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Our Library => Edgar Wallace - The Melody of Death (1927) => Topic started by: Admin on April 11, 2023, 08:37:33 am



Title: 11: The Fourth Man
Post by: Admin on April 11, 2023, 08:37:33 am
ON the night of Gilbert Standerton’s little dinner party the black-bearded taxi driver, who had called at the house off Charing Cross Road for instructions, came to the door of No. 43, and was duly observed by the detective on duty. He went into the house, was absent five minutes, and came out again, driving off without a fare.

Ten minutes later, at a signal from the detective, the house was visited by three C.I.D. men from Scotland Yard, and the mystery of the taxi-cab driver was cleared up for ever.

For, instead of George Wallis, they discovered sitting at his ease in the drawing-room upstairs, and reading a novel with evident relish, that same black-bearded chauffeur.

“It is very simple,” said Inspector Goldberg, “the driver comes up and George Wallis is waiting inside made up exactly like him. The moment he enters the door and closes it Wallis opens it, and steps out on to the car and drives off. You people watching thought it was the same driver returned.”

He looked at his prisoner.

“Well, what are you going to do?” asked the bearded man.

“I am afraid there is nothing we can do with you,” said Goldberg regretfully. “Have you got a licence?”

“You bet your life I have,” said the driver cheerfully, and produced it.

“I can take you for consorting with criminals.”

“A difficult charge to prove,” said the bearded one, “more difficult to get a conviction on, and possibly it would absolutely spoil your chance of bagging George in the end.”

“That is true,” said Goldberg; “anyway, I’m going to look for your taxi-cab. I can at least pull George in for driving without a licence.”

The man shook his head.

“I am sorry to disappoint you,” he said with mock regret, “but George has a licence too.”

“The devil he has,” said the baffled inspector.

“Funny, isn’t it,” said the bearded man. “George is awfully thorough.”

“Come now, Smith,” said the detective genially, “what is the game? How deep in this are you?”

“In what?” asked the puzzled man.

Goldberg gave him up for a bad job. He knew that Wallis had chosen his associates with considerable care.

“Anyway, I will go after George,” he said. “You are probably putting up a little bluff on me about the licence. Once I get him inside the jug there are lots of little things I might be able to discover.”

“Do,” said the driver earnestly. “You will find him standing on the Haymarket rank at about half-past ten to-night.”

“Yes, I know,” said the detective sardonically.

He had no charge and no warrant, save the search warrant which gave him the right of entry.

Smith, the driver, was sent about his business, and a detective put on to shadow him.

With what success this shadowing was done may be gathered from the fact that at half-past ten that night Inspector Goldberg discovered the cab he was seeking, and to his amazement found it in the very place where Smith had told him to expect it. And there the bearded driver was sitting with all the aplomb of one who was nearing the end of a virtuous and well-rewarded day.

“Now, George,” said the inspector jocularly, “come down off that perch and let me have a look at your licence; if it is not made out in your name I am going to pull you.”

The man did not descend, but he put his hand in his pocket and produced a little leather wallet.

The inspector opened it and read.

“Ah!” he said exultantly, “as I thought, this is made out in the name of Smith.”

“I am Smith,” said the driver calmly.

“Get down,” said the inspector.

The man obeyed. There was no question as to his identity.

“You see,” he explained, “when you put your flat-footed splits on to follow me I had no intention of bothering George. He is big enough to look after himself, and, by the way, his licence is made out in his own name, so you need not trouble about that.

“But as soon as I saw you did not trust me,” he said reproachfully, “why, I sort of got on my metal. I slipped your busy fellow in Oxford Street, and came on and took my cab from the desperate criminal you are chasing.”

“Where is he now?” asked Goldberg.

“In his flat, and in bed I trust at this hour,” said the bearded man virtuously.

With this the inspector had to be content. To make absolutely sure, he went back to the house off Charing Cross Road, and found, as he feared, Mr. George Wallis, if not in bed, at least in his dressing-gown, and the end of his silk pyjamas flapped over his great woollen slippers.

“My dear good chap,” he expostulated wearily, “am I never to be left in quiet? Must the unfortunate record which I bear still pursue me, penitent as I am, and striving, as I may be, to lead that unoffending life which the State demands of its citizens?”

“Do not make a song about it, George,” grumbled Goldberg. “You have kept me busy all the night looking after you. Where have you been?”

“I have been to a picture palace,” said the calm man, “observing with sympathetic interest the struggles of a poor but honest bank clerk to secure the daughter of his rich and evil boss. I have been watching cow-boys shooting off their revolvers and sheriffs galloping madly across plains. I have, in fact, run through the whole gamut of emotions which the healthy picture palace excites.”

“You talk too much,” said the inspector.

He did not waste any further time, and left Mr. Wallis stifling a sleepy yawn; but the door had hardly closed behind the detective when Wallis’s dressing-gown was thrown aside, his pyjamas and woollen slippers discarded, and in a few seconds the man was fully dressed. From the front window he saw the little knot of detectives discussing the matter, and watched them as they moved slowly to the end of the street. There would be a further discussion there, and then one of them would come back to his vigil; but before they had reached the end of the street he was out of the house and walking rapidly in the opposite direction to that which they had taken.

He had left a light burning to encourage the watcher. He must take his chance about getting back without being observed. He made his way quickly in the direction of the tube station, and a quarter of an hour later, by judicious transfers, he was in the vicinity of Hampstead. He walked down the hill towards Belsize Park and picked up a taxi-cab. He had stopped at the station to telephone, and had made three distinct calls.

Soon after eleven he was met at Chalk Farm Station by his two confederates. Thereafter all trace was lost of them. So far, in a vague and unsatisfactory way, Inspector Goldberg had kept a record of Wallis’s movements that night.

He had to guess much, and to take something on trust, for the quarry had very cleverly covered his tracks.

At midnight the guard in the Bank of the Northern Provinces was making his round, and was ascending the stone steps which led from the vault below, when three men sprang at him, gagged him and bound him with incredible swiftness. They did not make any attempt to injure him, but with scientific thoroughness they placed him in such a position that he was quite incapable of offering resistance or of summoning assistance to his aid. They locked him in a small room usually occupied by the assistant bank manager, and proceeded to their work downstairs.

“This is going to be a stiff job,” said Wallis, and he put his electric lamp over the steel grating which led to the entrance to the strong room.

Persh, the stout man who was with him, nodded.

“The grating is nothing,” he said, “I can get this open.”

“Look for the bells, Callidino,” said Wallis.

The little Italian was an expert in the matter of alarms, and he examined the door scientifically.

“There is nothing here,” he said definitely.

Persh, who was the best lock man in the world, set to work, and in a quarter of an hour the gate swung open. Beyond this, at the end of the passage, was a plain green door, offering no purchase whatever to any of the instruments they had brought. Moreover, the lock was a remarkable one, since it was not in the surface of the door itself, but in a small steel cabinet in the room overhead. But the blow-pipe was got to work expeditiously. Wallis had the plan of the door carefully drawn to scale, and he knew exactly where the vital spot in the massive steel covering was to be found. For an hour and a half they worked, then Persh stopped suddenly.

“What was that?” he said.

Without another word the three men raced back along the passage, up the stairs to the big office on the ground floor, Persh leading.

As he made his appearance from the stairway a shot rang out, and he staggered. He thought he saw a figure moving in the shadow of the wall, and fired at it.

“You fool!” said Wallis, “you will have the whole place surrounded.”

Again a shot was fired, and this time there was no doubt as to who was the assailant. Wallis threw the powerful gleam of his lamp in the direction of the office. With one hand free and the other holding a revolver, there crouched near the door the guard they had left secure. Wallis doused his light as the man fired again.

“Out of this, quick!” he cried.

Through the back way they sped, up the little ladder then through the skylight where they had entered, across the narrow ledge, and through the hosier’s establishment which had been the means of entrance. Persh was mortally wounded, though he made the supreme and final effort of his life. They saw people running in the direction of the Bank, and heard a police whistle blow; but they came out of the hosier’s shop together, quietly and without fuss, three respectable gentlemen, one apparently a little the worse for drink.

Wallis hailed a taxi-cab, and gave elaborate directions. He made no attempt to hurry whilst Callidino assisted the big man into the vehicle, then they drove off leisurely. As the cab moved Persh collapsed into one corner.

“Were you hit?” asked Wallis anxiously.

“I am done for, George, I think,” whispered the man.

George made a careful examination with his lamp and gasped. He was leaning his head out of the window.

“What are you doing?” asked Persh weakly.

“I am going to take you to the hospital,” said Wallis.

“You will do nothing of the kind,” said the other hoarsely. “For God’s sake do not jeopardise the whole crowd for me. I tell you I am finished. I can----”

He said no other word, every muscle in his frame seemed at that moment to relax, and he slid in a loose heap to the floor.

They lifted him up.

“My God!” said Wallis, “he is dead.”

And dead, indeed, was Persh, that amiable and florid man.

---

“The burglary at the Northern Provinces Bank continues to excite a great deal of comment in city circles,” wrote the representative of the Daily Monitor.

“The police have made a number of interesting discoveries. There can be no doubt whatever that the miscreants escaped by way of” (here followed a fairly accurate description of the method of departure). “What interests the police, however, is the evidence they are able to secure as to the presence of another man in the bank who is as yet unaccounted for. The fourth man seems to have taken no part in the robbery, and to have been present without the knowledge or without the goodwill of the burglars. The bank guard who was interviewed this morning by our representative, was naturally reticent in the interest of his employers, but he confirmed the rumour that the fourth man, whoever he was, was not antagonistic so far as he (the guard) was concerned. It now transpires that the guard had been hastily bound and gagged by the burglars, who probably, without any intention, had left their victim in some serious danger, as the gag had been fixed in such a manner that the unfortunate man nearly died.

“Then when he was almost in extremis there had appeared on the scene the fourth individual, who had loosened the gag, and made him more comfortable. It was obvious that he was not a member of the original burglar gang.

“The theory is offered that on the night in question two separate and independent sets of burglars were operating against the bank. Whether that is so or not, a tribute must be paid to the humanity of number four.”

---

“So that was it.” Wallis read the account in his paper that morning without resentment. Though the evening had ended disastrously for him, he had cause for satisfaction. “I should never have forgiven myself if we had killed that guard,” he said to his companion.

His eyes were tired, and his face was unusually pale. He had spent a strenuous evening. He sat now in his bucket-shop office, and his sole companion was Callidino.

“I suppose poor old Persh will catch us,” he said.

“Why Persh?” asked the other.

“The taxi driver will be able to identify us as having been his companions. I wonder they have not come before. There is no use in running away. Do you know,” he asked suddenly, “that no man ever escapes the English police if he is known. It saves a lot of trouble to await developments.”

“I thought you had been to the station,” said Callidino in surprise.

“I have,” said Wallis, “I went there the first thing---in fact, the moment I had an excuse---to identify Persh. There is no sense in pretending we did not know him. The only thing to do is to prove the necessary alibis. As for me, I was in bed and asleep.”

“Did anybody see you get back?” asked Callidino.

Wallis shook his head.

“No,” he said, “they left one man to look after me, and he did a very natural thing, he walked up and down the street. There was nothing easier than to walk the way he was going behind his back and slip in just when I wanted to.”

Shadowing is a most tiring business, and what very few realise is the physical strain of remaining in one position, having one object in view. Even the trained police may be caught napping in the most simple manner, and as Wallis said, he had found no difficulty in making his way back to the house without observation. The only danger had been that during his absence somebody had called.

“What about you?”

Callidino smiled.

“My alibi is more complex,” he said, “and yet more simple. My excellent compatriots will swear for me. They lie very readily these Neapolitans.”

“Aren’t you a Neapolitan?”

“Sicilian,” smiled the other. “Neapolitan!”

The contempt in his tone amused Wallis.

“Who is the fourth man?” Callidino asked suddenly.

“Our mysterious stranger, I am certain of that,” said George Wallis moodily. “But who the devil is he? I have never killed a man in my life so far, but I shall have to take unusual measures to settle my curiosity in this respect.

“There will have to be a division of the loot,” he said after a while, “I will go into it to-day. Persh has relations somewhere in the world, a daughter or a sister, she must have her share. There is a fake solicitor in Southwark who will do the work for us. We shall have to invent an uncle who died.”

Callidino nodded.

“As for me,” he said, rising and stretching himself, “already the vineyards of the South are appealing to me. I shall build me a villa in Montecatini and drink the wines, and another on Lake Maggiore and bathe in the waters. I shall do nothing for the rest of my life save eat and drink and bathe.”

“A perfectly ghastly idea!” said Wallis.

The question of the fourth man troubled him more than he confessed. It was shaking his nerves. The police he understood, and was prepared for, could even combat, but here was the fourth man as cunning as they, who knew their plans, who followed them, who kept them under observation. Why? What object had he? He did not doubt that the fourth man was he who had watched them in Hatton Garden.

If it was a hobby it was a most extraordinary hobby, and the man must be mad. If he had an object in view, why did he not come out into the daylight and admit it?

“I wonder how I can get hold of him?” he said half aloud.

“Advertise for him,” said Callidino.

A sharp retort rose to the other’s lips, but he checked it. After all, there was something in that. One could do many things through the columns of the daily press.