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The League of Five:
Aidan de Brune:
eBook No.: 1700951h.html
Date first posted: Sep 2017
Most recent update: Mar 2023
This eBook was produced by Terry Walker, Colin Choat and Roy Glashan
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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.
From Lithgow Mercury, 24 July 1930
Mysterious Sydney Band
Readers who remember Aidan de Brune's serial, "The Little Grey Woman," which we published some time ago, will be pleased to know that to-morrow we will commence a new story by this popular Australian author entitled "The League of Five."
The plot is laid mostly in Sydney, and centres round a mysterious band which goes under the name from which the tale takes its name. A love interest threads through the most sensational happenings, and it is one of the best stories we have offered readers for some time.
"GAME and rubber." Frank Carslake, a tall, dark, well-built man, carrying the winds of open spaces on his face pushed back his chair and strolled to the window. "Jove, it's hot in here!"
"Should be, when Andrew Roche is playing bridge." Slender and fair-haired, with boyish, clean-shaven features, Maurice Ottly swung round from the player-piano to face the group around the green-table. "What few cheques I get in the future I shall give to my bankers. To hazard them at the green cloth where our friend reigns supreme is—no, it isn't hazard—it's a certainty."
"Contributions thankfully received!" The stout, dark youth at the table swept the cards together and shuffled them. "Now I know where to come when I'm down and out. Say, Lynnex, quite a nice little place you have here. First time I've dared to enter the portals of Tower Square. Just the place for a rising young man about town."
"Queer show." Carslake turned at the window. "Built round a square court, like four houses joined round the village duck-pond! Still, it looks comfortable. Best place I've come across for the man who has to live in the heart of Sydney—and can afford it."
"Quiet enough." Roche left the table and joined Carslake at the window. "Say, Lynnex, who lives over there?"
"Where?" Murray Lynnex, the owner of the chambers, strolled to where Roche and Carslake stood. "Behind those lit windows? Oh, they're Anton Sinclair's rooms."
"Anton Sinclair!" Carslake glanced furtively at his companions. "Whew! That's broke it! Don't think I could be comfortable so close to that brute."
"The damned cur!" Godfrey Stephen, the fifth member of the party, went to the sideboard and poured himself a stiff drink. "Why—?"
A silence fell on the five men. Carslake left the window and threw himself in a chair. Lynnex remained at the window, furtively scanning his companions, a slight, smile curving his lips.
"I may have a reason for living here," he said, after a considerable pause.
"A reason for living near Anton Sinclair?" Roche turned suddenly.
"Queer sort of taste! Faugh! It make me sick to even see the place where the scoundrel lives."
"I'm not one of you." The big man in the chair spoke abruptly. "Say Lynnex, why did you invite me here to-night? When I came I thought it was for a mild gamble—but we haven't gambled. We've played some sort of bridge, carelessly. I'm out half a note. I don't thing one of us is in or out more. What's your game? Did you invite us here to have a look at that brute's—"
"There was a girl, Carslake." Lynnex spoke quietly, his keen grey eyes fixed on the other's face. "There was a girl who—"
"Damn you! Hold your tongue!"
"Sit around the table." Lynnex strode to his seat, his voice tense. "Carslake's quite correct. I didn't invite you here for a gamble. There's a tale I have to tell. First, I must ask your pardon for a small deception." He turned to Godfrey Parsons. "Gentlemen, may I make you known to Mr. Godfrey Stephen Parsons. I think you have all heard of him."
"Godfrey Parsons!" Ottly sprang from his seat, "God, I—"
"Godfrey Parsons," Lynnex interrupted. "Three years ago Godfrey Parsons was warned off all racecourses in Australia for practices he denied, but could not refute. Have you thought to connect Godfrey Parsons with the—the man behind the lights in the window across the square?"
"You mean Anton Sinclair?" Carslake learned forward, his eyes searching his host's face.
"I mean Anton Sinclair." Lynnex's voice was even. "Mr. Parsons will pardon me and understand, when I tell you that three days ago he was in Pitt-street, begging a few coins for a meal. He spoke to me. I recognised him and brought him here. He told me his story and I believed him. He is here, my guest. I have asked you to meet him. No, not to listen to his account of how Anton Sinclair schemed to use and betray him. You can guess that. Carslake, I spoke of a girl. Is it necessary for me to tell the story to convince you?"
A silence came over the men. Murray Lynnex glanced round. He read the tenseness of overdrawn nerves; the flicking hope of some intangible good coming out of this probing of the past—and smiled.
"Maurice Ottly." His voice came, as a whisper; yet clearly audible to every man in the room. "Once you were the son of a rich man. Stephen Ottly was known and respected in the business world of Australia. He was a stock and share broker; keen, ambitious and successful. He had a friend he trusted, one Anton Sinclair. How and in what manner Sinclair persuaded your father to undertake a gigantic gamble with him without the usual security against personal loss will perhaps never be known. Possibly one might guess. Your father trusted Sinclair. The speculation failed. Sinclair disclaimed all knowledge of it and your father had not a line of writing to show that he was only an agent. He was declared bankrupt. A charge of fraud was spoken of—and he took the only one way open to him."
"Lynnex! How did you know this?"
"Albert Roche." Murray ignored Ottly's exclamation. "Two years ago you were high in the service of the Commonwealth of Australia. New cruisers were being designed for the Australian navy. The plans were in your charge and contained some, very important and unusual inventions. The authorities found that a naval power had copies of those plans. You acknowledged that it was impossible for anyone to gain access to them. You were allowed to resign from the Government and for months walked the streets of Melbourne, starving—fearing every day to hear that you had been proclaimed a traitor to your country and race."
"God. You know that?"
"Lynnex!" Carslake was on his feet, his eyes growing angrily. "Why have you brought us here? Why have you laid bare the secrets we thought were hidden in the past? You are not a blackmailer; a scoundrel like the man whose light shines in at your window. What is your object? Where do we come in on this?"
"What has Anton Sinclair done to you, Murray Lynnex?" The dark, secretive face of Albert Roche peered across the table at his host.
"What has Anton Sinclair done to me?" A look of watchful defiance came over the keen, clever face of the young man. "For the moment, nothing. A month ago he wrote to me, a strange, insidious letter. I became suspicious and sought out his history. I came on your stories. I believed I was fated to join my ruined life with yours, to bolster up the inordinate greed of this man. I determined to fight back. Throughout Australia I found agents. Day by day, as the tale amounted against this blackmailer, I recognised that I must surrender to his demands, or fight, successfully. I—"
He rose abruptly and went to the window. For moments he stood, staring out, his eyes straining to the lights high up on the opposite building. At length he turned and walked back to the table.
"From the day I received that letter I have strived to piece together the history of Anton Sinclair—and his victims. In my desk is a book recording the histories of more than a score of men and women Anton Sinclair, in his lust for money, has driven to despair and death. From those injured persons I have sought out you—men, young and vilely injured. To-night I have invited you here. Why?" He bent forward searching the faces upturned to his. "Why? Because I believed I could read behind the masks you wore—the thoughts that clamoured night and day in my brain."
"You mean—murder?" Ottly spoke the last word in a whisper.
"I mean—justice." Lynnex swung savagely on the man. "Is it murder to shoot down a mad dog biting and poisoning all who chance in his way? Is it murder to kill a snake, lurking on the path with bared, poison fangs? Is it murder, to hang the taker of life? That man has taken more than life from hundreds!"
"By God, I'm with you!" Carslake sprang to his feet, his fist crashing on the table. "But, how? I'm game, but I don't fancy the rope for scrunching that skunk."
"Perhaps there will not be a rope—I think not." A light shone in Murray's, eyes. "I believe I have a plan that means safety for the one chosen as—executor. It has meant money. Thank heaven, I have that." He strode to the desk and took from a drawer five pocket-books, placing them on the table. "There is money. A thousand pounds in each book. In the drawer in the hall-stand there is another book. That book contains the necessary directions and instructions for gaining entrance to Anton Sinclair's rooms, for opening the safes where he keeps the information on which he battens. The scheme is complete; it only needs the hand. One thing remains—to shelter the man who strikes. I believe I have safeguarded him. I will act, if you—"
"One moment, Lynnex." Roche spoke carelessly. "I am not going to disagree with what you said. I'm with you, all through. You've hinted that your scheme is a one-man job. You infer that you would like to elect yourself, but my claim is, I believe, paramount."
"We must all have a hand in it." Carslake spoke abruptly. "I—"
"May I take it that we are agreed on the basic fact," Lynnex interrupted. "That there is a mad dog to be exterminated. If I am correct then I ask you to allow me to finish by proposal."
"A protection that involves all of us." Ottly spoke quietly. "If not, my claim—"
"Will you listen to me, one moment?" Lynnex took from the desk a pack of cards. "I believe I have anticipated your objections. If you will examine these cards you will notice that while the backs are printed similar to playing-cards, the fronts lack the distinguishing pips."
He threw the cards on the table, face upwards. Roche leaned forward, spreading them out. A moment, and each man's eyes turned again to Murray.
"You will notice that five cards are needed to make a complete pack." Lynnex spoke unemotionally. "These five cards I have here. Four of them bear instructions relating to four different journeys the drawers will take—immediately. I am going to ask you not to examine these cards—to take my word that they are what I state. I assure you that I have no knowledge of what is written on them. They have been prepared for me by four persons who have no knowledge of my plans, yet know Australia well enough to indicate four routes so complex that it would be difficult to trace the travellers obeying these orders."
He looked around the table. No man dissented and he continued.
"The fifth card bears the words 'Anton Sinclair.' You will appreciate the significance of that name. Whoever draws that card will take from the hall-stand the pocket book I spoke of some while ago. I ask you when you leave this room to do so singly at such intervals that will give the man who draws the lot the opportunity to obtain it, unobserved."
Again he paused; no one spoke. He shuffled the five cards into the pack. Placing the deck before Roche, he continued:
"The drawers of the four cards will start their journeys at midday to-morrow. Until they learn that 'Anton Sinclair' is—is not likely to disturb us again—they will follow the instructions on their cards. The object sought is, from this moment until sometime after Sinclair's sometime after Sinclair's death there shall be four men who will not be able to provide an alibi. Mr. Roche will you please shuffle those cards and pass them on. It is necessary that each of us shall he satisfied that the cards are properly mixed."
He turned from the table while Roche picked up the cards, sliding them rapidly through his fingers. From the desk he brought a new unbroken pack. Waiting until the blank cards came to him again, he placed them in the centre of the table.
"The rules of the game are, I believe, understood." Murray spoke quietly. "One man will receive a certain card from that pack. He will find the way made smooth for him. To protect him and share in his dangers, the remaining players will assume the position of suspects. Immediately each of the four men have memorised the instructions on the cards they draw, the cards are to be destroyed."
He paused. His eyes sought each man in turn, receiving a nod of assent. He shuffled the new pack of cards and placed them before Roche.
"Mr. Roche is shuffling a new pack of cards. Will you each shuffle in turn? When they come round to me I will deal them. To whom falls the ace of spades belongs the honour of dealing—the other pack."
The cards fell, face upwards, on the green cloth. Three times Murray dealt the circle. The first of the fourth round showed the ace of spades before Albert Roche. With a jerky laugh the young man reached for the deck of blanks.
"Wait!" Carslake rose to his feet. He crossed to the window and stared out on the silent court. Instinctively, his eyes raised to the windows of the room occupied by the man whose death they were planning.
"What's that?" His voice broke the growing tension. His companions crowded to the window, following the line of his pointing finger.
Framed in the window of Anton Sinclair's room was the form of a young girl. With an exclamation of anger, mingled with surprise, Lynnex sprang to his desk and caught up a pair of field-glasses. He took one look at the girl then passed the glasses from hand to hand. Carslake was the last man to hold them. At sight of the girl he threw them down with a cry of rage.
"God! That she should be there!" He turned and strode to the table. "Come on, you fellows! It's getting late!"
Again at the table, Roche picked up the blanks and looked around the watchful circle. As he slid forward the top card, Lynnex spoke again.
"One moment, there is a matter I have forgotten. We have yet to protect the drawer of the card."
"Do you infer that one of us is likely to turn traitor?" Ottly spoke icily.
"No." Murray's voice was cold. "We have agreed that the task belongs to one man; that the other four shall be in positions where equal suspicions shall fall on them. We have yet to pledge that the drawer of each card shall, in no circumstances, reveal what is written on the card he draws. Further, as each man draws a written card he shall place it in his pocket, unread, withdrawing from all further participation in the deal. Is that satisfactory?"
"Why not?" Carslake spoke, recklessly. "Get on with the deal, Roche, damn you!"
Again Roche rose from his seat, leaning against the table. He dealt the cards slowly, face down. At the completion of the first round he waited while each man examined the card before him. No one moved. Again he dealt, and waited. This time Parsons placed a card in his pocket, stepping back from the table.
"One!" Carslake's staccato laugh thrilled the group. Again the cards fell with a slight slither. Again and again Roche dealt until only a few cards remained in his hand. Then Ottly moved away and Roche handed the remaining cards to Carslake, resuming his seat with a little, careless laugh.
"You and I, Lynnex." The big man almost flung the cards on the table. "We'll soon come to the end of this."
Six cards fell and Lynnex raised his hand. Carslake turned the remaining cards face upwards and sought one, placing it in his pocket. Sweeping the cards into a heap, he brought decanters and glasses to the table. When each man was served he raised his glass.
"Gentlemen! A toast! To the success of the holder of the 'Anton Sinclair' card!" Draining his glass he turned and threw it out of the window. "Good-night, boys! Goodnight, Lynnex! To our next meeting! Remember, two minutes between each man leaving this room!"
THE heavy shade of the lighted lamp on the big desk was tilted at a strange angle, throwing the light on the door. In the padded swivel chair sat a stout, florid man, bending forward, his head resting on his hands, clasped on the blotting-pad. A few inches before his head stood a small, brass Buddha; the passive, carven face looking down in benign satisfaction on the partially bald head.
The room was handsomely furnished. Costly rugs littered the polished boards. Around the room ran a line of dark wood bookcases, well-filled and standing about five feet from the floor. On the book-cases were rare specimens of china and bronze. The walls held half-a-dozen paintings, each an unique example of Australian art.
Immediately opposite the seated man was the door of the room, leading through a short passage to the outer door of the chambers. On the right of the desk were big windows, screened by heavy, velvet curtains. Opposite the windows was another door, and, between it and the interior corner of the room stood two stacks of steel-filing cabinets—the one incongruous note.
A slight "tap-tap" on the panel of the door opposite the desk. The seated man did not move. Again came the tapping. A long pause and the handle turned. The door opened and a head was thrust into the room. The newcomer surveyed the scene inquisitively, his eyes resting for a time on the bowed head of the man at the desk.
"Mr. Sinclair." There was no answer. Again the man called: "Mr. Sinclair!"
The seated man did not stir. The door was pushed open and a short, slight man with thin, furtive face, stole into the room. In spite of the warmth of the night he was dressed in a long, shabby ulster coming almost to his ankles. His hat was pulled low over his eyes.
For moments he stood watching the motionless man at the desk; a puzzled frown on his face. Apparently making up his mind he closed the door. Locking it, he crept to the desk and lightly touched the head of the man. Something in the feel of the pink skin strained over the partially bald skull startled him. He moved round the desk until he stood beside the swivel chair. Again he touched the seated figure, this time on the cheek, withdrawing his hand as if bitten. He caught the man by the shoulders, shaking him roughly. The head, resting on the blotting-pad, rolled grotesquely.
"Gawd!" The man learned forward and grasped the lolling head, drawing it back. The wide-open eyes stared at him, unseeingly. The full-fleshed face was strangely pale. Under the skin a queer greyness showed.
As he pulled the head back the body rose with it; the coarse hands sliding across the blotting-pad. Between them was clasped a quaintly-embossed silver box. The lid was open and on a wisp of cotton-wool rested a large broken capsule. The intruder looked down on it, curiously.
"Struth! 'e never did that?" With a rough movement the crook dragged the corpse back until it rested in the chair. He swung the chair round and bent over the silver box, sniffing at the capsule. There was no smell. With nervous fingers he stirred it. The thing was empty. For moments he stood undecided.
At length he made up his mind. He moved the chair round so that the body faced the desk. From his pocket he took a pair of rubber gloves and drew them on. With the gloves he rubbed the chair and the desk where his hands had rested. Taking the dead man by the shoulders, he forced him forwards towards the blotting-pad, clasping the hands in their former position under the face. He went to the door and unlocked it, rubbing both handles with the gloves.
"May as well get on wi' it."
He glanced questioningly round the room.
"One, two—five sets from the book-cases from the winder, 'e sed. Then, this is it. Well, I'm not stayin' 'ere wi' that longer'n I can 'elp. Wonder wot made him say as Anton wouldn't be 'ome ternight? Looks as if sumthin's slipped."
The man bent to the bookcases. A few moments and he found the secret of the spring. He swung the cases back on their silent castors, revealing a row of three small, circular safes let into the wall. From his pockets he took a collection of tools, placing them on a chair he set handy for his work. Tentatively he fingered the knob of the middle safe—to draw back with a cry of astonishment.
"Strewth! The thin's open!" He thrust his hand into the safe, to withdraw it empty. "Nuthn' there! S'pose I must try th' others. But 'e sed th' middle safe."
The doors of the other safes were also unfastened. For minutes the crook searched vainly. The three safes were empty. With a gesture of impatience he closed the doors and pushed the stack of book-cases back into position.
"Safe's empty!" The man stood biting his glove-fingers. "Now, wot th' 'ell's that mean? 'e told he I'd find th' papers there. Well, they ain't. Now, wot's a chap ter do?"
Again beside the dead man, Duggan hesitated. At length he commenced to search the dead man's pockets. There was little in them. His eyes darted around the room, searching eagerly. Suddenly he moved around the seated figure. A small bunch of keys were hanging from a lock of the desk.
He opened a drawer and searched, unsuccessfully. Rapidly he worked through the desk, finding nothing to attract him. The top drawer on the right-hand side refused to open to any key on the bunch. Immediately the crook turned and picked up a jemmy.
The drawer yielded under pressure. He drew it open and exclaimed with delight. In it lay a small handful of silver and a big bundle of banknotes. He took out the notes and counted them.
"Two 'undred an' thirty-four of th' best, all small." The crook chuckled. "Well, that ain't had fer a 'our's work. Still, there's that." He nodded to the corpse. "Wot's more 'ere?"
His quick eyes swept the room questioningly, coming to rest on the closed door of the inner room. He waked to it and flung it open. The interior was in darkness. His searching fingers found the switch and threw it over. It was a bedroom, cosy and well-furnished. Duggan's eyes sped around the room until they came to the bed. He jumped back with a low cry of alarm. Outside the room his hand went to his hip-pocket, coming forward carrying an automatic. Holding the weapon before him he again advanced into the room.
On the bed lay a young girl, slender, fair and with a mass of corn-coloured hair. Her deep blue eyes, wide open, stared up at the crook. Duggan crept nearer. The girl was lying on the bed—not in it. His eyes swept her slender figure, coming to rest on flesh-coloured stockings. But he was not looking at the girl's legs; his eyes were on the dark cords binding her ankles. He looked at her face. Around it was a thick silk scarf.
With a quick gesture, he pulled his hat low over his eyes. "Wot's th' matter, sister?" His voice changed tone.
"No. S'pose yer can't talk wi' that in yer mouth. Jest as well, I'm thinkin'. Yer might wanter squeal an' then where'd I be? Now, wot's a bloke ter do 'ere?" As if fascinated, he moved closer to the bed, looking down into her wide, frightened eyes.
"Well, I'm damned! No, it ain't no good yer squirmin' like that. Whoever tied yer did a good job." The crook scratched the back of his neck. "Say, miss. What'll yer do if I takes that gag outer yer mouth? Squeal, or just say 'thank yer'? Can't say, of course. Well, jest nod yer 'ead. Will yer act sensible? Good!"
He untied the scarf and dropped it on the floor. Catching her by the feet he swung her round, then lifted her to a sitting position on the side of the bed.
"Wot's yer name?"
"Wot yer doin' 'ere?"
"I came to see Mr. Sinclair."
"Ugh!" The man snorted. "Nice sorter pal t'ave. Wot did yer want wi' 'im? Say, did ye—?"
"Did I what?" The girl looked up, a little smile on her lips.
"Wot did yer come t' see Mr. Anton about?"
The girl did not answer. "Nuffin' ter say, eh? Well, wot'll yer do if I leave yer tied?"
"Scream." The girl answered promptly. "But you wouldn't do that."
"Wouldn't pay yer t'shout." A smile flecked the crook's lips. "Gawd! Wouldn't yer cop it 'ot."
"'Cos. Anton's croaked it—dead, if yer understands that best."
"Mr. Sinclair dead! Oh!"
"An' you 'ere in th' rooms wi' 'im, 'an tied up." Duggan chuckled. "Wot a mess! Say, Myrtle, 'adn't yer better spill it?"
"Hadn't you better untie my hands?"
"Ain't decided that, yet. Better get yer tale orf yer chest. Then I'll know wot ter do."
"Hadn't you better take off your hat when you speak to me, Mr. Peter Duggan? Then—"
"Yer knows me?" The crook was startled. "Say, who're you?"
"Untie my hands!"
Much puzzled, the crock advanced and untied the girl's hands. She bent and released the cords binding her ankles. Ignoring the man she shook out her skirts and went to the dressing-table. Switching on the lights she examined her features, then returned to the bed and found her hand-bag. With it she returned to the mirror, to powder her face and neck. At length, satisfied with her appearance, she seated herself on the edge of the bed, facing the crook.
"How do you come to be here, Peter? Tell me your story," she commanded.
"Wot about yours?" The man spoke roughly. "Wot d'yer think yer doin'? Runnin' th' bloomin' show?"
"If I don't run this show—as you call it—Mr. Peter Duggan may have a series of sensational adventures, ending in Long Bay goal at an early hour of the morning." The girl laughed lightly, in spite of the serious undertone to her words. "Still, you've been useful, so I'll satisfy your curiosity. Mr. Sinclair was good enough to order me to call on him this evening with—with—No matter. Sufficient for you to know I could not resist him."
"With what?" Duggan was inquisitive. "Say, yer brought 'im that silver box?"
"The silver box! Yes, but—"
"An' the capsule? My, you've got pluck!"
"Th' capsule in th' box." The crook spoke impatiently.
"There was no capsule in the silver box when I handed it to Mr. Sinclair. There was a—a—" she hesitated.
"A very fine ruby ring." With sudden temper the girl sprang to her feet. "I know you, Mr. Peter Duggan. What have you done with that ring?" She bent suddenly, and from underneath her short dress produced a miniature automatic. "If you've stolen it, I'll—"
"I ain't touched it." The man protested. "If I 'ad it I'd give it back ter yer. You're one ov us, ain't yer?"
"One of you?" The girl nodded her head, gravely. "Perhaps I am. Listen, Peter. That man made me bring the ring here. I arrived soon after ten o'clock and gave him the silver box with the ring in it. He kept me talking. Then he said he had to go out for a few minutes—that he had to meet someone. I was to stay and guard the ring. When he came back he would—Oh, I can't tell you what. Anyway, he placed the box on the desk, leaving me in the room. I sat beside the desk, waiting for his return. Suddenly I was seized from behind, tied and gagged. He, or they, carried me in here and threw me on the bed, face downwards. I managed to wriggle on my back but by that time they had left the room. I never saw them. Now, you?"
"I didn't bring 'im anythin'." Duggan chuckled. "I came ter get sumthin' from 'im. When I came inter the room Anton was sitttin' at the desk wi' the silver box in 'is 'ands 'an 'is face in it. I lifted 'im up an' saw th' box. There was a broken capsule in it. That's all, 'cept Anton's dead."
"Dead!" The girl repeated, musingly. "No, that's no good, Peter. You'll have to do better than that. Come, out with it!"
"It's the truth I'm tellin' yer," the crook protested. For a long moment the girl stared at the man; then she passed him and ran to the study room; to start back with a cry of wonder. The crook followed her into the room, to stare at the desk in blank amazement.
The chair before the desk was empty; there was not a sign of the dead man in the room. On the centre of the blotting-pad stood the little silver box, the lid open, showing the cotton-wool and the broken capsule.
"Well, I'm—" With a gesture of warning the girl turned and ran back to the bedroom, beckoning Duggan to follow her. Heavy footsteps sounded in the passage.
JUDD CHAMBERS, a narrow, three-storied building, with low, oblong windows set in dingy red bricks, stands within one hundred yards of the juncture of Pitt-street and Barton-street, fronting Circular Quay. The ground floor is occupied by a feed-merchant. There is no entrance hall; visitors to the upper stories having to pass through the shop and climb the narrow, squeaking stairs. The house extends far in the rear, towards George-street.
A tenants' board, on the wall of the seed man's shop, bears the name of Jabul Ardt. The numbers of the rooms allocated are 32 and 33. To the name no business designation is attached, not even the general term 'agent' following nearly every other firm on the indicator.
Jabul Ardt's visitors do not complain of the lack of an elevator in the building. They prefer to slink in, as if seeking some rare but unobtrusive plant. They watch an opportunity to climb the rickety stairway unobserved, casting furtive glances over their shoulders. On the third floor they turn to their left and walk the length of the corridor. Jabul Ardt's offices are the last two rooms on the right-hand side. Their dirty windows, seldom cleaned, seldom opened, overlook a narrow alley-way.
Half-past eight was chiming at irregular intervals from city clocks when Charlie Budd, a sandy-headed youth of nineteen years arrived at Judd Chambers and sauntered up the stairs, pulling a large door-key from his pocket.
For more than two years he had climbed those stairs, daily hating them more and more. He hated his work; facetiously declaring himself watch-dog to the worst money-lender in Sydney. He had ambitions. Bitten by the wireless craze, he spent most of his leisure writing letters for employment, to radio companies.
He had just turned the key in the lock of room 32 when the smart, tapping of high-heels on the uncovered boards of the stairs caused him to look round. He lifted his hat with an elegant sweep and waited for the girl.
"Morning, Bessie. Bright an' early an' all that." He grinned as the girl swept past him with a dignified how. "What was it, last night? The pictures, or 'la dance'? And, more important, what was 'he' like?"
"Good morning, Mr. Budd." The girl, smart, pert and dark, crossed to a cracked mirror on the wall. From her handbag she produced various articles. For some minutes she worked over her fresh, young face, repairing the ravages of travel from her suburban home.
"Boss not in yet?"
"No trumpets 'ave sounded." Charlie cupped his ear with his hand. "No horns of the well-known Rolls-Royce in the street. No, Miss Trent. 'Is 'ighness still lingers over the matutinal chop and hegg."
"Chop and egg, indeed!" The girl tossed her head. Seating herself, she uncovered a battered typewriter. "Jabul's too mean for 'chop and egg'. More'n likely he's dunning some poor goat for interest—and a cup of tea and toast with it."
"Hard heart!" Charlie sighed lugubriously. "Not even for our kind boss has she a soft word. Oh, woman! Woman!"
"Chuck it, Charlie! You make me tired." Bessie took some papers from a drawer. "Damn! Charlie, shove another piece of card under the leg of this desk. It's rocking again. Got the borers in it—like some people I know."
The youth grinned, and, finding a piece of cardboard, stuffed it under the rickety leg. He rose to his feet with a grunt: "There!"
"You really are a darling, sometimes." The girl spoke judicially.
"My duty, m'am," Charlie's grin broadened. "Am I to take that for a proposal? It's leap-year, y'know."
"Marry you!" Bessie's bright eyes-swept the youth. "No-o, I don't think so, Charlie; but don't die of a broken heart. You're not my style—wouldn't be if you had all Jabul's money."
"Which ain't such a—" He broke off as a well-known step sounded in the corridor. "Setting your cap at the boss? Oh, my!"
The girl started to move, to dive down to one of the drawers as a red-faced, portly man loomed in the door-way. With a curt "Good morning," Charlie crossed to the other desk and dropped the door-key in a drawer.
Jabul Ardt stood in the door-way surveying his staff with small, rat-like eyes. He was slightly over medium height, and gross in build. His head was small and set far back on his shoulders. His eyes were close-set and well above the line of his ears. He was dressed in a greasy frock-coat and wore a "hard-hitter" hat many sizes too small for him.
"Good morning, Charlie! Good morning Bessie! Ha! Ha! It's the early bird that catches the worm."
"Damn-fool worm." The girl muttered. "If he'd stayed in bed he wouldn't have provided 'chop and egg' for the hungry bird."
"Anything for me, Charlie?" Jabul grinned at the few words of the girl's aside he had caught. "Expecting a parcel—parcel of papers—not too big. No? You look bright and happy this fine morning, Bessie."
"Miss Trent, to you, please, Mr. Ardt."
The rattle of the keys of the typewriter increased, viciously. "I leave the 'Bessie' under the hall-mat at home."
"No parcels, Mr. Ardt." Charlie spoke carelessly. He opened the letter-box behind the door and produced half a dozen letters. "Small mail! That means journeys to Liverpool-street for me, I guess."
"No parcels?" The big man's face blanched. He recovered his composure with an effort. "Liverpool-street, Charlie? Oh, you mean the Summons Court! Think I'm as hard-hearted as that?"
"Don't have to think! Only 'ardt' in name, so far as I knows," the youth muttered as the man turned to the next office. "Of all the glorified—"
A bell rang shrilly. Charlie slid from his stool and went out of the door. He returned quickly. "Got to ring up Anton Sinclair, at Tower Square," he muttered, "Why the blazes couldn't he have told me that before he left the room? Making me run after him."
"Anton Sinclair!" Bessie looked up. "Say, Charlie, Jabul's mighty fond of Sinclair these past few weeks."
"Lent him money, I suppose."
"Don't be silly." The girl laughed. "Why, Sinclair's a millionaire. He could, eat up Jabul every hour of the day—and forget it."
"By weight? Might before lunch, then."
The youth grinned. He turned to the telephone and dialled a number. "Say, Bessie, what's the joke? Inviting himself to lunch at Tower Square? Jabul never uses the 'phone unless he gets something out of it. That B07659? Yes. Mr. Anton Sinclair's chambers? Mr. Sinclair in?"
He listened, a puzzled frown growing on his face. With a word of thanks he replaced the receiver and turned to the girl.
"Anton went out last night, hasn't returned. Told his man at seven o'clock that he didn't want him any more that day. When he came back this morning he found that Anton wasn't in his room, though someone had lain down on the bed. He seems worried."
"Tell it to the boss." Bessie shook her curls. "No use to me unless someone's found out that he's dead and that I'm the long-lost infant he abandoned on a doorstep eighteen years ago. And ma's against that. She weighs eighteen stone and a bit."
"Gosh. A stone for every year of your age. Say, Bessie, what's going to happen when your annual arithmetic fails? Ma'll have to take to reducing tablets."
He went out of the door, to return with his face alight with wonder. "Say Bessie, there's something up."
He spoke in a loud whisper. "When I told Jabul he went white. Put his head down in his hands and groaned. 'Lor'! I took it for a groan. Sounded like a young calf wanting a drink."
"Missed his lunch." Bessie giggled.
"Oh!" Charlie swung round to face a swarthy-featured man, standing in the door-way. The newcomer was a foreigner. His eyes were dark and sparkling; across his upper lip straggled a long, narrow moustache, the ends twisted tight and curled upwards. From the small ears were dependant two gold ear-rings.
"Mistar Jabul Ardt—he is in?" The man spoke in smooth, southern-European accents. "Ye-es? I would see heem."
"What name?" Charlie shoved a chair towards the man. "Sit down. It's the only thing we don't charge for here."
"There es no name. Say to Mistar Ardt thees: 'Fleming wanta heem!'"
A gesture refused the chair. The man leaned against the door-post, moving slightly to allow the youth to pass. His eyes wandered over the room to come to rest on the girl. He remained staring at her.
"Next door. Go on in." Charlie spoke from the corridor. He watched until the man entered Ardt's room then sped to Bessie's desk.
"Say, old thing! There's a beano on. When I told Jabul, 'Fleming wanta heem' I thought he'd have a fit. Just doubled up and gasped like a shark out of water; Lord! You should have seen his face. Thought I'd have to—"
"Mr. Jabul Ardt in?" Charlie swung round to see a slight, medium-built man sidle in at the door. "Name is Duggan—Peter Duggan."
"Mr. Ardt's engaged. Someone just gone in."
"That's all right, sonny." The man sat down on a chair. "Jest tell 'im I'm 'ere an' waitin.' See?" He slipped back to the seat. The youth hesitated.
Jabul Ardt was particular that he should not he disturbed when he had a client with him. But, was the foreigner a client? Was this newcomer a client? He could ask that.
"Want to see him on business?"
"Yep. Hurry up'!"
Reluctantly, Charlie went to the door to room 33. He knocked and listened. There was no answer. He turned the handle, pushed open the door and peered in, There was no one in the office.
Where had Jabul Ardt and his visitor gone to? Charlie knew he would have seen or heard them, if they had come down the passage. Jabul was a man of weight, walking heavily. The foreigner was lighter, but the floor-boards creaked. He could always hear the money-lender moving about his office end suddenly remembered that for some minutes the place had been remarkably silent.
A sound behind him attracted his attention. He turned to face the predatory eyes of the crook.
"Wot's th' matter, sonny?"
Without waiting for an answer Duggan pushed past the clerk, flinging the door right back. For a moment he searched the room with quick eyes, then entered. Charlie followed him.
"Gone!" The crook looked around him, inquisitively. "Thought you sed 'e wos engaged?"
"A man came to see him, just before you arrived," the clerk exclaimed. "I'll swear he came in here."
"Then where is 'e?" Duggan grinned, perplexedly. He crossed to the window and flung it up, peering down on the little lane. He learned far out, testing the strength of a pipe passing down the wall. "Wot sort ov a bloke wos this 'ere chap?"
"Foreigner; moustache curled at the ends; gold rings on his ears; dark." Charlie ticked off the points of the man.
"Seafaring man could'a done it." Duggan drew in his head. "Close the door, sonny. We don't wanter crowd ere."
Charlie caught the edge of the door, and swung it; to jump back with a cry of amazement.
Trussed up with ropes and gagged, Jabul Ardt stood behind the door, straining at them with wide, frightened eyes.
The shrill ring of the telephone bell broke the spell that had fallen over man and youth. Duggan sprang forward, searching his pockets for a knife with which to cut the ropes. Charlie ran to the public office. When he returned the money-lender was seated in his chair, in earnest conversation with the crook.
"Mr. Ardt!" The youth spoke breathlessly. "Sanderson has just telephoned. Wants to know if you've seen Mr. Sinclair to-day. When I said you'd been inquiring for him he said he believed something had happened, and that he was going to call in the police."
"The police!" Jabul sprang to his feet. "The fool! The damned fool! He'll ruin us!"
"Sit down!" Duggan forced the agitated man back in his chair. He turned to the clerk. "You—you get ter 'ell outer this! Quick!"
"THAT'S all you know?" Inspector Paull sat beside Anton Sinclair's desk, looking up at the man before him.
"You're Arthur Sanderson. You're Anton Sinclair's man. You've been with him nine months. You left last night soon after seven o'clock. Say, where did Mr. Sinclair dine?"
"I brought up dinner from the restaurant, sir." Sanderson, a round-shouldered, slender man with a weak chin, answered respectfully. It was impossible to conceive Sanderson other than respectful—the ideal manservant. To the Inspector his subservience was wearying.
"You brought up dinner from the restaurant! He had it in here, I suppose."
"There is a dining-room to the suite, sir."
"'Course. After you left the chambers where did you go?"
"Home, sir. I have a wife and child."
"Where do you live?"
"Alfred-street, Redfern, sir."
"English, ain't you? Thought so. Not so much of the 'sir,' 'tisn't Australian."
"Yes, si—I mean, yes."
"Say 'Yes, Inspector, that's right.' When did you come back to the flat?"
"This morning, si—Inspector."
"So! Nothing disturbed? No corpse? No robbery? What the hell do you mean by ringing up the police? What's the good of a burglary when there's nothing burgled? What's the good of a murder if you can't produce the corpse?"
"'Tisn't like Mr. Sinclair, Inspector sir. He don't do such things. He goes out at night, like other gents. Sees a bit of life; has a few friends in here playing cards. But I've never found him missing before when I've come in the mornings."
The man turned from the police officer and wandered disconsolately around the room. Inspector Paull watched him. What was he to do?
He had been in the superintendent's office when the call came that Anton Sinclair had disappeared. Superintendent Manners had asked him to look into the matter. He had come to Tower Square in eager anticipation. Things had been slack at Police Headquarters of late. A murder; a sensational disappearance; a first-class burglary would be to the good. The newspapers would give it a big space, particularly in view of the standing of Tower Square. The name of Inspector Paull would face the citizens when they opened their newspapers. That led to promotion.
And, at Tower Square he had been faced with negatives. Anton Sinclair had not been murdered; he had not been abducted, not robbed. Paull mopped his face. There was not a single point to start from, yet something had happened. Why should this man-servant be so concerned over his master's absence?
He had read of old family retainers who grieved bitterly over their lost masters. But this man had only been in Sinclair's employ a few months. Fishy, he decided, with another sharp glance at the restless man. He moved uneasily.
Paull was a very stout man, and overwhelmed the small chair on which he sat. It was a hot day and the room was close. He rose to his feet, revealing a height of five feet six inches, though owing to his girth he appeared considerably less. He looked at himself in the glass on the opposite side of the room.
"Getting fat, Walter, me boy," he murmured. "Short and fat! Lor', to look at you one wonders how you manage to keep in the department; and you're shrinking down the fatter you grow! Must get yourself weighed. Let's see; eighteen stone-three, the last time! Guess you're up to nineteen now."
Again he mopped his face, glancing around the room with bright, beady eyes. Suddenly he turned on the restless servant.
"Here, you; Get out! You've brought me here on a wild-goose chase. Still, Anton Sinclair's worth looking into. I've had more than a suspicion on him for some time. Get out! Get on with your work! Anything to do? Well, go and do it, or something! Keep yourself moving. Get as fat as me if you don't work."
The inspector waited until the man closed the door, then rose to his feet. For a full minute he stood with his back to the windows, surveying the room. There was nothing strange about it. Everything looked to be in order. The blotting-pad on the big desk was mathematically square to the edge. The pens were evenly laid on their racks.
Paull went to the desk and rubbed his finger on the surface. There was no dust. Yet Sanderson had told him that he had not cleaned the room that day! There was something strange in that room! Paull had a hunch that the servant had not been needlessly alarmed. He sniffed the air audibly. Another glance around and he went to the bedroom. "Say, Sanderson!" The Inspector opened the door. "Don't touch this bedroom for a time. When did you clean it last?"
"Yesterday morning, sir—Inspector."
"And the study?"
"Before I called Mr. Sinclair in the morning, Inspector—sir."
"Mr. Sinclair worked at the desk during the day?"
"Almost all day, sir. I mean Inspec—"
"Oh, go to blazes!" The detective slammed the door and strode back to the study. He seated himself in the padded chair and examined the articles on the desk. The bronze Buddha stared solemnly at him from across the blotting-pad. Almost he imagined tile idol was trying to convey a message to him.
He turned to the drawers under the desk-top, commencing on the left-hand side. Some of the drawers came out easily; others were locked. He left them for the time and turned to those on the right-hand side.
As his fingers caught the knob of the top draw he drew back and bent to examine it. He switched on the desk lamp and held the light to the drawer. A whistle of satisfaction came from his lips. The drawer had been forced with a jemmy. He could see the marks clearly. Part of the woodwork had been smashed and patched together.
Unless it was examined under a strong light the damage would pass unnoticed. Sanderson had, not been mistaken. Something had happened. Holding the knob with his handkerchief he drew out the drawer. It was steel-lined and empty. The drawer had been forced open and robbed.
What had Sinclair kept in it? Money? How much had the drawer held before the robber came? Where did Sinclair keep the bulk of his cash? Paull scanned the room, asking himself the questions.
Anton Sinclair had aroused the suspicions of Police Headquarters for some considerable time, although nothing definite was known to his discredit. But rumour had been insistent and high officials had asked questions; questions based on suspicions of blackmail—and worse.
The eyes of the Inspector rested on the polished boards, close to the bookcases. He went to a certain spot, examining the floor by the aid of a powerful magnifying glass. A full minute and he struggled to his feet with a grunt of satisfaction. In two minutes more he solved the secret of the spring and rolled the book-cases back.
The doors of the three small safes came forward at a slight pull. He flashed a light into the interiors. All three safes were empty. With a grunt of perplexity he restored the book-cases to their normal position and went back to the desk.
In one of the locked drawers he found a memorandum book. A glance at the contents and he laid it on the blotting-pad, continuing the search of the drawers. There was nothing more of interest. He turned to the memorandum book. It contained a series of names, one on each page. Against the names were addresses. Under the names were written varying amounts of money. The remainder of the pages were filled with cipher-writing.
Paull wondered greatly. Anton Sinclair's chambers had been visited by some "hook" the previous night. Where had Anton Sinclair been during that time? The detective knew that here was his real problem. Had the financier been the burglar? That was possible. The absence of money in the steel-lined drawer—the clearing of the safes—might have been the work of the man. If so, why had Sinclair broken open the drawer? Had he mislaid the key? The Inspector turned to the manuscript book. It had fallen open as if the owner had frequently referred to one particular page. The detective glanced at the headlines. One caught his attention and he pursed his lips in a silent whistle. The headline read:
"Murray Lynnex, Tower Square, Sydney. £50,000."
For minutes Paull stared at the name and the amount. With a sigh of satisfaction he levered himself up and wept to the door. He called to Sanderson and went back to his chair.
"Want you, Sanderson. Who's Murray Lynnex?"
"Mr. Lynnex, Inspector—sir!" The man spoke briskly. "Yes, sir! Lives the other side of the court. Floor lower than this, sir. Beg pardon, Inspector, sir."
He crossed to the windows and pointed out. "There are the windows of his chambers, sir."
"Umph! Well, get out!" He watched the man go to the door. "No, wait. When did you dust this desk last? Yesterday morning! All right, scoot!"
Very carefully the detective examined the surface of the desk. He came to the back, and stopped. From a pocket he pulled a black leather case and took from it a small insufflator.
He blew a cloud of yellow powder on a certain spot. Allowing it to settle he blew away the surplus.
"Thought so!" He examined a place where some of the powder adhered to the desk-top.
"We fat men do find things, sometimes. Quite a beauty, too. Girl's fingerprint." He straightened himself. "Then someone who wore gloves came down heavily on part of it. What does that mean? Seems like I know that sort of mark."
For some minutes he stood surveying the fingerprints, shaking his head. At length, he turned and picked up his hat. At the study door he shouted for Sanderson.
"Don't go near that desk," he commanded. "Don't go in the study at all. Don't let anyone enter it unless they bring a note from me. Understand?"
"Should Mr. Sinclair come home, Inspector?"
"Then telephone for me at once, you blockhead. Think I want to go hunting round for a corpse while he's sitting in there writing letters. Use your bean, you shank-shivering, blooming, blithering idiot. There's few things I want this side of eternity, but at the moment a talk with Anton Sinclair is the chief. Get me?"
"I'll punch your head in if you use that word again." Paull turned savagely on the man. "Who the blazing bush do you think you are with your 'sirs' and 'ma'am's'? Put a collar around you neck and give you a cannon ball to carry in the old country, do they? Well, they don't here. Jack's as good as his master, in good old Aussie. Go down to the big house at the end of Goulburn-street and them fellows there'll persuade you he's a damned sight better—which he ain't, of course. Look a man in the face, you say, 'damn you' and 'curse you' for a start—you'll learn more as you grow older. You're a blithering working man, ain't you? Well then, you're one of the blooming kings of this-blasted over-grown island—get that? Jump! Scoot! And remember what I say. Sh-h-h-h!"
In the court enclosed by the high buildings, Paull looked around him. It was a pleasant place. A high, curbed square of grass, closely mown, occupied the middle. In the centre of the grass-patch stood an ornamental fountain, surrounded by a wide basin of crystal clear water. Around the curbed grass the walks were wide and tile-paved. Against the walls of the buildings were stands filled with flowers, plants and palms. There was an old-world air of one of the great London Inns about the place.
Paull strolled around the court, keenly surveying the buildings. He sighed heavily. A large, comfortable lounge chair, and something tinkling with ice in a long glass would complete the picture for him. That grass—A speck of white on the immaculate green caught his eyes.
Mounting the curb he waddled over to it. It was a piece of cardboard. He picked it up and turned it over. It was a playing-card blank. Where had it come from? It had not been on the grass long, for it was unstained. He looked up at the surrounding windows, studying the light wind that stirred in the court. His eyes rested on the building from where he had calculated it had blown.
With a start he recognised that he was staring at the windows of Murray Lynnex's chambers. Murray Lynnex! What part had he in this mystery? Why was his name in the memorandum hook? Why had the blackmailer written against his name the sum of £50,000? Lynnex was a rich man, a very rich man; and Anton Sinclair valued him at £50,000! Why that sum? Paull shook his head. There was only one answer to that question.
"Hi, there! What are you doing on that grass?"
The detective looked up. A porter was standing beside the curbing, shouting at him. He wandered over to the man. "Don't you know that persons ain't allowed on the grass?" demanded the porter.
'"Keep off the grass'!" Paull shook his head. "And I though I was in good old Aussie! Say, laddie, when I went to bring Tommy Gladd in from the old country—the time that ended when he was the principal guest at a necktie party one morning at Long Bay Gaol—I saw those notices all over the place. Why, there was one man as had a cigar box of grass growing on his window-sill—and he'd got a notice stuck over it: 'Keep off the grass.' Said it didn't look natural without. What's it all coming to? There's a bloke in that building that insists on 'sir-ing' me. Down here there's a 'Keep off the grass' atmosphere. The Lord save and deliver us."
"Well, you ain't allowed to go on there!" The man turned away shrugging his shoulders.
"Say, laddie!" The Inspector made after him. "Much litter fall into this court from the chambers around?"
"A bit." The man looked curious. "Who're you?"
"Call me Peter—not Paull. Only, don't, for the love of little mike, say 'sir.' Only uniformed constables on duty are allowed that liberty."
"What else do they call you—sir?" The man grinned, broadly. "Didn't recognise you—sir! Inspector Paull, isn't it—sir?"
"There's surely a hereafter where your sins will not be forgiven you!" Paull spoke pathetically. "You were once Constable Green—and a man. I know you now. Well, Green, don't forget what I've said about the hot place. The missus'll tell you I'm a mighty fine hand with a toasting-fork. Get me? Now, you beastly imitation watch-dog! When do you and your mates clean up the litter that falls into this court?"
"Morning, Inspector. Not done this morning, though. Other work delayed us."
"Spoke like a man—and an Aussie man, at that." Paull pulled the playing card from his pocket. "Didn't see that lying on the grass while you've been about the court this morning?"
"No." The man hesitated. "Looks like one of the blanks they put in packets of cards, Inspector. By the way, there was a card party at Mr. Lynnex's chambers last night. That card might have blown out of his window."
"'Out of the mouths of babes'!" The Inspector stared up at the windows of the chambers the man pointed at. "I have an idea I shall appreciate a few words with Mr. Lynnex—yes, Dr. Murray Lynnex!"
A moment of hesitation and he strode over to the door of the building ex-constable Green has indicated.
OUTSIDE the big entrance doors Inspector Paull came to a sudden halt. Should he go up now and see this young man whose name figured in the memorandum book he had found in Anton Sinclair's desk? Would it not be wiser to wait until he had gathered more of the threads of this strange mystery into his hands? Murray Lynnex had had a card-party in his chambers the previous evening. By chance, one of the playing-card blanks had blown out of his window, coming to rest on the green patch in the centre of the court. It had not happened during the party; the card had not been seen by the attendants during the morning. The card must have come out of the window within the last couple of hours. Why, and how? It seemed strange that anyone should open a pack of cards during the morning hours.
A few brief lines of writing in a manuscript book and a playing-card blank! A broken money-drawer and three empty safes! Behind those four facts stood one of the wealthiest young men in the State and a man who, while entitling himself "financier," was believed to be a blackmailer. The financier-blackmailer disappeared; the wealthy young man held a card-party—the same night. Hours after the two unconnected facts happened a playing-card blank came on the grass in the centre of the court!
With a shrug of bewilderment, Paull turned and entered the building. On the third floor he left the lift and walked down the corridor to Lynnex's rooms. His knock was answered by ah elderly man-servant.
"Mr Lynnex in?"
"I will ask if he will receive you. What name, please?"
Paull took an envelope from his pocket and dropped in it his card. Sealing the envelope he handed it to the servant. The man disappeared, to return in a few seconds and escort him to a room overlooking the court.
"Mr Lynnex will be with you in one moment, sir."
The man slid noiselessly to the door, closing it behind him.
"Damn! Another 'sir-ing' man!"
The detective went to the window and stared moodily out. His eyes went up the opposite wall until they came to the windows of Anton Sinclair's chamber. Again the strange lines in the memorandum book occurred to him. What did he mean? They could only bear one construction; the one he had come to Murray Lynnex to verify. He turned from the window and wandered around the room.
At the back of the cabinet were stacked a number of playing cards. Casually the detective ran his finger along their edges. He paused, half the pile being suspended. He drew a card from the stack and compared it with the one he had found in the court. The card showed the same back design. Pulling out a few of the cards he turned them face upwards.
A low exclamation escaped his lips when he saw the fronts were blank.
Eagerly he sought the remaining cards with the same design. He found a pack of playing card blanks. A slight sound from the passage made him hastily restack the cards and step softly to the window.
The door opened and Murray Lynnex entered.
"Inspector Paull?" The detective did not answer. He was studying the young man. No; this man could have nothing to do with the tragedy he believed had happened in Anton Sinclair's chambers.
"Inspector Paull?" Murray spoke again, questioningly.
"Sorry! Wits wandering!" The round face of the police officer broke into an engaging grin. "Didn't think a fat man would send in a police card, did you? Well, well. They keep me in the department as an awful example of what a policeman can come to. Had a party last night, I hear."
"Yes." Lynnex spoke with hesitation. "I don't know—"
"Anton Sinclair one of your guests?"
"I beg your pardon?"
"Think I should beg yours, eh?" Paull laughed. "Know anything about the man?"
"Historically, a lot! Suppose that's what you mean," grumbled the detective. "In plain Aussie you're telling me to mind my own business. D'you know Anton Sinclair's disappeared?"
"Really?" With a big effort Murray prevented himself showing surprise. "Mr. Sinclair's movements are of no interest to me."
"That's not to say your movements—or the movements of your banking account—have no interest for him."
"If you will excuse me, Inspector. I am rather busy this morning."
"'Fraid I'll have to detain you for a few minutes, Mr. Lynnex." The Inspector levered his bulk into a lounge chair before the window. "Say, this is good! Anton Sinclair's not got a decent chair in his rooms. Ever seen a black-leather manuscript book In Anton Sinclair's possession?"
"I do not know Mr. Sinclair. His possessions have no interest for me. Now, Inspector, if you will state your business? I have told you I have an important engagement this morning."
"Your name's in that book, Mr. Lynnex." Paull smiled at the young man's anxiety to get rid of him. "Strange, isn't that? But it's there:
'Murray Lynnex, Tower Square, Sydney, £50,000.'
Quite a lot of money that."
"Mr. Sinclair has no interest for me." Murray could not repress a slight start at the detective's words.
"Owe Mr. Sinclair money, Mr. Lynnex?"
"Owe him money?" The young man exclaimed, indignantly. "Really, Inspector—"
"Sit down!" The police officer interrupted. "There's times when the police have a right to demand information. Maybe people don't like being brought into our cases, but they can't help it. We're appointed to see that laws are obeyed; not because we're different from other people, but because we represent all the people. See, Mr. Lynnex? Put it this way: we're all interested in preserving order, but we all can't devote our time to the job. That's why there's police. But because there's police it doesn't mean the average man can stand aside. Times when he's, got to take his part in the community work or declare himself against law and order—to be classed among the criminals we the police, are appointed to attack."
Murray did not reply. The lecturette struck him. The scene in that room the previous night rose before his eyes. When the blank playing cards had fallen on the green cloth they had wilfully stepped outside community law and order. With a little sigh he dropped into a chair.
"If you will speak plainly, Inspector?"
"That's better." A smile came on the fat face. "There isn't much I want. Just: What does that entry in Sinclair's manuscript book mean?"
"I don't know."
"You don't know why Anton Sinclair values you at fifty thousand pounds, Mr. Lynnex?"
"We've had suspicions on Anton Sinclair at police headquarters." The detective spoke meditatively. "Trouble has been that we've had nothing definite to work on. Still—" For a few minutes he was silent.
"That manuscript book interests me quite a lot. There are names in it I know well. For instance, there's Mr. Barney Mudge, one-time alderman in the City Council. Got himself mixed up in some graft business. Anton Sinclair values him at one thousand pounds. Then there's Wallace Ownes, the big company promoter, who died some while ago. Lots of his companies went to the churchyard with him. Your name—"
"I have not paid Mr. Sinclair one penny." Murray spoke flatly.
"Fifty thousand pounds." Paull closed his eyes. "Quite a sum of money. And Mr. Sinclair, never suggested that you should make a—er—donation of that amount?"
"That would have been absurd."
"Yet, Mr. Murray Lynnex is reputed to be a very wealthy man?"
"Donation of that amount would soon deplete Mr. Lynnex's wealth, inspector," Murray laughed. "You're inferring that Mr. Sinclair intends to blackmail me."
"Pity." The Inspector shook his head sadly. "Y'know, Mr. Lynnex, if people receiving letters from blackmailers would remember there is a police department, there wouldn't be blackmailers."
"Possibly the fact that there is a police department is as great a protection to the blackmailer, Inspector." Murray rose to his feet. "Is that all you wish to know?"
"One thing more." The detective stopped at the door of the room. He came back to the table. "I believe this belongs to you, Mr. Lynnex?"
For a moment his broad hand rested on the cloth. For a moment he stared into Murray's eyes, then turned and walked out of the room.
Murray glanced down at the blank face of a playing-card, lying where the Inspector's hand had rested. What did the man mean?
Hesitatingly, he picked up the card and turned it over. A cry of amazement broke from his lips when he saw the patterned back. It was one of the deck of cards they had used the previous night, in drawing the lots. Where had it come from? How had Inspector Paull obtained possession of it?
He ran to the door of the room and along the passage to the landing; but the detective had disappeared. What did the man know? Why had he placed the card on the table and left the room without a word?
The Inspector had not looked back as he walked out of the room. In a small mirror concealed in the palm of his hand he witnessed Murray's agitation. When he came out on the landing the lift was at the floor. He entered it and dropped to the ground floor. He had baited his hook—would his fish bite?
Again in the court, Paull hesitated. He had spoken of the black memorandum book. It would be wise to take possession of it. It seemed, that he was on the trail of evidence that would explain Sinclair's absence; evidence that, if the man returned, would place him in the dock, the most despicable of criminals—a blackmailer.
He strode over to the opposite block of buildings and ascended to Anton Sinclair's chambers. As he came in sight of the hall door he saw a swarthy foreigner in earnest conversation with Sanderson. On seeing the police officer the man turned and went to the lift.
"Had a visitor, Sanderson?" Paull pushed past the servant into the passage. "Italian, isn't he?"
"Don't know si—Inspector." The man spoke furtively. "He asked for Mr. Sinclair, and when I said he wasn't at home wanted to come in and wait for him. When I wouldn't let him enter he tried to push in."
"Humph!" The Inspector's face became impassive. "Left a message? No. Well, well! I'll be in the study for a few minutes. No need for you to trouble, but—" his voice hardened—"if anyone calls they're not to be allowed in the flat; that is, not until I tell you. Understand? On no account is anyone, other than you or Mr. Sinclair, allowed inside that hall door, and even you two are barred from the study. Get me?"
"Yes, si—Inspector, But, at nights I usually leave at seven, or thereabouts."
"You won't leave at seven or anywhere near thereabouts until I say so. Understand that, Sanderson. You've got the telephone here. Tell you wife that you're not coming home for the present and remind her that while a silent woman is stated to be an impossibility yet, if she existed she would be very wise. Get me? You stay here, night and day, until Mr. Sinclair returns—or I change my mind. That's all."
The manuscript book lay where Paull had left it. He put it in his pocket. A last look round and he passed out of the chambers.
In Macquarie-street he paused and look around him. A man lying on the grass of the Domain opposite attracted his attention. He watched him for some moments, then strolled across the road.
"'Morning, Peter." The smooth voice held a fat roll. "Out early, ain't you—for a member of your union. Usually work late hours, If you don't always get the credit for them. Health good? No pains anywhere? No, not even in your moral apparatus. Humph! Surely that required investigation."
"You've got nuffin' on me, Mr. Paull."
Peter Duggan rose to his feet, sullenly. "Nuffin' in takin' a rest on th' grass 'ere when a chap's outer work. Besides—"
"Not a thing." Paull spoke cheerfully. "I'd sit down on the grass myself, but for a man of my size to get up again is quite a problem. Wouldn't like to take a little stroll with me—down to Hunter-street, eh?"
"Wot's th' game? You ain't got—"
"Repetition! Peter, when will you learn some new gags and tricks!" A sigh heaved from the Inspector's breast. "I've only asked you to come for a walk—just a little walk, gentle Peter. Walking's good, y'know. Reduces weight and keeps a man fit. Let me see, you weren't quite fit the last time we met and parted—in the way of business. Laid a complaint with the Superintendent. Said you thought the G.P.O. had fallen on you—er-er-er—and it was only Inspector Paull. What if I did sit down sudden on your chest? You tried to get away, didn't you?"
"Orl right, 'ave it yer own way!" Duggan spoke sullenly. "Wot's th' game?"
"Just want to know if you've broken yourself of that nasty habit of biting the tips of your gloves, gentle Peter?" The fat man ambled along beside the crook. "Silly habit, Peter, and dangerous. Gloves don't leave fingermarks, but the bitten end of a rubber glove is almost as distinctive. I was quite intrigued this morning when I saw your sign manual. You should really be more careful, laddie. Try and break yourself of that unbusinesslike habit. Oh, by the way, might as well make this little stroll official. Good to be candid when it's between friends."
"WHO was the girl, Peter?"
Inspector Paull had steered his companion into Superintendent Manners' office and seated him before the big desk. A lounge chair in a far corner of the room held the detective. "There was a girl, y'know."
"Wos there?" Peter Duggan stared bleakly at the soldierly Superintendent. "I don't knows nuffink about no girl."
"Bad habit, biting the tips of your glove-fingers!" Paull drew a fat cigar from his vest pocket. "May I smoke, Superintendent? 'Fraid this is going to be a long job, owing to the shortness of memory of our long-dear friend. Thanks! Say, Mr. Manners, never bite the tips of your gloves while on a job. It makes jagged impressions that even a fat policeman can recognise. Pity, Peter! Why don't you use collodion, or, better still, break yourself of a bad habit."
"Wot d'yer want ov me?"
"Just the first principles inculcated by your old pals at the Long Bay seaside resort you favour. When you pay them one of your frequent visits they prescribe a bath. What for? That you may come clean. That's the physical effect. Here we suggest the moral bath. Get me, Peter? Come clean!"
"Who was the girl, Duggan?" The Superintendent spoke.
"Ther' wern't no girl."
"Have a nice nap, Peter?" Paull winked.
"Wot d'yer mean?"
"Golden hairs!" The detective was engaged blowing rings of smoke. "No good busking it, Peter. Your hair's mouse-coloured." The detective went to the desk. Before the fascinated eyes of the crook he unwrapped a piece of paper, revealing gold-coloured hairs.
"A nice fair girl, Peter, with golden hair. Gentleman prefer blondes, y'know. Did she have blue eyes?"
Paul's hand went to his pocket. "This silk cord belong to you, Peter? No, didn't thing so. Pieces of cord from a dressing-gown rope. Gown in wardrobe; bits of rope on floor. Pity to spoil a perfectly good dressing-gown, Peter. Who was the girl?"
"Didn't tell you her name? Yet you spent quite a time together. What about the safes, Peter?"
"Not me." Peter surrendered. "Someone looted 'em before I comes along."
"Got nothing for all your hard work! Poor devil!" The fat man retreated to his chair. "Really the working man is not adequately remunerated."
Duggan remained silent.
"Who's in the Long Room, Mr. Manners? White and Starker. They'll do. Just a bit curious, Peter. You're too good a unionist to work for nothing. May I trouble you to touch that bell, Superintendent."
The crook's hand, went to his hip-pocket. As by magic an automatic appeared in the detective's hand.
"Put 'em up, Peter." His voice was easy. "Put 'em up, laddie. Forgot to frisk you before I brought you in. Very lax of me! Tut, tut! Right up, old dear! Plenty of room near the ceiling."
"Don't carry a gun, Mr. Paull."
"No gun!" The detective's hand passed lightly over the crook. "Surprised at you. Gentle Peter. Last time we met—it was last time, Peter, wasn't it; my arithmetic's bad you know—you promised me the gun next time we met, professionally. I'm very disappointed!"
A quick movement and the detective took a bulky roll of notes from the crook's hip-pocket and threw them on the desk. The Superintendent caught and counted them.
"Two hundred, Duggan. Where's the rest?"
"Thirty-four. There's twenty-five wi' a bookie."
"Good odds, Peter?" Paull lounged against the desk. "Hope so. By the way, got a tip for Randwick? To-morrow, isn't it?"
"Dope Doctor, third race." The crook's eyes flashed hatred at the detective.
"No good." Paull shook his head, sadly. "If you'd come to me, Peter. 'Caught' wins, with 'Five Years' a certainty for a place. Know a good commission agent, Peter?"
"Cohen. Saul Cohen." Peter mumbled the name. "Damn you! Who put you wise?"
"Brains, just brains, Peter." Paull wagged his head. "Fancy giving a wad like that to a measly bookmaker. Anything else, laddie?"
"S'pose I've got to blow, th' lot." Duggan dropped into his chair. For a quarter of an hour he spoke, of his adventure in Sinclair's chambers the previous evening. Manners and Paull listened interestedly, the latter, taking notes.
"So you don't know the lady's name?" The detective spoke easily.
"I'm not sayin', Mr. Paull."
"Then you do know!"
The crook glanced round the room, uneasily, but did not answer. Again the Inspector asked the question.
"I don't 'shelf'!" The man sprang to his feet, angrily. "Get it over, damn you! I go up fer th' notes, I s'pose."
"And the dead man?"
"You can't frame that on me. You haven't got 'im?"
"But I will. Mr. Sinclair, wasn't it?"
"He wos dead, when I went in!" Duggan spoke rapidly. "I wen' ter 'im and lifted 'is 'ead an' saw 'e wos dead. I put 'im back an' went t' th' girl. When we comes back ter th' study 'e wos gone."
"And the ruby ring? You said the girl accused you of stealing the ruby ring, didn't you?" Paull's voice had grown hard. "You're in quite a hole, Peter."
"I never touched th' ruby—I never saw it. I only squeezed th' slush."
"Two hundred and thirty-four pounds." The Inspector spoke with his eyes on the crook. "We've got two, hundred. Still—"
"What's on your mind, Inspector?" the Superintendent asked, curiously.
"A big question mark, Mr. Manners." The detective spoke slowly. "There's more to come—not money, but information. Peter's not spilt all he knows. What time did you get up, laddie?"
"And I found you in Macquarie-street near noon. There's a dark past in your life, Peter. Is your memory good?"
"I went ter see a man—on bizness."
"At seven o'clock?"
"Jes' arfter arf-past eight. I 'ad ter get me breakfast."
"A good business man. Up late and rises early. Early worm, and all that stuff. Why, Peter, you must be making a fortune. Stocks, shares, cigarettes, newspapers—or—coke!—eh?"
"Money-lender. You've got' nuffin' on 'im."
"Money-lender?" The detective's frame tensed. "Humph! What did you go to see Jabul Ardt about, Peter?"
"I—How d'yer know it was Jabul Ardt?"
"Police secrets, Peter," Paull laughed. "I don't mind your knowing. You were seen to enter Judd Chambers yesterday afternoon. Anyone else, there—this morning?"
"Tut, tut, laddie. I'm talking about the elite of Sydney."
"Ther' was a foreigner ther' afore me."
"A foreigner!" Paull showed surprise. "Peter, you astonish me. Describe the gentleman."
"Didn't see 'im."
"He had left before you arrived at Jabul's offices?"
"He wos in wi' Jabul when I got ther'. I 'ad ter wait."
"And you didn't see him." Paull spoke slowly. "Peter, I'm afraid I shall have to call you a liar. Remembering the lay of Jabul's offices I'm convinced he could not have left without passing under your observation, Again I adjure you, come clean—morally, if not physically. The latter is now beyond your decision. Gentleman friends at Long Bay will attend to that."
"He went outer th' winder."
"'So!" A quick glance passed between the officers. "Jabul lost his temper. I've not heard of a regrettable accident in Pitt-street this morning. Jabul's offices are on the third floor, aren't they?"
"Jabul didn't do nuffin'!" Duggan spoke nervously. "'E wos tied an' gagged, an' stood be'ind 'is office door."
"Jumping tin hares!" The detective sprang to his feet. "And I slept through it all! Why—?"
The shrill ring of the telephone bell cut the detective's words. The Superintendent lilted the receiver. He listened for some minutes, then turned to the detective.
"Looks to me you're hunting for a murderer without a corpse in hand. Well, Paull, I'll try and find the latter for you—but you've got to fit it into your picture. Just had word from Darlinghurst. They're found a motor car in Barling lane and a dead man in it. Wonder—" There was a long pause. The eyes of the two police officers rested speculatively on the crook. At length, the Superintendent spoke:
"Duggan. Except in one or two particulars you've come clean. For a change you shan't take a trip to the Awful Place unless, of course—But you've got to work for your liberty. I'm sending you with Inspector Paull to Darlinghurst to see this dead man. Tell Paull if he's the one you saw in Anton Sinclair's chambers. Then, for the time you can go to hell the way you like; except that you come to this office each morning and night and report. Nine o'clock's the time and don't be late or there'll be a nice, cosy, motor-van waiting to take you for a seaside trip. That's all. All serene, Paull? Report to me personally."
FOR many minutes after Inspector Paull had left him, Murray paced the room, worried and perplexed.
What did the detective know? What had he meant by his parting words? Why had he produced the playing-card blank in that strange manner? Where had the police officer found the card?
He had said he had come from Anton Sinclair's chambers. He had stated that the blackmailer had disappeared. Had he found that playing-card in Sinclair's chambers? If so, then how had it come there? He turned to the cabinet and found the blank cards. Five of them had been taken the previous evening. Four of them had been carried away; the fifth was in his possession. There should, be forty-seven cards remaining. He counted them slowly. There were forty-seven cards remaining!
From where had come this new Card—the fifty-third!
He turned to his desk in the corner of the room. He drew out the drawers from one of the pedestals and, reaching into the space, touched a spring. The shelving came forward in his hand.
Again he reached into the space, tilting down a long-lidded drawer. He lifted the cover and took out a manuscript book, placing it on the desk. Replacing the secret drawer he slid the shelving into place. Seated at the desk he opened the manuscript book.
Under the cover lay another of the playing cards. Through a powerful magnifying glass he compared the two cards. They matched exactly. He turned them face upwards. While the card the detective had found bore a blank front, the other was covered with fine writing. If he obeyed the instructions on the card—and he was bound by oath to do so—he would leave his chambers within an hour, to disappear in the spaces of the continent. Only when he learned of Anton Sinclair's death would he be free to return to the city.
From the manuscript book he took the letter he had received from Anton Sinclair. The writer stated that he had become possessed of certain information regarding Murray's father. A meeting was suggested. There was no mention of money. But the brief, cautiously worded lines reeked with a sinister suggestiveness.
Murray's first thought, on receiving the letter, had been to face the blackmailer. He had resisted the impulses, determining first to learn something of the writer. Almost immediately he had come on a story of spoliation, terrorism and despair. With grim determination he had forced on the investigations. The conclusions utterly damned the man. Where he passed he left a trail of ruined lives. In the manuscript book Murray had recorded the histories of Anton Sinclair's victims. From that maze of ruined lives he had picked out four men; men of determination and nerve, who, backed by the power of his money, would free the community from the blight. He had brought them to Sydney, bending them to his purpose. His scheme had appeared fool-proof.
Now Inspector Paull had informed him that Anton Sinclair had disappeared; that the papers he held over the fortunes of many people had disappeared from the safes. What did that mean? Who had anticipated them—the men he had named the League of Five.
Had Anton Sinclair obtained knowledge of his plans? Murray could not believe that. He had acted with the utmost caution. He had taken no one into his confidence until the previous day. Yet, within a few minutes of the drawing of the lots Anton Sinclair had disappeared, taking his papers with him. There was another theory. Had someone unknown to him moved against the blackmailer? That was probable. Sinclair had injured many. Had someone abducted the blackmailer and stolen his papers?
If so, then they faced a new danger. With Sinclair's papers in unknown hands they could not act. They would have to wait; wait until, out of the blue, would come new demands, imperative and exorbitant. Murray rose from his seat and paced the room. He must act. In some way he must stop the four men who had left him the previous evening, pledged to a definite work. He must find them; cancel their instructions; bring them together again. If the blackmailer and his papers were in the possession of some unknown enemy they must discover who that enemy was.
He turned to the desk, searching the pages of the manuscript book.
"Frank Carslake." Murray's finger rested on the name.
"Frank Carslake, constructional engineer, aged 34, address Wilton-street, Fitzroy, Melbourne."
His finger slipped down the written record of the blackmailer's actions that had turned Carslake into an implacable enemy. "Brought to Sydney to advise on construction of Mattalong-Abelong railway. Address Sydney Hotel."
Murray telephoned the hotel. A few moments and he learned that Frank Carslake had paid his bill that morning, stating he would be absent from the city for some days. Impatiently, Murray looked at the clock. It wanted ten minutes to mid-day. At that hour the four men were pledged to leave the city—leaving the fifth man to carry out the scheme of vengeance they had planned. He turned again to the manuscript book.
"Maurice Ottly, assistant accountant, Stock and Sharebrokers' Insurance Co. Ltd., Pitt-street, Sydney. Aged 27, private address, 'Vale-end,' Acland-road, Rose Bay."
He rang up the insurance company to be informed that Ottly had telephoned them that he could not attend business for a few days owing to indisposition. Murray rang up the boarding house to be informed that Ottly had packed a bag that morning and departed, stating that he was going into the country on business.
Murray looked at the clock. This inquiry had taken five minutes, and there was still another two more men to find and stop. He turned to Albert Roche's record. The note showed Roche to be a journalist engaged on the Morning Mirror. His private address was 11a Phillip-street, City.
The newspaper switchboard informed him that. Roche was not on duty that day. The Phillip-street address was not in the telephone book.
The first chimes of mid-day were striking as Murray turned to the last record—Godfrey Stephen Parsons. The previous day Parsons had moved from Tower Square to the Cheviot Hotel, in readiness for a quick start when the lots were drawn.
Murray rang up the hotel, to learn that Parsons had left that morning, stating that his business in the city was completed. Murray replaced the receiver, dropping his head in his hands. He had failed.
He had started an avalanche he could not control. For days the men would he lost in the spaces of the continent. Only when they read that the work of vengeance was accomplished would they return.
But, one of the five remained in the city, hiding amid the multitude of workers.
He was watching, perhaps, at that very moment Tower Square and the chambers from which Anton Sinclair had disappeared. Watching, with hate in his heart, for the opportunity to strike the fatal blow and seize the papers. The man was well-armed for his task. From the drawer in the hall-stand he had taken a packet containing the keys of Anton Sinclair's chambers, the combination working the safes concealed behind the bookcases, everything that money and forethought could suggest to make safe the adventure of vengeance. Which man had drawn the fatal card?
Murray tried to reconstruct the scene around the table. He had scanned the faces of his companions as the cards fell. At that time he had prided himself that not by a flicker of an eyelid had one of them betrayed emotion.
Now, in the silences of the bush-lands three of them waited. For what? Inspector Paull had said that he was not giving information to the press. That meant that four men would continue to obey the instructions written on the cards. Three of them would he lost; one would be watching Anton Sinclair's chambers, death in his hand. Murray crossed the room and rang the hell. He could not betray his friends. Within a few minutes he must leave his home. In hiding, he must wait and watch for news of the blackmailer's death, prepared on the instant to comply with the instructions that would safeguard Anton Sinclair's slayer.
"Martin." He spoke as the servant entered the room. "I asked you to pack a bag this morning. Is it ready?"
"Please have a taxi called. I leave in ten minutes."
"Yes, sir. If you please—"
"A lady to see you; sir—a young lady."
"A lady? Did she give her name?"
"Miss Wayne, she said. Will you see her, sir?"
Murray nodded. Who was this girl and what did she want? Some instinct told him her call bore on the mystery enveloping him. He turned as the girl entered.
For a moment she stood within the door, scanning him, curiously.. "You are Murray Lynnex?" Her voice was low.
"I am Murray Lynnex. Will you not sit down?"
"You had friends here last night. A card party, I believe?"
"Murray Lynnex." The girl advanced a step, speaking earnestly. "Where were you after your friends left? Did you come to Anton Sinclair's chambers? Murray Lynnex, did you murder that man?"
"I BEG your pardon, Miss Wayne!" Murray stared at the girl. "You ask If I came to Anton Sinclair's rooms last night and—Really, your question is absurd."
"I saw you."
Myrtle dropped into a chair. "Oh, I can't understand; I can't explain. It is all so involved, and so perplexing. But I saw you at the window of this room—you and your friends. I knew Anton Sinclair held something over you and I thought—I thought—"
"It was you who was at Anton Sinclair's windows?" Murray leaned forward. "You—you, are not—No, not a girl that-"
"Thanks!" A mocking light lit the girl's eyes. "You do not believe an honest girl could go to him—yet I went. He sent for me and I had to obey. Someone came into the room, moving silently. He seized and bound me. I was carried into the bedroom and thrown on the bed. I lay there until—until a crook who had come to rob Sinclair entered and freed me! We went, to the study. Peter—the crook—had told me that Anton Sinclair was dead. But—we found no one there."
"Nobody!" Murray exclaimed in astonishment. "God! What do you mean, girl? Anton Sinclair dead! His body taken away. Are you mad?"
"It is the truth."
Myrtle stared vacantly before her. Suddenly she turned to the young man. "Oh, why are you playing with me? You know! I know the police have been here, this morning. What have they told you? Have they found Sinclair's body? Tell me!"
"Tell you!" Murray spoke dully. "What is there to tell? You know the police have been to Sinclair's rooms. Sanderson, his servant, called them when he found his master missing this morning. Inspector Paull came to me direct from Sinclair's rooms. He told me that Sinclair had disappeared; that the concealed safes had been looted; that his money drawer had been forced and robbed. But he said nothing about Sinclair's murder; nothing about—Good God, girl! What took you to that man's rooms?"
"For what one reason has man or woman known Anton Sinclair for years?" The girl spoke impatiently. "He made me go to his rooms. He named the hour—half-past ten. I was to take him—Oh, I can't tell you that. It is not my secret."
"You must tell me." Murray spoke impulsively. "Girl, if what you say is true, can't you realise what has happened? If Anton Sinclair has been murdered his body must be found sooner or later. If they find that you were there at the time? That Inspector Paull—he's fat but not a fool. He may have found signs of your presence. If he finds Sinclair's body he may accuse you! Who saw you there? Girl, if I am to help you—"
"Help me!" The girl's laughter broke the tenseness. "Why, Murray Lynnex, I came here this morning to help you."
"To help me?"
"Why not?" The girl rose to her feet. "The police? Yes, by this time Inspector Paull has learned of my visit to Sinclair's rooms. When he left Tower Square he found Peter Duggan in Macquarie-street, watching these buildings. He took him to police headquarters. Peter won't 'shelf' but if Paull has discovered any clue he may be able to surprise some information from him. There are those notes. Paull will find them on him."
"Yes." The girl spoke quickly. "Peter was sent to Sinclair's rooms to obtain certain papers. He found the safes open and empty and took a roll of notes from the desk."
A knock at the door and Martin entered.
"Well, what is it?"
"The taxi, sir."
"Taxi?" Myrtle exclaimed. "What do you want a taxi for, Murray Lynnex?"
"I am going into the country."
"Not in a taxi?" The girl turned to Martin. "Send the taxi away. Mr. Lynnex will use his car. Have it brought round at once, please."
"Very good, madam." The man left the room.
"A trip to the country!" The girl's bright eyes lit on the blank cards scattered on the table. She picked them up, running them, through her fingers. "Murray Lynnex, which card did you draw?"
"Which card?" A stride brought him to Myrtle's side. "What do you know?"
"I know." Myrtle looked at him fearlessly. "I know that you and your friends played a strange game of cards. I know that forty-seven of the cards were blanks; that one bore only a man's name; that four other cards bore instructions for secret journeys. Murray Lynnex, I know that last night you stood in the shadow of the gallows."
"You know that?"
"Oh, you poor fool!" Passion shook the girl's voice. "Didn't you know that Anton Sinclair was watching you. Didn't you guess that after he sent you that letter he would watch your every moment; anticipate your actions; analyse your thoughts?"
"You think that Martin—"
"Anton Sinclair is too clever to bribe a man who might be bought at a higher price." Myrtle interrupted. "Watch!" She scanned her surroundings for a moment, then moved to a small bookcase, close to the window. Murray sprang forward and dragged it from the wall. Behind it hung a small round disc, attached to a slender cord.
"There is Anton Sinclair's watchdog." Myrtle snapped the cord and threw the Dictaphone on the table. "While I was in Anton Sinclair's rooms last night he received a telephone message calling him away. He bade me await his return. Perhaps he thought, because I am a woman I am a fool, but he gave me the chance I wanted. I searched his rooms for—for, oh, it doesn't matter. I found the other end of this wire. In Anton Sinclair's rooms I listened to you and your friends plan to murder—yes, murder him."
"I—we—saw you at the lighted window."
"And I saw you."
The girl laughed. Again she scanned the room. Her eyes rested on the manuscript book. She went to it. "A list of men and women Anton Sinclair held in his power. Really, Murray Lynnex, I admire your industry, but not your prudence. Yet, why not?" She laughed again, facing him, her hand on the open book. "A pen please. There is another name to add to your list of Anton Sinclair's victims."
She bent over the book, writing rapidly. Blotting the lines she closed it and handed it to Murray. "Put this away, Murray Lynnex," she continued. "Put it away unread. One day, when the menace of Anton Sinclair has passed from our lives you may open that page and read what I have written. Then—" She turned away with a gesture of resignation.
Murray placed the book in the secret drawer and restored the desk to order. As he rose to his feet Martin entered.
"The car, sir."
Myrtle led from the room. In the court she mounted the car. Silent and amazed, Murray slid to the driver's seat. He turned and looked at the girl, inquiringly.
"Down Macquarie-street to the Quay, slowly." Myrtle spoke under her breath. "Stop at the garage on the Quay. You have less than five gallons of gas."
The car rolled down the hill to Bennelong Point. On circular Quay, opposite the line of ferry-wharves, Murray brought the car to a stop.
"Where are we going, Miss Wayne?" he asked. "You know this—"
"A few miles from Parramatta, under the shadow of Constitution Hill, is a house known as 'Greystanes'—"
"Greystanes is in quite a lonely part of the country—some miles from the railway, hidden in the bush." The girl did not heed his interruption. "Yes, we will be safe there."
"Safe? Greystanes? We?" Amazement showed on Murray's face. "But, Miss Wayne, you can't stay at Greystanes; the house is shut up. You and I cannot live there, alone."
"No one attempts to guess what the modern girl will do, Murray Lynnex." A sparkle of amusement lit the girl's eyes. "Please do not argue. Fill up the tank. Fill up the tank; store a few tins of petrol in the tonneau and drive to Greystanes as fast as possible. We haven't much time."
"But there are no servants at Greystanes." Murray protested.
"I am quite a good cook, though you may not think it," the girl laughed. "I can make a bed. A broom has not the slightest terrors for me. There! Have I explained everything? If you want an additional reason, I may add I have no desire to take a rest cure at Long Bay. Have you, Mr—No, now we have embarked on our adventure I shall call you Murray."
"But me no buts!" An appealing hand pressed the young man's sleeve. "Murray, if you are too astonished, too inhospitable, to drive, may I take the wheel?"
The car shot forward, turning Into Pitt-street north and drew up before the petrol station. Dazedly, Murray ordered the tank to be filled and tins to be stored in the car. Then he turned and drove up Pitt-street. As they came out on Central Square the girl touched his arm.
"To the steps to the station, Murray, please."
Immediately the car came to rest she jumped out. "Wait a few minutes, I shall not be long." Within ten minutes the girl returned, followed by a porter carrying a couple of suitcases. While the man stored the luggage in the car, Myrtle mounted to her seat.
"Now for Greystanes." She seated herself comfortably. As the car gathered speed Murray turned to her. "Now, Miss Wayne—"
The girl flashed a quick smile at him. "You know I agreed to call you Murray. I cannot do that unless you—er—reciprocate."
"But I cannot leave those fellows in the lurch, y'know," he protested. "Can you find them?"
Myrtle laughed softly. "You know you cannot; you tried and failed. Neither you nor the men you found to write the instructions can trace them. Poor boy, you have got yourself into an awful tangle. You must trust me to find the way out."
"Murray, don't worry." The girl spoke earnestly. "I shall not keep you a prisoner at Greystanes. There we but start on the stages of a journey that will bring you to the end of your perplexities."
Murray shrugged his shoulders. He felt he was not acting rightly in avoiding the journey to which he was pledged; but he had the girl to think of. She had said he was in danger. If she had been in Sinclair's rooms the previous evening, then indeed her danger was real. Possibly the stout Inspector of Police was searching for her. What could he do; how could he help her? He could take her to Greystanes, then—
"You are reconciled to the journey, Murray?" Myrtle snuggled down beside him with a little laugh. "You think that now Anton Sinclair is dead it will not matter—"
"Is Anton Sinclair dead?" Murray turned suddenly to face her.
"Keep going, please, Murray," Myrtle laughed. "You are a very jerky driver."
"But Inspector Paull said that Anton Sinclair was missing. You say this man—this crook—saw his body and that it had disappeared when you entered the room. You can't prove Anton Sinclair is dead until—"
"Until the body is found," Myrtle said simply. "A few minutes ago Inspector Paull left police headquarters with Peter Duggan. He is going to Darlinghurst to view the dead body of a man found in a motor car, in Darling-lane. He thinks the dead man is Anton Sinclair. If he can prove that he will want to ask you, and me, many questions we should find difficult to answer. Back of Paull's mind is the thought to ask for a warrant for your arrest."
"And you?" The car came to a sudden stop. "What about you? If Inspector Paull discovers that you were in Anton Sinclair's rooms last night—and he has that crook to question—he will certainly want to arrest you."
"That will make two warrants." The girl glanced up from under her long lashes. "Yes, Inspector Paull may consider you and I are confederates. He may want to arrest both of us."
"But I could prove I was in my chambers at the time. I—"
The car sprang forward with a jerk.
Could he prove he was in his rooms? He had sent Martin away early in the evening. He and his friends had been alone in his rooms. Now they were scattered. No, he could not prove his alibi. He was caught in the web he had woven.
"To Greystanes!" The soft voice was strangely compelling. Again he trod on the accelerator. "Poor boy! Shall I set his mind at ease? Listen, Murray!" She reached up until her sweet breath scented his face. "I don't believe Anton Sinclair is dead. Before I arrived at his chambers he must have been listening to you and your friends. He must have known your plans. Perhaps he is hiding, fearful for his wretched life. Perhaps we shall find him and—"
"How can we find him when we are leaving the city?" objected Murray impatiently.
"Perhaps not." The girl spoke indifferently. "But for a few days we must hide. At Greystanes we can form out plans. There we will be safe while—while Inspector Paull is gaining knowledge—knowledge that will lead him from you and me to Anton Sinclair and the heart of the strange web the blackmailer has woven." She turned suddenly. "Murray, you let Inspector Paull catch us—catch me. He knows that I was with Anton Sinclair a few minutes before he disappeared."
Again the powerful car jumped forward, heading for the open country—and freedom!
THE police car came to a stop at the corner of a narrow street of Darlinghurst road. Inspector Paull backed out and looked round him. Some way down Barling lane a knot of men were gathered around a motor car. At the end of the street a constable was on, guard, in the middle of the roadway. A man made to pass down the lane, to turn away at a flick of the constable's fingers.
"True to tradition." Paull returned the constable's salute. "They're not used to murders, sudden deaths, razor and gun gangs in Darlinghurst, so have to advertise what they get. Good-day, constable. They tell me at headquarters you've got a motor car and a whole dead man here. Why the fuss? Prefer your corpses in bits?"
"Dead man in a motor car, sir." The man spoke stolidly. "Something queer about it, sir."
"So!" Paull stared bleakly at the man. "Well, if you can oblige with a really dead man driving a motor car through this health resort, I'll agree with you on the queerness. But a dead car and a dead man. Tut, tut!"
"Saw the car down there as was coming on duty, at six fifty-seven this morning." The constable looked perplexed. "Didn't look in it then. Came back along 'ere about eleven and saw the car in the same place. Went down and 'ad a look at, it. Then I saw, 'im—and he was dead. He didn't answer me and—"
"That's a mystery, right enough." The Inspector cocked an eye. "A dead man in a dead car and he didn't answer when asked what he was loitering for. Hope you took his name and address. Must have the traffic regulations obeyed, y'know. What about his licence?" He turned to his car. "Gentle Peter, may I inquire what time your interesting conversation with the stout man in the Tower Square chambers took place last night?"
"Quarter-pas' eleven. Saw th' clock as I got in."
"Three-quarters to midnight and six fifty-seven this morning." Paull shook his head. "'Fraid Manners' hunch hasn't worked. Even a dead man, in a live car wouldn't take seven hours and a bit to drive from Tower Square to Barling Lane. By the way, Hinton, who found him?"
"I did, sir. At six fif—"
"Oh, I though you only arrested him for loitering. You'll make a model witness. Sure there wasn't a few-split seconds about that fifty-seven. No?" Again Paull faced his car. "May I request you to alight, Gentle Peter. Having left a trail of the best police patrol between the city and this village of virtue, we may as well have a look at Hinton's speed merchant. Ever seen a dead man driving a car, Peter? Well, follow me and you shall have a front seat."
Without waiting for an answer, Paull went towards the stationary car. As he drew near a police sergeant came to meet him.
"Got a message you were coming up, sir." The sergeant shook hands warmly. "Haven't seen you for an age. Not since that little affair in Palmer-street, when—"
"Fletcher!" The stout man held out his hand. "You know how I dislike horrors. By the way, didn't know the Darlinghurst Division staged shows. You should have a ticket box on wheels. Hinton would look fine in it. There's money in a crowd like this, y'know."
"Sorry, sir. Just the people living in the lane. Couldn't prevent them coming down to their homes. Tried to drive them indoors, but they come out again as soon as—"
"That's right, Fletcher, Always be kind to dumb animals. There's so little in life that even a messenger boy has to ganger the man picking at the street. Now if you'll kindly request your audience to resume their seats. Thanks awfully. Sorry I'm so—er—fat; and take up the whole of the front line. Ah, doctor. Interviewed our friend? Won't give you an account of himself? Obstinate, yes! Perhaps you can guess at the time he ceased to take an intelligent interest in things—such as motor cars, and all that?"
"About ten to fourteen hours ago, Inspector." The grey-haired doctor spoke quietly. "Cause of death? I've not yet made up my mind. Might be heart. On the other hand—"
"There are poisons," Paull nodded. "Say twelve hours. Hear that, Peter? By the way, doctor, do you know my friend, Peter Duggan? Quite an important character in our society. Always with us. If you have a safe, or anything similar, indulging in an obstinate fit, call in Peter; he's the best tamer we have. Fact! Only one fault. Has an unfortunate habit of calling at irregular hours. Now Peter, have a look at our silent friend. Seen him before?" The crook passed round the car. He lifted the head of the dead man and peered into the grey face. With an exclamation of disgust he let the head loll.
"That's 'im!" Duggan nodded. "That's Anton."
"Thanks, awfully!" Paull interrupted. He turned to the doctor. "Won't detain you longer, Dr. Andrews. Of course, you'll see him again and perform the usual autopsy. For the present, cause of death unknown, eh?"
The doctor stepped back to join the group of plain-clothes men and uniformed constables at the edge of the crowd. Paull advanced a pace, his eyes narrowing. The dead man sat behind the steering wheel, his head bowed forward; his hands resting on the rim of the wheel. He was largely made, about 50 years of age. The hands, partly concealed, were fleshy and gross, the veins standing out in high ridges. The neck appeared swollen, bulging over the narrow collar.
Paull mounted to the step of the car and forced the head back. The light-blue eyes stared up at him unseeing and fixed. The large, thick-lipped mouth hung partly open.
"Not worth a prize at a beauty show." Paull let the head fall and stepped backed to the street. "And you're Anton Sinclair! Now if you could only tell me why you fled from Tower Square to Barling lane after death? How did you manage to slip in behind that wheel? Quite a job to prise you out. Believe you'd tip the scale against me, and I don't fancy myself in the chicken.
"Well of all the—" He turned from the car and went to where Peter Duggan stood. "No mistake, Peter? Certain that's your friend?"
"Ain't I sed so?" Duggan was ill at ease. "That's the man I saw in Tower Square. That's Anton Sinclair."
"Well, you say so." Paull beckoned one of the constables. "Parker, fetch my car. Have this car tied on behind and we'll take the lot around to Taylor Square. No hope of getting that chap out of the car here. We'll want a crane for him." Chewing moodily on a toothpick the detective watched the tow-rope fastened. He mounted the police car, beckoning Duggan to follow him.
One of the plain-clothes men entered the death-car and from the seat behind the dead man manoeuvred the wheel. Shortly the two cars skirted the high walls of the old gaol and came to a stop before Darlinghurst police station. The gates swung open and the cars entered.
Paull backed from his car and, taking Duggan by the arm, walked into the offices.
"Hullo, Franks! Know Peter Duggan—Gentle Peter? Thought so. Brought him up from headquarters on the chance he'd be able to identify the man in the car. Says he's Anton Sinclair—the man who lived in Tower Square, and disappeared. Get a couple of men—Ah, here come the boys."
Two plain-clothes men entered the office, accompanying the local Inspector. A few moments later the party adjourned to the yard where the strange motor car stood. "Wonder who he is?" Inspector Chalmers pressed forward. "Big man, and—"
"Gentle Peter says he's Anton Sinclair." Paull was examining the bottom of the car by the light of a torch.
"Anton Sinclair!" One of the plain-clothes men interjected. "I know Anton Sinclair. That's not him."
"Always thought you were a liar, Peter." Paull spoke dispassionately. "Now, what's you're reason for pitching me that tale?"
"That's the bloke I saw in Anton Sinclair's room," Duggan answered, excitedly. "I'll swear it's 'im."
"Then you don't know Sinclair?" The stout man planted himself squarely before the crook. "Thought you did?"
"Never seed 'im. 'Course, when I got in an' saw 'im sittin' at th' desk I thought 'im to be Anton."
"So you don't know him." The toothprck was working quickly. "Say, Gentle Peter, why did Jabul Ardt send you to Sinclair? You were to get some papers out of the safe, weren't you? You say you didn't get the papers, 'cos someone had been before you. That the man?"
"Must have been. Funny how popular Anton's chambers were last night. This man—name unknown. Gentle Peter—well-known to all. A fair lady—to be known presently. Then—Oh, well, we may find others later. Question is, who's this bloke? You chaps had better get him out and we'll have a look at the car."
He strolled across the court in earnest conversation with Chalmers while the men, with much labour, dragged the corpse out of the car. When they had placed the dead man on a stretcher Paull sauntered over and searched the pockets. He found nothing; there was not a scrap of paper; not a coin. He did not appear to possess watch or jewellery. Even the links had been taken from his cuffs. "Someone frisked him!"
Paull shook his head. "There's only the car and I'm betting that belongs to one of those trusting fellows who think the streets make good garages. Well, we'll have a look at that. Crooks make mistakes, sometimes. Eh, Peter?"
Despite the daylight, half a dozen torches were directed on the interior of the car. Almost at once Paull made a find. On the floor, just before the driver's seat, lay a piece of cardboard. Paull know it had not been there when he previously examined the car. He assumed the dead man must have been seated on it.
"Take him away, boys." Inspector Chalmers spoke.
"Come into the office, Paull!" The detective beckoned the crook to follow and strolled after the Inspector. In the offices he passed to the rear of the counter and with the Inspector joined in a brief conversation with the officer in duty. He went to the counter, beckoning Duggan to come to him.
"That's your finish, to-day, Duggan." The detective spoke emphatically. "There's a saying about a still tongue and a wise head. There's reasons for you to remember that. Two-hundred of them in Mr. Manners' desk; thirty-four more missing. Get me? Good. You call at headquarters twice a day, at ten and eight. Don't be detained, Peter, or there may be a hurry call out for you—"
"Say, Inspector." Sergeant Franks stood in the doorway. "I've had a good look at your friend. Do you know who he is? It's Sam—Sam the Goat. Real name's Trainer! Why, he's got a record twice as long as your arm. Wanted in England and U.S.A. New Scotland Yard had a hurry call out for him a while ago. Never thought he'd come to Australia."
"So!" Paull turned interestedly towards the sergeant. "No connections in Sydney, then? What is it? The old lay in the old home. No idea of the pack he ran with this burg? Sure, no! Yet I'm betting he's been enjoying the hospitality of your health resort for months past. Here, Peter, I've not finished with you. Come here! Stop him, Franks. So you'd stroll away when I call you, would you?"
Deliberately Paull took his left hand from his pocket and laid it on the counter. "Don't know Sam the Goat, Peter?"
"Did you know there was a card-party in Tower Square last night?"
"Oh, there's something you do know. What about it?"
The crook looked puzzled.
"Didn't pick up any playing-card blanks in Tower Square, Peter?" Paull stared intently at the man. "Peter, I say it with sorrow. You're a liar, and you're trying to double-cross me. But I've got you, flat!"
"Course!" Sudden anger flared on the crook's face. "Tell a bloke he can go an' then frame 'im fer th' jug. Damn you busies. Damn you—"
"What did you drop in that car just now, Peter?" Paull leaned across the counter. "Nothing! Of course not! You're too damned innocent, Peter. It's not safe for you to be loose. Take him, boys. How's that Peter? Nothing to say? Well, I'm going to have you searched and if they find anything on you they can connect up with this up you go—for murder!"
The Inspector withdrew his hand resting on the counter, leaving exposed a playing card blank, back upwards, he flicked it over. Across the glazed whiteness was written in green ink: "Anton Sinclair."
"MADE a very fine mystery of it, haven't you?" Superintendent Manners scowled at the stout Inspector on the opposite side of the desk. "Asked you to go to Tower Square and pacify a nervous man-servant and you bring back a cross-word puzzle."
"Know the solution?" Paull smoothed down the large curve of his figure. "Deal in mysteries, don't you? Keep 'em in stock for the puzzlement of us poor devils who do the work. Now, if you'd told me—"
"Tell you—hell!" Manners flicked the ash off his cigar. "It's you to tell me!—get that. Think I've got nothing to do but to propound conundrums to you poor fish? Look at that!" He brought his hand down heavily on a pile of documents. "Got that to wade through and you want me to do your work."
"File A-Z, volume 0928, page umpteen—and you'll find the solution of the Tower Square mystery! Wonder how you office chaps keep awake. It's all cut and dried for you. Just turn up the right page in the right file and send orders to Long Bay. Sweet, I don't think! Now, regarding Tower Square—"
"What about it?" The Superintendent grinned.
"Nothing, just nothing!" Paull stuck the inevitable toothpick between his lips. "All that's there is a damn-fool man-servant, worried because his master has a night out. I find trails of a nice little robbery and hook on to the person responsible—a friend named Gentle Peter. I find some golden-haired damsel had the honour of resting on Anton Sinclair's pillows and—"
"Purity crusade!" Manners raised his heavy eyebrows. "Course, that sort of thing's done, though you're too innocent to know it, Paull."
"The carnal knowledge of the New South Wales police 'heads' concerns me not." Paull shook his head, sadly. "Shall I continue or will you resume your celebrated impersonation of a silver-fish? You told me to report personally. Well, well! Let me resume. In another part of Tower Square I found that a card party had taken place at the time that Sinclair walked into the unknown. Funny thing, those players objected to pips on their cards. Mr. Lynnex—"
"Murray Lynnex!" Manners looked up. "Young man about town! What have you against him?"
"Not a thing." Paull spread his hands. "He does not appear on the records of this moribund department. May I suggest the same discourtesy is shown to Anton Sinclair, in spite of the fact that certain wise-heads believe he is an undesirable acquaintance for anyone burdened with filthy lucre. I had a little talk with Murray Lynnex."
"Well! Of all the Sherlock Holmes!"
"And found he was disturbed when I restored to him one of the pipless playing-cards that happened to blow out of his window."
"A rose by any other name—" Paull stared bleakly before him. "I call it a mirror. I watched his face as I went out of the room. May I continue? Thanks. As you know, I picked up Gentle Peter outside the square and brought him here. After he had admitted appropriating certain moneys probably equally gathered by Sinclair, you switched me on to a dead man, I found seated on one of the interesting pipless playing cards. Gentle Peter identified the gentleman as Anton Sinclair, but one of Inspector Chalmers' men swears he bore the name of Sam Trainer, alias Sam the Goat."
"What was Sam the Goat doing in Anton Sinclair's rooms?"
"There are spirit mediums in Sydney—not of an intoxicating nature," Paull murmured. "I'm sure they would appreciate the Superintendent of the Detective Branch as an earnest follower. Am I to continue without these constant interruptions? Thanks. Then back to the mind of Gentle Peter. He infers there is a connection between Sinclair and one named Jabul Ardt, who bribed him to obtain certain papers from Anton's safe. Peter goes to report his failure and finds Jabul posing as a mummy behind his office door."
"What's that?" The Superintendent looked up sharply.
"Episode three of the latest thrilling drama of the silver screen," Paull grinned. "Synopsis—Burglary at Sinclair's chambers; Murray Lynnex and his friends playing pipless cards; death of Sam the Goat, who later drives himself to Darlinghurst; Jabul Ardt enacts Pharaoh's mummy; golden haired damsel tangled up in a rope on Sinclair's bed. Add a scene where Sinclair, Lynnex and, the damsel disappear, and Gentle Peter commences a rest-cure of indefinite duration, and you have all the ingredients for a new and thrilling 'talkie.'"
"Want help? I've a newly joined constable I can spare."
"Thanks! 'Fraid you were going to offer your personal services. One other matter and I'll link up with that future Superintendent of Detectives. In Murray Lynnex's chambers I found these." He placed a Dictaphone and a pack of pipless cards on the desk.
"In Anton Sinclair's rooms an interesting memorandum book and at Darlinghurst, under the dead man this missing card from the pipless pack. You'll note it bears Sinclair's name."
"What of them?" Manners turned over the pile curiously. "And the plums of the service go to the 'wise-heads'!"
The detective looked up at the ceiling. "I call for assistance and receive—what do I receive?"
"A dose of anti-fat appears appropriate." Manners smiled, broadly. "As this does not happen to be a reducing home I ask you for suggestions. What I want is the man who murdered Sam the Goat."
"A stone from the wayside!" Paull levered himself from the chair. "Even a fat man's brains can see that. S'pose I'd better ask Jabul Ardt for help."
"If the stairs at Judd Chambers are wide enough for you to pass. Has he laid a complaint?"
"He will, or—" Paull walked to the door. "Thanks for your kind assistance. Although you have sustained so much of this conversation I trust you will take it for a personal report. Good-day!"
Paull, closing the door quickly lost the Superintendent's final advice.
An hour later he left police headquarters and wandered down to Pitt-street. At the entrance to Judd Chambers he looked around him. A lift not materialising he struggled up the narrow stairs till he came to Jabul Ardt's offices. "Good morning, miss." The detective stood in the doorway, surveying Bessie Trent, curiously. "Boss in?"
The girl glanced up from her machine. "Next door. Knock and enter!"
"Short and sweet! What blessing in a woman—"
"Don't go into Jabul, then," Bessie flashed a quick smile. "He's long and sour this morning—if you still call it morning. Charlie's out, so I'd better tell him you're here. What name, please?"
"What's yours?" Paull sighed. "Sure to be pretty. Like 'em dark and pert. Now, there's a fair girl—golden hair and all that—in my life at this very moment that—"
"Sheikh! What about the Ambassadors to-night? Real jazz fiend, aren't you, Fatty?" The girl pushed past him into the corridor. "What did you name yourself—Algernon?"
"No such luck, dearie!"
Paull prevented her from knocking at Jabul's door.
"Don't worry, Angela, I'll enter without knocking. Ah, if you were but ten years younger!"
He pushed open the door. Jabul Ardt looked up, scowling.
"What do you want?" the moneylender blustered. "Why didn't you knock, or tell that infernal clerk of mine to announce you?"
"Sorry!" The detective spoke humbly. "Just a habit of mine, to walk in. Besides, if that girl of yours learned my name the missus might object. She called me a sheikh!"
"Is that what I'm to tell Gentle Peter?" Paull seated himself opposite the money-lender. "Jabul Ardt. That's you, ain't it?"
"Jabul Ardt's my name." The man looked suspicious. "What's all this about Gentle Peter?"
"Are you going to deny him—twice?" The stout detective fanned himself with his hat. "Lot of stairs you've got here. Oh, by the way, Gentle Peter's in gaol."
"Who's Gentle Peter?" Jabul asked, gruffly.
"Thrice! Thrice! Born Peter Duggan. Tell me you asked him to interview Anton Sinclair's safe last night." Paull spoke carelessly. "What did he bring you, this morning?"
"Peter Duggan?" The money-lender tensed. "Don't know him."
"Nor the foreigner who came to visit you before him? Tied you up and stood you behind your office door?" The fat man was suddenly alert. "Don't know him, either, eh? Strolled out through your window, didn't he? And you didn't complain. Thought it just a bit of fun, eh? Like to be tied up, don't you? Well, I've something in my pocket—not rope—steel, y'know; and they fasten at the wrists. Get me, Jabul?"
"You've got nothing on me!" Jabul looked flabbergasted.
"The crook's complaint!" The fat man laughed. "What did Fleming wanta heem for? Come clean, Jabul. I've big work before me."
For minutes there was silence, Paull watching the money-lender keenly. The man lay back in his chair, shaking violently.
"Tell the tale, Jabul." The toothpick between the detective's lips pointed at the money-lender. "I know a lot. If you don't want to join Gentle Peter in a rest-cure, you'll talk."
"What's there to tell?" Jabul braced himself defiantly. "Duggan came here this morning. He came about—about some money I lent him. That's all, I swear."
"And found you tied up like a mummy."
"That was another man." The money-lender answered quickly. "When he came in he closed the door, sprang at me and tied me up."
"And you didn't object? Got Gentle Peter to untie you and went on with your work as if nothing had happened. Oh, you fool! You damned fool! Telling me a tale like that! What did he want? He searched your room, didn't he? What did he take? What did his message—those words he told your clerk to bring in to you—mean?" The detective towered over the cowed man. "Come clean! Jabul, or I'll take you!"
Jabul suddenly wilted. He pushed back his chair and unlocked a drawer, withdrawing a small card. Paull looked at it, curiously. On the glazed surface was outlined, in black ink, a hawk in full flight. Under the talons was a square containing the letter "F" in red ink.
"A FLYING hawk, drawn on glazed card, in India ink. 'S'pose the 'F' stands for 'Fleming,' Jabul?" Inspector Paull spoke insistently.
"Don't know. No one knows." Ardt had lost much of his nervousness since producing the card. "He's just Fleming!"
"Just Fleming!" Paull echoed "'Hawk Fleming'! I've never come across him. Say, what do you know?"
The money-lender was staring with troubled eyes. "I never mentioned 'Hawk Fleming'!"
"You have now." The detective laughed. "Then Hawk Fleming sent his card to you by a foreigner. He tied you up when you didn't obey orders. Have I to ask again, what was it the foreigner took in exchange for that card?
"He wanted papers."
"Naturally. Your sort of people deal in papers. Were they the papers Peter Duggan was to got from Anton's safe?"
"Peter found the safes empty."
"He said so. He said someone had been there before him."
"So!" The toothpick was moving jerkily across the thick lips. "Why did you send Gentle Peter to Anton's, Jabul?"
"I daren't go myself." The man shifted, uneasily.
"Not being expert in the gentle art of burglary, say, Jabul, hadn't you better tell the tale? You wanted some papers from Anton's safe. Papers referring to you, or papers generally?"
"I wanted to get out of his clutches." Beads of perspiration stood on the man's brow. "Say, Inspector, I'm going to get hell for talking to you."
"We're alone." Paull looked around the small office. "There's only the girl in the next room. There's the window—do you expect Fleming to climb up there? He seems to be fond of unusual exits and entrances."
"The Black Hawk knows everything."
"Does he? The Black Hawk!" The Inspector was interested. "Does he know that your man, Gentle Peter, failed to get what you sent him for? Does he know that Sam the Goat went to Anton Sinclair's rooms—and went out? Does he know that—"
"Sam the Goat. Dead!" The money-lender almost collapsed. "God! Did he get him?"
"Someone got Sam." Paull was puzzled. "When Gentle Peter arrived at Anton's study he found Sam the Goat seated at Anton's desk, apparently dead."
"Apparently dead? He wasn't dead, then?"
"Gentle Peter didn't think that." The Inspector laughed. "He says he examined him and thought he was dead. To-day we found him in Barling-lane, Darlinghurst, and the doctor says he's been dead for a dozen hours or more. Can you tell how Sam the Goat got out of Anton's study, seated himself in a motor car and drove to Darlinghurst?"
"Someone took him there." The words were spoken in a whisper. "The Hawk—"
"If the Hawk carried him from Anton Sinclair's room to the court, seated him in the car and drove to Darlinghurst, he's the cleverest and nerviest crook on this continent. Nothing doing, Jabul.
"Sam the Goat walked out of Anton Sinclair's study. Anything else is impossible. Now, I've told you my news what about a little chat from you. Start at tie beginning, Jabul. You're a money-lender and 'fence', aren't you?"
"Never mind the high talk." Paull interrupted. "We've let you run because you serve our purpose. Hope the money-lending business is good, for you'll have to confine yourself to that in future. By the way, how much of the 'fence' business went Sinclair's way?"
"Same as the money-lending." Jabul shrugged his shoulders; "Take this, Mr. Paull. There's my clerks out there; Bessie gets three pounds a week; Charlie four-ten. I'm a clerk, too. My wages are seven pounds a week and five per cent, of all business. The rest—"
"Goes to Anton Sinclair." The detective nodded. "I thought that was it. How much did Anton put into the business?"
"Not a cent—not a bloomin' cent." The gross man shook his fists in the air. "I'll tell you, Mr. Paull, I was here and doing a good business before I ever heard of Anton Sinclair."
"Never touched it until he sent Man—a man along to me. Told me over the 'phone to buy what he'd got. No, sir, that wasn't my game. There's plenty in money-lending."
"So Anton held something over you? What was it?"
"I'm understanding." The detective grinned. "Ten years ago you were cashier in the Sydney and States Banking Company. Yum, yum. About that time the S. and S. went down to five thousand pounds forgery. Signature purported to be that of a big western squatter. Looked quite genuine, and was so. The dud things in the cheque were the figures. They jumped from tens to thousands. Jabul Ardt cashed that cheque. 'Course, no one could blame him—the forgery was too well done. In fact, nothing was known until friend-squatter came to Sydney and read the riot act. Jabul lost his nerve, though the bank assured him that he was blameless. Everyone sorry for him—but he resigned. Adulation and a big testimonial, eh? Jabul sets up a cosy money-lending business at Judd Chambers. Back of it a nice banking account that the heads of the S. and S. had watched grow through years. Oh, sweet, sweet—but—Say, Jabul, there was a damned sight more than five hundred and twenty-three pounds, ten shillings, invested in this business. Shall I guess another two thousand five hundred pounds?"
"I'm saying nothing, Mr. Paull." The man's hands were shaking.
"A still tongue saves a wise head!" The detective grinned. "'Course, you knew I was guessing. No evidence yet, but don't forget I'm watching. So's the bank. Wise to leave that little nest-egg—on checking account—wasn't it; but you added to it, too quickly. Matterson, the manager, spoke of your wonderful success one day. Said your account flourished like the Biblical bay-tree. Damned imprudent, very! Now, how did that cheque get into Anton Sinclair's hands?"
"I'd give a thousand to find that out." The money-lender spoke impetuously.
"You would? Perhaps I'll claim that thousand, Jabul." Paull laughed. "So Anton worked that?"
"I didn't know him then."
"Course you didn't," Again the detective laughed. "You hadn't any money and he didn't want you, then. How long did he wait?"
"Six years. Curse him!"
"Four years ago." Paull mused, "I don't understand where the Black Hawk comes in, Jabul."
"His name was on the back of the cheque."
"So!" Paull rose to his feet. "Yes, that would fit. Anton holds the pair of you through that cheque. No, that isn't it. You got out of the cheque game too easy. There had to be something to put you back again. What was it?"
"There was a letter from me to—to Fleming."
"Good Lor'!" The Inspector shouted with laughter. "Oh, you dud crooks! Got the bank on a cold deck and then record it on paper—jumping tin hares!"
"Fleming tried to frame me."
"'Course he would." Paull tapped the top of the desk, impatiently. "If only you crooks had gumption there'd be chances for you. You pull off a slick deal, then commence to scatter evidence about for us to pick up. My sainted uncle with a hooked nose!"
For minutes the Inspector was silent, Jabul Ardt watching him, nervously. Presently his eyes wandered to the door, and he started. His involuntary movement aroused the detective. He looked up to see the money-lender staring fixedly at the door, his face deadly pale. The man was rising to his feet as if drawn by some mysterious force.
The detective stared in astonishment and swung round to face the door. For a moment he glimpsed a man's figure standing in the doorway. Something bright flashed before his eyes.
Paull sprang to his feet and raced to the closing door. Almost before he left his chair it swung shut. For a moment he fumbled with the handle, then pulled it open, and sprang into the corridor. There was no one in sight. He turned to stare back into the office. Jabul Ardt had fallen forward across the desk, his head twisted strangely to one side. On the blotting-pad a red stain was spreading. The man groaned heavily.
Paull sprang to his side and raised him.. As the money-lender's head fell back on his arm he saw a long, narrow-bladed knife piercing the man's throat. There was something attached to the knife. With a jerk Paull tore out the weapon. Close to the hilt was pierced a square card. The blood had stained it until the drawing on the card was almost obliterated. Yet the detective recognised the wide-spread wings of the flying bird—the square enclosing the red ink "F."
"God!" The Inspector let the man slip forward again. "Under my eyes, too!"
For minutes he waited, staring around the little office; then walked into the corridor. There was no one in sight. The doors on the opposite side of the passage were closed and the rooms silent. In the clerks' office he could hear Bessie's antique typewriter. He distinctly remembered hearing the typewriter while he was talking to Jabul Ardt. The girl could not have committed the murder. Yet, he had not heard any sounds from without the room. He had not heard the door open; but someone had opened the door and killed the money-lender!
Jabul Ardt was dead! Paul glanced back at the crumpled form of the man. The affair was mysterious; almost uncanny. There must be an explanation. He strode into the clerk's office. "Well, smarty! Ready for the Auxiliaries; or the you going to take me to the Colonial Rooms? That ain't bad, if you've got tickets on the head waiter and can get a bottle or two. Or, where...Say, what's the matter?"
"Who came along the corridor while I was talking to Ardt?" Paull questioned. "Someone—"
"No one." A startled look came in the girl's eyes. "Charlie's down at the Central and no one called."
"Swear to that?"
"What's the matter?"
"You sit there and go on with your work." The detective spoke sharply as the girl made to rise. "All that you've to know for the present is that Jabul's—ill. Yes, that'll do. Just ill! By the way, get on that 'phone and call a doctor here. Say I'm here—Inspector Paull, of the C.I.B. Get me?"
"I say that Jabul Ardt's ill, and that I want a doctor at once. Now, girlie," Paull spoke more easily. "Be a good girl and get me that doctor—and stay in this room."
At the door he turned and went to the telephone, taking the receiver from the girl's shaking hands. Getting headquarters he asked that men be sent to Judd Chambers and the ambulance advised. He hung up the receiver and turned to face the girl, standing at his elbow, staring at him.
"Say, who are you, smarty?" Bessie rested her hands op her hips. "You come here, giving orders—"
"I've told you." The detective spoke impatiently. "I asked you to get a doctor and tell him that Inspector Paull wanted him here. Say there's been an accident. Do that; then, if anyone comes to these officer yell for me. Understand?"
"The police!" The girl looked scared. "You're arresting Jabul. Well, he's asked for it! The brute! I'd like to—"
"I wouldn't say more." The detective's voice was grave. "You may as well know now. Jabul Ardt's been murdered."
"But—but there wasn't anyone—not since you went to his room." The girl kept her nerve. "There was just you and him—and you say he's been murdered. Why, then, you—"
"No. I didn't murder him, Bessie." Paull laughed lightly. "Looks like it, doesn't it. But you can't always trust to appearances. Jabul was stabbed and I didn't see who did it."
"Stabbed? You mean someone stuck a knife in him."
"Stabbed with a throwing knife." Paull spoke strangely. "Come with me. No, you'll not see him," he added, as the girl hung back. "Just stand here and watch around you. If you see anyone, call me."
Paull went to the other office and looked in. He paced the corridor in silence for some moments. Suddenly he turned to the girl.
"Who rents that office?" He pointed to the door opposite Jabul's private room. No name showed on the frosted glass.
"Name's 'Scanlon'." Bessie answered. "Tasty dresser, medium height man, small tooth-brush moustache. Gotta nerve, too. Regular sheikh, if you want to know."
"Lor' no! Fair as they make 'em. Good looker—and don't he know it."
"We'll have a look at him." Paull knocked at the door. There was no answer. A minute's wait and he applied a small tool to the lock. A click and the door opened. The room was empty.
"Who occupies this?" The detective went to the next room, facing Bessie's office.
"Vacant, I think. 'Least, I've never seen anyone go in there."
"We'll have a look, anyhow. Again the strange tool turned towards the lock.
"Say, what's the game, Bessie?" Paull turned sharply. A youth had come to them from the head of the stairs.
"Charlie! Something's happened to Jabul Ardt." Bessie turned to the detective. "Mr. Paull, this is Charlie Budd. He's Jabul's clerk."
The Inspector nodded, turning again to the room. It was empty, although a pile of recently opened correspondences lay on the desk. He glanced around, noticing a door leading into the other office. He crossed to it and tested the handle. It was unlocked. A glance through and he went to the desk, bending to examine the letters.
Immediately he raised himself with a jerk. On top of the pile of correspondence lay a glazed card, bearing on its white surface the partially drawn figure of a hawk in full flight. His eyes searched the desk. There stood a saucer containing wet India ink, flanked with a bottle of red ink.
THE big car turned from the country road into a narrow lane, slowing to a crawl. Myrtle looked around her. They were travelling beside a well-strung wire fence. Across the fields she could see the chimneys of a low, red-roofed house, nestling amid trees. In the distance rose the heights of Constitution Hill. Although the town of Parramatta lay but a few miles behind them, the car appeared to be travelling the back-blocks of the State. On all sides were wide fields on which cattle and sheep lazily wandered. Except for the creaking windmill not a sound was to be heard.
The car swept slowly forward. The chimneys disappeared behind a belt of trees and the road sloped downwards. A steep incline led to a creek crossing. The car splashed through the rippling waters, and, climbing the bank came to stop before a double gate.
"Take the wheel, Myrtle." The young man slipped to the road and opened the gates. "We're going to Greystanes by the back road."
He closed the gates and, walking after the car, took the wheel again, driving along a rough track bordering the creek. Another half-mile and the car humped on to a broader track. Again they crossed the creek on a well-made trestle bridge. A few more yards and they came within sight of the house.
"How beautiful!" Myrtle exclaimed at sight of the low, wide verandahed homestead, half-hidden under the blaze of blossoming creepers. "Murray, how can you live in the city with that house calling to you?"
Murray was asking himself the same question. His heart swelled with pride. It was his. He turned and looked at the girl. She was staring at the old house with longing eyes. He looked from the girl to the house, a sudden thought in his mind. If only—the rich colour swept his face.
The car humped from the track to a wide gravelled drive. Murray stopped before a big garage. Taking a key from his pocket he unlocked a postern-gate. As he thrust it open he started back with a cry. The girl ran to his side.
"What is it, Murray?" He stepped to one side to allow her to look into the garage. Facing the door was a small, dilapidated motor car, painted yellow. A glance and Myrtle looked up, questioningly.
"That car doesn't belong here," Murray whispered. He stepped into the garage and switched on the lights. Myrtle followed him. There was nothing on the yellow car to indicate ownership. For some minutes Murray hesitated, thinking quickly. Had some one anticipated their intention to come to Greystanes?
Murray turned to the car and lifted the bonnet. The yellow car rough, dilapidated and old-fashioned, was fitted with powerful modern engines in splendid order and capable of high speed. Murray went to the work-bench and found a long, strong chain. He threaded this through the wheels, joining the ends with a strong padlock. Whoever owned that car would have to interview him.
"That will beat them." He straightened himself, a boyish grin on his face. "If they don't choose to come and see me for the key it will take them time to file through that chain. Come on, Myrtle. Looks as if we're up against it. Still, we're here and know that strangers are about. They don't know that we've arrived."
On the gravel drive, Murray found the tyre-marks of the strange car, leading from the direction of the main drive to the garage. Keeping well out on the lawns and dodging from bush to bush they came on the drive at the front of the house. Here again, they found the yellow car's tyre-marks.
"Came in at the front gate." Murray dropped down under a belt of trees. "Looks as if my ancestral halls are in the hands of the enemy. What do you think, Myrtle? Ever seen that car before?"
The girl shook her head. She had never seen the yellow car before. It puzzled and perplexed her. Only one person knew that she intended to bring Murray to Greystanes. It was at his instigation she had acted. They were to hide in the old homestead until suspicion was diverted from them. If their hiding place was discovered by their enemies she would be instructed how to act.
A slight sound made the girl turn. Murray had left her side and was crawling towards the house. She wanted to call to him; to tell him that they must get away from there. To where? With an impatient sigh she drew back. For the first time she must follow Murray's lead, allowing him to remain in ignorance of the force opposed to them. Then she would be able to judge how far she could trust him. Instinctively her fingers sought the small holster strapped above her knee. She brought out the miniature automatic, holding it concealed in her hand. Even at the distance separating them she could protect him, to some extent; the sharp crack of the automatic would startle his assailants.
At the end of the drive Murray rose to his knees. He came to his feet, bending low under the shelter of the bushes. A moment's watch and he ran to another clump of bushes a few yards from the edge of the verandah. For minutes he crouched there, listening and watching. At length, he turned and made his way back to the girl.
"Can't understand it." He spoke softly. "The house appears to be unoccupied. Yet, there's a number of footprints about and a car stopped before the main door. Who has been here?"
"You think there is no one in the house?" Myrtle asked. The automatic had disappeared into the hidden holster.
"Not quite sure." Murray spoke grimly. "I think I'll have a look inside. Wait here, old dear. If you hear a shout, get for your life. You know where the car is. Shoot off and get the police from Parramatta. Better to fall into the hands of Inspector Paull than to be held up by a gang of crooks."
Without waiting for her reply, Murray crept down to the drive, below the turn that hid the gates from the front of the house. A few minutes and he reappeared, strolling up the wide gravel drive, whistling carelessly. Myrtle watched him, her heart in her mouth. He mounted the few steps and unlocked the front door.
For some minutes she waited, for the first time feeling fear. Again her fingers sought the comforting touch of the automatic. Why had she let him go to the house alone? Did he think she would run away in the face of danger? She rose to her knees, planning a route to the house.
Murray walked up the steps to the front door, his muscles tensed. He cursed himself that he had not brought a gun from his chambers. He flung open the door for a moment, looked across the lawns. Again he faced the house in which he had been born; where he had spent his childhood days. With a little laugh he stepped into the hall. He turned towards the library, opening from the big hall. In the desk lay a fully loaded revolver. With that in his hand he would search the house. Opening the door cautiously, he peered in. The room was empty. He went to the desk and opened the drawer. The revolver was not there!
A frown came on his face. Who had removed the revolver? Edwards, the gardener-caretaker, knew the revolver was kept in that desk. Had he taken it? With sudden impulse Murray bent and removed his shoes. He crept into the hall and listened. There was not a sound in the house. In the cloak-room at the back of the hall he found a stout stick. He swung it tentatively. He had a more useful weapon. With a gun he might kill, but the stick would only stun. He turned to one of the corridors opening from the hall. From it another corridor ran at right angles. At the end of the corridor a glass-door opened into the shade-house. There was nothing untoward in that part of the house.
He returned to the hall and went to the library. As his hand found the door-handle someone touched him on the arm. He turned swiftly—to face Myrtle.
"You?" He looked down into the girl's eyes. "Myrtle, I told you not to come here until I knew there was no one in the house."
"What have you found?" The girl spoke in a whisper.
"Nothing! Not a single thing!" He answered, whimsically. "Yet, from the marks on the drive one might think the house was held by a garrison. But—"
Myrtle caught her breath. "Murray, I don't understand. I'm sure there's someone, about. If only—"
"I haven't searched the east-wing." He pointed to the right-hand side of the house. "I'm going there now. Myrtle, you shouldn't have come in yet."
"I couldn't leave you alone," the girl said simply. "While you were in sight it didn't seem to matter. When you entered the house and I couldn't watch you, I had to follow. You are sure there is no one here?"
"Myrtle, you must go into the grounds again." He spoke abruptly, after a pause. "They might see me."
She shuddered. "No, Murray, I can't do that. Come!" She passed him and led down the corridor, opening doors and peering into rooms. They came to the bend in the corridor and to the glazed door, opening into the shade-houses.
"Where does that door lead to, Murray?"
"Gardens, conservatories, shade-houses." Murray laughed. "The house is all right, girlie. There's no one here. All we have to do is to make ourselves at home."
The girl laughed, her eyes sparkling merrily.
"Murray, we're worrying ourselves into a couple of old nervous wrecks. I refuse to be frightened any more." She turned the key in the lock and swung open the door, peeping out of the long line of shade-houses, filled with towering palms and flowering shrubs. Amid the maze of green flittered gay-plumaged birds. They looked happy and almost free; comfortable amid surroundings that closely resembled their tropical home.
"How splendid!" A look of awe came in the girl's eyes. "Murray, how can you leave this? Why, it is the most beautiful place I have ever seen. Why—why live in drab Tower Square when you have this lovely home?"
"Live here alone?" Murray looked down into her sparkling eyes, quizzically. "They'd name me the hermit of Greystanes."
"You should marry." Myrtle spoke severely.
"And live here all the year round. Why, I've just thought of that." There was a strange note in his voice; a look of wonder in his eyes. "Myrtle, I think I have been asleep, waiting—" For a moment their eyes met. The rich colour rose to the girl's face, dyeing neck and breast. His eyes widened; his hands came up to clasp her arms.
Deftly she evaded him, running down the corridor. He followed slowly. In the main hall she paused.
"What is this room, Murray?"
"The library." The strange moment had passed, leaving only wondering regret. "We've been in there."
He threw open the door. The girl advanced, to halt with an exclamation of fear. Murray passed her, quickly.
Seated at the desk was a slightly built man, his face covered with a red, fringed mask. He was looking towards the door as they entered. For some moments he stared at them, in silence.
On the desk under his right hand lay an automatic. "Enter, Mr. Murray Lynnex." The red-mask spoke in level tones. "Place a seat for Miss Wayne, facing me. Bring a chair for yourself and place it three feet from her. Move slowly, Mr. Lynnex, I am a nervous man and this gun has a light spring."
"WHAT do you mean?" Murray strode to the desk. "What are you doing here?"
"Mr. Lynnex." The man's voice was suave. "I am afraid you—"
"Afraid?" Murray sneered. "You are the person to be afraid! What are you doing in my house?"
"Your house is in my possession, Mr. Lynnex." The long fingers closed round the butt of the automatic. "It rests with you—"
"You infer you will hand my home back to me when you have finished with it." Murray laughed. He leaned over the desk, resting on his clenched fists. "Of all the damned impertinences—"
"I have asked you to be seated, Mr. Lynnex." The masked man flinched under the young man's wrath. "Surely—"
"I ask you to stand in my house until I request you to be seated. Now, make an end of this. Get out of my house!"
"I asked you to give Miss Wayne a seat and find a chair for yourself."
A smile came on the thin lips; the muzzle of the automatic tilted up from the desk. "Really, Mr. Lynnex, you are a difficult man to deal with."
"The only dealings I will have with you are through the police." Murray reached forward and seized the telephone. He lifted the receiver; there was no response. A flicker of amusement came in the beady eyes peering through the mask.
"Satisfied, Mr. Lynnex?" The man laughed. "Surely you give me credit for taking precautions. The police! And you a fugitive from justice!"
"A fugitive from justice!" Murray gasped. "You left your chambers this morning with the young lady beside you. You drove out here with her, intending, to hide, in this house until—"
"Until?" Murray queried as the man paused. "Well, until—"
"Until you and she, with the aid of her friends, could deflect the police from your tracks on to mine." Red Mask spoke without emphasis.
"And you are?"
"The Black Hawk, at your service." The man rose and bowed.
"The Black Hawk!" Myrtle gasped. "That is untrue! You are not the Black Hawk!"
"Will you admit you know the Black Hawk, Miss Wayne?" Red Mask laughed shortly; his tone cold. "I think this has gone far enough. Will you place a chair for Miss Wayne and seat yourself? I shall not ask again."
The automatic came up, touching Murray's chest. He looked down startled; then his body tensed.
"You—you go to—"
"Murray!" The girl caught his arm. "Murray! Be careful!"
"Miss Wayne offers good advice." The man behind the desk whistled. "Look behind you, Mr. Lynnex." Murray swung round. In the open doorway stood two men covering him with levelled guns. For a moment he hesitated then, recognising the hopelessness of resistance, brought a couple of chairs to the desk. "Now, what do you want?"
"First, for you to be seated."
Murray sat down, abruptly. "Secondly, I must tell you we have little time for conversation."
"I have already asked what you came here for." Murray spoke angrily.
"Very little." The man answered briefly. "First, I want the papers yon took from Anton Sinclair's safes. Secondly, the ruby ring you took from the silver box on the desk."
Murray stared at the man in amazement. "I have never been in Anton Sinclair's rooms."
"That is useless." Red Mask spoke sharply. "I know what happened in your rooms prior to Sinclair's disappearance. I know, he overheard the plot you were framing against his life. I know that after your friends departed you went to Sinclair's chambers. There—"
"Murray!" Myrtle exclaimed, amazedly. "Was it you—?"
"I?" The young man shrugged his shoulders. "Let him talk, dear. He knows too much!"
"Enough to obtain those papers and ring from you, Murray Lynnex!" Red Mask snarled. "What is the good of all this? My information is exact."
"Have I denied it?" Murray laughed.
"Where are the papers and the ring?" Again the automatic came up. "Quick! Why not tell me?"
Murray leaned back, an amused smile on his lips. "Surely, knowing so much, you know, the rest."
"I want those papers and ring—and I want them quick."
"I have told you I know nothing of them. If you don't believe me, enquire elsewhere, Mr. Anton Sinclair."
"I am the Black Hawk." There was a note of uncertainty in the crook's voice.
"Then the Black Hawk and Anton Sinclair are one and the same person." Murray laughed.
"No! He is Anton Sinclair!" Myrtle interjected. "Yes, even behind that mask I recognise him. Murray, he has the papers and the ruby ring."
"I believe that." The young man answered. "I believe him to be Sinclair, although to my knowledge I have never seen the blackmailing scoundrel."
"You're damned free with your tongue." Red Mask sprang to his feet with an ugly snarl. "Take my word for it, Mr. Lynnex, you'll never turn your belief into certainty. You'll never see my face and live."
"No?" Murray glanced at the men in the doorway. "Tell your gang to get out and close that door and you will sing a different tale. I want to get my hands on you, Sinclair, for just five minutes. I'll swear that if you manage to get away then I'll recognise you ever after—yes, twenty years hence."
"Twenty minutes is a long time." The man sneered. "Unless you tell me where those papers are."
"I have said I do not know. So far as I have succeeded in reconstructing the incidents of that night you ran away, taking the papers and ring with you. That's all you'll get out of me, you damned, dirty, blackmailing dog—"
"By God!" The crook raised the automatic, hate blazing from his eyes. "You won't tell? Well, take them, Alf!"
Murray swung round to face the men from the door. He fought fiercely, for minutes holding his own against the two men.
"Murray!" The girl's voice shrilled. With a supreme effort he swung round and looked to where the girl stood. She had taken advantage of the fight to reach for her automatic. Now she held the master-crook under her gun. She was backing slowly towards the door.
In a flash Murray understood—if he could hold the two men for a few minutes; if she could get to the wall—she would command the room. Under the menace of her gun Red Mask must surrender.
Collecting his energies, Murray succeeded in throwing off one of his opponents, heavily. He turned to grapple with the other. This man was strong and he secured a strangle hold. For the moment Murray despaired. Suddenly he relaxed, allowing himself to fall limp against the crook. The man, taken by surprise, slackened his grip.
Almost on the floor, Murray reached up and caught the man below the knees, throwing him heavily. He made to spring to his feet, but something caught him around the ankles, dragging him down. A furious effort and he gained his knees. A coil of rope settled over his shoulders; a jerk and he was on his face. The rope tightened; he felt coils encircling him and lay back, impotent.
Wearily he looked towards the door. Myrtle was struggling in the grasp of one of the crooks.
"Thanks." Red Mask came from behind the desk. "Well played, Alf! You too, Tom! I'll not forget this. Put him in a chair and take the girl away. I'll talk to her presently. Perhaps in her absence Mr. Lynnex will not be so fresh."
Grinning broadly, the men lifted the young man to a seat and dragged the girl from the room.
For some minutes Red Mask was silent, a cruel smile growing on his thin lips.
"Satisfied, Mr. Lynnex?" The crook returned to his seat. "Now, you've had you fun perhaps you'll talk sense." Murray did not answer. He was watching the master-crook closely. The man's hands were trembling. The flame of the match he held to his cigarette danced and quivered. Yet the man had taken no part in the fight. Red mask was a coward. Murray knew he was not the Black Hawk; he had not the nerve to plan and commit murder. Then he was Sinclair.
"Still obstinate?" Red Mask fingered his cigarette nervously. "Well, well! There's plenty of time, now."
"What do you mean by that?" Murray questioned involuntarily.
"So you have decided to talk. The Black Hawk wants the papers you took from Anton Sinclair's safes."
"No doubt he does. So do you, Anton Sinclair," Murray laughed; he was straining at his bonds under the shelter of the desk.
"You stick to that?" A mocking smile came on the thin lips. "Well, have it your own way. Where are the papers? I want them."
"I have told you; I don't know." For minutes there was silence. The young man's reiteration of ignorance was affecting the master-crook. Again Murray tugged at his bonds. He was certain the knots were giving way. Another fraction of an inch and he would be able to free one of his hands.
"Anton Sinclair wrote to you, Mr. Lynnex."
"You wrote to me—yes."
"In his letter Anton Sinclair mentioned your father's—"
"Mention my father's name and I'll choke it from your lips." Murray strained forward, white with anger.
"Tut, tut!" the man laughed, yet a shiver of apprehension shook him. "Leave it at this: Anton Sinclair made a demand on you?"
"Inspector Paull informed me that you valued your information at fifty thousand pounds."
"Fifty thousand pounds." Red Mask laughed again. "A nice little sum."
"Especially when you have had to bolt without clearing your bank account." Murray retorted. "Well, what about it?"
"Will you pay that sum for the knowledge Anton Sinclair possesses?" The crook leaned eagerly forward. "If you will give me your—"
"You have not that information nor the proof," the young man interrupted.
"Not the information?" The beady eyes showed amazement. "Haven't you informed me that I have Sinclair's papers?"
Murray spoke ironically. "Damn you!" The master-crook sprang to his feet. "Look here, Murray Lynnex, unless you hand me fifty thousand pounds—" He ceased speaking, staring into the young man's eyes. A new fear tugged at Murray's heart-strings. He did not fear for himself, but in those cruel eyes he could read some newly-formed, fiendish thought.
"There is the girl." The words came low. "Yes, Lynnex, there is the girl you brought to this house. I watched you at the door of the shade-house. I read your thoughts. A tasty piece of skirt, Lynnex, and—I'm staying in this house, to-night. Shall I have you placed in the room next to the one I shall occupy? That's right, Lynnex. Struggle while I laugh! I'm laughing at you, Murray Lynnex. Shall I teach that girl, to-night, to laugh at you?"
"Fool!" Murray looked up suddenly. "You fool, to bind a man with new ropes. Now, Sinclair, it is my turn."
With a mighty effort he rose to his feet and flung himself across the desk, clutching at the man's throat with partially free hands. With a howl of terror the man jumped up, falling, back over his chair. Murray laughed, madly. He was lying, face downward on the desk, levering himself forward. He felt himself sliding down on the rising form of the master crook; crowding the man back.
For the moment Murray was content to keep the Red Mask from rising. He wriggled forward over the man's body, striving to bring his hands to the man's throat. He kicked out violently with both feet, feeling the slackened rope give way. If he could only get that labouring throat under his hands he could choke the man into insensibility.
Red Mask struggled violently, thrusting Murray up on his knees. The young man resisted, then allowed himself to be raised. He supported his body up until the crook relaxed then came down heavily, forcing the breath out of the man, crushing him to insensibility.
He had won; Red Mask lay at his mercy.
He had half-raised himself from the crook when something struck him on the back of the head. He shifted abruptly and the second blow caught him on the shoulder. Another blow fell on the back of his head and he fell forwards. He tried to raise himself but failed. Dimly he heard excited voices; then oblivion came.
SLOWLY Murray drifted back to consciousness. For a time he lay trying to still the dizzy whirling in his head. Then, conscious of a strange stillness, he opened his eyes, to quickly close them against a powerful light. A long interval, and he opened his eyes; to stare up at a heavy-beamed roof. Lazily he looked around. The uncarpeted floor was littered with boxes and broken articles of furniture. In the far corner rose, through the floor, the end of a ladder.
He tried to move, to find he was bound, hand and foot. He tried to roll over, to find himself caught against the wall. A few seconds and he realised that a rope was fastened from his bound hands to a staple in the wall. Again he looked around the room, now recognising it. He was in the loft over the garage, at Greystanes.
He recalled the incidents before he lost consciousness; the fight in the library. He remembered impotently watching Myrtle dragged from the room by the crooks. Where was she? He tried to roll over. He remembered the threat of Red Mask against her.
Above his head he could see a small window. The daylight was streaming in. But, was it a new day or had night intervened since he had been carried to that place? In sudden frenzy he strained at the ropes. They would not give an inch. He rolled over until he lay against the wall. Now he could see the cord fastening him to the staple on the wall. If he could get his face against that cord. Wriggling over; drawing his body over his hands until he thought his muscles would crack, he got the rope between his teeth. It was new and brittle. Hope sprang up in his breast.
Could he gnaw through it? He believed he could. For long minutes he lay tearing at the rope-fibres; his weight supported an almost intolerable strain, on his arms. He was making progress. A sound from below made him desist in his efforts. Some men had entered the garage. He tried to wriggle back to his former position, succeeding only in interposing his body over the gnawed portions of the rope. He lay still, watching the ladder protruding through the floor. The poles commenced to shake; someone was coming up to the loft.
Murray lay still, watching with half-closed eyes. A man's head and shoulders came in sight. It was Red Mask. He came to where Murray lay and paused, looking down on' the apparently unconscious man; then bent and shook him roughly.
"Stop that shamming, Lynnex. I've come to talk with you."
"What do you want?" Murray made a pretence of coming out of a state of coma. "Oh, it's you, Red Mask. Where am I?"
"Have a guess." The man laughed harshly. "May keep you amused during the dark hours, if you don't talk sense. Now listen, I've come up here amongst the rats—"
"Come to join your friends?" Murray yawned. He glanced around the room. "Oh, I'm over the garage. Rats here? Plenty, of course. So, you've come to join them? Going to gnaw through these ropes? Well, make haste. I want to see you on your knees doing something useful."
"Shut your mug!" The man struck Murray on the face. "You'll talk what I want to hear, or not at all."
"Good-night, or rather, good afternoon." Murray closed his eyes. "I'll wake up when you've gone. And remember, Red Mask, or Anton Sinclair, if you like that better, I owe you for that blow, I'll pay you back when I'm free."
"When?" Red Mask laughed. "That'll be some time ahead, if you're going to behave like that. Come, Lynnex, what's the good of kicking? Talk sensible and I'll let you go free."
"I'm talking facts. Now, get out, Sinclair."
For a few seconds the man stood, undecided how to act. He dropped to his knees and shifted the young man to an easier position. Murray let his body relax. He prayed that Red Mask's fingers would not touch the rope where he had gnawed at it.
"Drop that Sinclair talk." Red Mask bent until his face was close to Murray's. "This is between you and me mister Lynnex. You've got something I want."
"And that is—?"
"There's those papers."
"The papers you took from your safes?" Murray answered. "What a fool you are, Sin—"
"Cut that," Red Mask interrupted, "if you want your freedom you can call me the Black Hawk—"
"Which you are not. We'll let it go at Red Mask. You've got the papers. What's the good asking me for them?"
"They want the papers." The man motioned downwards. "They think you've got them."
"And what do you want?"
"The ring that the girl brought to to Sinclair's chambers. Give me that and I'll see that you get away."
"The ring? You consider the ring of more value than the papers? What makes you think I have the ring, Mr. Red Mask?"
"Oh, if you're going to talk like that!" The man rose with an angry gesture. "You can rot here until—"
"Wait a minute." Murray laughed slightly. "Let me get this right. You say your gang want the papers. You're willing to give me my freedom for the ring alone. Now, where does the ring come in? You've lived on those papers for years. From what I know you're likely to live on them for many years more, unless—"
"I was going to say unless I found out where they are."
The young man laughed. "In the library you said I'd got them. Now you infer you know where they are; that if I surrender the ring you will surrender the papers."
"The papers go to the gang. I take the ring."
"The papers represent a yearly income; the ring would provide, your expenses for less than a month. Is that ring of special value, Mr. Red Mask?"
"What's that to do with you? You're forgetting—"
"I'm forgetting nothing," Murray retorted.. "I'm pricing that ring at fifty thousand pounds, Mr. Red M—"
"What the hell—?"
"Just that! You're forgetting. I'm quoting your words. In the library you asked me for fifty thousand pounds. Now you want the ring. Can't you see the connection?"
"I can see that you're bound and tied to that wall." The man glowered angrily at his prisoner. "If that's the way you're going to talk, I'll call the gang. There's means of making you speak."
"What if I haven't the ring?"
"You've got it, I know that. You want time to think it over? Take until sunset—about a couple of hours." He walked to the ladder. "And while you're thinking of the papers and the ring, just think of the girl. Haven't forgotten what I said about her. When we come back I'll have you moved to the house. You'll have an interesting night, believe me."
"You filthy scoundrel!" Murray writhed in his bonds. "You touch that girl and—"
Red Mask, with a light laugh, disappeared through the trap-door.
For a time Murray struggled, in impotent rage at the man's threats. Slowly his brain cooled. He had a couple of hours. He must get free from his bonds!
Again he twisted himself until the rope lay against his face. He gnawed at it, tearing out the threads, singly. At length only a few strands remained. He moved, throwing his weight on the gnawed rope, but it held. Again he threw his weight forward. The rope parted and he crashed down on his face. He was still bound hand and foot.
He glanced around the room. His eyes fell on the window. If he could get to it! But, would that help? Suddenly a scheme flashed in his mind. It was fantastic, yet it held possibilities of success.
He rolled over, striving to get under the window. With some manoeuvring he attained his objective. He twisted around until his feet rested on the wall immediately under the window. Contracting and relaxing he moved forward, shifting his bound feet up the wall until they rested on the frame beside the glass. He was supporting his weight on his shoulders.
A supreme effort and he drove his feet through the glass. The jagged edges cut through trousers and shoes, piercing his flesh. He could feel the warm blood trickling, down his legs.
So far his plan had succeeded. Twisting his bound feet from the broken pane he let them fall to the floor. He squirmed around until his head rested against the wall. At length his shoulders rested against the plaster. A few minutes and he was seated against the wall. A big effort and he gained his bound feet. He hopped round to face the window. A few jumps and he was close to the broken pane.
He shuffled round until he felt the broken pane adhering to the sash between his bound wrists. He sawed the rope against the glass.
Five minutes' hard work and the cords parted. He bent down and untied his ankles. For a time he sat on the floor chafing his numbed limbs. At length he was able to walk.
He staggered to the ladder and sat down, his feet dangling through the opening. A plan to beat the crooks was forming in his mind. Once he was within the house he knew they could never find him. More, in that old-built house he would have the gang at his mercy.
He descended to the garage. Here he found that the crooks had broken the chain with which he had bound the wheels of the motor car. He hesitated a moment, then went to the work bench and found another padlock.
Cautiously, he opened the postern door and looked out. There was no one about. He slipped through, closing the door behind him. At once he noticed that his car had disappeared.
Again he hesitated. The absence of his car upset the plans he was forming. He wanted control of both cars so that the crooks could not escape from Greystanes. During the coming night he planned to terrorise and capture them. With Red Mask his prisoner, he believed he could solve the mystery surrounding Anton Sinclair.
He ran swiftly to the shade houses. Moving silently through the rows of plants he came to the house-door and bent to listen. There were no sounds within and he opened the door. Again he listened. Reassured that the crooks were not in that part of the house, he entered, closing the door behind him. He searched each room in the long passage for the girl, without success. He came to the main corridor and listened for some minutes.
The silence perplexed him. Where were the crooks? He peered around the corner. There was no one in sight. Again he resumed his search of the rooms. At length he came to the door opening into the library. For some time he listened, intently, but could hear nothing.
He retreated a few yards and pressed on a section of the panelling. A secret door opened. Before him lay the head of a flight of steps. Descending them he came to a cellar. At the bottom of the steps he touched a switch, flooding the place with light. He was in the secret cellars at Greystanes, built in the days of the colony by his ancestors, to provide protection from raiding aborigines. Few people, not even the servants on the estate, knew of those cellars. Certainly the crooks could not know of them.
Murray determined that the cellars were to play an important part in his war against the crooks who had invaded his house. Here he planned to bring Myrtle. From here he would sally out to disorganise, and, if possible, capture them one by one.
Switching out the lights, Murray ascended the steps. First, he had to find the girl and bring her to the cellars. He came to the secret door in the wainscoting, and listened.
Were the crooks in the library? He could hear nothing. In the corridor he went to the library door and opened it. There was no one there. He saw the stick he had taken from the cloak-room lying on the desk-and, picking it up, swung it in his hand. He crossed to the door leading into the hall. Where were the crooks?
Hunger answered his question. It was many hours since he had had a meal. At Parramatta Myrtle had bought provisions sufficient for many days' stay in the house. Their capture had followed closely on their arrival. The crooks had, no doubt, found the provisions in the car and were consuming them. If so, it was safe for him to search for the girl. But why should those crooks feed, in comfort, on his provisions?
A quirk of mischief lurked in the corners of his mouth as he turned to the door. Greystanes held secrets! He would lead the crooks a pretty dance! He looked around the room. Close to the door stood a cabinet of china. On top of it was a statuette of a semi-nude woman. With a sudden thrust he overturned the cabinet. Before the echoes of the crash had died away he was at the door in the panelling, waiting.
He could hear the crooks running from the kitchen. As the library door opened he closed the secret door and passed into the corridor. Running silently down to the kitchen he gathered the provisions into a cloth and slung them over his shoulder. Again in the corridor he could hear the crooks talking excitedly. He passed through the secret door and down to the cellars.
Again he went up to the corridor. The house was humming like a hive of disturbed bees. He squatted down, his ear against the woodwork, content to wait. Presently the crooks would tire of searching the house. When they had again settled down he could go in search of the girl.
At length came silence. Murray pressed the spring and stepped into the corridor. At the passage leading to the kitchen he paused to listen. There was a distant murmur of angry voices. He was certain Myrtle was not in the east wing of the house. Crossing the hall he turned into the west wing, he searched room after room without success, until he came to the passage running down to the shade-houses.
There were no signs of the girl. Where had the crooks hidden her? From the drive came sounds of a motor car, rapidly driven. He went to one of the rooms at the front of the house. A car was halting before the door; another car was rapidly driving up. From both cars men charged into the house. What had happened? Who were these men?
The newcomers were not members of Red Mask's gang. It was evident they were attacking them. Why had they come? For a moment Murray thought they were the police. If so, what had brought them to the house? He had given no alarm. Could the arrival of these men be connected with the absence of his motor car?
For a time he thought the Greystanes caretaker had discovered the presence of the crooks and had driven to Parramatta for help. But that was unlikely. Edwards had the telephone at the lodge half a mile from the house. If he had seen anything suspicious he would have telephoned the police. Was it possible that when he had snatched up the telephone in the library the wires had not been cut? He remembered that when he had flung himself across the desk he had thrown the telephone to the ground. Had the receiver fallen from the hook, attracted the attention of the exchange? Had the long connection without a voice speaking showed that something was amiss at Greystanes? Had the exchange communicated their suspicions to the police?
MURRAY turned from the window and ran to the door. He hesitated, holding the door half-open, listening to the sounds in the house. For some reason he could not entirely accept the theory he had constructed—that the police had come to Greystanes. Yet, the noise in the house showed that the newcomers were antagonistic to Red Mask's gang.
For some time he knelt at the door listening. Until he was certain who the invaders were he dared not act. He could hear the shouting and struggling in the hall, gradually receding towards the kitchen, where the Red Mask's gang had their headquarters. At length came silence.
Murray stole to the corridor and then to the hall. The front part of the house was deserted. He went to the baize door leading to the kitchen and opened it. A man was standing far down the passage, an automatic dangling from his hand. Murray closed the door, silently.
Now he had an opportunity to search the west wing. He ran to the far corridor and commenced a feverish search of the rooms. He could find no signs of the girl. As he came out of the last room he heard renewed fighting in the hall. He went to the corner. A struggling, shouting group of men were gathered before the baize door.
Suddenly they broke, scattering through the hall. A body of men drove through, making for the hall door. Murray ran across the corridor to one of the rooms facing the drive. The fight had extended to the verandah. Again the compact body of men came into view, one of them, a tall man, carrying a burden. Steadily they forced a way to the cars. As they mounted one of the cars Murray saw that the tall man carried a girl.
With a shout of rage he wrenched open the window and charged out on the verandah. The men in the car took no notice of him. One of them had slid to the driver's seat and had the car in motion. Men were crowding on to the other car, also gathering speed. Murray jumped down on to the drive. He could see Red Mask, surrounded by his gang, on the lawns.
He ran towards them, shouting and waving his stick. To his surprise they greeted him with shouts of laughter, breaking before him and running down the drive towards the gates.
Murray pursued them. At the end of the drive he saw a car backing towards them. The gangsters mounted it and turned to wave derisive farewell at him. With a groan Murray stopped and watched the car disappear around the bend of the drive.
The men had escaped, taking Myrtle with them. But—
There had been two gangs. Red Mask and his men had had possession of Greystanes and the girl. Another gang had come to the house, attacking Red Mask's gang. They had captured Myrtle and driven off, pursued by Red Mask. Who were the attackers? Myrtle had declared that Red Mask was Anton Sinclair. Were the others members of Black Hawk's gang? If so, why had they come to the girl's rescue?
Was Myrtle a member of the Black Hawk's gang?
Murray went back to the house. In one of the kitchens he found signs of Myrtle's captivity. With an impatient gesture he went to the garage.
The yellow car was still there. Hastily releasing it he drove down the drive. He would follow the crooks. Somehow he would rescue Myrtle.
Driving down the road he watched for tyre-marks. Almost within sight of the lodge-gates he found marks turning off the drive and threading between the trees. The fence-wires had been cut and the cars driven through. The tracks showed that the gangsters were heading for Sydney.
In Parramatta Murray questioned some loungers. He learned that two cars had driven through the main street at a furious rate, about ten minutes previously.
Two cars! But three had left Greystanes. What had happened to the third car? Had the car bearing Myrtle driven through the town, or had it turned into some by-way?
Murray drove on, trying to form some plan of action. Should he continue on the main road, following the cars, or turn aside and try to trace the third car. It was better to go on, following down the highway. Unconsciously he increased the pace of the yellow car.
A constable, hot and dusty, was pedalling towards him on an ancient bicycle. Murray stopped and held up his hand.
The man dismounted beside the car. "Seen a couple of cars speeding towards Sydney?" Murray asked.
"Seen 'em?" The man wiped his perspiring face. "Seen 'em and tried to catch 'em. Going about sixty per. Wouldn't answer my hail. I've got the last car's number." He pulled out a pocket-book. "Here it is—071720. That's it! If they ain't stopped before they reach home there'll be a summons for them to-morrow. Thanks, sir. It's hot to-day, as you say."
The constable pedalled off. Murray looked after him. The summons would go to Tower Square—to his chambers. The car the constable had identified was his—the car Red Mask had stolen from Greystanes. He sent the yellow car forward at a moderate rate. Somehow he must stop that summons.
In Strathfield he went to a telephone and instructed Martin to inform the Sydney Police that his car had been stolen from Greystanes. In a few hours the hue and cry would be on the heels of the Red Mask's gang.
He drove towards the city, for he had given up hope of catching either of the cars. Yet, he was determined to trace and rescue the girl. He believed the Black Hawk would hide her in one of Sydney's underworld haunts.
Should he go to Tower Square? If he did he would be under the observation of the police. Paull would want to question him, and Murray could not fathom the Inspector. He believed the officer would link up the theft of the car with the Tower Square mystery. It would be impossible to search for Myrtle with the police about him. Where could he go? He must find a place where he had complete freedom of action.
Stopping the car he searched his pockets. He had a fair sum of money on him and he could get more from the bank. For the moment he though of taking a room in the Darlinghurst district, on the borders of Sydney's underworld.
On the borders of the underworld! His thoughts went to Alan Crago. The man who had been his father's oldest friend. When Murray, a school-boy, had roamed the fields about Toongabbie, freed from the restraint of school discipline, Alan Crago had lived at Greystanes. He would help him.
Alan Crago lived at the extreme end of Pott's Point, overlooking the harbour. If he went to Alan Crago's house he would be on the dividing line of the underworld districts of Woolloomooloo and Darlinghurst. A mile south lay the underworld district of Surry Hills. In one of these districts he might hope to find the girl and solve the mystery surrounding Anton Sinclair.
He must not allow himself to be traced to Alan Crago's house. In some way he must dispose of the yellow car. He turned from the main road, heading for the coast. In Petersham he stopped at the door of a tea-shop. He had not eaten since breakfast, and was ravenously hungry. More, he wanted time to perfect his plans.
An hour later he drove the yellow car on towards the coast. At dark he arrived at Bondi and parked the car on the Esplanade. In the town he sought a restaurant. It was past eight 'o'clock when he walked to the tram terminus, abandoning the yellow car.
Twenty minutes later he alighted at Rushcutter's Bay and climbed the long hill to Darlinghurst. Watching around him carefully he sauntered down Victoria-street to Pott's Point. At the end of the road he halted before tall iron gates and again scanned his surroundings. Certain he was not watched, he pushed open the gate and entered. Inside the gates he walked on the grass bordering the drive.
Once he stopped under the shadow of some trees and waited. He thought he heard some noise in the bushes. At length, confident he had been mistaken, he crossed the drive to the door of the house.
He believed he had arrived unwatched. As he pressed the bell-button something brushed past his cheek, thudding into the door. He turned swiftly, feeling in his pocket for matches. Before he could strike a light the door swung open, revealing the form of an old bent man, dressed in a thickly-padded dressing-gown. "Who's there? What do you want?" The voice was old and shaken.
"Mr. Crago?" Murray spoke doubtfully. His father's old friend had aged greatly since he had last seen him. "I am Murray Lynnex. Have you forgotten me?"
"Murray Lynnex." The old man held out both hands in welcome, "Murray Lynnex! Welcome. my son. It is many years since you came to visit you father's old friend. Yet—something hit the door as my hand sought it. What was it?"
"That!" Murray, his face strangely white, pointed to the long, narrow-bladed throwing knife, quivering in the door. "As I rang the bell someone threw that at me."
FOR some moments Alan Crago stared at the bright steel quivering in the door. Then, drawing a handkerchief from his pocket he pulled the knife from the wood. He beckoned Murray to enter and closed the door. In silence he led the way through the house.
The room Crago led Murray to was insufferably hot. In the fire-place blazed a big fire. Alan Crago walked to the fire, his head bent over the knife. Murray stood at the door, watching him. Who had thrown the knife? Murray was certain that he had not been followed through the streets. Only once, when he stood within the gates had he thought someone was spying on him.
For some minutes Crago stood, turning the throwing knife in his hands. He looked up at Murray and a strange smile came on his thin lips. He beckoned him into the room. Almost immediately his attention reverted to the knife.
"The same pattern knife!" He placed the weapon on the arm of a big chair; then went to a table covered with papers. He returned to the chair carrying a copy of that evening's Echo.
"Exactly similar to Inspector Paull's experience this morning. He was with Jabul Ardt, the money-lender, when someone threw a knife—a knife like this. Murray, that knife found its mark. It came, to rest in the throat of Jabul Ardt."
Murray nodded vaguely. This was news to him. He had not read a paper since breakfast. Engrossed in his own thoughts he had not purchased an evening paper while at Bondi. And Alan Crago had said that once before that day a throwing knife had pierced a man's throat. The man had been Jabul Ardt.
He stepped forward and took the paper, reading the account of the murder. But for some error, perhaps the darkness of the night, he would be lying outside the House on the Cliffs, a knife in his throat.
"Well, Murray." Alan Crago turned suddenly. "What do you know of the black Hawk?"
"The Black Hawk!" Murray was surprised. "At Greystanes, to-day, a man named himself the Black Hawk. He wore a red mask."
"A red mask!" Crago laughed lightly. "You say a man claimed to be the Black Hawk? What took him to Greystanes? Murray Lynnex, was Luigi Savelli there?"
"Luigi Savelli!" The young man could not mask his astonishment. "That newspaper says a foreigner went to Jabul Ardt's officer and bound and gagged him. Later, while Inspector Paull was talking to Jabul—"
"Luigi Savelli did not throw the knife at you," Crago interrupted. "Luigi did not kill Jabul Ardt. No, Luigi is not a killer. He spies and listens; others do the big work. No, no, Murray, Luigi did not deface my front door. Yet, he is here. Perhaps even now he is without that window trying to listen to what we say of the Black Hawk. To-morrow the Black Hawk will know that you have sought refuge with me; then—"
"Perhaps I had better leave you." Murray rose. "I would not like to bring trouble on you, Mr. Crago. When I came here I thought—"
"Where else can you go?" Crago looked up suddenly. "You have offended the Black Hawk. What have you done? Have you opposed him? Remember, the Black Hawk knows no law but his own will. He rules those who people the underworld. Silence, boy! I must think."
For some time he sat, staring into the heart of the fire. At length he touched a gong suspended from the mantelpiece. The dull rumbling penetrated the room. As the sound ceased an old man, dressed in a swallow-tail coat, entered. Crago did not look up. He spoke as if he knew the man was there.
"Edward! Mr. Murray Lynnex will stay here to-night. Prepare the green room for him. I will let you know when he wishes to retire. For the present we talk."
The servant bowed, but did not withdraw. Crago looked up. "No. Mr. Lynnex did not bring a bag. I noticed that. You will attend him, Edward. Provide all that Mr. Lynnex will require."
For some time after the door closed Crago sat rubbing his hands before the fire. At length he commenced to speak, without turning towards the young man.
"So you have returned from Greystanes, Murray. That is well, for if you had not done so I should have had to follow you there. Why did you go there? No, do not speak! The woman bade you! Always it is so. And why? Women act only on impulse. Some call it intuition, bestowed on them by the Source of All Things to compensate them for the gift of logic, created for man's sole use. She—"
"Mr. Crago!" Murray started to his feet. "How do you know this? Why, even Martin, until I telephoned him, did not know I had been to Greystanes."
"Yet the Black Hawk followed you there." The old man laughed quietly. "The Red Mask met you there. But for the secret cellars your ancestors built he would have held you and the girl prisoners. Aye, he knew what you and the girl proposed to do and anticipated you; even as I, aided only by what I read in the newspapers, by the few words that pass to me through the air, reconstruct your actions. Murray, what insanity prompted you to enter into that compact to murder?"
"There is much I know and much that is hidden from me." Crago placed another log on the fire. "Murray, you are young; your companions in that death pact are young. Should I have acted as you did, at your age? Possibly yes. Murray, what hold did Anton Sinclair have over you?"
"I thought so." A smile of satisfaction parted the old man's lips. "Murray, your father and I were young together. In our days men and manners were rough and crude. We walked and drove; we sent messages by hand; they were 'ticked' over an electrified wire, slowly and by hand. This continent was young then, even though the rocks and soil of which it is built is old—to the beginning of time. Men were men, in our days; their laws lay in their strength, their ability to take and give punishment. Thus lived Godfrey Lynnex and I. Thus we sinned. He died and I—Bah! Tell me, why did not Anton Sinclair try to blackmail me?"
"You were with dad?"
"I was with him." For a moment a fire glazed in the still young eyes. "We sinned; we were not prepared to wait; we strove to control fate. Did we sin a greater sin? I wonder! And Anton Sinclair—? No, he would not write to me. That would be foolish, for I have passed youth. The fires of my life die; only the ashes glow. Soon they will turn cold. They will fall to dust and the winds will scatter them. Murray, if Anton Sinclair had written to me, I, too, should have struck—but the weapon would have been forged of my brain, not of my impulse.
"Godfrey, Miles Acton and myself." Crago spoke, peering into the dancing flames. "We three, far from what men call civilisation; full of desire for the wealth that Mother Nature stores for those who brave and suffer. We found it, after we had suffered and sinned. With it Godfrey recreated the wealth of his forebears; bought back the lands that had been sold, extending through the State and across its borders the lands you now possess. With it he built the mills that now take from the countless sheep the wool; to give it back to man in forms man has devised. He became great—a ruler in this country. And Miles Acton, with his third of the wealth he had won from the far lands? He disappeared. I heard he had gone to newer lands, across the seas; ever seeking for wealth. And I? I stayed with your father. From him I bought this house, peopling it with my books, my thoughts."
"Miles Acton!" Murray murmured the name. A strange thought had come to him.
The old man looked up.
"You think that Miles Acton is the Black Hawk, Murray?" Crago smiled. "But Acton would not hurt you. That which your father did; that which I planned and Miles Acton accepted, belongs only to us. It is ours; ours as the vows we swore. You have no part in them. You were only a child then."
Murray watched the old man bending over the fire. He was fascinated by the strange words. He knew that in old days this man and his father had been comrades. He remembered how his father and Alan Crago had held him thrilled by tales of the wild unknown—tales of regions extending far into the mysterious interior of the continent.
"Miles Acton, the Black Hawk! It may be so!" Crago stared at the curtained window. "Then, without there listens one who is the eyes and cars of Miles Acton. Why has he not come to me?"
He turned to the fire, stretching out his hands to the blaze, his eyes wide and speculative. "Anton Sinclair wrote to Godfrey Lynnex's son. He did not write to me, who had an equal part in it. Did he write to Miles Acton? If not, then—"
"Mr. Crago." Murray shifted impatiently. "What is this secret? Anton Sinclair wrote to me. He told me that he held my father's honour in his hands. Yet, he gave no facts—he asked no payments, but his letter breathed the desires of a blackmailer. He wanted to meet me, to tell me things he could not write. He said he held a document—"
"The agreement your father, Miles Acton and I drew up the day we camped on the borders of the Terrible Lands." Crago rose to his feet. "The heat of youth reduced to writing! The obsession of adventure inscribed in lasting words. Fools! Fools!" He held up his hand, a command for silence. With slow, stealthy steps he went to the window and pulled back the curtains. For moments he stood, looking out over the moonlit waters of the great harbour; then opened the window.
"Luigi! Luigi! Come to me!" The old, thin voice echoed through the still night. "There is peace between yours and mine."
He left the window and returned to his chair before the fire, drawing his dressing-gown closer around him. Murray sat, spellbound, staring at the window. For a space in which a man could count twenty there was complete silence; then the windows darkened with a moving shape. A man vaulted into the room, to turn and pull the curtain together. Murray, stared at the man. About five feet in height, swarthy dark, his lean body held the spring of a whalebone. He was dressed in tight-fitting black clothes, revealing the play of muscles. His step was light, almost panther-like, as he moved towards the old man.
"The Signor called." The slurring accent made the words sibilant.
"Luigi Savelli!" Crago did not look up. "You are the servant of the Black Hawk?"
"I am the servant of the Black Hawk."
"And Miles Acton is the Black Hawk?" The old man held out a small glazed card.
"The Signor commands?"
"You do not deny?" Crago swung to face the man.
"The Signor has spoken. I am but the servant."
"Good!" Crago rose from his seat. "Go to your master, Miles Acton, now known as the Black Hawk. To him you will say, 'Once there were three, two only remain. Yet, the third lives in his son. Between the two who live and the one who lives again there should be peace.'"
"Signor, the Black Hawk strikes not at the young man."
"Yes!" The old man spoke wearily.
"Signor, I am but the voice—obeying orders."
"The Black Hawk strikes at Anton Sinclair. That is well. Where is he?"
"Signor, I am a servant. I speak which is taught me."
Crago picked up the throwing knife and held it towards the man. "That knife I found in my door. This night the son of my comrade passed under that knife. Is that the act of a friend?"
"The young man seeks what the Black Hawk would find. The Black Hawk desires that the son of your friend should return to his home."
"That is untrue," Crago denied. "If the Black Hawk desired that, why did he send to Greystanes and bind him?"
"That he be persuaded, Signor." The Italian hesitated. "That—"
"Because of she who was with him. It is not the Black Hawk's will that she should he with him."
"She? Who is this girl?"
"The Black Hawk knows."
"Myrtle Wayne." Murray spoke softly.
"Myrtle Wayne?" Crago's brows puckered to a frown. "Who is Myrtle Wayne? What part has she with the Black Hawk?"
"If he injures her." Murray stepped impulsively forward.
"The Black Hawk injures only that which is evil," Luigi answered. "The Golden Girl will not be harmed, but she must obey the master."
"Take this weapon." Again Crago held out the throwing knife. "Take it to the Black Hawk. If that knife rests in my door when to-morrow's sun rises I shall know that peace has flown; that the compact of days long past is broken. Go, Luigi, your mission is completed."
MURRAY followed the conversation between Crago and Savelli with close attention. He learned something of his father's past; of the days when Greystanes stood neglected, its owner seeking wealth to restore it. He learned something of the blackmailer who had sought to ruin him in pocket and money.
How had that secret document, signed by the three men, fallen into Anton Sinclair's hands? What connection was there between the blackmailer and his father's friends? There must be a connection; or why had not Alan Crago shown more surprise when he learned that Sinclair possessed the paper?
Which of the three men had had it in charge? Who had passed it to the blackmailer, and for what purpose? Sinclair had acquired it solely for the purpose of blackmail. Had the traitor been a party to Sinclair's plan to extort money out of the adventurers' carelessness?
Why had not Sinclair tried to blackmail Crago? He was a wealthy man. He would understand the mischief the blackmailer could work, if his demands were refused. Yet, his attitude assured Murray that the man's demands must be seriously considered.
The blackmailer had written to him; the one man of the trio who had no knowledge of the contents of the document. His letter had been obscure; only for Inspector Paull had Murray learned of the value Sinclair placed on his knowledge.
The soft reverberating roll of the gong brought Murray from his perplexities. He looked up, to see Crago's servant standing in the doorway.
"Murray!" Crago spoke without looking up. "Your room is ready. Edward will attend you. It is his misfortune he cannot speak; yet he can hear and understand. Sleep well, my son. To-morrow we'll talk again!"
For some time after Murray had left the room Crago cowered over the fire, rubbing his thin hands before the flames. At length he went to the telephone on the desk. He dialled a number, and waited.
"Inspector Paull." He spoke in a whisper. "Crago, Alan Crago speaking! Listen! Murray Lynnex is in my house."
"No," he exclaimed after a long pause. "Murray Lynnex is a victim of circumstances. He is not to be questioned, yet. If you leave him to work out his destiny he will lead you behind the Black Hawk to the solution of the mystery that now puzzles you."
Crackling noises came from the instrument, as if someone was expostulating. Crago smiled, slowly shaking his head.
"Paull! Paull!" He spoke reprovingly. "Man, gross of body yet quick of wit, think! Do you want Murray Lynnex to question or badger or the man who slew Jabul Ardt to hang? Of course! Remember, fate leads always along the path of retribution."
He replaced the receiver and went back to the fire. For minutes he stood staring down into the flames. Suddenly he looked up. Edward Panton stood in the doorway watching him.
"I want you." Crago went to the man and laid his hands on the bowed shoulders. "Edward, our time of vengeance is near. Each second draws closer the net around the man who deprived you of the power of speech."
The old servant bowed his head.
"And Alma—my daughter?"
"A finger pointed to the corner of the ceiling.
"In her room," Crago mused. "Edward, see if she sleeps. If she is awake bid her come to me."
A strange smile twisted the old man's lips as Panton left the room. He paced slowly back to his chair. Hardly had he seated himself when a young girl entered. Without a word she went to a chair by the fireplace.
"Alma! Murray Lynnex is in this house." The old man stared intently at the bowed head of the girl. "He came to me to-night. As he stood at the door a knife was thrown at him."
"The knife did not touch him." The girl's blue eyes, framed by dark lashes, were raised to the man's face.
"Edward told you that?"
"He told me that Luigi Savelli followed Murray Lynnex here."
"Edward tells you too much." A queer smile twisted Crago's lips. "Listen! It is necessary that Lynnex stays here. That is your task."
"My task?" The girl swept her hair from her broad forehead; her Irish eyes searched the old man's face. "I do not understand—"
"Is that necessary?" Crago did not look up. "It is my will."
"But, father, what shall I say to him? How can I detain him?"
"With what tricks do women beguile men?" Crago paused. "Girl, the end of the long road is in sight."
"Alma, I am not you father." The keen young eyes turned swiftly to the girl. "Soon, within a few days, you will call another man 'father.'"
"You have been a father to me." The girl spoke simply. "Have I not obeyed you?"
"You have obeyed." The old man paused. "How old are you, Alma?"
"I took you when you were a child. Are you content, Alma?"
"I am content." The girl answered gravely.
"Fifteen years." Crago turned from the fire, pacing the room. "For years we went from place to place, seeking a home. Time came when you left me for school. Those years we were parted. Did you remember me, then?"
"I remembered, always."
"The day came when I could return to the city. I placed you in this house—its mistress. You were almost a woman. You asked of your birth and I told you that you were the daughter of a man who had died in my arms, in the bush. That was a lie! Alma, do you remember Godfrey Lynnex?"
"Very dimly." The girl smiled. "There was another man; a big strong man with a large face, continually lit with laughter; a big voice that matched his large frame. I do not remember his name."
"Miles Acton." The old man almost whispered. "Alma, Miles Acton is the Black Hawk."
"You say so."
"Miles Acton is your father."
"My father!" The girl spoke without emotion. "You say—"
"Let it rest." Crago spoke impatiently. "To-day you owe me obedience. Is that not so?"
"It is so." The girl sank back in her seat.
"Alma, where is the girl I commanded you to bring to me?"
"She is here, father."
"Asleep?" Crago mused. "I will see her, to-morrow. What does she know?"
"I do not think she suspects any thing. She appeared to be glad to obtain the situation I offered." A slight smile parted the girl's lips. "She was Jabul Ardt's typist. She tells me he was a hard master and hopes to have an easier time with me."
"Let that be so. Yet, it is not fitting that the young girl should be idle. You must find her work."
"That will be difficult, unless—"
"There are times when I shall not be able to be with her." Alma spoke thoughtfully. "You have work for a secretary. Could you not—"
"I understand." The old man frowned. "It may be dangerous. There are things—"
"She is not inquisitive."
"I must consider." Crago walked to the window. "Your suggestion is reasonable. Yes, it might be done. Alma, see that the girl is provided for. She must have clothes—plenty of them and the best. Pay her a quarter's salary immediately, for she must have money at her command. She must learn luxury—but not idleness. Arrange that she has control of what extra money she requires. Tell her—no! What is her name?"
"Trent?" The old man paused. "She is to be called by her given name—the name 'Trent' is not to be mentioned in this house. She is to be your adopted sister and companion. Do you understand, Alma?"
"Good! To-morrow morning you and she will be at the breakfast table to meet Murry Lynnex. Throughout the day either of you, or she, will be with him. Interest, amuse, watch him; prevent him thinking of past days. Remember, Alma, I trust you."
"I shall obey."
The shrill note of the door-bell cut in on the girl's words. Crago raised his hand, listening. Again the door bell shrilled.
"Alma, to your room, girl!"
The girl passed from the room. Crago closed the door after her and went to his desk, taking a small automatic out of a drawer. As he slipped it in his pocket Luigi Savelli sprang through the window.
"Signor, quick! The police!"
"Good!" A smile of satisfaction came on Crago's lips. "Luigi, you must not be seen. Tell Edward to admit Inspector Paull and bring him here. Then—Murray Lynnex is in the green room. He must not be found. You understand? You know the means you must use."
THE Italian went to the door. For a few seconds he stood listening, then slipped through. Crago watched him, a wry smile flecking his lips. When the door closed he commenced to pace the room, deep in thought.
"Murray Lynnex here!" His lips barely framed the words. "Lynnex and Alma in my power, trusting me, obeying my orders. The Black Hawk beating his wings against the bars with which I have confined him. Anton Sinclair has disappeared. Where? Who can guess? The papers are missing from the safes! Now comes this Inspector of Police, painstaking and dogged; yet impotent except with the clues I place in his hands. Yes, yes! They all dance to the tune I whistle!"
He turned sharply as the door opened. For a moment Panton stood in the doorway. When he caught Crago's eyes he stepped aside and Inspector Paull passed into the room. He gasped as the overheated air struck him, feeling for his handkerchief.
"Jove, Mr. Crago!" The detective wiped beads of perspiration from his forehead. "If I used a room like this—"
"You would lose your reputation, Paull!" There was malice in the smile that accompanied Crago's words.
"Now, that's unkind." Paull seated himself close to the window. "I'm not claiming I'm an ornament to the Department. They don't like fat men; that's a fact. Makes the public think they get too much pay and have too little work. But they stand for me—for they don't go altogether on looks. There's grey cells in the head, y'know."
"Then it was grey cells that brought you here." Crago spoke ironically. "I thought it was my message."
"Maybe." The Inspector glanced around inquisitively. "Mr. Lynnex not here?"
"I said he was." The old man spoke abruptly. "I do not remember asking you to call."
"I've my duty, Mr. Crago." The detective answered doggedly. "I'm not saying I'll take him, but there's questions I want answered. You'll admit he's acted strangely—disappearing from his chambers in Tower Square with that woman; and then bolting from Greystanes."
"Admit?" Crago laughed. "Paull, I admit nothing. I do not admit, now, that Murray Lynnex is in this house."
"But—" The detective's voice was full of astonishment. "Why, Mr. Crago, you rang me up and told me he was here!"
"That was about eleven o'clock, Inspector." The old man laughed shrilly. "It is now midnight. Much happens in an hour."
"Then you let him go." The Inspector rose heavily. "Look here, Mr. Crago: there's things I won't stand for and—"
"I am an old man, friend Paull." Crago's voice became pathetic. "How shall I constrain youth? Murray Lynnex is—"
The old man hesitated. He turned and paced the long room. An ominous frown gathered on the detective's brow.
"I don't like it. Mr. Crago." Paull broke the silence. "You're playing with me. You rang me up and told me Murray Lynnex was here. I came and—"
"Against my wish, Inspector." Crago turned swiftly. "You admit that?"
"I know my duty." Paull spoke stubbornly.
"Your duty is to arrest the man who killed Jabul Ardt—in your presence, I believe, Inspector?"
"The Black Hawk!" A dull flush rose to the Inspector's face. He felt keenly that a murder should be committed before him and the murderer escape.
"You have said so."
"My duty is to discover what happened at Tower Square the night Anton Sinclair disappeared. I believe the deaths of Sam the Goat and Jabul Ardt are connected with that. Murray Lynnex knows a lot, and I'm going to make him talk."
"Murray Lynnex is not here for you to question, friend Paull." Again the old man laughed. "In your present success you forget the hand that raised you."
"I'm forgetting nothing." Paull spoke earnestly. "I owe you a lot, Mr. Crago. Time and again you've given me clues that have led to success. How you get to know of these things I don't understand, but you're never wrong. 'Tisn't that I ain't grateful! It's just this. I want Murray Lynnex and you're keeping him out of my way. Looks to me, if you'll excuse me saying it, that you've got a personal end to serve in this matter. Seems like I'll have to question you, Mr. Crago."
"I would only tell you what I desired you to know, Paull."
"I don't doubt that." A broad smile illuminated the Inspector's face. "For instance, tell me why Anton Sinclair's little book contains yours and Miles Acton's names on opposite pages?"
"Why not, Paull?" Crago smiled secretly. "Years ago three men went into the Terrible Lands. While camping on the borders of that country they came to an agreement. It was reduced to writing—"
"And fell into the hands of Anton Sinclair." The detective interrupted. "But, where does Murray Lynnex come in?"
"One of the three men was Murray Lynnex's father."
"So that's it! Then you and Miles Acton were the other two."
Paull looked pleased. "That's the game! I see your point, Mr. Crago. If Murray Lynnex's name is in that book then yours and Miles Acton's should be there also. Blackmail! I'm after Anton Sinclair, Mr. Crago. Seems like that when I get my hands on him I'll have the clue to the whole mystery."
Crago did not reply. He was watching the Inspector, a slight smile on his lips.
"Has not Anton Sinclair thought of that?" The old man spoke quietly. "Has he not thought, you would one day discover the connection between Murray Lynnex, Miles Acton and myself?"
"Take it that way and it's imperative that I question Lynnex." Paull's face set in an obstinate frown.
"I have told you that he is not here."
"You telephoned me that he was."
"You wish to search my house, Inspector?"
"Now, don't he angry, Mr. Crago." The Inspector spoke, deprecatingly. "You know I haven't a warrant. I don't suppose you—"
"My dear Paull," Crago spoke smoothly. "My house is at your service. Search where you will."
"Then—" The stout man walked towards the door. There he paused, glancing back at the old man. "You still say Lynnex is not in this house?"
"Wait!" The old man touched the gong. Immediately the door opened and Panton appeared. Crago made a sign of inquiry, answered by a bow. "Inspector, my man will show you the house. Search where you will; you will not find Murray Lynnex."
Immediately the door closed Crago went to the window and whistled. A moment, and Luigi sprang into the room.
"The young man sleeps." A smile grew under the Italian's moustache. "The green room is empty—the bed undisturbed."
"You have done well." Crago showed his satisfaction. "Inspector Paull will not find Murray Lynnex. He will believe he left the house soon after his arrival; that he did not rest here. Paull will not come again. Luigi, the car—the car Murray Lynnex abandoned at Bondi?"
"It is not there, Signor. I heard the words of the young man, while he talked with you. I sent for the car. Word came but a while ago that the car was not there."
"Not there!" Crago paced the room, agitatedly. "Luigi; I want that car. You must find it. Possibly—Yes, that must be it. The Black Hawk trained Lynnex. He found the car. Then—Did the Black Hawk trail him here? Quick, Luigi! You must watch! If the Black Hawk suspects; if he comes here—"
"He will not come." The Italian spoke with assurance. "The Black Hawk seeks Anton Sinclair."
"Yes." The old man went to his seat by the fire. "The Black Hawk seeks Anton Sinclair. If he finds him? If he heard—?"
He paused, straining forward as if listening to some sounds without the room. In the corridor heavy steps approached. Crago lifted his hand and the Italian vaulted through the window.
The door opened and Inspector Paull entered. Without speaking he took a seat facing Crago. For some time they sat silent; Paull's head bowed in perplexity.
"You are satisfied, friend Paull?" Crago spoke.
"I'm satisfied that Murray Lynnex is not in this house. Still, there's something that wants explaining."
"I found two girls." Paull appeared to be choosing his words. "Both of 'em dark, one with blue eyes..."
"My daughter, Alma."
"The other with dark eyes?"
"My daughter's companion."
"Bessie Trent." Paull nodded. "She was Jabul Ardt's typist."
"My daughter advertised for a companion and the girl answered. Her references are good."
"I'm saying nothing against the girl, Mr. Crago." Paull interposed. "Still, she's dark—"
"Perhaps my daughter does not like blondes." Crago smiled, though a puzzled look was in his eyes. "As for Jabul Ardt, you understand, he could not be called a gentleman."
"So!" Paull laughed. He look an envelope from his pocket and from it drew a square of folded paper, containing a few golden hairs. "What's puzzled me is how these came to be—in the room of a dark girl."
"Golden hairs!" Crago's lips were drawn in a straight line. "Golden hairs."
"In the dark, Trent girl's room. Want's explaining, Mr. Crago."
Paull waited some minutes, then spoke again—
"There was a golden-haired girl in Anton Sinclair's bedroom that night. She had been gagged and bound. Peter Duggan released her. There was a golden-haired girl who left Tower Square with Murray Lynnex in his car. Mr. Crago, I've got a hunch that the girl who lay on Anton Sinclair's bed; the girl who took Murray Lynnex from Tower Square; and the girl who's hair I found in Bessie Trent's room; are one and the same girl."
"The same girl!" Crago gasped. With an effort he recovered his composure. "The Golden Girl in my house! Impossible!"
"The Golden Girl!" Paull chuckled, his eyes bright and keen. "That surprised you, Mr. Crago. Now, just why?"
"SIGNOR!" Murray stopped abruptly. He had strolled down to the big gates of the grounds to find them fastened. "Nay, Signor, do not turn. You may he observed."
"Well?" The' young man hesitated. "What do you want, Savelli?"
"The Signor seeks the Black hawk?"
"Can you take me to him?" Furtively, Murray searched the thickets. He thought he could see the Italian, lurking in the shadows.
"I have instructions, Signor." The man continued more softly. "Will the Signor walk nearer the gates, then leave the path for the tree on the right?"
Murray obeyed. Immediately he reached, the trees the Italian was by his side. He scrutinised the man, closely. How far could he trust him?
"The Signor does not trust me?"
"Why should I?" Murray laughed. "You call Alan Crago 'master,' yet he tells me you serve the Black Hawk. Luigi, is Crago the Black Hawk?"
"Then, where can I find him?"
"The Black Hawk is not to be found, Signor. He will find the Signor when he needs him."
"Very kind of him." Murray paused. "You asked if I sought the Black Hawk. I do. Go on from there."
"The Signor seeks from the Black Hawk the Golden Girl?"
"Well, yes—and other things. Where is Miss Wayne?"
"The Black Hawk will tell you—if he desires so."
"Then I will question him, if you will give me his address, Luigi. Look here, man! What's the good of all this secrecy? I'm getting tired of it. First, Anton Sinclair disappears and leaves a dead man behind him. Then—"
"If the man Sinclair had not disappeared he would have died, Signor."
"Very pretty, but that doesn't explain the tight corner I've worked into. There's that affair at Greystanes. First, the man in the Red Mask; and then Miss Wayne spirited away. Tell me how to get to the Black Hawk or I'll go back to Tower Square and tell that fat policeman all I know."
"The Signor would not do that." The Italian's hand sought his belt. "No, when the Signor left his home at Greystanes he came here. He did not go to Tower Square."
"Yes. To find myself in a bigger pickle than before. More fool I! But that's ended. Either I go to the Black Hawk or Tower Square. If the latter, then the police will be on the heels of the lot of you."
"The Signor cannot pass the gates."
"Think I haven't found that out." Murray spoke in disgust. "The damned place is a prison. All through the day I've been trying to find a way out. The gates are locked and the wall unscalable. The only way of escape I can discover is to climb down the rocks to the water and swim home. Cause quite a sensation on Circular Quay."
"The Signor must be patient." Luigi spoke soothingly.
"Patience be damned!" The young man took a cigarette from his case and struck a match. Luigi leaner forward and blew it out. "Of all the—"
"Hush, Signor!" Luigi bent closer. "Go from here. Walk to the lawns where the ladies await you. Luigi will come to you later."
"When you have communicated With the Black Hawk?" Murray peered through the gloom, trying to read the man's face. "Well, hurry up with it. You've got until dark. Then I'm going to get out, if I have to read the riot act in this house."
He turned back and walked to where he could see Alma Crago on the lawns. Twice he paused, to think. Throughout the day he had glanced about him. He wanted time. He had rarely been alone.
That morning he had woken dull and heavy. His sleep had been disturbed by bad dreams. He had thought he had been lifted from his bed and conveyed to a strange place; again to be lifted and returned to his room. There had been a certain interval of time between the two episodes. He had thought the dark face of the Italian had bent over him. And, all the time he had been unable to move; yet his limbs had not been fettered.
He had woken with a start, to go to the window. His watch had shown him it was barely seven o'clock. For some time he had looked out over the harbour, lit by the morning sun. He had, found his clothes laid out for him, freshly pressed and cleaned. One of his suit-cases, containing linen and toilet requisites, stood by a chair. Evidently Crago had had it brought from Tower Square during the night. A few minutes before nine the dumb man had escorted him to the breakfast room. Alma, who had introduced herself as Crago's adopted daughter, welcomed him. With her and her companion he had passed the intervening hours.
One new fact he had learned during the time he had spent in Alan Crago's house. He now knew that some link bound his father, Alan Crago and Miles Acton together; and that Crago believed Acton to be the Black Hawk. He now knew that the document Anton Sinclair stated he possessed would, if published, blacken his father's honour.
Yet, with Crago and Acton living, why had the blackmailer come to him. The secret must more vitally affect the living than the dead. If that document was incriminatory then surely the survivors would be willing to come to terms for its suppression. Crago was wealthy and had stated that Acton had made money, both in Australia and South Africa.
But, not one word that had come from the old man's lips tended to solve the mystery surrounding him and Tower Square. Murray swore that soon he would stand face to face with the Black Hawk and demand the key to the mysteries. He would force the Black Hawk to come into the open; to join with him and Crago in unmasking the blackmailer. With the assistance of the police he would take steps to clear his father's name. Then Crago and Acton would do what they would.
"Mr. Lynnex!" Murray looked up with a start, to find he was standing beside Alma. "I'm afraid you are not enjoying your stay with us."
"No. Not at all! I mean, thanks awfully!" Murray cursed himself for an idiot. This girl, with the jet-black hair and lashes, framing the deep blue Irish eyes, disturbed him. He watched the long lashes veil the clear candid eyes until they rested on the rounded cheeks. "Sorry, Miss Crago. I was day-dreaming!"
"May I suggest a cup of tea, to smooth the creases from your furrowed brow." The girl laughed lightly. "If you will sit down, Mr. Lynnex. Panton wants to put the table before me. Thanks. Tea, or something stronger? Panton will fetch it for you."
"Tea, please." Murray watched the girl bending over the tray. "Mr. Crago is not about yet?"
"No." The girl was almost abrupt. "Mr. Crago is in his rooms. Sometimes he does not come down until evening. Sometimes—" She paused a moment. "We are to be alone, Mr. Lynnex. Bessie has not returned from the city."
Murray watched the girl. He wondered if he could trust her. What part had she in the intrigues he believed surrounded Alan Crago? Why had she devoted so much of the day to his entertainment? He felt that he had been very ungrateful.
"Murray Lynnex, why did you come here?" The girl spoke, hardly moving her lips.
"What do you mean?" Murray turned, quickly.
"Hush! Look away! Be indifferent! Mr. Crago's rooms overlook these lawns." Alma spoke earnestly. "Murray Lynnex, why did you come to this house?"
"To seek refuge with my father's oldest friend. To find the gates locked against my liberty." Murray spoke bitterly.
"To find refuge! To seek refuge with Alan Crago!"
"My adopted father." The girl corrected. "Murray Lynnex, are you seeking the Golden Girl?"
"Do you know her?" Murray leaned forward, quickly. "Miss Crago, do you know Myrtle Wayne?"
"She is a—a friend. No, do not look up. There are strange happenings in this house. Where are you seeking her?"
"In the hands of Miles Acton. Mr. Crago spoke of him last night as the Black Hawk."
"He told you that?" For some minutes the girl played idly with her spoon. "Murray Lynnex, did Alan Crago tell you the connection between the Golden Girl and the Black Hawk?"
"No." Murray was startled. "Is there a connection? The Black Hawk took her from Greystanes. I want to find her; to take her from amid all this mystery and terror."
"Take her from the Black Hawk? Mr. Lynnex, last night Mr. Crago told me that the Black Hawk was my father."
"The Black Hawk your father! Then—"
"No. I cannot help you." Alma cautioned him with a gesture. "I do not know where to find him. Luigi—"
"Mr. Lynnex, did you know that Mr. Crago telephoned Inspector Paull last night, telling him you were here?"
"Did he?" Murray was startled. "Then, that explains my dream. I dreamed that I was carried from my room. I thought I saw Savelli bending over me. I understand, now! I was drugged and hidden while the police searched the house."
The girl nodded. "What are you going to do?"
"Get out of here." Murray replied, promptly. "I'm going to find the Black Hawk—I beg your pardon—I should have said Mr. Acton."
"I want to know what all the mystery is about. I want to know what his interest in Anton Sinclair is; what he knows of the dead man the police found in the motor car at Darlinghurst—the man Peter Duggan says he found dead in Anton Sinclair's rooms."
"Peter Duggan?" The girl looked up quickly. "Who told you of that man?"
"You mean? Oh, I think I understand. I think I read of him in the newspaper, last night."
"You have not answered my question. Yet, I understand. Mr. Lynnex, you were talking to Luigi Savelli just now. Do you trust him?"
"I don't know." The young man hesitated. "I don't think so. I can't make up my mind whether he is acting for—er—Miles Acton or Alan Crago."
"You think they have opposite interests?"
"I am certain of that."
"Miss Crago." Murray spoke earnestly "I have asked Savelli to take me to the Black Hawk. He says he will let me know if that is possible. If he says 'no,' I shall find some means of escape, and trust to luck to further my search. That's all, except that I'm not going to sit idle while that girl—Myrtle Wayne—is in the hands of the Black Hawk."
"Have you mentioned Myrtle to Mr. Crago?"
"I told him of my adventures at Greystanes. Naturally, she came into the story."
"What did he say? What did he do?"
"He appeared to be puzzled." The young man laughed slightly. "I'm congratulating myself that there I am better informed than Mr. Crago. Do you know, more than once I thought he was frightened of her."
"Mr. Lynnex, more tea." She took the cup from him and filled it. As she handed it back she whispered, "I have dropped a ring into the cup. Retrieve it, secretly. To-night, when Luigi comes to you, show it to him. When you come to the Golden Girl show it to her. No, don't question me. I dare not reply."
THE girl rose and walked to the house. Murray hesitated, then leaned back in his chair, stirring the cup of tea. He could feel something hard at the bottom of the cup. He glanced up at the windows of the house. Was anyone watching him? Stealthily, he brought the article to the top of the liquid. It was a ring. He dropped it back as Panton came across the lawns.
Casually, he raised the cup to his lips. He put it down and took out his handkerchief. Nodding to the man he strolled across the lawns to the shelter of the trees. The ring was now in his pocket. When he was away from the house he would wear it.
Immediately after dinner Murray made an excuse to retire to his room. For some time he moved about with the light on, undressing and slipping into bed. A couple of hours later he re-dressed and sat down to await the Italian.
Would Luigi keep his promise? What influence would Alma Crago's ring have on him? The girl puzzled him. He knew she hated Crago, although she spoke of him as her adopted father. She had said she was the daughter of the Black Hawk. What connection was there between her and the Golden Girl? She had laughed when he stated that the mention of the Golden Girl had disturbed Crago.
A sound at the window brought him alert. He waited for a repetition. Again it came; immediately followed by the shadow of a man under his window.
Something dark settled on the window-sill.
"Signor, step on the cloth with a light foot. There must be no signs left to show how you came from the room."
A moment later Murray dropped to the lawn. The Italian sprang into the room. A bare minute and he reappeared, fiddling with the catch of the sash. On the lawn again he drew down the window. Murray now saw that from the catch depended a length of string. Luigi tugged at it and there was a slight click. The cord came away in the man's hand. He turned, and, catching Murray by the elbow, ran for the shelter of the trees.
"The ring, Signor!" Murray slipped the ring Alma had given him on his little finger and extended it to the Italian. For a moment Luigi's fingers touched his hand. Without a word the man turned, motioning Murray to follow him.
Murray had thought the man would make for the gates. Instead, he led to the edge of the cliffs, overlooking the harbour. But a few yards from the rocks he halted.
"Wait, Signor! There is danger." The Italian carefully scanned the side of the house. "Where I lead follow, and follow swiftly!"
With quick steps he crossed the open space between the trees and the edge of the cliffs, dropping out of sight. Murray followed. He found himself standing on a rock, some feet down the cliff.
"Good!" The sibilant sound came from below where he stood. "Follow, Signor, the path is not difficult."
The men scrambled down the face of the cliffs to the water's edge. There Luigi led over a scatter of wave-licked rocks. They came to a piece of level ground surrounded by a wooden fence. Luigi opened a door and Murray passed through. In the street stood a taxi-cab.
Murray looked around him. They were at the end of the wharves under Pott's Point. To his left he could see the lights of Woolloomooloo. The Italian motioned him to the car. He entered and Luigi followed. The car started without direction being given.
"Where are you taking me, Luigi?" Murray asked.
"Where the Signor wills." The Italian leaned back in the car. "The Signor requested to be brought to the Black Hawk."
Murray peered out of the window. There were questions he wanted to ask, but he knew they would not be answered. He could only wait; trusting to the man's promise to take him to the Black Hawk.
Somewhere, close to the crime master he would find Myrtle Wayne. Somehow he would rescue her from the Black Hawk and take her to a place of safety. Then he would seek the stout Inspector of Police. The man would ask awkward questions; that could not be avoided. He would tell the truth. He would persuade Myrtle to tell all she knew. Then he would take her to Greystanes for good. There they would live secure while Inspector Paull probed the mystery to the bottom.
Murray glanced out of the window again. The car was crossing Oxford street. It passed into the semi darkness of Surry Hills, turning and twisting amid the narrow streets. Suddenly, with a grinding of brakes, it came to a standstill. Luigi opened the door and jumped out.
"The Signor will descend."
Murray jumped from the car and the Italian closed the door. Immediately the car drove away, disappearing round the corner.
The young man looked about him. They were standing at the intersection of two roads. The neighbourhood was strange to him. Where had Luigi brought him? He searched the ill-lighted streets for some familiar sign. He had never been in that section of the city before.
"The Signor will follow. He will not speak."
Luigi led across the intersection, following a tram-line. A few yards and he turned into an alley. He stopped at a gate and knocked. The gate swung open. There was no one in the yard. They entered and the gate shut. The Italian led to the rear of the house. As his foot touched the step the door swung open. A bearded man stood on the step.
"Luigi Savelli." The Italian spoke his name.
"Who's that with you?" The man spoke carelessly; his right hand resting on his hip-pocket.
"A friend of the Black Hawk."
The man motioned them to enter. He closed the door and led along a dark passage. A door opened and they entered a brilliantly-lighted room, thick with tobacco smoke and full of noise. Yet Murray had not heard a sound until the door opened. Murray halted, astonished at the strange sight that met his eyes. Luigi turned and beckoned him, impatiently.
At a small table, some distance up the room, the Italian drew out a chair and beckoned the young man to be seated. It was a large room with roughly plastered walls and blackened ceiling. On the walls were illustrations cut from newspapers and magazines. The floor was littered with small tables. At the far end was a low platform and on it stood a battered piano. Seated at the instrument was a sallow-faced youth, a roughly-made cigarette pendant from his lower lip. On the top of the instrument was a pewter-pot to which the pianist paid assiduous attention. Beside the piano sat an old man, cuddling under his chin what looked like a valuable violin. At the edge of the stage stood a girl, scantily and gaudily clad, singing a popular ditty in a high, cracked voice.
"Good." The Italian spoke blithely. He turned to the waitress.
"There are wines of my country fitted for the stomach of the Signor. Bring them, Tonitto."
The girl passed through a swing-door, to reappear carrying a bottle and glasses.
Luigi filled the glasses and pushed one of them across the table.
"Drink, Signor. The wine is good and we need the courage it brings."
Murray sipped the wine. To his surprise, the liquor bore out the man's statements. He drank eagerly. Luigi laughed loudly, beckoning to the girl to bring another bottle.
"The Black Hawk's gang?" Murray whispered.
"And others." The Italian laughed again. "Question not, Signor. There are doors to be opened before we come to the master."
There were doors to open! Murray realised that the gates to the underworld were well guarded. He must wait until some message the Italian had sent to the crime-master was answered. He must watch the tawdry pretence of enjoyment that made for the happiness of those without the law, showing neither disgust nor surprise. He knew that around him men and women watched his actions, straining to catch his words, questioning his right to enter realms peculiarly their own.
The doors of the underworld were guarded as the treasures of a nation! The locks were human, only giving to the master-key. Once past those doors and he would come to where the crime-master ruled, exacting implicit obedience from subject and stranger. A man rose from a nearby table and passed through the swing doors, turning for a moment to glance towards the Italian. The man disappeared and Luigi emptied the bottle into the glasses. The swing doors opened and the man returned, pausing again to stare at the Italian. He went to his former seat, resuming some discussion with his friends.
Luigi rose to his feet. He bent across the table, his lips almost touching Murray's face.
"Come, Signor. The Black Hawk awaits us!"
FOR a moment Murray hesitated; then rose from his chair and followed the Italian. At last he was to come face to face with the Black Hawk. What should he say to him? How could he persuade him to accede to his wishes? For the first time Murray realised the magnitude of the task he had ventured upon. He had come to take the Golden Girl from the crime-master's power; to try and force from him the solution of the mystery entangling him and the girl.
"Signor, quick!" The Italian caught, impatiently, at Murray's sleeve. "The master awaits not if we tarry. Haste!"
Beyond the door lay darkness. For the moment Murray held back. The door had shut, cutting off light and sound. Luigi led on; his hand on Murray's arm. For the moment the young man resisted, then advanced eagerly. He had no plan. All he wanted was to stand face to face with the Black Hawk and follow the impulse of the moment. He pressed forward.
"Beware, Signor!" The Italian's grip checked him. "There are steps here. Count! There are twenty-two of them."
Luigi turned to the right. Murray slid his foot forward, to find the edge, of a stair under his toes. He stepped down, counting aloud. At the twenty-second step the Italian halted. For some moments he waited. A low whistle, that brought Murray's remembrance of the whistle he had heard at Greystanes, broke the silence. Then, far down the passage a single point of light shone, out. For a brief moment it twinkled, then expired.
"Come!" Luigi's grasp shifted to Murray's wrist. "The master waits."
They moved forward. Murray let his hand trail against the wall. The passage was lined with bricks; damp places on the wall told of hidden underground springs. He tried to count the paces as he advanced, but the darkness caused him to stumble frequently. They come to some steps. At the fifth step the grasp on Murray's wrist relaxed. He reached out for the Italian. The step moved under his feet and he was carried towards the wall. He clutched frantically—at air.
Suddenly there was light. He was in a room, furnished as an office. Before him was a big desk and seated behind it a powerfully built man. Murray stepped forward; to swing at the sounds of moving machinery. The section of the wall was closing on a pivot. He turned again as the man at the desk raised his head. He wore a piece of black silk covering the upper part of his face.
"Murray Lynnex, you have asked for me." The man spoke in low, deep tones. "What is your business?"
"You are the Black Hawk?" Murray spoke almost incredulously.
"I am the Black Hawk." A slight smile formed on the full lips under the edge of the mask.
"And Miles Acton?"
"I do not answer to that name." The dark eyes flashed ominously. "By what right do you speak it?"
"I am the son of Godfrey Lynnex, who adventured with you into the Terrible Lands."
"The son of Godfrey Lynnex." The Black Hawk paused. "Murray Lynnex, what do you know of the Terrible Lands and what happened there?"
"Only what Alan Crago told me last night. He spoke of the compact which you, he, and my father agreed upon the evening before you entered them."
"Did he speak of the compact and how it was violated?"
"All Mr. Crago would tell me was that he believed the compact was the paper Anton Sinclair—the paper through which he was attempting to blackmail me."
"The compact disappeared nearly thirty years ago." The Black Hawk spoke under his breath. "Murray Lynnex, how did that paper get into Anton Sinclair's hands?"
"Again I do not know." Murray answered. "I did not know it existed until Alan Crago mentioned it. Sinclair wrote of some mysterious knowledge only."
"Yet you seek it. You came to me in that search."
"I came to know what you know of it." Murray hesitated. "No, I do not come to you about the paper. What have you done with the girl?"
"The girl?" The Black Hawk leaned back. "Murray Lynnex, what is Myrtle Wayne to you?"
"Everything that matters!" The young man took a step forward. "My God, if you have injured her—"
"She is safe." The man spoke coldly. "She has work to do. When that is accomplished—"
"Work?" Murray interrupted. "What work? The work of the criminal organisation you control? Who are you to drag a young girl down in your mire of crime? Who are you to dictate to her, and me, when we shall meet and when we shall be parted? What right have you to take her from Greystanes?"
"The right that I hold you and her." The big fist crashed down on the desk. "Murray Lynnex, why did you go from Greystanes to Alan Crago?"
"To find the trail that led to you." Murray spoke swiftly. "I do not know, or care, whether you and Crago are friends or enemies. I could not find your trail at Greystanes; I could not go back to Tower Square to be watched and questioned by the police. I went to Alan Crago—"
"And from Alan Crago you came here." The man searched Murray's face with keen eyes. "Murray Lynnex, is Alan Crago your friend?"
"I do not know."
"Do you trust him?"
Murray was silent. Did he trust Alan Crago?
"Do you trust Alan Crago?" Again the cold, level voice spoke.
"No, I do not trust Alan Crago. I do not trust you. When I find Myrtle—"
"Yes?" The word cut on the young man's rising anger.
"I shall take her away, out of the State, first informing Inspector Paull of the facts within my knowledge?" Murray spoke quickly. "Somewhere, far from Sydney, we will live until this mystery is solved. I'll promise you one thing, Miles Acton. When I find Myrtle she passes absolutely from your power. Fight your fight with Alan Crago and Anton Sinclair; but keep away from her. Sooner or later the police will root out your gang—"
"And the papers that hold your father's honour?" The cold voice did not change. "What of them, Murray Lynnex?"
Murray sank into a chair with a groan of despair. How could he protect Myrtle and continue the hunt for Anton Sinclair? He wanted the girl. He wanted to take her away; to banish the little pucker of suffering between her dear eyes; to make the world a fairyland for her happiness. But could he be happy with her while his father's honour suffered?
"You devil!" Murray sprang up, clutching at the Black Hawk's throat.
"Devil, am I?"
The big man caught at Murray's wrists. "Murray Lynnex, who murdered Sam the Goat?"
"What? Do you accuse me of that?" Murray stared at the man. "Why, I—"
"In your room, at Tower Square, the night Anton Sinclair disappeared and you and four others drew lots for the honour of exterminating the blackmailer. On whom fell the lot? That night Sam Trainer died in Anton Sinclair's place. Did you kill him?"
"What was Myrtle Wayne doing there?" Murray countered.
"Myrtle?" For the first time the Black Hawk showed anger. "Do you dare say she murder—"
"God forbid!" Murray spoke impulsively. "Yet, she was there; bound and gagged; lying on that man's bed. Why did she go there? You claim to control her actions. Did she go to Anton Sinclair by your direction? Black Hawk—Miles Acton, if that is your name—did you send a young girl to that man's chambers?"
"Who murdered Sam the Goat?" The big man sank back in his seat. "Murray Lynnex, tell me who murdered Sam the Goat and I will give you the key to your riddle. What was Sam the Goat doing in Sinclair's rooms? What connection was there between Sam and Sinclair? Can you answer those questions? Man! I, could have sworn you crept into Anton Sinclair's rooms and murdered Sam, in mistake for the blackmailer."
"I did not." Murray paused. "I had thought—"
"Myrtle was seated by the side of the desk." Murray tried to reconstruct the scene. "Someone crept into the room and seized her. She never saw her assailant. Could he have been Sam Trainer?"
"No!" The Black Hawk exclaimed. "Sam the Goat did not bind and gag Myrtle. He would not do that. You suggest that Sam was after Sinclair's papers? If he got them, where are they? Peter Duggan tells me he searched Sam and the papers were not on him. Man, I've had Duggan here. I have questioned him, using forces you cannot guess at, to wring the truth from his lips. To-day, Peter Duggan goes in fear of his life, knowing I do not believe his story—that I think he has not told me the whole truth. He knows that if I convict him of falsehood—if he lied to me—no time, no distance, no gaol in the land, would hold him safe from my vengeance. Murray Lynnex, tell me who murdered Sam the Goat and I will take you to Myrtle. I will recover Anton Sinclair's papers and hand them to you, unopened. All the forces of the underworld shall be with you. There is nothing you and the girl shall not have."
"What of the ruby ring Myrtle carried to Sinclair in the silver box?" Murray asked.
"The ruby ring!" The Black Hawk was startled. He sprang to his feet with an exultant cry. "The ruby—"
A bell rang, shrilly. The Black Hawk tensed, his head raised to listen. The bell was ringing, queerly, irregularly, conveying some message Murray could not interpret.
"Murray Lynnex, quick!" The Hawk turned to the young man. "Beyond that door you will find a passage and a flight of stairs. Open the door at the head of the stairs and you will be in a narrow passage between two houses. To the left it leads to the main road. I will send for you when I have learned more."
Murray crossed to the door the Black Hawk indicated. On the lintel he turned and looked back. The big man was before the concealed door through which Murray had entered. He raised his hand in farewell to the young man. The bookcase and part of the flooring moved on a great turntable and the Black Hawk disappeared.
Murray re-entered the room and closed the door. Perhaps, amid the welter of papers on the desk he could find a clue that would lead him to Myrtle. If he could find her and carry her from that house of crime! He knew that he loved her, and believed that she loved him. He would persuade her to an immediate marriage. Together they would adventure into the bright future that had opened before their eyes when they looked into the shade-houses at Greystanes. He pictured her, this glorious, golden-haired girl, mistress of the old homestead.
He dashed his hand across his eyes. How could he dream? He had work to do. He had to find Myrtle and release her. He went to the Black Hawk's desk and examined the many documents scattered on it. To his dismay he found the papers written in the strange shorthand Inspector Paull had told him Sinclair's manuscript book contained. Murray stared, in silent wonder. What connection was there between the Black Hawk and the missing blackmailer?
Again the bell rang. Murray looked towards the secret door through which the crime master had disappeared. Should he try to follow the man? If he could find the spring that worked the turntable! His fingers touched the bookcase—searching for the spring. Something gave under his hand. He pressed again, believing he had found the secret.
Without warning, the lights were extinguished!
THE bell had ceased ringing. Murray, standing in the darkness, listened intently. He could hear nothing. Cautiously he felt for the desk. He wanted to grasp something, for the darkness was getting on his nerves. Who had switched off the lights?
Murray swung to face the secret door. Was the Black Hawk there, watching him; gloating over the manner in which he had frustrated the search of his desk? Yet, Murray felt certain that the Black Hawk was far from his room. The bell had conveyed some message that had startled or disturbed him. It was in answer to that message that he had left the room. Murray groped forward, with hands outstretched. He came against the wall and felt along it. He found himself in a corner. Where was the door? He could not have passed it!
He found his match-box and rattled it. He did not appear to have many matches. Lifting the lid he ran his fingers along the edge of the container. The box felt empty. He tilted the contents out on his hand. He had five matches. Would they suffice to take him to the open air?
He struck a match. The feeble light showed that he had swerved from the straight line in crossing the room. The desk lay to his left. He went to the door and pulled it open. The passage was in darkness. Suddenly he turned to the door, feeling along the edge for the lock. It was a common spring one. He tried to push up the catch but it would not work. The match flickered and expired.
Murray hesitated. Should he leave the door open behind him? Why had the bell rung? Why had it rung irregularly? Had the bell conveyed some message? Had that message anything to do with the drinking-hall? Had the police raided the den that night? Murray turned again to the door. From the lining of his coat he tore a long strip of material, folding it into a ribbon. He drew the door shut until he could just pass his hand between the edge and the jamb. Arranging the silk in the bolt-hole and retailing a hand-hold of it, he shut the door. A gentle pull on the silk and the bolt went back, letting the door swing open. Now he could open the door at his will.
Shutting it, with the silk in place, Murray went along the passage. About twenty paces and he came to a flight of stairs. He counted eleven before he came to a small landing. Another set of stairs brought him to a passage, over the one he had traversed. A few yards and he came against a wooden door. There was a heavy bar fixed across the door. He lifted it to the floor and searched for the lock. It was a box-lock. He tugged at it but the door held fast.
By the light of a match he saw that the bolt was shot home. The way was barred! Murray turned to the head of the stairs. Must he go back to the Black Hawk's den and find the secret door through which he had entered? He felt along the walls for a door. There must be one! Who had locked the door through which the Black Hawk had told him to escape? The bar across the door showed that it had been fastened from the inside. But, he had met no one between the underground chamber and the door. There was no door in the passage.
He descended the stairs. On the landing his fingers found a slight crack on the wall. He struck one of his remaining matches. There was a long straight break in the plaster-work. Murray flung himself against the wall. Something gave, with a whirl of machinery in motion. Hastily he struck another match. A door was sliding across the head of the stairs. Murray ran up them. The match was burning down to his fingers but there was sufficient light to see that the wall at the end of the passage had moved across, concealing the head of the stairs. Where the wall had stood opened another passage. Was this a way of escape?
He went down the new passage. Suddenly it ended at a wall. Again he spent a match. A trap-door was at his feet. Under it was a flight of steps. At the foot of the steps was another passage. He followed it and came to another flight of steps. They were closed by a trap-door. Pushing it up he peered into a darkened shop.
Murray closed the trap-door and looked around him. It was a big shop fitted for the sale of china and glassware. He went to the big windows and looked out on a wide, well-lit street. He believed he had travelled some distance through the underground passages. Then he must be in a shop remote from the underworld drinking hall. Under his feet lay the underground warren inhabited by the Black Hawk and his gang. Then the Black Hawk owned this shop. It carried on a legitimate trade; covering the activities of the gang. If the Black Hawk owned this shop then he controlled the upper stories. Was the Golden Girl imprisoned there?
In a far corner a stairway led upwards. Murray strode to it and ran lightly up to the landing. He tried to peer out of the window. The frame was screwed down and the glass covered with paper. He went to the upper floor. Before him were three doors. The opened the first door. It led into a small room, crowded with lumber. He went to the next door. This was a bedroom, littered with men's clothing. The third door led into a fair-sized sitting room. The three rooms were unoccupied.
Murray entered the sitting room. To whom did it belong? He went to the window and looked down on the street. Before the window was a table and on it lay an automatic pistol and an electric torch. He picked up the gun and released the magazine. It was full. He dropped the weapon into his pocket and picked up the electric torch, letting a ray of light play around the room. Myrtle was not in the house. Yet, he believed she was not far away. She might possibly be in one of the other houses, over the underground passages. But, how was he to pass from one house to the other?
He scanned the wall for some secret door. There must be some communication between the houses. Snapping out the light of the torch, Murray went to the door. As his hand caught at the knob he heard a sound, as if someone descending the stairs had slipped. Drawing the automatic he peered out on the landing. There was no one within sight. He went to the head of the stairs—and stopped.
A woman's shrill scream cut through the air.
A man commanded silence. Again the woman screamed. Other voices rose, coming from the shop. Murray descended a few steps and peered around the corner. The shop was full of people, surging towards the shop-door. Again a woman screamed, followed with shrieks of hysterical laughter. A girl was standing against the shop-door, fighting back the swarming mob. Murray started, in amazement. The girl was Myrtle Wayne.
THE shop was filled with a surging, milling mass of people, continually added to from some door at the rear, without Murray's vision. He wondered. Who were they? Where had they come from?
Something crashed loudly in the semi-darkness, relieved only by the rays from the street lamp shining through the windows. Again, the woman shrieked. The crowd surged, in a single body, towards the shop door. Over the dull shuffle of feet rose men's protesting voices.
The police had raided the sly-grog hall, but had not captured the frequenters. The Black Hawk had herded the drinkers from the big room through the secret passage to the china shop. Mob-panic had seized them and they were seeking to force the door of the shop—to pour out on to the street, a disorderly crowd that would attract attention.
Murray peered to where Myrtle strove to stem the panic-stricken mob. A man caught the girl around her waist and threw her back into the crowd. At the some moment a group of police came up the street to the door of the shop. A crash and the door gave way. In the narrow entrance police and gangsters met. Men and women at the back of the crowded shop pushed forward, only understanding that the doors were open. Above shouts and cries came the crashing of many of the china and glass stands.
Murray crept down the stairs until he stood on the lower steps peering out over the heads of the crowd. His eyes had never left Myrtle. He watched her, tossed through the milling mob towards the rear of the shop. A body of police were fighting through the crowd in the shop. Others were holding the door. Murray wondered what their objective could be. He looked about him.
On the wall at the front of the stairs was the switch-box, controlling the shop lights. The police in the doorway were holding back the crowd while their comrades made for the light switches. He half raised his hand. If he threw on the lights he would help the police. But, if he lit the shop what would happen to the girl? She, with the others, would be captured! He must break the switches, or in some way render them useless.
Again he glanced towards the girl. She was being carried towards the stairway. A few minutes and she would be within reach. He glanced up at the switches. How could he break them? He felt in his pockets and his fingers encountered the automatic. He might batter the switches with the butt of his gun, but would that prevent the lights being switched on. He reached up to unscrew the switches.
At that moment a police officer cast the light of his torch on the stairs. As the first cover came off the light fell on the switchboard, someone shouted to him to throw on the lights. He shrank back into the gloom. The light wavered and passed on, as a band of roughs charged the police. Murray looked down. Myrtle was within a few yards of the foot of the stairs. Again the light from the police torch found the switches.
Murray hung back. He dared not go near the switches while the light illuminated them. A sudden thought and he raised his gun, firing at the covered switch.
The report was followed by a blinding flash of light, and a roar of encouragement from the gangsters. Again he raised his gun, aiming at the second switch; but the torch-light no longer illuminated the switchboard. It was searching for him on the stairs.
"Quick!" He jumped into the crowd and caught Myrtle by the arm, pulling her on to the stairs. A big rough man interposed between them. Murray hit out, forgetting he held the automatic. The gun caught the gangster between the eyes, felling him. He thrust the girl before him.
"Myrtle! Quick! Up the stairs!"
Half-way up the stairs he looked back. The police were following them. Another minute and they would reach the stairs. He raised his automatic, aiming at the remaining switch.
The bullet, instead of smashing the switch, threw it over. The big ceiling light in the centre of the shop came to life. A cheer came from the police, to be drowned by boos and groans from the gangsters. Murray fired again, aiming at the ceiling light. Someone fired at him from near the doorway. He could feel the wind of the bullet. Again he fired, this time hitting the globe. Darkness fell over the shop.
"Come!" Myrtle caught his hand, drawing him up the stairs.
"Not there!" he called, as the girl turned to the bedroom. "We must gain the roof."
"Murray, come with me." Myrtle caught at him, pulling him into the room. "You must follow me."
She shut and locked the door. Murray's fingers sought the light switch. With a laugh of triumph he swept the girl into his arms. For a brief moment she yielded herself.
"Murray, don't." She disengaged herself, gently. "Dear, there isn't time. We must hurry, or they will catch us."
"Dear! Oh, please hurry." She ran to the clothes-press, tugging at it. "Murray, help me."
He ran to her side and pulled the press into the room. Behind it was a low door. The girl crawled through and Murray followed. He found himself in the sitting-room of the next house. The door was unlocked. Myrtle led on to the landing and opened the door of the room immediately at the head of the stairs. She went to the window and flung it up, climbing out on the sill. "Give me your hand, Murray. It is not a big drop."
She elbowed herself to slide from the ledge. As he went to follow, she whispered: "Be careful, Murray. There may be someone in the room beneath. He dropped silently on to the roof of the outhouse. As he went to regain his feet the girl pulled him to his knees, beside her.
"What now, Myrtle?" he whispered.
"Wait!" She peered to the edge of the roof. "There are men about." For minutes they knelt side by side, listening and watching. In the alley-way Murray could hear the pad of passing feet.
"Now!" The girl turned towards him. "Murray, lower me to the yard. It isn't far."
She twisted to a sitting position, her feet dangling over the edge of the roof, raising her clasped hands above her head. He caught her and lowered her as far as he could reach. She released his clasp, falling lightly out of sight. He dropped, blindly, beside her.
"Safe, Murray?" And again she caught his hand. "Come, then."
They ran across the yard to the door of the house. It was unfastened. Myrtle led into the passage. A door opened into the shop. In a corner a dark man was seated before a desk. He rose as they entered, peering suspiciously at them. Myrtle nodded and, without speaking, went into the front door.
"Lock up, Isaac." With her hand on the lock she spoke. "There will be no one passing through to-night."
The door closed behind them as they as they stood in the small alcove. Murray looked up the road towards the china shop. A couple of police wagons rumbled down the street. The crowd before the china shop parted, forming a narrow lane. One of the police wagons backed to the kerb. Police came out of the shop and lined the human passage-way. From the shop came a file of men and women. The crowd raised shouts of recognition and encouragement.
A few minutes and the wagon drove off. A second wagon backed to the kerb.
"Murray, we must, get away." The girl shook his arm.
"Where you will." She looked up at him. "Murray, I'm tired. It is for you to say where, now. Oh, if it had not been for you! I didn't know what to do in that shop. I tried to open the door, but they would not give me room. Then that woman screamed. I tried to make them understand they must go back; that there was no escape that way, but they would not heed me. And—and then you came. You saved me! Oh, Murray! Murray!"
"Quick, dear!" The girl's voice was urgent. "If we don't get away at once they will find us."
"Will they?" The young man's hand closed around the butt of the automatic in his pocket. "There will be no more of that, Myrtle, I've got you now and—"
"Where are you taking me?" The girl looked up, smiling. Where should he take her? For a moment he stood looking down into the fair, fresh face upturned to his. With sudden impulse he bent and kissed her on the lips.
"Where, dear?" He laughed, triumphantly. "To the last place the Black Hawk or the police will think to search. To Tower Square! Myrtle, will you trust me, absolutely? We must go to Tower Square for this night. To-morrow, I will get the licence and then we will go home to Greystanes. I'd like to see them take you from me, then."
He hailed a cruising taxi. The driver drew into the kerb. As the car came to a stop the man leaned back and pulled open the door. Murray caught the girl around her waist and lifted her into the car.
As her foot touched the step a hand shot out of the car, drawing her in. She cried out and strove to pull back. Murray caught her. Someone struck him a stunning blow on the head. He tried to turn but his wrists were held. Again the unseen assailant struck and he fell down into the gutter, unconscious.
"GOOD morning, sir." Murray opened his eyes, to stare vacantly about him. He lay in bed in a large, vaguely furnished room. Someone was moving about the bed.
The man went to the windows and pulled up the blinds. He turned and came to the bed. Murray looked at him inquisitively. His face appeared familiar, but for the moment he could not place him. Suddenly memory returned. The man was Martin.
Murray raised himself on one arm and looked through the window. He was in his own chambers at Tower Square. Through a half-opened door he could hear the soft splashes of falling water. Martin was preparing his bath. What was Martin doing there? No, that was not right. What was he doing there?
Memory came crowding back. He was walking down the street in Surry Hills with Myrtle. The taxi came round the corner. Someone pulled the girl into the car. Someone held him while an unseen assailant struck him down. He had been a fool! He had matched his wits against the Black Hawk and failed. He had been confident he had won when he and Myrtle escaped from the shop above the underground warren. At the moment he had felt most secure the Black Hawk had struck.
"Martin!" He lifted himself on his elbow.
"Sir?" The grave face of the servant appeared in the doorway.
"How did I come here?" Then, hastily; "What was it? A binge? If so, it was a mighty fine one! Jove, my head is sore!"
"Must have fallen, sir." Martin came over to the bed. "Big bruise, sir. Skin not broken. I think you will be all right in a day or so, sir, if you will lie quiet. A few cold compresses and—"
"Don't be an ass, man." Murray moved irritably. "You don't think I am going to lie in bed while—How did I come home?"
"In the car, sir." The man hesitated. "I regret to say that I had taken the liberty—er—"
"You had taken an evening off, eh?" Murray interrupted. "Well, why not? You were not here when I arrived home?"
"No, sir." Again Martin hesitated. "I found the car at the door, sir, when I returned, Your note was on the table."
"The car at the door! The note on the table!" Murray sat up. "Say, Martin! Do you mean my car was in the court?"
"And that I left a note for you on the table? By the way, which table?"
"The sitting-room table, sir. Same as you usually do when you come in after I have retired for the night, sir. Just a line to call you at nine-thirty. You were hard to wake this morning, sir."
"Should say I was! Thought I was in the other world—floating around on damp clouds—and all that." Murray grinned. "Let's get that car business straight. I left here in the Falli-Sparto. Are you telling me that I came back in that car."
"Exactly, rot!" Murray swung from the bed and tried to stand. He staggered and would have fallen but for Martin's arm. "Why, that car's in the garage at Greystanes and the key's in—No, it isn't! They got away with it. Now, I wonder—"
"You came home in the Falli-Sparto, sir."
"Oh, have it your own way." Murray struggled to the open window. "Now, as to that note. Who wrote it?"
"You did, sir."
"I wrote it!" The young man stared. "You mean to tell me that I drove back here in my car—the car I thought the crooks had taken—parking it in the court and putting myself to bed? All that—and the last thing I remember is being in Surry Hills with—with some damned crook whanging me over the head with a sandbag."
"Sandbag, sir? Beastly thing, sir. First time I've seen the er—effects of a sandbag, sir."
"Well, have another look if you like. Don't bother about me. Look all you want, but, for the love of little milk, don't put your head in the way of the real article."
Yes, sir. Your bath, sir.
"Cold water good for a binge—a sandbag, I mean?"
"For a binge, yes, sir."
"For a binge. Then a head induced by a sandbag wants the water frozen. All right, Martin. I'll go to the bath."
"And breakfast, sir?"
"Breakfast?" Murray hesitated. Breakfast did not appeal. "All right, Martin. One crumb of dry toast and half a gallon of strong coffee. Make it strong—the coffee, I mean."
"Yes, sir. When you are ready, sir."
"Oh, Martin!" Murray turned with the door half-shut. "You may enlarge my breakfast—in one particular. A full gallon of coffee—and stand by for a repeat order. Gosh! My head!"
The bathroom door closed.
Twenty minutes later Murray re-entered the bedroom. The cold water had held a cure. He was feeling fitter, although his head throbbed vilely. He sauntered into the sitting room. Martin was placing a large pot of coffee on the table.
"By the way, Martin. That note?"
"Yes, sir." The man brought a piece of paper from the sideboard. Murray stared at it. He was certain it was a forgery, yet the writing was remarkably like his. "Anything fresh happened across the way, Martin?"
"Mr Anton Sinclair, sir?"
"Yes. Turned up again?"
"No, sir. The police vacated his chambers yesterday. Seems like they couldn't make anything of it, sir. Excuse me, sir, but the—er—police officer—Inspector Paull, has called several times during your absence."
"Let him call. By the way, Martin. Can you guess the gentleman's weight."
"About eighteen stone, sir, I should guess."
"Too much." Murray considered the question as he nibbled at the dry toast. "About twelve stone, or a little less, should be ample. Martin!"
"Inspector Paull will doubtless call again."
"I believe so, sir."
"Let him call. Tell the lift attendants, with my compliments, that when Inspector Paull enters the hall the lifts are out of commission. When the Tower Square stairs have reduced the worthy Inspector to a normal size you may inform him that I have returned home. Understand?"
"Thanks. You may remove the remnants of the feast. The coffee was excellent."
"Thank you, sir."
Murray strolled into the sitting room. He looked around him, speculatively. In that room had happened the queer gamble to the trouble and mystery now surrounding him. From that room he had gone with the girl—Myrtle Wayne! Where was she now? The last he remembered was seeing her dragged into the taxi. Had she managed to escape from the Black Hawk. If so—He had told her they would go to Greystanes, after their marriage. Had she escaped and gone to the old homestead. Was she waiting there for him? He went to the telephone and rang up the old homestead. For some minutes he listened, receiving no answer; yet he could hear the bell ringing at the other end of the line.
Murray replaced the receiver. Myrtle had not gone to Greystanes. Then she was still in the Black Hawk's power. A grim smile twisted the young man's lips. Again he must search out the Black Hawk. This time, when they met, he would force the truth from the man. He would compel him to release Myrtle. But, where could he again pick up the trail of the Black Hawk?
The houses in Surry Hills were in the hands of the police. The Black Hawk would have to abandon them. The police would destroy the underground rooms, seal up the passages and secret doors. The shop and houses would pass into the hands of decent, law-abiding citizens.
The previous time the clue to the Black Hawk had come from Alan Crago. In some manner his daughter had influenced the Italian to take him to the crime-master. He still wore the ring she had given him. Could he again interest her in his search for the Golden Girl? To do that he would have to go again to the House on the Cliffs. He would have to deliver himself to the queer old man he distrusted.
And, when he got to Alma? Might she not believe he had in some way caused the police raid on the Black Hawk's quarters? How could he believe that a girl like Alma Crago had interest in the crime master? Yet, she had said she was Miles Acton's daughter! Even then, what knowledge had she of the mysteries that surrounded Tower Square; those mysteries shrouding Anton Sinclair and the dead man of Barling lane.
As his thoughts turned to the blackmailer, Murray's eyes sought the tall building on the opposite side of the court. Martin had said that the police had vacated the chambers.
If he could get into those rooms and search! He was certain that there lay some clue that would lead to the heart of the mystery. No criminal had yet succeeded in completely obliterating his tracks.
Again his eyes wandered to the windows of the rooms of mystery. A man was standing at one of the open windows. Something in his poise reminded Murray of Inspector Paull's description of the blackmailer. He went to his desk and fetched his field glasses. The man at the window was Anton Sinclair. Murray knew there was no reasonable doubt.
HAD Anton Sinclair returned to his chambers with the connivance of the police? Murray thought that likely. The police had only vacated the chambers a few hours previously. Inspector Paull had declared his intention to find and question the blackmailer. Martin had said that the Inspector had frequently called at his chambers while he was away. Was there a connecting link between these facts? Had Paull found Sinclair? Had he forced a confession and then sought Murray, trusting that the surprise of the blackmailer's return would result in some admissions?
The re-appearance of Sinclair would not solve the mystery surrounding Sam the Goat's death. Until that had been explained Myrtle would lie under suspicion. She was the only person known to have been in the rooms between Sinclair's departure and Duggan's discovery of the dead man. Murray well knew that he could no longer evade an interview with the fat Inspector. Tower Square was certainly watched. Paull would know of his home-coming and seek him out.
Again Murray turned to the window. The man opposite had disappeared. He pulled up a chair and made himself comfortable. The man would re-appear—then he would examine him carefully.
A knock at the door and Martin entered, placing a number of newspapers on the table.
"Yesterday evening's and this morning's papers, sir. I regret I forgot to bring them before."
Murray nodded. The newspapers could tell him little he did not know. He turned to the window again, scanning the opposite building. Should he watch, or go to the blackmailer's chambers and face him. That course would bring matters to a head. He could demand to know the meaning of the letter Sinclair had written him; the contents of the document hinted at in that letter.
With sudden resolution he went to the door. As his fingers sought the handle he heard voices in the passage. Swinging open the door he glanced out. Martin was disputing entry with some person.
"Who is there, Martin?" Murray spoke impatiently.
With a gesture of despair the man dropped his hands, allowing the door to be pushed open. In the doorway stood Inspector Paull and another man.
"Come in, Inspector." Murray accepted the inevitable. "I've been expecting you to call any minute."
"Thanks!" The bulky officer alone followed the young man to his sitting-room. "Had a holiday, Mr. Lynnex?"
"An exciting one, Inspector." Murray grinned. "As a health, or rest-cure—"
"Exactly!" The small eyes found the lump on Murray's head. "Had a motor accident? Well, well! You young men motorists—really a God-send to a fat man like me. Keep us on the hop—good exercise. By the way, Mr. Lynnex, I went to Greystanes, but you had left there in a hurry. Yes, yes. Quite a hurry!"
"Do you think so?" The young man's nerves tingled. What had the detective found at Greystanes?
"Gave me that impression." The fat man found a comfortable chair. "That man of yours, at Greystanes, said you had let the place to a honeymoon couple. Friends of yours? Looked to me like they'd started to make things hum rather early. By the way, they weren't there when I arrived. May have been out in the woods, gathering nuts and may, though from the state of the house I would better guess blackjacks and stones. Not thinking of getting married, Mr. Lynnex? If so, I'd advise you to go to Greystanes and have a look at another man's experiences."
"The Registrar-General has not had my application for a marriage licence—yet. From what you infer, matrimony is somewhat strenuous."
"Not married—yet." Paull searched his pockets for a toothpick. "Nice place, Greystanes."
"Very. My ancestral home, y'know."
"Queer old place." Paull's voice was inconsequential. "Full of secret chambers and passages, and all that. Haunted, Mr. Lynnex?"
"Not that I am aware of," Murray grinned.
"Strange!" The police officer was silent for some moments. "Now, I really thought there was a ghost about. There was a window broken in the loft above the garage and blood on the broken glass. I see you've cut your wrist, Mr. Lynnex. Then, some of the rooms were in quite a mess; china broken, and all that. Honeymooners don't usually throw things about—they leave that until the first shock of the marriage service is over, y'know. Wait until the new moon dawns. There were tyre marks on the drive; four sets of tyre marks and the fence on the main road had been cut. Queer idea of leaving a place through the fence when there are perfectly good lodge-gates."
"Jack Edwards, the head gardener, is in charge, Inspector. Did you ask him for an answer to your conundrums?"
"Didn't think to." The quick eyes were half shut. "Have a good holiday, Mr. Lynnex?"
"Out in the fresh air. Plenty of time to think. No parties—no cards." The Inspector became alert. "Ever seen this before, Mr. Lynnex?"
Between the fingers of the Inspector's raised hand appeared a single playing card, the back towards the young man. Only with difficulty could Murray restrain his surprise.
"Looks familiar." Murray bent forward to examine the card. "Yes, I think I know it. That's the brother of the blank playing-card you left on my table on your previous visit."
"Clever." There was a glint of amusement in the wide-open eyes. "Got any more of them, Mr. Lynnex?"
"There should be more." Murray went to the cabinet. "Funny, I thought I had a full deck of them."
"These them, Mr. Lynnex?" The Inspector produced a pack of playing-card blanks. Slipping the rubber-band, he scattered them on the table "I took them from your room one day."
"Really!" Murray simulated surprise. "Yes, I believe those are the cards. One deck."
"Not a pack." Paull stirred the cards with his fingers. "All blanks, Mr. Lynnex?"
"As you say, Inspector. All blanks."
"Then they're not like mine." The detective's voice indicated disappointment. "Mine has writing on them."
Again a card materialised between his fingers. He flicked it across the table. The card fell face upwards. Across the glazed surface was written in green ink: "Anton Sinclair."
"Any green ink in your chambers, Mr. Lynnex?" The cool tones of the police officer pierced the fog of amazement enveloping Murray. With an effort he replied: "No, I use black ink. Martin can tell you the name of the maker." He paused. "What's the game, Inspector?"
"Ah, if only I knew that?" The detective was leaning back in his chair. "Been inventing a new card game, Mr. Lynnex?"
"Am I bound to answer that, Inspector?"
"I shall be disappointed if you do." A fat chuckle set the toothpick-dancing.
"Then, yes. I tried to invent a new game—and failed, lamentably."
"Ah!" For a few minutes there was silence. "Like to tell me about it, Mr. Lynnex?"
"Have I anything to tell you?" Murray shrugged his shoulders. "I believe you know most of what has happened. We were-"
"We?" The word came like a crack of a pistol. "Who are 'we'?"
"I must decline to answer."
"You know where I found that card; Mr. Lynnex?"
"In the court below. No, that cannot be. You left that card on the table on the table the last time you—" Murray stopped speaking, suddenly. He realised he was saying too much. He waited some time, but the detective did not speak.
The silence was becoming intolerable.
"Seen this morning's paper, Mr. Lynnex?" The mask was again over the Inspector's sleepy eyes.
"Interesting people, newspaper men," Paull drawled. "Great help to the police—sometimes. Guess they'll be up here—when they know you've returned."
"For what reason?"
"Tower Square is getting notorious," Paull chuckled. "By the way, we carried out a very successful raid last night. Up at Surry Hills—Buckingham-street. Do you know the district? Got on to a sly-grog joint and had quite a time."
"Were you there?" Murray was surprised.
"I? No, Mr. Lynnex. They don't take fat men on that sort of business." There was regret in the fat man's voice. "Might get stuck in a window—or secret door. Funny thing, sly-groggers usually talk a lot. But these didn't."
"No. What did not this man know?
"No. Not a word could our fellows get out of them. S'pose you've read that Gentle Peter—Peter Duggan—is up for theft. Two hundred and thirty-four pounds, stolen from Anton Sinclair's desk the night Sam the Goat went west."
"Anything to do with that card?"
Murray pointed to the playing card the detective still held.
"This card?" Paull laughed. "Oh, that! I found that under Sam the Goat in the motor car."
"At Darlinghurst?" Murray was thunderstruck.
"A playing-card with the name of Anton Sinclair written in green ink across the face." Paull chuckled. "Remember me telling you of the golden hairs I found on Sinclair's pillow. Funny things! Inspector Frazer found quite a number of golden hairs in one of the upper rooms at Buckingham-street last night."
Murray went to the window. A surge of temper shook him. This man was playing with him; torturing him; hinting at secret knowledge; trying to make him speak words that would give him a hold over Myrtle. No, whatever the cost to himself he would not do that!
"Not read the papers this morning, Mr. Lynnex?" The detective murmured, lazily. "Well, well! They're worth reading—sometimes. Look at this!"
He held up a newspaper. Across the top of the page ran a heavy streamer:
ANTON SINCLAIR'S BODY FOUND
"God!" Murray stared at the words. "That's a damn lie! I saw Anton Sinclair at the windows of his chambers less than half an hour ago."
"You—what?" The Inspector came to his feet with a jump. "You say Anton Sinclair is alive—in Tower Square?"
"I know it." The young, man turned to the window. "There, in that second window of his chambers, I saw him, a few minutes before you came here. I'm not mistaken. I recognised him by your description. He is alive and well. Ah, look!"
He snatched the field-glasses from the take. One look and he thrust them into the detective's hands. "Look, there he is. And, that damned paper says he's dead!"
For many minutes the Inspector watched through the glasses. At length, he placed them on the table and went to his chair. For some time he was silent.
"There's only one thing for us to do now, Mr. Lynnex." Paull broke a long silence. "We've got to put down our cards and examine them together. Just to show I'm not bluffing I'll open my pack first. Listen!"
"I HAD that put in the newspaper, Mr. Lynnex." Inspector Paull tapped the newspaper. "Fiction, of course, 'cept that the dead body of a man was taken from the Harbour yesterday—a man about Sinclair's height, build and colouring, though he wouldn't mind having another name tacked on to him for a few days—just to forward the interests of justice. Especially as he didn't take his card with him into the Harbour."
"Why?" Murray was curious.
"A policeman's life isn't all deductions, Mr. Lynnex." The veil of lazy indifference shrouded the inspector's face. "Sometimes we guess. There's people who call that sort of thing 'providence' or a 'hunch'. Sailors are supposed to talk about 'little cherubs sitting up aloft'—although most sailors I've met talk about spirits—in bottles. I had a 'hunch' that someone might read that and—"
"Then it was a trap?"
"I thought someone might become careless." The detective spoke apologetically. "But I never thought that Anton—"
"You were going to tell me all you know, Inspector." Murray spoke as the detective remained silent.
"There's still Jabul Ardt and Sam the Goat, Mr. Lynnex." Paull spoke thoughtfully. "Sam the Goat was murdered—poisoned. We've still to find out who threw the knife at Jabul Ardt."
"Who was Sam Trainer?" Murray asked curiously. Through the days he had been asking himself that question.
"Sam the Goat." Paull laughed "You've struck at the heart of the mystery there, Mr. Lynnex. Sam was an international crook. He disappeared from London some time ago and was not heard of until we found him at Darlinghurst. Scotland Yard thought he had gone to the States; but he came to Australia. Never operated here, so far as we know. Perhaps he came out for a holiday—to get under 'smoke'—until the Yard people let up a bit. There was the matter of Lord Carrington's rubies—the greatest collection of uncut stones in the world. How Sam got hold of them no one knows. They just disappeared—just that. Disappeared—"
"Rubies!" Murray interrupted, quickly. "Do you think—"
"Well, well! Do you know, Mr. Lynnex, I never thought of that. Some of those jewel thieves are like collectors. Go after certain articles and let others alone. One man goes for diamonds; another for pearls. Did Sam the Goat have a liking for rubies? If so—"
Again the stout detective fell to meditation. Murray watched him, thoughts crowding on his brain. Sam the Goat had stolen Lord Carrington's rubies! Had he heard of the ruby Myrtle carried to Sinclair? From what the girl had told him Murray believed the stone to be one of some value. Had Sam the Goat followed the girl to Sinclair's rooms? Had he sent the message to Sinclair, inducing him to leave his rooms, while the girl was there with the jewel? Had Sam the Goat found the deadly capsule in the silver box—and not the ruby ring? Had he broken the capsule, in the hope it contained the ring? Had the capsule been filled with a powerful poisonous gas? A gas bursting in the crook's face had caused death.
It was impossible to believe that Myrtle would carry death, knowingly, to any man. Yet, what other explanation was there of Sam the Goat's death?
Murray left the room. In less than a minute he returned carrying a steel box. He opened it and after a short search placed a little jeweller's box in the detective's hand. Paull opened the box, to jump to his feet with a cry of amazement. From the white velvet bed glazed a magnificent ruby, held in a plain, old-fashioned setting. He took out the ring and turned it on his hand.
"The ruby!" The detective spoke involuntarily. He looked up at Murray, deep suspicion in his eyes.
"A ruby, Inspector." Murray laughed. "No, you can't fasten the murder on to me. That ruby is mentioned in my father's will. He constituted it a heirloom. Why, I can't understand. Of course, It is valuable and I know he thought highly of it, but—"
"You have other jewels, Mr. Lynnex?"
"Quite a number of them." Murray turned the steel box upside down. A number of jewel-cases tumbled on to the table. He opened them, setting them in rows before the dazed Inspector.
"Lord, man!" Paull exclaimed. "Let the flappers of Sydney see that collection and—damn it, you ain't safe, in Leap Year. They won't propose—they'll marry you out of hand. Gosh! They wouldn't pass that if you hadn't feet, arms or eyes."
"Then I'll trust to your discretion, Inspector." Murray laughed as he repacked the steel box. "Now you understand why I consider my father's instructions regarding the ruby strange. These other jewels are not mentioned in his will. Only the ruby is specifically left to me, under conditions."
"And they are?"
"That the ruby never leaves my possession. That in the event of my giving it away, or selling it, I am disinherited. You know I am under trustees."
"Got that, yes."
"Then—every year I am called upon to produce that ring. If I leave Australia I must place it in the charge of the Trustee Company during my absence only. I must be in Sydney on the date when I have to produce it to my trustees."
"Queer!" Paull was examining the ring, minutely.
"Wants resetting, Mr. Lynnex. This old-fashioned gold takes half the fire from the stone."
"That's another part of the mystery." Murray laughed; "I cannot alter the setting. Unless something happens!—not definitely mentioned in the will—I have to keep the ring exactly as it came to me; and where I can produce it at a moment's notice."
"You haven't discovered any reason for these conditions, Mr Lynnex?"
"I have not the slightest idea what was in my father's mind." Murray paused. "You will understand how complex the problem is when I add that when I hand the ring to the Trustee Company they deposit it in the bank. They do what I am forbidden to do."
"A mystery!" Paull rose from his seat. "You connect that ring with the one the girl took to Sinclair?"
"Can I do otherwise, after what you told me regarding Sam the Goat?"
Murray shrugged his shoulders. "The man was after the ruby ring. When you made that plain to me I connected this ring with the one Myr—the girl took to Sinclair."
"It couldn't have been that ring?"
The Inspector pointed to the jewel-case.
"That ring! Give me five minutes alone in these rooms and you can search the place. Apart from pulling Tower Square to pieces you can have the ring if you can find it—and with it goes my inheritance. More, I'll pledge, my word that the ring doesn't go out of these chambers. No, Inspector. The ring is well guarded."
The detective strolled to the window and stared down on the sun-lit court. A smile of amusement came in his eyes.
"Who knows of this, Mr. Lynnex?" he asked.
"Only the Trustee Company and myself—oh, of course, anyone who searches my father's will at the Registrar-General's offices would get the story."
"Then you can count it public property." The detective's smile broadened. "Funny there should be two ruby rings in this case, Mr. Lynnex. Well, I hope the unexpected will happen soon."
"What do you mean by that?" Murray turned quickly.
'"That you will be called upon to produce the ring, in accordance with the terms of your father's will. Take my advice, Mr. Lynnex. Have it ready. I've got a hunch the ring will be required before we solve the Tower Square mystery. Good-day to you! No, don't ring. Shouldn't like to disturb that servant of yours. Besides, he gets on my nerves, 'sirring' me. 'Tain't Australian."
The Inspector went from the room, closing the door softly. Murray stared after him. What had the fat man been thinking of? What did he know?
THROUGHOUT the remaining hours of daylight Murray was never far from the sitting-room windows, keenly watching Anton Sinclair's chambers. He did not see the man again. In his mind was forming a scheme he hoped would bring him to the heart of the mystery. Under cover of night he would go to Sinclair's rooms. If the blackmailer was there he would face him with a demand for a full explanation. If the man had again disappeared he would search the place. If he and Sinclair met!
For those minutes he was prepared to risk his freedom. There would he no escape for the man. He would have the truth, if he had to wring it from the man by physical violence.
Slowly night came. Murray watched until lights blazed out from Sinclair's rooms. A new thought came to his mind; an idea that caused him to laugh aloud. He would give the blackmailer the shock of his life!
"WILL you go down to the restaurant to dine, sir?"
Murray started as Martin entered the room, switching on the lights.
"No, bring me something up here, please."
He picked up the evening paper.
Across the centre page black headlines announced that the Tower Square mystery remained unsolved. The man taken from the Harbour and believed to be Anton Sinclair had been identified. He was Harold Winton, a Melbourne commercial traveller who had been missing for several days.
For minutes Murray stared at the print, in stark amazement. Inspector Paull had said that he had arranged for the unknown dead man to bear the name of Anton Sinclair until the mystery surrounding Tower Square had been further probed. Had the detective, changed his mind? Yet he had pledged Murray to silence concerning Sinclair's return to his rooms.
Murray went to the telephone and rang up Police Headquarters. He was informed that Inspector Paull had left for the night. For the moment Murray was nonplussed. With a large number of the general public he had never considered a detective who kept office hours. His knowledge of police work had mainly been gathered from detective fiction. There, the successful sleuth, while on the trail, never slumbered nor slept. But, even the most energetic of detectives must have some abiding place, apart from the ugly red-brick building on the corner of Hunter and Phillip streets.
Again Murray turned to the telephone. Police Headquarters replied that Inspector Paull was connected on the telephone and that the number was in the directory.
"Seen the Star to-night, Paull?" Murray succeeded in gaining connection with the Inspector. "Thought Anton Sinclair was to be officially dead?"
"I have heard of resurrections." Paull chuckled. "Has anyone been performing miracles?"
"The Star." Murray's voice was tense. "They give chapter and verse for a body taken from the Harbour wearing the label of Anton Sinclair, that does not appear to be orthodox—after listening to a high police authority this afternoon."
The detective became suddenly grave. "Thanks, Mr. Lynnex. I'll have a word with the morgue officials."
Murray rang off, to immediately dial the morgue. A few questions bringing unsatisfactory replies, he rang off and went down to dinner. No inquiries had been made at the morgue concerning the dead man from the Harbour the previous afternoon. No one had called seeking to view the body.
How had the Star obtained the information? It must have come from some outside source. But the newspaper would not have published it without great verification—after having received official intimation that the body was Anton Sinclair. Someone must be interested in keeping Anton Sinclair alive—in the public eyes. Had Sinclair himself supplied the contradiction? Immediately the news of his death had appeared in the newspapers he had returned to his chambers. Would he disappear again now that he was known to be alive?
Murray finished his meal and went up to his sitting-room. He remembered that he was acquainted with a sub-editor on the Star. He telephoned the man, first at his office then at his home.
Cantor was on the point of leaving for the theatre. He told Murray that a man had called at the newspaper office that morning seating he was a brother of the deceased and furnishing all particulars. The journalist scented a story and was eager with questions. Murray would give no information, referring him to Inspector Paull.
He went to his bedroom and changed into a suit of dark tweeds, placing in the pockets the articles he had gathered for the adventure. In the sitting-room he found the automatic he had brought from Surry Hills. Thrusting it in his hip-pocket he left the room.
The court lay silent under the big arc lamps. He went to the opposite building. At the door he paused. Should he inquire of the lift attendants if Sinclair was in his rooms? That might attract attention.
When both lifts were at the upper floors he ran silently up the stairs. Outside Sinclair's chambers Murray hesitated. He had not been in that block of buildings previously. Waiting until he was certain he was unobserved, he went down to Sinclair's door and rang the bell.
"Mr. Sinclair in?" Murray asked the servant.
"Thought I saw him at the window, this afternoon." Murray spoke carelessly. "He wrote to me some days ago and I delayed answering. Forgot, in fact, and came across to explain."
"Mr. Sinclair has not been home for some days." The man replied hesitatingly. "He went out one evening and did not return. I—I read in the papers, to-day, that he had been found dead in the Harbour, sir."
"A rumour corrected in this evening's Star," Murray laughed. "Funny, I thought I saw him standing at his window, this afternoon. So did a friend who was with me—and he knows Mr. Sinclair rather well."
A look of fear came in the man's eyes, but he shook his head, negatively. He brought the door closer, as if hinting to close the conversation. Murray turned away. What was he to do now? Sanderson had lied; Murray was certain of that. Sinclair had been in the rooms during the day; it was possible he was still there, lurking in the study, listening to the words spoken at the door. Murray shrugged his shoulders and ran down the stairs. Just before he reached the hall he waited until the lifts were ascending before he went into the court. A few minutes later he returned and went to one of the attendants.
"Mr. Sinclair upstairs?"
"Mr. Sinclair. No, sir. Mr. Sinclair's been away for some days."
"Thought I saw him at his windows, some time ago." Murray formed the statement as a question. "Didn't know he was back."
The man looked puzzled.
"I'll ask my mate, sir. Hey, Bill—Mr. Sinclair returned home?"
"No." The man shook his head. "Going up, sir?"
"Not worth while, when you say Mr. Sinclair has not returne." Murray turned towards the door. "Thanks!"
Again in the court he looked up at the lighted windows. He was certain Anton Sinclair was in those rooms; that Sanderson had orders to deny him to everyone.
He strolled to the big entrance gates fronting Macquarie-street. A porter was on duty, standing in the doorway of his little office. Murray hesitated, as the man saluted; then stopped. Over the porter's shoulders he could see the Tower Square plans, hung on the wall beside the large key-board.
"Many chambers vacant, Norrys?"
"Few, sir. Know anyone thinking of moving in here, sir?"
"A friend asked me to inquire what was vacant." Murray spoke idly. "Any suites in my block?"
"No, sir. Full up there. Two sets of rooms vacant in No. 2 block. Like to see them, sir?"
Murray strolled into the porter's lodge and examined the plans on the wall. No. 2 block contained Anton Sinclair's chambers.
"That suite's vacant, sir." The man spoke eagerly. Murray guessed he obtained a commission on lettings. "Good suite. Much the same layout as yours, sir."
"Floor higher, isn't it, Norrys?"
"That's right, sir. Like to see it?"
"Who lives there?" Murray laid a finger on the suite next to the one the man had indicated.
"Mr. Anton Sinclair, sir." The man answered, significantly. "Don't think he'll be there long. Had some trouble lately. Disappeared, or ran away; there was a rumour this morning that he had drowned himself. Management won't stand that sort of thing, sir. They're very particular. Besides, there's—"
"Well?" Murray produced a cigar. "Have a smoke, Norrys? Anything doubtful about Mr. Sinclair?"
"There's tales, sir." The man lowered his voice to a whisper. "Queer tales. Our people don't like tales, sir."
"Don't doubt that." The young man laughed. "So 'R' suite is to let. Floor higher than mine. Suppose that means a reduced rental?"
"Little less than yours, sir." The man found a bunch of keys. "Like to have a look over the suite, Mr. Lynnex?"
"Wouldn't like to take up your time, Norrys." Murray turned away with a gesture of indifference. "Nothing definite settled yet. Still—" he watched the man carefully, "tell you what, Norrys. Let me have the keys and I'll have a look at the suite on my own."
"Against the rules, sir." Yet the porter did not resist when Murray look the keys from his hand. "Of course, sir. I know you—but you won't be long, sir, will you?"
"Ten minutes! Thanks! If there's trouble come to me. Say I took the keys and that you couldn't get them back without a struggle."
He laughed as he ran around the court to the hall of block 2. Waiting until the lifts were ascending, he ran up the stairs. On the fourth floor he sauntered down the corridor to suite 'R.'
He entered and switched on the lights. A quick glance around and he went to the door. He fastened back the latch and closed the door gently behind him.
"Here are the keys, Norrys." Murray strolled into the porter's lodge. "I'll tell my friend to come and have a look, one day when you're on duty. Thanks."
He slipped a coin into the man's hand and strolled to the entrance hall of his own building. For some time he watched the court. When it was deserted he sprinted to the door of block 2.
A minute later he entered the door of suite "R." He threw up the window of the room adjacent to Anton Sinclair's chambers and peered out. Four feet down the wall was a narrow brick ledge, six inches wide and running along the face of the building. Would that ledge support his weight? For a moment he hesitated. There was a big risk! If he fell!
With a little laugh he threw his leg over the sill. A moment and he slipped down until his toes found the narrow ledge. He had started in the first stage of his adventure.
FOR some moments Murray stood on the narrow ledge, gripping the frame of the window with nervous fingers. His body tensed with a sudden desire to crawl up on the window-sill and regain the room. With an effort of will he overcame the momentary panic and slid one foot forward along the ledge.
The brickwork bore his weight. As he slid forward, one foot following the other, he began to feel safe. He was moving to his left, his hand extended on the face of the bricks, feeling for the slightest hold in the rough surface.
He wanted to look down into the court. He was certain someone was standing there watching his progress—like a fly crawling across a wall. He repressed his desire, fixing his eyes on Sinclair's windows. He knew that if he looked down vertigo would seize him. He would hesitate; make some false step. His fingers would fail to retain their frail hold and he would fall. Almost he could feel the swift rush through the air; the long-drawn agony of pain, lasting perhaps until brief unconsciousness foreshadowed death.
He had moved some distance from the window-space, yet he retained his hold on the woodwork. He came to the limit of his stretch, yet his outstretched fingers found nothing to hold. For some, minutes he stayed. Had he to go back, confessing failure? Slowly he backed to the window-sill. There was a way! Cat-burglars climbed impossible footholds in their nefarious work. He had failed in knowledge. He turned cautiously, looking along the line of the wall. There must be a way!
Again he shuffled forward until his body pressed against the angle of brickwork. He raised his left arm until be caught at the edge of brickwork over his head. With his heart in his mouth he raised himself on his toes, loosening his hold on the window-frame. To his surprise he found he could stand almost securely on the ledge. He moved forward, testing each step before he let his weight come on the ledge. Almost before he realised it, his left hand found the corner of the brickwork lining Anton Sinclair's windows. A few more steps and he was safe.
The curtains were drawn across the window, but the blind was not lowered. He could see between the edges of the curtains, into the room. It was vacant, although the lights were on.
Should he force open this window? Again he peered into the room. It was a bedroom and the door was closed. If he got into the room would that advantage him? Sinclair's man was in the chambers. To gain the study he would have to cross the passage.
Murray decided to go forward along the ledge. He knew that one of the study windows was open. He shuffled on. A few minutes and he was peering into the study. There was no one there. With care he mounted the window-sill and swung into the room. He looked around him, certain that Sinclair was in the flat. Stepping lightly, he went to the door and listened. The place was silent. He opened the door an inch but could hear no sounds. Had the man left for the night? Paull had stated that Sanderson had instruction not to leave the chambers. Murray closed the door.
As his fingers caught at the key he hesitated. He dared not lock the door. If Sanderson came to the room and found the door locked, he might raise an alarm. He must leave the door unfastened, trusting to his ears to give him warning of any person's approach.
Steps in the passage made Murray start. Someone was coming to the study. He looked around for a hiding place. The long velvet curtains across the windows caught his eyes. He crossed the rooms and slid behind them. The door opened and someone came into the room. Murray pressed against the wall, to allow the curtain to swing naturally in the evening breeze. The man moved about the room, once crossing to the window and peering out on the darkened court.
Murray held his breath. He wanted to spring out and capture the man. But dare he? If he attacked the man there would be a struggle. The noise would attract attention. The man went to the door and left the room, closing the door noisily behind him. Murray came out of his concealment. He turned to the curtain and slit a hole in the fabric. He could not stand, blindfolded, behind that curtain again.
For the time he was alone in Sinclair study. He glanced round, recognising the bookcases hiding Sinclair's safes. He found the spring, swung the bookcases out. He caught at the knob of the middle safe, expecting it to yield to his touch. It was locked. The papers were again in the safes! Then Sinclair had certainly returned to his rooms. A moment's thought and Murray recalled the combinations. He turned the dial and again tugged at the knob. The safe remained locked. Anton Sinclair had changed the combination!
Where should he search? He went to the desk and pulled out the top drawer. He saw it was steel-lined and that the lock had been forced. This, then, was the drawer from which Duggan had taken the roll of notes. He pulled it right out and laid it on the desk. The steel lining of the money-drawer did not extend to the back. A space about four inches wide remained. There lay a bundle of papers secured by a rubber band. Murray ran his fingers along the top edge of the papers. The second document in the file caught his eyes. It was a plan of a room—not the room in which he stood.
For some time he puzzled over it. The plan appeared familiar, yet he could not place it. Again came the sound of steps in the passage. Murray thrust the papers in his pocket and the drawer in the desk. The steps were approaching the study. A few quick steps and he reached the curtains. Through the slit he had made Murray watched the room. The door opened and Sanderson entered. He stood at one side to admit another man. For a moment Murray thought he was watching Anton Sinclair. The man was about the blackmailer's height and build, yet his colouring was different. The man walked into the room with assurance. He went to the desk and seated himself.
"Well?" The harsh vibrant voice made Murray start. "Anything to report, Sanderson?"
"No, sir." The man spoke fearfully.
"What about the police? Been here this evening?"
"I think they have finished, sir. You saw the newspapers this morning?"
"I saw the Star to-night." The man frowned. "Who did that? Some more damned foolishness. The report of the drowning was in our favour."
"Oh, damn you!" The man swung violently around. "Anton been here to-day? Give you instructions?"
"Well, what are you hanging about for? Get out! I'll let you know when I leave." The man rose from the desk. "By the way! A young lady may call to see Mr. Sinclair. Don't say he's away. Show her in here and keep a silent tongue in your head. Understand?"
The man bowed and left the room. For some minutes the newcomer paced the floor. Suddenly he returned to the desk, swinging the chair round to face the windows. "You behind that curtain! Come out! I've got something to say to you."
Murray's heart missed a beat. For the moment he hesitated. His hand went quickly to his hip-pocket.
"Got to speak a second time?" The man laughed harshly. "Quick march, forward! I'm waiting!"
Murray had no option. He flung the curtain aside. The man at the desk jumped to his feet with a cry of surprise; the automatic falling from his hand.
"What, the—" The man stuttered. "Where did you get that?" He pointed to the crimson mask concealing Murray's face. The young man laughed. As he moved forward his gun came up, covering the man.
"Surprised, eh?" Murray disguised his voice. "No, keep your hands from that gun. Didn't think to see me, did you?"
"Who are you?" The man peered at Murray, in stupefaction. "Why—"
"Never seen the Red Mask before?" Murray was beginning to enjoy himself. Only at the last moment before he left his rooms had he remembered the crimson mask he had bought for a ball.
"Come from behind that desk! Keep your hands up!" The automatic emphasised the command. "Remember, I'll stand for no nonsense."
The man obeyed sulkily. At Murray's command he turned his back. Thrusting the gun against the unknown's back the young man searched him, clumsily.
"So far good!" Murray spoke confidently. "You can put down your hands now. I want a word with you."
The man obeyed, reluctantly. He dropped his hands, but one of them went to his breast-pocket. Suddenly he turned to face Murray. Now, across his eyes stretched a piece or crimson silk.
"The man in the Red Mask!" Murray almost dropped his automatic in astonishment.
"THE Red Mask, yes!" The man laughed, ironically. With a bound he found the shelter of the desk, bending down and groping for the automatic he had dropped. Murray stood, uncertain for a moment, then raised his gun. For a time there was silence.
"Better drop that gun, Lynnex." Red Mask spoke from behind the desk. "I've got my gun and have cover while you are out in the open."
"What do you want?" Murray allowed his hand to drop to his side.
"That's better." The crook rose to his feet, pulling the swivel chair to the desk. "May I suggest you find a seat. We have much to talk over."
Murray obeyed. He had lost the advantage he had held.
"Sit down, Mr. Lynnex." Red Mask spoke easily. "Good! Now you and I have to get together on the matter of Anton Sinclair. Maybe you now recognise that our aims are not antagonistic."
"Yes? And I find you in Sinclair's rooms. Now what do you want?"
"That may be explained." Red Mask pushed a cigar-box across the desk. "Smoke, Mr. Lynnex? Sinclair is proud of his cigars. Good! I like to deal with a sensible man. So you came through the window?"
"That is so."
"An uncomfortable journey, across the front of the building. I presume you had some definite object in risking your neck?"
"Hardly definite, Mr.—er—"
"May I suggest 'Red Mask'; that will serve. You risked a dangerous journey for no definite aim?"
"Except to get in touch with Mr. Sinclair. I made the orthodox call at the door and was refused."
"You expected to find Mr. Sinclair here?"
"I saw him at the window this afternoon."
"At the window! Very foolish of him," the man laughed. "Especially as he is anxious to oblige Inspector Paull—and remain dead!"
"Is that so?" Murray paused. "May I ask why you are here—and not Mr. Sinclair?"
"Certainly." Red Mask laid his gun on the desk. "I believe you realise now, Mr. Lynnex, that in the—er—underworld of this city there are two big gangs at war. The men under my leadership and the followers of the Black Hawk."
Murray nodded. "So! Then you will understand that Sinclair is of interest to both the Black Hawk and myself." Red Mask spoke with confidence. "For the time I have the advantage. I have control of Sinclair's chambers. I came to-night—"
"First obtaining possession of Mr. Sinclair's person, or—" Murray paused, significantly.
"I am afraid you are unjust, Mr. Lynnex." Red Mask smiled. "Sinclair is unharmed, so far as I am concerned. As you state, he was here this afternoon. I arranged that he should leave his chambers for a few hours. I came here—but that can wait. Will you answer a few questions, Mr. Lynnex?"
"I may not choose to answer." Murray placed his gun on the desk.
"I will be blunt. What did you come here for?"
"To see what I could discover. To get in touch with Mr. Sinclair and wring the truth from him." Murray, spoke hotly.
"Crude, but possibly effective, if Mr. Sinclair had remained in his rooms. Any other object?"
"Not when I started my journey. Now—"
"I propose to remain."
"You have a reason?"
"I heard you instruct Sanderson that a certain young lady was to be admitted; if she called."
"Miss Wayne." The crook mused for a few minutes. "Yes, that is true. You would think of her. What do you know of Myrtle Wayne, Mr. Lynnex?"
"Very little. I prefer not to discuss the lady."
"Yet I might assist you in your search for her." Red Mask paused. "Mr. Lynnex, we have many kindred aims. We seek Sinclair's papers. We seek to solve the death of Sam Trainer. We seek the identity of the lady known as Myrtle Wayne. Shall I we join forces in our search?"
"You have not given me cause to trust you," Murray answered, dryly. "May I ask why you are here—or a fuller statement of your plans, before I answer?"
"I like you. I have no reason to love Sinclair or the Black Hawk." Red Mask spoke without hesitation. "Shall I say that the main object of your call related to a letter you received from Sinclair some while ago—a letter you did not answer?"
"That, and an entry in a book now in Inspector Paull's possession."
"Wherein your name is mentioned in connection with the sum of £50,000."
"Yes, and you?"
"Mr. Lynnex, what do you know of the ring—the ruby ring?"
The crook's voice had changed. He leaned forward over the desk, his body tensed. "I came to these rooms to-night to search for the ruby ring Miss Wayne brought-here the night Sam the Goat was murdered."
"The ruby ring?"
"The ruby ring. An old ruby ring. The girl brought it here in a silver box. She gave it to Sinclair and he placed it on this desk. He left it and the girl together in this room while he answered a telephone message—"
"A message which you caused to be conveyed to him?"
"I prefer not to answer that." The crook laughed lightly. "Miss Wayne sat by the desk, her back to the door. Someone bound and gagged her, carrying her into the bedroom. That person stole the ring."
"Sam Trainer?" Murray asked curiously.
"Sam the Goat was found here, dead." The man spoke quickly. "I know the ring was not on him. I know the girl did not have it. What happened to the ring?"
"Miss Wayne has not the ring." Murray spoke definitely.
"You are certain of that?"
"Very certain. Miss Wayne has discussed the loss of the ring with me."
"There is another ring. You have that?"
"I have a ring." The young man answered after a moment's thought. "How far it resembles the ring Miss Wayne brought here I cannot say."
"That ring was willed to you under strange conditions?"
"The offices of the Registrar-General will inform you on that."
"I have seen your father's will. Do you know there is a third ring, exactly the same as yours?"
"No." For a moment Murray allowed his astonishment to show.
"I ask you to take my word that there are three rings. You have one; Miss Wayne brought the second to Sinclair; the third ring is—"
"Who has the third ring?" Murray questioned. He believed the man was speaking the truth.
"The third ring is in the possession of Alan Crago."
"Alan Crago." Murray was astounded. "Why, he never mentioned it to me."
"He would not," Red Mask laughed. "Mr. Lynnex, those three rings have a meaning."
"I can guess that now."
"You know that you can be called upon to produce your ring, in certain eventualities?"
"I have to produce the ring every year."
"And on one other occasion—the reason for which has not yet arrived." The crook spoke quietly.
"You do not know that? I am speaking the truth, Mr. Lynnex. The Trustee Company, under secret instructions from your father, may call on you to take the ring to them—and that in spite of the fact that you produced it in their office but a month ago."
"Do you know the history of the rings, Mr. Lynnex?"
"Then, listen." The man paused for a few seconds. "Your father made you his heir conditional on your guarding that ring. You believe the obligation rests on you through your life—that the condition will descend to your heirs.
"That is wrong. The Trustee Company holds a document left in their charge by your father on the production of the three rings, simultaneously, they will produce the document. It is, I believe, a later will executed by your father."
"That is but a guess, Mr. Red Mask." Murray laughed. Yet he felt the man was speaking the truth.
"I am but reciting facts." The crook paused. "I believe the time is near. When the ring Miss Wayne brought to Sinclair is found you and Alan Crago will be called upon to produce your rings."
"For what purpose?"
"That the secret contained in the rings shall be read."
"The secret of the rings." Murray mused. Inspector Paull had hinted that his ring held a secret. "Who owns the ring that Miss Wayne brought to Sinclair? You say you are seeking it? Have you any right to its possession?"
"I decline to answer that question. Sufficient to say that I will find that ring."
"And if Alan Crago will not produce his ring?"
"He will." Red Mask laughed. "Alan Crago is fond of money."
"You mean?" Murray hesitated. Would the production of the rings have any bearing on his fortune? Did that man mean that when the rings came together that his inheritance would be alienated from him? Did the second will divide his father's estate between the holders of the rings?
"You are mistaken, Mr. Lynnex." Red Mask read his thoughts. "The rings do not affect your private fortune; indeed, they may add to it, considerably."
"The three rings, when brought together, will reveal the secret of the journey Alan Crago, Godfrey Lynnex and Miles Acton took into the Terrible Lands, many years ago."
"Then the third ring—the lost ring, that Miss Wayne brought here belongs to Miles Acton." A sudden thought came to Murray. "But you are not Miles Acton?"
"No. Miles Acton is the Black Hawk."
A look of surprise, changing to horror, came in Red Mask's eyes. He sprang to his feet with a startled exclamation.
"WHO'S there?" Murray swung round in his chair. The study door was opening. At Murray's call it was thrust back and Luigi Savelli strode into the room. "Luigi!" The words came from Red Mask in relief. "Just the man I wanted."
"So!" The Italian looked suspiciously from one to the other of the masked men. "I suggest the Signori remove their masks."
The automatic held close to his side emphasised the request. The crook threw his mask on the desk—triumphantly; Luigi glanced at Murray, who was slower in removing his.
A sudden light came into the Italian's eyes.
"Signor! For long I have searched for you. When the Police arrived last night—"
"Rather hot, wasn't it, Luigi. Glad you got away. Where is—" He paused, glancing at the man behind the desk.
"The Signor is wise." The Italian's smile held a warning. "There is trouble, eh?"
"Hold him, Luigi! You've come in the nick of time!"
The crook turned impatiently, towards Murray.
"Now, Mr. Lynnex, we can talk better. What of that ring?"
"The ruby ring?" Murray simulated surprise.
"What's the good of that?" Red Mask laughed harshly. "I had to humour you while we were alone.. You'd have got too much of an even break, with that gun in your hand. But now—I want that ring."
"What ring?" The young man temporised. The Italian's eyes were conveying some message he could not interpret.
"Cut that out!" Red Mask came round the desk. "We've been talking of that ruby ring so it's no good trying to pretend ignorance now. I've an idea you have that ring the girl brought here. Oh, you needn't look surprised. I'm not the only one who knows you came here that night. The question is, just when did you come? I think you arrived—"
"You're mad!" Murray laughed. "I have never been in these rooms until now."
"Good enough tale for the police, Mr. Lynnex, but not good enough for me." Red Mask laughed sardonically. "I know you came into these rooms within a few minutes of Sam the Goat entering. What did you do? Did you kill Sam the Goat and take the ruby ring? I think you did. That means that you have two of the three rings. Well, I want them—and, damned quick—"
"And the third ring?"
"That'll come along all right." The crook spoke confidently. "Alan Crago will produce that when he knows the other rings are together. Now, where are they? Luigi's got you covered."
"I thought Miss Wayne was to call with the ring to-night?" Murray fought for time. "I inferred that from your instructions to Anderson."
"The Golden Girl! The slut! I'll—"
Murray struck out. With a gasp the crook fell, heavily. The young man swung round to face the Italian, his gun raised. To his surprise Luigi was laughing, his automatic covering Red Mask.
"The Signor will drop his gun." The smooth words stayed the master-crook's movements. His hand fell towards the floor, releasing his grasp on the weapon.
"Luigi! What the devil's this?" Red Mask raised himself, his left hand caressing his jaw. "Turned traitor, eh?"
"Traitor?" Luigi laughed gently. "I serve the Black Hawk. Am I traitor to strike at his enemies?"
"But—" Some thought caused the Red Mask to hesitate. "Luigi, tie that man."
"The Signor will not speak." A slight gesture emphasised the smooth words. Luigi turned to Murray. "The Signor commands?"
"Commands?" The young man laughed perplexedly. "You act too sudden for me to follow, Luigi. The honour's with you. Still, I suggest that he be allowed to rise."
With a quick movement he kicked the crook's gun into a corner. Scowling, the Red Mask rose to his feet and leaned against the desk.
"You'll pay for this, Luigi," he snarled. "I'll see Crago and—"
"Alan Crago?" Murray interrupted. "What do you know of Alan Crago? Of course! He was to produce the third ring when you had obtained the other two. So that's it! Alan Crago and the Red Mask! Where does Anton Sinclair come in, Red Mask?"
The man shrugged his shoulders. With a light laugh he took from his pocket a cigarette case and held it, open, towards Murray. "Smoke, Mr. Lynnex?"
"Mind if I do?" He took a cigarette, slipping the case into his pocket. From a waistcoat pocket he produced a large lighter.
"If you will tell me exactly what you are after we may be able to dispense with this heroic display of guns."
"I suggest the Signor be searched." Luigi spoke softly.
"For what?" Murray asked.
"There are things—" The Italian shrugged his shoulders. "It is possible the man carries affairs of moment."
"What about it, Mr. Red Mask?" Murray turned to the captive. "Got anything on you likely to be of interest. Suppose, I say, a ruby ring?"
It was a shot at venture and Murray saw that he had scored. The crook drew back his hand moving, instinctively, towards his vest pocket.
"The ruby ring! Really, Mr. Lynnex, you are dramatic. You have two of the rings and Crago the third. Do you suggest that I have his?"
"That would not be improbable," the Italian interposed.
"Rather possible," Murray replied. "I rather fancy we've hit it, Luigi. Now, Mr. Red Mask, the ruby ring! Quick!"
The man's hand came up to his waistcoat pocket, reluctantly. Murray waited, his hand outstretched.
"You win!" The crook lifted his head; his fingers came from his pocket. Slowly he extended his hand. Murray stepped forward. Luigi, leaning nearer, allowed his gun to drop from the straight line. Slowly Red Mask opened his hand, a look of demonic triumph shining in his black eyes. On the man's palm blazed a magnificent ruby, mounted in plain, old-fashioned setting. Murray gasped. It was a facsimile of the jewel he possessed. He stretched out his hand to take it.
"You fool!" Red Mask's fingers closed over the gem. The man's right hand came up between his opponents' faces, holding the silver lighter. The lid flew back and an intense white light for an instant illuminated the room. Murray fell back a step—blinded. He heard a triumphant laugh and then the slamming of a door.
He groped forward, to catch at Luigi's hand. Again his hands went to his face. He could not see through the darkness surrounding him flashed streamers of painfully brilliant light.
Slowly vision returned. He groped towards the desk on which stood a water-bottle. He wet his handkerchief and bathed his aching eyes. Now he could see the furniture, swimming in a misty dullness. He could see Luigi, his hands clasped over his eyes. He caught at the Italian, splashing the water into his hands and telling him to rub it on his eyes.
Red Mask has escaped, taking with him the ruby ring. Murray laughed, bitterly. He should have suspected every movement of the crook, knowing him to be capable of any trickery.
"He's gone, Luigi." Murray spoke ruefully. "Luigi, who is the Red Mask?"
"I do not know." The man shook his head. "I know he is the enemy of my master, Signor."
"An enemy of the Black Hawk." Murray picked up the cigarette dropped by Red Mask. "Didn't wait to take his cigarette with him. I wonder if it contains some trick?"
He broke the little tube, but there was only tobacco in it. He glanced at his watch. "Just after eleven! We'd better be going. Come over to my rooms and have a spot. No, I don't fancy Sinclair's whisky. The man's a crook and—you know." At the front door of the chambers a thought struck him. Where had Sanderson been through all the trouble. It was peculiar that the man had not come to investigate. He searched the rooms of the suite, but found no signs of the man-servant.
"Where's Sanderson, Luigi?"
"I do not know, Signor." The Italian appeared puzzled. "He was not in the place when I entered. I searched but could not find him."
"Then," Murray turned to the man. "How did you manage to get into the chambers?"
The Italian extended his hand. On his palm lay a small key.
"It is the will of the master." The Italian spoke gravely. "For many days I have served the man Alan Crago. He bade me to come to the man Anton Sinclair. From him I received the key of the door."
"So you have been serving Alan Crago and the Black Hawk?" Murray hesitated. "What does that mean, Luigi?"
"It is the will of the master." The man spoke as if that statement was a satisfactory explanation.
"Not too lucid." Murray smiled. "What's the connection between Alan l Crago and Anton Sinclair?"
"Is there a connection?" Luigi looked surprised. "The Signor thinks so? The Signor might suggest a connection between the Red Mask and Anton Sinclair?"
"Another puzzle." Murray turned to the door. "Come away! This place sickens me!"
In the court he looked up at the building, trying to trace the small ledge he had walked. A shudder ran through him, and he strode around the grass centre to the door of his block. The Italian followed, in silence.
"Luigi." Murray turned on the top step. "What do you know of the ruby ring the Red Mask had?"
"I know of the ring, Signor."
"And the ring Myrtle—Miss Wayne—brought to Anton Sinclair? Luigi, I think you know quite a lot. Wonder how I can manage to make you speak?"
The Italian smiled. He drew his hand out of his pocket and extended it towards Murray. On his palm lay a ruby ring.
"The third ring!" Murray gasped.
"Nay, Signor. It is but an imitation of the ring. Do you think the Black Hawk would send the ring he treasures to the man, Sinclair?"
"Then, Myrtle brought that ring from the Black Hawk to Anton Sinclair?" Murray starred at the ring. "But, Luigi, that ring is similar to the one I have."
Very puzzled, Murray took the ring from the man and examined it. It was exactly like the one he had shown Inspector Paull that afternoon. And the Black Hawk had bad this made when the blackmailer had demanded the true ruby ring from him! He looked up, suspiciously, at the Italian.
"It was not I." Luigi read the young man's thoughts. "Crago sent me to the room where the dead man sat. On the ground I found the ring. I took it for I knew it belonged to my master."
"Murray!" A man came out of the shadows. "Don't you know me?"
"Jove! Albert Roche!" Murray grasped his comrade's hand. "Where have you sprung from?"
"I never left town." Roche spoke simply.
Slowly the meaning of the words dawned on Murray. Albert Roche had drawn the fatal card.
"YOU never left the city?" Murray closed the door of his sitting-room and turned to Roche. "That means—"
"May as well say it, old man." Roche smiled nervously. "And it's less than a week since we met here and—"
"It's no good going over that again." Murray interjected. "We've got ourselves in a devil of a mess and which is the right way out I can't guess. You drew the card?"
"The card bearing Anton Sinclair's name, yes." The man dropped into a chair.
"What did you do with it?"
"Destroyed it." Surprise showed on Roche's face. "That was the pledge, y'know."
"Yes." Murray hesitated. "Look here, Roche. The words on the card were written in blue-black ink. I know, for I wrote them."
"Because another card, bearing Anton Sinclair's name, written in green ink, was found in the motor car in which Sam the Goat was seated, dead."
"What?" Roche sprang to his feet.
"The truth," Murray laughed, grimly. "I saw the card in Inspector Paull's hand. What a mess! I must have been mad—"
"We were all mad." The young man interrupted. "Mad with hate of that damned blackmailer. Yes, we're in a devil of a mess and I can't see a way out. Even his ghost—"
"His ghost!" Murray stared. "Roche, the man is not dead. I saw him standing at his window this afternoon!"
"Not dead? But the newspapers? They say that his body was found in the Harbour."
"More of Inspector Paull's trickery. He published the news of Anton Sinclair's death on the chance of drawing someone. What puzzles me is that card. If you destroyed the one you drew, where did the green-ink one come from?"
"What of the other cards of the pack—the blank ones?" suggested Roche.
"I can account for every one of them." Murray, shifted restlessly. "You fellows took four cards from the room. I had the fifth. That left forty-seven cards—all blanks. Martin cleared the table next morning and placed them in the cabinet, where Inspector Paull found them. He counted them in my presence. There were forty-seven. With the five we drew, that makes the full pack."
"Pardon! The Signor forgets." Luigi interposed. "Every pack of cards contains two blanks. There are fifty-four cards in an unbroken pack. Then, there is this!"
He took the Dictaphone from the top of the cabinet and placed it on the table. "The Dictaphone." Murray stared at it, puzzled.
"Oh, I understand. Sinclair listened in on that."
"Many times, Signor. Of that he informed me. Sinclair knew of your plans. He was at the Dictaphone the night before he disappeared. You and your friends were talking. He heard of the plot by the cards; he—"
"Parsons!" Murray spoke quickly.
"Yes, I told him of my plans. But, no—Parsons did not take the blank cards, Luigi. He hated Sinclair."
"He is not a traitor, Signor; yet Anton Sinclair knew," the Italian smiled. "But the Signor's friend has a tale to tell. Let him speak. Perhaps in his story I shall find the clues you seek."
Roche looked up. "Oh, there is little in my story but failure. You remember, Lynnex, I lingered behind until the other fellows had left."
Murray nodded. Roche had been last to leave the room.
"I hung about, for I had to get that pocket-book from the hall-stand. I had the damned card in my breast pocket. I thought, it would burn a hole through to my flesh, but I daren't destroy it in your rooms. I had to carry it way with me."
"When I left I went down to the court and hung around, watching the lights of Sinclair's flat. Suddenly it came to me that I would not have a better chance to—to snaffle the cur. I went to the door of the block in which he lives and took out the pocket-book. In a few minutes I had memorised the information. Then I wandered about the court, waiting for Sinclair's lights to be extinguished."
"The Signor was in the court when the motor car arrived?"
"You know that?" Roche turned to the Italian. "Yes, I saw Sinclair step out of the car and go into the building. I had thought he was in his rooms. I found a seat behind some plants, giving me a view of the car and the door."
"The Signor saw all?"
"You came down to the car with Sinclair," Roche nodded. "Say, Lynnex, is this man to be trusted?"
"Get ahead, Roche." Murray spoke impatiently. "I'll answer for Luigi."
"Perhaps the Signors will allow me to speak now." Luigi faced the two men with folded arms. "It is true I was with Anton Sinclair. The master commanded and I obeyed. Listen!
"The Signors know that one of the three ruby rings is in the possession of the Black Hawk. The man, Sinclair, demanded the ring. For some reason the master thought it right to appear and comply with that demand. Sinclair demanded that the ring be sent to him by a safe hand at the hour he named. The master—nay, I should say, the Golden Girl, suggested that she be the messenger."
"And you went to guard her?" Murray added.
"For many days I have guarded her," the Italian assented. "To that end I lived with the man Crago and offered to betray the master I serve and love. He, in his foolishness, believed me. He sent me to Anton Sinclair."
"Then Alan Crago and Anton Sinclair work together?" exclaimed Murray.
"That is so. But the Signors should listen. I serve the master, but to serve him I served Alan Crago and Anton Sinclair. Only thus could I learn their secrets. The night that Signor Roche speaks of I arranged that Anton Sinclair ordered my presence in his rooms; that I could protect the Golden Girl."
"Who is the Golden Girl, Luigi?" Murray questioned.
"The master will tell." Luigi smiled. "But, Signor, I have a story to relate and the night draws on. Listen. I was in the rooms of the man, Sinclair, when the Golden Girl came with the ruby ring. I watched and listened. I saw her go to that man's rooms. Soon after Sinclair came out of his study. I followed. There I broke my trust, but I did not know it, then."
"The man, Sinclair, went from the house to the big gates. I followed. He went on to the street and spoke to a man. I watched. Some one spoke to me—"
"The man you name Sam the Goat."
"Who was Sam the Goat?" Murray questioned.
"My master's friend." Luigi answered. "I told him the Golden Girl was alone in that man's rooms. I went to follow Sinclair, but he had disappeared. I searched for him, but could not find him. I returned to his rooms. He was there—and Sam the Goat in his seat—dead!"
"But how was he killed?"
Murray asked. "Who killed him?"
"Anton Sinclair killed Sam the Goat." Luigi spoke sombrely. "He confessed to me, claiming my help. He told me he returned to find the Golden Girl searching the room. He watched her, knowing she was searching for his papers. He saw her find the strange instrument through which he, listened to the Signors talking. He waited until she returned to her seat. Then he bound and gagged her and carried her into his bedroom. What he intended, I cannot tell."
"Then Sam the Goat—"
"The Signor pardons! Anton Sinclair told me that when he turned from his bedroom to his study he heard the door open, and hid. He saw Sam the Goat enter. He looked around the room and saw the silver box. He went to the desk to examine it. Fearing he would steal the ruby ring, Sinclair crept up behind him. With this he struck him down."
The Italian produced a small instrument shaped like a pocket knife, attached to which was a barrel. Murray took it, A few minutes and he understood the strange weapon. Through it the crook could squirt chloroform in his victim's face.
"With that weapon he struck down Sam the Goat." Luigi spoke unemotionally. "With the capsule filled with the poisoned vapour, he killed him. It was then I returned—to find my friend—dead."
"It. was you who helped to convey the body to Darlinghurst?" exclaimed Murray.
"It was I." Luigi assented. "I believed it to be the will of my master that the man Sinclair should be committed. He asked my help and I consented. We left the body to make ready the motor car."
"That's where Duggan's story fits in," exclaimed Murray. "He told the Inspector that when he entered the room Sam the Goat was seated at the desk, dead. In the bedroom he found the Golden Girl, bound and gagged. When they came back to the study Sam the Goat had disappeared."
"First, the Signor's friend shall say what he say." Luigi turned to Roche. "I saw you and Sinclair come across to this block."
"To here?" exclaimed Murray.
"The Signor will listen." Luigi interposed. "It is true that the man Sinclair brought me to this building. He told me that here lived a man who planned to murder him; that the death of Sam the Goat could be placed to his account. I watched."
"Sinclair planned to frame me for Sam the Goat's murder?"
"The man, Sinclair, met me at the door. I stepped back into the court and looked up at these windows, for I guessed it was here he would come. The windows were in darkness. Presently I saw a light in this room. It disappeared. I returned to the door and Sinclair came to me. We went out of the court in his car. We placed it in the garage and walked along certain streets. The man, Sinclair, took a car from the street and drove it here. Leaving the car in the court we came up to where Sam the Goat still sat before the desk."
"You saw them return?" Murray turned to Roche.
"Yes," the young man answered abruptly. "When I saw them return in a strange motor car. I was puzzled. I could not follow Sinclair up to his chambers while Luigi was there. So I waited, wishing I had a gun to shoot the beast."
"The Signor would have acted foolishly," Luigi smiled. "But I continue. We went up to Sinclair's rooms and brought down the body and placed it in the car. Again Sinclair left me. He walked to the grass in the middle of the court and threw something on it. He was laughing when he came back to the car and seated himself in the driver's seat. For some moments he sat there, writing on a card. Then he held the steering wheel and drove the car to the street.
"He travelled to Darlinghurst and into a lane. There he called to me to help him. We took the body of Sam the Goat from the back-seat of the car and seated him behind the steering-wheel. But first Sinclair took from his pocket a card and slipped it under the body of Sam the Goat. Now, let the Signor continue."
"Luigi's correct." Roche spoke rapidly. "I saw the car drive up to the door and Luigi and Sinclair go in. I waited. I saw them bring down a man who appeared to be very drunk. They got him into the rear seat of the car, and then Sinclair walked to the grass-plot and threw away something. I meant to search for it when I had examined his chambers, but I forgot. When the car drove away I went upstairs.
"Just before I reached the outer door it opened and a man and woman came out. When they had disappeared down the stairs I went to Sinclair's door and opened it. It wasn't long before I saw that something curious had happened. There was a smell of chloroform in the study—but there was no one there. I searched for the safes and found them, but the papers had disappeared. Then I guessed that Sinclair had got on to our plans—and wondered.
"It was no good hanging about there. I got away from Tower Square and went into hiding, waiting to learn from the newspapers what had happened. First came the news of Sam the Goat's murder. Yesterday I read of Sinclair's death. I decided to come to you, Lynnex. I've been hanging around the court since dark, trying to get you on the quiet."
"So far good." Murray spoke after a lengthy pause. "But, what does it all mean? Can you see light, Luigi?"
"It is the master's will. In his good time the master will speak and all will he explained."
"Then I wish he'd hurry up!" Murray was irritated. "This mystery, is getting on my nerves."
"The master will speak," Luigi answered confidently. "It is the Signor's will that I go to the Black Hawk?"
"Tell the Black Hawk I want to see him. Get him to come here and help us get at the truth."
"It is the Signor's will." The Italian picked up his hat. "Will the Signor wait here?"
"I'll wait up all night and all to-morrow, if there's a chance of clearing this thing up. Fetch the Black Hawk, Luigi. You will find me here."
The Italian left the room. For a time there was silence. At length, Roche rose and stretched himself.
"I'm all in, Lynnex. You don't want me, do you? Right-o! I'm off to bed."
"Where are you going?"
"To my diggings," the young man laughed. "You should see them, Lynnex. A room in a mean street in Darlinghurst. Makes me shiver every time I go into it."
"Stay here." Murray opened a door. "There's plenty of room. Don't undress. Just lay down in your clothes. I may want you when I have a talk with the Black Hawk."
Roche nodded and followed Murray to one of the bedrooms. Almost as he stretched himself on the bed he fell fast asleep.
Murray watched him for some moments, then left the room, closing the door. He could not rest, now that he faced the solution of the mystery. For some time he paced the room, listening for the return of the Italian with the Black Hawk. What should he say to the man?
The mystery of Sam the Goat's death had been solved. Anton Sinclair had added murder to his list of crimes. But, could he be convicted of the murder of the international crook? Except for Luigi Savelli's evidence he had covered his trails.
FOR some time Murray wandered restlessly around his chambers. He went to the bedroom, to find Roche asleep. He went to the corridor beyond the outer door and listened. The big building was silent.
Again he returned to the sitting room, leaving the outer door ajar. If he fell asleep Luigi and the Black Hawk would be able to gain admission. They would awake him. He threw himself on the couch.
Something bulged uncomfortably In his hip-pocket. He rolled over and withdrew a packet of papers. For a moment he gazed at them, perplexedly; then he remembered. When he had heard the Red Mask in the passage, outside Sinclair's study, he had thrust the papers into his hip-pocket. During the succeeding events he had forgotten them.
Going to the table he continued the examination of the papers. Many of them were letters he could not understand. One folded packet attracted his attention. It consisted of a cancelled cheque and two letters. The cheque was for five thousand pounds, drawn by R. S. Moss to the order of James Fleming.
Immediately Murray remembered the tale Inspector Paull had told him of Jabul Ardt and the blackmailer. It was to regain this cheque and letters that Jabul Ardt had bribed Peter Duggan to burgle Sinclair's rooms. How had they come to be in the space behind the money-drawer? Had Sinclair overlooked them when he took his papers from his study?
Again Murray went through the letters in the file. Two of them were signed "Sarah Trent" asking for money due to her. She wrote intimately, as if she had some hold over the blackmailer. On the back of one of the letters was drawn the pencilled plan that had intrigued him. Where had he seen that arrangement of the furniture? Under the wide windows was drawn a long table. In one of the corners was indicated a desk. There were strange over-linings on the sketch. In one spot the designer apparently intended a door from the room, close to the windows, opening on to a terrace. On the wall facing the fireplace was shown another door, leading out on the passage. That would give the room three doors.
Three doors, two windows and a wide fireplace. Murray thought the fireplace familiar, although he could not name the room. He sat suddenly. Now he understood why the sketch was so familiar. Alan Crago's study held only one door. There was no door to a Terrace. Again, there was no second door opening into the passage. Yet the sketch was of Crago's study.
For some time Murray sat with the plan before him. What had been Sinclair's intention when he drew the plan? He turned the paper over again, and examined the handwriting. The litter was dated some years back. Had the plan been drawn on the letter soon after receipt, or at a later date? The letter had been written by a woman named "Sarah Trent."
Again Murray's thoughts went to the Inspector's story of Jabul Ardt. The money-lender had had in his employ a clerk named Bessie Trent. Was there a connection between the girl and the woman. It was probable the girl was Sarah Trent's daughter. What was the relationship between the woman and Sinclair? The woman might be Anton Sinclair's mistress, or wife. Then Sinclair's daughter had been in the employ of the money-lender. But, Alan Crago had introduced him to the girl in the House on the Cliffs. Murray distinctly remembered that Alma had mentioned the name "Trent."
The matter would bear investigation. He would give the document to the Inspector. But first he must find the Black Hawk and learn of the relations between Crago and his father.
The sharp ring of the telephone bell broke the silence. Murray sprang from his seat. He lifted the receiver and spoke his name. "Murray! Murray! Are you there—at Tower Square? Quick! Tell me!"
"Yes, Myrtle. Listen, Murray, dear. You must be careful. Do not go from your rooms. Has Luigi been to you?"
"Yes! Where are you, Myrtle? When can I see you?"
"Soon, dear. Listen! Trust Luigi. Tell him—Oh, help! Help!"
"Myrtle! Myrtle! What has happened? Myrtle!" There was no answer. Murray jangled the instrument in a frenzy of impatience. Presently out of the maddening silence came the automatic speech of the exchange attendant. A long silence followed Murray's demand for the number calling him. Again came the unemotional voice:
"F0732 called you. Shall I reconnect?"
Murray dropped the receiver, suddenly. "F" meant "East" and Pott's Point lay in that direction. Eagerly he seized the telephone directory, searching for Alan Crago's number. Myrtle had called him from Alan Crago's house! The Golden Girl was in Alan Crago's house, calling for help!
Seizing his hat, Murray ran to the door. In the passage he hesitated. Should he wait for The Black Hawk? Had he a right to leave his rooms before they arrived? But, Myrtle had called for help! He must go to her!
He could leave a message for the Black Hawk. Even if the master-crook dared not to venture within Alan Crago's house, Luigi could follow him. Luigi was the servant of Alan Crago.
He ran to his desk and scribbled a note to the Italian, telling him where he had gone and asking him to follow. This he pinned to the lampshade, leaving the light on so that the men would see it immediately they entered the room.
Again in the passage, he paused at the door of the room where Albert Roche slept. Should he call him? He ran down the stairs and into the court. For an instant he glanced up at the windows of Anton Sinclair's chambers. They were in darkness.
He ran into Macquarie-street, and to his garage. Jumping into the big Falli-Sparto, he drove recklessly on to the streets. The streets were deserted and he let the big car out to the limit, roaring up the stiff hill to King's Cross.
A few minutes and he brought the car to a halt before the gates of the House on the Cliffs. He tried to open the big gates, but they were locked. The grounds lay silent and deserted under the pale light of the moon. He stepped back and looked at the high wall. It was unscalable. If he was to get to the House on the Cliffs he must scale the gates.
The ornate ironwork gave good foothold. A few seconds and Murray surmounted the iron spikes on top of the gates, dropping lightly to the gravel path. Darting into the shadows of the trees, he made his way to the hall-door. There were no lights in the house.
Stepping quietly to the big doors he pressed the levers. They were fastened. Again he returned to the shelter of the trees, scanning the darkened windows. He whistled softly but not a sign answered. Where was Myrtle? What had happened to her, following the cry for help he had heard through the telephone?
He peered at his watch. Twenty minutes had passed since she had called him. What had happened in that interval? If he could get into the house! Running swiftly, but silently, across the open lawns he came to the window of the room he had occupied. It was shut and fastened. He crept on, testing many windows and doors as he passed. They were fastened and the blinds drawn to the windows.
At length, he came to the front door again. Almost as his foot touched the step the big door opened and a hand came into the moonlight, beckoning him. He ran up the steps and the hand caught his, drawing him into the darkened hall. The hand loosened his immediately he entered the room. He groped forward to find his guide, for he knew the hand did not belong to Myrtle. He struck heavily against the woodwork of a door. The slight sound was followed by a laugh, far down the hall. He strode boldly in the direction of the sound.
Suddenly, lights blazed out. He halted, dazed and perplexed. Something dark and soft fell on him, blinding his eyes and pinning his arm at his side. Hands clutched at him, winding the cloth about his head and arms. He felt himself lifted and carried into a room. He was let fall heavily to the floor.
How long he lay, covered by the cloth, he could not say. It seemed ages before he heard footsteps in the room. Someone bent over him, cutting the ropes. With a sudden effort he threw the cloth from his head—to look up into Myrtle's face.
The girl placed her finger to her lips, glancing swiftly towards the fireplace. Murray eyes followed hers. Seated in his chair by the fire was Alan Crago.
Murray struggled to his feet.
"Quite a surprise, Murray Lynnex." The old man turned from the fire. "Murray Lynnex and the Golden Girl, Myrtle Wayne. So you left my house, Murray Lynnex; to return to it in the dark of the night—"
"What does this mean, Mr Crago?" Murray confronted the old man angrily. "I come to your house—"
"Like a thief in the night!" Crago chuckled. "Yes, like a thief in the night, Murray Lynnex—a thief I have captured! Oh, you needn't look at her, Murray Lynnex." The old man rose from his chair. "And you needn't lock towards the door. There are men out there who obey me. They found that girl searching my desk, and took her prisoner. They waited for you to enter the house and captured you. Yes, yes! Alan Crago is well guarded!"
"Myrtle!" The young man drew the girl to him. "Why are you here? What does all this mean?"
"Mean?" Crago faced the couple rubbing his hands with glee. "Why ask, Murray Lynnex? Cannot you understand? You and the girl are my—my guests!"
THERE followed a long silence in the study. The old man had again seated himself before the fire, holding out his hands to the blazing logs. Murray watched him, his arm around the girl.
"Murray Lynnex and the Golden Girl!" Crago spoke to himself. "For many years I have waited—waited for his coming. Now he is here. Already my hands hold him."
"Sit down." The old man pointed! to two chairs some little distance from the fireplace. "Sit down, Murray Lynnex—you and the girl you love. Sit down, I say; there is much we have to discus this night."
Wonderingly, the young man led the girl to a chair. For the time he could only listen. As he seated himself he touched his hip-pocket. The automatic he had carried throughout the night was not there.
"Who is this girl?" Crago fiercely faced the couple. "I know much. I know everything but that. Who is she? What is she doing in my house? Where does she come from? Whom does she serve?"
"Look here, Mr. Crago." Murray rose from his chair, to be waved back with an imperious gesture.
"Murray Lynnex, what of the ring—the ruby ring your father left in your charge?" Crago continued. "Nay, listen. The time has arrived when the three rings must come together. You have one of them. You must produce it!"
"I understand my ring is to be produced when the other two are in evidence." Murray answered.
"Here is my ring." Crago extended his hand towards the young man. "The ring of the man, Miles Acton, will be produced this night."
"That is untrue." Myrtle spoke quickly. "The Black Hawk will not produce the ring to you."
"The Black Hawk's ring will only be produced when the packet of papers at present in the hands of the Trustee Company are opened. Then Murray will have an equal voice with the Black Hawk and you, in the decision to be made." The girl spoke breathlessly.
"You know that?" Crago peered into the girl's face. "Who are you? How do you come to know these things?"
"That you will learn at the proper time." Myrtle rose. "Come, Murray. Mr. Crago cannot detain us. He knows he has no power to make your produce your ring. Only the Trustee Company can do that, and then only on Miles Acton's demand. Your father provided so, knowing Alan Crago to be both thief and liar."
"Wait!" The old man's fingers touched the little gong. As the dull rumble echoed through the house the door opened and Luigi entered. Murray started. He glanced at the man but the Italian gave no sign of recognition.
"Luigi." The old man spoke slowly. "You have guards at the door. Remember, this man and girl are not to leave my house."
The Italian bowed; stepping back and closing the door. Crago went across the room. He touched some spring on the panelling, close to the desk. A door opened, showing a small cupboard. Murray remembered the sketch plan in his rooms. The secret door he had believed led into the passage covered a cupboard. From the cupboard Crago took a packet of papers and returned to his chair before the fire.
"You asked for the packet of papers deposited with the Trustee Company by Godfrey Lynnex. Here is the packet." Crago placed it in the arm of his chair. "Months ago I found means to obtain the packet. That which the Trustee Company possesses contains only blank papers.
"Listen, Murray Lynnex," Crago continued. "You have known me for years. When you were a child I played with you at Greystanes. Your father trusted me. He called me a friend. Yes, he was my friend. Will his son be my friend?"
Murray nodded. He would do what he could for his father's old friend. Yet he knew, he could not trust the man.
"Twenty-five years ago!" Crago appeared to take Murray's nod for full assent. "Twenty-five years ago three men camped on the borders of the Terrible Lands."
"Then the secret—" commenced Murray.
The old man's hand commanded silence.
"We had travelled far; Godfrey Lynnex, Miles Acton and myself. Travelled far in search of the wealth we believed those lands to contain. Behind us lay many weary miles. Before us lay the unknown, peopled with savages so powerful and fierce that they held back the advance of the white races. Yet, with us camped one of the fierce savages. We called him 'Pancake.' He had been brought south by an expedition that had penetrated some miles into his native lands. He was starving in Adelaide when I chanced on him."
"From him I learned that far beyond the hills we name the MacDonnell Range lay another range, unknown to the white man. Hidden in these hills were vast stores of rubies; sufficient to make a nation wealthy. He showed me stones he had secreted from his captors. Because he believed I would help him return to his people he promised to take me to where the rubies lay.
"Godfrey Lynnex and Miles Acton had been with me in many searches for gold. I told them the aborigine's story and they agreed to come with me, if the aborigine would take us to the place where the rubies lay. We gathered an outfit. Murray Lynnex, your father mortgaged his patrimony to provide the funds. We agreed that from the total proceeds of the expedition your father was to be reimbursed the cost of the journey, before any division was made.
"I shall speak of one night when we three lay beside a water hole on the borders of the Terrible Lands. We were talking of our journey—of the three months during which we expected to be in the unknown. It was that night that your father demanded that we draw up an agreement that would secure him not only his full share of the treasure we expected to discover, but also the monies he had advanced to finance the expedition.
"Miles Acton objected." Crago spoke as if recounting some much-pondered tale. "He said we should trust each other. Because your father was my friend I sided with him, although I thought him wrong. Miles Acton gave way. The agreement was drawn up and signed. That agreement is in this packet." The old man indicated the documents.
Murray rested his head on his hand. He feared Crago was speaking the truth.
"I am not going to recount the adventures we passed through." Crago continued. "The three months we had estimated the journey to take were long passed before we found the rubies. Yes, we found them. We gathered sufficient to make us rich men—we found more than we could convey back to civilisation."
"We were wealthy—very wealthy." A queer gleam of greed came in the old man's eyes. "We persuaded the aborigine to escort us back to the borders of his country. There we were to reward him and he could go back to his tribe. He watched over us; he brought us through innumerable dangers; he—"
"What happened to him?" Murray asked.
"He is dead," Crago answered. "He died at our last camp."
"That I have to tell you." The old man's voice became sad. "Murray Lynnex, the night we passed out of the Terrible Lands we three old comrades quarrelled. What fools we were! We had wealth and plenty to spare, but the lure of gold is always evil. Men are never satisfied. They—"
"Mr. Crago!" Murray sprang to his feet. "What are you hinting at?"
The old man broke the seals of the packet. From the three documents it contained he took one and opened it.
"Listen!" Crago held the paper so that the light would fall on the faded writing. "These are the words we added to the agreement we had signed; the words recounting the death of 'Pancake,' the aborigine:—
"Last night the aborigine, 'Pancake,' was speared while asleep. We, the undersigned, swear we are innocent of his death. Before dusk we extinguished the fire, for fear of raiding parties of blacks. 'Pancake' went, to his camp and we to ours. He was not about when we awoke in the morning and we went in search of him. We found him dead, with a spear in his chest."
"The aborigines killed him?" exclaimed Murray.
"So I thought." A strange smile came on the old man's lips. "Later I was to learn different. Let me continue my story. I have said that the night 'Pancake' died was the last we were to spend in the land of the Arangi. We had been talking of the treasure we had brought out of the Terrible Land.
"I proposed that 'Pancake' be allotted a share of the gems. To my sorrow I found that your father, Murray Lynnex, did not think it necessary. We quarrelled; your father against Miles Acton and myself. In the end Godfrey Lynnex had to give way—"
"That is a lie! My father was not that sort of man!" Murray's face was aflame with anger.
"Peace!" The old man held up his hand. "Murray Lynnex, I grieve for you, but the truth must he told. There is more yet. Before we reached civilisation the whole truth was known to Miles Acton and myself. We discovered that your father had killed the aborigine for the rubies Acton and myself had insisted should be allotted to him, and which he had with him when he went to camp. We found them by accident, in Godfrey Lynnex's swag."
For a long time there was silence. Murray sat with his head on his hand. He was trying to reconstruct a new picture of his father—the picture of a man of blood and greed. Yet, instinctively, before his mind rose the man he had known and loved—a man grave, just, generous to a fault. The thought was impossible.
"I don't believe it!"
Myrtle broke a silence that was becoming unbearable. "Alan Crago, you lie! The tale you have told is false. I know it!"
"What do you know?" the old man laughed, sardonically. "Here, in this pocket, lies Godfrey Lynnex's confession. More, have you forgotten the letter—"
"Anton Sinclair!" Murray lifted his head. "Anton Sinclair knew this? But how?"
"Anton Sinclair, yes," Crago answered gravely. "Myrtle Wane, what did the Black Hawk tell Anton Sinclair?"
"The Black Hawk did not tell Anton Sinclair." The girl spoke proudly. "You know that, Alan Crago."
"Yet, Anton Sinclair knew. Through that knowledge he tried to blackmail Murray Lynnex."
"It is not true." The girl turned passionately to the young man. "Murray, you must not believe him. It is not true. He hates the Black Hawk. He is trying to get possession of the three rings."
"The rings." Crago turned furiously on the girl. "Has not the Black Hawk gone down to Sydney's underworld in an endeavour to obtain the rings? So you know the meaning of the three rings, Murray Lynnex? No? Then listen. Behind the rubies in the three rings is graven the location of the ruby mine. Godfrey Lynnex was the only one of us who could take accurate bearings. He took the bearings of the mine so that we could return to it. When Miles Acton and I asked that he told us the bearings, he refused. He would only concede that the three rings should be made, one for each of us. Each ring contains a third of the secret. Only when the three rings are together can the secret be read. We, Miles Acton and myself, were forced to agree. But, when the aborigine was murdered we were sickened of the adventure. We determined that never would we return to the mine. What Miles Acton thinks now, I do not know. But I am resolved. Never shall the secret of the ruby mine be revealed. Murray Lynnex, I demand from you the ruby ring."
"For what purpose?"
"That I may destroy yours and mine. Look!"
Crago extended his hand, again. On his finger blazed a marvellous ruby.
"Behind that stone lies one third of the secret of the mine. Give me your ring and I will cast it into the fire. Then, I will give you the evidence of your father's dishonour. You shall burn it and I shall forget, for he was my friend. Shall the sins of the father weigh on the child?"
"The ring! It is at Tower Square."
Murray rose to his feet, dazed. "I will get it. Yes, the cursed thing must be I burned, ruby and gold. I never want to see it again."
He turned to leave the room. Crago lifted his head, a light of triumph burning in his eyes.
With a sudden movement Myrtle caught at Murray's arm.
"Murray! Murray! Don't believe him! He lies! He wants to get possession of the ring. He wants to learn the secret of the mine that he may take for himself. Murray! He hated your father. He hates Miles Acton. He wants to take your inheritance from you—to ruin your father's son!"
"To take Murray's inheritance." Crago rose to his feet. "Here! See, this is Godfrey Lynnex's will—not the one you inherit under, Murray Lynnex, but the one made against the day when this packet of papers should be opened and the three rings come together. Here! Take it! Read it! In this will your father leaves you his wealth, unconditionally."
Age appeared to have dropped from the old man's shoulders. He strode to Murray's side and thrust the will into his hands. Myrtle sprang to the chair beside the fire, snatching at the remaining documents. Crago turned startled, and rushed at her. With cry of terror he caught the papers from her hands, throwing her to the ground, heavily.
Murray sprang to the girl's aid, thrusting the old man back. The girl lay, half-dazed. At length she sat up and put her hand to her head, looking up at Murray with a little smile. A startled look came in her eyes: then, with a gay laugh she caught at his hand and jumped to her feet.
"Does it matter, Murray?" She took his handkerchief and passed it over her face. The Golden Girl disappeared, leaving a dark-haired girl, with laughing blue eyes.
"Myrtle! Alma Crago!" The young man stared in sheer amazement. Again the girl laughed.
"Alma Myrtle Acton, please Murray." She snatched the golden wig from her head flaunting it in his face, "Murray, do you love me—or my golden wig?"
A DULL booming sound rang through the room. Murray turned, to see Crago beating heavily on the gong. He stepped forward and swung the old man into the centre of the room. The door opened and the dumb man-servant, Penton, stood bowing in the opening.
"Edward! Edward!" Crago was shaking with a frenzy of anger. "See! The girl! Your hour has come! There she is, the daughter of the man who took your wife and daughter—the man who caused the curse of dumbness to fall on you!"
For seconds the man stood, looking from his master to the girl, a bewildered look on his face. A wave of anger swept over him, until he trembled like a reed. A look of malignant hate came on his wrinkled face; his knees bent; his hands came forward.
With slow, stealthy steps he advanced towards the girl; his silent jaws mouthing horribly.
"The daughter of the man who cursed you!" Crago, demented, retreated before the advance of the infuriated man. "An eye for an eye; blood for blood; a life for a life! Man, she stands there. Take her; I give her to you—the daughter of the Black Hawk, Miles Acton!"
With a sudden movement he sprang at Murray, driving him in fury across the room. For a few steps the young man retreated. He could not hit so old a man. He tried to dodge; to evade the old man's rushes, but Crago appeared endowed with the energy of youth.
From the doorway the madman advanced towards the girl standing frozen with terror. Almost his clutching hands were at her throat when Murray hit out at Crago. The first blow staggered the man. Again Murray hit, driving the old man back. With a shout the young man sprang past his opponent, closing with the man-servant. "Myrtle, quick!"
Heedless of Murray's blows Panton was clawing at his throat.
"Crago's gun! In the drawer of his desk!" His cry brought the girl to life. She flew to the desk, wrenching open the drawers until she found the automatic. She turned as the old man caught at her, thrusting the gun in his face. He drew back with a bark of baffled rage. Murray could barely hold his own against the madman. Penton had obtained a grip on his throat and would not be shaken off. Murray wrenched at the throttling hands, in vain. He bent his chin to his breast, hitting wildly at the man's body. Then, suddenly as it had come, the old man's strength departed. Murray wrenched the choking hands from his throat and threw him aside. He turned to see the girl holding off Crago.
"Good girl!" He gasped. "That man was like iron. Get something to tie them up with, Myrtle. I don't want to shoot them, but they're utterly mad."
"Quite a nice little tea-party." Murray turned at the sound of the voice. In the doorway stood Inspector Paull, and behind him the Italian. "Anything of a shot, Mr. Lynnex?"
Murray laughed, almost wildly. Luigi passed the detective. He wrenched one of the curtains from its rings and tore it in strips. With these he bound Penton and advanced to Alan Crago.
"Luigi!" The old man recoiled a step. "Would you turn on your master?"
"It is the Master's commands, Signor." The Italian spoke, imperturbably. "I obey only when the Black Hawk commands."
"Leave him, Luigi." Murray spoke impulsively. Somehow, he did not want to see Alan Crago bound. Whatever his faults at the moment, he had been his father's friend and companion.
"I think so, too, Luigi." Paull went across the room and flung open one of the windows. "Phew! I've been longing to do that ever since I first entered this room; and that's more than a year ago. Now, what's the trouble? Who's this? Your servant, Crago? What's wrong with him? Gone mad? Well, you've made a decent job of it, Savelli. We'll let him lie. I don't like the look in his eyes and if have to sit on him he'll probably growl like Gentle Peter, and want to shoot me."
"Crago set him on Miss—Miss Acton," Murray started to explain. "He said something—"
"Perhaps I had better explain, Murray." Myrtle stepped to the young man's side, catching at his arm. "Mr. Crago—"
"Explanations are meat and drink to me! Take your old chair, Mr. Crago, and keep your fingers from that gong. Not that it will matter much. Luigi's done a fair job with the two crooks you had in the house. Now, if you will be seated, Miss—Miss Acton—by the way, used to be Miss Crago, didn't it? Yes. Well, well! What's in a name? There's going to be more than one change of name here, if I'm guessing right."
For a while there was silence. Paull sank into a chair opposite Crago. Taking a toothpick from his waistcoat pocket and biting on it with satisfaction. "Stage set!" Paull leaned back in his chair and crossed his legs. "Look after that fellow, Savelli. Don't let him choke himself. I may want to ask him a few questions. Now, Miss Acton, you were going to say—"
"Perhaps I had better commence my story from the beginning."
Myrtle hesitated a moment.
"I should tell you that my name is Alma Myrtle Acton. I am the daughter of Miles Acton, the—"
"Myrtle!" Murray spoke warningly.
The girl turned to him with a little smile. "It doesn't matter now, dear. Inspector Paull will have to know of the mistakes my father and I have made in the search for the truth."
"In other words, you are Myrtle Wane and your father is the Black Hawk," Paull nodded. "I've had that idea for quite a time."
"You know what Alan Crago said this evening, Murray." The girl turned to her lover. "He told us of the journey of the three adventurers into the Terrible Lands. Part of his story is true, but much of it is false. You can tell Inspector Paull the story, later. Perhaps he will be able to help you sift the truth from the false. My father knows what is true."
She paused and for a moment covered her face with her hands. At length, she looked up.
"Mr. Crago told you that he, Godfrey Lynnex and my father, Miles Acton, adventured into the Terrible Lands. When they came back to civilisation Mr. Lynnex went to his home, Greystanes. Where Crago went to, I do not know. My father, Miles Acton, went to Adelaide, to find that recruits were being called for the Boer War. Adventure called him, again. He joined up and sailed for South Africa.
"Somewhere over the far-flung battle-fields of South Africa my father was able to assist Luigi Savelli. They became comrades and friends.
"Yes, Luigi," she insisted, as the Italian made a gesture of dissent. "It has always been your will to pose as the servant of the Black Hawk. My father has never considered you a servant. You have always been firm friend and comrade to him.
"My father became enamoured of South Africa, and when the Australian troops returned home he remained in that country. There he met my mother. For one glorious year they were happy, together. Then she was taken from him, leaving me an infant but a few weeks' old.
"Dad went up country, for adventure was always calling to him. He was a wealthy man when he first set foot in South Africa. He became more wealthy as the years passed. At length, he came down to Cape Town, where I was living with my foster-parents. He found me a grown girl. For some time he lived with me and we were happy. Then his business interests compelled him to return north, for several months, if not years. At first he thought of taking me with him, but in the wilds he would not be able to give me the education he desired.
"It was then he thought of Godfrey Lynnex, his old comrade." The girl turned and spoke to Murray.
"They had not corresponded, yet Dad knew that Mr. Lynnex would help him. He discovered that Mr. Lynnex was a very wealthy man and decided to send me to his care, following as soon as he was able.
"During the years intervening, while father and Mr. Lynnex had added to their wealth, Alan Crago had frittered away his share of the proceeds of the rubies," Myrtle continued after a slight pause. "He had applied to Mr. Lynnex for assistance and had become his secretary. He was not grateful for the help given to him. He was wildly jealous of the success of his two comrades. Mr. Lynnex trusted him and gave him very extended powers over his private affairs.
"Thus, my father's letter announcing my departure from South Africa fell into Crago's hands when it arrived at Greystanes. He withheld it from his employer. Making some excuse, he threw up his job and came to Sydney, to meet me. He took me from the ship to the house of a woman named Trent. He also took possession of a very large sum of money my father had deposited in an Australian bank for my benefit."
"Sara Trent!" Murray turned to the girl, in astonishment He remembered the letters he had found in Sinclair's desk.
"Steady, Mr. Lynnex." Paull held up a warning hand. "You can have your say later. Just at present I want to listen to Miss Acton."
"I lived with Mrs. Trent and her daughter, Bessie, for many years. At intervals Crago came to the house, and I noticed that he was very friendly with the man. Then suddenly, he took me from her and placed me in a convent school. I was there until he bought his House on the Cliffs. Then he established me here. He said I was to be mistress of the house, but I never had any authority, even in small things.
"It was only a few months ago that I learned of my father, and my history." The girl continued gravely. "My father had received a letter from Mr. Lynnex, written just before his death, a letter that disturbed him greatly. It was the first letter he had received directly from his own friend. He had received occasional reports on my health and progress, but they had apparently been dictated to a secretary, who signed them with undecipherable initials. I know now that Crago intercepted all letters from my father to Mr. Lynnex, and answered them in Mr. Lynnex's name.
"Dad was very worried and came to Australia. He found that Mr. Lynnex was dead, and his home in the hands of caretakers. Becoming suspicious, he searched secretly for me. For a long time he was unsuccessful. Then Luigi found me here, in Alan Crago's house. He managed to gain Crago's confidence; told me my history and gave me news of my father. He arranged for my father and I to meet. My father told me of Alan Crago's perfidy, and how he was trying to gain possession of Murray Lynnex's ring. I asked my father to be allowed to help him in tracing down Alan Crago's criminal acts. Thus, I became the Golden Girl. I believe you have heard of her, Inspector Paull," the girl concluded, laughing.
Inspector Paull looked up, a smile parting his lips.
"So that's that! Yes, I've been looking for you, Miss Acton, and haven't had much success, until Luigi Savelli brought me here, to-night."
"Well, well! Quite interesting. Say, you didn't mention anything about Sam Trainer—Sam the Goat. You were in Anton Sinclair's flat the night he disappeared, and Sam died."
"Yes," the girl answered gravely.
"I knew Sam Trainer. Yet I did not see him at Sinclair's flat that night. Peter Duggan told me he was there, but when we went into the study he had disappeared."
"Luigi Savelli holds that story, Inspector." Murray spoke quickly. "Just for the present it is only necessary to say that Anton Sinclair murdered Sam the Goat."
"Anton Sinclair!" Paull laughed gently. "What's the mystery surrounding that man? He doesn't fit into the story, anywhere. Not a line of him. So he murdered Sam the Goat? Now, who murdered Sinclair?"
"Anton Sinclair is not dead." A deep voice spoke from the door. "Keep your seat, Alan Crago. I've caught up to you at last."
Murray sprang to his feet, to stare at the tall masked man advancing into the room. Behind him followed Roche, Parsons, Carslake and Ottley.
In silence the four men took up positions commanding the exit from the room. The Black Hawk advanced until he stood before the little group about the fire.
"Who the devil are you?" The Inspector blurted out the question in amazement.
"I?" The big voice rumbled through the room. "I am Miles Acton, better known in this country as Black Hawk II."
"BLACK HAWK II!" Paull gave a whistle of astonishment. "That's a newie! Am I to be introduced to Black Hawk I?"
"Sam Trainer is dead." Miles Acton snatched the mask from his face and tossed it on the floor. "There's the end of that!"
"A reformed life and a happy hereafter," the Inspector murmured. "Well, Mr. Black Hawk II., what have you to say of Sinclair and Sam Trainer?"
"Much." The Italian stepped forward and placed a seat for Acton.
"I listened while my daughter recounted her life-story, so far as she knows it. I can place the solution of the Tower Square mystery in your hands. Will you hear it here, Inspector?"
"Very kind of you!" The toothpick danced between the detective's lips. "You forget that now you are in the hands of the police. Have I to inform you that you are under arrest?"
"These men—" Acton laughed loudly. "These men are Murray Lynnex's friends. He, I believe, has no criminal tendencies."
Paull smiled. "They, with him, were foolish some days ago. Had they come to me—"
"Could you have solved the secret lying behind Alan Crago and Anton Sinclair?" Acton laughed again. "And I had to go to the underworld to discover it. Really, Inspector, I gave you credit for more genius."
"Genius! And I a policeman!" Paull looked up quickly. "Really, Mr. Acton, the newspapers would scoff at such a suggestion! Still, if you have anything to say—"
"Have you disentangled this mystery?"
"A plain question deserves a plain answer. No." Paull took a cheroot from his pocket, gazing at it affectionately. "Will Miss Acton object to a little smoking? I find tobacco excites the few brains a policeman is allowed to possess. Good! Shoot, Mr. Black Hawk, or do you prefer—"
"Miles Acton." The big man smiled. "To continue. Need I refer to the story my daughter told you, a few minutes ago? No? Then for one moment, I will refer back to my life in South Africa. I went out during the Boer War. There I met Sam Trainer, known to you as Sam the Goat."
"Doing something for his country!" Paull blew a cloud of smoke. "That's a new one to me."
"Sam Trainer fought for many months by my side." Acton spoke seriously. "Despite your Official opinion of him, Inspector, Sam was a good man."
"And a crook," the detective interjected.
"I did not know that until a few days ago." Acton spoke quickly. "Let me tell my story. Myrtle has told you how I was forced to send her home to the care of Godfrey Lynnex. My interests in South Africa would not allow me to follow for several years. A year ago I thought I had arranged matters so that I was about to journey to Australia—to my daughter. I was on the point of embarking when I received news that caused me to return to the Transvaal. As I disembarked I received a letter from Godfrey Lynnex that disturbed me greatly.
"When, at length, I arrived at Sydney I was distracted to learn that Godfrey Lynnex was dead, and that my daughter had never been in his charge. That, from the moment she had left the ship she had disappeared. I searched for her everywhere. For a long time I was unsuccessful.
"I was staying at the Hotel Splendide. One day a man accosted me by name, recalling memories of the Boer War. He was Sam Trainer. I did not know, then, that he was a crook. I told him of my difficulties and he said that he had means to help me. He did. Within a few days he found Myrtle."
"When Sam told me where I could find my daughter he warned me that I would be in considerable danger if I went to claim her. I scouted the suggestion. I went to Crago and demanded Myrtle. He told me he had no knowledge of her. I believe that some of his numerous spies had been watching me, for when I demanded to search the house he raised no objections. Needless to say, I did not find her. When I tried to force him to tell me where she was, his hired thugs threw me out of the house, warning me not to return.
"Remember, Inspector." Acton continued after a slight pause. "During the past two months I have been gathering proofs of Alan Crago's criminal activities. Only one thing is missing. I cannot give proof to connect him with Sinclair. They work together, but I do not understand their mutual aim. To go back to my story. I went back to the hotel and told Sam Trainer my experience with Crago. Then he confessed to me that he was the well-known international crook, Sam the Goat. He told me that seeking refuge from New Scotland Yard and Mulberry street he had to come to Australia. Here he had organised an underworld force. Later, I discovered that he had a powerful rival; that the underworld was divided into two gangs at war, one with the other."
"Let me refer back to the letter I received while in South Africa, from Godfrey Lynnex. He wrote that Alan Crago was a crook; that during the past few years he had robbed him of large sums of money; that he had been forced to discharge him, but would not prosecute, for old memories' sake. He warned me that the man hated me and would, if possible, do me an injury. Lynnex did not know that even then the man had robbed me of my daughter.
"To-night I listened while Alan Crago told Murray Lynnex of the journey into the Terrible Lands." Acton turned to the young man. "Murray, that man perverted the truth. It was not your father, but he, Alan Crago, who murdered the aborigine and stole the rubies. Even while he told you that, he held the proofs of his falsehood in his hands. Look at the foot of the document he flourished. His name, not Godfrey Lynnex's, stands there as the murderer of the black boy."
"Thank God!" A wave of relief swept Murray; yet he had only half-believed Alan Crago.
"Sam Trainer told me much of Alan Crago. He warned me that Crago had managed to steal from the Trustee Company the packet of papers Godfrey Lynnex had left in trust against the time I would return to Australia. In his letters Lynnex wrote that he was certain that Crago would make some attempt to gain possession of the three ruby rings, and thus gain the secret of the location of the mine. He told me he had thought of destroying his ring, but had not done so, believing that I and his son should have a say in the disposal of the secret. He thought he had erected safeguards sufficient until my return. He did not know the full wickedness of the man he had trusted, and forgiven more than once for his treachery."
"How did he get possession of the papers?" asked Paull interestedly.
"I believe through the man known as Red Mask. I know that in some measure Crago worked hand in hand with the man. Although I have tried to discover the connection between Crago and Red Mask I have failed."
"Ah!" Paull smoked in silence for some minutes. "And the connection between Crago and Sinclair? You believe there is an inner council of the Red Mask's gang, composed of Crago, Sinclair and Red Mask?"
"Probably," Acton spoke impatiently. "You will realise that with those documents and my daughter in Crago's hands, I had to take his threats seriously. I followed Sam Trainer's advice. He promised that if I would act with him he would right my wrong. I assented and affiliated with the Black Hawk's gang.
"One thing I was able to accomplish immediately. My old comrade and friend, Luigi Savelli had come to Australia with me. At his suggestion and with the consent of the Black Hawk, I allowed him to pose to Crago as a spy from the Black Hawk's gang. Crago, however, had discovered Luigi's connection with me and I had to provide him with material to play the traitor, correctly. Then Crago accepted him. Luigi obtained the freedom of this house. He was able to tell Myrtle of her birth. He arranged that she and I should meet."
"Then Sinclair demanded that I should hand him the ruby ring. He had in his possession the information I had permitted Luigi to take to Crago. I was puzzled, but on the advice of Sam Trainer I appeared to bow to the man's wishes. I pretended I feared exposure and tried to negotiate. Sinclair stood firm to his demands. He would expose me unless I handed him the ruby ring.
"To gain time I had the false ruby ring made; exactly similar to the one I wore, but lacking the secret on the gold under the stone. At last I agreed to hand over the ring in exchange for the proofs Sinclair said he possessed. The difficulty proved how to make the exchange. Sinclair would not come to me. Sam Trainer objected to me going to the man. Then Myrtle suggested that she take the ring to Sinclair. In view of the fact that Sinclair might have knowledge of her as Alma Crago she had to go disfigured. Under pressure from Trainer I accepted her offer. I did not think the man would hurt the girl. Trainer promised that she should be efficiently guarded."
"Quite lucid." Paull commented lazily. "Now, if someone will tell me where I can find Red Mask and Anton Sinclair—if he is still alive—I shall be satisfied."
"Red Mask is Anton Sinclair," Acton spoke quietly.
"Then Sinclair is alive," exclaimed Murray.
"I spoke to Red Mask but a couple of hours ago. He escaped from Luigi and I by blinding us with a magnesium flare."
"That's something to go on." Paull turned to Acton. "Now you've got to explain how you became the Black Hawk."
"When Anton Sinclair killed Sam Trainer I was frantic with rage," Acton smiled quietly. "He had framed my daughter and Murray for the murder. Again, I wanted revenge for the murder of my friend—even though he was a crook. Luigi suggested that I, when masked, might pass for the Black Hawk—we were alike in height and build. I adopted the suggestion and was accepted by the gang, without question."
"Then it was you who left that queer visiting card with Jabul Ardt?" Paull frowned. He could find much to forgive and forget in the man's story, but murder was without the pale.
"The Black Hawk never issues visiting cards," Acton laughed. "You can place those cards to the credit of Anton Sinclair, alias the Red Mask. Remember the red 'F' below the bird. That stands for 'Fleming,' and Fleming, was Anton Sinclair."
"Good!" Paull showed animation. "Good for me that I went to Murray Lynnex's chambers late to-night. I found these gentlemen awaiting his return. I had a talk with them and got the full story, then impressed them for a bodyguard for a call on Crago. I didn't much like the note Mr. Lynnex left behind. Looked as if there was going to be trouble. Now I want Red Mask, alias Anton Sinclair, for the murders of Jabul and Sam the Goat. I'll take Alan Crago for the abduction of Miss Acton and the theft of the money you sent out to Australia with her. S'pose you can prove that, Mr. Acton?"
"Definitely!" the big man answered.
"There is one matter that worries me, Inspector. Luigi is the only man who can fasten the murder of Sam Train on to Anton Sinclair, and he had a hand in the disposal of the body. Will you have to arrest him?"
"King's Evidence, eh?" The detective faced the Italian. "I'm going to leave you free, Luigi; but you understand I shall want you later. You'll stand by what you told Mr. Lynnex?"
"Certainly, Signor." The Italian bowed.
"Then that's that!" Paull stretched himself. "Looks like when I lay my hand on Sinclair I'll have my story set. Now I come to think of it—" He turned and surveyed Crago meditatively, stroking his chin. "If you were a younger man—"
"Alan Crago, in the days when we adventured together, was five years younger than I." Acton spoke quietly.
"Five years younger!" The detective stepped towards Crago, a light of understanding in his eyes. "Why—"
"Guessed it, Inspector."
Crago laughed, harshly. A strange light shone in his eyes. For a moment longer he sat, an old man huddling in his chair, then straightened himself and stood up, a virile, middle-aged man. He brushed back the long white hair that straggled over his forehead; the lines vanished from his face.
"The game's yours, Acton." An ugly snarl parted the thin lips. "I've had my throw and lost."
"And you are—"
"Alan Crago, Anton Sinclair, or the Red Mask, whichever you choose." Crago laughed again. "I may as well confess. You'd discover it in a few days if I held out on you. Yes, I'm Anton Sinclair."
"And Red Fleming." Murray spoke involuntarily. "Another alias."
The man bowed mockingly.
"Then the letters! Myrtle, you said that this man placed you in charge of a woman named Trent. He told Penton that you were the daughter of the man who had robbed him of wife and daughter—who caused his dumbness. Then why those letters to Anton Sinclair? Now I see it. Crago, you, and not Miles Acton, robbed Penton of his wife and daughter. The proof lies in those letters."
Penton began to struggle violently. Crago glanced at him meditatively. A sudden light came in his eyes. He turned to the Italian. "Say, Luigi, let that fellow up. He can't do any harm."
The Italian looked at the Inspector. A moment and Paull nodded. What Crago's sudden sympathy with the man he had deceived over many years meant he could not understand.
"So you're Anton Sinclair, Crago?" Paull again turned to his prisoner.
"Yes. I'm Anton Sinclair. I killed Jabul Ardt for he tried to blackmail me. I lost those letters Lynnex found in my desk, and discovered that Ardt had them when I went down to his offices, disguised as a foreign seaman, to remonstrate with him for sending Peter Duggan to rob my rooms. Then, later, I saw you, Paull, go to him. I followed and heard him telling you about me. That meant the end for him. Of course, I got away through the offices opposite. I'd occupied them so as to keep a watch on Jabul. He was a treacherous devil!"
"The blackmailer blackmailed!" Paull laughed.
"But who threw the knife at me w hen first I came to this house?" Murray asked bewilderedly. "Oh, now I know. That sketch-plan! Carslake, watch that panelling between the windows. There's a secret door there. Don't you see, Paull. When I came to the door of this house, Crago had been tracking me. He threw the knife to frighten me and make me distrust Luigi, for he intended to keep me here. Then he ran round the house and entered this room through that secret door. He went to the front door and let me in, pretending later that night that Luigi had thrown the knife. Now he wants Penton released in the hope that he will attack him, and in the confusion he will he able to escape."
The baffled anger in the man's face showed that Murray had guessed right.
Without speaking, Crago turned to the Inspector and held out his hands, his wrists together.
"Think I've got the story right." Paull snapped on the handcuffs. "But it takes a hell of a lot of piecing together. The Black Hawk disappears from to-night. You understand that, Mr. Acton. No more card games, Mr. Lynnex; but I'm guessing that you'll soon have someone to keep you in order. Eh? Well, that's that! I'm going to impress you four gentlemen who accompanied me here for a little journey to Darlinghurst police station, just as a guard for our slippery friend. He's got too many identities for one lone, fat policeman to manage. Well, well! Thought I was going to net two birds and I only got one. Come on, Crago, you won't have much more walking to do."
The little procession filed from the room; Luigi led Penton away. As the door closed Acton turned to Murray.
"What of the ruby rings, Murray?"
He held out his ring on the palm of his hand. Murray looked at Myrtle. She nodded. With a quick movement he took the ring and threw it in the fire.
"Mine goes the same road, to-night, when I get home," he said quietly. "There's a curse on the mine. I couldn't fancy money coming from it."
The elder man nodded. For a moment he stood with his hand on Myrtle's shoulder; then walked to the window, gazing out over the darkened waters of the harbour.
Murray had turned to the fire. The mysteries were solved. Anton Sinclair would disappear. Alan Crago, after years of intrigue and dishonour, would meet a fitting end. There would be the usual nine days' wonder—and then?
A small hand stole into his. He looked down into deep Irish eyes. He slipped his hand from hers, drawing her into the circle of his arm.
"Murray!" Her voice was very low. "Inspector Paull has his prisoner. What are you going to do with yours?"
"To Greystanes, sweetheart," he whispered. "To Greystanes, and the end of our wild adventures."
"To Greystanes!" The girl murmured. For some time she was silent, pressing closer within his arm.
"But, Murray, not the end of our adventures! At Greystanes we commence our one big adventure—together."
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