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5 - 3

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« on: August 23, 2023, 12:11:33 pm »

5 - 3

WHEN Chippendale had shown the taxi-driver out, Chaney and I fell to discussing the information he had given us. There was no doubt in our minds that the man he had driven, on the night of Hannington’s murder, first to Langham Place, and then to Whitehall, was Paley. But why had Paley gone to either Whitehall or Langham Place? What had he been after?---what had he done?

Chaney, as was usual with him, summarized things in sequence.

‘Let’s get it all in order, Camberwell,’ he said. ‘Hannington’s dead body is found, in the grounds of Cheverdale Lodge, by Harris, soon after midnight. Harris runs to the house and finds Paley reading in the library. Paley goes back with him to the dead man; returns to the house and ’phones for the police. He then quits the house saying he must inform Hannington’s relations. We know that this was an excuse---a foolish one; there were no relations to warn: at least, not in London. Paley hurried down to Clarence Gate; gets into Marks’ cab, and is driven to the bottom of Langham Place. He hastens along Riding House Street, in---mark you!---the direction of Little Custom Street. He is away three-quarters of an hour. And then comes in the first big question.’

‘Yes---what?’ I said as he paused.

‘This. We know in what state the flat Number 12 at Minerva House was found. It had been ransacked. Now, reckoning that a man had some thirty-five minutes at his disposal, could he have done what we saw the murderer or somebody---had done in that time? Two rooms, mind you!---practically rummaged from top to bottom. Is it possible?’

‘If he’d worked very rapidly---and presuming that the woman was silenced immediately after his entrance, I should say yes,’ I replied. ‘You can do a lot of things in thirty-five minutes.’

‘Well, anyway,’ continued Chaney, ‘he went back to the cab, and had himself driven to Whitehall. Now---why? Does anything strike you?’

‘At the moment, no,’ I replied.

‘Well, something strikes me,’ he said. ‘Mr. Craye has a flat thereabouts. Paley went to him! Now, why? If it was to tell him of the murder---as no doubt it was---why didn’t he go there first? I see nothing remarkable, or out-of-the-way, even suspicious in Paley’s going to tell Craye that Hannington had been found murdered at Cheverdale Lodge; Craye is Lord Cheverdale’s trusted business manager; a smart, and I should say, dependable man. But I do see something very remarkable in the fact that instead of Paley driving straight to Craye, he drove to close by a house in which, at just about the time he was in the neighbourhood, a second and exactly similar murder took place!’

‘Can we be sure that he went to see Craye?’ I asked. ‘He may have gone to see some other person. The fact that Craye has a flat in that neighbourhood may be only a coincidence. You remember that Hannington was seen round there earlier in the evening---that he chartered a cab from there? Is there some person living in that neighbourhood about whom we know nothing so far?---some person whom Hannington wished to see, whom Paley wished to see?’

‘No---I don’t follow that line,’ he answered. ‘I don’t think there’s the slightest doubt that Hannington went to see Craye and finding him out, drove on to Cheverdale Lodge. And I don’t doubt, either, that Paley went to see Craye. But---why?’

‘It may have been to tell him of what had happened, to consult him about telling Lord Cheverdale, to ask him to see about filling Hannington’s place at the Sentinel office----’

‘No!’ he said, interrupting me. ‘All those things could wait. He had some special reason. What?’

‘It seems to me,’ said I, ‘that Paley’s visit to Craye is a minor matter compared with the fact that after discovering Hannington’s dead body, he hurried to the immediate neighbourhood of Little Custom Street. And as regards his visit to Craye, if he made it, there is surely a very simple way of solving whatever mystery there is about that!’

‘Well?’ he asked. ‘What is it?’

‘Let us see Craye and ask him if Paley came to him that night, and why?’ I replied. ‘Craye has always seemed a straight-forward man of business---he’d probably tell us whatever he knew.’

Chaney thought this out for a minute or two.

‘No!’ he said, suddenly. ‘I’m beginning to be doubtful now if Paley did go to Craye. As you said, there are lots of other people living in flats about there. There may be some person in the background about whom we know nothing. Let’s take a day or two to think it over: to-day, Camberwell, I want off---I’ve got to take my wife to a friend’s wedding. Think things well over before to-morrow morning, and we’ll have another consultation.’

He got up to go, but I stopped him.

‘About that advertisement?’ I said. ‘For information about Crowther?’

‘That, too, there’s no hurry about,’ he answered. ‘You draft what you think will do, and we’ll go into it to-morrow morning. Now I’m off---you know where to find me if I’m wanted.’

‘Not if you’re going to a wedding,’ I said.

‘The wedding’s at two o’clock,’ he answered. ‘I shall be home before five.’

Then he went off, and I settled down to the routine work of the office. There was nothing very exciting that morning. A man came in who wanted his wife’s movements watched; a woman called who desired her husband kept under observation. And just before noon Chippendale poked his head into my room to say that a gentleman who would rather not give his name was anxious to see me.

‘What’s he like, Chippendale?’ I asked. ‘Didn’t you tell him our rule?’

‘I did, sir, but he said you’d know him when you saw him. Very well-to-do man, I should say. North-country man, sir, by his speech.’

An idea struck me: I told Chippendale to bring the caller in. And next moment, as I had expected, Mr. Halstead, of Milthwaite, entered the room. Remembering him as one of those men who habitually wear a cheerful and smiling expression, I thought he looked very grave and thoughtful.

‘You didn’t expect to see me, Mr. Camberwell,’ he said as he took a chair.

‘No!’ I replied. ‘But I’m glad to see you. For I daresay you’ve got some news for us?’

He shifted uneasily in his chair, looking about him uncertainly.

‘Well, I don’t know,’ he answered. ‘Maybe I have---and again, I mayn’t have. Your partner about?---Chaney?’

‘He isn’t,’ I said. ‘He’s gone to a wedding. But---I’m here.’

‘Oh, you’ll do!’ he responded. ‘It’s little that I have to say. But it may be of vast importance. I’m in town for a few days, staying at my club, The R.A.C.

‘Royal Automobile Club, eh?’ I said. ‘Didn’t know you were a member there---but I suppose you’re an ardent motorist?’

‘One of the very first to take it up,’ he answered. ‘I’ve driven my car in the days when you had to have a man with a red flag to go in front. Not my present car, of course---I’ve had a score or two since then.’

‘And----?’ I suggested, anxious to hear his news. ‘You were saying that you have something to tell which----’

‘How far have you got, since you saw me at Milthwaite?’ he interrupted. ‘You were going abroad?’

I told him, briefly, how Chaney and I had fared, and brought the story up to the murders in Little Custom Street. He knew all about that, and when I had finished he sat silent for a minute or two.

‘Well!’ he said at last, suddenly. ‘I may as well say what I came to say. I believe I’ve seen Crowther!’

‘Good heavens!---when?’ I exclaimed. ‘And where?’

‘Never mind exact details just now,’ he answered. ‘I know where and when I shall see the man I mean again, and how I shall be able to make absolutely certain. I don’t want to say more until I am certain.’

‘Yorkshire caution!’ I said.

‘And a very good thing to have!’ he retorted. ‘Now listen---can you come and dine with me to-night, at the club?’

‘Thank you, I can,’ I replied. ‘What time?’

‘Be there at 5.30 sharp,’ he answered. ‘I’ll be on the look-out for you in the main hall. Within half-an-hour both you and I will know if the man I’m thinking of is really Crowther. If he is---well, there’ll be more important things than dinner to think of; if he isn’t, it won’t spoil our appetites to suffer a disappointment. But---I don’t think we shall be disappointed.’

‘You feel sure the man you mean is Crowther?’ I asked.

‘I do! He’s changed---grown a beard and moustache, and looks older, of course---but I do feel as sure as can be. Still, I want to be certain,’ he answered.

‘And---how do you propose to make certain?’ I said. ‘Dead certain?’

‘I’ll tell you,’ he replied. ‘I saw this man last night as he was leaving the club. I felt so sure that he was Crowther that I made some very cautious enquiries about him. Of course I got the name he’s known by there----’

‘You don’t want to tell it yet?’ I suggested.

‘Not yet---let’s make sure,’ he answered. ‘And I found out certain things about his habits. He comes to the club every evening---at least five nights out of seven---about a quarter to six, and has a swim in the big swimming-pool in the basement---perhaps you know it?’

‘I’ve seen it,’ I said. ‘I’ve been over the place, more than once.’

‘Well, you see the point?’ he went on. ‘When he comes to-night, we shall see him stripped for swimming. If he’s Crowther---eh?’

‘The Black Dragon!’ I exclaimed.

‘Or serpent, or whatever it is,’ he assented. ‘The tattoo mark! I shall recognize it. And now, look here---suppose we see it? What then?’

‘Leave that to me, Mr. Halstead,’ I answered. ‘If I see that mark, the man will be shadowed, followed, never lost sight of from that moment! I’ll see to it.’

‘All right,’ he said. ‘I leave that to you---5.30 then, at the club.’

‘One moment!’ I said, as he rose. ‘You know who this man is. Is he a man of wealth and position?’

‘Both!’ he answered. ‘That is, he is a man holding a most important business position and commanding a big salary. And---he has prospects that people would call brilliant.’

‘And yet---if he’s Crowther---probably a murderer!’ I said.

‘Aye, well, it’s a queer world,’ he retorted. ‘Don’t forget, now, 5.30 sharp.’

He went off then, and I began to form my plans for the evening. One thing was certain; if the man Halstead had spoken of was Crowther, he must be stopped, detained, questioned. After considering the situation I wrote a note to Chaney asking him to be in readiness for a telephone call from me at any moment after 5.30 that afternoon; this I sent off at once by a District Messenger. And then I took Chippendale in hand.

‘Chippendale,’ I said, ‘you’re a good hand at observation. Are you equally good at hanging about a place, indefinitely, till you’re wanted?’

‘Done plenty of it, Mr. Camberwell,’ he answered. ‘Patient as Job, I am!’

‘Very well,’ I continued. ‘Now at half-past four you leave the office and get a real good tea, and at half-past five post yourself outside the Royal Automobile Club in Pall Mall, and stick there like a leech, till I want you. You can hang about there indefinitely, I suppose?’

‘I can hang about anywhere, Mr. Camberwell, if I choose,’ he answered. ‘Leeches and limpets, sir, aren’t in it with me. Outside the R.A.C., from 5.30 onwards. Right, Mr. Camberwell---I shall be there, indefinitely.’

That was all I could do. And at 5.30 I walked into the club.

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