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13: Developments

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Author Topic: 13: Developments  (Read 26 times)
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« on: May 20, 2023, 02:07:24 am »

THE detective gave his visitor a long and steady look; Holaday replied to it with one just as steady and as long. And at the end of this mutual inspection, the American rapped out a word---staccato fashion.

“Fact!” he said.

Womersley got up, glancing round the drab little room with an air of distaste. He pointed to Holaday’s pile of newspapers.

“Come out and have a cup of tea with me,” he said. “Bring those---we’ll have a quiet talk about this affair. There’s a decent restaurant close by---we’ll be comfortable there.”

Holaday unwound his long length from his chair and rose---he was lanky enough, thought Womersley, when he stood up; he himself felt a midget beside him. Outside, in the half-fog of a chilly evening, he glanced at his companion with some secret amusement.

“Ever been in London before, Mr. Holaday?” he asked.

“No---nor in England, until a few hours ago,” replied Holaday. “Furst time!”

“How’s it strike you?” inquired Womersley, laughing.

“Just that things are pretty close together,” said Holaday. “I was no sooner out of Southampton than I was in London. There’s an advantage in that, too.”

He said this so gravely that Womersley laughed again.

“Yes, we’re pretty tightly compressed,” he remarked. “Still, there’s a lot of waste ground here and there.” He turned into a restaurant at the corner of the street and led his companion to an alcove near an open fire. “That’s better!” he said, rubbing his hands. “We can talk in peace and comfort here. And there’s a matter I want to know about straight off, if you’ll tell me,” he went on when he had summoned a waitress and given her his order, “and it’s this---what was the secret mission that Alfred Jakyn came across about? For when I examined his belongings at the Euston Hotel I found no particulars of any mission---no papers, you understand, no business papers. Not a line!”

Holaday smiled in his ingenuous fashion.

“You wouldn’t,” he said. “He had none. His mission was here,” he continued, tapping his forehead. “He didn’t need any papers. He came here, Mr. Womersley, commissioned to see some big men---capitalists---to whom there was no necessity to show papers or documents; all his business was to be done by word of mouth.”

“Then, in that case, why do your people think that he was got rid of because of his business?” asked Womersley. “I took that to mean that he’d something on him, or in his possession, which somebody wanted to get hold of. Wasn’t that it?”

“No!” replied Holaday. “That’s not at all our notion. Our notion, Mr. Womersley, is that he was just got rid of, put out of action, before he could even begin his business. We think it possible that Alfred Jakyn was followed across.”

“Well,” said Womersley slowly, “I don’t know. I’ve made a lot of inquiry about his movements and so on during the voyage, and I’ve seen and talked to men who came over with him, and to a couple of well-known London business men who travelled with him from Liverpool to London, and I haven’t hit on anything that contributes to that theory. You think there are people to whom his business in London wouldn’t be welcome?”

“There are people across there, Mr. Womersley, to whom Alfred Jakyn’s business in London on behalf of our company would be very unwelcome,” said Holaday. “And some of them are people who wouldn’t stop at anything in their anxious time to render it impossible for him to even start on that business. Of course, until we got the news from London that Alfred Jakyn was dead, we were of the firm belief that not a soul in the world knew on what business he’d gone over, and it may be that even now nobody did know. But when you come to consider the circumstances, you can easily understand our position.”

“I suppose Jakyn was fully trusted by you?” asked Womersley. “You’d every confidence in him?”

“Alfred Jakyn, Mr. Womersley, had been in the employ of our company for close upon nine years,” replied Holaday. “He’d been chiefly in pretty far-off places, and had had some stiff jobs to tackle and ticklish negotiations to carry out. He was a very trusted servant, and a clever man---but even the cleverest man is vulnerable, and can be taken in by a cleverer man than himself.”

“There’s no doubt that Alfred Jakyn was poisoned---and in a damned clever fashion, by a proficient!” remarked Womersley. “Got any theories on that?”

“Oh, piles---or I had,” answered Holaday. “He might have had a drink with an enemy, all unsuspecting, on leaving the boat at Liverpool, or on parting at Euston---oh, yes, I’ve theorised considerably on those points. But I’m putting that aside---I want now, with your help, to start clean out afresh, right from the moment, as it were, when Alfred Jakyn collapses in that street and dies. I’ve read all this,” he went on, tapping his bundle. “Hastily, of course, but still, pretty thoroughly, and I got these papers on landing at Liverpool this morning---they were awaiting my arrival---I read them in the train. So I know the facts---main facts, right up to date. Now I’d like you to tell me---is there anything new that I don’t know?”

Womersley considered this question in silence for a minute or two. But he was taking a liking to his queer-looking companion, and presently he spoke frankly.

“Well, yes, there is,” he answered. “Some rather strange things have come to light since yesterday evening. I was puzzling my head about them when I met you just now. It’s like this,” he continued, “three people have disappeared mysteriously within the last twenty-four hours, all of whom had a more or less close connection with the Jakyn case. But I’ll tell you the details.” He went on to set out, in order, all the facts relating to Chrissie Walker, to Albert Jennison, and to the young waiter, from the time of the barmaid’s visit to the police station to that of his own inquiries at the residential club. “What do you make of that?” he asked in conclusion. “Come!”

“Why, that it all centres round the woman who went with Alfred Jakyn into the oddly-named tavern!” replied Holaday, with a laugh. “We’ll have, of course, to find out who that woman was. That surely ought not to be such a difficult thing. Trace her---that’s the business.”

“There are between seven or eight millions of people in this place!” remarked Womersley grimly. “And a considerable proportion of that crowd’s women. I haven’t the ghost of a clue to this particular one, now that the barmaid’s vanished.”

“Find the barmaid---I’ll help,” said Holaday cheerfully. “But, well, as to women---now you asked me, away in that police station, if I’d an idea, and I said I had. It’s not an idea as to who murdered Alfred Jakyn, or anything of that sort; it’s not a cut-and-dried theory. It’s just an idea that came to me in reading the various accounts in these newspapers; an idea that I feel sure should be followed up---investigated to the full, and at once. And---it’s about a woman.”

“A woman?” exclaimed Womersley. “What woman? I don’t remember any woman in the case, except Jakyn’s aunt, Mrs. Nicholas Jakyn, and his cousin, Miss Belyna, and I’ve gone into particulars about both, and convinced myself that Miss Belyna gave truthful evidence, and that her mother wasn’t in the house at Brunswick Square when Alfred Jakyn called there. What woman do you refer to?”

Holaday, while Womersley was talking, had been balancing a teaspoon on the edge of his cup, smiling quietly either at his efforts to establish its equilibrium or at something in his mind. He now replaced it in his saucer, and turning to his companion, dropped his voice and asked an unexpected question.

“That’s all very good, but say!---who was Millie Clover?”

Womersley slewed round in his seat in sheer surprise at the American’s question. For the life of him he could not remember the name which Holaday had pronounced with peculiar emphasis and significance. He sat knitting his brows and racking his brains for a full minute, while his companion watched him, evidently wondering at the effect of his question.

“That’s it!” said Holaday. “Millie Clover! Who was---or is---Millie Clover? Seems to me a mighty important feature, that!”

“I don’t remember any Millie Clover,” answered Womersley.

“No?” exclaimed Holaday. “The girl Alfred Jakyn asked about at Bradmore’s—the chemist?”

“Oh, that!” said Womersley. His tone was almost contemptuously indifferent. “Pooh! That was a mere question about some girl or other who’d once worked in the chemist’s shop---typewriting girl, or something---long since. Nothing in that!”

But Womersley shook his head.

“Look at here,” he said earnestly. “I guess there may be a lot in that! You put it to yourself, now. Alfred Jakyn comes back to England after some ten years’ absence. He goes to his father’s old place of business and finds that his father’s dead, and that the former manager, Mr. Bradmore, has taken on the whole concern. Alfred Jakyn---I’m going on the accounts given, mind---talks to Bradmore about various things; hears about his father’s intestacy, and his aunt and his cousins, and such-like. But of all the people he’d known in the old days, he only asks about one---Millie Clover. Why does he ask about Millie Clover, unless---eh?”

“Well,” asked Womersley, reluctant to confess that he didn’t follow, “why does he---in your opinion?”

“Why, because, after all these years, he’s still interested in her,” replied Holaday. “I reckon that! Why? There must have been lots of people he could have inquired about, but he doesn’t---he only asks after Millie Clover. And I guess he wanted to see Millie Clover.”

“Bradmore didn’t know anything about Millie Clover---as far as I remember,” remarked Womersley.

“Quite so---but that doesn’t prove anything against my idea,” said Holaday. “And Alfred Jakyn may have found out Millie Clover’s address after leaving Bradmore. I reckon he could turn up directories and so on.”

“Not much time or chance that night,” objected Womersley. “His time’s fully accounted for.”

“No!” said Holaday. “I think not. Supposing he was at this queer-named inn, or tavern, or whatever you call it, with the mysterious woman, until half past ten o’clock, there’s still an hour and a quarter to account for.”

Womersley nodded his agreement: evidently, he said to himself, this chap was no fool.

“Well,” he asked, “what do you want to do?”

“As I said at the beginning, I’d like to start out from what I feel to be the initial stages,” replied Holaday. “I’d like to see Bradmore, the chemist.”

“That’s easy,” said Womersley. “We can stroll along there now if you like---it isn’t ten minutes’ walk. By the bye,” he continued, as they left the restaurant, “where are you staying? Have you got a hotel?”

“Oh, I’m staying at the Euston, where Alfred Jakyn put up,” answered Holaday. “I went there because I wanted to be right on the spot. That’s a pretty handy hotel, I reckon, and expensive, but my instructions are to spare neither time nor expense in solving this mystery---especially expense. I’ve a free hand in the money line.”

“And supposing you find that Alfred Jakyn’s murder, if it was murder, had nothing whatever to do with your company?” inquired Womersley. “What then?”

“It’ll be a vast relief to us,” said Holaday, gravely. “No news would be more welcome to our president and our management! We’re sorry enough to lose an active and valuable man like Alfred Jakyn, but nothing would give us such satisfaction as to be fully convinced that his murder sprang out of some cause with which we’ve nothing to do.”

“The fact is,” observed Womersley dryly, “you want to be certain that your secret, whatever it is, has neither leaked out nor been endangered. Eh?”

“Well, sure!” admitted Holaday. “I guess that is so.”

“All right!” said Womersley. “Let’s walk down to Bradmore’s.”

Bradmore stood behind his counter in the Holborn shop. He was making up a prescription, and as he held up a bottle to the light, staring at its contents abstractedly, he looked to Womersley more melancholy than ever. He nodded to the detective in silence, and seemed but faintly interested when Womersley introduced his companion as Mr. Holaday of New York.

“We want a few words with you, in private, Mr. Bradmore,” said the detective. “If quite convenient, of course.”

Bradmore finished the compounding of his mixture, fixed a cork in the bottle, stuck a label on the bottle’s side, and methodically wrapped it up before showing any sign that he had heard what Womersley said. Then he called to a youth who was rolling pills in the background, and, bidding him attend to the counter, motioned his visitors to follow him into a parlour at the rear of the shop. There he pointed to chairs, and, taking one himself, nodded at the detective in token that he was listening. And Womersley, knowing something of his man by that time, went straight to the point.

“Mr. Bradmore, this gentleman has come across from New York to inquire into this mystery about Alfred Jakyn,” he said. “He’s discussed all the known facts with me, and he’s anxious to get an answer to a question. There’s no other person I know of who can give that answer but you. The question is---who was Millie Clover?”

The two callers were watching Bradmore intently, but one more than the other, and it seemed to him that the chemist started. But his voice was composed enough when he spoke.

“She was correspondence clerk, shorthand writer, typist, in this shop in the time of my predecessor, Daniel Jakyn,” he said. “She was here---perhaps eighteen months. That’s eleven years ago---eleven years, I mean, since she left.”

“You knew her?” suggested Womersley.

Bradmore gave him a queer look in which there seemed to be a sort of pitying amusement.

“I’ve been here as apprentice, assistant, manager, proprietor, thirty years!” he answered. “Of course, I knew her!”

“And Alfred Jakyn knew her, too, I suppose?” asked Womersley.

“Oh, yes, he knew her. Everybody connected with the business knew her.”

He looked from Womersley to his companion, as if asking what he wanted, and Holaday spoke.

“Alfred Jakyn inquired about this girl, Millie Clover, when he came to see you?” he said quietly. “Made particular inquiry, I understand, Mr. Bradmore?”

“Well, particular in the sense that she was the only person he did inquire about,” answered the chemist. “He wanted to know if I knew anything about her, and where she was to be found. I knew nothing---and told him so.”

“Did he say why he wanted that information?” asked Holaday.

“He didn’t. He just asked that---and when I answered him, as I’ve told you, he said no more.”

“You know nothing whatever about Millie Clover, then?” suggested the American.

“Nothing---now. I’ve never seen nor heard of her since she left this business, more than eleven years ago. She left suddenly---for what reason, I don’t know.”

Womersley got up. He began to button his overcoat in sign of departure.

“Blank wall!” he muttered. “I didn’t think Mr. Bradmore could tell us anything.”

But Holaday was sitting still.

“Oh, but I guess Mr. Bradmore can tell us lots---yet!” he said, with one of his ingenuous smiles. “I’m not going to bother him to-night, though, except on one little matter. Mr. Bradmore, I’ve no doubt you could tell me, perhaps by taking a little trouble, where this Miss Millie Clover lived when she was employed here.”

“Eleven years ago!” exclaimed Womersley. “Ages----in London!”

Holaday smiled again, looking at the chemist. And suddenly Bradmore nodded.

“Yes,” he answered. “I could do that, I believe. I have all the old books and papers belonging to the business stored at my house, and I can look them over at the dates I’ve referred to. I dare say the address is there---sure to be, I think. Where are you staying? Very well---if I find the address I’ll drop you a line by the midnight post.”

Outside the shop, Holaday gave Womersley’s arm a squeeze.

“Good business!” he said, with a chuckle. “I shall get that address!”

“What good will it be?” asked Womersley. “Eleven years ago!---as I said before.”

“Come round to my hotel early in the morning,” said the American. “Then---maybe I’ll tell you---if I’ve got a line from Bradmore.”

The line from Bradmore awaited his rising next morning. It was literally a line, pencilled on a half sheet of paper and enclosed in an envelope. He chuckled again as he read it.

c/o Mrs. Shepstall, 93a St. Mary’s Square, W.

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