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5 - 7

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« on: August 23, 2023, 01:09:03 pm »

5 - 7

THE silence was brief: Doxford broke it.

‘Riding House Street? That’s the street you mentioned in connection with Paley’s doings on the night of Hannington’s murder isn’t it?’ he said. ‘Went there, or something of that sort.’

‘He hurried along Riding House Street where he left his taxi at the bottom of Portland Place,’ I answered. ‘Riding House Street leads into Great Portland Street, and Little Custom Street is close by.’

Doxford turned to the two men who had spoken to him when we drove up.

‘Any details?’ he asked.

‘Not known to us,’ said one. ‘We’re just going up there.’

‘We’ll go, too,’ said Doxford. ‘Come on!---back into the cab!’

We bundled back into the taxi and set off once more. Not until we had crossed Trafalgar Square and were going up Lower Regent Street did anyone speak. Then Windover spoke, suddenly.

‘Lay anything this is one of those two!’ he said.

‘Thought of that myself,’ remarked Doxford. ‘But---which?’

‘There’s a better word than that,’ observed Chaney. ‘Not which, but---why? Why should whichever it is be found shot dead? However, if it is one of the two I dare lay anything I know which it will be!’

‘Which, then?’ asked Doxford. ‘You seem to be pretty sure of things.’

‘I am! It’ll be Craye!’

‘Why Craye?’

‘Because Paley’s the cleverer devil of the two and most likely to know how to save his own skin,’ retorted Chaney. ‘We’re going to have a nice job, seeking Paley. Never trusted him from the moment I set eyes on him, did I, Camberwell? Didn’t I say he was a rotter when he first came to see us?’

‘You did,’ I admitted. ‘But you didn’t know anything about him, then.’

‘Shows what a judge of character I am!’ he said, with a chuckle. ‘Thorough bad lot, Paley. I should say he’s had old Lord Cheverdale on toast ever since he became his secretary. And I’ll bet anything that if it is either Craye or Paley that we find dead and murdered up here, it’ll not be Paley!’

‘Soon settle that,’ muttered Doxford, glancing out of the window. ‘We’re nearly there.’

The taxi-cab turned into Riding House Street, and the driver, who had had no precise instructions, pulled up, with assured knowledge, at a house in front of which a couple of policemen kept guard at the door. A few night-birds hung about, inquisitive and open-eyed, another policeman stood within the entrance, talking to a man and woman who were obviously the caretaker and his wife. We left our cab and hastened inside; the two men who had spoken to Doxford at the Yard and had followed us in another cab, joined us.

‘Where is it?’ one of them demanded of the policeman inside. ‘Which flat?’

The policeman pointed to a board which hung on the wall of the lobby.

‘Number 8---Mr. Caldwell,’ he answered. ‘The Inspector’s up there.’

‘Isn’t there a lift?’ asked Doxford.

‘No lift here, sir,’ replied the man who looked like a caretaker. ‘ ’Tisn’t far, though. First landing---then turn to your right.’

We trooped up the stairs; one or two questioning and half-frightened faces looked out on us from half-opened doors as we turned along a wide corridor. The door of Flat Number 8 was wide open; in the little entrance hall an inspector of police was talking in low tones to a police-constable and a man in plain clothes. At sight of Doxford he turned, opened a door, and motioned us to follow him into the room to which it gave admittance. In silence, we all crowded in after him.

It was a luxurious room, that---neither dining-room, drawing-room, nor anything definite. The softest and thickest of carpets, the deepest and easiest of big chairs, the widest and springiest of sofas; soft, shaded light; beautiful pictures; a grand piano; everything in the way of furnishing and fitting that the most exacting of sybarites could desire, and over and through all a curiously subtle scent as of some rare Eastern perfume. But stretched across the hearthrug, one arm crushed beneath him, the other stretched out at full length, lay the dead body of a man. His face was turned slightly in our direction. . . .

Chaney’s voice broke in on the silence.

‘By God! I was wrong! It’s Paley!’

There was no doubt as to its being Paley. And Paley, whom we had seen in life only two or three hours before, and last remembered as he slipped out of the private billiard room to lock us in, lay there dead as a man can be.

‘You know him?’ asked the inspector.

‘Several of us know him,’ replied Doxford. ‘He was Lord Cheverdale’s secretary. But---who shot him? What have you found out?’

‘What I’ve found out is this much, so far,’ replied the inspector. ‘This flat belongs to a Mr. Caldwell. That’s the name the caretaker knows the tenant by, anyway, and the name on the board downstairs. Mr. Caldwell only uses it occasionally---perhaps two or three nights a week. This man,’ he went on, pointing to Paley’s dead body, ‘used to visit here pretty regularly. And according to the caretaker they used to entertain young ladies here---late supper-parties on a grand scale, and that sort of thing: pretty fast life, I gather, from what I’ve heard. And I’ve drawn my own conclusions from a look round this flat. Two bedrooms there---nests of luxury! Every mortal thing in this flat that pleasure-loving people would want---wines, spirits, best of cigars, all that sort of thing. And every precaution taken, too, to keep things quiet---double doors, double windows, and so on. This Caldwell must have spent a heap of money on the place. Perhaps this man shared the expense---according to the caretaker he was here just as much as Caldwell.’

‘But---this affair?’ said Doxford. ‘To-night?’

‘All I can learn is this,’ continued the inspector. ‘The caretaker saw Caldwell and this man---you say his name’s Paley---come in together this evening; he, the caretaker, happened to be in the entrance hall. They came up here. About an hour and a half after that, the caretaker’s wife, who has a key to this flat, came in, and found Paley lying dead, where you see him, and Caldwell gone. Of course, she ran down to her husband, and they fetched the nearest policeman---and so on. But as to Caldwell---come this way.’

He led us across to another door which proved to open into one of the bedrooms he had referred to. He had not exaggerated his description of it---but I should never have taken it for a man’s room; it was rather the sort of room that a luxury-loving feminine devotee of pleasure would have rejoiced in. That, however, was neither here nor there; what was important and significant was the fact that thrown carelessly and hastily over the rose-coloured trappings of the bed was the suit in which we had seen Craye at the club that evening!

‘You see?’ said the inspector. ‘This Caldwell evidently came in here after shooting the other man and changed his clothes. Everything!---everything that would show, anyway---shirt, collar, necktie, clothes. But he did more than that. Look at this, now!’

He opened another door and showed us into a magnificently-fitted bathroom, the lights in which were switched full on.

‘Have any of you any idea as to the real identity of this Caldwell?’ he asked, turning on us. ‘Any notion who he is?’

‘Yes!’ replied Chaney, quickly. ‘A man who’s known in London as Francis Craye, but whose real name is Frank Crowther. He was in Paley’s company to-night.’

‘Did he wear a beard and moustache?’ demanded the inspector.

‘Both! Why?’

The inspector motioned us over to a dressing-table.

‘Because he’s shaved ’em both off!’ he said. ‘Do you see his game? After shooting Paley, he changed his clothes, shaved off beard and moustache, probably packed what he immediately wanted in a case that he could carry, and made off. And now---where to find him? Anybody got any notions?’

‘He’ll not be found at his usual address, that’s certain,’ said Chaney. ‘He’ll have got clean away for the present. Probably he’d made his plans, in view of possible discovery. But----’

At that moment a slight cough in the adjacent room made us turn towards its open door. There, thoughtfully regarding Paley’s dead body, stood Chippendale!

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