“It’s not a Christian life at all,” said Mrs. Field as she put the inevitable bacon and eggs in front of him. Mrs. Field had tried to cure Grant of the bacon-and-eggs habit by providing wonderful breakfasts with recipes culled from her daily paper, and kidneys and other “favours” wrested from Mr. Tomkins at the threat of withdrawing her custom, but Grant had defeated her — as he defeated most people in time. He still had bacon and eggs, Saturday, Sunday, Monday. It was now eight o’clock on Sunday morning, which was the fact that had called forth Mrs. Field’s remark. “Unchristian” in Mrs. Field’s vocabulary meant not any lack of conformity but an absence of comfort and respectability. The fact that he was having breakfast before eight on a Sunday morning shocked her infinitely more than the fact that his day was to be spent in the most mundane of work. She grieved over him.
“It’s a wonder to me that the King doesn’t give you inspectors decorations oftener than he does. What other man in London is having breakfast at this hour when he needn’t!”
“In that case I think inspectors’ landladies should be included in the decoration. Mrs. Field, O.B.E. — for being an inspector’s landlady.”
“Oh, the honour’s enough for me without the decoration,” she said.
“I’d like to think of a good rejoinder to that, but I never could say graceful things at breakfast. It takes a woman to be witty at eight in the morning.”
“You’d be surprised really at the standing it gives me, you being an inspector at Scotland Yard.”
“Does it really?”
“It does; but don’t you be afraid. I keep my mouth shut. Nothing ever comes out through me. There’s lots would like to know what the inspector thought, or who came to see the inspector, but I just sit and let them hint. You don’t have to see a hint unless you like.”
“It is very noble of you, Mrs. Field, to achieve a reputation for obtuseness for my sake.”
Mrs. Field blinked and recovered herself. “It’s my duty, if it wasn’t my pleasure,” she said, and made a graceful exit.
As he was going away after breakfast she surveyed the untouched toast sorrowfully. “Well, see that you have a good meal in the middle of the day. You can’t think to any advantage on an empty stomach.”
“But you can’t run to any advantage on a full one!”
“You’ll never have to run very far after any one in London. There’s always some one to head them off.”
Grant was smiling to himself as he went down the sunny road to the bus-stop at this simplification of the work of the C.I.D. But there was no heading off the people who claimed to have seen the wanted man. Nearly half London appeared to have set eyes on him — his back as often as not. And the number of cut hands that required investigation would have been incredible to any one who has not witnessed a manhunt from the inside. Patiently Grant sifted the reports through the long, bright morning, sitting at his desk and sending his lieutenants out here and there as a general arranges his forces on a battle-field. The provincial clues he ignored, with the exception of two, which were too good to be passed over — there was always the odd chance that the man in the Strand had not been the Levantine. Two men were sent to investigate these — one to Cornwall and one to York. All day long the telephone at his elbow buzzed, and all day long messages of failure came over it. Some of the men they had been sent out to observe had not, in the detective’s opinion, the remotest resemblance to the wanted man. This valuable information was obtained often enough at the cost of a long afternoon’s vigil behind the Nottingham lace curtains of a suburban villa waiting for “the man three houses down” to pass within examining distance. One suspect proved to be a nobleman well known to the public as a polo player. The officer who tracked him down saw that he had aroused the earl’s curiosity — the noble lord had been run to earth in a garage where he was collecting his car preparatory to having a little trip of three or four hundred miles as a slight Sunday diversion — and confessed what his business was.
“I thought you were tailing me,” said the peer of the realm, “and as my conscience is particularly good at the moment I wondered what you were up to. I have been accused of many things in my short time, but never of looking like a murderer before. Good luck to you, by all means.”
“Thank you, sir, same to you. I hope your conscience will be as clear when you come back.” And the earl, who had more convictions for exceeding the speed limit than any one else in England, had grinned appreciatively.
Truly it was the men who went out that found work light that Sunday, and it was Grant, sitting pulling strings with mechanical competence, that found it tedious. Barker came in in the afternoon, but had no suggestion to make which might expedite matters. They could afford to ignore nothing; the least helpful of the clues had to be investigated in the relentless process of elimination. It was spadework, and most unchristian, in the Field sense. Grant looked enviously from his window, through the bright mist that hung over the river, at the Surrey side, lit now by the westering sun. How good it would be to be in Hampshire today! He could see the woods on Danebuny in their first green. And a little later in the evening, when the sun went, the Test would be just right for fly.
It was late when Grant got home, but he had not left an avenue of exploration untrodden. With the coming of evening the spate of reported appearances had gradually diminished and died away. But as he ate his supper — to Mrs. Field a meal was a necessary concomitant to a homecoming — he was wearily conscious of the telephone by the fireplace. He went to bed and dreamed that Ray Marcable called him by telephone and said, “You’ll never find him, never, never!” She kept repeating the phrase, unheeding of his pleas for information and help, and he wished that the exchange girl would say “Time up” and release him. But before that relief had come the telephone had turned into a fishing-rod without exciting any surprise on his part, and he was using it, not as a fishing-rod but as a whip to encourage the four-in-hand which he was driving down a street in Nottingham. At the end of the street was a marsh, and in front of the marsh, and exactly in the middle of the street, stood the waitress from the hotel. He tried to call out to her as the horses advanced, but his voice died in his throat. Instead, the waitress grew bigger and bigger, until she filled the whole street. As the horses were about to charge into her she had grown so that she towered over Grant and overwhelmed him, the horses, the street, and everything. He had that sense of inevitability which attends the moment of a catastrophe. It’s come, he thought, and woke to thankful consciousness of a safe pillow and a reasonable world where there was motive before action. Damn that cheese souffle! he thought, and, turning on his back, surveyed the dark ceiling and let his now wide-awake brain go its own way.
Why had the man hidden his identity? Was it perhaps mere accident? Nothing but the tailor’s name had been obliterated from his clothes, and the makers’ name had been left on the tie — surely a most obvious place if one had been deliberately eliminating identification marks. But if it were a mere accident that eliminated the tailor’s name, how account for the scantiness of the man’s belongings? Small change, a handkerchief, and a revolver. Not even a watch. It spoke loudly of intended suicide. Perhaps the man was broke. He didn’t look it, but that was no criterion. Grant had known many paupers who looked like millionaires, and beggars with large bank balances. Had the man, at the end of his resources, decided to end it rather than sink slowly into the gutter? Had the visit to the theatre with his last few shillings been merely a snapping of fingers in the face of the gods who had defeated him? Was it merely the final irony that the dagger had anticipated his own revolver by an hour or two? But if he were broke, why had he not gone to the friend for money — the friend who was so free with his bank-notes? Or had he? and the friend had refused it? Was it conscience, after all, that had prompted that anonymous twenty-five pounds? If he decided to accept the presence of the revolver and the absence of clues as evidence of intended suicide, then the murder resolved itself into the outcome of a quarrel — probably between two members of a race gang. Perhaps the Levantine had shared in the dead man’s downfall and had held the dead man responsible. That was the most reasonable explanation. And it fitted all the circumstances. The man was interested in racing — probably a bookmaker — he was found without watch or money and evidently prepared for suicide; the Levantine was heard to demand something which the dead man either could not or would not give, and the Levantine had stabbed him. The friend who had refused him help in life — probably tired of pulling him out of tight places — had been seized with such a fit of remorse on learning of the man’s end that he had provided lavishly, if anonymously, for his burial. Pure theory, but it fitted — almost! There was one corner where no amount of insinuation would make it fit. It did not explain why no one had come forward to claim the dead man. If the affair were merely a quarrel between two men, intimidation was washed out as a theory for the silence of his friends. It was not credible that the foreigner had them all in such a state of subjection that not one of them risked even that usual method of the craven and the circumspect, the anonymous communication. It was a curious and almost unique situation. Never in all Grant’s experience had a murderer been on the point of being captured before the identity of his victim had been established.
A light rain felt across the window-pane with stealthy fingers. The end of the good weather, thought Grant. A silence followed, dark and absolute. It was as if an advance guard, a scout, had spied out the land and gone away to report. There was the long, far-away sigh of the wind that had been asleep for days. Then the first blast of the fighting battalions of the rain struck the window in a wild rattle. The wind tore and raved behind them, hounding them to suicidal deeds of valour. And presently the drip, drip from the roof began a constant gentle monotone beneath the wild symphony, intimate and soothing as the tick of a clock. Grant’s eyes closed to it, and before the squall had retreated, muttering into the distance, he was asleep.
But in the morning, a grey morning veiled in dispirited drizzle, the theory still looked watertight — with judicious plugging at the weak spot, and it was not until, hard on the track of the dead man’s friend, he was interviewing the manager of the Adelphi branch of the Westminster Bank that he found his nicely made house of cards pattering round his ears.
The agent was a quiet, grey man whose unluminous skin had somehow taken on the appearance of a banknote. In his manner, however, he was more like a general practitioner than a financial adviser. Grant found himself momentarily expecting to feel Mr. Dawson’s dry fingertips on his wrist. But Mr. Dawson this morning was a mixture of Mercury and Juggernaut. This was his report.
The five notes in which the inspector was interested had all of them been paid over the counter on the 3rd of the month as part of a payment of two hundred and twenty-three pounds ten shillings. The money had been drawn by a client of theirs who had a running account in the bank. His name was Albert Sorrell, and he ran a small bookmaker’s business in Minley Street. The sum drawn represented the whole of the money deposited with them except a pound, which had been left presumably with the intention of keeping the account open.
Good! thought Grant; the friend is a bookmaker too.
Had Mr. Dawson known Mr. Sorrell by sight? he asked.
No, not very well, but his cashier would be able to tell the inspector all about him; and he summoned the cashier. “This is Inspector Grant from Scotland Yard. He wants a description of Mr. Albert Sorrell, and I have told him that you will provide him with one.”
The cashier provided a very telling one. With a minuteness that defeated any hope of a mistake, he described the dead man.
When he had finished, Grant sat thinking at top speed. What did it mean? Had the dead man owed the money to the friend, and had the friend taken all he possessed and afterwards been seized with a too tardy charity? Was that how the notes had come into the friend’s possession? On the 3rd, too. That was ten days before the murder.
Did Sorrell draw the money himself? he asked.
No, the cashier said; the cheque had been presented by a stranger. Yes, he remembered him. He was very dark, thin, medium height or a little under, with high cheekbones. Foreign-looking, a little.
Grant was seized with a mixture of exhilaration and breathlessness — rather as Alice must have felt during her express journey with the Red Queen. Things marched, but at what a bat!
He asked to see the cheque, and it was produced. “You don’t think that this is a forgery?” Such a thought had not occurred to them. Both the amount and the signature had been made out in Mr. Sorrell’s handwriting, and that was unusual in an attempt at forgery. They brought out other cheques of the dead man’s, and exhibited them. They refused to entertain the thought that the cheque was not genuine. “If it is a forgery,” Mr. Dawson said, “it is incredibly good. Even if it were proved a forgery, I should have difficulty in believing it. I think you may take it that it is a genuine cheque.”
And the foreigner had drawn it. The foreigner had had all Sorrell’s deposit with the exception of twenty shillings. And ten days later he had stuck Sorrell in the back. Well, if it proved nothing else, it proved the existence of a relationship between the two men which would be useful when it came to evidence in a court of law.
“Have you the numbers of the rest of the notes handed over in the money to Sorrell?” They had, and Grant took a list of them. Then he inquired what Sorrell’s address was, and was told that they had no home address, but that his office was at 32 Minley Street, off Charing Cross Road.
As Grant walked up to Minley Street from the Strand he began to digest the news. The Levantine had drawn the money with a cheque made payable to Sorrell and endorsed by Sorrell. Theft seemed to be ruled out by the fact that Sorrell had made no fuss in the ten days intervening between the paying out of the money and his death. Therefore the cheque had been given to the foreigner by Sorrell himself. Why had it not been made payable to the foreigner? Because it had been a transaction in which the Levantine had no intention of letting his name appear. Had he been “bleeding” Sorrell? Had his asking for something, which Raoul Legarde had reported as being the tenor of their conversation on the night of the murder, been but a further demand for money? Had the Levantine been not an unlucky companion in Sorrell’s ruin but the means of it? At least that transaction over the counter of the Westminster Bank explained Sorrell’s pennilessness and intended suicide.
Then who had sent the twenty-five pounds? Grant refused to believe that the man who had had all Sorrell had, and who had stuck him in the back at not getting more, would have disbursed such a sum for so slight a reason. There was some one else. And the some one else knew the Levantine well enough to be in receipt of at least twenty-five pounds of the amount that the Levantine had received from Sorrell. Moreover, the some one else and the dead man had lived together, as witnessed by the dead man’s fingerprints on the envelope which had contained the twenty-five pounds. The sentimentality of the action and the lavishness of the amount spoke of a woman, but the handwriting people had been very sure that the printing was a man’s work. And of course that some one else had also owned the gun with which Sorrell had contemplated putting an end to himself. It was a pretty tangle, but at least it was a tangle — closely related and growing closer, so that at any moment he might pick up a lucky thread which, when pulled, would unravel the whole thing. It seemed to him that he had only to find out about the dead man’s habits and life generally and he would have the Levantine.
Minley Street has, in common with the lesser turnings off Charing Cross Road, that half secretive, half disgruntled air that makes it forbidding. A stranger turning into it has an uncomfortable feeling of being unwelcome, as if he had blundered unwittingly into private property; he feels as a newcomer feels in a small café under the half surprised, half resentful scrutiny of the habitués. But Grant, if he was not an habitué of Minley Street, was at least no stranger to it. He knew it as most of the Yard know the purlieus of Charing Cross Road and Leicester Square. If the outwardly respectable but sly faces of the houses said anything to him, it was “Oh, here again, are you?” At 32 a painted wooden notice announced that on the first floor were the offices of Albert Sorrell, Turf Accountant, and Grant turned in at the doorway and climbed the dim stairs smelling of the charwoman’s Monday-morning ministrations. The stairs came to a pause at a wide landing, and Grant knocked at the door which had Sorrell’s name on it. As he expected, there was no answer. He tried the door, and found it locked. He was about to turn away, when there was a stealthy sound from inside. Grant knocked again loudly. In the subsequent pause he could hear the loud hum of the distant traffic and the footsteps of the people below on the street, but no sound came from inside the room. Grant bent to the keyhole. There was no key in it, but the view he obtained was not extensive — the corner of a desk and the top of a coal-scuttle. The room he was looking into was the back one of the two which had evidently constituted Sorrell’s offices. Grant stayed where he was for a little, motionless and expectant, but nothing living crossed the small still-life picture that the keyhole framed. He rose to go away, but, before he had taken the first step, again there was that stealthy sound. As Grant cocked his head the better to listen, he became aware that over the banister of the floor above hung an inverted human head, grotesque and horrible, its hair spread round it by the force of gravity into a Struwwelpeter effect.
Finding itself observed, the head said mildly, “Are you looking for some one?”
“The evidence points that way, doesn’t it?” said Grant nastily. “I’m looking for the man who has these offices.”
“Oh?” said the head, as if this were an entirely new idea. It disappeared, and a moment later appeared right way up in its proper place as part of a young man in a dirty painter’s smock, who came down the last flight to the landing, smelling of turpentine and smoothing down his mop of hair with paint-covered fingers.
“I don’t think that man’s been here for quite a while now,” he said. “I have the two floors above — my rooms and my studio — and I used to pass him on the stairs and hear his — his — I don’t know what you call them. He was a bookie, you know.”
“Clients?” suggested Grant.
“Yes. Hear what I presume were his clients coming sometimes. But I’m sure it’s more than a fortnight since I saw or heard him.”
“Did he go to the course, do you know?” Grant asked.
“Where’s that?” asked the artist.
“I mean, did he go to the races every day?”
The artist did not know.
“Well, I want to get into his offices. Where can I get a key?”
The artist presumed that Sorrell had the key. The agent for the property had an office off Bedford Square. He could never remember the name of the street or the number, but he could find his way there. He had lost the key of his own room or he would have offered it for a trial on Sorrell’s door.
“And what do you do when you go out?” asked Grant, curiosity for a moment overcoming his desire to get behind the locked door.
“I just leave it unlocked,” said this happy wight. “If any one finds anything in my rooms worth stealing, they’re cleverer than I am.”
And then suddenly, apparently within a yard of them and just inside the locked door, that stealthy sound that was hardly sound — merely a heard movement.
The artist’s eyebrows disappeared into the Struwwelpeter hair. He jerked his head at the door and looked interrogatively at the inspector. Without a word Grant took him by the arm and drew him down the stairs to the first turn. “Look here,” he said, “I’m a plain-clothes man — know what that is?” for the artist’s innocence as to courses had shaken any faith he might have had in his worldly knowledge. The artist said, “Yes, a bobby,” and Grant let him away with it. “I want to get into that room. Is there a yard at the back where I can see the window of the room?”
There was, and the artist led him to the ground floor and through a dark passage to the back of the house, where they came out into a little bricked yard that might have been part of a village inn. A low outhouse with a lead roof was built against the wall, and directly above it was the window of Sorrell’s office. It was open a little at the top and had an inhabited air.
“Give me a leg up,” said Grant, and was hoisted onto the roof of the outhouse. As he drew his foot from the painty clasp of his assistant, he said, “I might tell you that you are conniving at a felony. This is house-breaking and entirely illegal.”
“It is the happiest moment of my life,” the artist said. “I have always wanted to break the law, but a way has never been vouchsafed me. And now to do it in the company of a policeman is joy that I did not anticipate my life would ever provide.”
But Grant was not listening to him. His eyes were on the window. Slowly he drew himself up until his head was just below the level of the window-sill. Cautiously he peered over. Nothing moved in the room. A movement behind him startled him. He looked around to see the artist joining him on the roof. “Have you a weapon,” he whispered, “or shall I get you a poker or something?” Grant shook his head, and with a sudden determined movement flung up the lower half of the window and stepped into the room. Not a sound followed but his own quick breathing. The wan, grey light lay on the thick dust of a deserted office. But the door facing him, which led into the front room, was ajar. With an abrupt three steps he had reached and thrown it open. And as he did so, out of the second room with a wail of terror sprang a large black cat. It cleared the rear room at a bound and was through the open window before the inspector recognized it for what it was. There was an agonized yell from the artist, a clatter and a crash. Grant went to the window, to hear queer choked moans coming from the yard below. He slid hastily to the edge of the outhouse and beheld his companion in crime sitting on the grimy bricks, holding his evidently painful head, while his body was convulsed in the throes of a still more painful laughter. Reassured, Grant went back to the room for a glance at the drawers of Sorrell’s desk. They were all empty — methodically and carefully cleared. The front room had been used as another office, not a living-room. Sorrell must have lived elsewhere. Grant closed the window and, sliding down the lead roof, dropped into the yard. The artist was still sobbing, but had got the length of wiping his eyes.
“Are you hurt?” Grant asked.
“Only my ribs,” said Struwwelpeter. “The abnormal excitation of the intercostal muscles has nearly broken them.” He struggled to his feet.
“Well, that’s twenty minutes wasted,” said Grant, “but I had to satisfy myself.” He followed the hobbling artist through the dark passage again.
“No time is wasted that earns such a wealth of gratitude as I feel for you,” said Struwwelpeter. “I was in the depths when you arrived. I can never paint on Monday mornings. There should be no such thing. Monday mornings should be burnt out of the calendar with prussic acid. And you have made a Monday morning actually memorable! It is a great achievement. Sometime when you are not too busy breaking the law, come back, and I’ll paint your portrait. You have a charming head.”
A thought occurred to Grant. “I suppose you couldn’t draw Sorrell from memory?”
Struwwelpeter considered. “I think I could,” he said. “Come up a minute.” He led Grant into the welter of canvases, paints, lengths of stuff, and properties of all kinds which he called his studio. Except for the dust it looked as though a flood had passed and left the contents of the room in the haphazard relationships and curious angles that only receding water can achieve. After some flinging about of things that might be expected to be concealing something, the artist produced a bottle of Indian ink, and after another search a fine brush. He made six or seven strokes with the brush on a blank sheet of a sketching block, considered it critically, and having torn it from the block handed it over to Grant.
“It isn’t quite correct, but it’s good enough for an impression,” he said.
Grant was astonished at the cleverness of it. The ink was not yet dry on the paper, but the artist had brought the dead man to life. The sketch had that slight exaggeration of characteristics that is halfway to caricature, but it lived as no photographic representation could have done. The artist had even conveyed the look of half-anxious eagerness in the eyes which Sorrell’s had presumably worn in life. Grant thanked him heartfeltly and gave him his card.
“If there is ever anything I can do for you, come and see me,” he said, and went away without waiting to see the altering expression on Struwwelpeter’s face as he took in the significance of the card.
Near Cambridge Circus are the palatial offices of Laurence Murray — Lucky–Folk-Bet–With-Laury Murray — one of the biggest bookmakers in London. As Grant was going past on the other side of the street, he saw the genial Murray arrive in his car and enter the offices. He had known Laury Murray fairly well for some years, and he crossed the street now and followed him into the shining headquarters of his greatness. He sent in his name and was led through a vast wilderness of gleaming wood, brass, and glass partitions and abounding telephones to the sanctum of the great man, hung round with pictures of great thoroughbreds.
“Well,” said Murray, beaming on him, “something for the National, is it? I hope to goodness it isn’t Coffee Grounds. Half Britain seems to want to back Coffee Grounds today.”
But the inspector denied any intention of losing money even on such an attractive proposition as Coffee Grounds seemed to be.
“Well, I don’t suppose you’ve come to warn me about ready-money betting?”
The inspector grinned. No; he wanted to know if Murray had ever known a man called Albert Sorrell.
“Never heard of him,” said Murray. “Who is he?”
He was a bookmaker, Grant thought.
Grant did not know. He had an office in Minley Street.
“Silver ring, probably,” said Murray. “Tell you what. If I were you, I should go down to Lingfield today, and you can see all the silver-ring men in one fell swoop. It’ll save you a lot of touting round.”
Grant considered. It was by far the quickest and most logical method, and it had the additional advantage of offering him a knowledge of Sorrell’s business associates which the mere obtaining of his home address would not have done.
“Tell you what,” Murray said again as he hesitated, “I’ll go down with you. You’ve missed the last train now. We’ll go down in my car. I have a horse running, but I couldn’t be bothered to go down alone. I promised my trainer I’d go, but it was such a beast of a morning. Have you had lunch?”
Grant had not, and Murray went away to see about a lunch basket while Grant talked to the Yard on his telephone.
An hour later Grant was having lunch in the country; a grey and sodden country truly, but a country smelling of clean, fresh, growing things; and the drizzle that had made town a greasy horror was left behind. Grey, wet-looking torn clouds showed blue sky in great rifts, and by the time they had reached the paddock the pale unhappy pools in the rock-garden were smiling uncertainly at an uncertain sun. It was ten minutes before the first race, and both rings from Grant’s point of view were impossible. He pushed down his impatience and accompanied Murray to the white rails of the parade ring, where the horses for the first race were walking sedately round, the looker-on in him loving their beauty and their fitness — Grant was a fairly competent judge of a horse — while his eyes wandered over the crowd in a businesslike commentary. There was Mollenstein — Stone, he called himself now — looking as if he owned the earth. Grant wondered what bogus scheme he was foisting on a public of suckers now. He shouldn’t have thought that anything as uncomfortable as a jumping meeting in March would have appealed to him. Perhaps one of his suckers was interested in the game. And Vanda Morden, back from her third honeymoon and advertising the fact in a coat of a check so aggressive that it was the most obvious thing in the paddock. Wherever one looked, it seemed, there was Vanda Morden’s coat. And the polo-playing earl who had been shadowed in the hope that he was the Levantine. And many others, both pleasant and unpleasant, all of whom Grant recognized and noted with a little mental remark.
When the first race was over, and the little eddy of lucky ones had surrounded the bookmakers and been sent gloating away, Grant began his work. He pursued his inquiries steadily until the ring began to fill again with eager inquirers after odds for the second race, when he returned to the paddock. But no one seemed to have heard of Sorrell, and it was a rather disconsolate Grant who joined Murray in the paddock before the fourth race — a handicap hurdle — in which Murray’s horse was running. Murray was sympathetic, and as Grant stood with him in the middle of the parade ring he mixed adjurations to admire his horse with suggestions for the tracking of Sorrell. Grant wholeheartedly admired the magnificent bay that was Murray’s property and listened with only half an ear to his suggestions. His thoughts were worried. Why did no one in the silver ring know Sorrell?
The jockeys began to filter into the ring, the crowd round the rail thinned slightly as people moved away to points of vantage on the stands, lads kept ducking eager heads under their charges’ necks in anxiety to intercept the summons that would mean mounting time.
“Here comes Lacey,” said Murray, as a jockey came stepping catlike over the wet grass to them. “Know him?”
“No,” said Grant.
“Flat-race crack really, but has a go over hurdles occasionally. Crack at that too.”
Grant had known that — there is very little between a Scotland Yard inspector and omniscience — but he had never actually met the famous Lacey. The jockey greeted Murray with a tight little smile, and Murray introduced the inspector without explaining him. Lacey shivered slightly in the damp air.
“I’m glad it’s not fences,” he said, with mock fervour. “I’d just hate to be emptied into the water today.”
“Bit of a change from heated rooms and all the coddling,” said Murray.
“Been in Switzerland?” asked Grant conversationally, remembering that Switzerland was the winter Mecca of flat-race jockeys.
“Switzerland!” repeated Lacey in his drawling Irish voice. “Not me. I’ve had measles. Measles — if you’d believe it! Nothing but milk for nine days and a whole month in bed.” His pleasant, cameo-like face twisted into an expression of wry disgust.
“And milk is so fattening,” laughed Murray. “Talking of fat, did you ever know a man called Sorrell?”
The jockey’s pale bright eyes trickled over the inspector like twin drops of icy water and came back to Murray. The whip, which had been swinging pendulum-wise from his first finger, swung slowly to a halt.
“I think I can remember a Sorrell,” he said, after some cogitation, “but he wasn’t fat. Wasn’t Charlie Baddeley’s clerk called Sorrell?”
But Murray could not recall Charlie Baddeley’s clerk.
“Would you recognize a sketch?” asked the inspector, and took Struwwelpeter’s impressionistic portrait from his pocketbook.
Lacey took it and looked at it admiringly. “It’s good, isn’t it! Yes; that’s old Baddeley’s clerk, all right.”
“And where can I find Baddeley?” asked Grant.
“Well, that’s rather a difficult question,” said Lacey, the tight smile back at his mouth. “You see, Baddeley died over two years ago.”
“Oh? And you haven’t seen Sorrell since?”
“No, I don’t know what became of Sorrell. Probably doing office work somewhere.”
The bay was led up to them. Lacey took off his coat, removed a pair of galoshes, which he laid neatly side by side on the grass, and was thrown into the saddle. As he adjusted the leathers he said to Murray, “Alvinson isn’t here today”— Alvinson was Murray’s trainer. “He said you would give me instructions.”
“The instructions are the usual ones,” said Murray. “Do as you like on him. He should about win.”
“Very good,” said Lacey matter-of-factly, and was led away to the gate, horse and man as beautiful a picture as this weary civilization can provide.
As Grant and Murray walked to the stands, Murray said, “Cheer up, Grant. Baddeley may be dead, but I know who knew him. I’ll take you down to talk to him as soon as this is over.” So it was with a real enjoyment that Grant watched the race; saw the colour that flickered and streamed against the grey curtain of the woods on the back stretch, while a silence settled eerily on the crowd — a silence so complete that he might have been there alone with the dripping trees, and the grey wooded countryside, and the wet grass; saw the long struggle in the straight and the fighting finish, with Murray’s bay second by a length. When Murray had seen his horse again and congratulated Lacey, he led Grant into Tattersalls and introduced him to an elderly man, with the rubicund face of the man who drives mail coaches through the snow on Christmas cards. “Thacker,” he said, “You knew Baddeley. What became of his clerk, do you know?”
“Sorrell?” said the Christmas-card man. “He set up for himself. Has an office in Minley Street.”
“Does he come to the course?”
“No, don’t think so. Just has an office. Seemed to be doing quite well last time I saw him.”
“How long ago was that?”
“Oh, long time.”
“Do you know his home address?” asked Grant.
“No. Who wants him? He’s a good boy, Sorrell.”
The last irrelevance seemed to suggest suspicion, and Grant hastened to assure him that no harm was intended Sorrell. At that Thacker put his first and second fingers into either corner of his mouth and emitted a shrill whistle in the direction of the railings at the edge of the course. From the crowd of attentive faces which this demonstration had turned towards him he selected the one he wanted. “Joe,” he said in stentorian tones, “Let me speak to Jimmy a minute, will you?” Joe detached his clerk, as one detaches a watch and chain, and presently Jimmy appeared a clean, cherubic youth with an amazing taste in linen.
“You used to be pally with Bert Sorrell, didn’t you?” asked Thacker.
“Yes, but I haven’t seen him for donkey’s years.”
“Do you know where he lives?”
“Well, when I knew him he had rooms in Brightling Crescent, off the Fulham Road. I’ve been there with him. Forget the number, but his landlady’s name was Everett. He lived there for years. Orphan he was, Bert.”
Grant described the Levantine, and asked if Sorrell was ever friendly with a man like that.
No, Jimmy had never known him in such company, but then, as he pointed out, he hadn’t seen him for donkey’s years. He had dropped out of the regular crowd when he started on his own, though he sometimes went racing for his own amusement or perhaps to pick up information.
Through Jimmy, Grant interviewed two more people who had known Sorrell; but neither could throw any light on Sorrell’s companions. They were self-absorbed people, these bookmakers, looking at him with a vague curiosity and obviously forgetting all about him the minute their next bet was booked. Grant announced to Murray that he had finished, and Murray, whose interest had waned with the finish of the handicap hurdle, elected to go back to town at once. But as the car slid slowly out of the press Grant turned with a benedictory glance at the friendly little course which had provided him with the information he sought. Pleasant place. He would come back some day when he had no business on his mind to bother him, and make an afternoon of it.
On the way up to town Murray talked amiably of the things he was interested in: bookmakers and their clannishness. “They’re like Highlanders,” he said. “They may squabble among themselves, but if an outsider butts into the scrap, it’s a case of tartan against all.” Horses and their foibles; trainers and their morals; Lacey and his wit. Presently he said, “How’s the queue affair getting along?”
Very well, Grant said. They would make an arrest in a day or two if things continued to go as well as they were doing.
Murray was silent for a little. “I say, you don’t want Sorrell in connexion with that, do you?” he asked diffidently.
Murray had been extraordinarily decent. “No,” said Grant. “It was Sorrell who was found dead in the queue.”
“Great heavens!” said Murray, and digested the news in silence for some time. “Well, I’m sorry,” he said at last. “I never knew the fellow, but every one seems to have liked him.”
And that was what Grant had been thinking too. Bert Sorrell, it seemed, had been no villain. Grant longed more than ever to meet the Levantine.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:14