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5 - 8

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« on: August 23, 2023, 01:21:09 pm »

5 - 8

BEFORE any of us had time to question him, Chippendale spoke, quietly. He pointed a finger at the dead man.

‘That’s Craye’s work!’ he said. ‘I suspected something of the sort. And---I know where Craye is! He’s safe---you’ve nothing to do but go there and take him.’

‘Where, then?’ exclaimed Chaney. ‘Out with it, my lad! Where is he?’

‘Close by. Langham Hotel,’ replied Chippendale, in the same quiet tones. ‘Thinks he’s safe---for the night, anyhow. Hasn’t the ghost of a notion that I tracked him. But I did! Tracked ’em both---here. Then him---there.’

‘Where from?’ demanded Chaney. ‘Come on---tell the story.’

Chippendale backed against the table, and resting himself on its edge, looked from one to the other of us.

‘I’m about done up,’ he said. ‘You’ll have to take it in brief. I saw ’em---those two, you know---leave the Royal Automobile Club from a basement entrance. None of you were about---I’d no chance to warn you. I followed ’em along Pall Mall to Waterloo Place. They got a taxi there; I got another. I tracked ’em up here---to the end of the street, near the church, anyway. Then I followed ’em along this street, Riding House Street, to these flats. I watched ’em enter. Then I waited, keeping an eye on the front door. Nearly an hour passed. Then Craye came out, alone. I was near enough, though he never saw me, to see that he’d shaved off his beard and moustache and changed his clothes and got a different hat and overcoat on. But I knew him well enough! He’s the very slightest limp in his left leg, and one shoulder—the right—is a tiny bit higher than the other. He slipped out very quietly, carrying a small suit-case---black, with silver mountings---and went off along the street. I followed. He reached the bottom of Portland Place and turned into the Langham Hotel. And---he didn’t come out. So I did the only thing there was to do.’

‘And that, my lad, was---what?’ asked Chaney.

‘Waited a bit and then went in and asked if I could get a room for the night,’ replied Chippendale with a faint smile. ‘Lucky I’m well dressed, and of decent appearance, and had plenty of money on me---I gave ’em a good deposit, as I’d no luggage. And so I got a sight of the register. In fact, his signature was just above mine. Mr. F. Cameron: Number 395. There you are! He’s in his room now.’

The Inspector and the detective looked at each other. Doxford spoke first.

‘He’ll be a damned ugly customer to tackle!’ he said. ‘He’s probably armed, and he’ll stick at nothing. As like as not, he’ll shoot the first man who enters his room. If we could get him out----’

‘Stop a bit!’ interrupted the inspector. He pointed to Chippendale. ‘Who is this young fellow?’ he asked.

‘Clerk to me and Mr. Camberwell,’ replied Chaney.

‘Thoroughly dependable?’

‘Ask me another!’ retorted Chaney. ‘He’s just given you a taste of his qualities!’

‘What I was going to say is this,’ continued the inspector. ‘Is this young fellow certain that Craye’s safely housed at the Langham Hotel for the night?’

‘I took jolly good care to make certain he’d gone to his room,’ said Chippendale. ‘I did a bit of detective work myself, with the floor waiter. He went to his room as soon as he’d booked it, and he had sandwiches, a bottle of whisky, and a syphon of mineral water sent there. He’s safe enough---till morning.’

‘Very good---then I suggest this,’ said the inspector. ‘If he’s the sort of chap who’s likely to shoot at sight, I say there’s no need for us to go to his bedroom door. Let you, Doxford, go with this young man to the Langham. You’ve got your card, and you know what to do. Find out if Craye’s given any orders as to being called in the morning and what time, and so on. Let them be carried out. And when he comes out to leave we’ll take him. How’s that?’

‘Might save a life or two,’ muttered Doxford. ‘Of course, we’ll have to make sure he doesn’t get away in the night.’

‘That’s easy!’ said the inspector. ‘Come on---we’ll go across to the Langham. You can go in and explain your business---we’ll wait outside for you.’

We left the flat to the police-constables and trooped along the street to Portland Place. There Doxford and Windover left the rest of us and went, with Chippendale, into the hotel. In ten minutes they were back.

‘That’s all right!’ said Doxford. ‘He’s left orders with the night-porter that he’s to call him, with a cup of tea, at five-thirty, and to have a taxi ready for him at six precisely. So----’

‘And he’s in his room now?’ asked the inspector.

‘He’s in his room now---I made sure of that,’ assented Doxford. ‘He’s safe, till six o’clock. Unless indeed, he gets up in the night.’

‘We’ll see to that,’ said the inspector. ‘Now, about keeping watch. There’s nobody knows him but this young fellow---what’s his name?’

‘My name’s Chippendale, Inspector,’ said our clerk, ‘and though I’m done up now, I’m game to sit up all night in that hotel, keeping watch, as soon as I’ve had something to eat and drink. Let me keep an eye on things inside, and you arrange for things outside and we’ll be all ready for him at six in the morning!’

The inspector looked at his watch.

‘It’s nearly twelve o’clock, now,’ he said. ‘All right---let’s fix things. Now, I’ll tell you what, Doxford. Suppose----’

Chaney and I presently left the police and detectives to the business and went to his flat, which was not far away. We had some supper; we tried to sleep---how he fared I don’t know, but I spent the night in a feverish wakefulness, and was thankful when at five o’clock my partner called me to a cup of tea.

‘Last act, Camberwell,’ he said, as he lifted the kettle from the fire. ‘I shan’t be sorry when the curtain falls! Cool customer this that we’re dealing with---fancy going calmly to bed with whisky-and-soda and sandwiches within a few yards of his last victim’s corpse!’

‘I hope there’ll be no more victims,’ I said. ‘You may be certain he’ll make a fight of it if he gets the chance.’

‘Ah, well, but I don’t think those chaps will give him the chance,’ he replied. ‘Doxford’s an experienced man; he’s been in at a good many of these games, and he’ll contrive to collar him before he even gets an idea that he’s being watched. I hope so, anyway. I don’t want any more killing.’

Nor did I, but it was with considerable apprehension that I presently set out with Chaney for the neighbourhood of the hotel in which Craye had taken refuge. The morning was still grey when we came up to the big pile of masonry that closes in the south end of Portland Place, and there was that curious vague mist in the streets which seems to be peculiarly associated with London daybreaks. There appeared to be nobody about. There was no sign of Doxford, nor of Windover, nor of any policemen. That did not seem to trouble Chaney, himself an ex-detective. He drew me into a neighbouring doorway, from which we could see the entrance to the hotel without being seen ourselves, and there we stood, waiting.

A quarter to six struck from the clock of the church close by. Ten minutes later a taxi-cab appeared and drew up at the door of the Langham. A few minutes more elapsed . . . then the front door opened and the night-porter appeared on the steps.

‘Now!’ whispered Chaney. ‘Look out for him---and for what’ll happen!’

But . . . nothing happened! At any rate, nothing happened of the nature of the things that we expected to happen. The night-porter stood on the steps and waited; once or twice he looked round at the door as if he expected somebody to emerge from it. But nobody came---and presently, with a word to the driver of the taxi-cab he turned and re-entered the hotel.

Once more some minutes passed---and nothing happened. Chaney, watching at my side, suddenly moved out of our shelter.

‘Something’s gone wrong!’ he muttered. ‘Come on! we’ll go across. Good lord! I hope they haven’t let him give ’em the slip. I trusted Chippendale----’

He broke off at that, and in silence we crossed the angle of the street and hurried into the entrance. Just inside we encountered Doxford, Windover, and Chippendale; they were grouped together at the open doorway of a small room on the left hand of the lobby. Doxford hurriedly beckoned us to join them, and half-closed the door on us when we had done so.

‘Where is he? What’s up?’ demanded Chaney. ‘Six o’clock----’

‘He hasn’t come down,’ whispered Doxford. ‘The night-porter’s gone up to remind him. There’s one thing we’re sure of---he’s never left his room during the night! I’ve made certain of that---so has this young man of yours.’

‘Yes, I can testify to that,’ said Chippendale. ‘As a matter of fact, I’ve never had my eye off the door.’

‘Kept watch up there?’ asked Chaney.

‘I’ve been up there, keeping watch, all night,’ replied Chippendale. ‘I got a mouthful or two of something to eat down here and then went up. And there I’ve been, in the corridor, until twenty minutes since. And from the moment I went up there until I came down this morning he’s certainly never left that room!’

‘The night-porter’s coming back,’ remarked Windover. ‘Alone, too!’

The night-porter came across the hall to us, shaking his head.

‘Can’t get any answer,’ he said as he drew close. ‘I’ve knocked and called, but there’s been no response.’

‘Why didn’t you go in?’ demanded Chaney.

‘No key,’ replied the night-porter. ‘But I can get one from the chambermaid---if she’s about. Not about though, as a rule, till seven o’clock.’

‘Somebody must have a master-key,’ said Doxford. ‘Find it!---or send to the servants’ quarters for the chambermaid’s key. We’ve got to get into that room. Come on---we’ll go up while you see after the key.’

We all trooped upstairs---Doxford, Windover, Chaney, myself, Chippendale. There was not a soul in the corridor into which Chippendale led us. And when we gathered around the door of the room about which we were so anxious and so inquisitive, there was not a sound to be heard---within.

‘He’s hopped it!’ muttered Windover, suddenly. ‘Lay a fiver to nothing that room’s empty!’

‘How could he have hopped it----’ burst out Chippendale. ‘I tell you----’

‘Don’t care what you tell me, sonny!’ said Windover, good-humouredly. ‘He’s hopped it! Probably took his hook at once---as soon as ever he’d got here. How long were you downstairs getting your bit of grub?’

‘Quarter of an hour at the outside,’ replied Chippendale, sulkily.

‘Ah!’ said Windover. ‘That explains it! Quarter-of-an-hour? Lord---he could put half-a-mile between you and him in that time. Hopped it, I say! Nobody in here, I’ll bet!’

The night-porter came leisurely along the corridor, with a rattle of keys. He selected one; opened the door; flung it wide.

‘What did I tell you?’ exclaimed Windover, triumphantly. ‘Empty!’

He was right there: the room was empty enough---of human life, at any rate. But I had learnt something of my business by that time, and my first instinct was to note what was in it to show that human life had been there recently, and how long before. And the first thing I noted, of course, was that the bed had not been slept in: there it was, all spick and span as the chambermaids had left it the previous day. On a square table in the centre of the room were certain objects---a plate of sandwiches, covered by a napkin; a bottle of whisky; a syphon of mineral water; a tumbler; an A.B.C., railway guide, open; an ashtray on which rested the better part of a cigar. At first sight, nothing more than these things struck one.

But Chaney was already at the table, fingering and inspecting.

‘Not a sandwich touched,’ he muttered. ‘Just as they were brought to him. One good stiff dose of whisky gone from the bottle: not much soda from the syphon. Railway guide open at H---ah, Harwich!---page turned down, and pencil mark against early morning train, Liverpool Street to Harwich. That’s all bluff!---done to make whoever came in here think that he’d sloped for the Continent by way of Harwich and the Hook of Holland. All rot!---he’s bound for Hell, not Harwich. But----’

Chippendale had been moving round the room, like a terrier after the whereabouts of a rat. A sharp exclamation from him slewed us all round to where he stood by the dressing-table.

‘Look at this!’ he said excitedly. ‘What’s he been up to here?’

As he spoke he held up in one hand what looked like---and in fact, was---a tattered piece of dark stuff, velvet or some similar substance, and in the other a pair of nail-scissors. Chaney went forward and took the piece of stuff from him.

‘Good lord!’ he exclaimed. ‘He’s been making a mask! Look at these!’

On the dressing-table lay two discs, round or oval, of the stuff which Chaney had taken out of Chippendale’s hand. Suddenly turning from them and the dressing-table he snatched up one of the window-curtains, and held out the end to us. A piece had been roughly scissored out of it, leaving torn and jagged edges.

‘That’s it!’ continued Chaney. ‘Before leaving the room, he’s made a rough mask for his face. Cut eyeholes out, and no doubt attached bits of string to the ends to tie round his head. No doubt of all that! But now---how did he get away? How could he get away---unobserved?’

Windover went across to the window, opened it, and looked out.

‘Not this way!’ he remarked laconically.

‘Never came downstairs again, anyhow!’ said the night-porter. ‘I’ll swear to that!’

‘So will I,’ said Chippendale. ‘I had my bit of grub where I could watch the front door.’

‘All the same,’ observed Chaney, ‘he did get away. How?’

‘There’s an entrance to a fire-escape stairway at the end of this corridor,’ said the night-porter.

‘Open?’ asked Chaney.

‘He could open it. Not difficult.’

Chaney bundled the bit of torn stuff and the scissors into his pocket.

‘That’s it!’ he said. ‘He got out that way. But---when? Who saw him last?’

‘The waiter who brought that stuff up to him,’ replied the night-porter.

Chaney made for the door.

‘Come on!’ he said. ‘Let’s see him. Find him at once.’

It took some little time to unearth that particular waiter. But he came at last, wondering and inquisitive at sight of us.

‘You attended to a gentleman in Number 225 last night?’ asked Chaney, who, since our entrance had taken upon himself the office of spokesman. ‘What did you do for him?’

‘Took him up a bottle of Scotch whisky, a syphon of soda-water, and a plate of beef sandwiches,’ answered the waiter, promptly.

‘What was he doing when you entered his room?’ continued Chaney.

‘Reading a railway guide.’

‘Did you notice if he’d unpacked his suit-case?’

‘The suit-case was on the bed, open. He hadn’t unpacked anything from it---then.’

‘Any conversation with him?’

‘Not particular. I asked him if there was anything more he wanted---he said no, there was nothing.’

‘Then you left him?’

‘Then I left him---yes.’

‘Did you hear him fasten his door as you left?’

‘Yes---I heard him shoot the bolt.’

Chaney turned away, motioning the rest of us to follow him.

‘We can do no more good here,’ he said. ‘I see how it’s been. He probably had an idea that he was being followed. He came in here---and got away at once: I daresay he was out of the place within half-an-hour of entering it! And now we’ve got to start hunting for him all over again! That’s about it.’

On the face of it, this seemed conclusive, and we all made for the door, in various degrees of depression. But we had scarcely reached it when the night-porter called us back.

‘Here’s a telephone call for Mr. Windover?’ he said, glancing from one to the other. ‘From Scotland Yard. This way, sir.’

Windover hurried off to the telephone; for a minute or two we heard him in the exchange of what seemed to be an excited conversation. He came back shaking his head at us.

‘Here’s some new development,’ he said. ‘We’re to go up to Cheverdale Lodge---they’re asking for me there. There’s something up. Come on---there’s that taxi still waiting outside.’

Ten minutes later, we drove up to the door of Cheverdale Lodge. It was still, of course, very early in the morning, and the evidence of disturbance and commotion at the house were, accordingly, all the more noticeable. A couple of taxi-cabs were drawn up in the drive; I noticed the faces of maid-servants, frightened and inquisitive, at the upstairs windows. And at the door, all there in a state of hurried undress, were Walker, the butler, and his two satellites, the footman Harris and Simpson.

Walker received us in a grim silence, and to Windover’s sharp enquiry, motioned us to follow him into the inner hall. Then he turned on us, speaking in a hushed voice.

‘There’s been a dreadful affair here, this morning, gentlemen,’ he said. ‘About half-past-five or a quarter to six it was---I was just getting nicely awake when I heard it. What I heard was a shot---then another---then a third one. My bedroom is, of course, next to the butler’s pantry, on the ground floor: the sound of the shots seemed to come from somewhere immediately over my head, on the floor above. I hurried some clothes on and ran up there as quick as I could. My lord’s room is up there---I went there first. The door was open, but his lordship wasn’t in the room, nor in the dressing-room, nor his private bathroom. I went along the corridor: then I saw that the door of Mr. Paley’s bedroom, two or three doors away, was open. I knew Mr. Paley wasn’t there—he hasn’t slept here for the last two or three nights. I went in and first thing I knew I stumbled over a body, lying just within the door. I switched on the electric light—the blinds and curtains were drawn, and the room only just faintly light. Then I saw it was his lordship’s body I’d stumbled into. He was lying on the floor---I didn’t know whether dead or unconscious. He’d a revolver in his right hand, and an electric torch in the other---the torch had slipped from his fingers, but it was still burning. Then he groaned, and I saw that he wasn’t dead. But----’

Here the butler paused, shaking his head, and moistening his lips: it was evident to all of us that he had had a severe shock.

‘That wasn’t all,’ he went on. ‘Half-way across the room, between his lordship and Mr. Paley’s writing-desk, or bureau, there was a man lying. And I knew at one glance that he was dead! There was a look about the figure, you understand, gentlemen, that assured me of that---he was, well as still as still can be, and it’s a light coloured carpet in that room, and there was blood! And---being chiefly concerned about his lordship, I didn’t go near the man, but I noticed a certain thing at once. He’d got a mask tied over his face!’

‘A mask!’ some of us exclaimed in chorus.

‘A mask, gentlemen---I couldn’t see his features at all. But I did notice this---as you’ll presently find---a life-preserver had slipped from his hand as he fell; one of those old-fashioned ones, gentlemen----’

‘Well?’ interrupted Chaney. ‘What did you do? Didn’t touch the man?’

‘Never went near him, sir,’ replied Walker. ‘I fetched the two footmen---very fortunately, Miss Chever is away from town just now, spending a few days with friends in the country, so I hadn’t her to deal with---and we carried his lordship back to his own rooms. I just satisfied myself that he was not wounded in any way and then I telephoned for doctors and to your headquarters, gentlemen. There are two doctors with his lordship now; they say he’s suffering from fright and shock.’

‘But the man?’ demanded Windover. ‘Have the doctors----’

‘One of them’s seen the man’s dead body, sir, just to satisfy himself that he was dead, but he hasn’t removed the mask,’ said Walker. ‘I locked up the room---Mr. Paley’s room---as soon as we’d carried Lord Cheverdale out of it, and again after the doctor had been in for a minute, and---here’s the key, Mr. Windover.’

‘Show the way!’ said Windover. He drew back as the butler made for the stairs and threw the rest of us a whisper. ‘You may be sure of what we are going to see!’ he said, significantly. ‘But---why here?’

We followed the butler up the big staircase and along a thickly-carpeted corridor. A door on the right opened; a man, obviously a doctor, came out. He glanced enquiringly at us; then addressed himself to Walker. And his words were brief and plain.

‘Lord Cheverdale is dead!’ he said.

The butler replied with an inarticulate catching of his breath, but Chaney put a direct question.

‘You’re sure his lordship hadn’t been attacked?---wounded, sir?’ he asked.

‘Quite sure,’ replied the doctor. ‘Shock! He had suffered from a very weak heart for some time.’ He paused, looking at us with speculative eyes. ‘Have you seen the man whom he shot?’ he asked. ‘The burglar?’

Windover replying in the negative, the doctor turned and went further along the corridor with us. The butler indicated a door: Windover inserted the key and opened it; we trooped in.

The blinds had been drawn up and the curtains drawn back, and the dead man lay in the full light of the mounting sun. One glance at the material of the mask tied over the upper part of the face showed us that it matched the tattered scrap lying in Chaney’s pocket.

Two hours later, after a patient search amongst the various matters in Paley’s bureau we found something that explained Craye’s presence in the room where he had met his death at the hand of his employer. And that was a promissory note from Craye to Paley, engaging to pay Paley the sum of two hundred and fifty thousands pounds within one month of Craye’s marriage to Miss Chever.

So there came the end---but to me one question must always remain unanswered. Did Lord Cheverdale know who it was that he shot dead that morning?

THE END
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