Roy Glashan's Library.
Non sibi sed omnibus
Go to Home Page
THIS book is a product of a collaborative effort undertaken by Project Gutenberg Australia, Roy Glashan's Library and the bibliophile Terry Walker to collect, edit and publish the works of Aidan de Brune, a colourful and prolific Australian writer whose opus is well worth saving from oblivion.
MARTHA TAYNE sat at her desk, close to the door leading into Luther Banke's private office. She was leaning forward, her elbows on the desk-top, her hands cupping her chin. A heavy frown drew down her brows, half-closing her eyes. Her foot tapped, impatiently, the mat under her desk.
The office was small, though comfortably furnished. Three tall lines of steel filing-cabinets and a door occupied one of the walls. Another wall held two large windows, and under them was a long, comfortable-looking lounge. The third wall was vacant except for a rather mediocre steel engraving. Against the fourth wall stood Martha's desk and close by it was the door leading into the inner office.
Martha had reason to frown. That morning should have been devoted by Luther Banke to the overseas mail; and Alec Kempton, senior partner in Walls, Kempton & Co., the leading solicitors of the city, had been engaged with Luther Banke for the past two hours. Impatiently, the girl's eyes wandered to the pile of correspondence awaiting attention. The beat of her foot beneath the desk increased perceptibly.
Really, the position was intolerable! More than one business man in the city had openly stated that Martha Tayne was "Luther Banke & Co., Jewellers." Outside her door—opening directly into the handsome, but discreetly, furnished shop—were half-a-dozen immaculately garbed assistants prepared to swear that if Martha married, handed in her resignation, or inconsistently "sacked" the firm, the shutters would have to be erected and a modest notice inserted in the Government Gazette in the section headed "Bankruptcy."
Yet Martha was a girl and, without the present frown, a remarkably pretty one. Tall, with dark hair containing more than a hint of gold; a lithe almost faultless figure, and a clear complexion, she attracted immediate attention.
From under rather heavy brows looked out keen, brown eyes which ever held a glint of laughter, even when discussing the gravest intricacies of business. A note in Luther Banke's private ledger informed the reader that Martha Tayne had entered the employ of the firm some three years previous and at that time had given her age at twenty years.
A little silver gong struck three clear notes as the door from the shop opened. Martha looked up quickly. A young man stood in the doorway. For a minute he hesitated then, in response to her quick nod of recognition, came to the desk and placed close to the girl's elbow a long, narrow case. A' quick movement of his tapered, well manicured fingers sprang back the lid, revealing six large, well-matched emeralds lying on a white velvet bed. For a moment the girl looked at the jewels a slight smile on her well-formed lips.
"Mr. Banke still engaged, Miss Tayne?"
"Yes." The girl leaned back in her chair, letting her hands fall to her lap, in a helpless gesture. "The Montgomery emeralds, Mr. Forde?"
The assistant nodded. He placed a slip of paper on the blotting-pad before the girl. Martha scanned the few lines and initialled them.
"Very well, Mr. Forde. I will take charge of the emeralds."
Fred Forde bowed and turned to the door. As his hand touched the doorknob the little silver bell chimed again. He looked round at the girl, a thin smile on his lips. She nodded, rising impatiently from her chair. For some minutes she paced the little room, continually glancing at the door of the inner office. Once she went to it and, after a moment's hesitation, bent her head to the panel, to listen. She could hear no sounds from the room, not even the murmur of voices. Her hand caught at the door-knob, then dropped to her side and she resumed her idle pacing.
Luther Banke was a man of routine. Alec Kempton was a methodical, matter-of-fact solicitor. Both men well knew that Thursday morning was strictly reserved for the overseas post—that to infringe on that time meant the possibility of disorganising for that week the large interests Luther Banke & Co. had in all parts of the world, and especially in Europe and America.
Martha glanced at her wrist-watch then went to the pile of correspondence on her desk and fumbled through the papers. She had no necessity to glance at one of them, she knew their contents by heart. Again she glanced at her watch. Another half-hour and her work would be too late for that day's mail. For the first time in the three years she had been Luther Banke's private secretary' the overseas mail would leave Sydney without including the very important correspondence from Luther Banke & Co. Again she turned to face the door of the inner room.
Then her eyes fell on the case of emeralds—six large stones, each about the size of a filbert. She lifted the case, letting the light from the window play on the facets of the jewels, admiring the quick changing of colours, the marvellous depth and brilliancy, then abruptly closed the case and replaced it on the desk.
Another glance at her wrist-watch, checking the time by a swift look at the clock perched on top of the centre filing-cabinet, and she turned to the inner office-door. A moment's hesitation and she knocked. There was no response. A full half-minute she waited, then knocked again, this time louder. Almost as her hand fell to her side the door was partly opened and a short, florid man peered around the edge.
"I wish to speak to Mr. Banke, Mr. Kempton."
Martha spoke coldly. "Mr. Banke is engaged, Miss Tayne."
"Mr. Banke cannot be engaged." A quick flush rose to the girl's face. "He cannot have forgotten that this is mail-day and that many important matters require his immediate attention, Mr. Kempton."
"It doesn't matter if this is the Day of Judgment!" The solicitor's florid face grew ruddy. "I have told you, Mr. Banke is engaged and cannot attend to any business just for the moment."
Martha gasped. The door had almost closed before she regained her wits; then with a quick forward movement she pushed the door from the man's hand. It swung back against the wall with a crash.
"Oh, I'm sorry!" Martha spoke contritely, for Alec Kempton was rubbing his' wrist. Yet the little smile on her lips detracted from the words of her apology. Her quick glances travelled past the solicitor to the man seated at the desk on the other side of the room. He was sitting well forward, his body pressed against the edge of the desk. One hand was raised to his brow, shielding his face, his elbow resting on the blotting-pad. Something in his attitude—a reflection of dejection—called to the girl.
She stepped forward.
"Mr. Banke, this is mail-day. I must have your instructions at once or we shall miss the mail this week."
"I have told you, Miss Tayne! Mr. Banke is engaged on important business and cannot attend to the mail today."
Alec Kempton had followed the girl into the room and now interposed between her and the seated man. "I take my instructions only from Mr. Banke, Mr. Kempton." Martha faced the solicitor defiantly.
"Mr. Banke is not in a condition to—er—attend to routine business this morning," the solicitor persisted. "Mr. Banke has not said so."
The girl tried to pass the solicitor, but he moved again between her and the desk. "Will you allow me to pass, please, Mr. Kempton!"
"No." The man spoke brusquely. "Please go back to your office, Miss Tayne."
The girl shook her head, but the action was rather uncertain. For a moment she hesitated, then again stepped quickly to one side. Something in the attitude of the man at the desk alarmed her. She turned and faced the solicitor.
"Is Mr. Banke unwell, Mr. Kempton?" she asked.
"Mr. Banke has had a—er—shock." The man's reply came after a deliberate pause. "I have told you he is not able to attend to routine business. You must deal with those matters of which you are cognisant, and allow other matters to remain over until the next mail."
Martha gasped. Bewildered she looked from the solicitor to the seated man. "I don't think you understand, Mr. Kempton," she said slowly. "The overseas mail of this firm is entirely apart from the ordinary shop business and local trade. Mr. Banke attends to it personally, nearly every detail of it requires his personal attention. It is quite Impossible for any of it to be dealt with without Mr. Banke's personal decisions and instructions."
"Then I am afraid this mail will have to be missed." A slight smile played about the legal lips. "What is the matter with Mr. Banke?" "He—I have told you. He has received a shock."
"Yes." The solicitor hesitated. "Do you understand now?" A little smile broke the line of the girl's compressed lips. Slightly taller than the man before her, she looked down on him. For a moment she caught sight of steel-blue eyes that held a hint of fear. Martha moved suddenly, catching the solicitor by the arm and swinging him to one side. A couple of quick steps and she was standing before the desk.
"Mr. Banke!" The man did not look up. For an instant the girl waited, fear growing in her heart. Shaking herself, mentally, she reached forward and touched his hand—to have her wrist grasped firmly by Alec Kempton. "Mr. Kempton!"
"Miss Tayne; you must not."
"What is the matter with Mr. Banke?"
"I have told you—a shock."
"Then he should be attended to." A quick movement brought the girl to the side of the desk. Kempton made a feeble effort to prevent her, but Martha wrenched her arm free.
The man at the desk did not answer, or even change his position. The girl looked at him, in perplexity. Something was wrong in that room; something was wrong with the man seated at the desk. He had not moved since she had come into the room. He had taken no notice of her presence, or of her questions. Tentatively, hesitatingly, she stretched out her hand again to the man. This time the lawyer grasped her wrist firmly.
"Mr. Kempton, how dare you touch me!"
"Miss Tayne." The solicitor's voice held entreaty. "I ask you to be careful—to leave this matter to me. Please go back to your office."
"I assure you that if you continue to interfere you may do irreparable harm."
"I think—" Martha hesitated, "I think there is something very wrong here." Her words were spoken slowly.
"What do you mean?" Kempton was staring at the girl, his face greying.
"This." With a sudden movement the girl released herself. She caught at the seated man's arm, jerking it sideways. "This, Mr. Kempton. This man is not Luther Banke!"
MECHANICALLY, Martha repeated her statement:
"This man is not Luther Banke." She turned to face the lawyer. "Mr. Kempton, Where is Mr. Banke?"
The lawyer did not answer. He was staring moodily at the man seated at the desk, a frown on his florid face.
"Mr. Banke came into the office this morning very early," the girl, continued. "As you know, he has to pass through my room to get to his. On his way in he stopped at my desk and told me he would be ready to deal with the overseas mail within an hour. I replied that the details were awaiting him. He nodded and smiled. I know he has not left his Office since he entered it."
"Perhaps you did not see him leave," the solicitor suggested, his tones showing his uneasiness.
"If I had not seen him I should have heard him." Martha continued quickly. "The door between my office and the shop is fitted with an electric bell that 'rings' immediately the door is opened. You know that, Mr. Kempton; you have remarked on that bell to me."
"There may be other ways of leaving this office—" The man's uneasiness showed very plainly.
"There are no other ways out of Mr. Banke's office." The girl spoke quickly.
"Mr. Banke—" Alec Kempton paused, hesitating.
"Mr. Banke came in here this morning."
A slight flush stained the girl's cheeks.
"He spoke to me, as I have told you. I followed him in here. As I went back to my desk the bell on the door leading to the shop rang, and you entered my room. I came to this door and told Mr. Banke you were here. I held this door open for you to enter. You mentioned Mr. Banke's name as you entered. I heard you speak to him as you entered the room Martha paused and turned angrily on the man. Mr. Kempton, who is this man and what is he doing here? Where is Mr. Banke?"
For a long moment there was silence in the room. Then the man behind the desk rose to his feet and lazily stretched himself. "Interesting, isn't it, Kempton?" He yawned. "Seems to me this young lady has rather busted things, eh?"
"Me?" The man laughed. "Ask him?" He pointed to the solicitor.
Martha was bewildered. What did it all mean? She knew that Luther Banke had not left his office, yet he was not in it. She glanced about the room again. There Was no place there where a man could hide. With a swift, lithe movement she went to the windows and flung them open. The massive Ironwork protections were intact. Again she turned to face the room. The two men were regarding her curiously. Some silent message must have passed between them while her back had been turned to them. They appeared more at ease. For a moment the girl regarded them steadily, then went to the door.
"Where are you going, Miss Tayne?" asked Alec Kempton.
"To summon the police," the girl answered over her shoulder, half pausing on her way.
"I don't think you had better." The stranger spoke slowly, in a lazy drawl. "You might find yourself in trouble, y'know."
"Trouble!" Martha turned on the two men passionately. "Mr. Kempton, you know the trouble that can take place here. Why, in that shop is over fifty thousands pounds' worth of jewellery."
"Not to mention the Montgomery emeralds." The strange man spoke indifferently.
Again Martha did not reply to him. The Montgomery emeralds! Were they the key to the strange happenings of that morning? The emeralds were on her desk. Instinctively, she made a step toward her room, then stopped and laughed. The emeralds were well protected. No one could enter that suite of offices without ringing the bell attached to the door between her room and the shop—and that bell had not rung since she had left her desk. She went to the door, from whence she could see the long, narrow jewel-box on the corner of her desk. A little sigh of relief escaped her lips and she turned again to face the two men, still silently regarding her, curiosity showing in their faces.
She turned to re-enter the inner office. Her words brought the solicitor to action. In a couple of strides he reached the door, Martha retreating before him into the outer office. He turned swiftly and drew the door shut, turning the key in the lock. Withdrawing the key from the lock he laid it on the corner of Martha's desk.
"There is the key to Mr. Banke's room." Alec Kempton spoke in hurried, worried tones. "You are to retain it until Mr. Blake returns. Perhaps you will be able to supply him with a satisfactory explanation of your remarkable conduct this morning."
Martha hesitated a moment, then slipped quickly into her chair. The solicitor watched her for a moment, then with a shrug went to the door leading to the shop.
"A moment, Mr. Kempton." The girl spoke quietly. "What of the man you have locked in Mr. Luther Banke's office?"
"Well, what of him?" The little man answered defiantly.
"Is he to stay there until Mr. Luther Banke returns?"
Alec Kempton shrugged. "That is for you to say now," he replied, "Why do you ask?"
"Mr. Banke's private safes are in there." The girl spoke significantly.
"What of that?"
"Those safes hold a valuable collection of mounted and unmounted gems."
"You examined the windows and found them secure."
"I did not see Mr. Luther Banke leave his office."
"What do you 'mean by that?"
"Is there necessity for me to explain." Martha passed her hand over her brow wearily. She let the hand drop to art open drawer of her desk. Kempton waited a moment for the girl to speak, then took a step toward the girl's desk. Martha smiled, and her left hand slipped under the desk. There came the sound of metal clicking on metal. A startled look came in the little solicitor's eyes, and he glanced quickly toward the door.
"You are quite right, Mr. Kempton." Again the girl smiled. "I have a switch under my desk controlling the lock of that door. The sound you heard was the lock being shot home. Now, if you please, what of the man in Mr. Luther Banke's room?"
"What of him?" Again Alec Kempton gave question for question. He waited a moment, then shrugged.
"I have no time for your heroics." He moved to the door. "You will hear more of this when Mr. Luther Banke returns."
"The door is locked, Mr. Kempton."
"Then open it immediately!" The little solicitor turned furiously and went to the desk. He had not proceeded half-way when Martha Tayne's hand came out of the desk-drawer, holding a small automatic. "I prefer you by the door, Mr. Kempton."
"And I prefer the other side of the door." The man laughed harshly, yet the girl detected a note of nervousness in the laughter.
"Have you gone entirely mad, girl?":
"I would be mad to allow anyone In Mr. Luther Banke's office without knowing his business and how he got there." Martha spoke evenly. She waited a moment, watching the man before her keenly. Then her voice softened: "Mr. Kempton, you have been Mr. Luther Banke's legal adviser for a number of years—you were his legal adviser long before I came here. You know the strict rules governing this business. How many of them have been infringed this morning?"
Again the girl paused, but the man did not reply. "I have told you the shop contains over fifty thousand pounds' worth of stock; the safes in Mr. Banke's office contain several times that value. Here, on my desk—" Her armed hand rested for a moment on the emerald box. "Here are jewels valued at over ten-thousand pounds. When Mr. Luther Banke is absent, I am in sole charge—responsible for the safety of everything—"
Her voice trailed to silence. The man shifted uneasily, allowing his eyes to fall beneath the girl's level look. "Do you think I should let anything pass me that I do not thoroughly understand, and which I do not consider quite clear and honest. I have to use what discretion I possess. I cannot I dare not allow what has happened this morning to pass unchallenged."
"What do you suggest doing?" Alec Kempton spoke after a long silence.
"Call in the police." Martha answered promptly.
"Unless you are prepared to answer my questions?"
"What do you want to know?"
"First, who Is the man in Mr. Luther Banke's office?"
"Perhaps Mr. Alec Kempton would prefer me to answer that question." The girl swung round In her chair sharply at the sound of the voice from the direction of the inner office. She saw the door was now open and, on the threshold stood the man she had seen seated In her employer's chair. She glanced to the corner of her desk where she Had seen the solicitor deposit the key he' had taken from the door-lock. The key was there! She started at the strange man In mute astonishment.
"Interested?" The man laughed slightly. "No, Miss Tayne, I am not a magician. I unlocked the door—just that!" He smiled.
"But-" Martha's eyes again went to the corner of her desk.
"The key." The stranger laughed gently. He took from his waistcoat pocket a strangely-shaped key, tossing it in his hand. "Just so! The key. Mr. Kempton locked the door, I believe, confining me in the room, as he thought. I had no desire to stay there, alone, so I unlocked the door."
For some seconds he watched, the girl, a little twinkle in his eyes, then strolled across the room to where the solicitor stood.
"Coming, Alec?" His tones were studiously careless. "Right-o! Come on."
He caught the handle of the door. A glint of amusement shone in his fine eyes when he realised that the door was fastened. He looked toward the girl backing slowly until his back was pressed against the lintel.
"May I trouble you to unlatch the door, Miss Tayne," he said courteously.
"I shall not." The automatic clenched in the girl's fist tilted menacingly at the man.
"Then—" he smiled again. "I must manage it myself." He turned and for a few seconds carefully surveyed the door and Its frame.
"If you touch that door, I'll shoot,"' said Martha firmly; yet there' was a little quiver in her voice.
"Not necessary, I assure you!" Again he smiled. As he spoke three irregularly spaced knocks came at the door. Instinctively, Martha's hand went to the switch controlling the door-lock, and released it. The door swung open and Fred. Forde walked into the room.
"You rang, Miss Tayne?" The assistant spoke formally.
"I rang?" Martha, showed surprise. "No, Mr. Forde, I did not ring."
"But I did."
Martha looked toward the door, to see the strange man standing in the doorway, holding the door ajar. "Just a pin, Miss Tayne; a small thing, but very useful, sometimes. Lesson One—a pin will ring an electric bell, and produce a Mr. Forde."
Martha sprang to her feet, anger flaming in her eyes.
"Move and I fire." Determination was in her voice, her hand was steady. "Close that door! Tell me, who are you?"
"I?" The stranger's laugh rang through the room. "Why not? Young lady, my name is 'Cain'—and you spell it with an 'i'!"
His long arm swept out, catching the solicitor by the collar and drawing him before the door and through it. A moment and the door closed, leaving the girl alone in her office with the dumbfounded jeweller's assistant.
MARTHA came out of Luther Banke's room, closed the door and went to the seat behind her desk, sitting down wearily.
For more than an hour she had been in her employer's private office, recounting the details of the raid on the jewellery establishment by the notorious crook who styled himself "Cain."
For more than an hour she had withstood the searching questioning by Detective-Sergeant Davidson, striving to answer intelligently and fully while her brain had been in a whirl, and the keen eyes of the police officer had seemed to stare down into her secret thoughts accusingly.
Now, in the semi-privacy of her own office she smiled at the tremors that had assailed her while under examination. She had nothing to fear, in fact the detective had, at the end of his questioning, complimented her on the brave stand she had made against a feared and notorious criminal.
"Cain" had departed with the Montgomery emeralds—and no one had seen him take them from her desk. Martha was almost prepared to swear that he had never approached the desk. Fred Forde, the assistant, had that he believed the jewels to be on Martha's desk when he had entered the office to be confronted by the much-advertised crook, and that from thence on he had been between the crook and the desk.
Detective-Sergeant Davidson had laughed, suggesting that they had seen the jewels where Forde had placed them, because they had expected them to be there. He would not explain that cryptic remark.
If only Alec Kempton had given her one hint of what had happened in the inner office after she had shown him in to the man she had mistaken for her employer. Her fine lips curled in disdain as thoughts of the little man came to her.
What sort of a man was he? He had allowed himself to be intimidated, to be awed into silence, almost forced to be an accessory to the theft of the jewels.
Almost Martha could find admiration in her heart for the man who had named himself "Cain"—"Cain," the legendary criminal who had been driven from his kind with the curse that every human hand should henceforth be lifted against him. She had to admire the absolute nerve that had brought him to that establishment, so well guarded, disguised as the owner, intent on the theft of the famous Montgomery emeralds. She had to admire the steadfast confidence which had held him to his task, the fear of discovery ever beside him.
She could not but admire the strength of will which had allowed him to overawe the little solicitor and force the man to do his bidding. Now Martha believed she could trace the crime step by step.
Now she knew of the false telephone message which had taken Luther Banke into a distant suburb of the city and there detained him during the first hours of the morning. She could visualise the big, unnerving moment for the crook when Alec Kempton had unexpectedly walked into his presence. She conceived the swift swoop on the jewels he coveted, and knew, far too well, the details of the daring escape. Against her will she sighed.
That was adventure!
"Well, Miss Tayne?" Martha looked up suddenly, to see the detective standing in the doorway, surveying her quizzically. "Do you want me, Mr—Sergeant?"
"Mister will do, please." Detective-Sergeant Davidson, a tall, well-set-up man of about thirty years of age, smiled as he closed the door of Luther Banke's office and came to Martha's desk.
"Cain was quite an experience, wasn't he, Miss Tayne?"
"I can hardly believe him real yet," the girl smiled. "And to think he was in that room for nearly two hours—and Mr Luther Banke's safes contain many thousands of pounds worth of jewels!"
"Safes are not Cain's meat." The detective grinned. "Cain has never put his mark on a safe yet. No, he is a picker-up of—well, considered trifles. The Montgomery emeralds were quite to his taste and in his line—and they were lying on your desk ready to his hand, so to speak."
"I'm sorry." the girl answered contritely. "I never thought of them." She hesitated a moment. "You know, so many important pieces of jewellery lie on this desk at times. With the door to the shop protected by the electric bolt and the bell, I never believed a theft could be accomplished in this room."
"Quite a number of things we think impossible prove possible sooner or later, Miss Tayne." Davidson spoke meditatively.
"Is that a hint, a warning, or an accusation." Martha looked up quickly.
"Neither one of the three." The detective smiled broadly. "This is your first experience of a robbery, I believe—and you have been in Mr Luther Banke's employ for three years. You are lucky, Miss Tayne."
"Mr Luther Banke does not think so," the girl returned quickly. "The Montgomery emeralds are very valuable."
"They may be recovered."
"Do you think so?"
"Jewels of that nature are difficult to dispose of."
"For Cain to dispose of?"
"What do you know of Cain?" The question came after a pause.
"Nothing, but what happened here this morning," the girl said slowly, "but, I saw him and—and—"
"I wonder now if I saw the real man." Martha spoke as if communing with herself.
"The real man!" There was a note of seriousness in the detective's voice. "Do you know what you mean by that, Miss Tayne?"
"I know he came here disguised as Mr Luther Banke. Then he wore a short, close-cropped beard and moustache. He appeared to be a middle-aged man wearing signs of long-standing illness—Mr Banke had been a partial invalid for many years. He acted the part—No, he was the man in every sense. When he came out of Mr Luther Banke's room into my office he was younger, more virile, every poise of body showing supreme confidence in himself. I held him under my gun—" The girl looked up quickly. "—and I can shoot, Mr Davidson. I would have shot him if Mr Kempton had but given me one hint of the truth of what happened in that office."
Her lips curled at thought of the pusillanimous solicitor. "And I would have shot to kill. Yet—" Again she paused. "Yet he never showed one sign of fear. He—he laughed!"
"A testimonial, Miss Tayne?" Davidson smiled broadly.
"It may be. I—"
The telephone on the girl's desk shrilled. Martha lifted the receiver and spoke the name of her firm. She listened for a moment then pushed the instrument toward the police officer.
"Someone is asking for you, Mr. Davidson."
"For me?" The man looked surprised. For a moment he hesitated.
"Will you take a message for me, Miss Tayne. Say—say that I am engaged."
The girl looked surprised, but obeyed.
For some minutes she listened, then drew a scribbling-pad toward her and wrote rapidly. Davidson watched the girl for a moment, then came round the desk and glanced over the girl's shoulder. He chuckled slightly and Martha looked up, slightly flushed.
"There is the message, Mr—er—Davidson." The girl's eyes were watchful and her tones cold.
"What do you think should be done with it, Miss Tayne?"
"I suppose I should hand it to Mr Luther Banke." A slight smile came on Martha's lips. "You must acknowledge, the position is—er—unique."
"And the message—awkward, now that Mr Kempton has left us." The man laughed gently.
"So sorry Detective-Sergeant Davidson met with an—accident—er—Cain—you spell it with an 'I,' do you not?" Martha's heart was beating fast yet her hand was steady as it stole along the line of her desk to where the automatic rested in the drawer.
"Invariably." Mirth grew in the man's eyes. "If you will forgive me, Miss Tayne—" He caught her hand gently and drew it to her lap. "I have not had experience of your ability with that little toy, so—" He picked up the automatic. "May I? I should greatly appreciate it as a—a—memento of—"
"Surely you don't expect to escape again?" The girl's brows arched.
"I may be lucky—again." Cain smiled slightly. "Why not?"
The girl did not answer immediately. "If I call out—" she said at length.
"You will not."
Martha paused. "I think I shall."
"But—you have bolted the door."
"Mr Luther Banke will hear me."
"Will that affect the—er—situation?"
Martha shook her head, decidedly.
"No. Mr Luther Banke is not well. No, I shall not call out.'
"Why did you come back here?"
"I wonder if you would be offended if I told you?"
"And you—a thief?"
"And yet—a man."
"Is—Can a thief be a—man?"
Cain turned and strode across the room. Martha's eyes went to the drawer where still lay her automatic. Almost her hand went out to it; then she drew back. No, she could not do that!
Yet the man was a thief. He had gone from, that, room a little more than a couple of hours before carrying with him the Montgomery emeralds. He might have them on him at that moment. If she snatched at her automatic; bailed him up and called for help; the man could not evade capture. She would be praised—rewarded—and he—Somehow she could not visualise him in prison—a creature behind bars. Always she would see him as he stood in that room, alone, playing a dangerous game against the enemies surrounding him. "Cain," alone, the outcast, fighting against every man—every man's hand against him!
The warm colour surged to her face and neck. What was she thinking; what was she doing? The man was a criminal—one of those beings the newspapers and fiction writers named "master-criminals." He was a danger to society—yet, somehow, he made her think of the wild animals, following out the dictates of their instincts in the jungle, fighting, lone-handed, against Nature and their natural enemies in the age-old war of self-preservation.
A wave of sympathy for him—hunted and friendless—swept over her, and again the warm colour rose to her face.
"Well?" Cain swung violently on his heels to face her. "What do you want to do?"
"Why did you come back?" Martha dare not look up as she asked the question.
"Don't you know?"
The girl did not answer. She could not. For moments she sat, impotent, then reached under the desk and released the door-lever.
The slight sound made the man turn quickly. Immediately he recognised what she had done, and laughed, quaintly and happily.
"And—the gun, Miss—Martha?"
Without speaking, she took it from the drawer and held it out to him.
"You—you are on my side?" The words came in a low, fierce whisper.
"No." Martha spoke firmly, yet her heart betrayed her words.
He went to the desk in a few quick strides, standing before the girl and looking down on her. Martha knew he was there, but she dared not look up.
"If you will excuse me, Ser—Mr Davidson, I have important work waiting. As no doubt you remember, we missed the overseas mail this morning and that has entailed a lot of—a lot of—"
The hot tears came to her eyes and she brushed them away, angrily, with the back of her hand; but the tears only came faster. She groped for her handkerchief, and rubbed her eyes vigorously, angrily. When she looked up, she was alone in the room.
And, at her elbow stood the familiar long, narrow box—open, and blazing brilliantly on their bed of white velvet—the Montgomery emeralds!
"SO it's 'Cain' again?" Sir Edmund Morgan, Commissioner for Police, looked up from beneath his shaggy eyebrows. He had the uncanny ability of making officers interviewing him feel very uncomfortable.
"So Miss Tayne said, sir."
Mark Denvers, detective-inspector, answered with some disquietude. "She said—"
"Who is Miss Tayne?"
"Miss Martha Tayne, personal secretary to Mr Luther Banke, of Luther Banke and Co."
The detective particularised carefully.
"Well? What had she to say?"
"Very little, sir. She didn't want to talk—for some reason."
"Yet she told you that the thief's name was 'Cain?' How did she know that?"
"He told her—when he returned the jewels."
"Cain!" Sir Edmund frowned. "New habit of his, isn't it—to first steal the jewels and then return them?"
"I don't understand it, sir." Denvers' uneasiness was growing. "The Montgomery emeralds are well worth getting away with."
"So has been the other plunder 'Cain' has handled." The commissioner laughed shortly. "Quite too smart for you people eh? Gets into the place as Luther Banke and loots the jewels; goes in again as Detective-Sergeant Davidson—By the way, what happened to him?"
"Miss Tayne called the Criminal Investigation Branch and said that Luther Banke and Co. had been robbed of the Montgomery emeralds. Detective-Sergeant Davidson was detailed for the investigation. As he was leaving the office word came through that 'Cain' had committed the theft and that he was—"
"Who brought in that information?"
"It was supposed to be a telephone message from plain-clothes constable Chevers."
"And—it didn't come from him? Of course not! Well, go on."
"The message gave the information that 'Cain' had a flat at Alford Mansions. Sergeant Davidson went there and-"
"Went out; of course! 'Cain' was there waiting for him." The commissioner laughed harshly. "What on earth are you fellows thinking of?"
"No one would expect—"
"Not with 'Cain'?" Sir Edmund laughed again, sarcastically. "Lord, man! We've had all this before. Have you forgotten the States Bank affair? You were bit there, Denvers. 'Cain' had you on toast. Pulled the wires and you danced to his tune! Then there was the matter of the Town Hall frauds. Forgotten that? And Lady Michaelstein's collarette? One would have thought that 'Cain' had taught you something by this time. But he hasn't! Again the same old tale. Gets you fellows where he wants you and then-"
"I shall be pleased to hand you my resignation, sir." Denvers spoke stiffly.
"I'll talk to you about that—when you have 'Cain' behind bars." The old chief smiled grimly. "And that's not going to be long ahead, let me tell you!"
For some moments the old man sat musing.
Somewhere in his brain was almost admiration for the debonair crook. The keen analytical mind behind the keen, grey eyes could fathom and appreciate the marvellous ability for intrigue—for out-guessing his opponents—latent in the master criminal. If only he could slough from his shoulders the accumulated years and take the trail against so worthy an opponent.
The man had defied his department—yet he could not withhold a certain liking, a certain respect. The man had fought cleanly, fairly, treating the battle as if it were a splendid game in which his freedom was the stake—a game played to rules that were not declared—rules superior to the laws he defied and laughed at.
'Cain!' Sir Edmund chuckled under the thick, grey moustache shielding his thin, firm lips. He knew, by memory, the many and varied descriptions of the crook which had been brought to him. Cain! The man of many disguises—the man who could flee down a street before the officers of the law; to turn and walk past them in quite another identity. The man was a genius a man who would have gone far within the legal hedges.
Sir Edmund was certain that not one man under his command had ever come face to face with the real man.
Had this girl—this Martha Tayne—seen the real 'Cain'? Why had the man gone back to the jewellers' offices, after he had the jewels he had risked so much to gain, in his possession? What had taken him there? Why had he abandoned the gems? Why had he placed them on the girl's desk—after spending more than an hour in her office, discussing the theft of the jewels? What did the girl know?
Sir Edmund looked down at the report on the desk before him. It was brief, pointed and coldly correct. What was behind it? What had been left out of that report? The girl—this Martha Tayne—had made a statement. Was it a full statement of all she knew? What had she left out of it?
From the papers the commissioner looked up at the man before him. What was he thinking of? The keen, young-old eyes searched the man's face; striving to read the thoughts behind the inscrutable eyes. He had sent for this man, not to hear his words but to search out the thoughts dominant, or perhaps seething, in his brain.
For Denvers had been the leader of the hunters. He had been the man appointed to bring 'Cain' before the bar of the laws he had offended. And Denvers had failed—not once but time and time again.
Sir Edmund smiled—secretly. He had not blamed the detective for his failures. If the man was worth his salt—and the commissioner had faith in him—he would be blaming himself inordinately.
At the time of Denvers' last failure he had stood between him and the minister's just wrath; between him and the newspapers and public opinion, who were demanding a scapegoat for the department's failure to lay the notorious master-criminal by the heels.
The smile broadened as Sir Edmund thought of a note that lay in his office safe. In that note 'Cain' had expressed his admiration for the abilities of the baffled detective, discounting his failures to capture the writer with the explanation that the detective was too honest for the task—that only a man possessing the 'criminal mind' could ever succeed.
The criminal mind! The commissioner wondered. Had he now, or had he ever, possessed "the criminal mind?"
In his more active days he had written in the book of his life; a long list of successes. Had those successes been due to his possession of a "criminal mind?"
For more than a year 'Cain' had rested from his activities. Not one single robbery or theft could be placed to his account during that period. Now he had re-appeared. Was the city again to writhe under a new wave of criminal activity? Did 'Cain' intend to organise a further series of adventures—thefts that would augment the very large sums he had gained by his former activities?
The cold, steel-grey eyes were again lifted to the detective's face. "Get 'Cain,' Denvers! You've got to get him, and that before he goes too far again."
"I've done my best, sir." The detective shifted uneasily on his chair. There was a queer hesitancy in his tones.
"You've got to get him." Sir Edmund leaned forward, his voice tense. "Do you hear me? You've got to bring in 'Cain,' at all cost." He waited a moment, then continued more quietly.
"You remember twelve months ago? 'Cain' beat you then. The newspapers were laughing, jeering at you—insisting that I stripped the coat from your back—lashed you out of the department—put another man on the crook's trail. Do you know what saved you then?"
The detective shook his head. His cheeks flamed with colour; his throat was too choked with emotion for him to speak.
"'Cain' saved you." The commissioner continued. "'Cain' wrote to me. He claimed you to be a good man; deficient only in one thing—that gift that could successfully trail him to justice. Do you wish to know what that gift is?"
Still the detective held silence.
"He—'Cain'—claimed that you would never place your hand on his shoulder. He wrote that you were a good man—in your line. That in search of the murderer, the average house-breaker, the confidence-man, you were successful; but that matched against wits—the super-intelligence of the master-crook—you must always fail; because you did not possess the criminal mind."
"The criminal mind?"
Denvers looked blankly at his chief.
"The criminal mind."
The sparsely-covered, grey head nodded. "That is what he wrote—and I believe him to be right." Sir Edmund hesitated, then continued: "Superintendent Lorrimer has assigned this case—the hunting down of 'Cain' to Detective-Sergeant Davidson. That is his business. Lorrimer must work in his own way, for the responsibility is his. I don't, as a rule, interfere with my officers, even when I don't agree with their methods and actions. All I want from them are results. But in this matter I have avoided my own rule. I have requisitioned you for special duty. Do you understand what I mean? No? Then listen:—"
For moments there was silence in the big room. The commissioner's eyes were steady on the detective's face, searching every line, every change of expression.
"You and 'Cain' fought a great duel—a three years' duel—to a stalemate—a draw, if you prefer to so name it. The affair cannot be allowed to end there; this department must always win. I thought—I knew—that 'Cain' would one day reappear. He has. Now the duel is to be resumed. The fight is yours, personally. You must take the challenge this crook has offered you. He has named the ground on which the fight is to be resumed—you must take that ground—and win."
"The ground of the 'criminal mind.' Yes, Denvers, you must acquire the criminal mind, and succeed. And for that purpose you must have against you not only 'Cain,' the master-criminal, but this department!"
"You must acquire the criminal mind—you must be a criminal. Superintendent Lorrimer has chosen his man. He had told me he does not consider you can succeed against 'Cain.' Thus, he had nominated his champion—Davidson. That is his right; but—"
Suddenly the fire went out of the old man's eyes; his shoulders drooped. He sat back, gripping the arms of his chair, tiredly. "Don't mistake me, Denvers. I am not counselling you to become a crook. I dare not do that. But to succeed, you must wear the cloak of a crook; you must have in this department—the record and reputation of a crook. Gain that, and I swear you will bring in 'Cain'!"
"Good God!" Denvers muttered under his breath. He looked at his chief wonderingly.
Sir Edmund shook his head.
"We've got to go through with this, Denvers. 'Cain' must be stopped—and you must stop him. I—I want to see you in Lorrimer's place when I pass my burdens on to younger shoulders. Yes, yes! Lorrimer will come here—there is no other man in the department ready for the job. You must take his chair—but—but at present this is impossible. With 'Cain's' list of successes against you, I dare not make the recommendation. You must—you shall—succeed—"
"But—sir!" The detective hesitated. "I don't think I understand. Are you instructing me—?"
"I dare not instruct, Denvers."
"Suggesting—that I become a criminal—an associate of criminals?"
"Just that." The old chief nodded. "You must assume the garb—and it must fit as your own skin; yet you must keep a clear conscience. God knows how you can do that—but do it you must!"
Sir Edmund slid forward on his chair, staring up at the detective with penetrating eyes. "To-day—now—you will write your resignation from this department. To-morrow you will leave this building, as an officer of this department; perhaps never to return. That depends on you—and the Good God who rules all things. I shall gazette you—resigned—and shall not give a reason. Do you realise what that means?"
The detective nodded.
"With this hew adventure of 'Cain's,' old matter will be resurrected. Your failures will be remembered against you. I—"
Again Sir Edmund hesitated.
"I shall give no reason for your resignation, but the newspapers will point one out to their public. The official information given out will be that you have resigned and that Davidson has been assigned to tracking down 'Cain.' You know how they will couple that information. Are you prepared for what will follow—or have I to place a reason in the Gazette against your resignation?"
Dumbly, Denvers shook his head. His face had paled to the hue of death; his body shook with the emotion he could not suppress.
"It will be hard, Denvers—cruelly hard; but the department comes first. You know that! Detective-Inspector Mark Denvers will resign—and disappear. In his stead, on the roll of the earth's inhabitants will appear the name of James Frost, a crook, a criminal, a denizen of this city's underworld—a man with a long record of crime.
"Remember, Mark Denvers, James Frost has lived. I have his record here—and it is not a nice one."
The old man placed his hand on a file of papers.
"That will be your record—until 'Cain' rests securely behind iron bars. Listen:
"James Frost died in Sing Sing prison three days ago. I received a cable to that effect from the U.S. authorities this morning. Immediately, I cabled back asking that the news be not given to the press. It will not. I shall suppress all news of his death. The world will be told that James Frost escaped from Sing Sing."
Again the commissioner paused, watching the police officer with keen searching eyes.
"You will be James Frost, Mark Denvers. You will be the crook who escaped from Sing Sing. You came to Sydney, to escape from the U.S. police. You came to the Australian underworld—and there sought confederacy with 'Cain.' Mark Denvers resigned from the department—disgraced."
For minutes there was silence in the long room on the first floor of Police Headquarters. In a dim corner the tall grandfather's clock slowly marked the seconds passing into eternity. Suddenly Denvers raised his head, a look of resolution in his eyes.
The shrill ring of the telephone bell broke on the police-officer's words. Without speaking, Sir Edmund shifted round on his seat and raised the receiver to his ear.
"Is that Sir Edmund Morgan speaking?"
"It is. Who is there?"
"Cain." The voice was soft and deferential. "May I convey my respectful regard to yourself—and Mister Denvers?"
MARK DENVERS left the Commissioner's office much perplexed. He went slowly down the stairs and into the street, nodding carelessly to men he met on the way. Once he turned and looked back, at a couple of men entering Police Headquarters—men he had worked with long and intimately. Brother officers! Once he had been proud to claim them that. Now? Now they were no longer "brother officers"—they were strangers—people of a strange race. They were without his vision; soon—he shrugged slightly—soon they would be active antagonists!
He laughed. But a few minutes before he had sat at the Commissioner's desk, writing his resignation from the Police Department. That resignation would be made public the next day. Then the country would know that "Cain" had reappeared on the scene of his old activities and triumphs, and that he, Mark Denvers, one-time Inspector of Detectives. had resigned. What would people say? What would the news-men write? Would they declare that he had resigned because of the reappearance of his old foe? A dull flush mounted to his face; his shoulders lifted irritably.
When they—the newspapers and the public—learned that he had gone down into the underworld! When they realised that he had become a crook. When they recorded the activities of his old comrades as they strove to track him down—convict him—send him to prison!
No, thank God! That humiliation was spared him! He would disappear. From now he was James Frost. Only Sir Edmund and himself knew the truth. Yet the hunt after "James Frost" would be keen and sincere. The men he had so long consorted with would do their uttermost to capture and convict him.
He would have ho court of appeal—no rights but those of the sneak-thief, the purse-snatcher, the whizz, dip, doper, and thug. Almost he realised why the man he had sworn to hunt down—the man whom to find he was stepping down into the depths of earth's hell—had named himself "Cain."
For some moments Denvers stood on the pavement, undecided as to his first actions. The events of the morning had marched so swiftly that as yet he had no plans formed, or even nebulous in his brain. All he realised was that he had to find "Cain"—get in touch with him; make him a friend, a comrade—then betray him. "Cain!" Where should he find him? Instinctively, to his mind came the thoughts of the girl—Martha Tayne; the girl who had last seen and spoken to the man. Could she tell him anything new? Had she, in her previous talks with him missed any vital point in her brief account of her interview with the man?
Martha Tayne! Denvers smiled at the name. Martha Tayne! She, the lawyer, Alec Kempton, the shop-assistant, Forde, and Detective-Sergeant Davidson, comprised those who had seen the master-criminal on his last adventure.
What could they tell him? He had seen them, one and all—and their accounts had materially differed. Martha Tayne had seen the man three times—and each time he had seen to her a different identity, she had been insistent on that point. He had changed, not only in personal appearance but in his very thought processes, expressions, mannerisms. Denvers wondered. Could any man do that? Why had "Cain" returned the Montgomery emeralds—and to the girl; leaving them lying on her desk, after being with her for more than half-an-hour, alone?
Again Denvers shrugged. The affair was incomprehensible! "Cain" had taken too great pains; plotted too carefully to steal the jewels—and had then abandoned them. Why?
Impulsively, the ex-detective turned and walked down to the main street. He must find an answer to some of the many questions crowding his brain. Where should he start? What point in the disconnected stories surrounding the re-appearance of the master-crook could he lay hold of to give him the clue he sought? He could not longer rely on the orthodox police methods in which he had been trained. No longer had he an efficient organisation vii which to call for support. Now he was a lone hand, playing against a lone hand. The fight was between "Cain," the master-crook and "Jimmie Frost" alias Mark Denvers.
Outside the discreetly groomed windows of bother Banke & Co., Jimmie Frost hesitated. The Montgomery emeralds were in the window, still in their long, narrow, jewellers' case, mounted on a small stand. On the pavement was gathered a small crowd, intent on personal examination of the gems which had occupied much news-space that morning—gems that had attracted the covetousness of the much-advertised crook—"Cain."
"Good-morning. Miss Tayne." The detective stood just within the office door, watching the girl narrowly. "Can you spare me a few minutes?"
"Is it important, Mr—Inspector." The man thought she paled slightly at the realisation of his presence. "We—we are very busy this morning. Yesterday-"
"Yesterday threw matters out of gear." The man who now was Jimmie Frost laughed gently as he went to the girl's desk. "Of course!" Yet he knew that he must press his point. Tomorrow the news would race through the city. Detective-Inspector Mark Denvers had resigned—rather than face a renewal of the duel with the noted master-crook, "Cain!" He could not come to her then.
"I shall not trouble you long."
"Very well." With a little impatient shrug Martha pushed the papers from her, swinging her chair half-round from the desk. "What is it you want to know, Mr—Inspector Denvers?"
"Mister will do." The ex-detective's mouth twisted bitterly at the evasion. For a moment he waited, looking down on the girl, then drew a chair to the side of her desk. "Miss Tayne, what did 'Cain' say when he gave you the emeralds?" The girl's face lost colour—this time quickly; to be flooded by a flush that stained neck and cheeks. Almost Denvers nodded. He knew now that his subconscious guess had been right. "Cain" had not returned the jewels under the urge of conscience. He had had no ulterior object. What could that have been?
"Mr. 'Cain' did not return the jewels to me—he left them on my desk when he left the room."
"And walked out of the door, unmolested?" The ex-detective paused. "You knew that he was 'Cain'—the much advertised criminal?"
"He told me his name." The girl spoke under her breath. "He—he stole the emeralds—and made restitution of them."
"You did not raise an immediate alarm?"
"Although you realised that a thief was escaping?"
"For the moment—no. I was not—well."
"When you did raise the alarm, 'Cain' was far from the shop?" The girl bowed her head in assent of what was not a question but a statement. "Had you a reason, Miss Tayne, for that delay?"
"No." A long pause, then the girl spoke again; "I was surprised. I had to think. I had to inform Mr. Luther Banke first."
"You informed him about a quarter of an hour after 'Cain' passed through the shop to the street." Denvers pressed his point relentlessly.
"It may have been that." Martha raised her head proudly. "Mr—Inspector Denvers, are you accusing me of being a confederate of a thief?"
"I am testing motives, times, positions." The ex-detective spoke determinedly. "I know your actions—I have been able to check them by those of others. But I do not know the actions of 'Cain'. There you are baffling me; why?"
For some moments the girl did not reply. She was looking down at her notebook, open on the desk before her; her pencil, held loosely in her fingers, made indecipherable marks on the page. She looked up at the ex-detective, seated by the desk, searching her face with penetrating, eager glances.
"You accuse me of protecting Mr.—Cain?" she said at length. "Will you—will you repeat that accusation to Mr. Luther Banke?"
"Is there necessity for me to see Mr. Banke?" countered Denvers quickly. "I have made no accusation."
"You accuse me of holding back information," Martha smiled.
"You think so." A long pause. "I have told you all I know."
"Is it necessary for me to reveal my thoughts—they are—may not be evidence."
Denvers did not speak. Now he knew that the girl was concealing something. What had she to conceal? He knew that until Cain came to Luther Banke's shop the girl had never set eyes on the man. How had he gained this influence over her? "You think that I sympathise with Cain?" The girl spoke proudly. "I do. I—I think there is good in him. Perhaps—perhaps he has been unjustly hounded by the law. Who knows? I do not. I do not know his history—only his name."
"Is Cain his name?"
"Why ask me?" The girl rose abruptly from her chair. "It may be—that he Is aptly named. Cain—with every man's hand against him! Cain—with the mark of those 'set-apart' on his forehead! Cain—who suffered—"
"Cain—the murderer!" Denvers interrupted sternly. "Have you sympathy with a murderer, Miss Tayne?". Again the girl was silent. She went to the barred windows, overlooking the side-street.
Presently she turned to face the room. "Sometimes I think I understand." Almost she was speaking to herself. "He calls himself Cain. For what reason? There is no blood-guilt on his brow—he told me that. Then, why Cain? Cain, set apart from his fellows—a solitary man, with every other man's hand upraised against him. Is that the reason? I wonder!"
Her words went straight to the heart of the ex-detective. They pierced through the armour of conventionality he had striven to cloak about him since he had sat at the Police Commissioner's desk, writing his resignation from the Department he had served so faithfully. They brought back to memory the words Sir Edmund had used: "—on the roll of this world will appear the name of James Frost, a crook, a denizen of this city's underworld—" Himself the man! For the moment he had the urge to tell this girl all; of the Interview he had had that morning with the Commissioner of Police; of his resignation from the Police Department; of his coming descent into the underworld of the city.
He stiffened. Those facts he had to keep secret; no one but Sir Edmund must know that in them he was merely acting a part; that his "disgrace" was but a cloak, from behind which he would spy and betray.
"Miss Tayne!" Neither of them had heard the door open and Luther Banke enter the room. "Have you that letter from the Goldsmiths' Jewellery Company? I don't think we answered that inquiry regarding pink pearls."
"You answered that letter late yesterday afternoon, Mr. Banke." Martha was again the efficient, deft secretary. "I typed it and sent it to the post this morning."
The girl went to an open filing cabinet, her quick fingers ruffling the papers. She found a sheet of coloured paper and handed it to her employer. Luther Banke read the carbon copy of the letter slowly, a puzzled frown on his face. Meanwhile Denvers studied the jeweller. The man was nervous. The ex-detective noticed that the hand holding the letter trembled. He noted the thinness of the bearded face, the hair heavily sprinkled with grey. The beard was close-cropped, coming to a short point under the chin. He saw that the eyes were lined and weary—and he watched two deep furrows appear on the tired brow.
"Where did you get that letter, Miss Tayne?" asked Luther Banke wearily. "I never dictated this."
"What do you mean, Mr. Banke?" Denvers took a quick step forward. "Miss Tayne states that she took dictation of this letter late last night, and posted it early this morning. Did you not see that letter after it was typed?"
"Mr. Banke forgets." There was much sympathy in the girl's voice. "You must remember, Mr—Inspector Denvers, that he is not at all well."
"But—Mr. Luther Banke dictated that letter. You are quite sure of that?" The ex-detective spoke eagerly. "Mr. Luther Banke came back from the street last night, specially to dictate that letter to me." Martha spoke evenly. "I was then clearing up, preparatory to going home. He said that he must answer the Goldsmiths' Jewellery Company's letter before he left in case he was detained at home this morning. I took the dictation from him. He said I could type the letter immediately I arrived this morning and—and that if he had not arrived by ten o'clock I was to sign it and post immediately."
"You typed the letter this morning?"
"And placed it, and a carbon copy, on Mr. Luther Banke's desk?"
"What time did Mr. Luther Banke arrive here this morning?"
"Quite early; shortly after I did—and I was here punctually at nine-thirty."
"I did not leave home until a quarter to ten." The jeweller spoke with keen anxiety.
"Did you dictate that letter?" Denvers swung round on the man, abruptly.
"No." The negative was firmly spoken; yet there was a trace of hesitancy in Luther Banke's manner.
"What time did you leave here last night?"
"A few minutes to six." The ex-detective looked at the girl.
She nodded. "Mr. Luther Banke went from his office at five minutes to six. I followed him into the shop. He was there, talking to the shop-manager, for some minutes, then went through the street-door. Five minutes later he returned and called me into his private office, and dictated the letter to me," The girl's reply was decisive.
"My car was at the door. I entered it and my man drove me straight home. I never re-entered the shop or my room."
Denvers stared at the girl and man in amazement. He felt that they were telling the exact truth, as they knew it. Then, who had come into that office a few minutes after Luther Banke had left it for the night—disguised as Luther Banke?
THE man now named "Jimmie Frost," late of Sing-Sing prison, and more remotely of Melbourne, Australia, stared down from the window of the American-type flat he now occupied. Almost, at his feet lay the panorama of the largest city in the southern hemisphere. For three days—since he had come to those rooms as occupant—he had not been outside the door. Almost he feared the streets. Had he so altered that he could brave security, in a city where he was well known?
He turned sharply on his heels and went to the fly-blown mirror over the sideboard, examining his features critically. The room was littered with newspapers. His two chief occupations during his short tenancy of the flat had been the obliteration of his former identity and a careful search of the newspapers. For what? News of "Cain?"
He smiled grimly as thoughts of the crook flashed across his mind. "Cain!" The man against whom every hand was raised! Martha Tayne, the girl in the jeweller's office, had used that phrase. Where had she obtained it? From "Cain" himself? There was scarcely a doubt regarding that. "Cain" had thus explained his strange alias to the girl. She had accepted it; glorifying it—and had allowed the phrase to cast a glamour about the man himself. Was Martha Tayne in love with "Cain?"
Jimmie Frost, the man who had once been Mark Denvers, detective-inspector of police, pondered the question. That might be so. If, then—Would that fact complicate his problem?
Again he turned abruptly from the window, going into the miniature kitchen of his flat. Behind the sink was a window. He opened it, and looked out, down a light-well. Two storeys down, oh the opposite wall, was a small window. That window lighted Martha Tayne's flat. Had the girl's presence been the reason he had come to that building? An involuntary shrug answered his question. He believed—he knew—that where Martha Tayne lived there, sooner or later, he would find a clue that would lead him to "Cain."
For three days he had lived in the building—watching, yet wary that he, himself, should not be seen. He was not yet ready to face people; his disguise was not yet perfect. Now, in two more days he would be free to come and go as he chose. Thus had declared the old Indian fakir to whom he had gone on leaving Luther Banke's shop, with the demand to be completely altered in face and figure. Five days the old man had required for the task, declaring that at the period he would be unrecognised by any comrade in the police department, unless the infallible Bertillon measurements were applied; unless his fingerprints were on record. At the end of five days he would be a new man!
Five days of inaction, except for the periodical application of the stains and rank-smelling oils; except for the almost daily readjustment of the strangely shaped physical appliances the old Indian had provided. Three of the five days had passed and as time had progressed he had found himself eagerly watching the mirror, fascinated in studying the strange personage growing from his old identity. For three days unguents, oils, torturing surgical appliances—and the continued watch on Martha Tayne's flat—had filled his days. Only two more days and he would be once more free!
Free! He almost laughed aloud at the thought! Free! Would he ever again be free?
Impatiently, he went to the table and picked up a thin manuscript book filled with fine minute writing. In this book was the complement of his disguise—the record of the life and works of James Frost, international crook. Two more days, and he would cast the book into the fire—his disguise complete, physically and mentally. Sir Edmund Morgan, Commissioner of Police, had sent that book to him. The minute writings on the thin leaves was his. From where had the Police Chief obtained these facts—for facts only the book contained? The record was complete, every detail in place; almost every day, every hour accounted for, except—the inglorious climax, played within the old grey walls, "up the river" from New York.
Yet Jimmie Frost still lived! It was Mark Denvers who was dead! Insistently the man beat that fact on to his consciousness He had to forget the man who had once been a detective-inspector of police. He dared not remember him, the life he had led, the ambitions he had held. With a shrug of impatience, he picked up a newspaper, glancing casually down the columns.
A sharp exclamation escaped his lips. "Cain" had been busy again! For long moments Jimmie Frost stared at the bold headlines staggered across the page. This time the Southern Shires Bank had been the victim. From under the eyes of the assistant manager a bundle of negotiable securities had been taken. The crime bore all the characteristic marks of the super-crook.
"Cain" had not troubled to conceal his tracks. He had walked into the bank during the busiest hours of the day, receiving and acknowledging the respectful salute of the door commissionaire; posing as an old and valued customer. At the desk, he had demanded immediate access to the assistant manager—and all doors had opened before him. In the inner office, he had asked for certain securities in the keeping of the bank. These had been produced without question—and "Cain" had, almost negligently, signed a receipt for them, using the name of—
Jimmie Frost's eyes narrowed when he read the name of the robbed customer. For what reason was "Cain" paying particular attention to Luther Banke? He had stolen the Montgomery emeralds—to restore them intact within a few hours. He had delighted in posing as the jeweller, in the man's own office—dictating his letters, deceiving his staff. Now he had impersonated Luther Banke before the assistant manager of his bank, obtaining securities valued at many thousands of pounds.
Perplexed and worried, the ex-detective strode up and down the small room trying to penetrate the meaning behind the newspaper words. Why was "Cain" devoting so much attention to Luther Banke? Was it his intention to ruin the man? If so, then why had he returned the emeralds?
Suddenly Jimmie Frost uttered an exclamation. Had the clue he was searching for come to him? He went to the sideboard and pulled out one of the drawers. Turning the contents on to the table, he turned the drawer over. A few deft touches and the bottom wood gave under his fingers. A space, barely half an inch deep, lay between the false and real bottoms.
Held under an elastic web was another manuscript book. The ex-detective carried it to the window. Here was the history of the man who had named himself "Cain." But a few pages, written in the same small handwriting in which the "Book of James Frost" had been written. Still a record of a life of crime but scanty in details, containing mainly vague conclusions based on admitted theory, for the super crook had never fallen into the hands of authority, and his identity was not even suspected.
A record of crime—crime unique and daring; the history of a master of disguise. It read like the biography of an old-time adventurer—one who played the Game of Life without the conventional rules and laws of our civilisation; yet who used those very rules to overcome the barriers Society had erected for its defence.
A low whistle of astonishment escaped Jimmie Frost's lips. Had he found the clue he sought? He believed he had; yet where would it lead him? "Cain" had victimised only five men during his sensational criminal career. Five men—and the ex-detective knew that from those five men "Cain" had taken a large fortune! Was that the clue he had sought so long?
The ex-detective drew a writing-pad towards him and wrote down the names, adding what details he could remember against each name. Once he paused in his task and looked at the clock. Had he time to get his facts into something like order? At length he sat back and read over his notes. The trail to "Cain" was becoming more definite—but it was also broadening. He sighed, partly with satisfaction. Again he read what he had written, this time aloud.
AUGUSTUS PELL: Financier. Robbed by "Cain" of approximately £5,000 in stocks and other securities—all easily negotiable—during the year 1919. Pell had died in the fall of that year.
SIR AARON MICHAELSTEIN: Company Promoter. Had always described himself as Managing Director of The Argosy Insurance Company. "Cain" had robbed him of over £15,000. That "adventure" had occurred during the two years succeeding Augustus Pell's death.
Sir Aaron had died about six months after the frauds had been discovered. Among the loot taken by "Cain" had been the famous collarette of pearls belonging to Lady Michaelstein.
Again Jimmie Frost turned to the pages of the records' book. He knew that every word in that book was accurate—it had been recorded by the Police Commissioner, personally. Two other names came before the records of "Cain's" attacks on Luther Banke's fortune. After a moment's hesitation he turned to the end of the record and entered the details of "Cain's" latest exploit. Then he turned back to "Cain's" third adventure.
ALDERMAN JOHN SYMONDS—commonly spoken of by his admirers as "Honest John"—had attracted "Cain's" attention, For many months, even years, the municipal boss had concealed the large depredations on his fortune and income, by the super-crook. In stolid silence he had allowed himself to be mercilessly "bled." How much "Cain" had stolen could only be estimated. John Symonds had died by his own hand, after an anonymous letter had reached the Lord Mayor's hands, exposing immense graft frauds. Could that exposure be traced to "Cain?"
"Cain" had next turned his attention to ANDREW WILSON.
Why Andrew Wilson? The man had saved the wool Industry of the country, at a time when large foreign Interests were threatening overseas markets. He had flung his great fortune into the fight, inducing others to follow his lead, stabilising prices, and finally securing the industry on a firm basis. He had been acclaimed a national hero—even during his lifetime there had been talk of erecting a statue in his honour. The statue had materialised twelve months after his death.
"Cain" had robbed Andrew Wilson—robbed him flagrantly and unmercifully. Rumours Insisted that the wool kind had lost over a hundred thousand pounds through "Cain's" activities. Five men; Pell, Michaelstein, Symonds, Wilson, and now Luther Banke. How were these men connected in the mind of the super-crook? Five men—and four of them were dead!
Jimmie Frost went to the window and looked down on the city, shimmering under the hot summer afternoon sun. Somewhere in that maze of brick and stone was "Cain"—the man he had sworn to hunt down, and to whose destruction he had sacrificed rank, and even name. Could he connect these five men together? A financier, a company promoter, a city alderman, a squatter, and a jeweller. Almost it seemed, from the record of their activities, that "Cain" had chosen them haphazardly. Yet the records showed that in nearly seven years of criminal activity "Cain" had robbed only these men.
Who was "Cain?" If only he could obtain some small clue to the man's identity! If only he could trace the man back, through his early years! When had be become "Cain"—a man against whom all other men's hands were raised in anger? Could a clue be found In those words? Again Jimmie Frost turned to the records book.
The year in which "Cain" was first mentioned was 1919. His activities had extended until 1926. After that year he had disappeared for three years. He had returned, to immediately attack Luther Banke. Two facts were now apparent from the records. Two facts—and a theory. Methodically Jimmie Frost wrote them on the paper-block before him. He sat back, staring at the words he had written.
The Theory: That the five men Cain had victimised had been at some period engaged in some business or social activity, inimical to "Cain" or his interests. Jimmie Frost smiled. Was that supposition too vague or far-fetched? He turned to the other two paragraphs.
In his years of crime "Cain" had defrauded only these five men. Four of them were dead; the fifth—
The shrill tring of the telephone bell—the instrument on the wall in the darkest corner of the room—caught Jimmie Frost's attention. He went quickly to it. The telephone had not been in the flat when he had rented it. He had used a call-box on the street to communicate his new address to the Commissioner. The next day workmen had arrived at the flat, and installed the instrument. Its only connection was with an instrument in Sir Edmund's private office, at Police Headquarters. The instrument lay in a locked drawer of the Police Chief's big desk. Only Sir Edmund knew of its existence.
Jimmie Frost lifted the receiver from its hook, whispering a number into the mouthpiece. Along the wire came another number. The ex-detective listened in silence.
"Watch the newspapers, Jimmie." The Commissioner's voice was very earnest. "Get this first, then read what the reporters have to say. Luther Banke was taken ill in Hunter Street an hour ago, with a stroke. Get it? A stroke!"
Over the line came the small click of a broken connection. Jimmie Frost started at the instrument in amazement. Luther Banke had had a paralytic stroke? Would Luther Banke die?
Involuntarily, the ex-detective's eyes went to the writing pad on the table. He had no need to read again the second fact he had copied out of the book of "Cain." It stood in letters of fire on his memory. Luther Banke might die! He would die! Four men had predeceased him—the four men against whom "Cain" had sworn enmity. If Luther Banke should die! Then would not "Cain" be a murderer, as well as a thief?
FIFTY hours later! Fifty hours of waiting—of intolerable impatience, and Jimmie Frost went from his flat to the busy streets.
For minutes he stood on the pavement, watching the hurrying throngs. He felt as if he had come from months in some place of quiet and silence. He felt bewildered and harassed in this modern world of noise and haste. In himself there was the urge to retreat and seek again the solitude of his apartment. A shrug of his shoulders and he strode down the street. He paused before a shop window in which stood a large mirror, smiling at the strange figure that confronted him. He had altered beyond all recognition. The old Indian—fakir though he might be, but true and good man in his work—had not failed. He was altered—entirely altered. His body was new, as was his face. Mark Denvers had disappeared, and in his place stood another man—Jimmie Frost, international crook! The strange frame of padded cane and wire did not irk now, as it had at first. He had worn it day and night for over one hundred and thirty hours. Almost it felt comfortable. He had become used to it—he knew he would miss it when—when he allowed Jimmie Frost to slip, unnoticed, into the valley of the forgotten; when Sir Edmund informed the newspapers that some mistake had been made in de-coding American cables, and that while Jimmie Frost had indeed escaped from Sing Sing prison, it had been through the gates of death.
He had changed! Again he looked into the mirror, and smiled. Who would recognise Inspector Mark Denvers under the greying hair, the sallow lined skin? Who would recognise the smart alert detective-inspector of former days in this bowed, thin, almost malformed body? A sense of confidence came to him. He turned from the mirror, squaring his shoulders—to be brought to a painful realisation of the immediate present by the cruel, biting grip of the old Indian's harness beneath his clothes. Where should he go? Where commence his quest; the quest on which he had staked everything worth while in his life. Before leaving his flat he had reported to the Commissioner that he was now free to act—to commence his search for the unknown, "Cain." And while his mind hesitated his feet instinctively bore him towards the centre of the city; past the ugly, redbrick building which housed the Police Department.
For a time he loitered within a few feet of the entrance, enviously watching his former comrades pass in and out of the building. A quick desire came to him to call them by name—and under the long greying moustache now concealing his lips, he smiled. Would they recognise in him the Mark Denvers they had once known? Would they recognise in the strangely aged man before Police Headquarters' entrance the notorious international crook, Jimmie Frost?
With a shrug he turned from the building which for so many years had housed his work and ambitions, and went down to Hunter Street. Outside Luther Banke's jewellery store, he paused again. The Montgomery emeralds were not in the window. He wondered who controlled the establishment while Luther Banke was incapacitated. Probably Martha Tayne. She looked incapable; during his two interviews with her he had come to realise that she was the real driving force of the business—that Luther Banke was even then a very sick man, incapable of more than outlining a policy. The store was shut, yet there were lights in the shop—not the night lights, but lights that indicated that someone was still at work within the building.
Jimmie Frost sauntered down the lane beside the building, until he could look up at the windows he knew lighted Martha Tayne's office. There were lights in the room and presently he saw the girl's shadow thrown on the opposite wall of the lane. Martha Tayne was still at work.
He spent some few minutes in a careful examination of the lane; to discover that no door from the jeweller's shop opened into it. Then he returned to Hunter Street, and waited. Some undefinable sense insisted that if he trailed the girl she would lead him to the clue he sought.
A bare quarter of an hour and the shop-door opened. Martha Tayne came out, turning on the pavement to speak to the man who had followed her to the threshold. For a couple of minutes the girl spoke earnestly, the man nodding understanding. Then Martha walked quickly down the street while the man re-entered the shop, closing the heavy outer doors.
Jimmie Frost waited until he heard the doors secured for the night; he saw all the lights but one extinguished; then followed the girl. Would Martha Tayne go to her flat? The ex-detective wondered, pacing the street a bare ten yards behind the girl. He was not troubled that the girl might turn and recognise him—he was too greatly altered for that.
Yet he was troubled. Had he been wrong in coming to the city, to trail Martha Tayne? Suddenly he shook doubt from him. Martha Tayne was not making her way home! The girl had paused on the busy pavement. A taxi drew in to the curb beside her. She entered the vehicle and it moved out into the stream of traffic.
Jimmie Frost looked about him. A taxi was passing. He hailed it. "Up the road!" he commanded. "Towards Central Square. Look out for taxi No. 11713, and follow it!"
The man nodded, turning sharply. For a couple of hundred yards he speeded recklessly; then slowed, waving carelessly to his passenger. Jimmie Frost leaned forward. Over his driver's shoulder he could see the tail-light of Martha Tayne's car.
Night had fallen. Jimmie Frost switched off the light in the taxi and leaned back on the cushions with a sigh of relief. His driver was a good man and would follow the girl to her destination; then—What then?
Jimmie Frost wondered. Where was Martha Tayne going? What business could be keeping her from home at that time of night? He knew that she had been at the jewellery store from an early hour in the morning. Why was she not going home? With Luther Banke on a sick bed, she must be almost tired to death. The cars were now speeding through quiet suburbs. Soon houses became more sparse, and stood in wider, deeper grounds. Jimmie Frost leaned forward scanning the scenery; Martha Tayne was leading him into one of the outer wealthier suburbs. A quick slackening of the speed of the car brought the ex-detective alert.
Martha Tayne's car was drawing in to the curb, before the wide gates of a handsome residence. As the car he occupied crawled slowly past Jimmie Frost saw that the girl was paying off her driver. That indicated she intended to spend some time at the place.
A few yards up the road Jimmie Frost's driver stopped the car. The ex-detective alighted and, following the girl's example, dismissed his man. For some moments he stood watching the two cars speed citywards. When a turn of the road hid them from sight, he walked back to the gates through which the girl had passed. A few yards within the grounds, and he saw her standing before the hall-door. Hardly had he sighted her when the door opened. The girl spoke a few words to the maid and entered the house.
So, Martha Tayne was expected and welcomed at that house! There was no moon and the street lamps were some distance away on either side of the gates. Jimmie Frost realised that he could move about the grounds with little chance of being observed. Finding a well screened hiding place, not far from the house, he settled himself to watch, and at the same time familiarise himself with his surroundings.
The house was of two storeys; a wide veranda running along the width. In the centre, before the hall door, the roof-line was broken by a raised porch. Immediately above the peak of the porch were wide latticed windows. From the two windows immediately above the porch-peak glowed a dim light—the only light showing on the front of the house.
Jimmie Frost gave a satisfied nod. He shifted his regard to the grounds. The house stood in gardens of considerable extent, even on the front side. From where he lay hidden he was out of view from the road; he knew that anyone would have to walk at least thirty yards from the gates to come within view of the front door. A pear-shaped drive led from the gates past the front of the house, skirting a wide expanse, of lawns and flower gardens. Behind then a tall bank of shrubbery hid the house from observation from the road. So far as the ex-detective could gather the lay-out of the grounds were to his advantage. It permitted him to move about freely, under cover of the night-darkness.
Very carefully he re-examined the physical features of the house and grounds, committing them to memory. No longer did he remember himself as Mark Denvers, ex-detective-inspector of police; he was Jimmie Frost; a crook marked and hunted in all civilised countries of the world. Instinctively his hand went to the belt strapped around his waist. In it was a collection of tools that would have aroused the envy of the cleverest cracksman. The feel of the leather, the knowledge of the hard-glistening, mathematically-perfect instruments, stirred strange, new impulses within him, Moving carefully, he came from the shelter of the trees.
Almost as his foot touched the gravel of the path, he stopped. Someone was in that garden with him.
He dared not retreat. For a brief moment he hesitated, then cautiously lowered himself until he was lying, prone, on the damp grass, watching about him, intently. The newcomer was near the belt of shrubbery shielding the house from the road.
A few minutes intent staring into the darkness, and Jimmie Frost wondered if he had really seen anything. At most, he had thought there had been a sudden thickening of the darkness before the bushes. He was certain he had not been mistaken. Then, who was the man—for he was certain the newcomer was a male.
What interest could the man have in this house? Jimmie Frost grinned. Another question had come to his brain. Who lived in this house? Turning slightly, he stared at the house—as if the old, weathered stones could give him an answer. A shrug, and again he turned his attention to that intriguing patch of deeper darkness. It had not moved. Again Jimmie shrugged. He could only remain where he was while the man remained there, watching. He wondered if the man had seen him; if so, then that was the reason for his present immobility. How long would he wait? What would he do if impatience overcame caution? Suddenly the thickness in the darkness disappeared.
The ex-detective stared hard through the night seeking some explanation of the sudden disappearance of the shadow. Had he made some incautious move, frightening the man; or had the man moved, preliminary to stalking him? Jimmie Frost came to his feet quickly, searching the grounds with eager eyes.
Suddenly he crouched back against the shrubbery.
From the direction of the gates came sounds of feet crunching on gravel. The newcomer made no attempt at concealment. The footsteps were firm, slow, and rather heavy. They came closer, and now were accompanied by the slight scuffle of a walking-stick dragging on gravel. Warily, Jimmie Frost drew back into the shelter of the shrubs. The man came slowly and steadily along the gravel drive, passing within a few feet of where Jimmie Frost crouched, in hiding. The' ex-detective drew in his breath sharply. He knew that form; that walk; that little trick of trail and pick-up with the walking-stick—yet for the moment could not fit the personality with a name.
Fascinated, Jimmie Frost watched, ad the man came to head of the drive, ascended the three stone steps before the front door, and pressed the bell-knob. The bell within the house sounded clearly on the still night air. Jimmie Frost leaned eagerly forward. In the dim hall light, when the door was opened, he might possibly identify the man.
Suddenly the dim figure before the front door was illuminated from within the house. Jimmie Frost sprang forward with a cry of amazement. The man who was entering the strange house, following Martha Tayne, was Sir Edmund Morgan, Commissioner of Police.
JIMMIE FROST stood in the grounds of the mysterious house, stricken with amazement. He could hardly realise what he had seen. Sir Edmund Morgan had entered the house, following Martha Tayne! What did that mean? Had Sir Edmund gone to the house to meet the girl? That theory would be absurd. Sir Edmund lived in a distant suburb of the city. If he wished to interview Martha he would have seen her in the city, at his office or the jeweller's shop. The ex-detective was becoming convinced that matters were not "straight" at that house. He felt certain that soon he would discover some clue leading to "Cain."
For some moments he stood hesitant then turned, searching the garden with his eyes, so far as the deep gloom permitted. He glanced towards where he had hidden amid the trees. It would be useless to go there again. If anyone was watching in the garden they must have seen him when he advanced to the gravel drive.
Again, and now more boldly, he advanced towards the centre of the garden, crossing the drive and walking on to the lawns. He could not see any movements in the shadows. Half-crouching, he went to the belt of shrubbery where he had thought he had seen the man and searched thoroughly. He could not discover traces of anyone being there lately.
He turned and stared up at the house-front, a puzzled frown on his brow. Something had happened at the house. For seconds he could not understand, yet he knew the place had altered in some subtle manner since he had previously looked. Then he exclaimed softly.
Someone had been at the latticed windows immediately above the porch. The curtains had been drawn, but not so closely that Jimmie Frost did not realise that the dimmed light in the room had been exchanged for stronger illuminant. Who had entered that room? Who had been at the window during the moments he had been searching the grounds for a possible watcher? Had the person who had been at the window seen him prowling the grounds?
Quickly and silently, he crossed the open lawns before the house, skirting the flower-beds and coming to the gravel-drive. Now he was on the opposite side of the grounds and hesitated. An urge came to him to get into the house—there to try and solve the many and perplexing problems crowding his brain. His eyes came to the peak-roofed porch, and held.
If he could gain that! The curtains of the lighted window were not closely drawn. He might be able to catch a glimpse of the interior; watch the people gathered there. He might discover who owned the house, and why Martha Tayne and Sir Edmund Morgan had chosen to meet there secretly.
A sudden gust of silent laughter shook him. His memory had slipped back to a previous incarnation—when he had been Mark Denvers. detective-inspector of police. That officer had traced and arrested many second-storey men and porch climbers. He had claimed to have an expert knowledge of those men and their methods. That knowledge had been only theoretical. Faced with the necessity to put to practical use his boasted knowledge, he hesitated. There was a way up the peaked-porch to that window!
Very cautiously, and moving as silently as possible, he went to the foot of the porch and examined the structure. A quick glance around the grounds, and he started to climb. Soon he was pulling himself up the slope to the peak of the roof. Straddling the roof-ridge he found his eyes were on a level with the window-sill. The curtains were not completely covering the window. Holding on to the window-sill, and cautiously shifting his weight on the roof, Jimmie Frost, after some manoeuvring found a gap through which he could peer.
A low exclamation, of sheer astonishment, passed his lips.
He was looking into a well-furnished bedroom. A woman in the garb of a nurse was moving quietly and efficiently about the room, frequently glancing at a silent, still figure stretched on the bed. Almost as Jimmie Frost caught sight of her, she turned and came directly to the window. Jimmie Frost ducked below the level of the window-sill, nearly over-balancing, and sliding from the roof in his haste. For a brief moment the woman parted the curtains arid looked out over the darkened gardens. Jimmie Frost had an idea she was looking for someone. At length she let the curtains fall back into place and returned to the bedside.
For some minutes the nurse sat by the bed, her hands clasped in her lap. Suddenly she looked around and rose to her feet, smiling at someone who, apparently, had just entered the room. A moment, and another person came into the range of Jimmie Frost's vision. The newcomer was Martha Tayne. A few feet from the bed the two women met and for some minutes conversed in low tones, frequently; glancing at the still figure on the bed. Presently Martha Tayne passed the nurse and went to the bed. For a moment she bent over the invalid to straighten with a little frown on her face.
Where was Sir Edmund Morgan? The counterfeit crook glanced at the luminous dial of his watch. More than twenty minutes had passed since Sir Edmund had entered the house; over half an hour since Martha Tayne had come to the place. Where had Sir Edmund and the girl been during that interval of time? Who, besides them, the sick person and the nurse, were in that house? Had Sir Edmund and Martha Tayne come to that house to secretly meet other persons? Suddenly Jimmie Frost understood the scene he was viewing. He was looking into Luther Banke's bedroom. The still figure on the bed was the jeweller, stricken with illness in the streets of the city, two days previously.
Martha Tayne had come to see him, after her day's work was finished. But, that explanation did not include Sir Edmund Morgan's presence in the house. Had he called to inquire after Luther Banke? If so, then why had he not accompanied Martha Tayne to the sick chamber?
The ex-detective shifted impatiently on his precarious footing. Again he peered between the curtains, into the room. Martha Tayne was still standing by the bed, looking down on the invalid, the frown still on her face. Suddenly she looked across the room, and smiled. Jimmie Frost guessed another person had entered the room.
A full minute of waiting, and the newcomer entered Jimmie Frost's field of vision. He recognised his old chief, Sir Edmund Morgan. The police chief spoke briefly to the girl, then went to the bed and bent over the still figure. After a short interval Sir Edmund shrugged, straightened, and turned from the bed. The ex-detective shook himself impatiently. He could not gather the meaning of the scene he was witnessing; some little clue was missing. If only he could interpret the scene before him. Why was Sir Edmund Morgan in that house—in that room?
When Jimmie Frost looked into the room again Sir Edmund Morgan had left the bedside and was conversing with Martha Tayne. Once he glanced back at the bed, and his fingers strayed to his waistcoat pocket, extracting a handsome silver cigarette case. He took out of the case a cigarette, twisting it between his fingers, while he talked. A puzzled frown came on Jimmie Frost's face. He looked from the man to the girl. Something was wrong in the scene; for a moment he could not decide where the mistake had been made. Then a flash of remembrance from the past illuminated his brain! The man in the room—the man who moved and looked like Sir Edmund Morgan was an imposter!
The truth staggered the ex-detective. But he knew he was not mistaken. In all the years he had known the police chief he had never known him to smoke a cigarette. He was certain Sir Edmund did not possess a cigarette case! Then who—Almost before the question was framed in his mind, Jimmie Frost knew the answer. The man in the room with Martha Tayne was "Cain."
He had no doubts; there could be no doubts! Now, as he eagerly watched the man he saw that other little personalities were missing; there were little strangenesses that betrayed the truth. "Cain" had followed Martha Tayne to Luther Banke's house; at that moment he was in the house with her.
"Cain" had stolen a fortune from Luther Banke—as he had stolen fortunes from four other men. Those other men had died! Luther Banke was on a sick bed; stricken almost to the point of death! He must get into that house and prove his theory—explore the house and discover who else was concerned in the plot. For a moment he hesitated; then a wave of confidence came to him. He was Jimmie Frost—a crook without the law. He could dare—and would!
Lowering himself from the peak of the roof, he found the guttering with his feet. It was easy to swarm down the porch-side to the ground. For a moment he hesitated, then started to circle the house, thinking to find some unguarded door or window through which he might enter.
As he turned the corner of the house he sensed a presence near him. Instinctively he threw up his arms, but he was too late. Something overwhelmingly heavy descended on his head, points of brilliant fire danced before his eyes. He felt himself falling—falling—
JIMMIE FROST, once Detective-Inspector of Police Mark Denvers, opened his eyes painfully, and looked about him. A puzzled frown came on his face. He was in a cold-looking, bare room, lying on a hard, narrow bed. How had he come there? He remembered being in the garden before Luther Banke's house, and seeing the tall, dark form menacing him as he turned the corner of the house. He remembered the stunning blow that had dropped him to the ground, unconscious. He remembered the garden and the house, and the incidents of the evening surrounding them, but he could not remember this room. He wondered how he had there.
It was a bare, bleak place, with only the hard, plank bed on which he lay, a shelf above his head and a stool. He rolled over on his hard bed uneasily—and the door of the room came within his vision. It was a strange looking door, heavy and substantial, and on it was a small barred window, now closed by a shutter. For minutes he lay puzzling the strange door. Why was that little window on it? A short hard laugh came from his parched throat. With an effort he rolled over and sat up. He wanted a drink, but the pitcher of water was on the shelf, high above his head. Painfully, and with the room and its contents dancing before his eyes, he gained his feet, clinging to the wall. With legs that seemed insecurely attached to his body he moved until he was directly beneath the pitcher, then stretched upwards. He dragged the jug from the shelf, spilling most of the contents over himself. He got the pitcher to 'his lips and gulped eagerly the tepid liquid, then placed the vessel on the ground and flung himself on the bed.
Slowly realisation came to him. A searching look about the room and he recognised it for a police-station cell. Where?
A heavy step sounded in the corridor without the door. A key fumbled in the lock; the door swung open and a uniformed man entered.
"So, you're awake, at last!" The warder spoke gruffly, though not unkindly. "Quite a bend this time, eh?"
"How did I come here?" Jimmie Frost asked, a sense of impending disaster coming over him.
"Brought in. Drunk and disorderly." The warder grinned. "You're a newie, aren't you? Ain't seen you before here."
"Drunk and disorderly!" Jimmie Frost restrained a grip. And, he could not remember anything after climbing down from the porch-roof!
"Sure! And a real drunk, too! Slept all round the clock, you have! There ain't a man down the row who ain't envying you."
"I wasn't drunk; I was ill!" The ex-detective spoke without thought. "Of course! Not drunk!" The man's grin broadened. "You all say that! You stank of the booze; you do now."
As the warder spoke, Jimmie became aware of the truth of the statement. He had noticed the smell before the warder had come to the cell, but had-not associated it with himself. Now he recognised that every movement he made sent out clouds of aroma of stale, cheap spirits. He smiled secretly.
"Cain" was clever! The crook had seen him peering in at the bedroom window. While he had been climbing down from the porch roof "Cain" had descended the back stairs and met him at the house-corner, then sandbagged him. The disposal of his insensible body had been easy. "Cain" had drenched him with cheap whisky, carried him to the road, and left him at the mercy of the-next patrolling constable.
"Cain" had impersonated Sir Edmund Morgan and gained entrance to Luther Banke's house. For what reason? Was Luther Banke dead? For the present he would have to allow those questions to remain unanswered. He had allowed himself to be tricked into a false position. "Cain" had placed him in the hands of the law. He was a "drunk and disorderly" and would be lucky if he escaped imprisonment. What a mess he had made of things! In his first encounter with the master crook he had allowed himself to be tricked and out-witted; more, he was in danger of losing his liberty! With something like a sigh of disgust at his own incapacity, he relaxed on his hard couch.
"Here! Come on!" The warder strode into the cell,' catching Jimmie Frost by his collar and lugging him to his feet. "Get, a move-on! Want to keep the—magistrate waiting for you all day?"
A STRANGE numbness appeared to have settled on Jimmie Frost's brain. Under the urge of the warder's hand he came to his feet.
"Still got a belly full?" The man grinned. "Well, if what I hear is right, it's you for a rest-cure." He shoved his prisoner before him into the corridor. Jimmie. Frost did not answer. He was finding some difficulty in walking with some semblance of sobriety. More than once in the length of the short corridor he had to touch the wall to keep his balance. Jimmie Frost knew he must act warily. He was about to appear before a magistrate on a "drunk and disorderly" charge. If he could impress the magistrate—induce him to believe in a sincere repentance for a first relapse from a sober, upright life—he might receive a "caution" and a fine.
Against that theory was the warder's words. The man appeared certain Jimmie Frost would be remanded or be sentenced to a term of imprisonment. What charges could the police lay against him? He had been framed by the super-crook, "Cain." He had sandbagged him and left him in the gutter, first saturating him with cheap spirits. Jimmie Frost raised a hand to his aching head. It throbbed insistently, painfully. Had "Cain" administered to him more than a sandbag and a bottle of cheap whisky? That was possible.
The facts as they rested did not make sense. Even if he had spied on "Cain," to place him, a drunk and disorderly, in the hands, of the police, would be a paltry revenge. Jimmie Frost was certain some deeper meaning lay behind the super-crook's actions. One thing puzzled him. Had "Cain" known that ex-detective-inspector Mark Denvers was on his tracks? If that supposition was correct then "Cain" must have a very efficient intelligence service, for, with the exception of two persons, the whole of the State believed that Mark Denvers had resigned from the Police Department.
Yet "Cain" had acted as if he shared the closely guarded secret with the Commissioner and Inspector Denvers. He had chosen to pose as Sir Edmund Morgan, even in Luther Banke's house. Jimmie Frost had witnessed the impersonation, and had wondered at its perfection. There had been only one slip—the cigarette. In view of later happenings, Jimmie Frost now wondered if the action had been a mistake, or the key of a subtle plot.
The warder spoke sharply, reproving Jimmie Frost for loitering. The counterfeit crook squared his shoulders and quickened his pace. At the gates of the corridor the warder handed him over to a waiting constable.
He was taken into a room and told-to sit on a wooden bench until he was called into court. A mirror hung on the wall of the room. Disregarding a command to remain seated, he rose to his feet and went to it. He smiled in quiet amusement as he studied the face that stared back at him from the glass Foully dirty, unkempt, unshaven, his clothes reeking with the filth of the gutter, surely he looked the part he was cast to play. He smiled grimly as he returned to the bench.
Penniless and foul, he would have to take his medicine. One by one, the men in the room were called to take their place in the dock. Many of them returned to that room again, under remand or to wait for the jail-van. A few, the lucky ones who paid fine, or were acquitted, did not appear again.
The voice of the court orderly, calling "James Frost," broke on his reverie. He slouched through the door, into the dock. A constable mounted to the witness box, standing to attention while the clerk administered the oath.
The scene was familiar to Jimmie Frost. Many times in his official life he had taken part in similar scenes, though not from the dock. The procedure was routine, and utterly drab. Yet he sensed on this occasion, there was a tenseness about officials and spectators. Quite an unusual number of police were in court—and every eye was turned towards him, expectant and curious. Under what name had be been charged? Then he remembered. The orderly had called "James Frost."
Had that name any significance in that court? Under his mask of sodden Indifference he strained every sense to try and anticipate what was to happen. Had he talked while under the influence of the large quantities of cheap spirits administered by "Cain"? Had he allowed any clue to the record of his assumed identity to escape him?
James Frost! How had these police court officials know that name? Had he spoken it when brought to the police station and charged? And, if he had, how had they connected it with the man who was supposed to have escaped from the old, grey prison, many thousands of miles away across the seas? A question was asked him, he believed by the magistrate. He did not catch its purpose, but mumbled a reply. It was for them, not him, to speak and act.
Then the constable in the witness box commenced to give evidence. Jimmie Frost, under his assumed air of sullen indifference, listened intently. It was imperative he should fully understand all the man had to say. The first sentences of the constable's evidence were the usual routine of a "drunk and disorderly." The prisoner had been very drunk. He had also been abusive, and had resisted arrest, damaging the constable's uniform. A coat was tendered in evidence, torn and dirty. The prisoner had refused to give name or address.
Then—from where had they obtained the "James Frost?"
The constable was continuing his evidence. He held up a large square of cardboard. Even at the distance he was from the witness box, Jimmie Frost could read his assumed name—and more. He leaned forward, staring amazedly at the placard the constable was displaying with almost pride. Who had drawn that sign? Only one man in the state besides himself had that information. No, "Cain" knew it! "Cain" knew—and had written those words!
JAMES FROST Who lately escaped from Sing Sing Prison, New York State, U.S.A., where he was awaiting the date of his execution FOR MURDER.
The constable talked on. The placard had been secured to the prisoner's neck by a loop of string, when he was found. He had been questioned, and had given no explanation. With some dramatic sense the constable had propped the cardboard before him, on the ledge of the witness box, while he continued his evidence. Jimmie Frost stared at the large, bold' lettering on the dirty cardboard with almost disbelief in his eyes. "Cain" had denounced him as an escaped convict—and a murderer!
The constable continued his evidence. He held a flimsy piece of paper in his hand. Jimmie Frost smiled grimly when he saw the cable. It was the one sent by the New York authorities to the Police Commissioner, at his request. Again he smiled when the constable, with some little pomposity, read it aloud. It falsely announced the escape of one James Frost, from Sing Sing prison.
Dully, Jimmie Frost heard the magistrate speak. He was to be remanded. The New York police authorities were to be communicated with.
For eight days! Silently he obeyed the order of the dock keeper to return to the waiting room. From there a constable escorted him back to the police cells. For eight days! What then? Would, at the end of that period, James Frost be declared dead, not escaped? If so, then what would become of the identity he had laboriously built up?
Again in the cell, he seated himself on the bunk. He knew he would not be kept there long. The business of the court had terminated for the day; his had been the last case on the list. Shortly, he would be ordered to the line-up, then to enter the jail-van for the journey to the remand prison. Minutes passed, lengthening into hours, and the expected summons did not come. At length Jimmie Frost stretched himself on the bunk, not troubling to undress.
He wondered what had caused the delay? Had someone intervened on his behalf? That could not be. Only the Commissioner could act in that manner, and he would not do so unless appealed to.
Night came, and still no one came for him. Jimmie Frost became hungry. He had not had food since the previous day. He became angry. It was absurd to neglect him, even if they did not intend to send him to the remand prison.
For a time he prowled about his cell, at times trying to squeeze a few more drops of moisture from the empty jug. Still no one came, and he again threw himself on the bunk, dozing fitfully.
When he awoke there was no light in his cell. He groped a way to the door and fingered the wicket through the bars. To his surprise he found he could open it. A faint light illuminated the cell. He listened at the door but could hear no sounds in the building.
What could have happened? It was a violation of regulations to leave prisoners, even those on remand, for any length of time without inspection. Why had his cell light been extinguished? Why had not the warder visited him, to inform him where he was to spend the remand? He groped his way back to the bunk and threw himself on the blankets.
Something hard pressed against his ribs.
He searched, and found a packet. By the faint light that came through the wicket he opened it. Within were his keys and money—everything that had been in his possession when he had been struck down in the gardens of Luther Banke's house.
For some moments he sat, turning the articles on his hand. Why had these things been returned to him? He frowned. Surely he had not had all that money on him when he left the city to trail Martha Tayne? If his memory was not playing him false, he then possessed only a couple of pound notes and a small handful of sliver. Yet now he held a thick packet of bank notes.
He slipped the rubber band from around the packet of notes and ran his finger along one edge. To his amazement he found, when he took the notes to the light, that while a few, top and bottom, were one pound denominations, the interior notes of the packet were of £10 values.
Who had brought that money to him? He remembered that the previous day he had intended informing Sir Edmund Morgan that he was short of money, but had not done so. Had the Commissioner guessed he required money, and sent this to him. No, he would not do that, for he would have had to confide in some messenger, and he had been insistent that the secret of Jimmie Frost's identity be between themselves, alone. When he required money Sir Edmund Morgan paid it into a special account, personally.
Mystery was crowding on mystery! What would happen next? The gift of money was strange—the darkness and silence of the police court cells still more so. Was he going mad? Had "Cain" administered some drug, dulling his senses? He knew lie was in one of the busiest police stations of the metropolis. He should hear continued movement, be under constant observation—and not a sound disturbed the silence of the building. Perplexed, he paced the cell, wondering what would happen next. He hesitated, stopped abruptly in his stride, listening intently.
Someone was in the corridor, approaching his cell and moving stealthily. Jimmie Frost braced himself to take advantage of any opportunity the future offered. The footsteps drew near, coming, very slowly and stealthily. They ceased at the door of his cell. A long silence, and Jimmie Frost sensed that the person in the corridor was listening. He hardly dared to breathe. Crouching close to the door, he waited for some sign or signal, his nerves quivering with excitement.
Presently he stretched out his hand and laid it on the face of the door. Ages seemed to pass before he heard a key slither cautiously into the lock. The door moved slowly, opening outwards. Jimmie Frost flattened himself against the wall. Again he advanced a hand to touch cloth, moving. It passed him, going into the cell. He waited a moment, then slipped silently from the cell into the corridor; running down to the iron gates. Suddenly he stopped, turning and staring back at the cell he had just left. Through the darkness came peal after peal of ringing laughter.
ONLY for a brief moment did Jimmie Frost hesitate. He pulled open the iron gates barring the end of the corridor and slipped out into a passage. Now he must walk warily, calling to his aid his accumulative knowledge of police station work. He knew this station well; the passage he was now in would lead him to the street. Yet about him were many offices, some of them occupied all night.
He stole warily down the passage and came to a corner. Peering round the corner he could see the main entrance; but a constable stood on the top step, his back to the passage. On the right hand side of the passage was the charge room, and from the room came the sounds of many voices. He wondered at the absence of any excitement in the building. Surely the responsible officers knew the cell quarters were In darkness, the warder absent from his post.
"All right, now." A voice in the charge-room spoke. "Just a fuse blown out. Where's Atkins? Haven't seen him for nearly an hour."
"Don't know." A voice answered. "Pull over that switch and give our little dicky birds some light; or they'll start singing."
"They're quiet enough now."
"Except, that fellow who was laughing. Josh! He made it ring through the building!" The second man snickered. "Rang like a song through the building."
"Wasn't Atkins; was it?"
"Old grumpy! Laugh like that! Not on your life. Wonder where he is?"
Jimmie Frost crept a few steps backwards, crouching into a dark corner, for heavy steps were approaching the charge-room door. A head came into view, round a doorpost. "Saunders! Seen Atkins anywhere?"
"Saw him an hour ago, Sergeant. Said he was going to the chemist. Haven't seen him return."
"Must have come back. The head was withdrawn." From inside the charge-room the same voice continued: "Harry, find Atkins. Tell him I want him."
"Hullo, son." The constable at the door spoke to a boy. "What's the matter? Got a letter for the sergeant, eh? All right, I'll take it. S'long!"
Jimmie tensed. Here was his opportunity. He waited until the constable entered the charge-room, then glided to the door.
On the pavement, a few feet from the station-house entrance, curiosity overcame him. Who had laughed in the cell corridor? Who had unlocked the door of his cell? Where was the warder, Atkins? Had that note, brought to the constable by the boy, anything to do with his escape? He glanced about him eagerly. Two double windows, heavily barred, opened on the street from the charge-room. One of the windows was open a couple of inches at the bottom. A few careful movements, and he was half-crouching under the window, listening.
"—and you'd better take over Atkins's job." The sergeant was speaking. "Hell! What did the silly fool want to go and get coshed for?"
Jimmie Frost nodded; he was beginning to understand. Atkins, the warder, had been got out of his way. Who had done that? The name, "Cain" trembled on his lips. But "Cain" had delivered him to the police, labelling him "international crook and murderer!" Why, then, had he come to his aid, clearing the way for his escape from the station cell?
"Ey, mister!" A furtive-eyed, stunted youth stood at his elbow. "Your name Jimmie Frost?" Jimmie nodded, cautiously watching around him. The youth held out a dirty envelope. "Bloke tol' me ter give you this, mate. Sed you'd understan'."
With a wild half-yell, reminiscent of some partly-forgotten Wild-West show, the youth spun round on his heels and darted up the street, leaving Jimmie Frost staring at the envelope in his hand.
"Say, Sergeant." A voice in the charge-room came sharply. "That fellow, Frost's got away. Cell's empty and unlocked."
Jimmie Frost did not wait to hear more. The hunt was up. He had to get away from that neighbourhood as quickly as possible. A tram-route passed the end of the road, a bare fifty yards away. A car was stopping: He caught it just as it moved on, after a sharp sprint. It would carry him to within a few hundred yards of his flat.
It was only when he stood within the entrance hall of the building that he remembered the envelope the youth had thrust into his hand. He tore it open. The contents were a single sheet of notepaper, containing one line of writing. In the dim light of the hall he read the words; "With compliments.—Cain."
In sudden anger he crushed the paper into a ball and pitched it into the street, to immediately follow and retrieve it. The paper contained the only writing that could be directly attributed to the arch crook "Cain"—if, indeed, he had written it. A tired, dissatisfied feeling came over the ex-detective. He climbed the stairs to his flat, slowly. He had played the first round of his match against "Cain"—and the master-crook had defeated him with contemptuous ease.
At the commencement of the affair he had held all the cards. He had been certain that "Cain" had not suspected he would leave his flat that night; he had not even informed Sir Edmund of his intentions. During the day he had been restless, excited at the prospect of regaining his freedom, after the long wait for his disguise to settle—and had decided to commence investigations immediately.
On entering his rooms, he made a careful search of the premises, to make certain no one had entered during his absence. In the service-hatch he found the morning's milk, now sour; and beside it a loaf of bread. His bed was still disordered and the rooms undusted. The woman who cleaned the flat could not enter unless he was at home.
He threw himself into a chair, brooding moodily. A damned fine crook, he! And as Mark Denvers he had despised crooks, counting them tube of a lower intelligence to himself! Now he realised how very dependant the cleverest officer is on departmental assistance for his success; how greatly the daily conferences with his brother officers arid superiors enhanced his individual ability. Crooks did not possess departmental offices fitted with clerks and expensive recording devices. They had no efficient organisations to aid them. The few really successful criminals worked "lone-handed," for not only had they to out-wit the police, but they had to meet treachery from the crooks surrounding them. He would have to re-start, right from the beginning; forget all the theories and platitudes of crooks and their works he and his fellows had constructed in past days. He must learn to lean solely on his personal resources, to be entirely self-reliant; able to take full advantage of every opportunity as it presented itself; act, apparently on impulse, but really on a well trained instant initiative.
Twenty-four hours had passed since he had left his rooms in search of "Cain." What had he accomplished in that time? He had discovered that Martha Tayne visited at Luther Banke's house. He had seen "Cain" in two characters—Had he? Why was he so certain that "Cain" had impersonated Sir Edmund Morgan? Only on the strength of a cigarette and a cigarette case; when he knew the Police Commissioner to be exclusively a cigar smoker.
Yet, somehow he held that clue proof against doubt. Men did not change life-habits in a few hours, and he knew there were few habitual cigar smokers who would consider the insidious cigarette for one moment. He was certain the man he had seen standing by Luther Banke's bedside was "Cain." Yet he was certain the man who had sandbagged him, and delivered him to the police like a bale of goods, was "Cain." Could both suppositions be correct?
It was obvious that the man who had watched him climb to the porch-roof was a confederate of the master crook. He had never plainly seen the man, only glimpsed him as a deeper shadow against the gloom of the shrubbery. On the other hand, he had had a plain view of "Cain" when he impersonated the Police Chief. How could he reconcile the two facts?
In spite of careful reasoning Jimmie Frost felt that he was only building a house of cards. Past history—the mass of facts accumulated at Police Headquarters—pointed to "Cain" being a "lone wolf." At no time had any evidence been obtained to show that he worked with a confederate.
That had been Mark Denvers handicap through the years. There had only been the elusive trail left by "Cain" himself. That trail had neither met nor crossed any other. There had been no confederate to track, watch or bribe.
Jimmie Frost paced the floor of his sitting room irritably. If only he could obtain some clue to "Cain's" real identity, or history; one single fact of which to start the weave that, eventually, would bring "Cain" to his long-deferred retribution.
Full of his problem, impatient with himself because he could not pierce to the heart of his mystery, Jimmie Frost wandered into his kitchen and looked out of the window. Martha Tayne was at home; her kitchen light was burning. Once he caught a glimpse of her shadow as she moved about the little room. An impulse to get in touch with the girl seized Jimmie Frost. He wanted to study her, to know her habits, probe her thoughts. He wanted to watch her in the future with full understanding.
He knew that "Cain" was attracted to her. Was she attracted to him? He was convinced that Martha Tayne was honest—he would have sworn to that. If she were crook, what opportunities had lain to her hands during the years! Day after day she had handled jewels worth thousands of pounds.
True, like every employee in the trade, she was checked and watched—but no brain has yet devised a system that another brain could not evade or destroy! The ex-detective went to the flat door. He would go down to Martha Tayne. In the little hall he hesitated; what excuse' could he make for the call?
He was Jimmie Frost, master-crook, not Mark Denvers, resting on his authority to question in the name of the law. With a shrug of resignation he turned to re-enter his sitting room. Then his eyes chanced on the service-hatch. In it stood the jug of soured milk. A little smile came on his lips. He could go down to the girl and borrow half a cup of milk. People living in blocks of flats did that sort of thing—and became acquainted, sometimes intimately. But the evening was young; the shops in the neighbourhood were still open. He could buy milk, among other, things at half a dozen places within 50 yards of the main hall door. Yet he seized a jug from the dresser and made for the door.
Almost as he reached it came the unmusical swirl of the bell. He turned back into the sitting room, placed the jug on the table, then answered the call of the bell. A man stood on the landing, half-turned from the door. As Jimmie Frost opened the door the man stepped forward, holding out his hand, a little smile on his lips.
"Mr. James Frost?" He spoke in a pleasant cultivated voice. "You don't know me, but—I know you! I had a cable from—you know, today. They stated you had come to this city. Sheer luck gave me your address. Let me introduce myself, Joyce Poynter."
FOR moments Jimmie Frost hesitated, then stepped back and motioned to his visitor to enter-He was perplexed. Who was this man? He had stated that he was in touch with Americans who were interested in him—Jimmie Frost; that he had received advices from the States to get in touch with him. For what reason? Did this man really believe that he was the murderer who had been incarcerated in the death cell at Sing Sing prison? That might be so, but in that case he had not heard the truth from his American correspondents—if he had heard from them at all. The real James Frost had not escaped from prison—he had died in the room behind the green door.
Sir Edmund Morgan's cable to the New York police might have been in time to permit the prison authorities to suppress the news in the newspapers, but there was no power on earth that could stifle the grapevine telegraph which served the underworld. Jimmie Frost was certain that every crook in the United States of America knew that the real Jimmie Frost was dead.
Why should they cable this man an untruth? The proposition was impossible, Either this man, who named himself Joyce Poynter had been deceived, or he was lying. There was a third sup position, that the man before him was—"Cain."
Then "Cain" had had him under observation from the time he had discovered him in the grounds of Luther Banke's house. He had helped him to escape from the police cell, and had then followed him to his home. Jimmie Frost cursed under his breath. What a fool he had been! From the moment he had escaped from the police station, his only thought had been to get back to his flat. He had not given a thought to the possibility that he might be followed. "Cain" or—
What part had the police in these events? He was certain that from the moment of his arrest he had not uttered a word that would incriminate himself—they had only the lying cable from the New York police in support of the statements on the large placard "Cain" had attached to him while he was unconscious. Had the police, in search of evidence to support the statements on the placard, faked his escape—thinking to follow him to his hide-out? "Cain" or the police! Both were dangers to him. He had been traced to his home by one or the other. In the future he would be watched, his privacy examined, his freedom of movement greatly hampered. In silence he motioned his visitor to precede him into the sitting room of the flat. There he waited for the man to speak. He wondered, was he viewing another incarnation of "Cain?"
"So glad to have found you so quickly." The man spoke with a slight American accent. "Had I been informed of the boat you travelled on, I would have been at the wharf to welcome you. Now, may I congratulate you. To have successfully got away from Sing Sing is a most notable feat."
"Have you been there?" asked Jimmie Frost quietly. Joyce Poynter smiled, pausing a moment before answering. "I have never escaped from there." The answer was a neat parry. "Very few have."
Jimmie Frost nodded. He knew the history of the famous American prison; the splendid record of those controlling it. Very few men had contrived to escape from within those grey walls; very few of those who had scaled the walls had retained their liberty for more than a week.
"Glad you've called." Jimmie Frost seated himself, facing his guest. "As you say, it's lonely over here, not knowing the country—or anyone." He paused, noticeably, before the final two words. Joyce Poynter nodded understandingly.
"How are you off for funds?" He motioned towards his breast pocket.
"Thanks. Got a stake." The ex-detective smiled. Was this man prepared to finance him? If so, he wanted something from him. What could that be?
"I can let you have a grand." Joyce Poynter stretched his long legs before him. "Of course, that's chicken feed to you. Once you get going you'll soon' gather in all you want."
"Think so?" Jimmie Frost smiled. "I've heard the—the—what do you call them over here Oh, yes, 'Johns,' are rather clever."
Joyce Poynter smiled. "So, so!" he answered. "Have you anything in mind?"
The ex-detective shook his head. If he had been a real crook, with a brain full of plans for the looting of the city, he would not confide in this very plausible stranger.
For a while he studied his visitor, in silence, a theory gradually forming in his mind. The man was tall, nearly six feet in height; slim, with the long, supple leanness of the trained athlete. His complexion was dark, and his eyes an indeterminate deep brown colour. A small, well-cared-for moustache decorated his upper lip; his jowls tended to blue blackness—the blueness of the strongly-haired male.
Somehow that colouring of the jaw line disturbed the ex-detective. That little moustache! Just a few close cropped hairs on either side of the nostrils! That moustache was not in keeping with the deep blueness of chin and cheeks. Then—why, that moustache might be false! Was this man wearing a disguise? Had the darkness of his complexion been obtained through dye?
The vague theory that had come to him since he had seen the man standing on the landing without the flat, was crystallising to a conviction. The man was a decoy—or was he "Cain," in another of his impersonations? That was possible.
More, Jimmie Frost was now willing to bet that he had guessed right. "Cain" was here, in his flat with him! A glow of triumph came in the ex-detective's eyes. He had made mistakes—but even his mistakes had made for his success! "Cain" had come to despise him—to believe him to be an awkward bungler. He had counted him fool, instead of acknowledging the mistakes to be due to the actor playing an unaccustomed part. And, those mistakes, through the induction of a false sense of superiority, had delivered "Cain" into his hands!
Jimmie Frost silently swore he would make no mistake now. He had penetrated "Cain's" disguise, but he must keep that knowledge to himself. He must play the crook's game—continue to be the Yankee criminal whose identity he had assumed until he could catch "Cain" off his guard!
"Anything doing?" he asked shortly, veiling his eyes so that Joyce Poynter should not see any trace of triumph there.
"There's a lay-out of sparklers—" Joyce Poynter drawled slowly; his gaze fixed on his companion's face.
"So!" The ex-detective waited a moment; then, as his companion did not continue, he asked: "What's your lay?"
Joyce Poynter shrugged. "I live by my wits," he replied briefly.
"Any good?" Jimmie Frost sat forward suddenly. Now he felt he could look the man full in the face without betraying himself. "If there's a cache, why ask me in?"
"I can't shoot it. You can."
"Who told you that?"
"Friends." Joyce Poynter lay back in his chair, smiling quietly. "Think we don't know of you over here, Jimmie Frost? You've got a reputation with a coffin—"
"Well?" The ex-detective smiled epigrammatically, when the other paused.
Joyce Poynter did not answer. For a moment his eyes searched the counterfeit crook's face then, with deliberation, he took from his waistcoat pocket a cigarette-case, opened it and held it out invitingly. Jimmie Frost succeeded in repressing a start of amazement with difficulty. He had seen that cigarette case before. It was the one "Cain" had handled in Luther Banke's bedroom, when disguised as the Commissioner of Police.
Carefully repressing any eagerness, he leaned forward and took it from the man's hand. For a moment the crook made a motion, as if to retain it, then loosened his clasp.
"Nice case," Jimmie Frost examined the case with interest. "Now, where have I seen it before?"
In the slight flickering of eyelids Jimmie Frost saw that he had almost penetrated his opponent's guard. The crook's eyes suddenly steadied, searchingly, banefully.
"You've seen that cigarette-case before?"
"Sure. And not so long ago." The ex-detective spoke daringly. "Now—Where?" He leaned back in his chair, half-closing his eyes, wrinkling his brows as though deep in thought.
"A whizz!" He laughed gently as he spoke. Under his make-up the man flushed darkly. Jimmie Frost watched him with interest. He had called the man a pickpocket and the epithet had hurt. "A whizz!" He repeated the word with emphasis. "And you want to work with me! Hold-out!"
He lifted his hand as the man made to speak. "I know that case. You dipped it from—you know!" He was watching the man with keen, eager eyes. What would he do? How would he resent the flow of abuse. If his surmises were correct, he had called "Cain," the master-criminal of the city, a pickpocket! Could he insult him further without precipitating a crisis? "And, you ask me—me—to work with you! You bum! What are you? A bum, a shelf! No, you're not even that! A top-off's more your mark. Going to fox me and drop the shuck, eh? Oh, get out of here! You give me the willies."
As he spoke Jimmie Frost jumped to his feet, watching his opponent narrowly. He had spoken to force the man to some retaliation. How would he act?
"Putting the acid on?" Joyce Poynter lounged back in his seat negligently. Except for the heightened colour in his cheeks, the steely glitter in his eyes, he showed no signs of resentment.
"Get up!" Jimmie Frost's hand suddenly came in sight, holding a revolver. "Going to frame me, eh? Well, you've got just one more guess."
Joyce Poynter did not move, except to raise his hands to one arms of the chair on which he sat. He had regained his composure, badly shaken by the ex-detective's aggressive words. A quiet little smile flecked the corners of his firm mouth.
"I wouldn't, Jimmie! I wouldn't. You couldn't, here. How are you going to explain a real, dead corpse in your flat? You can't get away with that sort of thing, in this country. Take me for a ride, eh? No, no! All the people here know of that they read in the imported dime magazines." The man's nerve staggered the ex-detective. For the moment he was undecided how to act. He had no intention of letting the man leave the room, until he left under police escort. He knew that he had put up a bluff—and that the crook had called It. He was facing "Cain"—of that he had little doubt. And he had him under his gun.
So far good; but what should be his next move? Could he drive him through the street to the police-station, and have him detained for inquiries? Explanations would have to be made to the senior officer on duty—there would be questions and doubts. He could not swear that this man was "Cain"; only declare that he had reasons to believe so. They would want proofs, even of his beliefs and theories—and what had he to offer? Then, what of himself?
He was Jimmie Frost, a crook and a condemned murderer. He could not claim to be Detective-inspector Mark Denvers until his prisoner was proved to be "Cain" without doubt. Until that proof was obtained, either by himself or the police, he must remain in his disguise. Any other course would nullify all he had so far accomplished.
There was a way out for him. If he could get in touch with Sir Edmund Morgan. The Police Commissioner could solve many of his difficulties. But how could he contact him? His eyes went to the telephone in the dark corner. That instrument connected with the Commissioner's office. Then he remembered, smiling bitterly. Only Sir Edmund could make the connection. He looked back at his prisoner, from that fraction of a second glance at the telephone. "Cain" was on his feet, and in his hand he held a small automatic. He was smiling slightly.
With a shrug, Jimmie Frost recognised that the initiative had passed from him, when his eyes had wavered from his prisoner's face.
"That's your talk, Jimmie Frost?" The man spoke in a low, tense voice. "I'm a bum, a shelf, a stool-pigeon, eh? Why should I want to frame you—you who but a few hours ago escaped from a police station cell-after framing yourself into the hands of the police? Now listen, you-"
The rasp of the door bell cut across the man's words. He started, and half-turned. In a bound, Jimmie Frost was on him, snatching at the hand holding the automatic almost before his own gun struck the floor. Again the door bell rang—raspingly, irritatingly.
AFTER the first moments of surprise, Jimmie Frost realised that in a physical encounter with the master crook he was certain to be beaten, Joyce Poynter had muscles of steel and easily broke away from the ex-detective's grip. In the short struggle Jimmie Frost's attention had been centred on the crook's hand holding the automatic.
As the master crook threw off his attack he tightened his hold on the automatic, dragging it from the man's grasp. He rolled over on the floor—feeling the hardness of his revolver beneath his chest. Joyce Poynter sprang to his feet, but the ex-detective remained lying on his chest on the floor. He levelled the automatic at the angry man.
"Keep still, Poynter!" Jimmie Frost spoke quietly. "No, I'm not going to get up yet. That would give you a chance to rush me—an opportunity you would certainly seize. Now, what's to do?"
Lying on the floor, covering the crook with the automatic, Jimmie Frost puzzled his problem. He must make no mistakes, for "Cain" would take full advantage of any error of judgment.
Again came the insistent summons of the door bell. Damn it, he must know who was there! Three times the caller had rung the bell. The light he had left burning in the hall, when he had let "Cain" into the flat, would indicate that he was at home. The caller might become impatient; perhaps, think there was something wrong in the flat—and call for assistance to force a way in. Jimmie Frost cursed under his breath. To attempt to get to his feet would invite the crook to attack him. He was certain that Joyce Poynter was "Cain"—and "Cain" was known to be of infinite resource.
"Get to that door," he commanded, abruptly, "No, don't leave the room," he continued, as the crook made to go into the hall. "Clasp your hands behind your head. So! Move to the end of that door."
Very cautiously he raised himself to his knees, the gun levelled at the crook; then came to his feet, For a moment he paused, then backed into the hall. A quick movement and he was at the door, one of the guns in his hand, the other in his pocket. He had to chance whether the crook carried a second gun—but the man dared not shoot while he was at the flat door, an unknown person without demanding admission.
Yet, Jimmie Frost hoped little from the caller. He was only answering the bell to prevent trouble; but he must be wary. If the man outside the door became suspicious, if he thought anything was wrong in the flat, he might call the police. Jimmie Frost smiled grimly. He had come to fear the men who had formerly been his comrades.
With a quick movement he flung open the door, at the same time flattening himself against the wall beside the door. In that position he commanded the flat entrance and the open sitting room door. A man walked Into the hall, and Jimmie Frost gasped.
He slammed the outer door shut. "Keep back, sir," he exclaimed, thrusting himself between Sir Edmund Morgan and the sitting room door. "'Cain' is in there!"
"Where?" The Police Commissioner looked about him inquisitively. "In the sitting room, sir."
The ex-detective walked forward cautiously.
"One moment, until I see that he's safe." A few paces inside the sitting room he stopped, and grinned. Joyce Poynter was sitting in the armchair he had previously occupied, peacefully smoking. During the few minutes Jimmie Frost had been at the flat door the crook had removed all traces of conflict from his person and the room. Jimmie Frost turned in the doorway and looked back at Sir Edmund. The Police Chief nodded and passed the ex-detective, entering the room.
"Sir Edmund," Jimmie Frost held the revolver he carried well out of sight. "May I introduce Mr. Joyce Poynter? Poynter, of course you've heard of Sir Edmund Morgan, the Commissioner of Police."
His eyes narrowed as he watched the crook rise to his feet. The man showed no signs of agitation. His clothing was in order and dustless—while the ex-detective's clothing showed plain signs of the brief rough and tumble on the sitting room floor.
"Sir Edmund—delighted!" Joyce Poynter bowed, his manner an acknowledgment of the Commissioner's position. "Will you take this chair, Sir Edmund. I chose it when I arrived, because it looked the most comfortable one in the room."
"Keep your seat, sir." Sir Edmund went to the chair on the opposite side of the fireplace. "This will do for me." He seated himself leisurely, perched his glasses on his nose, and looked inquisitively at the man before him. "Jimmie Frost called you Joyce Poynter in here. In the hall, he named you, 'Cain.'"
"Mr—er—Jimmie Frost does me too much honour." The crook shrugged. "'Cain?' Now where have I heard that name before?"
"Read the newspapers?" Sir Edmund had his glasses fixed to his satisfaction.
"Of course! Everybody does. One of the queer habits of the people of this country. Everybody reads the newspapers, and there's nothing in 'em. Perhaps that's the reason. Doesn't excite what brains they have. Anomalous." The crook shrugged. "Can you explain it, Sir Edmund?"
"I may try; if you will explain why—er—Frost called you 'Cain'?" Joyce Poynter shrugged, but did not reply in words, Deliberately, he took the silver cigarette case from his pocket and held it out to Sir Edmund. "Don't touch the beastly things."
The Police Chief's fingers strayed to his right-hand top waistcoat pocket, producing one of the long black cheroots he affected.
"A man should smoke tobacco, not—" A wave of the tobacco-sample completed the sentence.
"Yes?" The crook gravely flicked his lighter to flame and handed it to the old man.
"Thanks!" Sir Edmund inhaled deeply. For a full minute he studied the man before him, his shrewd eyes narrowing. "So, you're 'Cain'?"
"Mr.—er—Jimmie Frost apparently has that opinion."
"Known him long?"
"Mr. Frost? A relation from the United States."
"Hm!" Again the keen young-old eyes strove to pierce the crook's apparent phlegm. "A relation! Interesting!"
"That I have relations?" Poynter's eyebrows were elevated. "Most people have, I believe."
"Interesting that your relation should be Jimmie Frost." The heavy, shaggy brows came together abruptly. The crook smiled, but did not reply.
"Know him in America?" The Commissioner questioned, after a short silence.
"Never been there," Poynter answered nonchalantly.
"So you don't know if he is really Jimmy Frost?" The question came sharply.
"I believe him to be that person."
"But you don't know?"
The crook did not reply. He glanced from the Police Commissioner to the ex-detective, speculatively. At a sharp "Do you?" from Sir Edmund, he turned abruptly.
"No, I don't know for certain If he is or not." There was snarl in the crook's tones. "I don't believe he is!"
"And if I tell you he is, what then?"
Jimmie Frost was puzzled. What was the old man trying to get? He did not interpose in the conversation, content to mount guard over the door of the room, the revolver always ready, concealed between his body and the door. He knew that Sir Edmund was following some line of reasoning to which he had not yet a clue. Somewhere the old man had obtained information—information of value. He could only watch and listen, for the present.
"So you don't know Jimmie Frost." There was a purr in the Police Chief's voice. "All you had was a message from the States informing you that 'Jimmie Frost' was on his way to this country. Just that—and you immediately set out to find him. You must be a clever man, Mr. Poynter—to find him so easily."
"What do you mean?" The crook appeared to be very nervous.
"Jimmie Frost has been very few days in this city. You picked up his trail very, very easily."
"I may have—if this man is really Jimmie Frost."
"If I give you my word—that he is Jimmie Frost?"
"Well—" The younger man hesitated.
"You want to know how I know? Shall I tell you that I, too, have correspondents in America; that they cabled me that Jimmie Frost was on his way to this city—to see me? That is strange news, isn't it?"
Joyce Poynter did not answer. Jimmie Frost recognised that the man's ill-ease was growing, under the Commissioner's inquisition.
"Very strange that James Frost, once an inmate of Sing Sing's death cell, should visit this city's Police Chief; that I should visit him; apparently be prepared to protect him. These are intriguing questions; to find answers to them should prove occupation for more than a few of your leisure hours."
Sir Edmund rose, stiffly, to his feet, frowning down on the man still seated before him. At length, his face cleared.
"An interesting episode," he murmured. He turned to the ex-detective: "What do you propose to do with him?"
Jimmie Frost shook his head. He did not want to make a decision; more, he was certain Sir Edmund had a definite line of action already in mind.
"Jimmy Frost called you Cain." The old man paused, took his glasses from his nose and slowly placed them in their case. "I wonder! Are you?"
"What? Who? 'Cain'? Who's 'Cain'?" The crook spoke angrily.
"'Where ignorance is bliss—'" A humorous smile came on the old, still-firm lips. "I've had many crooks through my hands, Mr. Poynter, since the days I walked the streets of this city, a callow constable. Good phrase, that, Jimmie! Callow constable! And, some of them are even more than callow. Suppose there are also callow crooks, Mr. Poynter. Ever met them, or are you one of those the newspapers designate as 'lone-wolf'?"
"That's enough from you!" Joyce Poynter, flaming anger on his face, sprang to his feet. "I can guess what the pair of you are getting at." He pointed at the ex-detective. "He's your stool-pigeon, eh? Noses out the crooks for you? Well, here's one you won't get!"
He turned suddenly on his heels and strode to the door, not heeding the revolver Jimmie Frost brought into view. At a motion from the Police Commissioner, the ex-detective stepped aside. Almost as "Cain" reached the sitting room door, a shrill scream echoed through the house. Again and again came the screams, carrying on their nerve-racking shrillness a rising crescendo of terror.
FOR the moment the shrill agony of the screams rooted the three men in the flat to where they stood. Sir Edmund Morgan was the first to recover from the shock. He ran past the two men to the flat-door, closely followed by the others. Half-way down the first flight of stairs to the floor below, the Police Chief hesitated in his headlong rush. The big building was buzzing like a suddenly-disturbed bee-hive. Flat doors were being opened, disgorging their quotas of humanity in various stages of dress and undress. Motioning to his companions to keep close behind him, Sir Edmund proceeded to descend the stairs more leisurely.
A man was standing at the head of the stairs two floors below Jimmie Frost's flat, a small group of people surrounding him. He appeared nervous and ill at ease. The ex-detective recognised him immediately; he was Alec. Kempton. He had seen the man in Luther Banke's offices. The solicitor had not impressed him favourably. Even then he had been nervous and irritable, acting as if he had things to conceal.
In his keen analytical police-brain Jimmie Frost had decided that Alec Kempton was a man well worth watching. The solicitor had told a strange tale. He had stated that he had called on Luther Banke on business the morning "Cain" had stolen the Montgomery emeralds; that he had been shown Into the jeweller's presence by Martha Tayne, and had not discovered the Impersonation of the jeweller. Yet he had acted queerly, as if trying to shield the crook.
Jimmie Frost had not believed the solicitor, even in part. He had come from the Interview with the conviction that Alec Kempton and "Cain" were not strangers, and that the crook had some mysterious hold over the stout, little solicitor—who had acted a part under threat of exposure of some misdeed.
Now he found this man in the building, outside Martha Tayne's flat—and somewhere near a woman had been screaming!
Where, and who was the woman? The ex-detective gazed searchingly about him. People were coming up to the landing from the lower floors. Their faces showed bewilderment. No one showing agitation had passed them going down to the street.
Without thinking, filled with the spirit of bygone days, he made to pass the Police Chief, and take control of the Inquiry. Sir Edmund caught warningly at his sleeve. The cool, controlling restraint brought Jimmie Frost to a realisation of his altered position. He was now only one of the spectators. He could not initiate; more, it was not to his advantage to take any prominent position in public; for now he was James Frost, crook and murderer, an escapee from Sing Sing prison. Only that day he had escaped from the police of this city. Every constable, every detective in the department was alert for his recapture.
He watched about him keenly; his eyes alert for any sign that might lead him to the truth, his hearing a-tuned for any careless words that might place him on the true trail. His body tensed as he watched the Commissioner walk gravely down the remaining stairs and push through the inquisitive crowd to Alec Kempton's side.
"Mr. Kempton?" Sir Edmund's keen eyes swept the man, yet his tone was careless. Jimmie Frost smiled, he recognised that the old man-hunter was on the trail. Of course, Sir Edmund would know the man; behind the keen eyes the clever brain was working, dragging from memory's store details of the man's history—details which might have made the man flinch if translated into words.
When Alec Kempton turned to answer Sir Edmund the ex-detective caught sight of his face, the features accentuated by the overhead lights of the landing. The lawyer's face was deathly pale, his lips were trembling, and the hand he lifted, as if to still them, shook.
What had happened to the man? Had he voiced those awful screams? That did not seem possible—Jimmie Frost believed they had emanated from a woman. He glanced furtively about the group gathered on the landing. His eyes rested on the door of Martha Tayne's flat. He noted with surprise that it was ajar.
Immediately his eyes searched the landing for the girl. She was not there. Martha Tayne! Again the ex-detective's eyes went to the door. Did the explanation of the screams—the marked agitation of Alec Kempton—lie In that flat?
Little beads of perspiration came on Jimmie Frost's brow. He forced his way through the crowd on the landing. Was Martha Tayne in her flat? Only a few minutes before the man who named himself Joyce Poynter had come to him, he had seen light in her kitchenette; he had seen her shadow on the blind. But that had been more than an hour before. Since then she might have gone out. But would she go out and leave her door ajar?
"'Ware, Jimmie!" He turned swiftly at the feel of a light touch on his arm, to see Joyce Poynter standing beside him. For the moment he had forgotten Poynter had been with him and Sir Edmund when the screams had startled them. Then "Cain" had had nothing to do with the tragedy he was beginning to believe had taken place in that building; for "Cain"—or rather, the man he believed to be "Cain"—had been, and still was, beside him. The man's steady touch brought Jimmie Frost to caution. For a moment he hesitated.
"All right!" Joyce Poynter spoke suddenly. "Get a move on, man!"
Jimmie Frost understood. He turned to the door again, his hand raised the bell. The door swung open under his hand, and he saw a small wad of folded paper lying on the mat. Immediately, he picked it up and, with his back to the people on the landing, examined it. It was a blank sheet of common writing paper, folded many times to a considerable thickness. On the two outsides of the wad of paper were marks of the door-jamb. Apparently the thickness of paper had not been sufficient to hold the door shut. How had that paper come in the door jamb? For some seconds the ex-detective scanned the paper and the door frame carefully, but he could discover nothing. It was merely a common piece of paper, used to keep the door from swinging open. A woman had screamed, and on that landing, Jimmie Frost was certain of that! Without asking the question, he was certain that the man at his side was of the same opinion. Had the screams come from within that flat? That was probable.
So far as he knew—so far as Sir Edmund's questions had discovered up to that moment—there was no explanation of the cries—cries filled with terror.
"Hold the door, Poynter." The trained Instinct of the ex-police officer could no longer be restrained. "Keep everyone out but Sir Edmund, and anyone he vouches for. I'll call if I want help."
Immediately he crossed the thresh-hold of the flat he felt for, and found, the light-switch. As the bulb lit, he glanced about the little hall, replica of the hall of his own flat, two storeys higher in the building. Nothing about him appeared unusual. The door of the room he believed to be the sitting-room was closed. As his fingers reached for the handle, he hesitated. He must be cautious, careful not to destroy any clues, careful not to leave his own fingerprints about the flat. He must remember he was no longer the authorised police officer, Mark Denvers—he was now Jimmie Frost, master crook. As in his own flat, another door opened into the tiny hall. This gave access to the bedroom. For a moment he stood undecided. Where should he commence his search? He stepped back and switched off the light for a moment; glancing down at the bottom of both doors.
A light showed under the sitting-room door. The narrow space under the bedroom door was dark. Then, someone should be in the sitting-room. He stepped close to the bedroom door, taking care not to touch the wood with his bare flesh. He listened, his ear almost against the panel. There were no sounds of persons In that room. He went to the sitting-room door and listened. He could not hear a movement within the room. A light was burning in the sitting-room. Cautiously, Jimmie Frost placed his elbow against the door, and pressed It. The door was either latched or locked. For a moment more he hesitated, then taking out his handkerchief, gripped the handle lightly through the linen, and turned it, pressing forward.
The door opened easily. Jimmie Frost peered eagerly into the room. The lights were full on. For a moment he thought there was no one in the room.
"Get ahead, man!" Joyce Poynter behind him, was pressing him forward, anxiety In his voice. Jimmie Frost pushed the man back, carefully scanning the carpet between the door and the large table, occupying the centre of the room. He must be careful not to destroy any clues; nor to leave signs of his presence in the flat. Those two facts he had to keep continually in mind. He looked back, over his shoulder, at Joyce Poynter, and scowled. The crowd from the landing were drifting into the flat-hall.
"You damned fool!" He turned on the crook, with a snarl. "I told you to keen those people out!"
"Why? What's the matter?" drawled Joyce Poynter, simulating surprise. "You don't think there's anything really wrong here?"
Irritated that his care to preserve any possible clues that might be about the flat had been negatived by the crook's carelessness, or Intent, Jimmie Frost strode into the sitting-room. A he went to pass around the table, he stopped and gasped. A man was lying, face-downwards on the floor. Beside him lay a girl in a position that suggested that she had collapsed while attempting to succour the man. The ex-detective moved forward carefully. He bent over the prostrate man and rolled him over. At sight of the pale, set face Jimmie Frost uttered an exclamation of unbelief. The man on the floor, apparently dead, was Luther Banke, and the girl beside him was Martha Tayne!
"WHAT'S the matter, Jimmie?" Jimmie Frost looked up from beside the insensible man. Beside him stood Sir Edmund Morgan, his keen, grey eyes moving from the ex-detective to the couple on the floor.
"Who are they? Are they dead?"
Jimmie Frost shook his head. He scrambled to his feet, and stood aside so that the Police Chief could see the two unconscious forms. He remained staring down at Sir Edmund, a frown on his face, his brain whirling with conflicting doubts and conjectures.
"Luther Banke!" The Commissioner's tones betrayed amazement. He turned sharply to the two men immediately behind him.
"Poynter! Jimmie! You must help me! Turn all the people out of this flat. I can't have anyone in here until my men arrive." He turned again to the two bodies on the floor.
Jimmie Frost helped Poynter to clear the flat of the curious onlookers, then returned to the sitting-room, leaving the crook at the outer door, with renewed injunctions against admitting anyone, except the police.
In one corner of the room Jimmie Frost saw a man crouching against the wall. A couple of strides and he caught him by the shoulder, swinging him round to face the light. The man was Alec Kempton. Jimmie Frost nodded understandingly. Sir Edmund had, no doubt, brought the solicitor into the flat. With an exclamation of disgust he let the man slide back into his crouch against the wall. A moment's consideration, and he went again to the hall and instructed Joyce Poynter that no one was to leave the flat until further instructions were given.
He gave the order as a message from the Police Chief.
"There's something very strange here, Mark!" Sir Edmund looked up at his former lieutenant. "Luther Banke here! Why, It's only a few hours ago—"
He stopped speaking abruptly, turning again to the stricken man on the floor. A few minutes and he looked up again. "Is there a telephone in this flat, Ma—Jimmie?" As he spoke his eyes searched the room. "Doesn't look as if there is one. Go somewhere and ring up the nearest police-station. Tell the Inspector on duty to come here, and to bring a doctor with him."
A man in the little group that still lingered on the landing outside the flat, acknowledged possession of a telephone. Jimmie Frost conveyed the Commissioner's message to the desk-sergeant at the police station, then returned to Martha Tayne's flat. To his secret relief the girl had regained consciousness and was sitting on the lounge beside the Police Chief. Luther Banke still lay on the floor, breathing stertorously.
Jimmie Frost frowned. What had happened in that flat during the past hour? It was evident Luther Banke and Alec Kempton had been together In that room, probably in some kind of business conference. But against that, the Jeweller was supposed to be confined to his bed, suffering from some form of stroke. Then, what was the meaning of Alec Kempton's presence in the flat?
The ex-detective's eyes instinctively went to the corner where he had left the solicitor. Some of the man's customary assurance had returned. He had drawn a chair to him and was seated. Jimmie Frost noted that the chair was so placed that the table hid Luther Banke's body.
Martha Tayne, Luther Banke, and Alec Kempton!
For some moments Jimmie Frost puzzled the secret connection between the three persons. If he could guess that he might be able to reconstruct what had happened In the flat before the girl screamed. The flat was occupied by Martha Tayne. Jimmie Frost knew, personally, that she had been at home most of the evening. When he had arrived home, after his escape from the police cell, he had seen her in her kitchenette. He had no reason to believe she had left her flat after that.
Both Alec Kempton and Luther Banke had come to the flat. Had they arrived together? That only one of the three persons who had been in the flat could, or would, tell honestly. He could ask Alec Kempton the question, but he could not rely on the man telling the truth. He turned abruptly to face the Commissioner and Martha Tayne.
"Feeling better, Miss Tayne?" There was sympathy in Jimmie Frost's voice. "Think you're able to talk now?"
"Let her alone, Jimmie." The Commissioner's voice was hard. "She hasn't had time to think yet."
The ex-detective glanced quickly at the Police Chief. What did he mean? Why should not the girl be questioned immediately. Surely if he asked the questions that were trembling on his lips at the moment—questioned her at a time when she was not sufficiently composed to be evasive—he might quickly learn the truth.
For a moment a surge of resentment against his old chief swelled in his breast. Why had he checked his questions? Again the picture he had seen the previous evening, of the Commissioner bending over the jeweller's sickbed rose to his mind's-eye. But the man he had believed to be the Commissioner in Luther Banke's house had proved to be "Cain." Jimmie Frost turned, almost angrily, on the solicitor.
"Wasn't you screaming, was it, Mr. Kempton?" There was rancour in his voice. If the girl was not to be questioned, surely he might deal with this man, whose every action showed him to be a coward.
"I didn't shout." Alec Kempton tried to assume a bold front. "I—I went for help."
"To the head of the stairs, and screamed like a girl!" Jimmie Frost laughed harshly. "That all you did?"
"What—what do you mean?"
"You know." The ex-detective took the man by the shoulders and swung him round so that the light from the overhead light shone full on his face. "Only went for help, eh?"
The solicitor nodded, fearfully. "Who heard you yell?"
"I—I didn't shout."
"No?" The ex-detective laughed gratingly. "Get this. Sir Edmund, a friend, and myself were in my flat—two floors up. We heard someone scream—again and again. We ran out on to the stairs and came down here, and—don't you' forget this—we didn't know where the screams came from, we had to discover this and—" he paused, significantly "—and we never heard another 'peep' from you. You hadn't apparently, got further than the front-door in—your—search—for—help!"
"I—I don't understand you." Alec Kempton's voice quavered.
"I think you, do." The ex-detective roughly tilted up the man's chin, so that the light searched every feature. "You went for help, eh? And you were here—right here, where the screams came from! Get that! And you only got as far as the head of the stairs! Can't you think of a better tale?"
"I—" the solicitor stuttered. Suddenly he gathered his remaining courage, and faced the detective. "Say, who are you?"
"What the—" Jimmie Frost turned savagely on the man, "I'm asking the questions! You didn't scream or shout? Then, what did you do to make this girl scream?"
"He didn't!" Martha Tayne spoke suddenly. "It was—was—"
"Well?" The ex-detective turned swiftly to the girl. Sir Edmund made a movement, as if to interpose, but a quick glance from Jimmie Frost checked him. The Commissioner leaned back on the lounge, a little smile on his lips. Once more Mark Denvers was incarnate—and with the brilliancy and force that had gained him quick promotion in the department.
"Go on, Miss Tayne." There was now a subtle difference in the questioner's tones, yet to ears not attuned to the finer shades of, inflection the former hardness remained. "You say that Kempton did not make you scream?"
"He did not." There was no softness in the girl's eyes as she looked at the solicitor. "Mr. Kempton came to see me on—on business."
"We were In this room, talking—"
"What time aid Mr. Kempton arrive here?" interrupted Jimmie Frost. "About three-quarters of an hour ago." The girl looked down at her wrist-watch as she spoke.
"And he was here right up to the time when—when you screamed?"
"I beg your pardon? I am to understand you and Mr. Kempton were discussing business, only, from the time he arrived, until you screamed?"
"Yes." The word was spoken hesitatingly.
"Mr. Luther Banke's business," the girl evaded.
"Humph!" The ex-detective glanced suspiciously at the girl. She was recovering her composure far too quickly for his liking.
"Does Mr. Kempton come here often, to discuss Mr. Luther Banke's business with you?"
"That's not quite fair, Jimmie." The Police Chief interjected in strangely gentle tones.
"All's fair, chief, when there's something suspiciously like murder about." The ex-detective spoke quickly.
"Murder!" The girl clasped her hands to her mouth, horrified.
"We're not getting anywhere!" The ex-detective was impatient. "You were saying, Miss Tayne, that Mr. Kempton came here to discuss business—your employer's business—at this time of night."
"I have been with counsel in court all day," Alec Kempton interposed, hastily. "Well?"
"Miss Tayne has told you. I came to discuss an important business matter with her."
"Miss Tayne has not told me the nature of the business matter." Jimmie Frost turned to the solicitor suddenly. He faced the girl again. "Let me get this straight. Mr. Kempton came to this flat about an hour ago—because he could not find time during office hours to go to Mr. Luther Banke's shop. You say he came here to discuss business—but neither you nor he appear willing to disclose the nature of that business—"
"I cannot discuss Mr. Luther Banke's business with strangers." The solicitor spoke loftily.
"Not even when Mr. Luther Banke lies like that?" Jimmie Frost suddenly caught the solicitor by the arm and forced him to face the unconscious jeweller.
"That is rather a strange attitude for a sworn officer of the State's Courts to adopt, Mr. Alec Kempton, when your client appears to be dying!"
Martha Tayne screamed. The ex-detective turned sharply to her.
"You are going to far, Jimmie!" Sir Edmund spoke angrily. "You are frightening Miss Tayne!"
"What Is the matter here?" A tall, well-formed man stood In the doorway, glancing keenly about the room. A moment, and he saw Sir Edmund, and saluted him. "Sorry, sir! Didn't see you for the moment, though they told me you were here."
At the sound of John Nott's voice Jimmie Frost turned sharply. For the moment he feared the Inspector catching sight of his face. Nott had been In Court that day when he faced a charge of "drunk and disorderly"—when he had been publicly denounced as James Frost, international crook and convicted murderer.
Then he grinned. It was improbable the Inspector would recognise in the well-dressed man on evident terms of intimacy with the Police Commissioner the dirty, unshaven tramp of the police-court. He faced the newcomer boldly.
The eyes of the old comrades met and held. A puzzled expression showed on John Nott's face; for a moment it lingered; then passed. Jimmie Frost repressed a sigh of relief. How far had the Inspector gone towards recognising him? He must be more wary in the future.
A doctor had entered the room with the Inspector, passing Immediately to where Luther Banke lay. Presently Sir Edmund's eyes met Jimmie Frost's, then looked significantly at the door. Immediately the ex-detective was alert. He had received his dismissal—the Police Chief did not wish to be questioned by Inspector Nott.
He moved quietly towards the door. A sudden thought came to him. How had Nott come upon him without warning? He had stationed Joyce Poynter at the outer door of the flat, with strict injunctions not to let anyone in or out without Sir Edmund's express permission. How then had Nott passed the man? Where was Joyce Poynter, the man he believed to be "Cain," the mystery crook?
Very quietly he passed from the room to the hall. At the opened flat-door stood a uniformed constable—alone! For a moment Jimmie Frost hesitated, then approached the constable. The man turned at the sounds of his step.
"Was there a man on guard at this door when you and the Inspector arrived, constable?" he asked, casually. The constable grinned, and nodded. "Cool customer, sir," he replied. "Didn't want to let the Inspector in—said he had orders not to admit anyone who wasn't in uniform. Then, when he saw me he remarked that as the police had at last arrived, he supposed he wasn't wanted any more and might just as well go back to his flat."
"Go back to his flat!" echoed Jimmie Frost, amazedly. "Where's, that?"
"Up the stairs, sir. He said 'goodnight' to me and walked up the stairs." The constable hesitated. "I suppose he lives up there."
Jimmie Frost was no longer paying attention to the constable. He ran up the stairs to his flat? What had been Joyce Poynter's idea in going up to his flat. There was no escape from the building that way.
JOHN NOTT, detective-inspector, stood in the centre of Martha Tayne's little sitting-room and watched Jimmie Frost leave the room, a puzzled frown on his face. Something about the man brought back memories half-forgotten. He knew the man, yet he could not place him—give him a name. Yet he believed that name should have risen instinctively to his lips. With a shrug he turned to face the others in the room—to find the Police Chief watching him.
"All right, Nott." Sir Edmund smiled. "That man's not mixed up in this matter. Not quite straight—y'know, but still, a friend of mine. You can count him out."
Inspector Nott felt relieved. He turned to watch the police surgeon bending over Luther Banke. It was evident from the deep frown on the medical man's face that his patient puzzled him. At length he looked up, speaking irritably.
"Where's the ambulance, Inspector. We must get this man to hospital as quickly as possible."
"What's the matter with him, doctor?" asked the Inspector.
"A paralytic stroke, and a severe one." Dr. Cream answered impatiently.
"I know that." Sir Edmund said quietly. "He is Luther Banke, the jeweller. No doubt you heard he was taken ill in the city a few days ago."
"That sounds absurd!" Dr. Cream was on his feet now. "What exactly do you mean?"
"Mr. Luther Banke was picked up in a city street three days ago, suffering from a paralytic stroke. Since then I have visited him at his home. I was at his house yesterday evening, and up to then he had been unconscious."
"Where does he live?" asked the doctor.
The doctor laughed, incredulously. "Do you mean to tell me that he has been unconscious for three days then got up, dressed himself and came here? Impossible!"
"I am stating facts." Sir Edmund spoke carefully. "Provable facts. Miss Tayne will support my statements."
Inspector Nott turned eagerly to the girl.
The note of slight antagonism Jimmie Frost had allowed to creep into his voice had aroused her from the apathy the shock of the evenings happenings had occasioned. Her intelligence again awake, she had a strong antipathy against the police and those who wished to question her. Yet, towards Sir Edmund, who had sat patiently beside her while her brain slowly recovered from the shocks of the past hour, she only felt gratitude. He had not attempted to question her; he had restrained others from questioning her too sharply. She knew the high position he held; but for his quiet insistence she might have been closely questioned—and spoken of things that made her shudder even to think of.
All she knew!
Sudden shudders racked her body. All she knew—and she had been so anxious and puzzled until an hour ago! Now she knew—but did she? Or was she only guessing on a series of events—on the few words uttered by the man who had staggered into her room, to fall unconscious at her feet.
She felt, rather than saw, that Inspector Nott was watching her keenly, waiting for the moment when he might question her. She must be careful not to tell the police anything of vital importance—nothing they could not obtain by questioning others. She must make the most of the shock she had received, and of her present condition. At all costs she must gain time—until Luther Banke could speak, and she could explain everything, and receive his instructions.
Forcing her nerves under control she looked up at the detective.
"Sir Edmund is correct," she said softly. "He has been out twice to see Mr. Luther Banke during the past three days. I have been out to 'Rosewood' every evening since Mr. Luther Banke was taken ill. I went out hoping Mr. Luther Banke had recovered consciousness, and could give me the necessary instructions for carrying on his business."
"You are in Mr. Luther Banke's employ?" asked the Inspector.
"I am his personal secretary. When he is absent from business I am in full charge."
"So you went to Mr. Luther Banke's house—'Rosewood,' Moorfield, I believe you said—every evening to receive his instructions. Did he, at any time since he was taken ill, speak to you—give you any sign, when you spoke to him, that he heard and understood?"
Martha Tayne shook her head, a sad little smile on her lips.
"Not once," she said. "Since the afternoon Mr. Luther Banke was suddenly taken ill he has not spoken to me, or given any sign he heard, or understood when I spoke to him."
"But—" Nott showed his bewilderment.
"Mr. Banke has been completely unconscious since the stroke," Sir Edmund explained. "He has not spoken a word, even to his nurse."
"You told me you went to Mr. Luther Banke's house this evening, Miss Tayne?" Nott turned again to the girl.
"And Mr. Banke was then unconscious?"
"Yes. The nurse told me there had been no change."
"Who is professionally attending Mr. Luther Banke?"
"Dr. Matthews. He is neighbour to Mr. Luther Banke, and has been his medical attendant for years."
"Do you know Dr. Matthew's opinion regarding Mr. Luther Banke's condition?"
"Only what Nurse Pringle has told me."
"What is that?" Noticing that the girl hesitated to reply, the Inspector added: "This is not a court, Miss Tayne, and hearsay evidence is admissible, and sometimes illuminating."
"Nurse Pringle told me that Dr. Matthews considered that Mr. Luther Banke was in a very serious condition, and that—that—"
"Yes?" encouraged the detective.
"That he might not recover consciousness until just before the—the end." Martha Tayne spoke in a very low voice.
"When did Nurse Pringle tell you this?"
"This evening—about seven o'clock."
"That was the last time you saw Mr. Banke?"
"Yes—until he opened the door and walked into this room."
"I screamed." For some seconds the girl paused, then added: "I thought—perhaps I was foolish—but I thought I saw a ghost."
Again there was silence; then the detective asked; "Were you alone when Mr. Banke walked into the room?"
"No, Mr. Alec Kempton—Mr. Luther Banke's solicitor—was here with me."
Inspector Nott's eyes went swiftly to the man seated in a corner of the room. "A friendly call?"
"Mr. Alec Kempton came to see me on business connected with the firm."
"How long was he with you before—" The Inspector did not finish his sentence. He glanced at the still form on the floor.
"About twenty minutes."
"You admitted Mr. Kempton to the flat—you opened the door to him?" "Certainly. I live alone."
"You closed the outer door, after you admitted Mr. Kempton—you are quite certain?"
"Then, how did Mr. Banke gain admission?"
"I—I don't know." Martha Tayne paused, then continued: "I did not know that Mr. Luther Banke was in the flat—I did not know that he had regained consciousness—until he came into the room."
Suddenly the girl rose to her feet and turned to Sir Edmund: "Please, may I go to my room for a while. I—I—"
The Police Commissioner nodded. Inspector' Nott opened the door for her. As she left the room she averted her eyes from the solicitor. When he had closed the door after the girl, the Inspector turned to Alec Kempton.
"Your name Kempton?"
"I am Mr. Alexander Kempton, senior partner in the firm of Wallis, Kempton & Co." The solicitor spoke with feeble dignity.
"Yeah!" The keen eyes of the detective stared at the man bleakly. "That gets us nowhere. What did you come here for to-night?"
"I came to speak to Miss Tayne on business."
"You heard her say that, didn't you?"
"What do you mean?" Alec Kempton tried to look indignant, but failed.
"You were here when Mr. Luther Banke walked into the room?"
"Yes." (Very hesitatingly). "I—"
"Why don't you say it—you look it, y'know."
"Look here." Inspector Nott moved closer to the solicitor, bending over him aggressively. "I'm asking the questions—understand? When was the last time you saw Mr. Luther Banke. I'm not referring to when he came here an hour or so ago?"
"Three days ago—at his office."
"Then you haven't been out to his house at Moorfield since he's been ill?"
"The last time you saw Mr. Luther Banke, he was quite well."
"He looked very ill." Alec Kempton hesitated, then added, as if in explanation: "I was with him early in the afternoon of the day he was taken ill."
'"So!" Inspector Nott paused a moment, then asked: "You say, you came here 'to see Miss Tayne—on business. What business?"
"Mr. Luther Banke's business."
"What about Mr. Luther Banke's business?"
"I decline to answer that question. The business is extremely confidential."
"So confidential that it cannot be told to the police—when Mr. Banke lies—there!"
Alec Kempton did not answer. The detective continued, mercilessly: "So confidential and private that it could be dismissed, however, with one of Mr. Bankers employees?"
"Miss Tayne is Mr. Luther Banke's confidential secretary. While he is ill she controls his business and private interests."
"Leave it at that!" Inspector Nott showed impatience. For some moments he paced the room.
Suddenly he halted before the Commissioner, to exclaim: "Lor' chief! If only Mark Denvers was here to handle this bird! I bet he'd 'cheep' for him!"
Sir Edmund nodded. He had seen the quick light flame in the solicitor's eyes at the mention of the detective-inspector's name—at the suggestion that he could make unwilling witnesses talk. Did the man know that but a short half-hour before, Mark Denvers had stood in that room, and but for the advent of Inspector Nott would have questioned him. The Commissioner believed he did.
"So you won't tell me what you and that girl were discussing?" Inspector Nott suddenly ceased his pacing of the room, halting before Kempton and snapping out the question. The solicitor started, but shook his head, negatively.
"You are prepared to swear the matter is so confidential that it cannot be mentioned—even when Mr. Luther got off his death-bed and travelled eight miles to learn its nature?"
The detective drew a bow at venture. Alec Kempton made no answer.
"Did Mr. Luther Banke speak when he came into the room?"
Again Inspector Nott tried to surprise the truth out of the man. For a moment Alec. Kempton's lips parted. Sir Edmund thought the man was going to answer in the affirmative, but the solicitor remained silent.
"So he did speak!" The detective had caught the unspoken affirmative. "What did he say?"
The lawyer's lips pressed together into an almost invisible line.
"Good enough!" Inspector Nott almost chortled. "So Mr. Luther Banke had something to say before he fell, unconscious. But did he fall or did you strike him down? That's possible, y'know. You won't tell me? Very well; we'll have the girl in to face you. Between the lies you both tell we may get some truth."
The Inspector turned to Dr. Cream: "How's your patient, doctor? Still unconscious! Humph! When will I be able to question him?"
"I am afraid—never." Dr. Cream spoke gravely.
"You say—" The detective hesitated. "Will he die?"
"Eventually." The medical man spoke with a slight smile. "He may last, like he is now, without speech, without motion, helpless and inarticulate but, perhaps, cognisant of everything around him—" The doctor paused, then continued: "Can you imagine a living brain in a dead body? Can you realise that the man lying there may be understanding everything that is taking place—seeing everything within range of his eyes; hearing everything yet unable to move, speak, or even give the slightest indication that he is alive—totally unable to express a single desire?"
For some moments the detective stood before Dr. Cream, awed by the vivid picture of a living death, then, with abrupt decision, turned and strode to Martha Tayne's bedroom door. At the door, Inspector Nott knocked gently, bending his head to listen for an answer. Again he knocked. A couple of seconds, and he turned and glanced at the Police Chief.
Sir Edmund showed his perplexity on his face. He hesitated, then nodded, imperatively, at the Inspector. Again Inspector Nott knocked. He waited a moment then turned the handle and flung open the door, striding into the room. A few minutes, and he returned to the sitting-room, his face showing perplexity. "Something strange here, chief," he said, slowly. "That girl's not in her room—she's not in the flat. I've been right through it. Constable Phillips, on guard at the outer door swears she hasn't passed him. Where the devil can she be?"
MARTHA TAYNE had disappeared from her flat; disappeared without leaving a single clue to the method of escape, or to where she had gone. Inspector Nott was completely baffled.
Another, and very keen search of the premises showed that the only possible exit was by the front door; and that had been under the constable's eye from the Inspector's arrival.
Why had Martha Tayne run away?
Sir Edmund Morgan puzzled the question. She had not been frightened; he had been careful that neither Jimmie Frost nor John Nott should question her too sharply. She had answered their questions with apparent frankness, evading only those relating to her interview with Alec Kempton. Both the girl and the man had declared that the latter's call that evening had been solely concerned with Luther Banke's business. Sir Edmund doubted this and could not understand why Martha Tayne had supported the lawyer in the evasion. He believed that if Luther Banke was able to speak, he would declare Alec Kempton handled nothing that could not be immediately revealed in cases of necessity. Frankly, Sir Edmund gravely doubted the little solicitor's integrity. What compact was there between Martha Tayne and Alec Kempton? If there was some sort of understanding between the two, did it refer to the mystery crook "Cain?"
Sir Edmund remembered that when "Cain" paid his first visit to Luther Banke's jewellery store the girl and the lawyer had been antagonistic. Alec Kempton had shown contemptuous pusillanimity. He had tried to conceal and shield "Cain."
Why?' The Commissioner's memory suddenly recalled the report Mark Denvers had made when he returned from his first visit to Luther Banke's shop. He had written that Martha Tayne had given him the impression that she was withholding information she possessed regarding "Cain."
Martha Tayne and Alec Kempton! Antagonistic one to the other, yet allied to protect the greatest and most dangerous crook the law-forces of the state had ever had to combat.
With a quiet word of commendation and encouragement to Inspector Nott, Sir Edmund left Martha Tayne's flat and climbed the stairs in search of Jimmie Frost. He had to see him as soon as possible The inquiry had passed out of his hands; he dared not intervene further.
Martha Tayne had fled from Inspector Nott's inquisition. Why, Sir Edmund could not understand. Then Jimmie Frost had better disappear, also; at least until Inspector Nott's inquiries in that building were completed. As he laboured up the stairs the old man smiled sardonically. If those to whom he was responsible could read his thoughts at that moment; review his actions!
Sir Edmund had left Inspector Nott re-examining Alec Kempton. In that the Police Chief felt no compunctions. The lawyer was a coward—and worse. He had attempted to shelter behind the girl. He had been prepared to sacrifice the girl to save "Cain." Let Inspector Nott work his will on him. Nothing the lawyer could say, or admit, could make worse the position of the two persons the Commissioner was prepared to stretch his authority to the utmost to protect.
Jimmie Frost's flat was in darkness, although the door was ajar. Sir Edmund switched on the sitting-room lights and seated himself in one of the armchairs. He was tired—very tired; tired in brain as well as in body. He was an old man!
Insistently now his brain repeatedly travelled back to old days—days when he had walked the streets of that city, garbed in the constable blue, virile, alert, full of enthusiasm and ambition; days when he had lived under an Indian sun, mounting rapidly the ladder of success. He had realised his ambitions. Step by step he had mounted through the various grades of police work, to the highest office in the service. He had been Police Commissioner when his King's son had toured that land. His knighthood was a recognition of his services—but that was another story!
In those days the super-crook "Cain" had not risen to trouble the country.
"Cain!" The greatest crook he had fought. But, what of "Cain?"
Now he remembered. Jimmie Frost had insisted that "Cain" was connected in some way with four men, Who were they? Ah, he remembered! Pell, Michaelstein, Symonds and Kilson. They were all men he had known—some of them he had liked. All dead! And now Luther Banke!
Pell, Michaelstein, Symonds, Kilson, and Banke! Suddenly, he sat upright. There was a thought growing in his brain—a thought that would not quickly assume complete form. Yet, amid the wavy outline of nebulous ideas, one name stood out clearly—the name of Alec Kempton. If only he could remember! Again the Police Chief lay back in his chair, biting savagely on the black cheroot between his teeth. He was old, old; and he could not remember easily. In bygone days—when he was young—
Papers! Lost papers! Alec Kempton and lost papers! But a while ago, in Martha Tayne's flat, Alec Kempton had admitted to John Nott that he had asked Martha Tayne for some papers. He had stated that he believed they were in the jewellery store safe. Pell, Michaelstein, Banke—Again and again the names swept through his memory. And always one was missing. Banke, Kilson, Symonds, Kempton—There was one name missing—a name he could not recall—a face he could not remember!
Little beads of perspiration jutted out on his forehead—his hands, clasping the leather arms of his chair in savage intensity, became clammy. Banke, Kempton—and a bundle of papers! A lawyer—and a bundle of papers! A missing name and a bundle of papers—missing papers.
Yes, that was right! He had advanced another step In memory's maze. A name and—and he could solve the riddle; place the man who had defied him—defied his country's laws. "You here, chief?"
The cord of memory, tautened almost to ringing point, snapped. Sir Edmund sat up, blinking. Before him stood the man he had named James Frost.
"Ah, Jimmie!" In an instant the old man had himself under control. "And our friend Poynter?"
"Got away." The ex-detective winced as he spoke. "For the moment I'd forgotten about him—at the door-"
"'Cain' never forgets." The words were spoken almost in a whisper. "Never mind, Jimmie. Inspector Nott also played to ill-luck. One of his—er—exhibits also got away."
"Kempton? I'd have hardly thought he'd have had the nerve!"
"No. Martha Tayne."
"It is hard to understand." Sir Edmund shook his head sadly. "Foolish girl."
"But how—why—did she run away?"
"Miss Tayne asked permission to go to her room for a few minutes. When she did not return within a reasonable time, John Nott went after her—and couldn't find her."
"—and 'Cain' came upstairs." Sir Edmund looked up quickly, at the ex-detective.
"What do you mean by that?" he asked. For the moment Jimmie Frost did not reply. He had spoken on impulse—more by instinct than by thought. In his sub-conscious mind two facts linked: "Cain" in his disguise of Joyce Poynter had come upstairs—to disappear; Martha Tayne had entered her bedroom—and disappeared.
Upstairs! Some kink in his brain held and magnified the word. But there was only one exit to Martha Tayne's flat—the door guarded by the constable. The man had sworn the girl had not passed that door; he had stated that he had watched Joyce Poynter walk upstairs.
Martha Tayne's flat was on the second storey of the building; his own flat was on the fourth floor. Above his flat was only one storey—the fifth floor—and then the roof. A flat roof!
Jimmie Frost knew that Poynter was not now in the building. In his search for the crook he had visited every occupied flat, closely questioning the occupants. There was no fire escape attached to the building—no way down to the street but by the wide stone-lined stairs and passages, through the centre of the house. The houses flanking the building were but two storeys high. An active man might lower himself from the roof of the block of flats to an adjacent roof, but if he did so he would have to leave his rope to mark the route of his escape, Jimmie Frost knew there was no rope. He had examined the roof.
"Well?" The quick, staccato word from the Police Chief aroused the ex-detective from his reverie.
"I can't understand it," he spoke meditatively.
"Understand what?" Jimmie Frost drew a chair forward. "I left Joyce Poynter on guard at Miss Tayne's flat-door. When Inspector Nott arrived he left—coming upstairs."
"He may have thought the main door of the building was guarded." The ex-detective shook his head; that was not the right reason. "Cain" knew; his actions were reasoned, never guessed.
"Then you connect Miss Tayne's disappearance with—with Joyce Poynter coming upstairs?" Sir Edmund demanded.
Jimmie Frost nodded. "I believe so," he said.
"But Poynter never saw Martha Tayne after she recovered consciousness," objected the Commissioner. "You put him on guard at the flat-door almost immediately we arrived."
Again Jimmie Frost nodded. "I thought he had escaped by means of a rope from the roof—but there was no rope there, no signs of there having been one there."
"Why do you insist on Martha Tayne's disappearance being connected with Joyce Poynter?" asked Sir Edmund, curiously.
"She could not have escaped from her flat unaided."
The Police Chief did not reply. The statement was a fact. But even with outside aid, how had the girl escaped?
"You have examined all the flats above the second floor?" asked the Commissioner.
"I have been in every flat; questioned the occupants." The ex-detective was emphatic. "I cannot attach a suspicion to any flat—or to any occupant. Somehow 'Cain' managed the trick alone."
For long minutes there was silence in the room, then Jimmie Frost commenced to speak, his eyes half-closed, his voice a tired drawl.
"Poynter leaves Martha Tayne's flat;—he comes upstairs in full view of the a constable—he turns the corner of the stairs, then—What next?"
For a full minute he was silent, then he continued: "He would first think of the roof. He would discard that thought, for he had learned before he entered the building that there was no escape that way—unless he had already planted a rope there. He would know that a rope would indicate the line of his flight—"
The man's eyes had gradually closed; deep lines of mental concentration showed on his forehead. Slowly, he continued; "He had no confederate in any flat in the building—Rule them out. 'Cain' works alone. But how? Only a rope would have served. Rope!—"
Suddenly Jimmie Frost jumped to his feet and ran out of the room. In a few minutes he returned, dangling in his hand a short piece of rope.
"Sony, sir!" A quaint smile flecked the ex-detective's lips as threw the rope on the table and dropped Into, his chair. "I'm losing my punch!"
"Wandered about the flat roof above for quite a time; searched the laundries and sheds there—and never noticed that all the clothes-line had mysteriously disappeared. That's the way our friend 'Cain' went."
Jimmie Frost nodded, gloomily. "She's too nice a girl to be mixed up with that crook. I wonder why—"
"How?" Sir Edmund interjected, loudly.
"Sir?" Jimmie Frost looked up quickly, astonished. "You say Poynter—or 'Cain,' if you like—took the clothes-line from the roof and escaped. How?"
For minutes there was silence In the room; then abruptly Jimmie Frost rose to his feet, beckoned Sir Edmund to follow him, and led into the kitchenette of his flat. The little room was in wild disorder. The window was open and swung idly in a small breeze. Over the window-sill was draped yards of rope.
"Never thought of my own flat, sir." The ex-detective spoke ruefully. "Nor of the clothes-line, either."
"See," he continued, pointing out of the window. "Down there is a window of Martha Tayne's flat. In some way Joyce Poynter attracted her attention, then, with the clothes-line he managed to lower her to the ground, or—"
"Bring her up here," concluded Sir Edmund, ironically.
"Jumping Joe!" exclaimed Jimmie Frost, In amazement. Abruptly he turned and went out of the flat. Ten minutes later he returned to announce: "Martha Tayne's flat door is shut—and the flat beneath this flat, on her floor, is empty."
FOR more than an hour after Sir Edmund left him, Jimmie Frost paced his sitting-room pondering his problem. He was annoyed with himself.
He had had "Cain" in his hands, and had allowed him to escape. More, the crook had taken Martha Tayne with him. Why had the girl allowed "Cain" to take her from her flat? What inducements, what threats, had he used to her?
Jimmie Frost swore under his breath. He had relied on the girl to unconsciously lead him to the crook. He believed that "Cain" was greatly attracted to the girl and could not long keep outside her orbit. Now "Cain" had abducted the girl, taking her almost out of the hands of the police! His raid had succeeded because of its audacity.
Yet, in detail, how had he accomplished it?
Jimmie Frost had a theory; at the moment he had no proof to his theory. Before he could search for that proof the police had to leave the building. He had to wait until the tenants of the flats settled down for the night.
Time passed slowly. Again and again Jimmie Frost crept down the stairs until he could see the door of Martha Tayne's flat; see through the glass of the hall-door the light that proclaimed the police still held possession of the place. Sounds ascending through the echoing space of the stairs and corridors at length warned Jimmie Frost that Inspector Nott had finished his inquiries in Martha Tayne's flat.
Jimmie Frost ran down the stairs until he could see the landing before Martha Tayne's door. He saw John Nott close the door and join the constable and Alec Kempton on the landing. Kempton was angrily flushed. The ex-detective watched them tramp down the stairs; he followed cautiously, until they passed the main doors, on to the street.
Silently, in his rubber-soled shoes, he went through the house, noting that the tenants appeared settled for the night; then returned to the second-storey landing.
For a moment he hesitated before the door of Martha Tayne's flat, the urge to go in and search being strong on his mind. He turned on his heel and went to the empty flat. This flat was in a line with his, one floor intervening. A Yale lock held the outer door. Jimmie Frost made a brief examination of the lock. Yale locks are considered "safe!"
He laughed softly as his fingers searched his waistcoat pocket. An old lag had once shown him how "safe" such locks were. The queerly-bent piece of steel slipped easily into the keyhole. He manipulated it carefully. Then his left hand came up to the lock, holding a long, thin pointed instrument. It passed into the lock above the "key."
A click, and the door swung open. A slight light from the landing flickered into the hall of the flat. Jimmie Frost peered ahead. The flat was empty, though furnished. For a moment he hesitated, his finger on the light-button. That light would be too dangerous. He pulled his torch from his pocket. Shading the light with his fingers, he moved into the flat, closing the hall-door behind him. He listened at the closed sitting-room door for a moment before opening it and entering the room.
He released the light of his torch and let it circle the room, careful that it did not shine on the windows. From the sitting-room a door opened into the kitchenette. The door was half-open. Immediately he passed the door he saw that the window was open.
He had expected that. On the sink under the window and on the sill he saw signs of someone scrambling awkwardly into the flat. Martha Tayne was a plucky girl! Mentally, Jimmie Frost made his acknowledgements to her bravery. He looked out of the window, across the light-well to the opposite kitchenette. It was evident that the girl had swung from one window to the other on the clothes-line held by the crook—a risk many men would have hesitated to take in the darkness of night.
What fears of the police had induced the girl to undertake that hazardous feat? What had she feared from their questioning? What threats or inducements had "Cain" made to her?
Jimmie Frost let the torch-light play slowly about the room. It came to rest on a door. From his knowledge of his own flat, the ex-detective knew this opened into the bathroom. He thought the door moved as the light rested on it. The movement had been almost imperceptible, yet he was certain the door had moved.
Some instinct warned him there was someone in the bathroom, watching him. His pulse missed a beat. He knew now that the hunch he had followed earlier in the evening was correct. Someone was behind that door! Almost he cried out the man's name. His hand reached to his hip-pocket for his automatic. Then caution asserted itself.
Slowly, methodically, he commenced to search the kitchenette. He found ample signs that others had been there recently. With apparent concentration he searched the small place, conscious that hidden eyes were watching his movements. Gradually he approached the bathroom door, careful not to betray interest in it or the room beyond. In one sudden bound he reached the door and pulled it open.
The light from his torch swept the room. Instinct drew his attention to the bedroom door. Again he sprang forward, and, as his hand touched the handle, he heard the key turn in the lock.
With a muttered curse, Jimmie Frost ran back, through the kitchenette to the sitting-room. As he entered the room the door to the hall closed hastily; he heard the key grate in the lock.
Again he had been out-manoeuvred. He realised, with a wry grin that he was a prisoner within the flat. It would take him very few minutes to pick any of the locks, but minutes were precious when "Cain" was on the run.
Again came sounds of a door closing. Jimmie Frost swore through his clenched teeth. That door could only have been the hall-door of the flat closing after "Cain." Had he left the flat alone?
The ex-detective believed he had been accompanied by Martha Tayne. The sitting-room door was troublesome. First, he had to get rid of the key, which the crook had left in the lock on the other side of the door.
Then, in his haste, he twice failed to hold the raised wards. At length he succeeded in his task, and the door opened. The hall was in darkness and the outer door shut. Listening for a moment, to make sure no one was passing up or down the stairs, he slipped out of the flat, closing the door silently. Instinct drew his eyes to the adjoining flat-the one occupied by Martha Tayne.
He stopped with a little gasp of surprise. The door was shut, and there was a light in the hall. Yet Inspector Nott had left the place in darkness. Martha Tayne had returned! Was she alone; where had she been?
He could get answers to those questions. He knew now that "Cain" had swung the girl from her kitchenette window to the empty flat then, altering his disguise to baffle the constable had come downstairs and joined her. Was "Cain" now with Martha Tayne in her flat? Jimmie Frost believed he was.
He reached out a hand to the door-bell, then hesitated. Whenever he had faced the master-crook openly he had been outwitted and defeated. In the future he would play a waiting game—he would be a shadow on the man's trail—waiting patiently until he could catch him off guard. Then the long, painful search the old police chief had placed on his shoulders would end.
Stealthily, he mounted the stairs to the half-landing. There he made himself as comfortable as the stone floor would permit, waiting for "Cain" to come from the girl's flat. The long minutes dragged, and Jimmie Frost mustered his patience. Grimly he reflected, he would have to exercise his patience during the coming days, while he waited and watched for the master-crook to make that one fatal error that would place him behind the bars of a prison-cell.
Gradually the ex-detective's mind reverted to the girl, Martha Tayne. What would she do? Would she continue to occupy the flat, acting as if she had done nothing unusual in evading the police? Or would she leave that building, for some secret hide-out prepared for her by "Cain?"
He must be prepared for that. If the girl decided to remain at the flat, continue her normal existence? Jimmie Frost smiled grimly. Inspector Nott would be furious. But what could he do? The girl had committed no offence, to the Inspector's knowledge. He could question her—but she need not answer his questions. However inquisitive the Inspector he could not force explanations. A sense of "Cain's" abnormal criminal cleverness came to the ex-detective. The man ordered events to suit his purposes; more, he was alert to take advantage of every opportune circumstance Martha Tayne had, for the moment been a threat to his liberty; in her hysterical condition she might have spoken words that would have revealed the crook's reel identity. Therefore he had taken her—literally taken her out of the hands of the police.
Yet he had not compromised her. She could return to her normal existence at any moment—and be forced to no explanations.
Seated on the cold, stone steps, watching the door of Martha Tayne's flat, Jimmie Frost tried to follow the master-crook's line of thought. The girl had screamed when Luther Banke, whom she believed was lying on his death-bed, had walked into her sitting room. Some officious fool, or fools—and here he had to include the Police Commissioner and himself—had telephoned the police. Inquiries had resulted in the negative. No crime had been committed. A woman had the right to scream, day or night. It was a sex privilege assumed through the ages and which set at defiance man-made laws. To call the police because a woman had screamed—and without first inquiring into the cause of her hysteria—was to make oneself ridiculous.
Luther Banke had come to Martha Tayne's flat. Possibly he had done so before. But Luther Banke had been lying unconscious for several days, at his home at Moorefield. The doctors had diagnosed him to be suffering from a paralytic stroke. Then how had he travelled from Moorefield to Martha Tayne's flat? He had first to regain consciousness, and command of his limbs. He had to conceal his recovery from doctors and nurses. He had to raise himself from his bed and dress himself—to leave the house unnoticed. He had to 'find a public vehicle and give his instructions without the attendant noticing his condition.
All these facts were impossibilities unless he received aid. There could be only one answer to the various points of the problem. In some manner "Cain" had obtained access to Luther Banke, and control of his actions. He had brought him from Moorefield to the block of flats.
Yet, how had "Cain" known that the jeweller had regained consciousness? So far, the ex-detective believed he had reasoned correctly. He believed "Cain" had known that Alec Kempton had planned to visit Martha Tayne that night. Luther Banke's partial recovery had shown a way to stop any plans the lawyer was making. "Cain" had abducted the Jeweller for that purpose, planning to break in, on the conference at the psychological moment.
What had been "Cain's" objective in submitting Martha Tayne to so terrible a shock? What had he hoped to gain by the jeweller's intrusion when the interview between the girl and the lawyer was only to discuss trade business?
Jimmie Frost now knew that "Cain" was the pivot on which turned the strange happenings surrounding Luther Banke and Martha Tayne. He could trace the hand and the brain of the master-crook in the happenings, but he had not the faintest idea of the ultimate objective of the elaborate plans.
The door of Martha Tayne's flat opened suddenly and the man who had named himself Joyce Poynter came out on the landing. For a brief moment he stood at the door, talking to the girl, then walked out on the landing. Now Martha Tayne came to the door. Jimmie Frost watched her intently.
The girl showed no signs of the stress of the past hours. She was smiling; once she laughed. Presently she turned and re-entered the flat, waving a farewell. Jimmie Frost came to his feet, prepared to follow the crook. To his amazement "Cain," instead of descending the stairs, came towards the upper floors. Puzzled at the crook's behaviour, Jimmie Frost retreated up the stairs, moving as silently as possible.
With relief, he remembered that he had left his door ajar. When he was fairly confident "Cain" was making for his flat, he ran noiselessly up the remaining stairs, entered his flat and closed the door. Pressing his ear against the door-panel, he listened intently. "Cain" came up the stairs slowly, but without any attempt to conceal his presence. The ex-detective heard the crook pause outside his door. For some seconds there were no sounds from the landing, then the flap of the letterbox was raised and something light fell to the hall-floor. Followed the soft "pad-pad" of feet descending the stairs.
Jimmie Frost waited until sound told him that "Cain" had reached the landing below, then opened the hall-door. The landing light showed a man's visiting card lying on the mat. Thrusting it hastily into his vest pocket, he ran down the stairs, intent on keeping the crook in sight. He caught sight of "Cain" again as the crook passed through the double swing-doors in the main hall. Waiting a few moments, he followed to the street.
He had barely reached the outer doors when he heard sounds of a motor-engine. As he came to the street he saw a vehicle ahead, moving slowly and making for the main street. The ex-detective ran in the same direction, intent on finding a taxi and following the crook But no vehicles were in sight in that quiet quarter of the town. At length the car carrying the crook turned a corner, gathering speed. Almost stamping with impotent anger, Jimmie Frost was forced to give up the pursuit. Again "Cain" had defeated him.
DAY after day Jimmie Frost searched the city for a clue that would again place him on the trail of "Cain." From the time he had driven from the flats where Martha Tayne lived nothing had been heard of him. Amid excursions into the city and suburbs to points where he hoped to pick up news of the master-crook, Jimmie Frost kept a careful watch over Martha Tayne.
The girl had resumed her former routine of life and went about her duties with apparent unconcern. With admirable regularity she left her flat for the jewellery store each morning, and, after business hours, journeyed to the Moorefield Hospital, where Luther Banke had been conveyed by the police. Saturday afternoons and Sundays she spent by the sick man's side.
Inspector Nott saw Martha Tayne the day following the happenings at her flat At first, the girl had refused to answer his questions; then had declared she had been shocked into screaming by the startling apparition of a man she believed to be helpless on a sick-bed, many miles away. She refused any explanation of Alec Kempton's call, referring the Inspector to the lawyer. She would answer no questions regarding her escape from her flat, treating the matter as a joke on the constable.
John Nott met with no better success when he attempted to question Alec Kempton. The intervening hours had permitted the lawyer to regain his nerve. He refused to answer the Inspector's questions, and when pressed for replies, threatened legal action. He claimed no crime had been committed, and therefore the Inspector had no right to interfere.
Luther Banke made no progress towards recovery. The doctors could not explain how a man in his condition had journeyed half-a-dozen miles across the busy city. Day after day the jeweller lay, a helpless, senseless body, apparently unconscious of what was going on about him.
Here, again, Jimmie Frost was puzzled. The keenest inquiries by the police had not uncovered one person who had seen him on the journey. On Jimmie Frost's insistence, Sir Edmund had the jeweller examined by the leading medical experts of the city—with the usual conflict of opinions.
"Cain" had disappeared, apparently, and much of the newspaper comment he had caused had given place to newer sensations. Yet Jimmie Frost was certain the crook was alert and working. During his recent operations the crook had netted several thousands pounds, mainly from Luther Banke. Yet the ex-detective believed "Cain" had a further objective, and would strike again soon. He wondered if that move would be against the jeweller's life.
Many evenings the old Police Chief and the ex-detective sat in the letter's flat, discussing their problem. During those long and intimate talks Sir Edmund revealed to his companion the strange perplexities that beset him—his vain mental searches for the missing links in memory's chain. Sir Edmund was emphatic that if Alec Kempton could be made to speak he could reveal many clues towards the identity of the super-crook. Jimmie Frost, also, believed that the lawyer was withholding valuable information; that even if they could discover the "business" that had taken him to Martha Tayne's flat that night they could make further progress with their Inquiries.
But, as time progressed, the solicitor became more tight-lipped. Jimmie Frost regretted that Inspector Nott had arrived at the girl's flat so promptly. He believed that if he had been allowed to further question the solicitor he could have forced the truth. The theory regarding "Cain" evolved by the Police Chief intrigued Jimmie. He came to believe, as Sir Edmund did that some link existed between "Cain" and the five men he had robbed.
Hour after hour through the nights, after the Commissioner had taken his departure, the ex-detective pored over the police reports left with him. Again and again, he read his notes on the series of crimes committed by "Cain"—striving to find the hidden link that bound them together. He knew it was there! He was confident of that—but always it eluded him. "Cain" in his illegal activities had robbed only five men; robbed them of many thousands pounds. The fifth man of the group now lay on a sickbed.
What link bound those men and the super-crook? Jimmie Frost was certain such a link existed—and that one day he would discover it.
"Cain" had taken a large fortune from the five men—Pell, Michaelstein, Symonds, Kilson and Banke. The men had all been citizens of that city; they had all been rich men, engaged in business. Sir Edmund believed they had all been acquainted—that some, if not all, had been, intimates Had they also been business associates? Had they—all of them—been engaged to a single business deal? If so, with whom—or against whom?
If he could find an answer to those questions! If he could discover some transaction in which they had all had a part—some deal in which some individual had reason to believe he had been defrauded!
With a sigh. Jimmie Frost thrust the papers from him. On present knowledge the problem appeared insoluble. To gain success on those lines meant that he would require a small army of helpers. He would have to take the men one by one; examine every business deal they had engaged in. It would be an endless task—the work of years. Yet somewhere in the histories of the five men—and Alec Kempton—lay the clue he sought. Four of them were dead, the fifth was only a living corpse. If he died without speaking, then only Alec Kempton remained—and he feared to speak.
Alec Kempton! He had been Luther Banke's solicitor for many years. During which of those years had he and his client come in contact with "Cain?" Certainly not of recent years. Jimmie Frost believed that he would have to go back far beyond the last seven years—the years of "Cain's" activities. Sir Edmund was insistent that, sooner or later, "Cain" would strike at Alec Kempton. Jimmie Frost believed that the solicitor held the same opinion. When, and in what manner, the ex-detective could not guess. He sighed; almost he wished the master-crook would act soon. He was fretting on inaction—the wait for the next scene to be staged.
Alec Kempton and Martha Tayne! Behind them "Cain" the criminal. Two men and a woman! A whimsical smile came on the ex-detective's lips. The eternal triangle! Had the age-old problem any part in this tangle of crime he was seeking to unravel; this search on which he had staked his career?
Late one afternoon, after hours of deep thought, Jimmie Frost seized his hat and went down to Hunter Street, to watch Martha Tayne leave the jewellery store and journey to Moorefield, on her daily visit to Luther Banke. Time and again he had trailed her on that journey, in the fast-fading hope that one day she would deviate from her routine, and lead him to "Cain."
He wondered, would he return to his flat with the old story of failure? Was he wise to stake so much time on this continued tracking of the girl? Was he right in believing that, sooner or later, "Cain" would again seek her?
When he arrived in the city he found the streets crowded with workers hurrying home from shops and offices. In a doorway opposite the jewellery store, the ex-detective took his usual stand, careful that he, himself, was not under observation. Suddenly, he came alert.
Someone beside himself was watching Luther Banke's store.
Three times a man had sauntered past where he stood, and each time the man stared earnestly at the shop. Was this man "Cain?" Jimmie Frost smiled. Was he to see "Cain" in every person who came near the girl? Drawing more closely into cover, he scanned the watcher. He could not be the master-crook. Neither in build not appearance did he resemble the man so keenly sought. Almost exactly before the doorway where Jimmie Frost lurked the man stopped, staring up the street. For a few seconds he waited, then moved slowly in the direction in which he had been looking. Jimmie Frost came cautiously to the door, and looked after the man. The watcher had met a friend and was in earnest conversation. A movement of the pair showed the newcomer's features. He was Alec Kempton.
For several minutes Alec Kempton and the stranger 'conversed earnestly, then parted, the solicitor coming in Jimmie Frost's direction. One glance at the lawyer's face made the ex-detective smile suddenly. He wondered, what had happened to so greatly disturb the man?
The watcher stood for some moments where Alec Kempton had left him, then slowly followed down the road, resuming his patrol before the jewellery store. The actions of the men puzzled Jimmie Frost Had the solicitor put this man to trail Martha Tayne, and if so, for what reason?
The lights in the store were, one by one, extinguished, and after a short Interval the main door opened and Martha Tayne came out. As usual, she waited a few moments to speak with the nightwatchman, then walked briskly up the street. Jimmie Frost hung back. He knew where the girl was going, but for the moment he was more interested in the man who was watching the jewellery store. The man had crossed the road immediately Martha Tayne had appeared, and now walked a few yards behind her.
The ex-detective followed up the road, keeping man and girl in sight. At the tram-stop the watcher held back. He watched Martha Tayne board a Moorefield tram, then turned back into Hunter Street. Jimmie Frost shadowed the man. Opposite the jewellery store two men were engaged in a very earnest discussion. The watcher stopped beside them. Immediately the two men turned to him. A few sentences were exchanged, then the three men turned up the street.
Pulling his hat well down over his eyes, the ex-detective lounged against the wall of an hotel, and waited. The men were walking slowly, the two outer men bending towards the centre man, as if receiving instructions. At the end of the street they crossed to the opposite pavement and returned to Luther Banke's store. A lane ran down beside the store. The watcher went a few yards down this lane, then returned to his companions. Again the three heads came together, in consultation.
"Say, mister." A boy spoke at Jimmie Frost's elbow. "Your name Frost?" At the ex-detective's nod he slipped a piece of paper in Jimmie Frost's hand. "Bloke tol' me ter give yer this."
"Here!" Jimmie Frost caught the boy by the arm as he was running off. "Where did you get this from?"
"Bloke gave it ter me to give yer," reiterated the boy.
"And he told you to slip away before I could ask questions." Jimmie Frost laughed. "Well, you've slipped this time sonny. Now, who was the bloke?"
"Tall bloke," he answered, after a pause, and an attempt to slip from the ex-detective's grasp. "Went down that way." He pointed down the lane beside Luther Banke's store.
For the moment Jimmie Frost hesitated. He wanted to find the man; he wanted to examine the note the boy had given him; and he did not want the boy to escape.
"Look here, sonny," he said suddenly. "Do you want to earn a couple of shillings?"
The boy's eyes sparkled, as he nodded vigorously.
"Very well." Jimmie Frost smiled at the youngster's sudden earnestness. "Now keep this under your hat. I'm a detective, and I'm claiming your help." He knew that he had caught the boy's attention, and probable assistance. The lure of detection had caught him. He would be on a "case" and also earning money.
Releasing his grip on the boy's arm, Jimmie Frost went to a lamp and unfolded the paper. It contained only a single line of writing: "Watch—but don't act until you hear from me."
Instinctively, the ex-detective's hand went to his breast-pocket. From his wallet he took the card the crook had slipped into his letter-box the night of the mystery at the flats. One glance showed that they had been written by the same hand. On the back of the card was written:
"Congratulations, Jimmie. We'll make a detective of you one day. Await my next message—C."
Was this note—the folded paper the boy had brought him—the message he had been warned to expect? That was probable; but what did "Cain" mean? Why should be watch—and not act?
He laughed, harshly. "Cain's" message was futile. He had every intention of watching; what he would do depended on events.
SOME instinct caused Jimmie Frost to glance across the road. The men he had been watching were disappearing down the lane beside the jewellery store. Beckoning the boy to follow him, he crossed the road to the corner. The men seemed to be debating some question heatedly, though in subdued voices. A short way down the lane they grouped, and stopped. The ex-detective noted that they had halted almost immediately under the windows of Martha Tayne's office. The men were acting in a suspicious manner, and would bear watching.
Yet Jimmie Frost felt a keen desire to follow the man who had written the note. That the man was "Cain" he had little doubt. For a moment he hesitated. The three men were intent on the jewellery store, although to casual observation ignoring the building. To his memory came a theory the Police Commissioner had evolved. Sir Edmund held that Kempton had gone to Martha Tayne, at her flat, to persuade her to hand him certain papers from Luther Banke's safe. The girl had refused.
Now Jimmie Frost carried that theory further. He had watched the men examining the store building with furtive care. He had seen the man who was obviously the leader of the gang talking to Alec Kempton. There was an obvious conclusion to these deductions. Yet the solicitor was a man of excellent standing in the city. The ex-detective looked down at the boy, who was watching him with eager eyes, alert for orders. Should he leave him to watch the three men, or tell him to scout round and try and find the man who had given him the note.
Jimmie Frost would have gladly taken the latter task, but he did not know what disguise the crook had assumed. The boy had tried to describe the man, but his description would fit half a hundred men on the streets. He dared not, himself, take the risk of failure in that direction.
"Do you think you can find the man who gave you that note, sonny?" he asked the boy, at length. Then, when the boy nodded, though doubtfully, he added; "Well, have a shot at it. Here—" He thrust some silver Into the boy's hand. "You may want that if you have to trail him far. Get on his trail and find out where he lives."
"Where'll I find yer, mister?" The boy looked up eagerly. Jimmie Frost scribbled his address on the back of an envelope. "When you find out where that man lives, come back here. If I'm not here go to that address and wait for me. Understand?" The boy nodded then ran across the road, diving Into the lane in the direction he had Indicated "Cain" had taken.
Jimmie Frost watched him disappear from sight, smiling slightly. He had sent the boy out on a slender chance. If "Cain" had been watching him talking to the boy he would lead him a pretty dance before losing him. That was a chance he had to take. The ex-detective knew he had taken the only course in the circumstances. His own job was to watch over the Jewellery store. His instinct told him that the main events of the night would centre there.
A bundle of papers! A pity that Commissioner Morgan could not remember more. Yet even that fragmentary memory was valuable.
Alec Kempton and a bundle of missing papers! Were those papers in Luther Banke's safe? Did the jeweller know the value Alec Kempton placed on them, and was he deliberately holding them? If Sir Edmund was right in his theory and the strange actions of "Cain" and Alec Kempton centred about those documents, then the actions of the men he was watching, were, logical. Kempton had bribed crooks to watch the store, find out the best means of ingress, then.
One of the crooks had met Alec Kempton, apparently to report to him; but that was before Martha Tayne had left the premises. He had assured himself that the girl had finally left for the night then returned to the store, where he had been joined by other men. All three were acting most suspiciously. Jimmie Frost was certain that his deductions were right. But if these men were high-class cracksmen, then he should recognise them. Breaking into a store of this nature, forcing a safe constructed to safeguard jewellery worth many thousands pounds was not a job for amateurs. Even to get into the store was far beyond the capability of an ordinary thief.
But he had no recollection of any of these men, although he prided himself on his knowledge of the leading crooks of the country. The ex-detective was too wary to follow the men down the little-used lane. He knew the men would not commence operations until late at night, possibly not until the small hours of the morning.
For some time Jimmie Frost strolled round the block, watching carefully when he passed the two ends of the lane. Just as he was completing his second circuit he realised that he was hungry; he had not eaten since lunch. Turning on his heels, he went down the street to a restaurant he had noted. During his meal the ex-detective tried to plan his night's work. He had to watch the jeweller's shop; he had to watch for the boy's return.
He frowned at the latter thought. If the boy came to the end of the lane while he was away, then he would certainly go to the flat. That would be awkward. How could he continue to watch the store and also get in touch with the boy? Finishing his meal quickly, Jimmie Frost strolled down to the lane-corner. There were no signs of the boy; possibly he had not yet completed his mission. That was hopeful. If the boy had lost "Cain's" trail he would have returned to the lane, if only to report his failure.
Would he? He had given the boy money to pay his expenses. Perhaps the boy had cleared off with the loot. Then he remembered the clear light in the boy's eyes when he had asked for his help—when' he had announced that he was a detective on the trail of a crook. That light answered for the boy's honesty. He would come back, whether he was successful or not.
Time passed slowly, yet Jimmie found his spirits rising. The watching was tiresome, for he had to keep himself as inconspicuous as possible, and that In fast-emptying streets. Soon he would have to abandon his patrol and find some obscure place from which to carry on his watch. Again he glanced at his watch.
More than two hours had passed since the boy had left him. To where had the chase led the lad? Jimmie Frost shrugged; he wondered if he had been wise to send the boy after the man? If "Cain" had sent him that note, then he would certainly remain near, to profit by the failure of Kempton's plans.
The ex-detective found a corner from which he could keep watch on the store and the lane without attracting attention. He turned up the collar of his coat and looked at his watch. It was only a few minutes after nine. Nothing was likely to happen before midnight.
Where had the mission led the boy? Even if "Cain" had gone to his "hideout" the lad could have marked the place and returned to the city. Then came a sudden thought; had the boy returned while he had been absent at his meal. If the boy had not found him In Hunter Street, he would obey instructions and go on to the flat. Jimmie Frost shrugged. The irony of it. In the old days, when he had been a detective-inspector of police, none of these problems could have obtruded. He would have found a telephone. In a few minutes half a hundred men would have been at his command. The police had large advantages over the lone worker!
He waited until the public clocks struck ten, then left his watching place. He would go to his fiat and see if the boy was there. Almost immediately he reached the pavement, he shrank back into the shadows. A man, whose form appeared familiar, was coming down the street, towards him. He watched the man closely. Opposite the jewellery store the man halted staring across the road. As he turned to move on Jimmie Frost pulled his hat well over his eyes, thrust his hands deep into his pockets, and lurched out on the pavement, cannoning drunkenly into the man.
"What the—?" The man turned swiftly, but Jimmie Frost was staggering down the street. He was amazed. The man was Alec Kempton—and within the past couple of hours he had changed into some sort of disguise. In place of his usual immaculate, dandified attire he now wore a shabby, rough overcoat, and had a rakish cap pulled far down over his eyes. A disguise!
Jimmie Frost laughed. So Kempton had to watch his crooks at work! If only he could thoroughly commit the man; If he could link him with the crooks he was employing, and have him arrested! Sir Edmund would see that he talked—once he was In a prison cell. If only he could act himself!
He swore under his breath as he staggered drunkenly down the road. But now he had no power to arrest. All he could do was to watch, and when he was certain a crime was being committed, obtain the police. A thought came to him. If he found a constable and told him a raid on the jeweller's shop was impending, the man would telephone his station-house. But the patrolman might question how he had obtained his knowledge; detain him until his sergeant arrived. That way lay danger to himself and his plans. Yet—Jimmie Frost laughed suddenly. There was a way. He glanced behind him. Alec Kempton was leaning against a wall, opposite Luther Banke's shop. What a fool! He was asking for trouble; and he should have it in full measure. Where was a telephone booth? He would ring up John Nott. The Inspector had a grudge against Alec Kempton. He would be glad to have him in his hands—to arrest him while he was watching a shop being burgled! That would be a gift to the Inspector.
"Say, mister." A thin voice spoke at Jimmie Frost's elbow. He looked down, breathing a sigh of relief. The boy had returned.
"Well, sonny; any luck?"
"Watched 'im Inter a 'ouse." The boy spoke proudly.
"You did! Where?"
Jimmie Frost's heart sank. Had "Cain" again gone to Luther Banke's home?
"What's the name of the house, sonny?" The ex-detective spoke after a moment's thought.
"Ain't got one."
"My oath! It wos a 'ouse all by itself, but it ain't gotter name, only a number."
Jimmie Frost looked at the lad in some bewilderment. Luther Banke's house had its name prominent at the gates; the boy could not have missed It. Had the lad trailed "Cain" to his hide-out? That was possible, but it would be incredible luck!
"Say, sonny." He caught the boy's shoulder in a friendly grip. "I believe you're some detective. Where's the nearest telephone? I've got to get a message to a friend; then you and I will go out and have a look at that house. If you're right, well, you needn't worry about not having shillings for the rest of your days."
"Gee!" The boy raised wondering eyes. "Did I track down a crook, mister? Who's 'e?"
It was then Jimmie Frost, formerly Detective-Inspector Marx Denvers, committed a grave breach of police discipline. He bent to the boy's ear and whispered the name: "Cain."
TEN minutes in a telephone booth and Jimmie Frost rejoined his small assistant. John Nott had grasped at the information offered him, hardly waiting to make any inquiries regarding his informant. The ex-detective parried personal questions easily, his knowledge of police procedure standing him in good stead. On the pavement, he half-raised his hand to a cruising taxi, then turned on his heels. A taxi would not serve his purpose that night; he must have a car at his absolute disposal.
A few hundred yards from the telephone he found a "Drive Yourself" hire garage. Five minutes later he and the boy were travelling rapidly towards Moorfield.
Jimmie Frost drove in silence, obsessed by his thoughts. Was this night to see the end of his tedious hunt? Would he, before morning, place his hand on "Cain's" shoulder, and terminate a lurid career of crime? At Moorfield lived Luther Banke. What connection was there between the Jeweller and the mystery he was probing? Some instinct told him that when he found the solution the jeweller would be deeply involved. In what manner?
"Cain" had robbed Luther Banke. Yet, three times, at least, the mystery crook had been in the jeweller's shop, and had stolen nothing. Once, he had taken away the Montgomery emeralds—only to restore them within a few hours. "Cain" had taken them from Martha Tayne—he had returned them to the girl.
At the time of the theft of the emeralds, Jimmie Frost had believed that "Cain" was in love with Martha Tayne; and because of that had restored the emeralds. Now the ex-detective had revised those views. "Cain" never acted without a purpose. But, what purpose could he have in, again and again, visiting the jewellery store, and each time leaving without loot? The crook had deceived Martha Tayne, the girl who had spent her business life in close touch with Luther Banke, with his impersonation of the jeweller. He could just as easily have deceived the shop assistants. Had he coveted any gem in the store, he had only to ask for it, and it would have been handed to him without question. He had to believe that behind all "Cain's" seemingly inconsequent actions lay some deep purpose he had not vet even guessed at.
Perhaps that night's work might give him the clue he sought. For the moment he was trailing along in the wake of the super-crook. If he could discover the man's objective, get some hint of the methods he was employing, then he could anticipate him—frame a trap into which to lure him. Now they were in Moorfield, close to the house where Luther Banke lay, helpless and dying. Jimmie Frost let the car slow, and turned to his companion. "What's your name, sonny?"
"Well, George; you take command now. You followed the man out here; where did he go?"
"Next tram-stop, mister. Slow there, and I'll 'op orf."
The ex-detective slowed the car to a crawl. George opened the car-door and sprang out, darting up a by-road, waving for the car to follow him. With slight surprise Jimmie Frost recognised that the boy was making for Luther Banke's house.
As he passed "Rosewood" Jimmie Frost slowed the car again, almost coming to a halt. The house 'was in darkness, the only room lit being the one over the porch-peak. The ex-detective smiled ruefully. That room was connected with his inglorious adventure, when "Cain" had cast him into the hands of the police, a "drunk and disorderly." The boy paused at the corner of a road turning off to the right, some fifty yards past Luther Banke's house.
Jimmie followed the boy until he saw him turn in at a gate, with a signal wave of his hand, Jimmie Frost found a place where he could park the car, some distance down the road, and walked slowly back to the gates through which the boy had disappeared. Waiting until he was certain he was unobserved, he followed the boy. A low whistle from a clump of bushes located his helper.
"You stay there, George," he ordered. "Watch those gates. If anyone enters, whistle. Then get for your life."
"Where'll you be?" George looked up quickly.
"You know where to find me." Jimmie Frost smiled at the lad's ardour. "Like the game, sonny?"
"Gee! It's great!" The thin face was raised to the ex-detective almost adoringly. "I'm going to be a detective one day—a 'tec like that bloke, Denvers. He's a one! Chased 'Cain' all over th' place an' all but got 'im, once."
"And got kicked out of the department for not getting him!" The ex-detective's mouth twisted wryly; yet a flush of pleasure swept on him at the guileless praise.
"Gosh! Why that's only joshing!" George was openly contemptuous. "Kick 'im outer th' force! They wouldn't do that. He's th' best 'busy' they've got."
"But they did."
"Kid-stakes!" George laughed shrilly. "An' you a 'tec, talkin' in that slush? Why, that's fer 'Cain.' You mark me words—Denver'll collar 'Cain.' He'll turn up agen soon wi' 'is 'and on 'is collar."
For a moment Jimmie Frost stared down at the lad, then laughed. So that was the result of Sir Edmund's skilfully laid plans; a child—a boy of barely fourteen years—had exposed them in a few words. He wondered if others had followed the same line of reasoning. Had "Cain" for instance, believed that his resignation from the department was but a move in a deep strategic game?
Leaving the boy to watch the gates, Jimmie Frost walked up the driveway. Some fifty feet from the gates he came in sight of the house. It was apparently unoccupied. He retraced his steps to the road and looked for agents' boards. There were none. He turned to the house again.
Very cautiously he circled the house. Not a light showed in a window. Had not George been so certain, so insistent, he would have believed the place deserted. But the boy was certain he had seen "Cain" enter the place. George told a straight, circumstantial story; he had led back to the house without hesitation or doubt. If "Cain" was in that house, then he was taking precautions that no one should suspect his presence there. Jimmie Frost satisfied himself that there was no rear exit, then returned to the main gates and whistled softly. In a moment George came out of the bushes.
"Know this district, George?" Then, when the boy nodded, the ex-detective continued: "Get me some information about this house; who owns it; who last lived here, and—" He laughed shortly. "Here's your chance to prove yourself a detective. I want the history of this house and the people who lived here. If I've left here by the time you get back, go to my flat." He paused and then added; "Say, sonny; it's getting late. What will your people say to you being out until this hour?"
"Ain't got no people."
"No parents? Then where do you live?"
"Live anywhere. Sell papers. Get a doss when I've got splosh."
"Got a doss for to-night?" Jimmie Frost asked, Then, hurriedly: "No. you haven't! Here—" He pulled out his latch-key.
"Here! Take this. I'm sure to be late. Go to my flat. There's grub in the kitchen. Help yourself to all you want; then get a rug and curl up on the sofa. I'll make you up a bed when I get home. Now—scoot!"
He watched the boy run down the road in the direction of the tram-stop. Something was tugging at his heartstrings—a pain that had been there for days. He had wanted "something"—and had not known what that something was. Now he knew! He had been lonely—sick for companionship. George was a decent kid. A slight smile came on the ex-detective's lips as he remembered the boy's words. He seemed honest—if he was not, he could be taught to be so. From appearances, he seemed to keep himself fairly clean—and any deficiencies could be rectified with the abundant supplies of hot water and soap at the flat. He began to feel quite paternal towards this waif of the streets, who, with a few unconscious words had given him a new faith in himself.
"Denvers was a great 'tec!"
He squared his shoulders. Well, he'd show the boy! He turned to the apparently deserted house again. Somehow he would get inside it before he left it that night, and search the place with scrupulous care. His hand went to his hip-pocket to feel the comforting coldness of his gun.
George had declared that "Cain" had entered that house. Was the master-crook still there? If he were, then Jimmie Frost smiled when he again remembered the ruse by means of which "Cain" had disposed of him when he found him spying on Luther Banke's house. He could play the same trick on "Cain."
If he could find the master-crook, he would bind and gag him. A cryptic message to the police would result in the house being searched and the mystery crook found. He would be held, pending investigations of the message Jimmie Frost intended to leave with him. A word with the Police Commissioner in the morning, and the long trail would have ended—triumphantly.
The house before him was very similar to the one in which Luther Banke lived. It had only two storeys. Covering the wide veranda before the house was a red-tiled roof. The main roof of the house was also of red tiles, and sloped steeply. The walls were roughcast and the woodwork painted green. That much Jimmie Frost could see by the light of a three-quarter moon.
He was standing on the edge of a gravel path that led from the main drive to the rear of the house, wondering where to make his burglarious entry of the premises, when he heard steps on the drive.
Silently he slipped behind some bushes, close to the steps leading up to the front door. The steps came nearer. Through the screen of bushes he saw a man and woman approaching. They were walking slowly, engrossed in earnest conversation.
Gradually their forms appeared plain in the moon-light. They came to the steps and halted a moment. The man dug into his pocket and produced a key, making some low-voiced remark at which the woman laughed gently. She followed the man up the steps. Jimmie Frost almost betrayed himself in his astonishment. The girl was Martha Tayne. Shifting round in the bushes, at the risk of rustling leaves betraying his presence, he stared at the man at the door.
Who was he? Surely not "Cain." The man opened the front door and entered the house; the girl remaining on the door-step. Presently a light shone in the hall. A man's shadow I came into the light, beckoning to the girl. Jimmie Frost cursed under his breath. He dared not move, to try and get a clear view of the man. But, could he mistake that form; that peculiar twist of the head, when speaking? As the girl entered the hall, the man half-turned. For the moment light streaked his face. Now the ex-detective was certain! That man was "Cain" in his disguise of Joyce Poynter.
MARTHA TAYNE and Joyce Poynter had entered the empty house! For minutes Jimmie Frost watched patiently, very perplexed and somewhat angry. Why had the girl accompanied the man? He was sure they were alone in the house. From outside appearances, the place had not been lived in for some considerable time. Yet the two had entered the house as if long familiar with it; as if they were at home in its drear darkness.
Again he circled the house. Not one ray of light shone from any window or, now, even the hall. He came again to the gardens before the house. So far, he had seen nothing further to excite his suspicions. Yet he was certain the house held a secret.
Again he examined the exterior of the house, seeking an easy, noiseless entry. He must get Into the house and discover why the man and girl had come there. He must find out if Joyce Poynter was "Cain" in one of his many disguises. If he was, then—Jimmie Frost smiled. He had confidence in himself—if he could get the girl away, leaving the man alone. He must get into that house—and he must induce the girl to leave, alone.
Again he scanned the exterior of the house. At length he decided on a small window on the left-hand side wall, as his means of entry. He believed: it opened into a pantry. If so, that would be ideal for his purpose. The window opened under the urge of his Jemmy; the lock snapping with what seemed, in the silences of the night to be a loud report.
The ex-detective waited. Had the people in the house heard the noise; would the man come to investigate? Five minutes later he again approached the window, torch in hand, and pushed it open. As he had guessed the window lighted the butler's pantry. Two minutes later he stood in the room, the window closed. The door of the room was ajar. Holding his torch ready, he moved slowly forward, his torch shut off, relying on his sense of touch as guide. He knew he was in a passage; but to what part of the house did it lead?
For about twenty paces he groped forward in darkness; then stopped and listened. There was not a sound in the house. Where were the man and girl? As if in answer to the unvoiced question, came the sounds of the girl's laughter. Again Jimmie Frost waited. Then, almost covering the lens of his torch with his fingers, he pressed the switch. The light showed that he was standing at the end of a passage facing a wall, with a baize-covered door on his left. The door swung noiselessly on well-oiled hinges. Jimmie Frost moved slowly forward, passing into another passage. Again he-waited and listened, before using his light. He was now standing almost at the foot of a flight of stairs. Before him was a door. He believed it opened into one of the rooms in the front of the house. On either side of him were walls. He switched, off his light and peered about. Now he saw a light under a door on his right. That room would overlook the gardens at the rear of the house.
If Martha Tayne and "Cain" were in that room, why had no light shone out of the window? No ordinary blind, or curtain, could give that dead blackness to the windows he had seen when circling the house. A few moment's consideration and he understood. This was "Cain's" house. It was reputed to be unoccupied—but "Cain" occupied it. He had allowed it to assume its present forlorn forsaken appearance to deceive the neighbours and inquisitive.
Jimmie Frost allowed his light to play freely about the hall for a few seconds. He found sufficient evidence to believe the interior to be well-kept and richly furnished. Then the windows of the house must be hermetically sealed, preventing the faintest gleam, of light showing outside. Stealthily, Jimmie Frost approached the door under which he had observed the light. He pressed his ear to a panel but could only hear a soft murmur of voices. If only he could overhear this conversation; if he could even hear enough to prove to him that he was right, and this man who posed as Joyce Poynter was "Cain," then the master crook would not again escape him.
He knew that his task would not end with his capture of "Cain's" person. Then his work would enter a new phase. He would have to prove that he was "Cain."; he would have to prove beyond doubt that he had committed the crimes with which he was charged. "Cain" would fight to the bitter end, using every artifice his clever brain could conceive to prevent conviction. Jimmie Frost fully realised the big task before him. At no time during the seven years he had been on the master crook's trail had he acquired any direct evidence against the man. Nowhere had he left a single finger-print; no one was willing to try and identify the man; all descriptions of the remarkable criminal differed materially. Yet scattered through the city were the results of the man's crimes; and against him only assumptions of guilt.
For long minutes Jimmie Frost remained at the door, trying to overhear some part of the conversation proceeding within the room. Occasionally he could catch a few words, but nothing he heard had definite meaning. Exasperated, he returned to the butler's pantry. In the passage outside the pantry he let the light of his torch play around. He knew he was safe from observation in the offices of the house. He believed there was no one in the house but the two persons in the lighted room he had just left. He looked about him. The passage contained many doors. He went to the end of the passage and opened a door. Now he found himself in the kitchens. From the main kitchen a door opened directly into the gardens. Unlocking the door quietly, he passed out on to the path.
A quick look around, and he went along the wall until he came to a window he believed belonged to the room at the moment occupied by Martha Tayne and Joyce Poynter. The window was high above the garden path. Jimmie Frost swept his torch light around, looking for something he could stand on to lift him to window level. He could find nothing. He went back to the kitchen and fetched a chair.
Standing on it he could press his ear against the glass. Again he could hear voices in the room. He could hear the man's deep tones; he could hear Martha Tayne's soft laughter; but he could not make comprehensible sentences of what he could hear.
Jimmie Frost muttered angrily under his breath as he carried the chair back to the kitchen. Almost he decided on one bold stroke; to force his way into the room where the two sat and challenge the man, as "Cain." If he did that; if he could take him prisoner, bluff the girl into acquiescence, a search of the house might provide the evidence he had to have.
Second, and quieter, thoughts prevailed. He dared not risk all he had gained in one impulsive move. He must wait—time and patience were on his side. Suddenly he stiffened, turning to the window.
Someone—no, some vehicle, was approaching the house, driving up the gravelled path.
He slipped through the kitchen door, closing it carefully behind him, and went to the front of the house. An Ambulance van was drawn up before the front door, and two uniformed men were mounting the steps to the veranda. What was to happen? Jimmie Frost watched, his mind filled with perplexities.
The men acted methodically, as if engaged In routine business. He heard the doorbell sound within the house. An interval, and the street door opened a stream of light dispelling the darkness of the veranda. Then came voices; one voice spoke to a "doctor."
Who were these men? Why had the ambulance come to that house? The ex-detective craned forward eagerly. A third man appeared, coming down from the veranda and going to the door of the ambulance. He flashed the light of a powerful torch into the van. Two attendants drew a stretcher from the van. On it lay a long, still form, completely covered by a white sheet. The man with the torch went to the house, allowing the light to rest on the steps. Slowly and carefully the attendants bore the stretcher past the man with the torch, up the steps and into the house. The torch-bearer followed them. As he mounted the steps he raised the beam of his light. It rested on the form of a man standing in the doorway.
The man was Joyce Poynter. Was Joyce Poynter the man the ambulance foreman had called "doctor?" They were talking together now. Risking discovery, Jimmie Frost crept nearer. Again the foreman raised his voice, calling the man "doctor." They passed into the house and the door closed. Who was the patient the ambulance had brought to the house? Why had the ambulance man called Joyce Poynter "doctor?"
The ex-detective could find no answer to the questions. The affair was bewildering, and made Jimmie Frost still more determined to get into the house and find answers to his problems. He waited in his concealment a few more minutes then, as nothing further happened, started on his journey to the kitchen door. Suddenly he stopped, pressing himself flat against the ground.
Someone was coming up the drive from the road gates. A few moments and Jimmie Frost recognised the step. He was puzzled but certain that his ears had not deceived him. He had heard that step a few nights previous; he recognised the quaint slither of the walking-stick on the gravel. Yet he almost doubted himself.
A figure loomed through the night-lights, becoming more plain as it approached where Jimmie Frost crouched. Leaning heavily on the walking-stick, the tall, erect figure came to the steps and mounted to the veranda. Hardly had the bell sounded when the hall-door opened. The light from the hall illuminated the newcomer. He was Sir Edmund Morgan, Commissioner of Police. As the ex-detective watched, he passed into the house and the door closed.
IMMEDIATELY the door was shut behind Sir Edmund, Jimmie Frost came out from his concealment. For a long time he stared at the house, a puzzled frown on his face. Every happening that night had served to deepen, not clarify, the mysteries he was probing. Why had Martha Tayne and Joyce Poynter come to that house? True, he believed the house belonged to the man, if indeed, he was "Cain." That might account for the man's presence, but why was the girl there? What connection could she have with the crook?
When he had visited her at Luther Banke's store, he had been convinced of her honesty, and her loyalty to her employer. For what reason had Sir Edmund Morgan come to that house? What did he know of the place and its inhabitants? Had he expected to meet Martha Tayne and Joyce Poynter there—or had he expected to find "Cain?"
The ex-detective put the thought from him; he was suspecting the Police Chief of disloyalty to the department. To his perplexities he had to add the person he had seen carried into that house on the stretcher. Who was the invalid? For the moment he considered whether the invalid had been "Cain." He rejected the idea, immediately. There could be no possible need for "Cain" to adopt such a subterfuge to gain his own house. The place was not under police suspicion; never, during the seven years of the master-crook's career had the police been that close on his trail. Had the invalid on the stretcher been a genuine medical case?
Jimmie Frost shrugged. Before he left that house he would know the answer to that question. He turned towards the house. For the present he would not speculate. He had to search and watch. Later, when he was at home, smoking a last pipe before turning in for the night, he would try and co-ordinate these problems, and any new discoveries, into a logical story.
He found the kitchen as he had left it. Moving cautiously, he went up the passage to the hall, first making sure no one was in the offices. For a few minutes he lingered before the door of the room he called "Cain's study." He could hear voices in the room but, again, could only distinguish an occasional word. He believed he could identify a new voice—one deeper in tone than Joyce Poynter's, but was not certain.
A long wait, listening at the door, and he was confident the people in the room would not come out of it for some time, unless disturbed. Then he started a silent, systematic survey of the rooms on the ground floor. They were well, and completely furnished, and showed signs of recent use. The only strange thing about them was that every window was closely sealed with thick felt. He returned to the hall and went to the stairs. Something might be discovered in the upper storey.
Halting on the bottom tread, he made a mental picture of the house. If "Cain" alone occupied it, then the room where the people were gathered must be his sitting-room. There, it was probable, he kept his papers—the documents Jimmie Frost so ardently desired to examine; the evidence that might put the master-crook behind prison bars. Yet, even "Cain" must sleep. It was improbable that "Cain" would make his bed in his sitting-room; and Jimmie Frost had not found a bedroom on the ground floor.
The ex-detective made his way up the stairs. On the upper storey, he found himself in a corridor running the width of the house. At the ends of the corridor were tall windows. They were carefully blanketed with felt, similar to the windows downstairs. He let his light slide along the walls of the corridor.
On the front of the house were four doors; on the opposite side were two doors and a short corridor. The corridor was-over the domestic offices. He switched off his torch—to immediately, see rays of light coming under a door opposite the head of the stairs.
Then the person the ambulance had brought to the house had been a real invalid, and had been placed in this upstairs room. Jimmie Frost set his ear against a panel of the door. He could hear someone moving about the room. For a moment he was perplexed; then grinned broadly. Of course there was someone attending the invalid. The person moving about the room must be the nurse. But how had she come to the house? Had she been there before the man and girl arrived?
Jimmie Frost believed he had seen everyone who had entered the house after them. A small sound made him turn swiftly. Immediately he noticed that a light was shining under a door almost opposite the first lighted room. Cautiously the ex-detective went, to the door. Again he listened. He could hear someone moving within the room. Then two of the bedrooms were occupied! In which of these rooms lay the invalid?
Jimmie Frost let the light of his torch play along the length of the corridor. Both ends were fitted as lounges. A second's deliberation and he chose the corridor end furthest from the second lighted room. There, he was sure, he could remain unobserved, unless the corridor was searched. A little re-arrangement of the furniture and he made himself comfortable for a long wait. He felt safe, for he realised that this was not a house of light; in fact, this corridor had probably not been lighted for some considerable time.
He had not long to wait. Barely had he concluded his arrangements, when the door of the second lighted room opened. Jimmie Frost craned forward, but the light in the room was switched off before the occupant left the room. He only saw a man's form emerge. The man went to the stairs. The ex-detective followed, arriving at the head of the stairs to see light flash from the study, as the door was opened.
Jimmie Frost went to the room from which the man had emerged. Listening at the panel for a moment, he opened the door. A flash from his torch located the light-switch. He turned and closed the door. The room was a bedchamber, well-furnished, and evidently occupied by a man. Swiftly, and with expert precision, the ex-detective searched the room. The first suspicious thing he found was a large and well-equipped make-up box in a corner of the wardrobe. A few minutes later, on top of the wardrobe, he found a series of boxes, containing wigs and other hirsute make-up aids. Yet these might belong to an innocent person with amateur theatrical proclivities.
The room baffled him. Jimmie Frost stood before the dressing-table, sombrely surveying the room. Was there no clue here to what he sought? A piece of white paper lay half-hidden by the bed. Jimmie Frost pounced upon it eagerly. On it was a series of figures. The paper held only the figures. The ex-detective folded the paper and placed it in his wallet. Perhaps, somewhere in the house might be something to connect with it. Switching off the light, he left the room and went into the corridor.
As he passed the lighted room opposite the head of the stairs, he listened again at the door. For seconds he could hear no sounds within the room, then a chair creaked. The nurse—if there were a nurse—was still in the room. Jimmie Frost turned from the door, then hesitated. He must know who the invalid was; and he could not afford to wait until the nurse came out of her own accord. She might not move from the room until morning. In some way he must shift her.
For some minutes he stood meditating. He must get the nurse from' the room long enough for him to make an examination of it and the patient. But how? A little smile came on his lips, then he laughed suddenly. If the nurse was a stranger to the house, there might be a way. He might be able to frighten her away. For a moment he thought his idea absurd, but decided to give it a trial. He let his light play along the corridor. There was no furniture between the door and his hide-out to impede him. The floor was thickly carpeted, and his quick steps would make no sounds. Turning to the door, he rapped on a panel thrice, slowly and distinctly—then ran for his hiding-place.
Hardly had he reached safety when the door opened, and a woman came out on the corridor. For a moment she stood undecided, as if astonished to find no one there. She peered along the corridor in both directions, then went to the head of the stairs and peered down on the hall below. Finally she shrugged, and returned to the sick room. Hardly had the woman shut the door, when Jimmie Frost was on his feet.
Allowing her time to settle again in her chair, he knocked again; thrice, slowly and solemnly. Again he hid. There was an appreciable interval before the door opened. The woman's head came into view, scanning the corridor. Then the head was withdrawn and the door roughly shut. The ex-detective thought he heard the key turn in the lock. So far, good! But Jimmie Frost wished the woman to vacate the room, not lock herself within it. He went to the door again.
Placing his mouth against the key-hole, he moaned, throwing into his voice all the ghostly eeriness he could command, at the same time knocking solemnly. Almost before the ex-detective could get from before the door, it was flung open and the nurse ran to the stairs, and down them, screaming.
Jimmie Frost ran into the room, closing the door behind him. A quick glance showed, his the bed. He strode to it—and looked down on the bearded face of Luther Banke.
A gasp escaped his lips. So Luther Banke was the invalid who had been brought to that house! Luther Banke was in the power of "Cain." For almost a minute Jimmie Frost stood beside the bed, absolutely bewildered. Those seconds almost cost him all the work he had accomplished that night. He heard voices raised on the floor below; running footsteps sounded on the stairs. He sprang to the door and turned the key in the lock. For the moment he was safe; but how could he escape from that room?
There was no hiding place in it. When they battered down the door he would be "Jimmie Frost," international crook and murderer, escapee from Sing Sing-prison, wanted by the police in his own city. He must escape, and suspicion must not rest on him. In some manner he must incriminate the nurse; persuade those with her to believe her the victim of hallucinations. But, how could the locked door be avoided? Very cautiously, he withdrew the key from the lock, then went so the windows.
The felt cut easily, and the lower sash lifted. The door was quivering under the thrust of powerful shoulders. Jimmie Frost went to the door and carefully slid the key under it, into the corridor. Then he returned to the window and pulled close the heavy velvet curtains draping it. Before anyone would think to look behind them, and see the cut felt, he would have made good his escape.
On the veranda-roof he waited, his ear pressed against the window. He heard the door give with a sudden crash, and people storm into the room. Then he slid down to the gutter, and dropped to the drive. His one thought was that he must get into the house again, as quickly as possible. While the occupants were upstairs, searching and wondering over the nurse's fright, was his opportunity to examine "Cain's" sitting-room.
Silent as the shadows he moved among, he went round the corner of the house in the direction of the kitchens. Just as he came in sight of the back door, he saw it slowly open. He drew back into the shadows. A man came out of the door and advanced to where Jimmie Frost stood. The ex-detective waited until the man was a bare couple of yards from him, then pointed the torch at the man's face and pressed the trigger.
With a shout that was almost a scream of unreasoning terror, Jimmie Frost dropped his torch, turned and ran. Automatically, his legs carried him out of the grounds of that house of mystery on to the suburban road where his car was parked. Presently he stopped, his brow wet with cold perspiration, every nerve of his body tingling and trembling. What had he seen? He tried to review the past minutes logically; but his nerves quivered at the memory. In the strong light of his powerful torch he had seen before him Luther Banke; the man he had seen a few moments before stretched on a bed in the room upstairs, a helpless, living corpse.
THROUGH the remaining days of his life Jimmie Frost was never able to recall that night-drive home without a shudder. Forcing his quivering nerves to obey his will, he drove the rented car to the garage, then travelled home on a tram. In his sitting-room he went direct to the sideboard and poured out half a tumbler of whisky, adding but a dash of soda. He drank it at a gulp, then filled the tumbler again, this time with a weaker solution. He turned, and with a little laugh, nodded to George, sitting up on the sofa, watching him gravely.
"Well, son? Had a good sleep? Did you get that information?"
The boy nodded. "Got a lot, mister." He paused a moment, watching the ex-detective. "Say, wot's wrong?"
"Why do you think anything, is wrong?" Jimmie Frost was startled.
"Look at yer face." George pointed to the mirror. "Yer as white as a sheet an' all shakin'."
"Ever seen a ghost, George?" The ex-detective braced himself, and added quickly: "Well, what about that house?"
"Feller named Ulman lived there last—queer sorter bloke. Lived all by 'is-self. 'Ad a son as went ter th' war an' got shot, or lost or sumthlnk like that. 'Ouse bin shut up fer quite a while. That's all."
For some time Jimmie Frost considered the information. It did not fit In with what he knew. He shrugged impatiently. He would go to bed and leave his problems for a clearer morning brain.
Daylight brought him no nearer a solution. The old problems remained, intermingled with the new. Things that appeared nearer solution the previous evening now appeared insoluble. George had adopted the flat.
Soon after eight o'clock in the morning he came to Jimmie Frost's bedside carrying morning tea on a tray, with the newspapers. The ex-detective seized the papers eagerly. Only an inconspicuous paragraph noted an attempted robbery at Luther Banke's jewellery store the previous night. The thieves had been apprehended before they had done more than break into the shop. There was nothing, in the newspapers concerning Alec Kempton.
Had not John Nott acted on the hint he had given him the previous evening and incriminated the solicitor with the thieves? Apparently not. He threw the papers from him, in disgust. Where should he go that morning? Where pick up again the trail he had certainly lost at Moorfield. He turned from the breakfast table, and scanned the boy.
"Stand up, George." Jimmie Frost spoke suddenly. The boy obeyed. "Hm! Can't have you like that. New suit, and all the etceteras. Bed, too. What are you going to do, George?"
"Get th' midday papers, mister. Nuthink in th' game afore th' afternoon,"
"So!" Jimmie laughed. "What about school?"
"Finished school, mister."
"Know all they can teach you?"
The boy shrugged. "Gotter work."
"Like to stay here—with me?"
"An' be a 'tec?" The boy's face lighted. "Mean it, mister?"
"Right!" Jimmie Frost reached for his hat. He looked down on the boy, whose face was aglow. "But you'll have to grow, y'know. They don't take shrimps into the Police Force."
"I'll grow." The boy flexed his muscles. "An' I ain't 'arf strong."
"They want something more than strength." The ex-detective spoke seriously, pride in his profession in his voice. "You have to have brains, and learn to use them."
For the moment the boy looked downcast, then he looked up. "Straight?" he asked.
"Then it's gotter be did." George' spoke seriously. "Yer means school?"
Again Jimmie Frost nodded, smiling at the boy's resolution, then turned to the door.
As the morning passed he began to regain his spirits. The youngster developed wonderfully. Dressed in the new clothes, he looked taller and bulkier. Jimmie Frost began to wonder. Had he found a new and valuable recruit for the Department? Certainly the boy had brains, and could use them. If he trained him—brought his quest to a successful issue by capturing "Cain"—He would regain his old standing in the Police Department, and more; for he had not forgotten Sir Edmund's words. He would be due for a step in rank. If Sir Edmund retired, as he had hinted might happen, he might succeed Superintendent Lorrimer as head of the detective branch.
He looked down at his companion. He could train this boy. He believed George had the makings of a fine man in him. During his youth he could instil in the youngster the essentials of routine police work the ambitious recruit found it so tedious to master.
The man and boy arrived back at the flat shortly after midday. Again Jimmie Frost settled himself to serious consideration of his problems. Where should he make a fresh start in his quest for "Cain?" Automatically, his thoughts turned to the house at Moorfield he believed to be the master-crook's headquarters. It was improbable he would find "Cain" there now, but the place would certainly repay careful investigation. A ring came at the outer door of the fiat, and George answered it. Jimmie Frost bent to his notes. Presently he looked up, to see a tall man standing on the threshold of the room surveying his quizzically.
"Inspector Nott!" The ex-detective rose to his feet, speaking formally. "John Nott, you old scaramouch!"
The detective strode forward, holding out his hand. "Thought you'd get away, did you, Mark Denvers? I had my doubts the other night, but now—" Again he shook hands vigorously. "Now I know."
He stood back, scanning his old comrade. "Lord, man, I shouldn't have recognised you in that get-up. To think that Mark Denvers—"
A tug at his elbow made him pause and look down at George, standing beside him, looking at Jimmie Frost with curiosity and awe. "Say, mister!" The boy's hand on John Nott's sleeve was pleading. "Is 'e Mister Denvers, th' great 'tec?"
"So! Who are you?" John Nott smiled. "What have you been up to Mark—kidnapping?"
"My right-hand man." Jimmie Frost laid an affectionate hand on the boy's shoulder. "This young man is going to be a detective, like you and I—was." He uttered the last word almost as an afterthought.
"Now John Nott, how did you track me here?"
"No credit to me, boy." The big detective laughed. "The Chief sent me here."
"He thought you might like to hear the details—of last night's raid, y'know. I'm beginning to suspect that the man who telephoned me was you."
"There wasn't much on the subject in the newspapers."
"Sir Edmund saw to that. But we made quite a clean-up, with Lawyer Alec Kempton in the star role."
"Then you got him?"
"Caught him with his three pals. Seems he couldn't trust them to bring him what he wanted, so he went in to watch them open the safe. We had got rid of the watchman, didn't want him damaged. We let them right in, and get ready to work on the safe. Gosh! It was easy!" He paused, then continued; "One-queer thing happened, Mark. Just as we got the gang nicely rounded up, I happened to glance at one of the windows. Lord, I got a shock! I thought I saw Luther Banke staring in on us; and he looked as if he'd just risen from the grave."
"Has Alec Kempton talked?" Jimmie Frost asked quickly.
"Not yet." The tall detective paused a moment. "Look here, Mark," he continued. "I don't know what you and the Chief have framed up. I do know there's something on—"
"You saw my resignation in the Gazette?" interrupted Jimmie Frost.
"Your what?" John Nott looked dumbfounded. "I handed my resignation to Sir Edmund at his request." Jimmie Frost spoke slowly. "I understood a notification of my resignation would appear in the next Gazette."
"Then the old man lost it." John Nott laughed. "Cunning old fox, Sir Edmund. Wonder what was in his mind?"
"He told you to come and see me to-day?" Jimmie Frost was puzzled. "I wonder why? Did he give you a message for me?"
"Only that you should watch the telephone." The tall detective glanced about the room inquisitively.
"You've got a telephone? So! Well, well! Perhaps he'll give you a ring."
Jimmie Frost did not reply. He wondered why Sir Edmund had sent John Nott to him; why. he had not published his resignation from the police department 'in the Government Gazette? He knew that the police Commissioner was a strategist of no mean order, moving and using the men under his command as a master-chess player uses the pieces on the chequered board. His brain worked in devious ways rarely giving any clue to his objective until he was assured of his success.
Only two facts stood clear in the bewildering maze of perplexing details. One was that Sir Edmund had chosen to betray the carefully guarded secret of his underworld disguise to John Nott, sending him to him with orders to remain in his company until after a stated time. In what capacity? As guard or gaoler.
The second fact was equally perplexing. Sir Edmund had bidden John Nott to warn him to watch the telephone. For what reason? The telephone was not connected with the public exchange. It communicated only with the secret instrument in the Police Chief's office. Then why watch it? Jimmie Frost glanced at his watch. It wanted but a few minutes to two o'clock. He turned to the boy.
"Run down to the street, George, and get the latest newspapers, please."
When the boy had left the room, Jimmie Frost turned to his old comrade:
John Nott met his look frankly. "Any message?"
When the tall, detective shook his head, Jimmie Frost added: "Why did Sir Edmund send you here, John?"
The inspector frowned. "Hanged if I know," he confessed. "He said he thought I might like to see you again—and that you might like to see me."
"And?" The ex-detective asked, when his companion paused.
"Damn it?" Inspector Nott exploded suddenly. "He told me to get here at half-past one and not to leave until he telephoned you."
"Strange!" Jimmie Frost' was still further puzzled. What was in the Police Chief's mind? To what end was he working? Inspector Nott was to stay with him—
George came into the room and placed the newspapers on the table, at Jimmie Frost's elbow. The ex-detective opened one; then gasped in astonishment. John Nott came round the table and leaned over his shoulder. Conspicuous on the page was the headline:
DEATH OF MR. LUTHER BANKE.
Jimmie Frost drew a deep breath. So Luther Banke was dead—and he had died in "Cain's" house! Another name had been added to the sinister total. Five men—all of them victimised by "Cain"—and all dead! The sixth—the man be believed destined to be a victim—lay in a prison cell!
The shrill "t-r-ing" of the telephone bell cut short his meditations. He rose from his chair and went to the instrument.
"Detective-Inspector Mark Denvers to call on Miss Martha Tayne at the offices of Luther Banke & Co., Hunter Street, punctually at noon tomorrow." The Police Chief's voice was severely official. Then it changed to a more personal note.
"Did you get that, Jimmie? Mark Denvers, not the underworld crook, Jimmie Frost. Understand? Detective-Inspector Mark Denvers."
A sharp click in the instrument tokened that the connection had been severed. With a worried frown on his face Mark Denvers replaced the receiver on its hook.
MARTHA TAYNE sat at her desk, outside the door of Luther Banke's private office. She was frowning, and her foot tapped, impatiently, the rug under the desk. She was nervous. Continually her eyes turned on the door leading into the shop, then to the clock perched on top of the big filing cabinet. The clock-face showed ten minutes to noon.
She was dressed entirely in black; not even a line of white relieved its sombreness. Yet the heavy mourning suited her well, throwing into relief the tinge of red in her dark hair, accentuating the pure whiteness of her skin. Now and again her fingers strayed to her skirt, plucking nervously at Its folds.
Martha Tayne was clothed in black in honour of her late employer, Luther Banke. That morning she had received official notice of his death from the hospital authorities. According to that report, Luther Banke had died in the hospital ambulance, while being conveyed from the hospital to his own home.
Again the girl's eyes went to the clock. She wondered, why were the minutes passing so slowly? There was so much to do, and to say, before night brought ease and contentment. Luther Banke was dead. For the time she was in sole control of the store—one of the largest and richest in the world. There were many men in authority in its various departments, but one and all, they deferred to her, a girl not yet numbering twenty-five years. It had been so during Luther Banke's life, and it would continue, until—
Indecision now marked her features and her actions. She was waiting for what she knew must happen. Almost she expected the door to open and the short stout figure of Alec Kempton to walk into the room. As solicitor to the deceased jeweller, he had the right of entry. Martha knew he was one of the trustees under Luther Banke's will. She knew that the other trustee was a nonentity who would be a pliant Instrument in the bombastic solicitor's hands.
Thank God that events had been so ordered that Alec Kempton would never again enter that place. Martha had long feared and distrusted the man. Unofficially she had known of Luther Banke's death the previous evening. She had stood by his bedside, and looked down on his ever-still form. She had been amid the bustle and perplexities his death had occasioned, for Luther Banke had not died in the ambulance van, nor In his own home. His death had brought to an end plans she and others had formed—plans they believed would succeed in righting a great wrong. Now she was waiting—as she had been told to wait. Waiting for what? Those whom she now allowed to dictate her actions—men she knew to be of good repute and standing—had told her little. She trusted them—and was content.
A light tap came on the door opening Into the shop. At her quick, clear word of permission a man entered.
"Joyce!" The girl sprang to her feet. "Is—has—?
"All serene, old thing." The young man carefully placed his hat, stick and gloves on a small table just within the door, then advanced to meet Martha with outstretched hands.
"The ship sailed an hour ago. I'll bet all I've made in my practice this last twelve months that no one at the wharf had the slightest suspicion. And you?"
"I?" The girl laughed happily. "An hour more and I shed this—" Her fingers touched her black skirt. "I—I shall be no longer a hypocrite. No, don't think I am not sorry for uncle Luther, but—but I'm too happy for black things and I feel hypocritical wearing them. Tonight I take the train for—for, you know."
"And join the ship at—you know!" Joyce Poynter mimicked her tones. "Three miles out at sea—" The girl laughed, her face flushing. "And, uncle Edmund?" she asked.
"Will be here In a few minutes. I have never known the old boy late for an appointment."
"But, Joyce—it seems—awful!"
"No." The girl's answer was quick. "I—I mean—the others. I feel as if we were running away—leaving others to bear the results of our wrong-doings. Dick—"
"You have the papers?"
"In the safe." Her eyes went to the door of the Inner office.
"Then—that's all right."
Joyce Poynter laughed with evident relief. "But Uncle Edmund—" The girl's voice held a hint of reproach.
"Uncle Edmund can look after himself." The man spoke easily. "I heard him called 'an old fox' once, and I believe it. His men swear by him—yet I know there is not one who understands him; who can follow his lines of thought—"
"Except Mark Denvers," Interjected Martha.
"He's your pigeon, my dear."
Joyce Poynter laughed. "We are leaving you to deal with him."
"And If I fail?" The girl hesitated.
"Sir Edmund says that when Martha takes a hand there is no thought of failure."
The girl swept a mocking curtsy. She said, simply: "I'm frightened."
"Frightened?" The man's brows rose inquiringly.
"The young scoundrel!" Joyce Poynter laughed. "I-"
He turned quickly as the door opened and Sir Edmund Morgan entered the room. Martha Tayne went to meet him. As she lifted her cheek for his accustomed caress, he stooped to her hand. The girl flushed hotly.
"A tribute to a brave woman, my dear." The old man led the girl to her seat. For a moment he was silent, then lifted his head and glanced keenly about the room. "Joyce! Martha! You know what has to be said. You must be guided by me."
A knock came at the door. At a sign from Sir Edmund, Joyce Poynter went to the door and opened it. On the threshold stood Inspector Mark Denvers. When he saw the Police Commissioner, he came forward, saluting gravely.
"Come in, Mark." Sir Edmund spoke slowly. "We've gathered here, at the end of a long lane. I have to tell you that our quest has ended."
"I've failed, sir?" There was bitterness in the Inspector's voice. "I understand you are telling me that 'Cain' has escaped?"
"He is not here." Sir Edmund waited. For long seconds there was silence In the room. At length Mark Denvers shrugged and turned to the door. "I understand, sir," he said. "I've failed! Well, you have my resignation!"
Again came the painful silence. Mark Denvers raised his head, proudly. "May I take this opportunity of thanking you for not publishing it before."
"Uncle!" Martha sprang to her feet. "You are unfair!" She went to the Inspector. "Mr. Denvers, are you—are you sorry that—that 'Cain' has escaped?"
A shrug gave silent answer to her question. "If I tell you that I love him?"
"Miss Tayne," the detective's eyes searched her face. "He is a criminal."
"He is a man who was sorely wronged—and who took the wrong way to right his wrongs."
For a full minute the police officer looked into the girl's eyes. A slight smile came to his lips. "You are telling me that with him it was a matter of revenge—of attempted self-restitution?"
Martha nodded. "And, that he is honest—innately honest?"
"I know he is—I will swear he is." The girl lifted her head, proudly.
Very gravely, Mark Denvers bowed. "For your sake, Miss Tayne. I—I cannot be sorry." Again he turned to the door.
"Walt, Mark!" Sir Edmund spoke, and his voice held the old ring of authority. "Sit down. I want Martha to tell you the story. It is your due to hear It."
The girl coloured. For a few seconds she was silent; then commenced to speak, softly and hesitatingly. As her tale unfolded, she gained vigour and dramatic power.
"I must start during the days of the Great War." Martha hesitated. "A young man—the only son of a very rich man—volunteered for service. His father objected—he feared for him. But the young man persisted. To the war with this young man went his great friend—a friend such as few men have; a friend who would do much, even sin, for friendship."
Across the room Mark Denvers' eyes sought and met Joyce Poynter's. He nodded understandingly.
"The father was proud of his son, yet he was angry that he had disregarded his wishes." Martha continued. "For diversion he returned to business, although he had no need of greater wealth. He was successful—very successful, and others were envious of him."
"Pell, Michaelstein, Symonds, Kilson and Banke," murmured Mark Denvers.
"Not the last named." Joyce Poynter spoke quickly. "Luther Banke did not know of the conspiracy until it was too late for him to interfere successfully."
"Are you sure?" Sir Edmund spoke In tones of disbelief. "Dick did not think so."
"Or he would not have looted him." Mark Denvers lips twitched in a dry smile.
"We shall never know exactly—now," Joyce Poynter concluded.
"Let me continue." Martha spoke. "Mr. Ulman—"
"Ah!" The Inspector interjected. The mystery about the house at Moorfield existed no longer.
"—Mr. Ulman missed his son greatly. He wrote to him. In his reply, and in later letters to his father, Dick mentioned matters that were grave military secrets. Mr. Ulman did not know that. He was proud of his son; proud of the high and honourable military record he was building. He showed his son's letters to his business associates—the men he believed to be his loyal friends. One of them—perhaps more than one—"
"Michaelstein!" interjected Sir. Edmund. "One or more of these men sympathised with the enemy. There was that in Dick's letters that should not have been written. This man, or these men, conveyed that information to the enemy. Somehow the source of the information became known to the authorities. Dick—Dick disappeared—" The girl broke down, hiding her face In her hands. "Or he would have been shot as a traitor."
Sir Edmund continued the narrative, his voice harsh with suppressed emotion. "Is there more to explain? In war there is no Court of Appeal. The Caesars of War had spoken. Dick became a fugitive; he became a 'Cain'—"
"A man against whom every other man's hand is raised!" Mark Denvers spoke under his breath. "I understand now, sir." A long silence. Then Inspector Denvers rose from his seat and picked up his hat.
"And the—the loot, sir? 'Cain's' loot. He has not kept that?"
Sir Edmund nodded to Martha.
The girl went Into the Inner office, returning in a few minutes with a small attaché case. She handed the ease to the detective. Opening the case, he glanced through the contents, wonder growing on his face as he came to realise that in his hands was a large fortune. Closing the case, he offered it to the Police Commissioner.
"Keep It, lad." Sir Edmund made a gesture of refusal. "You know how to deal with the contents."
"How did Luther Banke become possessed of this?" asked the Inspector, tapping the case.
"I placed it in the safe when Dick gave it to me," replied Martha. "With the—the loot are the documents Mr. Banke gathered when he was trying to get evidence of the conspiracy against Mr. Ulman." The girl paused. "When—when 'Cain' opened Mr. Banke's safe he took those papers, but it was not until after Mr. Banke was taken ill that he examined them. When he partially recovered, Dick went to him, and they were reconciled. To help Dick, Mr. Banke pretended to remain ill and unconscious."
"It was during that period he came to your flat?" Mark Denvers asked the girl.
"I took him, on his Insistence," interjected Joyce Poynter. "Dick Ulman discovered that Alec Kempton was going to Martha and we suspected that he would put pressure on her to give him access to the safe."
"Then the man who came to met the man who took Miss Tayne from her flat was—'Cain'?" Mark Denvers laughed suddenly.
Sir Edmund nodded. "I recognised him as soon as I entered the room. Dick Ulman is a remarkably clever Impersonator."
"What are we going to do about Alec Kempton?" asked the Inspector, after a long pause.
"That is a matter that will require careful thought," replied Sir Edmund. "At the present time we are holding him on a charge of burglarious entry, but that helps us little. We want the evidence that Luther Banke collected and deposited in his safe, for we believe that evidence will prove that Alec Kempton was the moving spirit in the conspiracy against the late Mr. Ulman; more, we believe that Luther Banke held evidence that the indiscreet statements contained in Dick Ulman's letters were not communicated to the enemy, but that Alec Kempton falsely informed the military authorities to that effect for the purpose of damaging the Ulmans. We do know that he obtained the letters from Mr. Ulman, under pretence of safe keeping; later claiming that the War Department had his offices searched, and discovered and confiscated them. Perhaps a little careful Investigation—"
The Police Chief became silent. After an Interval he rose to his feet, beckoning to Joyce Poynter. "Come Joyce." Then as Mark Denvers made to leave, also, he added. "No, lad. Martha has more to say to you. I will see to—to things until you get to headquarters."
When the door had closed behind the two men, Martha said: "That is the first time I have ever seen Uncle Edmund afraid." She laughed nervously.
"Afraid?" questioned the Inspector.
"Can you ever forgive us?" The girl spoke in a half-whisper. "Oh, I don't think you understand—yet. Can't you see. We are all afraid of you."
"Afraid of me?" Inspector Denvers laughed harshly. "I made an awful blotch of the case."
"Yet, working under an almost impossible handicap, you nearly succeeded. You would have succeeded, had not Alec Kempton's fears betrayed him into a false and criminal position. Then we thought we had better tell you everything, We—Sir Edmund—all of us—thought that you might—be prepared to—to—Oh, how can I ask so much of you?" She turned from him, sobbing.
Mark Denvers winced. "I don't think you need worry, Miss Tayne. You see, I've not been a police officer-"
"Uncle Edmund never used your resignation. He tore it up directly you left his room. He never intended-"
"Because he—and all of us—were frightened of you. Uncle was frightened when he learned the truth about—Dick, and Joyce, and me—He thought—He had to handicap you and—and that was the best way he could devise." Martha looked up at the Inspector, shyly. "Can you forgive us—and Dick?"
"Then—" He hesitated a moment. "Then I—not 'Cain'—played the 'lone-hand'." He laughed shortly. "But Sir Edmund—the Commissioner—"
"Sir Edmund is not Commissioner—now." Martha was speaking with more confidence. "He resigned three days ago, but his resignation has not yet been published."
"And you—and Mr. Poynter?"
"Joyce is a surgeon—a very clever one. He will return to his work." The girl hesitated. "Oh, If I could make it clear to you! Let me try this way. Mr. Denvers, there lived three sisters; they are all dead now. One sister married Sir Edmund. Another sister was my mother. The third sister married Mr. Banke. Their brother was Joyce's father. Now—" She laughed gently. "Have I made you understand our involved relationships?"
Mark Denvers laughed, his face lighting. He took Martha's hand. "I think so," he said. "Sir Edmund takes his well-earned rest. Joyce Poynter becomes one of the leading surgeons of the country. I am still detective-inspector." He paused and looked at the girl curiously. "And you?"
"I leave here—this country—to-night—to join him." Her words faltered and a happy glow came in her eyes. "We shall never come back here—never; but I believe we shall be happy—very, very happy."
"I know that." Mark Denvers spoke heartily; yet a little tinge of regret touched his heart. "Will you let me wish you luck—all the world holds best for, and to, you and him. Good-bye, Miss Tayne."
He turned, abruptly to the door, but the girl called him.
"Wait—Mark." He turned and saw she held an envelope In her hand. He stiffened slightly. "There is something I—Sir Edmund asked me to tell you. Superintendent Lorrimer is to be Commissioner of Police and—" She paused. "Uncle Edmund asked me to give you—this."
Expectantly, he ripped the letter from its cover. A glance, and he knew he held In his hand the prize he coveted. He, Mark Denvers, was to be the new Superintendent of Detectives. He was ordered to report for duty immediately.
"Miss Tayne—" Words choked him. The girl had turned to the window and was looking out over the little lane. For a long moment Mark Denvers silently regarded her, then went to the door. As he opened it, he hesitated; turned slowly to face the girl, and bowed, low and reverently. The door swung shut behind him, leaving the girl alone in the room with her happy thoughts.
In the shop, Inspector Mark Denvers lingered a considerable time. The assistant who served him, was surprised at his indecision, and still more so at the low-voiced instructions for the delivery of the goods. As he reached the pavement he raised his hand to a cruising taxi, then lowered it quickly and shook his head, laughing happily. He had come out from the jewellery store with not the price of taxi-hire remaining on him. Again he laughed, almost happily; yet there was a catch in his throat. He stopped and faced the elaborately-displayed windows of the largest jewellery store in the city—and raised his hat. Softly he murmured a few words—words that came straight from his heart:
"Health—happiness, to Martha and 'Cain'!"
Roy Glashan's Library.
Non sibi sed omnibus
Go to Home Page