Initials Only, by Anna Katharine Green

Chapter 15

That’s the Question

“How many times has he seen you?”

“Twice.”

“So that he knows your face and figure?”

“I’m afraid so. He cannot help remembering the man who faced him in his own room.”

“That’s unfortunate.”

“Damned unfortunate; but one must expect some sort of a handicap in a game like this. Before I’m done with him, he’ll look me full in the face and wonder if he’s ever seen me before. I wasn’t always a detective. I was a carpenter once, as you know, and I’ll take to the tools again. As soon as I’m handy with them I’ll hunt up lodgings in Hicks Street. He may suspect me at first, but be won’t long; I’ll be such a confounded good workman. I only wish I hadn’t such pronounced features. They’ve stood awfully in my way, Mr. Gryce. I don’t like to talk about my appearance, but I’m so confounded plain that people remember me. Why couldn’t I have had one of those putty faces which don’t mean anything? It would have been a deuced sight more convenient.”

“You’ve done very well as it is.”

“But I want to do better. I want to deceive him to his face. He’s clever, this same Brotherson, and there’s glory to be got in making a fool of him. Do you think it could be done with a beard? I’ve never worn a beard. While I’m settling back into my old trade, I can let the hair grow.”

“Do. It’ll make you look as weak as water. It’ll be blonde, of course.”

“And silky and straggling. Charming addition to my beauty. But it’ll take half an inch off my nose, and it’ll cover my mouth, which means a lot in my case. Then my complexion! It must be changed naturally. I’ll consult a doctor about that. No sort of make-believe will go with this man. If my eyes look weak, they must really be so. If I walk slowly and speak huskily, it must be because I cannot help it. I can bear the slight inconvenience of temporary ill-health in a cause like this; and if necessary the cough will be real, and the headache positive.

“Sweetwater! We’d better give the task to another man — to someone Brotherson has never seen and won’t be suspicious of?”

“He’ll be suspicious of everybody who tries to make friends with him now; only a little more so with me; that’s all. But I’ve got to meet that, and I’ll do it by being, temporarily, of course, exactly the man I seem. My health will not be good for the next few weeks, I’m sure of that. But I’ll be a model workman, neat and conscientious with just a suspicion of dash where dash is needed. He knows the real thing when he sees it, and there’s not a fellow living more alive to shams. I won’t be a sham. I’ll be it. You’ll see.”

“But the doubt. Can you do all this in doubt of the issue?”

“No; I must have confidence in the end, and I must believe in his guilt. Nothing else will carry me through. I must believe in his guilt.”

“Yes, that’s essential.”

“And I do. I never was surer of anything than I am of that. But I’ll have the deuce of a time to get evidence enough for a grand jury. That’s plainly to be seen, and that’s why I’m so dead set on the business. It’s such an even toss-up.”

“I don’t call it even. He’s got the start of you every way. You can’t go to his tenement; the janitor there would recognise you even if he didn’t.”

“Now I will give you a piece of good news. They’re to have a new janitor next week. I learned that yesterday. The present one is too easy. He’ll be out long before I’m ready to show myself there; and so will the woman who took care of the poor washerwoman’s little child. I’d not have risked her curiosity. Luck isn’t all against us. How does Mr. Challoner feel about it?”

“Not very confident; but willing to give you any amount of rope. Sweetwater, he let me have a batch of letters written by his daughter which he found in a secret drawer. They are not to be read, or even opened, unless a great necessity arises. They were written for Brotherson’s eye — or so the father says — but she never sent them; too exuberant perhaps. If you ever want them — I cannot give them to you to-night, and wouldn’t if I could — don’t go to Mr. Challoner — you must never be seen at his hotel — and don’t come to me, but to the little house in West Twenty-ninth Street, where they will be kept for you, tied up in a package with your name on it. By the way, what name are you going to work under?”

“My mother’s — Zugg.”

“Good! I’ll remember. You can always write or even telephone to Twenty-ninth Street. I’m in constant communication with them there, and it’s quite safe.”

“Thanks. You’re sure the Superintendent is with me?”

“Yes, but not the Inspector. He sees nothing but the victim of a strange coincidence in Orlando Brotherson.”

“Again the scales hang even. But they won’t remain so. One side is bound to rise. Which? That’s the question, Mr. Gryce.”

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Last updated Saturday, March 1, 2014 at 20:37