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« on: August 22, 2023, 08:27:53 am »

2 - 3

MRS. Goodge obliged us with Mr. Morty’s address, which was a certain number in Great Portland Street, and Doxford, Chaney, and myself went round there at once to see him, the Scotland Yard man remaining at Little Custom Street to carry out some further investigations. Although he was, relatively, within a stone’s throw of its scene, Mr. Morty, an innocuous and colourless sort of person, had not heard of the murder, and was properly shocked when we told him of it. But when we asked him what he knew of the dead woman, he spread his hands and shook his head.

‘Nothing, my dear sirs!’ he exclaimed. ‘Absolutely nothing! No more than you do!’

‘Just a bit more, I think,’ suggested Doxford. ‘You let the flat to her.’

Mr. Morty spread his hands again.

‘Oh, in the way of business, yes, just a bit more, as you say,’ he admitted. ‘But what’s it amount to? Just nothing---as I say. She came in here one morning and said she wanted to take a furnished flat. Well, I let her a furnished flat---see?’

‘Not without some preliminaries, I suppose,’ said Doxford. ‘You took her to see Number 12 at 39 Little Custom Street, I believe.’

‘I did, of course,’ assented Mr. Morty. ‘In the way of business, I did. I took her round there myself. She saw the place: she said it would suit her: she came back here and paid a month’s rent in advance. Which, of course,’ he concluded, with more spreading of his hands, ‘was all business.’

‘She gave you her name, I suppose?’ suggested Doxford.

Mr. Morty turned to a book which lay on his desk. He turned certain of its pages over.

‘Mrs. Clayton---that’s the name she gave,’ he answered. ‘Shouldn’t have remembered it, if you hadn’t asked me. These people are tenants to me---just tenants. I can’t think of all their names!’

‘Did she tell you where she came from?’ asked Doxford.

‘She did not---in particular,’ replied Mr. Morty. ‘Runs in my mind, though, that she said she’d come over from the Continent on business. That wasn’t my affair of course, you know.’

‘Didn’t you ask for any reference?’ enquired Doxford.

Mr. Morty looked squarely at his questioner as if wondering where he had been brought up.

‘Don’t I tell you she paid a month’s rent in advance?’ he answered. ‘I don’t want any reference after that. Money down on the nail is the best reference.’

‘Have you ever seen her since she took the flat?’ persisted Doxford. ‘Either there or here at your office?’

‘Neither here nor there, my dear sir,’ replied Mr. Morty. ‘But I did see her one night not so long ago. Not in a business way, though.’

‘How, then?’ asked Doxford.

‘It was at Riccasoli’s, down the street,’ answered Mr. Morty. ‘Restaurant, you know. I went in there to have my dinner, being obliged to stay late at my office. She was there.’

‘What doing?’ enquired Doxford.

‘Having her dinner,’ replied Mr. Morty.


‘Alone so far as I know.’

‘Did you speak to her?’

‘I did not! She gave me a bow as I passed her, and I gave her one. What should I speak to her for? I hadn’t any business with her. Our business was done---till the month was up.’

Doxford glanced at Chaney as if inviting him to take up the running, and Chaney stepped in.

‘About those flats at Little Custom Street, Mr. Morty,’ he said. ‘Are you responsible for the management?’

‘I am not, my dear sir,’ replied Mr. Morty. ‘All I am responsible for is the letting of ’em, and the collection of the rents.’

‘Who is responsible for them, then?’ asked Chaney.

‘The caretaker woman, Mrs. Goodge, is responsible,’ said Mr. Morty. ‘They’re in her charge, not mine.’

‘But I suppose Mrs. Goodge was given certain orders, wasn’t she?’ asked Chaney. ‘About that front door, now---the street door----’

Mr. Morty spread his hands abroad again: it was remarkable what a variety of emotions he could express with those white, fat hands.

‘Mrs. Goodge has been warned about that front door a dozen of times!’ he exclaimed, testily. ‘Her orders are to close it at a certain hour every night, because every flat-holder in the place has a latch-key for it. But Mrs. Goodge says that they’re always forgetting their keys, or losing ’em, or leaving ’em lying about somewhere, and then they ring her up, and---well, of course, the woman naturally leaves it open. I suppose she left it open last night, and the murderer walked in and upstairs and did his job? Just so---well, sorry I can’t be of any use to you, gentlemen. Has he made much mess of that flat?---we’d only just had it done up, so nice and fresh!’

We left Mr. Morty and went out into Great Portland Street. Doxford looked at his watch. Nearly two o’clock.

‘I’ve got over my yawniness,’ he said, ‘but I’m famishing for something to eat. Let’s turn into Riccasoli’s and get some lunch. Perhaps we may hear something about this woman there. She may have gone there regularly.’

We went down the street to Riccasoli’s---a typical Italian café-restaurant. We had lunch; we felt justified, having lunched, in trifling a little over our coffee and cigars---and in due time we got the manager to our table and told him in confidence what we wanted. He was a sharp-eyed, observant fellow, and became of use to us at once.

‘Ah, I knew the lady you speak of!’ he said. ‘A pleasant, rather handsome woman that has come here every night for her dinner for the last two or three weeks. I have not talked to her myself beyond a mere polite word, you understand, but she always sat at the same table, over there, in the alcove, and---Marco!’

He summoned a waiter with a wave of his hand, and again turned to us.

‘Marco here always waited on that lady,’ he said. ‘Perhaps you will explain----’

We explained to Marco, an olive-skinned, black-eyed product of Tuscany: Marco comprehended perfectly.

‘She was in here last night, gentlemen,’ said Marco. ‘Last night she was a little late; half-past seven it would be; usually it was seven.’

‘Did she talk to you at all?’ enquired Chaney.

‘As a customer will,’ answered Marco. ‘Now and then, you understand. At intervals.’

‘What did she talk?’ asked Chaney. ‘English?’

‘No---she spoke French, to me. But,’ added Marco, with a knowing shake of his sleek head, ‘with an English accent. Not as a Frenchwoman would speak it. Plenty of words, yes, what you call a good vocabulary, but accent---no! English.’

‘Why did she speak French to you?’

Marco shrugged his shoulders.

‘She thought, at first, I was a Frenchman---a Provencal.’

‘And you weren’t, eh?’

‘I am from Florence, gentlemen.’

‘Then she went on speaking French to you---why?’

‘I speak French, too, as well as English. Perhaps she wanted to practise. Many people do.’

Chaney went off on another tack.

‘Well, now, you remember this lady very well,’ he said. ‘She’s been coming here regularly for her dinner every night for the last two or three weeks. Now did she always come alone?’

Marco answered that question promptly.

‘Always alone but just once! Once she came with a gentleman.’

‘A gentleman, eh? When was that?’

‘About a week ago.’

‘Can you describe him?’

‘He was a Frenchman---they talked in French all the time. I heard them mention Nice, Monte Carlo, Mentone.’

‘But, if you can, describe him. Tell us what he was like.’

‘A man of about forty years. About medium height. Dark---moustache and imperial. Good-looking man.’

‘Well dressed?’

‘Oh, nicely! Black coat and vest; striped trousers. Dark, perhaps black overcoat. Nothing conspicuous, you understand. Well-mannered man. Perhaps---a merchant.’

‘Did they seem to be great friends?’

‘Oh, yes. Old friends, perhaps.’

‘Any love-making?’

‘Oh, no, no! Good old---what you call pals, you know.’

‘Who paid for the dinner, that night?’

‘He did.’

‘Did they leave together?’

‘Yes. They sat some time after dinner, smoking and talking. Then---yes, they went away together.’

‘Had you ever seen the man before?’

‘Never! Stranger.’

‘Has he ever been here since?’

‘Oh, no, no! Only that time.’

‘Did she mention him to you when she came again, by herself?’


There seemed nothing more to ask after that, but Doxford put a further question.

‘Did this lady ever happen to tell you where she came from?’ he asked.

Marco hesitated, evidently searching his memory.

‘Not that exactly,’ he answered. ‘But she knew Paris. And she knew Monte Carlo. You see, I have been a waiter at hotels in both places. So----’

‘Common ground between you,’ said Doxford.

He rose and we rose with him, and presently went out into the street again. And there, after a brief discussion we all three got into a taxi-cab and went back to Cheverdale Lodge.

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