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Title: In Barkstone Lane Author: Fred M. White * A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook * eBook No.: 1601361h.html Language: English Date first posted: Dec 2016 Most recent update: Jan 2017 This eBook was produced by Maurie Mulcahy. 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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JAMES LIPCHIN, Lechmere's elderly clerk, tapped on his master's office door with what impatience he dared, then smote agitatedly on the panels, rising to a crescendo of blows. The door of the private inner office had been closed and locked this two hours past, and the cheap American clock in Lipchin's tank pointed to 5.
Then panic gripped the decrepit little old clerk, and he fled into the corridor of the dingy block of offices in Barkstone Lane, and piped feebly for assistance. Up the broken stairway from the ground floor came another white slave in the shape of a pert little Cockney, whistling some choice fragment of song.
"Hello, Methuselum," he hailed. "Why this unseemly 'urry? Old Noah Lechmere given you the boot?"
"Can't make him hear," Lipchin piped in his aged treble. "Been locked in his room since just after 3. Can't make him hear anyhow. What shall I do, what shall I do?"
"Break the lock," first aid said promptly. "Old gentleman ill, perhaps. Come on."
The lock of the broken door gave at the first attempt. An old man sat at a desk at right angles to the only window in the room and within a foot or so of it. The window was wide open, for it was hot and sultry that afternoon, and the narrow Lane, with its steady stream of traffic rumbling on the cobbles below drew no breath of air. The old man moved not at all as the old clerk laid a trembling hand on his shoulder. Lipchin started back with a thin, wailing cry.
"Dead!" he broke out senilely. "Dead!"
"Murdered," Wigley amended, with a choke and a queer sickness at the pit of his stomach. "Murdered! Look here."
He pointed down to the floor by the side of Lechmere's desk next the window. There, on the ragged carpet, lay an old-time six-chambered revolver. It was grimed about the muzzle as if recently discharged, and on the left side of the dead man's head was the wound that had undoubtedly caused his death.
"'Ere, wake up," he gasped. "Call up the Minories police station."
A policeman appeared presently, and later on Inspector Sebohm, of Scotland Yard.
"Been long with Mr. Lechmere?" he asked.
"More or less all my life, sir. I was his chief clerk when he had one of the largest criminal practices in London. You see, sir, when he had the misfortune to be struck off the rolls 10 years ago——"
"Needn't go into that, Mr. Lipchin. Now, tell me in a few words how your late employer lived after he was struck off the roll of solicitors."
"Well, sir," Lipchin piped, "after the Barlick business the practice was as good as dead. And when we came to grief, sir, the master he opened this office as a sort of general adviser to people in trouble—folk as had done wrong."
Inspector Sebohm nodded grimly. He knew all about that. City men sailing very near the wind, company promoters desirous of knowing exactly how far they could go without coming to grips with the criminal law, had consulted Antony Lechmere, and not in vain.
"I think that will do," he said finally. "Give me the key to the little outer office where you work."
At a first glance the affair clearly suggested suicide. There was the wound on the left side of the head, there the revolver lay on the carpet to the left-hand side of the dead man as if it had fallen from his fingers as the fatal bullet sped home to his brain.
Questioned as to why the office door was locked, Lipchin said that it was the habit of Mr. Lechmere when any important client called. At about half-past 3 a client had appeared and asked to see Mr. Lechmere, and passed into the inner office with a brief statement that he had come by appointment. As to the appearance of the visitor, whom Lipchin had never seen before, he was vague. A tall, gentlemanly looking individual, with small black beard and an eyeglass. Had not noticed him particularly at the time, as he, Lipchin, was busy.
Sebohm dismissed the stranger from his mind for the moment. Barkstone Lane was one of the noisiest side streets in the city with its narrowness and the rumble of traffic on the cobbles, but a shot fired in the inner office could not have escaped the attention of the old clerk in the tank outside. The inner office, facing the Lane, was on the first floor and some 15 feet above the level of the street, so there would have been no attack from that direction. And the revolver with one cartridge exploded lay on the floor.
Sebohm looked out of the window into the street, now comparatively quiet, since the exodus from the city had begun long ago. The offices all along the other side were closed and silent. Nearly opposite a tall thin, sandwich of a building shrouded in scaffoldings had been abandoned for the day by the bricklayers and masons who were working on it. Was it possible, Sebohm wondered, if any of the artisans engaged there had heard the shot fired. The distance was only a matter of yards. The inspector made a mental note of the fact.
Nothing in the office of the slightest importance. Absolutely nothing on the desk beyond a copy of that day's "Bulletin" lying open with the first page uppermost, the page that contained the agony column of that extremely popular journal. One of these items caught Sebohm's eye; it had a pencil tick against it, a blue pencil very like the one that lay in a pen-tray within reach of the dead man's hand. It ran:—
"Binks.—Friday at 3.30.
Otherwise wire. Banks."
Well, this was Friday, and at half-past 3 or thereabouts Lechmere had entertained a mysterious visitor who gave no name. And against this notice somebody had made a tick. And there was the very blue pencil lying on the pen-tray. A little farther down the column was another of these queer announcements that caught the keen eye of the inspector, thus:—
"Black Bag.—Armistice arranged.
All hands report duty Monday.
Provisional terms arrived at.
To-morrow last day. Dispatch Case."
Sebohm smote himself on the thigh.
"That's an idea," he told his inner self. "At any rate worth following up. This is where Izzy Finklebaum comes in, unless I am altogether mistaken. We shall see."
With that, Inspector Sebohm locked the outer door of the office, and after officially sealing it walked down the Lane and thence into the busy bustle of Leadenhall street.
AN hour after the adjourned inquest on Lechmere, Sebohm strolled back to his office, where he found a subordinate patiently awaiting him.
"Well?" he asked. "Have you found him?"
"I have that, sir," the plain-clothes man replied. "Hiding in a little second-hand clothes shop in the Minories. With a compatriot named Sheerman. Got the address here, sir."
"He has no idea you are looking for him, Gratton?"
"Oh, dear, no, sir," the other explained. "Directly I marked him down I came back here, as instructed."
It was still daylight as Sebohm turned into the mean street of the Minories and entered a beetle-browed shop, fragrant with the sour, pungent smell of second-hand clothes. A few minutes later he found himself face to face with a diminutive Jew, who proceeded to tie himself into a series of sinuous knots, as if his writhing body was racked with pain.
"Strike me blind if it isn't the inspector," he moaned. "Oi, Oi, vat a dreadful business. I never did it, I'll thwear!"
"Then why are you hiding here?" Sebohm demanded. "It's three days since Mr. Lechmere died, and you have lain low here ever since. When did you see Mr. Lechmere last?"
"For the love of God, don't do it, sir," the Jew moaned. "It's as bad as taking me and throwing me into the Thameth. Better cut my throat than thay a thingle word. Becauth they know—thee?"
With this, Izzy gave another writhe, and from his waistcoat pocket produced a slip of dirty paper, on which a few pregnant lines had been typed by an uncertain hand, thus:—
Don't you do it, Izzy, if you value your whole skin. We are fly to the game, see? We know who pulls the nuts for the old man when it is to his advantage to get, you know who, out of the way. Move an inch, and your light goes out, as his has done. That's all.
"When did you get this?" Sebohm demanded.
"Three nights ago, sir," Izzy whined. "Posted to the lodgings where I wath. I'm scared sthiff; I am, thir."
"As a matter of fact, you have nothing whatever to fear," the inspector smiled. "On the contrary, you will probably save your life by making a clean breast of things, Izzy, you know perfectly well where that precious paper came from."
"I thwear to you, Mithter Sebohm——"
"Now, what is the good, Izzy?" Sebohm said, coaxingly. "Look here, I know that the late Mr. Lechmere trafficked these later days in stolen goods. We didn't interfere because, sooner or later, Lechmere always gave away his principals. But he didn't do that sort of thing direct, Izzy, he always employed a go-between. And that go-between was mostly yourself. Oh, we know all about it. Now, what I suggest is that some criminal, or more likely two of them working together, had a quarrel with Lechmere. They threatened him, and he decided to put them out of the way. And you were the fitting instrument for the dirty job. What are you afraid of?"
An evil light crept into the eyes of the hunted Izzy. He pointed with a shaking hand at the paper in Sebohm's fingers.
"That," he screamed. "Just that, Mithter. Becauth those devils piped the game. If you knew as much about Mat the Major, and Flash Fingall as I do——"
Izzy pulled up, as if conscious of having gone too far. Perhaps the puzzled expression on the inspector's face tended to reassure him, for he laughed unsteadily, which was a mistake, because Sebohm could be as wooden as any country lout when occasion called for stupidity.
"Oh, well, if you won't, you won't," he said. "Only you are making a great mistake. Izzy."
Sebohm retreated presently with the slightly dejected air of one who has failed in his mission. But there was nothing dejected about him, once he was back in his office in close consultation with his fidus Achates, Detective Sergeant Gratton.
"Any luck, sir?" the latter asked respectfully.
"Not so bad," Sebohm smiled. "Mat Butler and Flash Fingall are in this, and that will be your business. See? And one last word, Gratton—you are up against two of the most reckless gunmen in the world. I don't want any police shootings on this side. Looks so bad, and, besides, we never have that sort of thing in England."
"Quite so, sir," Gratton murmured. "You can leave it to me."
IT was only a matter of a few days before Gratton, like a mole underground, came on the track of the two wanted men. More than that, he contrived to get some sort of intelligent grip on what scheme they were plotting. It was a big thing, and needed money, so what was more natural than that they should apply to Antony Lechmere with a view to financing them?
"It's all right, sir, so far," he told Sebohm. "Those chaps were in communication with Lechmere."
"That you can prove?" Sebohm snapped.
Gratton smiled, and when he had finished his story, Sebohm was smiling too.
"Excellent," he said. "And now you can lay those rascals by the heels as soon as you like. But they'll fight?"
"I think not, sir," Gratton said confidently. "You see, Mat Buller—the Major—is the live wire of the party, and he is the man likely to give most trouble. About three nights a week he goes to the Jessamine Club in Carlton Place to dance. Rare good dancer he is. And most nights Flash Fingall goes to some theatre. He will be at the Haymarket to-morrow, and I know that the Major intends to look in at the Jessamine. Clawhammer coat, white waistcoat—all up to the nines. The same with Fingall. Nobble the latter in the crush coming out, before he can get at his gun, and with three of my men, disguised as waiters, rush Buller as he stands at the bar of the club——"
"Sounds all right," Sebohm murmured. "I think that I will look in at the Jessamine myself to-morrow evening."
"Very good, sir," Gratton said. "I'll make arrangements whereby my men at the Jessamine control the telephone, and when we have picked up Fingall at the Haymarket, Mason there can 'phone us of the fact to the Jessamine. Pretty sound scheme, I think, sir."
It was shortly after midnight when Sebohm strolled into the big dancing saloon of the Jessamine, the floor of which was crowded. He was not afraid of being recognised by the men wanted, who, so far as be knew, had never heard of Inspector Sebohm. Not that it mattered much either way, because the Major was not in the least likely to be scared by the contiguity of a mere detective inspector, especially as he knew he was not "wanted" by the London police. So Sebohm threw himself carelessly down into a seat, and ordered a drink. A very alert waiter came presently with a whisky and soda. On the tray was a tiny slip of paper that Sebohm casually glanced at and placed in his pocket. It was a brief intimation to the effect that Fingall had been quietly arrested outside the Haymarket theatre, and was now in safe custody. There were three other words at the end of the message that filled Sebohm with quiet satisfaction.
Meanwhile, he could afford to wait upon events. He watched the room fill up, he noted the glare and bustle and the air of gaiety, like some insidious perfume that clung to the silken skirts of the dancers. Then presently he caught the eye of the waiter with the suggestion of a wink in it, and rose leisurely and strolled in the direction of the bar. A fine specimen of humanity, standing with his back to the room, riveted Sebohm's attention. A waiter in front hustled him, whilst at the same moment two other men, dressed like the first, pressed on the drinker's rear. The Major's hand slipped behind him.
"Here, what the devil——" he began.
The next moment he was struggling in the grip of the three dress-coated policemen.
"Hustle him into the office, and close the door," Sebohm commanded.
"Now, my man, I am Inspector Sebohm, from Scotland Yard, and you are my prisoner, on a charge of murdering Antony Lechmere on the afternoon of Friday last, at his office in Barkstone Lane."
Buller's handsome face darkened to savage scowl.
"Perhaps you wouldn't mind going into a few details," he sneered. "You see, I'm rather interested."
"Quite so," Sebohm said drily. "The death of Antony Lechmere——"
"Suicide," Buller corrected. "The jury said so."
"Oh, you read all about that, did you? Interested, perhaps?"
"Show me one of the big guys in our line who isn't," Buller snarled. "Kept a racing stud and a villa at Monte entirely on what he screwed out of his clients. And when the smash came he turned receiver. Made thousands that way. And whenever one of us got too fresh, he gave us away to the police. Not directly, mind, but through a dirty little tool of his who gave Scotland Yard and the New York police the office."
"Man named Finklebaum, isn't he?" Sebohm asked mildly. "Yes, I know all about him. It was he who——"
"Gave us away!" Buller shouted. "Mean to say he had the nerve after——"
"After you sent him that warning—that slip of paper? Well, not in as many words. All the same, Izzy has his uses. I know that he had his instructions so far as you and Fingall were concerned. Yes, we've got Fingall all right. He was arrested more than an hour ago, and charged with being concerned in the murder of Lechmere."
"Fingall? I haven't seen the man for weeks."
"Very likely, but you have been in close communication with him all the same. You came here from New York on the same boat, though you pretended to be strangers. But you were on a big thing together working it from two different directions, until the time came when you could meet and share the plunder. But you wanted money, and you naturally went to Lechmere to get it. He refused, and you were so foolish as to threaten him. Then you discovered by some means or other that Lechmere was going to give you away at the dramatic moment, and that Izzy was to be the informer. So Izzy had to be frightened into silence while you got Lechmere out of the way. In other words, until you had murdered him."
"How?" Buller asked hoarsely. "How?"
"We will come to that all in good time. Did you ever come across a London daily paper called the 'Bulletin'?"
"Seem to have heard of it," Buller said dully. For the first time he was showing signs of nerve strain. "What about it?"
"We shall also come to that all in good time," Sebohm went on in the same even voice. "I suggest that when you crossed the Atlantic you had all your plans cut and dried in case Lechmere proved recalcitrant. If he agreed to come in with you, well and good; if not, you would have to use threats, because when you left New York you were in very low water financially. He did prove awkward, and you feared he would put us on your track."
"He was a cursed rat," Buller said thickly.
"Precisely. And a dangerous rat to be made into an example. Fingall saw him once or twice at the office in Barkstone Lane, and came to the conclusion that Lechmere must be removed. I know that, because Lechmere's old clerk recognised Fingall, despite his false black beard. I showed him photographs with beard and without it. Those pictures were supplied us by the New York authorities. Fingall called on Lechmere on the afternoon of his death. At that very moment you were not 15 yards away."
"Prove it," Buller shouted. "Prove it."
"Fingall went into the office in Barkstone Lane last Friday afternoon to try and come to terms at the eleventh hour. With him he carried an old pattern of an American navy revolver. It was fully loaded, but one chamber had been recently fired. When Fingall went away he very quietly placed the weapon by the side of Lechmere's chair next the window overlooking the Lane, and immediately left. He gave a sign to you and walked down the street."
Buller stood there, swaying to and fro with a white, set expression on his face. But he was not quite beaten yet.
"What's all this leading to?" he demanded.
By way of reply, Sebohm produced from his pocket the identical copy of the "Bulletin" which he had found on Lechmere's desk.
"Now, look at this," he said. "I mean that paragraph in the personal column. 'Black Bag to Dispatch Case.' It says, 'Armistice signed. All hands report for duty Monday. Terms arranged. To-morrow last day.'"
"Much too subtle for me," Buller sneered.
"Not at all. It is an intimation from one individual to another that the builders' strike has been settled, and that all hands go back to work last Monday, as they did. When I read that paragraph in the dead man's office it jumped to the eye that Lechmere's murderers had suddenly realised that if they wanted to use the scaffolding and hoardings opposite Lechmere's office as a smoke screen for the intended crime, they had no time to spare. So long as that newly-erected building was deserted in consequence of the strike and the hoardings up, a man concealed behind them could see directly into Lechmere's open window and shoot him down without fear of discovery. And that is exactly what happened. You were hidden there, waiting for the signal from Fingall, and directly you got it in your hiding place opposite, you fired. You shot Lechmere through a hole in the poster on the hoarding, and the stain of the powder is on the edges of the tear now, because I cut the piece out. The revolver with one cartridge exploded, before dropping the weapon by Lechmere's chair, was an ingenious way of suggesting suicide, and probably had I not found this copy of the 'Bulletin' on Lechmere's desk I should never have got on the right track. Of course, you had to run the risk of the shot being beard, but it was small, with the noise of the traffic on the cobbles on Barkstone Lane. And now, if I can prove to you——Yes, what is it, Gratton?"
Gratton came quietly into the little room, holding some bright object in his hand.
"Here you are, sir," he said. "I found it in the prisoner's lodgings, at the bottom of a Gladstone bag."
"Ah, the other revolver," Sebohm said quietly. "The fellow to the one found in Lechmere's office, and undoubtedly the weapon with which the crime was committed. How amazingly careless some of you brilliant criminals are. Do you want to hear any more?"
But Buller had heard enough.
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