Grant was studying the morning papers, with his habitual half-careless thoroughness. That is not a paradox; Grant apparently skimmed the paper, but if you asked him about any particular happening afterwards, you would find that he had acquired a very efficient working knowledge of it. He was feeling pleased with himself. It was only a matter of hours before he got his man. It was a week today that the murder had been committed, and to locate the murderer from among a mass of conflicting clues in such a short time was good work. He had been favoured by luck, of course; he acknowledged that freely. If it weren’t for luck on some one’s part, half the criminals in the world would go unpunished. A burglar, for instance, was hardly ever convicted except through an outrageous piece of luck on the part of the police. But the queue affair had not been a picnic by any means. There had been spadework galore; and Grant felt as nearly complaisant as it was in him to feel as he thought of the crowd of men working the south of London at this minute, as eager as hounds in cover. He had had his suspicions of Mrs. Everett, but on the whole he had decided that she was telling the truth. The man put on to watch her had reported that no one had come or gone from the house from eight o’clock last night, when he went on duty, until this morning. Moreover, she had produced photographs of the men when there had been no necessity to, and it was quite possible that she did not know her late boarder’s address. Grant knew very well the queer indifference that London breeds in people who have lived long in it. The other side of the river to a Fulham Londoner was as foreign a place as Canada, and Mrs. Everett would probably be no more interested in an address at Richmond than she would have been in a 12345 Something Avenue, Somewhere, Ontario. It would convey as little to her. The man Lamont was the one who had been least time with her, and her interest in him was probably less than that which she had for the dead man. He had probably promised in the friendly if insincere warmth of parting to write to her, and she had been content with that. On the whole, he thought that Mrs. Everett was genuine. Her fingerprints were not those on the revolver and the envelope. Grant had noticed where her left thumb and forefinger had held the photographs tightly by the corner, and the when developed proved to be quite new in the case. So Grant was happy this morning. Apart from the kudos arising from the apprehension of a badly wanted man, it would afford Grant immense satisfaction to lay his hands on a man who had struck another in the back. His gorge rose at the contemplation of a mind capable of conceiving the crime.
In the week since the queue murder its sensational value to the Press had been slightly minimized by other important happenings, and though Grant’s chief interest seemed to be devoted to apparently unimportant and irrelevant scraps of information like the theft of bicycles, he was amusedly and rather thankfully aware that the most important things in Britain today, judging by the size of the heading that announced them and the amount of space allotted them, were preparations for the Boat Race, the action of a society beauty doctor against a lady who had been “lifted,” and the departure of Ray Marcable to the United States. As Grant turned over the page of the illustrated paper and came face to face with her, he was conscious again of that queer, uneasy, unpolicelike movement in his chest. His heart did not jump — that would be doing him an injustice; C.I.D. hearts are guaranteed not to jump, tremble, or otherwise misbehave even when the owner is looking down the uncompromising opening of a gun-barrel — but it certainly was guilty of unauthorized movement. It may have been resentment at his own weakness in being taken aback by a photograph, but Grant’s eyes were very hard as he looked at the smiling face — that famous, indeterminate smile. And though his mouth may have curved, he was not smiling as he read the many captions: “Miss Ray Marcable, a studio photograph”; “Miss Marcable as Dodo in Didn’t You Know?”; “Miss Marcable in the Row”; and lastly, occupying half the centre page, “Miss Marcable departs from Waterloo en route for Southampton”; and there was Ray, one dainty foot on the step of the Pullman, and her arms full of flowers. Arranged buttress-wise on either side of her were people well enough known to come under the heading “left to right.” In either bottom corner of the photograph were the eager heads of the few of the countless multitudes seeing her off who had been lucky enough to get within hailing distance. These last, mostly turned to look into the camera, were out of focus and featureless, like a collection of obscene half-human growths. At the end of the a column describing the enthusiastic scenes which had attended her departure, was the sentence: “Also sailing by the Queen Guinevere were Lady Foulis Robinson, the Hon. Margaret Bedivere, Mr. Chatters–Frank, M.P., and Lord Lacing.”
The inspector’s lips curved just a little more. Lacing was evidently going to be managed by that clear, cold will for the rest of his life. Well, he would live and die probably without being aware of it; there was some comfort in that. Nothing but a moment of unnaturally clear sight had presented the knowledge of it to himself, and if he went into any London crowd, Rotherhithe or Mayfair, and announced that Ray Marcable, under her charm and her generosity, was hard as flint, he would be likely to be either lynched or excommunicated. He flung the paper away, and was about to take up another when a thought occurred to him, prompted by the announcement of the sailing of the Guinevere. He had decided to accept Mrs. Everett’s statement as being correct, but he had not investigated her statement that Sorrell was going to America. He had taken it for granted that the America story had been a blind by Sorrell to mask his intended suicide, and the Levantine — Lamont — whether he believed the tale or not, had not sought to alter the supposition of Sorrell’s departure. Had he been wise in not investigating it further? It was, at least, unbusinesslike. He sent for a subordinate. “Find out what liners sailed from Southampton last Wednesday,” he said; and remained in thought until the man came back with the news that the Canadian Pacific liner Metalinear had sailed for Montreal, and the Rotterdam–Manhattan liner Queen of Arabia, for New York. It seemed that Sorrell had at least taken the trouble to verify the sailings. Grant thought that he would go down to the Rotterdam–Manhattan offices and have a chat, on the off chance of something useful coming to light.
As he stepped from the still drizzling day into the cathedral-like offices of the Rotterdam–Manhattan a small boy in blue leaped genie-like from the tessellated pavement of the entrance-hall and demanded his business. Grant said that he wanted to see some one who could tell him about the sailings for New York last week, and the urchin, with every appearance of making him free of mysteries and of knowing it, led him to an apartment and a clerk, to whom Grant again explained his business and was handed on. At the third handing-on Grant found a clerk who knew all that was to be known of the Queen of Arabia— her internal economy, staff, passengers, capacity, peculiarities, tonnage, timetable, and sailing.
“Can you tell me if any one booked a passage on the Queen of Arabia on this trip and did not go?”
Yes, the clerk said, two people had failed to occupy their berths. One was a Mr. Sorrell and the other was a Mrs. James Ratcliffe.
Grant was speechless for a moment; then he asked the date of the bookings. They had been booked on the same day — seven days before the murder. Mrs. Ratcliffe had cancelled hers at the last minute, but they had had no further word from Mr. Sorrell.
Could he see the plan of the cabins?
Certainly, the clerk said, and brought them out. Here was Mr. Sorrell’s, and here, three along in the same row, was Mrs. Ratcliffe’s.
Were they booked separately?
Yes, because he remembered the two transactions quite well. He thought the lady Mrs. Ratcliffe, and he was sure from his conversation with him that the man was Sorrell himself. Yes, he thought he would recognize Mr. Sorrell again.
Grant produced the Levantine’s photograph and showed it to him. “Is that the man?” he asked.
The clerk shook his head. “Never saw him before to my knowledge,” he said.
“That, then?” asked Grant, handing over Sorrell’s photograph, and the clerk immediately recognized it.
“Did he inquire about his neighbors in the row?” Grant asked. But the clerk could recall no details like that. It had been a very busy day that Monday. Grant thanked him, and went out into the drizzle, quite unaware that it was raining. Things were no longer reasonable and understandable; cause and effect, motive and action decently allied. They were acquiring a nightmare inconsequence that dismayed his daytime brain. Sorrell had intended to go to America, after all. He had booked a second-class passage and personally chosen a cabin. The amazing and incontrovertible fact did not fit in anywhere. It was a very large wrench thrown into the machinery that had begun to run so smoothly. If Sorrell had been as penniless as he seemed, he would not have contemplated a second-class journey to New York, and in view of the booking of the passage, contemplated suicide seemed a poor explanation for the presence of the revolver and absence of belongings. It shouted much more loudly of his first theory — that the lack of personal clues had been arranged in case of a brush with the police. But Sorrell had, to all accounts, been a law-abiding person. And then, to crown things, there was Mrs. Ratcliffe’s reappearance in the affair. She had been the only one of the people surrounding Sorrell to show marked distress at the time of the murder or afterwards. It was she and her husband who had avowedly been next behind Sorrell in the queue. Her husband! A picture of James Ratcliffe, that prop of British citizenship, swam into his mind. He would go and have another, and totally unheralded, interview with Mr. Ratcliffe.
The boy took in his card, and he waited in the outer office for perhaps three minutes before Mr. Ratcliffe came out and drew him in with a welcoming affability.
“Well, Inspector,” he said, “how are you getting on? Do you know, you and dentists must be the most unhappy people in the world. No one sees you without remembering unpleasant things.”
“I didn’t come to bother you,” Grant said. “I just happened to be round, and I thought you’d perhaps let me use your telephone to save me going to a post office.”
“Oh, certainly,” said Ratcliffe. “Carry on. I’ll go.”
“No, don’t go,” said Grant, “there’ll be nothing private. I only want to know whether they want me.”
But no one wanted him. The scent in South London was weak, but the hounds were persevering and busy. And he hung up with a relief which was rather surprising when one considered the eager frame of mind in which he had set out from the Yard. Now he did not want an arrest until he had time to think things over for a bit. The nightmare of a Scotland Yard officer’s whole life is Wrongful Arrest. He turned to Ratcliffe, and allowed him to know that an arrest was imminent; they had located their man. Ratcliffe was complimentary, and in the middle of the compliments Grant said, “By the way, you didn’t tell me that your wife had intended sailing for New York the night after the murder.”
Ratcliffe’s face, clear in the light of the window, was both blank and shocked. “I didn’t know,” he began, and then with a rush —“I didn’t think it was of any importance or I should have told you. She was too much upset to go, and in any case there was the inquest. She has a sister in New York, and was going over for a month just. It didn’t make any difference, did it? Not knowing, I mean? It had no bearing on the crime.”
“Oh, no,” Grant said. “I found it out quite accidentally. It is of no consequence. Is your wife better?
“Yes, I think so. She has not been at home since the inquest. She is at Eastbourne with the other sister, the one you met, I think.”
Still more puzzled, Grant made his way back to the Yard. He pressed the button on his desk and said to the man who answered it, “I want some one for special work. Is Simpson in?”
“Send him in.”
A fair and freckled man of medium height arrived; he had the pleased, alert air of a terrier who is waiting for some one to throw a stone. To him Grant said:
“At 54 Lemonora Road, Golder’s Green, live a Mr. and Mrs. Ratcliffe. I want to know what terms they are on — with each other, I mean. Also anything else you can learn about the household. The gossipier the better. I know all about his business, so you needn’t waste time on that. It’s his home affairs that I want to know about. You can use any method you like as long as you keep within the law. Report to me tonight whether you have got anything or not. Is Mullins in the Yard just now?” Yes, Simpson had seen him as he came up. “Well, send him to me.”
Mullins was not freckled, and he looked rather like a verger. “Good morning, sir,” he said, and waited.
“Good morning, Mullins. From now until further notice you are a pedlar. You make an excellent Italian, but I think perhaps you had better be British. It is less conspicuous. I’ll give you a chit to Clitheroe on Lowndes Street, and he will give you the kind of stock I want. Don’t sell more than you can help. And I don’t want you to come back here. Meet me in the alley by Clitheroe’s in an hour from now. Can you manage it in an hour?”
“I think so, sir. Am I young or old?”
“It doesn’t matter. Young to middle-aged. Grey-beards are too theatrical. Don’t overdo anything. Respectable enough to travel on a bus if need be.”
“Very good, sir,” said Mullins, as though his instructions had been to post a letter.
When Grant stumbled across him in the alley in Lowndes Street an hour later, he said, “You’re a wonder, Mullins — simply a wonder. I should never believe you had ever written a report in your life if I didn’t know first hand.” He looked appreciatively at the Pedlar before him. It was incredible that that slightly drooping figure was one of the most promising men at the Yard. It is very seldom that the C.I.D. resort to disguise, but when they do they do it well. Mullins had the supreme touch that faculty of looking as though he could not possibly be other than he was at the moment. His clothes, even, though obviously third hand, had not that uneasy fit that newly donned garments have. They lay to his shoulders as a much-worn garment does, however ill-fitting.
“Like a trinket, sir?” said Mullins, the pedlar, opening the lid of his wicker tray. On the baize lining lay a collection of articles mostly of cheap Italian manufacture — paper-knives, painted wood ornaments of all sorts, useful and useless, papier-mâché bowls, stucco figures.
“Good!” said Grant. He took from his pocket a thin thing wrapped in tissue paper. As he unrolled the paper he said, “I want you to go to 98 Brightling Crescent, off the Fulham Road, and find out if the woman who lives there has ever seen this before.” He laid a silver dagger with an enamelled handle down among the painted wood and the stucco. “Needless to say, it isn’t for sale. What’s the price of this?” he added, picking up an article.
“Give that to a gentleman like you for one-and-ninepence,” said Mullins, without hesitation.
As the passer-by went beyond hearing, Grant continued cheerfully as if there had been no parenthesis. “When you’ve disposed of the woman in Brightling Crescent — and keep your eyes open generally — go to 54 Lemonora Road and see if any one there recognizes it. Report as soon as you have finished.”
When the pedlar of Italian goods reached the back door of 54 Lemonora Road about teatime, a pretty but sapless maid said, “Goodness, here’s another!”
“Another wot?” said the pedlar.
“Another man selling things.”
“Oh? Bin a lot? Bet they hadn’t anything like mine,” he said, and opened the tray.
“Oh!” she said, obviously enraptured. “Are they dear?”
“Not them. ‘Sides, a girl with wages like yours can easy afford something nice.”
“What do you know about my wages, mister?”
“Well, I don’t know anything. I’m just dedoocing. Pretty girl, nice house, good wages.”
“Oh the wages are good enough,” she said in a tone that indicated other shortcomings.
“Wouldn’t the lady of the house like to have a look at them?” he said.
“There’s no lady,” she said. “I’m the lady of the house just now. The misses is at Eastbourne. You been in the Army?”
“I was in the Army during the War. That’s the only time bin in the Army counts. France? I was four years in France, miss.”
“Well, you can come in and have some tea, and let me see the things properly. We’re just in the middle of it.”
She led him into the kitchen, where the table was spread with butter, bread, several kinds of jam, and cake. At the table, with an enormous cup of tea halfway to his mouth, was a freckled fair man with a blue muffler and a discharged soldier’s silver badge on his lapel. Beside him on the table was a pile of cheap writing-pads.
“This is another ex-serviceman,” the maid said. “He’s selling writing-paper. I shouldn’t think there’s much sale for it now. It’s ages since I seen some one round selling pads.”
“How do, mate?” said the freckled one, meeting the quizzical regard of the pedlar with complete equanimity. “How’s trade?”
“Fair. Just fair. You seem to be very comfortable.”
“Well, I needed it. Haven’t sold a pad today. This country’s going to the dogs. It’s something to come across some one now and again who has a heart.”
“Have some jam,” said the maid, pushing his cup of tea across to the pedlar, and he helped himself liberally.
“Well, I’m glad the missus isn’t at home in one way, but I’m sorry in another. I thought as how she might buy something, too.”
“Well, I’m not sorry,” she said. “It’s a blessed relief. What with her airs and her tantrums, life isn’t worth living.”
“Got a temper, has she?”
“Well, I call it temper, but she calls it nerves. And ever since this murder affair — she was in the queue that night the man was murdered, you know. Yes, stood right up against him. And oh, what a to-do! And then she had to go to the inquest and give evidence. If she’d done the murder herself she couldn’t have kicked up a bigger fuss about going. The night before she was screaming and howling and saying she couldn’t stand it. And when the poor master tried to quiet her down she wouldn’t let him go near her. Hurling names at him you wouldn’t use to a dog. I tell you it wasn’t half a relief when she went off to Eastbourne with Miss Lethbridge — that’s her sister.”
“Yes, the best thing they can do when they’re like that is to go away for a bit,” said the freckled man. “Does she go often?”
“Not so often as I’d like, believe me. She was going to Yorkshire the day after the murder, and then was so upset that she couldn’t go. Now she’s gone to Eastbourne instead, and long may she stay there, say I. Let’s see your stuff,” she said to the pedlar.
He jerked his head at the tray. “Have a look for yourself. Anything you fancy you can have cheap. It’s a long time since I had a tea like this. Wot say, Bill?”
“Ar,” agreed his fellow-itinerant through a large mouthful of cake. “It isn’t often people has a heart.”
She gloated over the bright-coloured collection awhile. “Well, the missus is missing something,” she said. “She’s mad on curios and such-like things that hold the dust. Artistic, she is. What’s this for?” she said, holding up the dagger. “Murdering people with?”
“An’t you ever seen one like that before?” the pedlar said in astonishment. “That’s a paper-knife. Same as the wooden ones.”
She tried the point absently on a fingertip, and with a queer little shudder of disgust that was quite involuntary she put it down again. In the end she chose a little painted bowl, quite useless but very gay to look upon. The pedlar let her have it for sixpence, and in her gratitude she produced cigarettes of Mr. Ratcliffe’s, and while they smoked enlivened them with talk of what was obviously uppermost in her mind the murder.
“We had an inspector of police here, if you’d believe it. Quite nice-looking he was. You’d never say he was a policeman. Not coarse like a bobby. But it wasn’t nice, all the same, having him round. Of course he was suspicious, with her carrying on like that and not wanting to see him. I heard Miss Lethbridge say to her, ‘Don’t be a fool, Meg. The only way to stop him is to see him and convince him. You’ve got to do it.’”
“Well, Eastbourne’s a nice place,” said the freckled man. “She’ll have company there to forget her troubles.”
“Ah, she’s not one for company much. Always having crazes for some one or other, and then she runs them to death and has some one new. Boys, as often as not. She’s queer, she is.”
When her talk began to be repetitive instead of informative the freckled man stood up and said, “Well, miss, I ain’t had such a tea not in years, and I’m real grateful to you.
“You’re welcome,” she said. “If you take my advice, you’ll give up the writing-pad business. There’s nothing in it nowadays. It’s old-fashioned. Try stuff like him there — novelty stuff like they sell in the shops at Christmastime.”
The freckled man’s glance fell sardonically on the dagger among the “Christmas goods.”
“You going up the road or down?” he said to the pedlar.
“Up,” said the pedlar.
“Well, cheerio, I’ll be going. Many thanks again for the tea, miss.” And the door closed behind him. Five minutes later the pedlar took his leave.
“If I was you, miss, I wouldn’t be so free with my teas,” he said. “There’s lots of decent chaps on the road, but there’s lots of the other kind, too. You can’t be too careful when you’re alone in the house.”
“Are you jealous of the freckly man?” she asked coquettishly and quite unimpressed. “You needn’t be. I didn’t buy a pad, you know.”
“Well, well,” said the pedlar, frustrated in his good intentions, and went laggingly down the path to the gate.
By sheer chance he found the freckled man occupying the front outside seat of the bus he boarded.
“Well?” said that worthy cheerily. “Had a good day, mate?”
“Rotten,” said the pedlar. “Just rotten. How you been doing?”
“Fair. Isn’t it amazing,” he said, seeing that the bus-stop behind them was deserted, “what fools these girls are! Why, we could have polished her off and made away with everything in the house, and it never seemed to occur to her.”
“I said as much to her when I was going, but she thought I was jealous of you.”
“Of me? It should be the other way about. She didn’t buy a pad!”
“So she pointed out.”
“That was a good stock you had. The boss choose it?”
“Thought so. He’s a daisy. What’s he nosing out there?”
“The girl didn’t fall for the knife, I noticed.”
“No.” The pedlar was not communicative.
The freckled one resigned himself.
“Chatty bird!” he remarked, and drawing two cigarettes from the recesses of his person he handed one to his companion. The pedlar cast an idle glance at the maker’s name and recognized it as one of Mr. Ratcliffe’s. His stern features relaxed into a smile.
“Scrounger!” he said, and held his cigarette to the offered match.
But there was nothing of the freebooter in the reports which Mullins and Simpson presented to Grant an hour later. Simpson said that Mr. and Mrs. Ratcliffe lived on amicable terms, with intervals of very severe squall. Simpson was unable to say whether the squall was started by Mr. Ratcliffe’s shortcomings or by Mr. Ratcliffe’s resentment of his wife’s, since the maid was never present at the beginning of a quarrel. What she heard she heard through a shut door usually. The biggest row had occurred when they came home on the night of the murder. Since then they had not been on friendly terms. Mrs. Ratcliffe had intended to go to Yorkshire the day after the murder, but was too upset to go; and after the inquest she and her sister had gone down to Eastbourne, where she was now at the Grand Parade Hotel. She was a person who took sudden and violent likings for people, and during the time she liked them would be quite unreasonable about them. She had a little money of her own, and was rather independent of her husband.
Mullins said that at 98 he had had difficulty in making Mrs. Everett interested enough to allow him to open his tray. She had insisted that she wanted nothing. When he did uncover his wares, the first thing her eyes had lighted on was the dagger. She had immediately cast a glance full of suspicion at him and had said, “Go away!” and shut the door in his face.
“What do you think? Did she know it?”
Mullins could not say, but it was the sight of it that had made her shut the door like that. She had been going to put up with him until she saw the knife. The maid at Lemonora Road had never seen it before. That he was sure of.
When he had dismissed Mullins and locked away the knife in its drawer again, Grant sat thinking for a long time. This was an unlucky day. There had been no arrest — though he was inclined to think of that as a mixed blessing — there had been the stunning discovery that Sorrell had really meant to go to America, and there had been no trace of the bank-notes handed over to Lamont with the rest of the two hundred and twenty-three pounds, of which the twenty-five sent by the unknown friend had been part. It was seven days since the murder, and the notes had been handed out before that, and not one of them, apart from the twenty-five in their possession, had been traced. Moreover, his two scouts had brought in nothing of importance. In no way could he account for a connexion between Mrs. Ratcliffe and Sorrell. He was inclined to think it sheer coincidence that had put their names together in a ship’s list and had placed them together in the queue. Her husband’s appearance of shock when Grant had mentioned the departure for New York might have been merely the result of the recollection that he had omitted to tell the inspector of his wife’s intended departure. As for Mrs. Everett, her sudden withdrawal spoke more of intelligence than of guilt. Mullins had said that she looked at him suspiciously. She had made no attempt to carry off the situation with a high hand by ignoring the dagger or by wantonly calling attention to it. She had been merely suspicious. He decided to give the Everett woman a few more marks for intelligence and to acquit her of complicity. As for the Ratcliffes, he would temporarily cut them out. They didn’t fit, and there was no evidence. Things often fit to the police satisfaction when there is no evidence whatever, but here things neither fitted nor were backed by evidence, and consequently would have to stand aside. Presently he would find out why Mrs. Ratcliffe had told her maid that she was going to Yorkshire when she intended to go abroad.
The telephone buzzed. Grant took it up with an eagerness of which he was not conscious. It was Williams.
“We’ve located him, sir. Would you like to come, or shall we carry on?”
“Where is it?” Williams told him. “Have you got the exits all secured? No chance of failure if we hang on for a little?”
“Oh, no sir. We’ve got him all right.”
“In that case meet me at the Brixton Road end of Acre Lane in half an hour.”
When he joined his subordinate he asked for details, and Williams supplied them as they went along. He had found his man through the house-agents. Lamont had engaged a furnished top flat — two small rooms — three days before the murder, and had moved in on the actual day of the murder, in the morning.
Yes, thought Grant, that fitted Mrs. Everett’s story. “What name did he give?” he asked.
“His own,” Williams said.
“What! His own name?” repeated Grant incredulously, and was silent, vaguely troubled. “Well, you’ve done well, Williams, to run him down so soon. Shy bird, is he?”
“He is,” said Williams, with emphasis. “Even yet I can’t get any one to say that they’ve seen him. Shy’s the word. Here we are, sir. The house is the fourth in the terrace from here.”
“Good,” said Grant. “You and I will go up. Got a shooter in your pocket, in case? All right, come on.”
They had no latchkey, and there was apparently no bell for the third floor. They had to ring several times before the inhabitants of the ground floor came grumbling to their rescue and admitted them. As they ascended the increasingly shabby stairs in the last of the daylight Grant’s spirits rose, as they always did at the point of action. There would be no more pottering round. He was about to come face to face with the Levantine, the man he had seen in the Strand, the man who had stuck Sorrell in the back. He knocked abruptly at the door in the shadows. The room beyond sounded hollow and empty; there was no answer. Again Grant knocked, with no result.
“You might as well open it, Lamont. We’re police officers, and if you don’t open it we’ll have to burst it.”
Still a complete silence. “You’re sure he’s here?” Grant asked Williams.
“Well, he was here yesterday, sir, and no one’s seen him since. The house has been under observation since three this afternoon.”
“We’ll burst the lock, then,” Grant said, “and don’t forget to stand back when the door goes in.” With their combined weight they attacked the door, which gave up the unequal struggle with a groaning crash, and Grant, with his right hand in his pocket, walked into the room.
One glance round him told him the truth, and he suddenly knew that ever since he had arrived on the landing outside he had had a conviction that the rooms were empty. “The bird’s flown, Williams. We’ve missed him.”
Williams was standing in the middle of the floor, with the expression of a child from whom a sweet has been taken. He swallowed painfully, and Grant, even in the middle of his own disappointment, found time to be sorry for him. It wasn’t Williams’ fault. He had been a little too sure, but he had done well to locate the man so quickly.
“Well, he went in a hurry, sir,” said Williams, as if that fact were a palliative to his own hurt pride and disappointment. And Certainly there was every evidence of haste. Food was left on the table, drawers were half open and obviously ransacked, clothing had been left behind, and many personal possessions. It was not a methodical getaway, it was a flight.
“We’ll go through what he has left behind,” Grant said. “I’ll test for fingerprints before we have to light the lights. There seems to be nothing but the lamp for illumination.” He went round the two rooms with his light powder, but there were few surfaces in the flat on which a print was likely to show clear and unmistakable, and these were so patterned over with prints as to be unproductive. But fairly high up on the varnished wood of the door, where a person’s left hand would rest as his right took a coat from the hooks nailed there, were two good prints. A little consoled, Grant lit the lamp and went through the things Lamont had left behind. An exclamation from Williams in the bedroom took him there. Williams was holding a wad of Bank of England notes.
“Got them at the back of this drawer, sir. He did go in a hurry!” Balm was flowing on Williams’ excoriated soul. “Won’t he be biting himself!”
But Grant was searching in his own pocketbook, and presently produced a list of numbers, which he compared with those on the notes. Yes, there was no doubt about it, these were the notes that Lamont had drawn with the cheque he had had from Sorrell. And Lamont had been so hurried in his flight that he had actually forgotten a thing so vital. The whole amount was there, except for the twenty-five pounds sent for Sorrell’s burial. That was rather extraordinary. Why had the Levantine, as Grant continued to think of him, spent none of it in the ten days between the time he had received it and the murder? There had been no need of fear then, surely. The value of the notes was large, but that was no explanation. The man had drawn the money himself, and could have had the whole amount in Treasury notes if he had so wanted. Why had he spent none of it?
There was little else in the flat to interest them. The man had a catholic taste in literature, Grant thought, looking along the single row of books that adorned the mantelpiece: Wells, O. Henry, Buchan, Owen Wister, Mary Roberts Rinehart, Sassoon’s poems, many volumes of the annual edition of Racing Up-to-Date, Barrie’s Little Minister. He took down one and opened it. On the flyleaf, in the writing he had seen on the cheque at the bank, was the owner’s name: Albert Sorrell. He took down the others one by one. Nearly all of them had belonged to Sorrell. They had evidently been bequeathed to Lamont by Sorrell on his departure for the United States. Up to the last minute, then, these two men had been friendly. What had happened? Or was it only an outward friendship? Had Lamont always been a snake in the grass?
And now there was the new problem of Lamont’s present hiding-place. Where would he be likely to go? He was in a hurry — a desperate hurry. It was no planned affair. That meant that he had probably had to take what refuge came his way. There was no need for them to consider any such possibility as an escape abroad in an elaborate disguise. He had not done that, certainly. He had almost certainly not gone out of London. He would, as he had done before, stick ratlike to the place he knew.
Grant left instructions that the search was to go on as before, and went back to the Yard trying to put himself in the wanted man’s place in the hope of working out a line of flight. It was very late at night, and he was very weary, when at last he found light on the matter. The photographs of the prints he had found on the door were sent to him, and the prints were Mrs. Everett’s! There was no doubt of it. That first finger that had left a mark at the back of Sorrell’s photograph in the little room at Brightling Crescent belonged to the hand that had leaned against the door in the effort of reaching for something in Lamont’s room. Mrs. Everett. Good Heaven! Talk of snakes in the grass! And he, Grant, should really retire. He had got to the stage of trusting people. It was incredible and humiliating, but he had believed Mrs. Everett was being straight with him. His putting a man to watch her had been the merest form. Well, it was a bad break, but he had his line on Lamont now. He would get him through Mrs. Everett. He did not doubt for a moment that it was information furnished by Mrs. Everett that had stirred Lamont into flight. She had probably gone straight to him after he had left her yesterday evening. She was gone before the watcher arrived, but he should have seen her come back; that would have to be looked into; Andrews was careless. And in all probability she had either suggested or provided the new hiding-place. He did not believe that a woman of her intelligence would be fool enough to believe that she could keep Lamont hidden at Brightling Terrace, therefore he had now to find out all about Mrs. Everett and all the ramifications of the Everett family. How should he do it? What was the best avenue of approach to a woman of Mrs. Everett’s moated and castellated type? No back-door business, anyhow. She was not a door-gossiper, evidently, and now she was on her guard. That effort to stampede her into a show of emotion had been both futile and ill-advised. He might have known that she wasn’t the woman to give anything away in a back-door conversation. Well, what then? In what kind of society, on what kind of occasion, if any, did Mrs. Everett open out? He visualized her in various surroundings, and found her invariably grotesque. And then he suddenly had it. Church! The woman shrieked church-worker. She would be greatly respected by all the congregation, but very slightly unpopular because she kept herself to herself, a quality little beloved by the earnest members of work-parties and such Christian activities who, having provided a titbit such as a rumoured bankruptcy among the flock, expect to be offered a decently sized and tolerably luscious titbit in return. “Church” had placed her, and since she was most certainly not overpopular, her fellow-worshippers would be all the more ready to talk about her.
As Grant’s eyes closed in sleep, he was deciding whom to send to investigate Mrs. Everett.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:01