorty Matt left the counter and went to him. Rugh went to leave the shop.
Two men standing in the doorway moved so that he could pass between them. One was a big, hulking fellow, with a hard, brutal face. The other was much shorter and slimmer. As Rugh stepped on to the pavement he looked at the shorter man. He was red-headed. Rugh half-stopped. Somewhere he had seen that red-headed man before. Then memory came to him. It was the driver of the taxi-cab who had attempted to abduct him. It was Ginger Pleiss.
Before the investigator could act, his arms were seized from behind and he was swung clear of the shop. He tried to struggle, but the man holding him had hands of steel. Ginger Pleiss advanced towards him, his right hand hidden under his coat. There was a smile of evil determination on the man's face. Someone in the road shouted. Rugh gave a violent swerve. At the same time Ginger Pleiss's hand came from under his coat, armed with a short bar. He made a vicious swing at the investigator's head, but the blow landed on Rugh's shoulder. Again Ginger raised his hand. Rugh staggered forward. The street was whirling around him. He was conscious of a violent blow on the head, then the iron hands that held him were suddenly relaxed, and he fell down—down—down.
Someone was splashing water on his face. He tried to turn his head. It was resting on something soft, and there was a perfume near, vaguely familiar. But he could not remember. He tried to raise his hand to his head. Someone was beating a drum with a monotonous regularity that was driving him frantic. He wanted to call to them to stop, but he could not speak. Then the drum began to fade away. It got fainter and fainter until it was lost in the surges of the rolling seas. That was the meaning of the water on his face. It was the sea. He was in the water, resting on its soft bosom. It was soothing him to sleep. He wanted to sleep, but he was slipping down again. Down. Where? He didn't want to think. Then all was a blank, and he slept.
Slowly, Rugh opened his eyes and looked around. It was dark. His head ached, but he felt comfortable, and—so tired. He moved his hand. He was in bed; he could feel the clothes around him. But—this was not his room. The furniture was strange.
"Where am I?" he whispered.
Someone got up from a chair beside the bedside and leaned over him. It was the Tiger Lily.
"You know me, Rugh."
"Where am I?"
"In my home." The girl hesitated. "Shorty Matt sent for me and I brought you home."
"Did they escape?"
Lily did not answer. She turned to a small table and picked up a glass.
"Drink this, Rugh."
Obediently he swallowed the mixture.
"Did they escape?"
"No, Rugh. They were captured. Now you must try and sleep."
"Sleep? I have been asleep for days." Rugh laughed feebly. "How long have I been here, Lily?"
"Three days, Rugh. You have been very ill."
Rugh lay silent for some time. He was trying to think. He had lain here three days. What had happened in the world during that time?
"What day is it, Lily?"
"Thursday. Rugh, you must not talk. At least, not until the doctor has seen you."
She placed her cool, firm hand on his brow. Slowly, he reached up and drew it down into the hollow of his neck. She let it rest there, and he was content—and slept.
Rugh was awakened by the sound of a man's voice in the room. Opening his eyes, he looked up into a bearded face.
"Well, Mr. Thornton. How do you feel now?"
"Fit to get up, doctor," answered Rugh, with a smile.
"We will see about that later." The doctor smiled as he re-arranged the bandages. "You've had a nasty smash-up on the head and had better rest quiet for a couple of days. Drink this."
When Rugh awoke again the daylight was streaming into the room. He lay still for some time idly Watching the sunbeams dancing on the furniture. Then he turned his head. Lily was seated in a low seat by the bedside, reading.
She had not noticed he was awake. He lay watching her. The Tiger Lily. He laughed softly to himself. This sweet, womanly girl, the Tiger Lily of Surry Hills. It was absurd. She was pure girl, adorable, desirable.
A movement drew the girl's attention. She put down her book and came over to him.
"Awake, Rugh? How do you feel?"
"Good. Friday, Lily?"
"I've got to be at the meeting of the Board of Directors of the Balmain and South on Monday afternoon," he said.
"I know, Rugh. Keep quiet and you shall be there. Rest a little while and I will let you see a visitor."
"No." Lily laughed, deliciously. "Lizzie has gone to the hospital to see him. Rugh, I think—"
"Lizzie and Harry?"
"Yes." The girl hesitated. "Rugh, you won't judge her by me. She's a good girl. I'll tell you all about her, one day."
"If I judged her by you they'd get my blessing." Rugh grinned. "Say, Lily, how about making a double of it?"
"Hush." Lily laid her finger on his lips. "You know that can never be. Now sleep, Rugh. I must leave you for a time—dear."
She had called him "dear." Rugh smiled as he lay back on the pillows. Harry and Lizzie. It was great.
And Lizzie was a good sport. She would just suit the irresponsible journalist.
An hour later Lily returned to him.
"Awake, Rugh? Good. I've brought you a visitor."
Lily stood on one side, and the portly form of Constable Nicholls loomed by the bedside.
"Hullo, constable." Rugh laughed weakly. "How's the chase for the murderers?"
"I got 'em, sir," answered the constable proudly.
"Got them?" Rugh sat up in the bed quickly.
"Leo Warrington and Tom Pleiss," replied the constable. "Got 'em sweet, but I wasn't in time to prevent 'em gettin' you first."
"Sit down, and tell me all about it," Rugh exclaimed excitedly.
Lily brought a chair to the bedside for the constable.
"You're to lie down and speak quietly," she commanded; "or I shall have to send Constable Nicholls away."
"Get on with your story, Nicholls," exclaimed Rugh. "What do you mean by saying you got them?"
"It's like this, sir," commenced the constable. "When Mr. Suth'land got that thump on th' head an' went to th' 'orspital, I went t' see 'im an' talk over th' case. An' e ses ter me as 'ow now they'd got 'im they'd lay for you. So, ses 'e, you watch Mr. Thornton, ses 'e."
"So you dogged me?" interjected Rugh.
"It's lucky as me leave was due, sir," continued Nicholls. "I took it, an' many a fine dance you've led me, sir. I never knew a man ter get about as you do. Anyhow, I sticks ter your trail, an' kept me eyes open, same as Mr. Suth'land advised."
"You saw me go into Shorty Matt's?"
"I did, sir. I watched you go inter th' shop, an' then I saw two men foller yer in, an two more come up an' loiter outside. I watched 'em careful, an' then you came out, an' one ov th' men grabbed you an' th' other, 'e up wi' a bit ov lead pipin' an' 'its at you. But jest at th' time you wriggles, an' don't get a fair swipe. Th' other chap calls tew 'im to 'it you agen, but I'm there by that time. I 'its th' big chap as is 'oldin' you, in the back, jest as th' other man makes another swipe, an' blowed if 'e don't catch 'is mate right across th' beano. So I takes th' smaller man an' sits 'im right across th' big chap, an' blows me whistle fit ter bust. Then me mates come an' take 'em to Regent Street.
"'Wot's th' charge?' says th' Sergeant.
"'Hassault, sir,' ses I. 'Hassaultin' Mr. Harry Suth'land, as is now in Sydney 'Orspital; also hassaultin' Mr. Rugh Thornton, an' I don't quite know where 'e is, fer they carried 'im inter th' terbacconnist's shop.'
"'Anythin' more?' asks th' Sergeant, suspicious-like.
"'An' fer th' murder of Ruth Collins at Little Bay,' I ses, quiet like. An' you should 'ave seen 'im stare."
"Good, constable. I congratulate you." Rugh held out his hand. "You've done well."
"Must say as I thinks so, too, sir," said Nicholls, complacently. "Wot d'yer think, sir. They're getting up a suberscription a' Randwick ter give me a gold watch."
"What does Inspector Richards say to that?" laughed Rugh.
"'Im, sir? Why, 'e's as nice as they makes 'em. 'E came right out to me 'ouse, an' shook 'ands wi' me, an' ses as 'e congraterlated me. Ses as 'ow ell see as I 'ave a step in rank. As nice a man as you'd wish ter see, an' speak to; an' sir, 'atween me an' you, as clever as they makes 'em."
THE board-room of the Balmain and South Assurance Company is a long, low, gloomy room. Used only for the meetings of the Board, it has the close, musty atmosphere of disuse. Along the centre of the room runs a long table, on each side of which are six low-backed armchairs. At the head of the table is a solitary armchair, with; an over-high back, giving it the appearance of a throne. On either side of this chair are two doors, one leading to the offices and the other direct into the private office of the managing director. The walls are coloured a dull green, and have the appearance of having collected generations of dust on their surfaces. From the low ceiling, depends a heavy brass chandelier, of old-fashioned pattern, used originally for gas, but now converted to electric light.
On the Monday afternoon following the assault on Rugh Thornton, and the capture of Warrington and Pleiss, the Board of the Balmain and South met in extraordinary session. The purpose, as explained by the Chairman of Directors, Sir Henry Schillington, was to decide on a claim made by Mr. Colin Carson for the repayment of a loan of fifty thousand pounds, and interest to date, made to the company some dozen years previously.
"I believe," concluded Sir Henry, "you gentlemen are fully conversant with the various details of this business. It has been before us many times, and I, for one, shall be glad to see it finalised. I believe the applicant, Mr. Colin Carson, is in attendance, Mr. Orchard?"
Wilbur Orchard, sitting at the right-hand of the Chairman of Directors, nodded assent. He was not looking well. His face was worn and haggard, and his eyes continually roamed round the room, as if in search of some missing face.
"Mr. Carson and his solicitor, Mr. Leferve, of Leferve and Sunderland, are both in attendance, Sir Henry," Wilbur Orchard said, rising to his feet. "Is it your pleasure I invite them to meet the Board?"
Sir Henry looked round the table. Some of the members of the Board were not looking towards him. Others gave a slight nod of assent.
"I think it would be wise, Mr. Orchard," decided, Sir Henry. "The sum involved is, I believe, a considerable amount of money?"
"Two hundred thousand pounds." Wilbur Orchard looked round the table. "Before inviting these gentlemen to attend us I should like to make an explanation of the circumstances surrounding this case."
"Do you think it necessary, Mr. Orchard?" Sir Henry looked at his watch. "I should like to close the meeting within half an hour, if possible."
"I shall only take up a few minutes of your time." Wilbur Orchard was gently insistent. Sir Henry looked up and nodded.
"You gentlemen are aware that I had the honour to be the managing director of this company at the time this loan was negotiated," continued Wilbur Orchard. "During those negotiations I came in personal touch with Mr. Carson, and had intimate conversations with him."
The managing director paused, and wetted his lips from a glass of water standing before him.
"Since Mr. Carson applied for the repayment of the loan, I have had two interviews with him—once in the presence of his solicitor, Mr. Leferve, and one in my office, when he called at my request. At the later interview Mr. Archibald Weston, of Messrs. Weston, Sans & Hamilton, attended. I have here a letter from Mr. Weston, in which he states he has examined the credentials of Mr. Carson and is confident he is the person he claims to be, and the person who lent the money to the company."
Again Orchard paused, and looked towards the door.
"Mr. Weston was not, at the time the loan was made by Mr. Carson, acting directly for the company. His partner, Mr. Hamilton—now, I regret to say, dead—was handling the company's business. Mr. Weston only saw Mr. Carson once, at the time the loan was negotiated, and, I believe, did not have any extended conversation with him. But, gentlemen, I am convinced that the Mr. Colin Carson who will, within a few minutes, attend this Board, is the man with whom I negotiated the loan that saved this company from bankruptcy, some twelve years ago. He has convinced me, and has brought back to my remembrance certain incidents that occurred at the time, and which I had forgotten. Have I the permission of the Board to request the attendance of Mr. Carson?"
Wilbur Orchard sat down, and for a few moments there was silence.
"Sir Henry." A short, red-faced man seated near the bottom of the table jumped to his feet.
"Mr. Samuel Cohen," said Sir Henry, with an inclination of his head.
"I have listened to Mr. Wilbur Orchard's explanation with great interest. I—er—well, Sir Henry, 'ow does it come as Mr. Orchard ain't said nothing about the other claimant?"
"I do not understand, Mr. Cohen." Sir Henry looked at the managing director.
"There is no other claimant, Mr. Cohen." Wilbur Orchard flushed as he rose to his feet.
"Oh, yes, there is." The little man remained on his feet, and faced the managing director, defiantly. "I have 'ere a letter from the guardian of the lady as is the claimant."
"Oh." Wilbur Orchard forced a smile. "You are referring to a claim that might eventuate from a lady claiming to be the daughter of Mr. Colin Carson."
"That's 'er." Sam Cohen was excited. "As nice a girl as I've come across. Her name's Myrtle Seaton, and she's a pea—"
Sir Henry coughed, and Sam Cohen, suddenly reminded of the austere dignity suitable to the occasion, blushed.
"I beg to move, Sir H-henery," stuttered the little man, "that the matter be deferred un—"
"I object." Wilbur Orchard sprang to his feet, "Mr. Cohen is referring to an—er—abstract claim. I can put it in no other words. That claim has been advanced by a Mr. Samuel Brene, on behalf of his niece, Miss Rita Myrtle Seaton. Mr. Brene has not put in any proof the lady is the person he represents her to be."
"He's going to," interjected Cohen.
"I am not concerned with Mr. Brene's future actions," snapped Orchard, angrily. "The only application I have had from Mr. Brene on behalf of Miss Seaton is that the decision on the matter of the repayment of the loan be deferred until he has had full opportunity of examining Miss Seaton's father's papers."
"Seaton! Carson! How is it that the daughter's name is different to her father's?" interposed Sir Henry in a perplexed voice.
"Mr. Brene, in a personal interview," explained the managing director in a patient tone, "gave me to understand that Mr. Seaton was of a somewhat eccentric character. He assumed several names at various times."
"What I want to know is," cried Mr. Cohen, jumping to his feet, "what are we going to do if we pay this 'ere Cohn Carson and then find the girl is entitled to the money?"
"Mr. Cohen should know that the father's claim comes first," Wilbur Orchard exploded. "The loan was made to us by Mr. Carson, and is repayable to him personally. In the event of the decease of Mr. Carson the loan became payable to Rita Carson—not Miss Myrtle Seaton."
Several of the directors nodded their heads in agreement.
"Do you mean to say as this 'ere Miss Myrtle Seaton is not the dinkum goods?" Cohen waved his arms vigorously. "Well, you 've only got ter look into 'er eyes—"
"Dear me," Sir Henry gently expostulated, "You don't mean to tell me, Mr. Cohen, that you, a respectable married man, look into the eyes of young ladies. For shame, Mr. Cohen."
Sir Henry's pleasantry caused a little titter to run round the table. It was cut short by Cohen.
"There's them as might follow their words," he retorted. "When me an' my missus dropped into th' H'ambassadors th' other Friday night there was someone as ain't sitting far from the 'ead of this table as warn't looking inter no married woman's eyes. She was as dainty a piece of fluff as—"
"Dear me," Sir Henry gently expostulated, a slight flush on his cheeks, "We are getting away from the business in hand. Gentlemen, we are agreed that Mr. Carson shall be invited to attend the Board. Yes? Mr. Orchard, I believe you said that Mr. Carson was in attendance."
Wilbur Orchard rose from his seat and made for the door.
"Half a mo', Orchard." Cohen was on his feet again. "I move, Sir H-enery, that Mr. Sam Brene be also invited to attend."
"Mr. Brene?" Sir Henry looked bewildered. "I have not understood that Mr. Brene was in attendance."
"Mr. Brene is not here, Sir Henry," said Orchard, emphatically.
"Oh, yes, he is." Cohen was on his feet waving a defiant hand at the managing director. "I sent him a line to say as he was to be here. Fetch 'im Orchard."
Wilbur Orchard left the room, to return followed by three men. Brene was the last of the three to enter.
"Mr. Colin Carson; Mr. Leferve, Mr. Carson's solicitor; and Mr. Sam Brene," introduced Wilbur Orchard.
Sir Henry rose to his feet and bowed. When the newcomers had been provided with seats, Mr. Leferve stood up.
"Sir Henry," he said, "I have come here at the' request of my client, Mr. Colin Carson. I formally protest against these proceedings, and shall advise my client not to answer any questions relating to subjects other than the loan."
"I appreciate your attitude, Mr. Leferve," replied Sir Henry. "We will do our utmost to meet your wishes. At the same time I must advise you the Board finds itself in a certain difficulty. Another claimant has come forward."
Colin Carson sprang from his seat. His solicitor placed a warning hand on his arm..
"Mr. Carson, you will allow me to deal with this situation," he said. "May I ask, Sir Henry, if there is a dispute as to my client's bona fides?"
"None whatever," Sir Henry hastened to reassure him. "The claim is made on behalf or a Miss Myrtle Rita Seaton, who claims to be the daughter of Mr. Cohn Carson."
"Is Miss Seaton here?" asked the lawyer.
"No." The answer came from Sam Brene. He sat with his little pig eyes half-closed, leaning on the handle of a heavy rosewood walking stick. "I represent my niece, Miss Seaton."
"Your niece? Then you are acquainted with Mr. Colin Carson? Do you recognise him?" The solicitor spoke eagerly.
"Does Mr. Carson recognise me?" Sam Brene looked lazily at the claimant.
Mr. Leferve looked at his client. Colin Carson did not reply. For some minutes there was an air of tension in the room, broken by Sam Cohen bouncing to his feet.
"Sir H-enery, we are wasting valuable time. What I want to know is: Mr. Orchard told us a few days ago there was a blo—man who was engaged to look into the matter. Why ain't 'e 'ere? H-as Mr. Orchard 'ad any report from 'ml, or what?"
"Mr. Cohen is doubtless referring to Mr. Rugh Thornton—"
"That's 'is name," interrupted Cohen. "Well, what's 'e say about these 'ere claimants?"
"I haven't heard from Mr. Thornton for some time," said the managing director testily. "He made a great fuss about being allowed to attend this Board meeting, but he has not put in an appearance. I have not a report from him."
"Rugh Thornton," mused Sir Henry. "Let me see. Yes. Was it not a Mr. Rugh Thornton who was violently assaulted in Surry Hills the other day?"
"That's 'im," said Cohen. "Well, what does 'e say?"
"I am afraid Mr. Thornton will he too ill to attend at present," answered Sir Henry. "We hope he will—"
"Rugh Thornton is here." The voice came from the door behind Sir Henry.
Wilbur Orchard jumped to his feet and stared at the investigator. Rugh left the door by which he had entered the Board room, and walked to the foot of the table. He was followed by Inspector Richards.
"Mr. Thornton," said Sir Henry, rising from his seat.
"I have the written permission of Mr. Orchard to attend this meeting of the Directors of the Company," said Rugh calmly. "I claim the right to act in this matter for the company under the instructions I have received from your managing director."
"Good. That's it," ejaculated Mr. Cohen. "Now we'll get down to tacks. Now, Mr. Thornton, what do you know about this 'ere claimant?"
"Which is Mr. Carson?" Inspector Richards asked the question.
"There 'e is." Cohen pointed towards the claimant. "'E ain't 'ad a bloomin' word to say for hisself."
Richards walked over to the claimant, and laid his hand on his shoulder.
"Walter Reynolds, I arrest you for the murder of John Brownlow in Centennial Park on the 16th of May, 1923. I must also inform you that other charges are pending against you."
"WHAT do you mean?" shouted Wilbur Orchard, jumping to his feet. "That man is Colin Carson. I have identified him."
Richards had drawn Reynolds away to the far end of the room and had seated himself beside him. The man had not replied to the charge made against him. Deathly pale, he yet wore a defiant attitude.
"No, Mr. Orchard." Rugh was standing at the foot of the table, the paleness of his face accentuated by the white bandages swathing his head. "You know better than that."
Sir Henry sat silent for a moment. Then he turned and looked at Wilbur Orchard. The managing director had sunk back in his chair, a look of baffled fury on his face.
"Mr. Thornton," said the chairman of Directors "you have made a somewhat dramatic entry into this room. You have arrested one man, the claimant, Colin Carson. You have charged our old and valued managing director, with felonious knowledge that the man is a fraud. May we ask for an explanation?"
Rugh stood at the foot of the table, swaying dizzily. His dramatic entry, at the time the schemer's plans had been on the point of success, had been too much for him.
"'Ere." Sam Cohen walked down to the foot of the table and put his arm around the investigator. "Someone get 'im a chair. Can't you see 'e 's not well?"
A few minutes and Rugh raised his head. He attempted to rise to his feet.
"Sit down, Mr. Thornton," said Sir. Henry. "Take your time. We are anxious to give you every opportunity."
"Thank yon, Sir Henry." Rugh spoke in a low, weak voice. "I may say at once I have all the evidence necessary to substantiate the statements I have made. Inspector Richards is acquainted with the proofs I hold, and has acquiesced in my desire that the evidence be laid before your Board at this meeting. Later, of course, the evidence will become public through the criminal proceedings.
"It will be necessary for me to go back to the time when the loan of fifty thousand pounds was made to the company by a Mr. Colin Carson. I will not bother you with the story told to me by Mr. Wilbur Orchard. Partly correct, in essentials it was grossly misleading."
"The man's off his head. Am I to be forced to listen to these ravings?" Wilbur Orchard rose to his feet and with an angry gesture moved towards the door.
"There is a police officer behind that door, Wilbur Orchard," observed Rugh quietly. "He has orders to arrest you if you attempt to leave this room."
"Damn you! On what charge?"
"You will learn that presently." Rugh turned to face Sir Henry Schillington.
"I will first deal with the history of Colin Carson. Many of you no doubt remember Bishop Marshland, a moneylender of this city years ago. Marshland was his trade name. In private life he was known as Colin Carson."
"Colin Carson was Bishop Marshland? Why, I knew 'im well. 'E wasn't a bit like that bloke!" Cohen pointed dramatically at the man seated beside Inspector Richards.
"Carson, or Marshland, suffered from tuberculosis, and, owing to ill-health, had decided to retire from business. The loan to the Balmain and South appealed to him. He had decided to go to Switzerland to test a widely advertised cure. The fifty thousand pounds was nearly all his fortune. Invested in the company it was safe, and if he returned to the Commonwealth, easily collected. If, on the other hand, he died abroad, the terms of the loan deed allowed it to pass easily to his daughter."
Rugh was speaking with some difficulty. The excitement after his long, quiet confinement, was making, him tired and unable to think clearly.
"'Ere, 'ave a drink, old chap." Cohen was standing by his side, holding a glass of water. Rugh drank thirstily.
"Before leaving Australia Colin Carson provided for the education of his daughter at a convent school for a couple of years," continued Rugh. "At the same time he provided liberally for his wife during his absence. I may say here, Mrs. Carson had caused her husband a great deal of trouble. She was a drug addict. Colin Carson lived to return to Australia, not cured, butt greatly benefited. He found his wife had disappeared. His daughter was still at the convent school. Inquiries, proved to be untrue, informed him his wife was in Brisbane. He went there."
"Colin Carson was a widower. He told me so," contradicted the managing director.
"Did he?" There was a deep significance in the tone in which the investigator answered the interruption.
"Before Carson had been in Brisbane many days he met with a serious accident. He was knocked down by a motor car, and taken to hospital, He died there."
Wilbur Orchard sprang to his feet.
"Are we going to sit here all the afternoon listening to these fairy tales?" he stuttered. "We want proof."
Rugh looked steadily at the excited man.
"You want proof? Very well." He turned to the police officer.
Richards went to the door and spoke to the man on duty. In a few minutes the Tiger Lily entered the room.
"Sir Henry Schillington, I call my first witness, Miss Lily Dalton."
Wilbur Orchard stared in amazement for a second.
"Sir Henry," he shouted, "I should inform you this woman is a felon. She is well-known by another name in the slums."
"The Tiger-Lily." The girl smiled at the excited man mockingly. "Will you tell Sir Henry the name I bear in Surry Hills, and how I came to bear it?"
"You?" Wilbur Orchard leaned forward, staring at the girl. "Sir Henry, this girl was at one time a confidential clerk in this office. She was convicted of stealing a sum of of money and, after conviction, was imprisoned at Long Bay."
"Is that true?" asked Sir Henry gravely.
"It is true." Lily looked at her questioner proudly. "Wilbur Orchard was the principal and only witness against me."
Rugh's eyes lighted. With a low exclamation he moved to the girl's side.
"Sir Henry," he exclaimed, "Mr. Orchard has forged another chain in the evidence against him. Will you ask him the circumstances of the ease against Miss Dalton?"
"There's nothing I wish to conceal," the managing director answered boldly. "This girl was my confidential clerk, and therefore had easy access to my private office. I found that a large sum of money I had one one day withdrawn from the bank was missing. I had placed it in my overcoat pocket. The police were called in. A search revealed it in this girl's handbag."
"Thank you," said Hugh gravely, "I will deal with that matter later. It is another count against Wilbur Orchard. At present, Sir Henry, I will ask you to hear Miss Dalton's evidence, without comment."
"Did you know Colin Carson, Miss Dalton?" asked Sir Henry, after a moment's pause.
"I met him several times. He came to the convent school where I was educated."
"Was Rita Carson a scholar at that school?"
"That is how you came to meet Mr. Carson?"
"Yes. Rita Carson was, and is, my greatest friend.
"Is that Colin Carson?" Sir Henry pointed to the man in the corner of the room.
"No, Colin Carson is dead. He died in Brisbane."
"Bosh!" exclaimed Wilbur Orchard. "What we want is proof."
Inspector Richards walked to the table.
"I think this is where I come in," he said with a broad smile, Seeing Sir Henry's glance towards his prisoner, he added: "Oh, he's safe enough. Point of fact, Sir Henry, no one can leave this room without my permission. There's quite a few people I shall want, here."
"What do you mean?" asked the Chairman, startled.
"Nothing to worry you, Sir Henry. But we'd better get to facts. I am going to produce certain documents Miss Dalton handed to me in the presence of the Commissioner of Police last Saturday. They were found in a raid on a house in Coomber Street some days ago."
"You know Miss Dalton?"
"Well. Point of fact it was I who arrested her on that man's charge. I would have seen him in ——" The Inspector coughed. "I didn't know then, what I know now."
"What are these documents?"
"They're genuine, Sir Henry. First, I produce a copy of Colin Carson's death certificate. This was obtained by the Queensland police at my request, and only reached me Saturday."
The Inspector stood back and motioned Lily to continue.
"Mr. Orchard has told you I am the Tiger Lily," said the girl. "While I was in prison I was visited by my schoolgirl chum, Rita Carson. She was a rich woman, and promised to help me. She met me when I was released and took me to a refuge she had provided for me. There I became the Tiger Lily—to obtain proof of the wrong that man had done to me."
The girl paused a moment, and then continued:
"Let me go on with the story of the Carsons. Mrs. Carson left her husband nearly three years before his death. She was in Sydney when he met with his fatal accident in Queensland. She went to Brisbane, not for sentimental reasons, but to discover if she could lay hands on any of his money. Mr. Carson had, however, left his money to his daughter, conditional on her only allowing her mother a certain fixed income. Furious at her disappointment. Mrs. Carson left Brisbane."
"Where is Mrs. Carson now?" asked Sir Henry.
"She is dead." The girl spoke in a low voice. "She died a terrible death."
"You mean?" Wilbur Orchard leaned forward.
"Ruth Carson married William Collins after her first husband's death. It was her body the police found on the sandhills at Little Bay."
Lily turned to the Inspector and held out her hand.
"This is Ruth Carson's certificate of marriage to William Collins, at Bundaberg, Queensland." She handed the paper to Sir Henry.
"Then Myrtle Seaton is Colin Carson's heiress," exclaimed Sam Cohen, who had been following the narrative with keen interest. "Thought that was it."
Lily smiled slightly.
"In some way Mr. Brene found out that a large sum of money stood on the books of the Balmain and South Assurance Company in the name of Colin Carson. He knew of Mr. Carson's death, and schemed to obtain the money by substituting a tool of his for the dead man. For the purpose of the fraud it was necessary that Wilbur Orchard became a party in it. Mr. Brene approached Mr. Orchard, and, to his surprise found the same idea had occurred a long time before, to the man he planned to seduce to his ends. Mr. Brene suggested he and Mr. Orchard make a partnership of the matter, to be met by a blank refusal. Furious at being deprived of a share of the plunder, Brene attempted to blackmail or terrorise Mr. Orchard into admitting him into a share of the scheme. It was for that purpose he sent the photograph of his niece. Miss Seaton, to Mr. Orchard, without her knowledge, as the photograph of Colin Carson's daughter."
"Then she's not the heiress." Sam Cohen looked disappointed. "Why, Brene told me she as good as 'ad the fortune in 'er 'and."
"The mysterious telephone message to Mr. Orchard on the morning of the publication of the news of the murder was another attempt of Mr. Brene's to bring Mr. Orchard to terms. When he found that Orchard was steadfast to obtain the whole Of the money himself and not to share it with him, Mr. Brene put in a claim for the fortune in the name of his niece, stating her to be Rita Carson, the heiress of Colin Carson. He had no intention of pressing the claim. To do that he would have to prepare false identification papers, and they would not stand the test of a court case. His object was to stalemate Wilbur Orchard, and force him to come to terms. The man Wilbur Orchard had put forward as the true Colin Carson could not forward his claim through the courts. Thus the position stood that Mr. Brene barred the path to the money and expected to be bribed to withdraw."
"Who is James Smith, the bushman?" asked Rugh curiously.
"James Smith is George Walker. Inspector Richards can give you his history," replied the girl. "He is one of the tools Mr. Brene uses in the graft business he conducts in this city. The story of the stocking and the Limping Man was designed to bring further pressure on Mr. Orchard, through the publicity Mr. Sutherland would give it in the Star."
"All this is most interesting, young lady," said Sir Henry Schillington, with a smile of disbelief. "But it requires proof."
"That is my business," interposed the burly Inspector. "I have all the proof I want to secure the convictions. Harry Wheelson has spilt the beans to save his neck."
"Are you Rita Carson?" asked Sir Henry, looking at the girl anxiously.
Lily laughed and shook her head. Then she went to the door. After a moment she returned, hand in hand with her adopted sister.
"Gentlemen," she said, a spark of mischief in her eyes, "May I present you to Miss Elizabeth Rita Carson, the heiress of the late Colin Carson. Sir Henry, the proofs of Miss Carson's identity have been in the hands of Sir Reginald Brinston, the Commissioner of Police, for some days. He is prepared to certify they are correct and incontestable."
"Then who are you?" Sam Cohen asked the question bluntly.
"I am Lily Dalton, the school chum and adopted sister of Lizzie Carson. It was she who came to me when I was at Long Bay, falsely sworn to prison by Wilbur Orchard. It was Lizzie Carson who gave me a home and a refuge, and provided me with the opportunity and means to assume the identity of the Tiger Lily, and to clear myself from the shame that man placed upon me."
"Then we have to arrange with this young lady for the repayment of the loan her father, Colin Carson, made this company?" Sir Henry looked puzzled. "Will you give me the name of your solicitor, Miss Carson?"
"That is not necessary." Lizzie smiled slightly as she took the document Lily handed her and passed it to the Chairman of the Board. "This document will solve the mystery of the Carson Loan."
"What is this?" Sir Henry took the deed and opened it. "Why, it's—"
"The original loan deed, duly discharged," concluded the fair girl.
"But, my dear young lady, this gift—" Sir Henry hesitated, and fumbled with his glasses. "Its very good of you to suggest such a thing, but the Board really can't—do you realise you are offering the Board an immense fortune?"
"There is no fortune, Sir Henry," Lizzie spoke earnestly. "When my father came back from Europe he applied to the company for repayment of the loan. It was repaid by Mr. Orchard, I believe out of his private money, and from borrowings. Only my father's copy of the loan deed was endorsed. It is evident Mr. Orchard planned this fraud from the very commencement."
"A MOST unusual story." Sir Henry Schillington sat back in his chair and addressed his fellow directors. "Miss—er—Carson has, however, convinced me that the story is true. Have you anything to say, Inspector?"
"Nothing, sir. I suggest the Board adjourn. Of course, you understand I have my duty to perform."
"I hold warrants for the arrest of Mr. Wilbur Orchard and Mr. Samuel Brene."
"Quite so. I rather expected that. Dear me. What a pity. Gentlemen, the Board meeting is adjourned."
Sir Henry rose from his seat, and without looking at Wilbur Orchard, opened the managing director's room door.
"Miss Carson, I shall be obliged if you and Miss Dalton will give me a few moments in this room. Mr. Thornton, too, please."
"Harry, you old scoundrel." Rugh sprang forward as he entered the room, to clasp Harry Sutherland's hand. "What are you hiding here for. Why didn't you come in to the bust-up."
"Couldn't stand two broken heads in one Board room," grinned the journalist, indicating his bandaged head. "Besides, I was out of it. Had other fish to fry."
He looked at the investigator with a comical grin an his face. Lizzie Carson, on entering the room, had come direct to his side.
"Heard about it, you old fraud." Rugh seized Harry's hand again and shook it, until the journalist wrenched it away. "Playing possum in Hospital, were you?"
"Mr. Thornton"—Sir Henry crossed to the small group—"I have not had an opportunity to express to you my personal thanks, and the thanks of the Board. We shall, I can assure you, be most grateful for your fine work, and—er—shall know how to appreciate it."
"Really, I have done very little, Sir Henry," said Rugh soberly. "The credit for solving the Carson Loan Case and the Little Bay Murder belongs almost entirely to Miss Dalton and Miss Carson."
"Our principal performances," interjected Harry, with a broad grin, "being the acquisition of cracked heads as the preliminary to being interesting invalids."
"Ah, quite so." Sir Henry turned to the girl. "Miss Carson, although you have relieved us from a very large liability there remain, I believe, certain formalities our auditors will insist on. I shall be glad if you will let me know the name of a solicitor who will act for you, during the formalities I have indicated."
"I shall refer you to Mr. Sutherland," said Lizzie, with a blush. "He is assuming all my business worries."
"Mr. Sutherland." Sir Henry blinked. "I—er—understood Mr. Sutherland was a journalist, not a solicitor."
"I have lately been soliciting most successfully, Sir Henry." The journalist caught Lizzie's hand in his.
"Ha! ha!" the Chairman of Directors laughed. "Very neat. That means I am to congratulate you."
Rugh slipped across the room to where Lily was seated in a low lounge chair. The girl looked tired and welcomed him with a wan smile.
"You know my secret now, Rugh," she whispered, as he seated himself on the arm of her chair. "You know—"
"I know that you are no longer a Mystery Girl," Rugh said softly. "You are a Wonder Girl, my Wonder Girl."
"Rugh, I have been in prison."
"Then the prison became a palace, dear. Forget it, as everyone else will."
"Do you think Wilbur Orchard will confess?"
"What if he does not?"
Inspector Richards entered the room rather hurriedly, and walked across to Lily, holding out his hand.
"Let me be the first to congratulate you, Miss Dalton," he said. "Wilbur Orchard has confessed not only the Carson Loan Fraud, but that he placed those notes in your bag because he had discovered you had knowledge that Carson had been repaid the loan money."
"There's a third congratulation due, Richards," grinned the investigator. "On the acquisition of a blunder-brained amateur detective who cannot keep his wooden head out of trouble."
Richards looked puzzled for a moment. Then he grasped Rugh's hand and shook it vigorously.
"Well, I'm blessed. Rugh Thornton and the Tiger Lily. I beg your pardon, Miss Dalton. The name slipped out—"
"Please don't." The air of lassitude had slipped from the girl. "I am going to confess. I am proud of the name."
Richards turned to the other group to spread his good news.
"The Tiger Lily," murmured Rugh softly, resuming his seat on the arm of her chair. "My Tiger Lily."
"Do you think you can tame the Tiger Lily. Rugh?" asked the girl, looking up into his eyes.
His arm around her shoulder tightened reassuringly.
"Then—" The girl leaned forward for a minute and then relaxed into his arms again. She caught his hand in hers. On his palm lay a thin bladed knife, resembling an Italian stiletto.
Rugh looked round on the gay group the other side of the room.
"I wish the world was one big lonely spot," he whispered gently. Then bent to meet her lips.
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