Roy Glashan's Library.
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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.
THE hot air throbbed and quivered to the syncopated blare of a famous jazz orchestra. From orifices, hidden in the gaudily painted ceiling, long streamers of ever-changing coloured lights fell on the fantastically-garbed throng on the crowded dancing floor. It was a gala night at the Auxiliaries.
At a table in the corner of the low balcony sat Detective Sergeant Robert Greyson, immaculate in full evening dress. Before his left eye shone an apparently immovable rimmed monocle. It was a fixture. But for the touch of spirit-gum Greyson could not have retained it five consecutive seconds.
There was a man in Sydney who caused the high officials at Police Headquarters many sleepless nights. His place of abode, his ostensible profession, his intimate friends, were unknown to them. In the official records he was designated "Mr. Y." Greyson had come to the Auxiliaries that night on the track of one Con Cleek, international crook and collector of loose jewellery. He had a theory that when Con and the mysterious "Mr. Y" met, Mrs Samson Levy's famous rope of pearls, valued at five thousand pounds, would change hands.
There had been nothing mysterious in the theft of the pearls. Mrs. Samson Levy had attended a famous society wedding wearing her much advertised jewels. Con Cleek had also been a guest, uninvited and disturbing. He had left suddenly, and the pearls disappeared about the same time. Mrs. Samson Levy had raised a great outcry. For over a week Con had been assiduously shadowed by the police. The jewels had not been found in his possession; yet Greyson was prepared to swear the man had not had opportunity to "fence" them.
Suddenly Greyson leaned forward over the low rail of the balcony. Two of the dancers had halted close under where he sat. Some hint of remembrance caused him to examine the girl closely. The wide grey eyes glanced up at him carelessly through slits in the silk mask. A light, nervous laugh parted the over-red lips.
What was Mary Cronig doing in that jazz-mad throng? The last time he had seen her she had said she was down and out. Ironically, she had given her address as "The Domain."
Now she was well-dressed, well-fed. Mary, the shop-lifter—yet the girl he had taken to his home to his wife's care. His lips curled with disgust. He glanced at the girl's partner. He was Con Cleek, the thief. The detective looked past the man. Lounging against a pillar stood a lonely Pierrot. An almost imperceptible signal passed between Greyson and the man. If Con had the jewels he had not yet parted with them.
The girl caught at the man's arm, dragging him, impatiently, towards the dancing floor. The detective watched until they were lost to sight amid the crowd; then strode to the back of the balcony, where a man waited.
Ten minutes later he stepped on the dancing floor, his evening clothes hidden beneath the white loose raiment of a Pierrot. Across his eyes stretched a strange patterned mask of yellow and blue silk. Time was passing quickly. Soon the last dance of the night would be announced. Before that dance terminated Con would have passed the jewels to the mysterious "Mr. Y." Yet, could he?
The man had pluck! Greyson grimly acknowledged that. He had come to the ball in conventional evening clothes, not even donning a mask. Did he know that not for one single second was he free from observation; that always some lynx-eyed detective lurked at his elbow? Again he caught sight of the girl. She was standing alone, close to the band platform. Keeping well in the crowd, Greyson moved around until he stood immediately behind her.
"Mary, what are you doing here?"
The girl whirled round. Then, as Greyson lifted the piece of silk covering his face.
"What is it now, Mary? Shop-lifting, or—"
"You beast!" The girl flung from him, angrily. He caught her by the wrist. "Let me alone. I'm honest! I've got a job!"
"A job that pays for guinea tickets to the Auxiliaries?"
"I came with a friend. Let me go, or I'll scream!"
"Scream, my dear." Greyson shifted his grip to above the elbow, "Suppose you know your friend's a convicted thief—one of the swells of his profession?"
"He's a gentleman!" Something in the detective's eyes made her pause. Her voice dropped. "Straight, Mr. Greyson?"
"Notice this mask; Mary?" He touched the piece of silk across his face. "Watch the Pierrots. See any more, masks like this? Well, they're Con's bodyguard for the night. He's not been free from one of 'em all the evening."
"Where is he, Mary?" The low voice held an authority, the girl could not resist. "He told me to wait for him here." Then she spoke more freely. "I thought he was straight..."
"Wouldn't be Con Cleek if he was." Greyson chuckled. "Well, we'll let that pass, Mary. What are you doing? Didn't you see my advertisement?"
The girl nodded. Her eyes were watching the ever-changing throng.
"Got a Job, Mr. Greyson. Good job, too. In an importer's office. I can type, y'know."
"Why didn't you come and tell me. Mrs. Greyson—Alice is anxious. You've hurt her, rather, Mary."
"I couldn't come back. I'm not fit for her." The girl lifted her mask and touched her eyes with a flimsy ball of lace. "Perhaps...later...when...Say, Mr. Greyson, what's Con done?"
"Heard of the Levy's pearls, Mary?"
The girl nodded. "Well, Con's got them. 'Least we think he has. Long rope of pearls, something like those duds you're wearing. Just about the same size and length. Mind if I have a look at them, Mary?"
Without speaking, the girl slipped the rope of beads over her head and placed them in the detective's hand. A quick examination and he touched them with his tongue.
"Duds, yes. No, didn't think you'd got the Levy pearls, Mary." Greyson laughed quietly. "Best to be sure, though. Con's up to all sorts of tricks."
"Hullo, Mary! Thought I'd missed you!" A tall well-set up young man had crossed to them. "Rotten luck having to miss this dance. Still ..." For a moment he stared amazedly at the unmasked detective.
"Well, Con." There was a grim note in the detective's voice.
"Mr. Greyson!" The crook moistened his thin lips with his tongue. "E-r! Busy tonight?"
"Just watching, Con." The detective grinned broadly. "Same as you, Con! just watching! Say, Mary, you didn't tell me where you got those beads?"
"Lent me." The girl spoke restlessly. "The boss imports them."
"Does he, now? Ah, well! They don't interest me. I'm interested in pearls and exports, at the moment."
"What about the dance, Mary?" The crook caught at the girl's hand.
"Sorry, Con." With a deft movement Greyson swung the girl into the crook of his arm. "My dance, y'know." He steered the girl into the throng of dancers. Mechanically she fell into step. "Say, Mr. Greyson, you're some dancer. Why didn't you ask me before? Why—"
"Sorry, Mary!" A turn gave the detective a chance, to glance back to where the crook stood, watching them. "Going to let me know where you work?"
"Anderson and Bligh, York Street. Mr. Anderson's here tonight. He's—Oh, what a shame! They're stopping!"
Almost with the last bars of the music the lights in the hall went out. Greyson suddenly realised he had been caught off, guard. Was the extinguishing of the lights some trick of the crook, to enable him to pass the jewels to the mysterious "Mr. Y?"
But there were other men watching. With a quick movement Greyson swung the girl from the floor, pushing through the crowd to the entrance. Someone opened the exit doors and beams of light filtered into the darkened room. The lights in the corridors and vestibule were still on.
"Get your wraps, Mary. Best to get out of the crush as quick as we can."
"Where are you taking me?" The girl glanced up at him, half-startled. "Not..."
"Not if you don't want to come." He spoke sadly. "Alice will be disappointed, of course. But...Get your cloak, girl. I'll get a taxi."
The girl disappeared into the cloakroom. Greyson walked down the vestibule to the street entrance. There he stood, watching the moving crowd. He had failed, that night. Had Con Cleek succeeded in communicating with "Mr. Y." If so; if they had met under cover of the darkness, then the pearls were finally lost. He would have to go back on his work and try and pick up the trail again. It might be months before he would have so good a chance to solve the mystery surrounding the identity of the elusive fence.
With an impatient shrug of his shoulders he turned, to see the girl coming towards him, "Why, girlie." He caught the cloak at her neck. "You've lost your beads.
"Took them off, so that I shouldn't lose them, Mr. Greyson." Mary laughed lightly. "Thought it would be best to carry them. Mr. Anderson told me to bring them to the office, tomorrow morning."
Someone bumped roughly into the girl. Greyson turned, angrily. Two men, one of them Con Cleek, were passing towards the street. Greyson stiffened. They were talking earnestly in low tones. On the step, Con and his friend halted and I shook hands, warmly. With a shout, Greyson jumped forward. Something had passed from one man to the other. Immediately there was a commotion. Through the gathering crowd pushed a group of men, Pierrot costumes half-hidden by their overcoats.
"Got you, Con!" There was intense satisfaction in Greyson's tones. "And 'Mr. Y,' too. Pleased to make your acquaintance! Now, 'Mr. 'Y,' those pearls."
Ho forced the man's hands roughly open and took a long rope of pearls from it. For a moment there was silence; then the second man laughed harshly.
"Say, what's the game? Who the devil are you and what are you doing?"
"Can that!" Greyson was examining the string of pearls. "You're under arrest—you and Con Cleek—for the theft of Mrs. Samson Levy's pearls. Want me to put the bracelets on, or will you fellows go quietly? I've half-a-dozen of my men here."
"Mr. Greyson!" The detective looked down at Mary, standing at his elbow. "You've made a mistake. This is Mr. Arthur Anderson, my employer. I'm sure..."
"Then Mr. Arthur Anderson is 'Mr. Y.'" Greyson spoke confidently. "Here's Mrs. Levy's string of pearls."
"String of pearls!" Anderson spoke quickly. "Hullo, Miss Cronig. You know this man? Detective-Sergeant Greyson, eh? Well, Mr. Greyson, if you know a head from a pearl, take a look at those. Why, I've got boxes of them over at my office. Miss Cronig's wearing a string of them now."
Motioning to his men to guard the group, Greyson stepped under the bright light of the arc lamps. A few minutes' testing and he knew the string to be imitation. With a sinking heart ho went back to the group, signalling to his men to release the prisoners.
"Want to search me?" Con Cleek thrust his grinning face towards the detective. "Just because me and my friend have a look at a string of beads! Oh, boy! Why he's got half-a-dozen of 'em in his pocket, now. Get him to show you, Greyson. It'll keep you happy while I see Mary home."
He caught the girl by the arm and dragged her towards a waiting car. On the pavement, Mary stopped.
"No, Con," she protested. "I said Mr. Greyson should see me home. I'm not coming with you."
"The hell you won't!" The crook dropped his veneer of gentility. He caught the girl in his arms and lifted her into the waiting car. Greyson took a stop forward, to find Arthur Anderson before him.
"We've got to settle this little matter of the arrest, Greyson." The man was white with anger.
"Stop that car!" Greyson tried to pass Anderson. The man tried to baulk him, to be met by a straight left that knocked him flat on the pavement. The car was gathering speed. Greyson charged after it. He could see Mary struggling with the crook in the car. Again he shouted, but the driver took no notice. He tugged at his automatic, jammed in his hip-pocket.
Suddenly Mary's head came through the window. For a moment she hung there. Something flashed white through the air and lay glistening on. the street. He ran forward and picked it up. It was the string of beads Mary had worn that night.
He went slowly back to where Anderson stood, guarded by the plainclothes men, puzzling over the string of beads. Something in the feel of them made him wonder. Under the bright light he examined them again. They were pearls; true pearls, covered by some kind of colourless lacquer. That was the reason he had been deceived in the hall. He looked up at Anderson, a light, laugh on his lips.
"Just so, Mr. Anderson—or should I say, 'Mr. Y'? The pearls and 'Mr. Y.' Jove, you nearly fooled me. Well, that's a good night's work, boys. You know what to do with him."
They moved off, surrounding their prisoner. For some moments. Greyson stood alone, watching up the street In the direction the car, bearing Mary, had driven. The wave of elation at his success faded, leaving almost depression. He could only think of the girl he had hoped to take again to the grey-haired, lonely woman in the little house at Randwick.
Roy Glashan's Library.
Non sibi sed omnibus
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