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THE Chinese clock on the mantelpiece struck seven.
A beam of May sunshine, following a sharp shower, pushed its way through the crack between the heavy velvet curtains, slanted obliquely across the big settee, stayed for a moment in the long, expensively furnished bedroom then, apparently disheartened, disappeared, giving place to a fresh shower.
The door between the sitting-room and the bedroom opened slowly. Effie Thompson's red head appeared, followed by the rest of her. She stood in the doorway, one hand on hip, her green eyes narrowed, scanning the disordered room, noting the trail of trousers, coat, waistcoat, shirt and what-will-you that lay between the doorway and the settee.
She sighed. She walked quietly about the room, picking up the clothes, folding them, laying them on a chair.
On the settee, Callaghan lay stretched out at full length. He was wearing a sea-green silk undervest and shorts. One foot sported a blue silk sock and a well-polished shoe; the other merely a suspender which hung precariously from the big toe.
His hands were folded across his belly. He slept deeply and peacefully. His broad shoulders, which almost covered the width of the settee, descended to a thin waist and narrow hips. His face was thin and the high cheekbones made it appear longer. His black hair was tousled and unruly.
On the floor beside the settee was a big, half-empty bottle of eau-de-Cologne with the stopper beside it.
Effie Thompson replaced the stopper and stood looking down at Callaghan's face. She looked at his mouth. She wondered why the devil she should be so intrigued with that mouth.
She went out of the room closing the door behind her gently. She walked across the sitting-room out into the corridor. She went into the electric lift and down to the offices two floors below.
As she walked along the passage that led to the main door of the offices she found herself wondering why Callaghan had been on a jag. She expected it was a woman. Whenever something started—or ended—with Callaghan there was a jag. She wondered whether this was the start of something or the ending of something... or somebody...
She said a very wicked word under her breath.
Nikolls was sitting in Callaghan's room, with his chair tipped back on its hind legs. He was smoking a Lucky Strike and blowing smoke rings. Nikolls was broad in the shoulder and inclined to run to a little fat in the region of the waist-belt. His face was round and good-humored; his eyes intelligent, penetrating.
As Effie Thompson passed him on the way to Callaghan's desk he began to sing "You Got Snake's Hips." Simultaneously, and with amazing speed, he switched his chair round and aimed a playful smack at the most obvious portion of her anatomy. She side-stepped expertly—just in time. She said:
"Listen, you damned Canadian. I've told you to keep your hands to yourself. One of these days I'm going to kick you on the shins."
"Look, honey," he said plaintively. "Be human. Why can't a man take a smack at you now an' again. It's natural—ain't it?"
She sat down behind the desk. She began to tidy the litter of papers.
"Why is it natural?" she asked.
Her green eyes were angry.
Nikolls fished about in his coat pocket and produced a fresh cigarette. He lit it from the stub of the old one. Then, with the cigarette hanging out of the corner of his mouth, he heaved a sigh which, intended to be tragic, sounded like a whale coming up for air.
"Every guy has got a weakness, honey," he said. "Ain't you ever learned that? Every normal guy, I mean. O.K. Well, my weakness is hips. I go for hips. I always have gone for 'em an' I always will. In a big way I mean."
He shifted the cigarette to the other corner of his mouth.
"Some fellas think ankles are the thing," Nikolls continued, almost dreamily, "other fellas go for face, an' fancy hairstyles, or poise, or a nice line in talks but with me it's hips, an' I'm gonna stand up an' tell the whole cock-eyed world that when it comes to hips you got every dame I ever met lookin' like somethin' you find under a rock when the tide goes out. An' I'm gonna tell you somethin'. Just before I die I'm gonna take one big smack at you an' then I'll pass out happy."
She pushed a tendril of red hair back into place.
She said: "Nikolls... I've never heard any one talk such rot as you do. You..."
He grinned at her.
"Oh, yeah?" he said. "Looky... maybe you wouldn't mind if somebody did take a smack at you, so long as it was the right guy... Now, if it was Slim... ?"
She reddened, flashed an angry look at him.
He blew a smoke ring.
"Say, how is the big boy?" he asked. "Is he conscious yet?"
"He's snoring his head off," said Effie. "Clothes all over the bedroom. He must have had a head last night. He's used half a bottle of eau-de-Cologne."
"That one certainly did drink some liquor last night," he said. "Plenty. An' he was as happy as a sandlark..."
She shut a drawer with a bang.
"The advent of a new lady friend or the end of an old one," she said.
She looked at Nikolls. He grinned back at her mischievously.
"You're sorta curious, ain't you, honey?" he said. "Well, I don't know a thing... Slim never talks about dolls to me. He's a very close guy. Mind you, I've seen him around with one or two very sweet numbers. But still that wouldn't interest you, would it, honey?"
"It certainly would not," she said.
One of the telephones on Callaghan's desk jangled. She took off the receiver.
"Yes... This is Callaghan Investigations. I'm sorry, Mr. Layne, I've been trying to get Mr. Callaghan to call you all day. No... he's in conference at this very moment. I can't disturb him. I'm very sorry, but he's just concluding a most important case. Will you speak to his first assistant, Mr. Nikolls... Thank you, Mr. Layne... hold on, please..."
She passed the receiver on its long cord to Nikolls. He shifted his cigarette to the other side of his mouth and tilted his chair back to a perilous angle.
"Is this Mr. Layne... ? This is Windemere Nikolls. What can we do for you, Mr. Layne?... I see... yeah... I'm ahead of you... well what's the stuff worth?... One hundred thousand... You don't say... Say, Mr. Layne, if you'll let me have your number I'll get Mr. Callaghan to call you right back directly he comes out of that conference he's at right now. I'll do that... 'Bye..."
He threw the receiver back to Effie Thompson who caught it neatly and replaced it. He got up.
"It looks like some big business is startin' around here, sister," he said. "You tinkle through to Slim an' wake him up. I gotta talk to him."
The telephone jangled again. She picked up the receiver. Nikolls heard Callaghan's voice, brusque and rather acid, coming through from the flat above.
Effie said: "I'm glad you're awake. I came up and looked at you, but I thought it was more than my life would be worth to disturb you."
Nikolls got up and took the receiver from her hand.
"Hallo, Slim," he said. "Say... what she really meant was that she just had to come up an' look at them green silk underpants of yours. Yeah... it makes her feel good... but don't tell her I said so. Look... do you want to listen to business?... OK. I'm coming up... All right."
He hung up.
"He says you're to telephone down to the service to send him up a big pot of tea... very hot an' very strong... an' then you can go home, sister... maybe one night when I ain't busy you an' me could go to a movie..."
"Like hell," said Effie. "D'you think I'd trust myself in the dark with you?"
"Why not, honey?" he said. "I'm swell in the dark an' I'm just as dangerous in the daylight anyhow. I remember once some dame in Minnesota..."
The telephone jangled again. She said as she reached for it:
"I'd get upstairs if I were you. That's him and he's in a very bad temper if I know anything about Mr. Callaghan."
"Maybe you're right," said Nikolls.
He went to the door.
Effie said into the telephone in a very smooth, cool voice:
"Yes, Mr. Callaghan... Yes... he's just left the office... he's on his way up... and I'm ringing through to service for the tea. And is there anything else?...Very well... Good-night..."
Callaghan came out of the bathroom and stood in front of the mirror carefully tying a black watered-silk bow. When this was done he put on a double-breasted dinner jacket and went over to the corner cupboard. He produced a bottle of whisky, a water carafe and two glasses.
He poured out the whisky. He drank four fingers neat and swallowed a little water afterwards. Nikolls came across and helped himself.
Callaghan said: "What's the story, Windy?"
He lit a cigarette, inhaled deeply and began to cough.
Nikolls said: "It's some lawyer guy named Layne. They've been tryin' to get you all afternoon. The firm's Layne, Norcot, Fellins, Treap and Layne. They're good lawyers—act for a lot of swells. This Layne is the head man. The case is a steal... somebody's pinched about a hundred thousand pounds worth of first-class ice from some guy in Devonshire. They've had the police on it but they don't seem satisfied. I don't know any more details. They want you to go in on it. Layne wants to see you. I said you'd ring back. He's waiting at his office. It's in Green Street just off the Park."
Callaghan looked at his watch. It was eight o'clock.
"Ring through and say I'm coming round now," he said. "I'll be with him in ten minutes. And you stay around downstairs in case I want you."
Nikolls nodded. As he got up the house telephone rang. He answered it. Callaghan was looking out of the window.
Nikolls put his hand over the transmitter.
"It's a dame," he said. "Her name's Vendayne—Miss Vendayne. She says that she believes the Layne firm have been trying to get into touch with you. She says she wants to see you urgently. What do I say?"
"Funny business," he said. "Make an appointment for tonight somewhere. Anywhere she likes—if it's in London."
Nikolls talked into the telephone. After he had hung up he said:
"It's O.K. She says for you to meet her at Ventura's Club, near Shepherd's Market, at ten o'clock."
Callaghan lit a fresh cigarette.
"What did she sound like?" he asked.
Nikolls grinned. He waved his big hands dreamily.
"She had one of those voices, Slim," he said. "You know... music an' promises of rewards an' all that Omar Khayyám stuff..."
"You don't say," said Callaghan. "Windy, you're getting poetic."
"Yeah..." said Nikolls. "I'm like that sometimes... but I sorta spoil myself. I'm always poetic at the wrong times. Just when I oughta be spoutin' poetry I find myself tryin' to take a smack at some dame an' I get all washed up."
He got up.
"I'll wait downstairs in the office," he said. "Maybe you'll come through later?"
Callaghan nodded. He put on a black soft hat and went out. As the bedroom door closed behind him, Nikolls reached for the whisky bottle.
Callaghan reopened the door.
"Help yourself to a drink, Windy," he said.
Nikolls cursed softly to himself.
"Why in hell didn't I wait?" he muttered.
Mr. Layne, of Layne, Norcot, Fellins, Treap and Layne was very thin, very dignified. He looked extremely ascetic and rather uncomfortable.
Callaghan, seated in the big chair on the other side of the lawyer's desk, lit a cigarette with an engine-turned gold lighter.
Layne said: "I am afraid it's rather an extraordinary case, Mr. Callaghan."
"I gathered that," he said. "When somebody steals £100,000 worth of jewellery it is a job for the police, not a private detective." He looked at the lawyer. "That's obvious, isn't it?" he asked.
Layne nodded. He put the tips of his fingers together and looked over them at Callaghan. He said:
"Mr. Callaghan, I think I'd better give you the whole story from the beginning. I should like to point out to you that it was not my idea to employ a private detective in this case. During my legal experience I have always found the services of the police adequate."
Callaghan said: "You don't say..."
He flipped the ash from his cigarette.
"In a nutshell," said Mr. Layne precisely, "the position is this: My client is Major Eustace Vendayne. You may have heard of the Vendaynes—a very old Devon family—very ancient indeed. Major Vendayne lives at Margraud Manor, a delightful estate near Gara in South Devon.
"He is—or was," the lawyer went on, "the life owner of some extremely valuable antique jewellery, which came into possession of the family in rather unique circumstances. One of the Vendaynes sank a great deal of Spanish shipping at the time of Queen Elizabeth, and he was allowed to retain a percentage of the captured booty. He left directions as to its disposal after his death in his will.
"He directed that the head of the Vendayne family should be owner and trustee of the jewellery in his lifetime. He was to keep it intact in safe custody and allow it to be worn on the proper occasions by women members of the family. If he attempted to sell it, it was to pass immediately to the next male in line to whom it would go, in any event, after his death.
"Should any member of the family have no male heir by the time he was twenty-five years of age, and if there were no other male member of the family existing, then the holder was entitled to dispose of the jewellery as he saw fit. You understand?"
"The present owner and trustee of the jewellery is my client," said Layne. "After his death it goes to his nephew Lancelot Vendayne, who, being over twenty-five years of age, being unmarried and having no heir, is entitled to dispose of it when it comes to him after my client's death—should he wish to do so.
"Some eleven weeks ago," the lawyer went on, "thieves broke into the Manor House, opened the safe and removed the jewellery. They were either very lucky or they had some means of knowing that on that particular night the jewellery would be in the house, because only the day before it had been brought over from the bank vault at Newton Abbott—where it was usually kept—for the purpose of a private exhibition which was to be held at the Manor.
"When the theft was discovered Major Vendayne informed the local police at once. The matter was taken up by the County Police and after a week's delay the services of Scotland Yard were requested. It seems that up to the moment the authorities have discovered nothing.
"The jewellery," Layne continued, "was insured for £100,000, which, believe me, does not represent its true value. Major Vendayne, of course, made a claim on the Insurance Company, but for some reason or other—and I must say I fail to understand this—the Company do not seem inclined to meet the claim promptly. They have during the past three or four weeks made all sorts of vague excuses, and, quite candidly, at the moment I have no information as to when they propose to settle the claim.
"This," the lawyer went on, "is where Mr. Lancelot Vendayne comes into the story. As the next owner of the jewellery, and the one to whom it would actually belong in its entirety with power for him to do as he liked with it, he is, naturally, most perturbed about the situation. After all he was entitled to regard it almost as being his own property. My client is fifty-five years of age and has a weakness of the heart. He is not expected to live a great deal longer.
"To cut a long story short," said the lawyer, "Mr. Lancelot Vendayne has become more and more perturbed about the attitude of the Insurance Company. It had been arranged between him and Major Vendayne—and I think the young man's attitude was most generous—that when the claim was settled he should receive £75,000 and my client would be entitled to keep the remaining balance of £25,000.
"Two weeks ago Lancelot Vendayne went down to the Manor House and saw my client. He suggested to him that as the police seem to be doing very little in this matter it was time that outside help was brought in. Apparently," said Mr. Layne, looking at Callaghan over the top of his pince-nez, "Lancelot has heard about you. Your reputation," he continued with an icy smile, "has evidently preceded you. He insisted that my client should retain your services and that you should endeavour to find out if possible, first of all, what happened to the jewellery, and secondly why the Insurance Company are taking up the attitude which they have adopted."
Callaghan said: "I can answer the second part of that question now. I've done a lot of work for Insurance Companies. I know their methods. They just don't like the claim. They're stalling for time."
The solicitor said: "So I gathered. But Lancelot Vendayne —and for that matter my client—would like to know why."
The lawyer got up. He crossed over to the fireplace and stood, his hands behind his back, looking at Callaghan.
"Would you like to take up this case, Mr. Callaghan?" he said.
"Why not?" Callaghan answered. "It sounds an interesting case. I like the idea. I shall want a retainer of £250. If I get that jewellery back I'll put in a bill. It'll be a big bill. If I don't get it back, I'll put in a bill not quite so big."
The lawyer nodded.
"That is agreeable," he said. "I'll have the cheque sent to you to-morrow. I expect you'll want to go down to Margraud. I believe there is an excellent train service. Will you go to-morrow?"
"Maybe," said Callaghan, "and I never use trains anyway."
He lit another cigarette.
"Mr. Layne," he said, "supposing you tell me something about the Vendayne family, or isn't there a family?"
The lawyer nodded. A little smile appeared at the corner of his mouth. Callaghan thought it was a cynical smile.
"Oh, yes, Mr. Callaghan," he said, "there is a family. I will describe it to you. There is my client—Major Vendayne—who as I have told you is fifty-five years of age, with a not very good heart. Then there is his eldest daughter, a most charming young lady—Miss Audrey Vendayne. She is I think thirty years of age. There are two other daughters—Clarissa aged twenty-eight and Esme aged twenty-five. They are all extremely attractive. Clarissa and Esme," the lawyer went on, "are thoroughly modern young women. In fact, I suppose that people of my generation might possibly consider them a trifle wild. They have what I believe is called, in these days, temperament as well as looks."
Callaghan said: "I see. They're all good-lookin' and attractive. But Clarissa and Esme are a trifle wild and they've got temperaments. Audrey is good-looking, but she hasn't got a temperament and she's not wild. What has she got?"
Layne said very coldly: "Miss Vendayne is a most charming, agreeable and delightful young woman. She is unlike her sisters merely in the fact that she is not at all wild and has no temperament to speak of."
"I see," said Callaghan. "I'm sorry I interrupted."
He grinned amiably at the lawyer.
"These three ladies and my client live at the Manor House," continued the lawyer. "The only other member of the family living, as I have already said, is Mr. Lancelot Vendayne. He does not live in Devonshire. He lives in town."
"Do you know his address?" he asked.
"He lives at the Grant Hotel, in Clarges Street," replied the lawyer. "He is an interesting young man and has made, I believe, considerable money on the Stock Exchange. He is a lucky gambler they tell me. He plays golf and has a fondness for night clubs. He is quite a nice sort of person. In the evening he is usually found at the Ventura Club, where he drinks a great deal and plans fresh raids on the stock market. As I told you, he is responsible for your being called in on this unfortunate business."
Callaghan got up. He stubbed out his cigarette.
He said: "Thanks for the information. I'll probably go down to Devonshire some time. Maybe to-morrow. You might let Major Vendayne know I'm coming. I'll telephone the Manor when I'm on my way. I'd like to stay there. I shall take an assistant with me."
"Very well, Mr. Callaghan," said the lawyer. "I'll inform my client. He'll expect you. I wish you good luck."
Callaghan said: "Thanks."
He picked up his hat and went out.
It was nine-thirty when Callaghan finished his dinner. He came out of the Premier Lounge and turned down Albemarle Street. He walked into Bond Street, through Bruton Street, through Berkeley Square into the region of Shepherd's Market. He turned into the long mews that bisects one corner of the Market and turned into the passage on the left. At the end of the passage the entrance of The Ventura Club formed a cul de sac. Over the door was a green "blackout" shaded light. On each side of it a miniature tree in a tub.
Callaghan paused before the entrance and produced his cigarette-case. He was lighting the cigarette when the woman came out of the shadow beside one of the tree tubs.
She said: "Mr. Callaghan?"
He looked at her. She was tall and slim and supple. Callaghan had a vague impression that she was very well dressed and that she emanated a subtle and discreet perfume. There was a peculiar quality in her voice that was, he thought, extraordinarily attractive.
He said: "Miss Vendayne, I imagine? Somehow I thought I'd find you inside..."
She shrugged her shoulders.
"I didn't know where to make an appointment to meet you," she said. "I discovered that your office was off Berkeley Square. I thought this would be as good a place as anywhere."
Callaghan said: "Why not?"
There was a pause. He stood, inhaling his cigarette smoke, looking at her. After a moment she said:
"Can we go somewhere? I want to talk to you."
Callaghan grinned in the darkness.
"I rather imagined you did," he said.
He turned and began to walk down the passage into the mews. He could her her high heels tapping just behind him.
In Charles Street, they found a wandering taxi-cab.
Callaghan said: "There's a not-too-bad club I know near here. Would you like to go there?"
He stopped the cab. In the darkness he could almost feel her shrugging her shoulders.
They drove to the club in Conduit Street. On the way he amused himself trying to identify the perfume she was wearing. After a while he gave it up.
When the cab stopped, Callaghan helped her out. She drew her arm away quickly as her foot reached the pavement. He paid off the driver. As he turned away from the moving cab the moon came out and he saw her. He had a sudden picture of a white face, half-hidden by a short veil, framed with dark hair, of two large dark eyes, a straight and attractive nose with sensitive nostrils and a superbly chiselled mouth. Callaghan, who liked looking at women's mouths, thought that hers was quite delightful. He remembered Nikoll's wisecrack about her voice... "music an' promises of rewards an' all that Omar Khayyám stuff...." He wondered if Nikolls was right.
His eyes wandered quickly over her. She wore a coat and skirt that fitted as a suit should fit. She had style, Callaghan thought. He wondered about Clarissa and Esme...
The cab disappeared. They stood for a moment looking at each other. Then Callaghan said:
"I wouldn't do anything you didn't want to do. You don't seem awfully sure of yourself. You look to me as if you'd rather be somewhere else."
She smiled. It was a small smile. Then she said arrogantly:
"I would. I'm not used to having heart-to-heart talks with private detectives whom I don't know. But as I'm here I'd better go through with it."
He grinned at her.
"Too bad," he said. "It must be awful for you. Come inside. Maybe you'll feel better after a drink."
They went up the stairs to the first floor. The club was a one-room affair—a big room with a bar at one end. It was empty except for the bar-tender. Callaghan led the way to a table and, when she was seated, went to the bar and ordered fine maison and black coffee. When he got back to the table she said:
"I suppose the best thing I can do is to say what I've got to say and be done with it."
Callaghan smiled at her. She noticed his white even teeth.
"That's always a good idea," he said. "Only the devil of it is that when we've said what we've got to say, very often we're not done with it."
She smiled. It was a very cold smile.
"You're fearfully, clever, aren't you, Mr. Callaghan?" she said. "I've heard that about you. I suppose I ought to be rather frightened or something..."
Callaghan said: "I wouldn't know."
He sat down.
The bar-tender brought the brandy and coffee. He offered her a cigarette and, when she refused, lit one for himself. He drew the smoke down into his lungs, exhaled it slowly through one nostril. He said:
He was grinning amiably.
She looked towards the window. Then she said: "I would like a cigarette, please."
He gave her one and lit it. As he held up the lighter he thought that Miss Audrey Vendayne had something—as Nikolls would say—even if she was finding it a little difficult to bring matters to a head.
She smoked silently for a moment. Then she said very quickly:
"Mr. Callaghan, I don't want you to handle this case for my father. I don't think it's necessary."
"I see," said Callaghan. "I suppose you've got a good reason for wanting me not to handle it?"
"The very best of reasons," she answered. Her eyes were cold. "The matter has been put into the hands of the police," she went on. "I think the police are very efficient. I do not see why the services of a private detective are necessary."
Callaghan said nothing. There was a pause. He began to sip his coffee.
"Of course," she went on, "if you go out of the case now... if you give it up—although you haven't even started it—I think you ought to have some sort of compensation."
Callaghan shook the ash off his cigarette. Then he looked at the glowing end for quite a while. One corner of his mouth was curled up in an odd sort of smile. He could sense her feeling of impatience.
He said: "I think that's very nice of you. Very sporting. The devil of it is I've already seen Mr. Layne—your father's lawyer. I've practically accepted the case."
He looked at her. She was looking towards the window. Callaghan thought that even if, as Layne had said, Audrey Vendayne was not wild and had not a lot of temperament she still had plenty of something. Anyway, Callaghan had little opinion of the abilities of lawyers to sum up character.
Her glance returned to him. She said casually:
"Possibly. But I don't see any reason why you can't be bought off the case. Can you?"
Callaghan looked at her for a moment. Then he began to grin wickedly.
"Of course, Miss Vendayne, I'm always open to be 'bought off' a case. What compensation would you suggest? And I think compensation is a hell of a word. I like it. Having regard to the fact that there's nothing to compensate me for, I think it's good."
She flushed. She said quietly:
"You're making fun of me?"
"I never make fun of a woman who is as serious as you are," Callaghan answered. "I was merely curious about the compensation."
She nodded. She looked down at the table and made as if to pick up the little glass of brandy. She did not. Then she looked at him and said:
"I don't think my father should be worried any more about this business of the jewellery being stolen. He's been terribly harassed about it. And he's not well. He should be left alone. It doesn't matter sufficiently."
"No? queried Callaghan. "I should have thought that a hundred thousand pounds worth of jewels would have mattered to any one."
"That is a matter of opinion," she said. "I don't think it matters."
"Excellent," he said. His voice held a definite tinge of insolence. "So you don't think it matters. And where do we go from there?"
Her eyes blazed.
"I wonder has any one told you that you can be fearfully impertinent, Mr. Callaghan?" she said.
"Lots of people have, Miss Vendayne," he answered. "And I suppose I should be considered even more impertinent if I said—so what!" He blew a smoke ring and watched it rise in the air. "If you've got a proposition I'm listening," he went on. "I suppose we didn't come here to discuss my ability to be impertinent."
She shrugged her shoulders.
"You're perfectly right," she said. "Very well then, briefly, my proposition is this. I am willing to pay you two hundred pounds immediately if you decide not to take the case."
Callaghan said softly: "Mr. Layne offered me two hundred and fifty to handle it. Your offer would have to be over his."
She said: "I'll give you three hundred."
"Done," said Callaghan.
She looked at him for a moment. Then she began to open her handbag. She stopped suddenly and said:
"How do I know I can trust you?"
"You don't," said Callaghan.
He lit another cigarette.
She said something under her breath. It sounded like "pig"... Then she opened the bag and took out a packet of banknotes. She extracted six fifty pound notes from the pile and pushed them towards Callaghan. He put them in his waistcoat pocket.
She got up.
"Good-night, Mr. Callaghan," she said.
Callaghan stood up.
"Thanks for the money," he said. "But aren't you going to drink your brandy, Miss Vendayne? Or don't you drink with strange men?"
He stood looking at her.
"Good-night, Mr. Callaghan," she repeated.
She walked to the door and went out. He could hear her high heels tapping down the stairs.
Callaghan sighed. He sat for a moment, looking at her undrunk glass of fine maison and the now cold cup of black coffee. He walked over to the bar and ordered a brandy and soda. He drank it, put on his hat and went out.
It was eleven o'clock when Callaghan came into the office. Nikolls was seated at the desk in the outer room playing patience.
Callaghan said: "Windy, you can get around and do a little fast work. Go round to the garage and hire a car. Go home, get a few hours' sleep, pack your bags and get down to Devonshire. Stay at an hotel near—but not too near—Margraud Manor, near Gara Rock. You should be there early to-morrow morning."
Nikolls said: "That suits me. I could do with some sea air."
Callaghan went on: "Collect all the local rumours about the Vendayne family. There are three daughters—Audrey, Clarissa and Esme. Clarissa and Esme are supposed to be a little wild. Check on them. Find out if they've got any boy friends locally, how they spent their time and all the rest of it. Understand?"
Nikolls said: "I've got it. Did you see the Vendayne dame?"
"I saw her," Callaghan replied. "The eldest one. She paid me three hundred pounds to throw the case."
"Marvellous," said Nikolls. "Here's once we get paid for not doing something."
Callaghan went into his office. He sat down at the desk. Nikolls ambled in and stood looking at him.
"You'll meet me the day after to-morrow," said Callaghan. "You'd better wait for me around six o'clock at the Clock Tower in Newton Abbott. Have your bags with you. I'll pick you up. Have that information about the Vendayne family by then and don't let any of the local wise-guys get on to you. Understand?"
"I got it," said Nikolls. "I'm practically there."
He went to the door. When arrived he turned and said:
"Am I dreamin' or does this case stink?"
"I don't know," said Callaghan, "but I don't think you're dreaming."
Nikolls fished about in his coat pocket for a Lucky Strike. He said pleasantly:
"I think it's a nice case. The eldest Vendayne doll hands you three hundred to walk out on it an' you're not walkin' out. She can't say anything because quite obviously she don't want anybody to know she's paid you to throw it. Nice work. You make both ways."
Callaghan said very softly: "I don't remember asking your opinion, Windy."
"Sorry," he said. "Me... I always talk too much."
"Don't worry about that," said Callaghan. "I can always stop that if I want to by knocking a few of your teeth down your throat. By the way, you'd better pack a tuxedo. And when we get to Margraud go easy on those Canadian tales. Sometimes people like the Vendaynes don't appreciate 'em."
Nikolls said: "I'll be so Fifth Avenue it's gonna hurt. So long, Slim..."
He went out.
Callaghan leaned back in his swivel chair and put his feet on the desk. He lit a cigarette and smoked it slowly. Then he took his feet off the desk, reached for the desk pad and wrote a note to Effie Thompson. It said:
Directly you get here telephone Gringall at the Yard. Tell him I'd like to see him. Afternoon if possible. Tell him that I've been retained in the Vendayne jewellery steal.
He put the note in the righ-hand drawer of her desk in the outer office.
Then he put on his hat and went out.
He walked across Berkeley Square towards the Ventura Club.
MEET Mr. Ventura.
If you have ever seen a picture—taken in his prime—of Mr. Al Capone and you care to imagine the face a little fuller, a little more smiling, then you will have an adequate idea of Mr. Ventura; who, as he would be the first to admit, was invariably one jump ahead of the market and by the use of much foresight managed to stay in that enviable position.
At an early age Mr. Gabriel Ventura—Gabby to his friends—had discovered the efficacy of being all things to all men—and a few women. It was perhaps for this reason that all sorts and conditions of ladies and gentlemen found their way into the expensively furnished, well-appointed Ventura Club.
You could get anything you liked there if you knew how to ask for it.
On the other hand if you were up from the country and merely dropped in for a drink and to look at pretty women, no one would even try to take you for your pocket book.
If there had been odd rumours about the Ventura Club, and if, on occasion, Scotland Yard had taken more than a passing interest in what went on within its elegant portals, that was no affair of Gabby's. He believed in living and letting live, although, it has been said, he was not so keen on the letting live part.
If Gabby had made good at a time when most West End Night Club proprietors were trying to get enough money to get their shoes soled, it was because he had "vision." Gabby liked to think of himself as a Napoleon of night life, but a Napoleon with more "vision" than the original boyo. Gabby did not intend to end up on a St. Helena masquerading under the name of Dartmoor or Portland.
He had a series of mottos, which had assisted him during a career not entirely devoid of incident. One was: "Play 'em along and don't lose your temper." Another: "The sucker always comes back for more"; and another: "A wise man might trust a man but only a mug trusts a woman."
So there you are.
It was nearly twelve o'clock when Callaghan arrived. He left his hat with a pretty girl in the cloak-room. He walked along the passage, went through the heavy velvet curtains and stood looking round the main floor of the club. Whenever Callaghan had been in the Ventura Club he had always looked at the large tastefully furnished room with a certain admiration for Gabby.
Other club proprietors sunk their dance floor a few feet and had a raised balcony on which the dining tables were set around the edges of the room, with a higher band platform at the end, and the furniture was always gold or chromium. Gabby did not do anything like that. He was original. His dance floor—an excellent one, not too big or too small—was raised two feet off the main floor, and the dining tables set on the lower level that surrounded it. The furniture was antique oak and comfortable. An air of luxury, even of good taste, pervaded the atmosphere.
The band—a series of hand-picked maestros from the East End—played in a balcony about eight feet off the dance floor. At the moment it was resting, looking about it with that peculiarly vacant expression of face adopted by swing players on the slightest excuse.
On the right-hand side of the room, in charge of a tall slim brunette and a shorter plump blonde—two ladies who lost nothing by contrast—was the bar. Gabby, in a faultless tuxedo, white marcella evening shirt and collar, was leaning against the far end smoking a Green Upmann. He smiled and waved his hand when he saw Callaghan.
Callaghan went over. Gabby said:
"Hallo, Slim. You're looking fine. One of these days when you want to do me a good turn just let me know who your tailor is. He certainly knows how to cut clothes."
Callaghan cocked an eyebrow.
He said: "You don't do so badly yourself, Gabby."
Ventura shrugged his heavy shoulders.
"It's a tough game, Slim," he said. "It's all very well for you fellows, but this war's doing me no good at all. Nobody's got any money." He sighed. "I get very worried sometimes."
The sigh blended into an angelic grin which curved Gabby's lips and showed a set of teeth on which a dentist had expended much platinum bridgework.
"I suppose you're still drinking whisky?" he concluded.
Callaghan nodded. Gabby ordered a large whisky for Callaghan and a gin and soda for himself.
He said: "So you're on the war path again, hey, Slim? It's funny, but I always know when you're looking for somebody. What's the matter? Has one of my clients been getting in bad?"
Callaghan shook his head. He drank a little whisky. He said:
"I want to see Lancelot Vendayne. I've got a job through him—rather a nice one. I feel I'd like to buy him a drink. Do you know anything about him, Gabby?"
"Plenty," replied Ventura. "I don't know what I'd do without him. He spends money around here. That boy's clever. I wish I had his brains. And," he continued, "he's not only clever, but he's a gentleman. It sounds almost impossible, I know"—he grinned at Callaghan—"but it's a fact. He comes of an old family and actually makes money on the Stock Exchange. Can you beat that?"
Callaghan did not say anything. He finished his whisky.
"He'll be in," said Ventura. "He's usually in soon after twelve. But whether he'll have a lot of time to talk to-night, I don't know."
Callaghan said: "Why won't he have time to talk?"
"We've got a little poker game on—just three of us upstairs, at half-past twelve," he said. "Why don't you join in, Slim? If your luck's in you might win something."
Callaghan said: "It's an idea."
He looked round as Ventura's eyes went towards the entrance curtains. Through them came a young man.
"Talk of angels..." said Gabby softly.
Callaghan was looking at Lancelot. Vendayne was nearly six feet tall. He had broad shoulders, thin hips. His face was open, his brow frank. He had that kind of wavy auburn hair that women like to run their fingers through. He came over to the bar. Gabby said:
"Good evening, Mr. Vendayne. In case you don't know, this is Mr. Callaghan—Mr. Slim Callaghan of Callaghan Investigations. He wants to have a little talk with you."
Vendayne shook hands. He said:
"I'm glad to meet you, Callaghan. You've probably been hearing about me. Let's go and talk."
He led the way across the dance floor to a table on the other side of the room. He signalled a waiter, ordered drinks. He said:
"So you've seen old Layne. He's a nice old boy, isn't he?"
Callaghan said: "I saw him this evening. He gave me an outline of the situation, but there are one or two points I want to talk about. According to Layne my client is your uncle, but I take it you're the person that's really responsible for me coming in on this job?"
"Yes," he said. "I forced the situation because the situation has got to be forced. I don't like it."
He offered his cigarette-case to Callaghan and lit their cigarettes. He went on:
"When I heard that the jewellery had been stolen I was naturally perturbed, because, as I expect Layne told you, under the original deed, when my uncle dies and the jewellery comes to me I can do what I like with it. The deed said that the last male member of the family who was over twenty-five years of age, and who had no existing heir, becomes actual owner of the jewellery."
"I should have sold the stuff when it came to me," said Vendayne, "because, quite candidly, I don't see the use of having a pile of antique jewellery simply being used at occasional dinner parties or at private exhibitions. I've been told that if the stones were re-cut and re-set by experts to-day they would probably double their value. I imagine myself being worth a couple of hundred thousand," he went on, "because as you probably know the doctors don't think that my uncle is going to live more than another four or five years."
He leaned back in his chair and smiled happily.
"That suited my book excellently," he said. "I'm not in need of any money now. I've been rather lucky during the last year or two, and I'm a half partner in one of the few stock-broking businesses that are making any money. But I look forward to retiring in eight or nine years' time, and having a good time."
Callaghan said: "You could have a pretty good time on £200,000."
"I shouldn't have had all that," he said, "because I should have done the right thing by the girls."
Callaghan said: "Oh, you'd have done that... ?"
"Obviously," said Vendayne. "I'm perfectly certain that the old boy's not going to be able to leave anything very much to them when he departs from this earth, and I must say they'd probably think it a bit thick if I had all that money and they had to take jobs as governesses or something. Because without money they'd never be able to keep Margraud going. No, I'd made up my mind that if I could have got £200,000 out of the sale of the jewellery I was going to give 'em a life interest in the income from £30,000 each. Even then I should be doing pretty well. I'd still have £100,000."
Callaghan said: "Quite."
"You can imagine," said Vendayne, holding up his glass of whisky and looking through it, "that I didn't feel quite so good when I heard about the robbery. I went down right away and saw my uncle. He'd already had the County Police in, and within ten days they'd got the Yard people in. The Chief Constable, who is rather a friend of my uncle's, had come to the conclusion that it was an astute job, and that the people who did it knew their way about. He thought they were probably first-class international crooks who knew the value of that stuff."
Callaghan said, "You thought the police would get the stuff back?"
"That was our first idea," he said. "After all, we thought it would be impossible for them to dispose of jewels like the Vendayne collection—that is, of course, unless they were going to have the stones dismounted or re-cut, but that would cost 'em some money. We didn't think they'd go to that trouble. When Scotland Yard came in, they thought the crooks' idea might have been to do a deal with the Insurance Company, who would certainly have paid about £20,000 to cut their loss and get the stuff back. But Scotland Yard drew a blank. It's nearly three months, and they're just where they started.
"The next thing," Vendayne went on, "was the attitude of the Insurance Company. They haven't suggested that they're not going to meet the claim, and I imagine their assessors have been pretty busy in the meantime trying to get a line of where the stuff is." He looked at Callaghan with a smile. "I'm probably teaching my grandmother to suck eggs," he said, "but you know that Insurance Companies' assessors are pretty good, and if they can't find out who's done the job and where the stuff is, I don't think anybody can.
"About three weeks ago," he continued, "I thought it was time we did something. I wondered what would be the best thing to do. Then one night some friends of mine were talking about you. I thought it would be a pretty good idea to have you in on this—for obvious reasons."
Callaghan finished his whisky.
"The obvious reasons being that you think I might force the hand of the Insurance Company?" he said.
"That's right," he agreed. "I don't know how you're going to do it, but quite obviously the Insurance Company have got to do something fairly quickly. They've either got to say they're not going to pay or they've got to pay. I want you to speed up that process. I rather imagine," he said, "that with your technique we shouldn't have too much difficulty with the Insurance Company."
Callaghan said: "That's very nice of you."
He lit another cigarette.
Vendayne said: "Have you got any ideas about this thing?"
"I'm going down to Devonshire," he said. "I'm a great believer in atmosphere. I like to see the places where things happen. Sometimes I get an idea."
Vendayne said: "Well, I hope you'll let me know how things go."
"Of course," said Callaghan. "Why not? By the way," he went on, "Gabby was just talking about a little game of poker that you had planned for to-night. He suggested I join in. Do you mind?"
Vendayne said: "The more the merrier. Three's too few for good poker anyway. Four's much better. What about it? We usually play upstairs."
"All right," said Callaghan.
He signalled the waiter. Ordered more drinks.
The ornate cuckoo clock in the corner made a whirring noise and struck three. Gabby yawned.
"I don't know about you gentlemen," he said with a smile that took in every one. "But I suggest we call it a day—or a night. An' I think I'm losing."
Callaghan said: "That suits me. I'm losing a little too, I think."
Gabby raked in the counters. He said:
"I lose fifteen pounds, and, Slim, you lose twelve. Mr. Rains wins nine pounds and Mr. Vendayne eighteen."
Vendayne said: "You had bad luck, Callaghan. I hope it will go better next time."
Callaghan smiled. He put his hand into the breast pocket of his coat and produced a leather wallet. He placed it on the green baize table and flipped it open. Inside the wallet were sixty new fifty pound notes—Audrey Vendayne's contribution.
Lancelot Vendayne looked at the wallet. He said, with a smile:
"You came prepared to lose a lot."
Callaghan picked up one of the notes. He handed it to Vendayne.
"Will you change that and take twelve pounds?" he asked. "Then if Gabby gives you six and pays Rains we're all square."
Vendayne picked up the fifty pound note. He looked at it and said:
"There's something very attractive about a fifty pound note."
He threw it over to Ventura.
"There you are, Gabby," he said. "You can do the paying out and give Mr. Callaghan his change."
Callaghan finished his drink. He got up and went to the corner of the room. He got his hat, walked back to the table and picked up the little pile of five and one pound notes that Ventura had put down for him.
"Good-night," he said. "And thank you for the game."
Ventura said: "Use the back stairs, Slim. You'll find the door open at the bottom."
Callaghan nodded. He put on his hat and went out. He walked slowly through the black-out in the direction of Berkeley Square: He looked very happy.
Up in his apartment he gave himself four fingers of whisky neat, and began to walk up and down the sitting-room.
He was thinking about Audrey Vendayne. A hell of a woman, he thought. He imagined that there might be a spot of trouble with the lady at some time or other. She was that type. And she didn't like him.
Callaghan began to grin. He was not averse to being disliked by very pretty ladies at any time.
Well... what was she playing at? Whatever it was it was important. Sufficiently important for her to take chances about. And she'd taken a chance. And it hadn't come off. Definitely, he thought, it had not come off...
He went into his bedroom and undressed. Then he walked into the bathroom, sat down on the stool and began to rub eau-de-Cologne into his hair.
He was still grinning.
Chief Detective-Inspector Gringall looked out of the window of his office in Scotland Yard. The sunshine on the Embankment made him feel contented. He took a short pipe from his pocket and began to fill it from a dilapidated tobacco pouch.
The telephone on Gringall's desk rang. Fields got up from his desk, walked across and answered it. After a minute he put his hand over the mouthpiece and said:
"It's Effie Thompson, Callaghan's secretary. She says he would like to see you somewhere around three o'clock. She says he's been retained in the Vendayne jewellery steal."
"Tell her I'll be glad to see him," he said.
Fields did so and hung up. Gringall went back to his desk, sat down and began to draw fruit on the blotter. He drew a tomato and a banana and regarded his handiwork with his head on one side.
"Ring down and find out who's handling that Vendayne job," he said. "And ask whoever it is if they'll let me have the folder and any notes there are."
"Walperton's handling the case," he said. "And as far as I know nothing's happened."
Gringall said: "Well, it will now..."
Fields grinned at his superior.
"You mean Callaghan?" he asked.
"Yes, Fields," he said. "I mean Callaghan."
He began to draw a pineapple.
Callaghan awoke at twelve o'clock, put his hands behind his head and looked up at the ceiling. He spent five minutes doing this, then, with a sudden movement, threw off the bedclothes and swung out of bed. He wore the top part of a pair of violet shantung silk pyjamas.
He walked over to the window and looked out. He stood there for a moment yawning. Then he went into the sitting-room and telephoned down to the office.
He said: "Good morning, Effie. Did you get Gringall?"
She said, yes; the appointment was made for three o'clock.
Callaghan said: "Ring Parvell & Co., the Insurance Assessors in Eastcheap. Ask 'em if they'll let you know which Company covered the Vendayne jewellery. Whether the risk was fire and theft or just theft."
She said: "Very well. Oh... by the way, Mr. Ventura of the Ventura Club's been on the telephone. He asked if he could have a word with you. He said he'd drop in here, at the office, if that would be convenient for you."
"That's all right," said Callaghan. "Tell him to come round at two-thirty. I'll be down by that time."
Effie Thompson went on: "Just a moment, please, Mr. Callaghan. There's some mail here. There's a letter from a firm of lawyers asking you if you'll go in on a blackmail case. Their client's too frightened to go to the police apparently; and there's an inquiry from a cement firm. They want to know if you'll investigate some office leakages."
"No," said Callaghan, "I won't. And tell the other people—the lawyers—to get their client to go to the police. They know damned well that blackmail cases always finish up at Scotland Yard—one way or another. Tell 'em a private detective only prolongs the agony. Anything else?"
"Yes," said Effie. "There's a cheque for two hundred and fifty pounds from the Vendayne solicitors. They say it's a retainer and for expenses. They limit any further bill to three hundred and fifty pounds."
"Do they, hell..." muttered Callaghan. "All right. Acknowledge the cheque and pay it into the bank."
She said: "I've already done both things."
Callaghan said: "You're too, too wonderful."
He hung up.
Callaghan went into his office at a quarter-past two. He was wearing a dark blue pinhead suit, a blue silk shirt with a soft collar and a black tie. As he went through the outer office Effie Thompson noticed that the suit was new. She began to wonder about Miss Vendayne.
He sat down at his desk and lit a cigarette. He drew the smoke slowly down into his lungs, sending it out through one nostril. Effie Thompson came in from the outer office with her notebook in her hand.
"I got through to Parvell's," she said. "The Vendayne jewellery was insured by the Sphere & International Assurance Company. Their firm has covered it for the last two hundred and seventy years. They consider it a good risk and if anything under-insured. The jewellery was covered for theft and fire."
Callaghan said: "Thank you, Effie."
A bell sounded as the outer office door opened. She went out. After a moment she returned and said:
Gabby reflected the first promise of spring. He was wearing a light grey suit, the exquisite cut of which took at least three inches off his stomach; a cream silk shirt and collar, a crepe-de-chine tie in a nice shade of oyster with a cornelian and diamond pin stuck in the middle of it. A grey soft hat matching the suit swung in his fleshy right hand.
Callaghan said: "Well, Gabby, what's eating you? Sit down." He looked at Ventura's stomach. "You've got too much weight on your feet anyway."
Ventura dropped into the big leather armchair. He took out a silk handkerchief and inserted it with difficulty between the tight silk collar and his neck.
He said: "I think I'll have to go on a diet or something."
"Did you come round to tell me that, Gabby?" he asked.
Ventura wriggled a little in his chair. He said:
"Look, Slim, I know you and you know me. I suppose we might even go so far as to say that we're friends."
Callaghan lit another cigarette.
"We might," he said. He grinned. "The question is whether anybody would believe us."
Ventura said: "Now, don't be tough, Slim. I suppose you've still got that Randall business sticking in your mind?"
Callaghan was still smiling amiably.
"That and a few other things," he said. "There's a lot of things about some of the clubs that you've run in your time that I don't like, Gabby."
Ventura said softly: "Look, Slim, I got to make my living and my clubs are pretty good these days. Look at the way I run the Ventura."
"I know," said Callaghan. "And what about that other dump of yours, the little place—The Gilded Lily? The last time I was in there it stunk so much of marihuana that I almost needed a gas mask, but still..."
He looked at Ventura inquiringly.
Gabby said: "You're a hard case, Slim, and you're not making things any easier for me. I came round here because I wanted you to do me a favour."
Callaghan said: "That's what I thought. What's the favour?"
"Nothing much," said Gabby. "Look, Slim, here's how it is: I just want you to tell me something without asking me any questions. This is sort of a personal thing, see? Well, it's like this..." He wriggled his chair a little nearer to Callaghan's desk. "You know me, Slim," he said. "You think I'm tough, but maybe I have my soft moments."
Callaghan said: "You're not trying to make me cry, Gabby, are you?"
Ventura wrinkled his nose.
"I wish you wouldn't always take a poke at me," he said.
"All right," said Callaghan, "I won't take a poke at you. You're a soft-hearted feller an' well, where do we go from there?"
Ventura said: "Last night I lent somebody some money—£300 to be exact—no names no packdrill. I lent this certain person six new fifty pound notes. All right. Well, I parted with that dough because I fell for a hard luck story, see? And then do I get a surprise!"
Callaghan said: "Go on, tell me. I can hardly wait."
"Well," said Ventura slowly, "you came in last night to see young Vendayne. You came into that poker game with us, and, so help me God, when we were settling up you pushed one of my notes back at me. When I saw the number on it I nearly had a fit."
Callaghan said: "It would be very tough if you did have a fit, Gabby."
"Well," said Ventura, "I wanted to know if you'd tell me where you got that note from, Slim. Last night when you opened your case I saw there were six new fifty pound notes. You gave me the top one. I had the idea that the other five might have been mine, too."
"What you really mean is," said Callaghan, "that the other five might have been the money that you did this good turn with."
"That's right," said Ventura.
Callaghan looked at the ceiling. After a minute he looked at Gabby. He was smiling. He said:
"I'm afraid I can't help you a lot, Gabby. I got that money from Gortells, the wine merchants that supply the Safety Valve Bottle Party. I needed £500, and when I want money after the bank's closed I always go to Gortells for it. I sent 'em a cheque round and they cashed it. I paid a bill with the other two hundred."
Ventura got up.
"I see," he said.
"You don't sound very satisfied, Gabby," said Callaghan.
Ventura shrugged his shoulders.
"What the hell!" he said. "I was a mug to come round, anyway."
Callaghan said: "You always were a mug, Gabby."
Ventura was at the door. He turned quickly. His eyes were very hard, very cold. He said:
"Maybe I'm not always going to be a sucker. So long, Slim."
" 'Bye, Gabby," said Callaghan.
He walked over to the door and watched Ventura leave through the outer office. He caught the look in Effie's eyes as the night club proprietor passed her.
He said: "You don't like Mr. Ventura, do you, Effie?"
She said: "I do not. I think he looks like a white-slaver, don't you, Mr. Callaghan?"
Callaghan said: "I wouldn't know. I've never been white-slaved. Have you?"
He took his hat off the hat-stand.
"I'm going down to see Gringall, Effie," he said. "Maybe I'll be back, maybe not. I'm going down to Devonshire to-morrow. I don't know how long I'll be there. I'll keep in touch with you."
She said: "Very well, Mr. Callaghan." When he got to the door she added very calmly: "I hope the weather keeps fine for you, sir."
It was five-and-twenty to three when Callaghan went into Gringall's office. Gringall was looking out of the window, smoking his pipe. He said:
"Hallo, Slim, you're looking well. What—another suit! How you private detectives make money!"
Callaghan said: "I've got a patient tailor, Gringall. And congratulations on getting that promotion. Chief Detective-Inspector Gringall sounds nice, doesn't it?"
Gringall went to his desk and sat down. He nodded towards the chair on the other side.
"I gather you're going to ask a favour," he said. "That's why you brought my promotion up. I suppose you're thinking that I got my step up over the Riverton case, and I suppose that you're also thinking that you pulled that out of the bag for me when I couldn't do it."
Callaghan said: "Nothing was farther from my mind, Gringall."
Gringall said: "I'm sure of that."
He looked at the ceiling. Callaghan sat down and lit a cigarette. He said:
"Look, Gringall, I wanted to ask your advice..."
Gringall looked over at Fields, who was grinning at him.
Callaghan said: "What's the joke?"
He looked from one to the other.
"Fields and I were both thinking the same thing. Whenever you come down here and ask my advice there is always a lot of trouble for us all almost immediately afterwards."
Callaghan said: "Well, there's going to be no trouble this time."
He blew a smoke ring, watched it sail across the office.
He said: "I always put my cards on the table and there's one thing I don't like doing... I don't like bucking up against the official police forces."
Gringall said: "Oh, no? If you had to serve one year for every time you've bucked the official police forces as you call it, you'd probably never see daylight again. I nearly brought a charge of 'obstruction of a police officer, etc....' over that last little job of yours."
Callaghan said amiably: "Let's let bygones be bygones."
"We will," said Gringall. "So you've come here to ask some advice because you don't want to go bucking against the official force, and I gather you've been retained in the Vendayne case."
"That's the trouble," he said. "Here's a case where the police have been working for something like three months, and nothing's happened. Then old man Vendayne decides to put me in. Well, what chance have I got? If you boys down here couldn't get away with anything, what am I going to do?"
Gringall said: "I had the folder sent up this morning when your secretary rang through. Walperton has been handling the case, and as you know he's one of our best officers. Well, the whole thing's so simple that it hurts."
He got up, walked over to the window. He stood with his back to it looking at Callaghan.
"Whoever it was had this jewellery were a pretty fly crowd," he said. "The job was done very nicely. Walperton doesn't know how they got into the Manor House, but he thinks they got in through a french window at the back. The catch had been forced but the funny thing was that there weren't any prints on the window or on the sill or anywhere else, and if they'd made any footmarks on the flower-bed outside they'd covered 'em over before they left. The safe was just opened. It wasn't cracked. Whoever opened the safe knew the combination. There were no prints on the safe. There's the story."
Callaghan shook his head.
"That's not an easy one, is it? I feel a little sorry for Walperton," he went on. "Tell me something, Gringall. What's the matter with the Sphere & International Assurance Company? They're being a little sticky about paying the claim, aren't they?"
Gringall shrugged his shoulders.
"What would you do?" he said.
"You mean their idea is it's an inside job?"
"That's right," said Gringall. "I should think that was their idea. Yet," he went on, "the servants at Margraud Manor have all been there for donkey's years. There's no reason to suspect any one of them."
Callaghan said: "I suppose it was an old safe?"
"A Climax," said Gringall. "Old, but still very good. Why?"
"You know as well as I do," he said, "that a smart bunch of crooks could very easily get at somebody who used to work in the Climax factory. Maybe those boys had that safe combination before they ever went down to Devonshire."
Gringall said: "Perhaps you're right." He relit his pipe. "You know, Slim," he said, "I think you've come to the wrong place. You really came here to find out why the Insurance Company are holding up that claim. Well, I don't know, and Walperton doesn't know, but they do know. Why don't you go and ask them?"
Callaghan said: "Tell me something, Gringall. Have they had anybody in on this job?"
"Two of the smartest assessors in this country," he said. "Both hand-picked men who know the history of every jewel thief in this country, and that doesn't seem to have done much good." Gringall looked at the ceiling. "Now if you are as wise as I think you are..."
"What would you do, Gringall?" he asked.
The police officer said: "Well, it's only an idea, but I should think the Insurance Company might like to put you in themselves on this."
Callaghan said: "You mean, I could investigate this job for them, too."
He was smiling.
"Something like that," said Gringall.
Callaghan got up.
"I'll be getting along," he said. "Thank you for being so nice."
He had reached the door when Gringall said:
"Just a minute, Slim. Maybe I've given you a good tip. If by any chance, in the course of your investigations either for the Vendayne family or the Insurance Company—if they decided it was worth their while to employ you—you become in possession of knowledge of a criminal act or acts having taken place in connection with this steal, I take it you'd let us know about it?"
Callaghan said: "Of course. 'Bye Gringall."
He closed the door quietly behind him.
Fields said: "Like hell he'd let us know, sir."
Gringall looked at his subordinate.
"How do you know?" he said. "He might if it was worth his while."
He took off the telephone receiver and rang Room No. 12. He said:
"Is that you, Walperton? Listen to this. Callaghan's been retained by the family in that Vendayne job. And I've got an idea he's on his way to the Sphere & International Assurance to try and get them to put him in as well. So you can look out for fireworks."
Walperton said: "I will, sir. And if Mister Callaghan gets in the way I'm going to make things hot for him."
"Do," said Gringall. "Only while you're on the job, Walperton, make certain he doesn't make things hot for you instead. Good-bye..."
He hung up. He looked at Fields.
Fields said: "I feel sorry for Walperton."
"Me, too," he said
He began to draw a lemon.
CALLAGHAN pulled the Jaguar into the side of the road by the Clock Tower at Newton Abbott. Fifty yards away, standing in the entrance of the Golden Hind, was Nikolls.
He strolled towards the car. He said:
"Hallo, Slim. The women around here have got nice hips. I've never seen so many nice shapes... It must be the cream...."
They went into the bar. Callaghan ordered two double whiskies. They sat at a little table in the corner. When he had finished his drink, Callaghan said:
"We've got to play this easily, Windy. We're working for the Insurance Company as well."
He grinned sardonically.
Nikolls said: "My God... what a set-up. How did you pull that one?"
He picked up the empty glasses and went over to the bar. He returned with the glasses filled.
Callaghan said: "I saw Gringall. A D.I. named Walperton is handling this case. He's just where he started. Gringall suggested that I had a word with the Sphere & International—the Company who covered the insurance. I took the tip. I told them that I was in the case for the Vendayne family. After a lot of flirting with the situation they asked me if I'd come in and represent them too. They said that the Vendayne family's interests were their interests. Clever... that..."
Nikolls said: "You're tellin' me. So the Insurance people don't like it."
Callaghan shrugged his shoulders.
"They're in a jam," he said. "Layne, the Vendayne lawyer, must have written 'em just after he'd seen me. He said that unless they paid up within a month he was going to bring an action. They're hoping that before the month's out I shall have got something that'll help 'em. If I haven't, they've got to pay."
"Still, it ain't really ethical, Slim, is it?" he asked. "Why, dam' it, you're actin' for everybody."
"Why not?" said Callaghan. He was smiling pleasantly. "If this robbery is all square and above board what have the Vendaynes got to be afraid of? If it's not..."
Nikolls lit a cigarette.
"I think it stinks," he said.
Callaghan's grin broadened.
"You've got a theory, Windy?" he said accusingly.
"It's stickin' out a foot. Little Audrey is the girl. She's pinched the stuff so that the claim could be put in. She's pinched it an' hidden it in the back garden or somewhere. That's why she paid you that money to keep out of the case. Besides... I know why she pulled the job."
"I'm still listening," said Callaghan.
"I got around plenty yesterday," Nikolls began. "I got out to Kingsbridge an' Gara, an' around Totnes. I been in all the pubs around Prawle and Hallsands. I learned an awful lot."
Callaghan raised his eyebrows.
"Such as... ?" he queried.
Nikolls took a large gulp of whisky. He continued:
"This Vendayne bunch are a sort of institution in this county. Especially around Gara. They been living here since Noah's Ark or somethin'. Everybody knows 'em. The old boy—the Major—is a honey. Nice an' affable an' quiet an' aristocratic—a real guy. He's nutty about the family, an' he's nutty about Margraud Manor, which is a helluva place an' must cost a lot to keep goin'.
"O.K. Well, he ain't got a lot of money. He's got about four thousand a year, an' what's that worth these days to keep up a place like Margraud... sweet Fanny Adams... Well, a year ago the Manor House is practically fallin' to pieces, an' he's mad keen to have it done up. It's goin' to be an expensive job but he wants it done. So does Audrey, an' it looks like Audrey got a scheme to get the Manor repaired. She sold the old man the idea to mortgage the place and get it repaired with the dough he got for the mortgage. Well, he got £20,000, and he did the whole lot on the repair bill.
"Well, that mortgage was the shortest one I've ever heard of. It was a 6½% mortgage for one year. Now how was the Major goin' to pay that mortgage off in a year? Where was the dough comin' from to pay £20,000 plus 6½%?
"But do you know what the joke is, Slim? He's paid it off. I went into Exeter and looked it up. The satisfaction of the mortgage is recorded on the original deed. Well, what's the answer to that one?"
Nikolls drank some more whisky. He went on:
"There's another funny thing. Layne is the family lawyer, ain't he? Well, you'da thought a job like that woulda been handled by the family lawyer. Well, it wasn't. Some lawyer in Exeter put that mortgage through. The name of the firm was endorsed on the deed."
Callaghan said: "I'm still waiting for the theory, Windy..."
"Little Audrey is my theory," Nikolls grinned. "The old boy is sorta simple, see... simple an' nice. I reckon Audrey tells him to go inta this mortage business knowin' that she can pull a fast one. She thinks that she's gonna wait a few months an' then pinch the jewellery. She thinks that the Vendayne reputation is so goddam swell that the Insurance people will pay up on the nail. Then when they pay up she reckons the old man can pay off the mortgage out of the insurance money."
Nikolls picked up the glasses, went to the bar, ordered the same again and wandered back. He said:
"Audrey is just too sweet. Everybody likes Audrey. She plays golf an' sails a boat and is nice an' county an' all that. Half the boyos around here have tried to get themselves engaged to that baby but she ain't havin' any. She's sorta remote if you get me... goes for long walks an' all that sorta stuff. Maybe Audrey is just the sort of quiet momma who would try an' pull a fast one. She could get away with it, too."
"She might..." he said. "Because it doesn't matter a damn what the Sphere & International people think. If they've got nothing tangible by the end of this month they've got to pay even if they are practically certain that it's an inside job done by somebody who was planning a fake claim."
"Sure," he said. "An' by what I can hear of the old Major he'd never suspect anythin' was wrong in a million years. He's one of those guys who believe in everybody, an' if somebody tried to tell him that Audrey had pulled a fast one he'd probably challenge 'em to a duel or somethin'."
Callaghan finished his third whisky.
"It's a nice story, Windy," he said. "But there's one thing we don't know. Even if Audrey did think that the Insurance Company would pay on the stolen jewellery, they haven't done so, have they? All right, where did the Major get the money to pay this mortgage off with?"
"That's easy," he said. "Maybe the old boy or Audrey have borrowed the dough on the strength of the Insurance Company paying. Maybe it was a personal loan from somebody they know."
"Perhaps," he said. "But I don't think so."
He blew a smoke ring.
"Tell me about the other girls, Windy," he said.
Nikolls began to grin. He stretched himself back in his chair and switched his cigarette to the other side of his mouth.
"There's a pair for you," he said. "A pair of honeys. Look... let's take Clarissa first of all. She's the next eldest to Audrey. Well, Clarissa is something to look at, they tell me. She's tall an' she's got a figure that was just made for knitwear. She's got dark, auburn sorta hair an' eyes that look as if they couldn't say scram to a kitten, an' she ain't too fond of Esme either..."
Callaghan asked: "What about Esme?"
"That baby's a handful," said Nikolls. "The stories they tell about Esme is just nobody's business. Boy, I could write a book about that dame. She's got a big trouble. Her trouble is that she keeps fallin' in love all the time, but she don't fall in love with the right guys. She just goes for anything that is big an' bronzed and blue-eyed. She likes 'em with lots of muscle an' no brains. There's a sorta perpetual war goin' on between Clarissa an' Esme. Every time Esme gets herself a new boy friend, Clarissa tries to muscle in an' pinch the sap off her. Them girls must see a whole lotta life one way an' another."
"High spirits," he said, "and a spot of temperament."
"Temperament plus," agreed Nikolls. "Last year—a couple months before the War broke—Esme falls for a good-lookin' young fisherman from Beesands. She falls like a ton of bricks. There was plenty of trouble about it. She swore she was goin' to marry this fishin' guy or die in the attempt. Things got so tough that the old boy had to send her off for a trip. So she went off on a cruise to South Africa for six months. I reckon the old boy thought that a spot of travel would be good for his little daughter. Well... he was wrong. She's been a bit worse since she's been back. That baby is just a natural flirt. Anytime she sees somethin' in pants she does a couple backfalls an' thinks he must be the one an' only..."
Callaghan smoked silently for a moment. Then:
"What do Clarissa and Esme do with themselves when they aren't at home? How do they spend their evenings, for instance?"
"I was comin' to that," said Nikolls. "Yesterday evenin' I got talkin' to some guy who keeps a little pub on the Totnes-Plymouth road. He said that he'd got sorta intrigued with seein' Clarissa and Esme drivin' past at night as if the devil was after 'em—they both got little cars those two—an' he took the trouble to find out. It seems as if there's a dump a few miles past him—a roadhouse called The Yard Arm. This Yard Arm hang-out usta be a farmhouse, an' some smart guy took it an' turned it into a roadhouse with a restaurant an' bar an' everything. Well, it looks as if Clarissa an' Esme put in a whole lot of time around that dump."
Callaghan asked: "Where are your bags, Windy?"
"I got 'em parked over at a news-shop around the corner," said Nikolls. "I better go put 'em on the car. I've garaged the hired car at Kingsbridge. I thought it would be sorta central if we wanted it."
"You get the bags on the car," he said. "I'll be with you in five minutes."
He finished his drink and went out into the street. He walked until he came to the post office. Inside he bought a registered envelope.
He went over to the desk and took a telegraph form. He wrote on it:
With the compliments of Callaghan Investigations to Miss Vendayne.
He took out his wallet, extracted six fifty pound notes, folded them in the telegraph form and put the package in the registered envelope. He addressed the envelope to:
Miss Audrey Vendayne,
He waited while the clerk wrote out the receipt; then he went back to the car. Nikolls was reading an evening paper.
Callaghan got in and let in the gear. He said as the car started:
"I think this might be very interesting."
"That's what I thought, but I didn't like to say so. I get shy sometimes."
It was seven-thirty when Callaghan braked the car to a standstill outside the pillared portico of Margraud. As he went up the stone steps, followed by Nikolls, the door opened. Framed in the doorway stood one of the oldest, most venerable butlers that Callaghan had ever seen. His hair was white and his face radiated that good-nature and good manners peculiar to Devonshire people.
He said: "If you will let me have your keys, sir, I'll get your things unpacked. The Major thought you'd like to go up to your rooms and change. He said he'd like to see you in the library at a quarter to eight if that was convenient to you. Dinner is at eight."
Callaghan nodded. He asked the butler what his name was. The old man said:
"My name is Stevens, sir." He paused for a minute. Then he went on: "I'm very glad you've come, sir. We're all a little worried about this thing—the servants, I mean."
Callaghan said: "Quite." Then he added with a smile. "I shouldn't worry if I were you, Stevens. After all what have you got to worry about?"
He followed the old man up the broad stairs.
Callaghan sat in a big chair on one side of the library fireplace in which a cheerful fire was burning. On the other side Major Vendayne stood, one elbow resting on the mantelpiece, looking at the detective.
Callaghan thought that if the Vendayne jewellery steal was an inside job, he would bet his last half-crown that Major Vendayne knew nothing about it.
He looked much more than his fifty-five years. His figure, although straight, was thin; his face frail and ascetic looking, with that high flush on the cheekbones often associated with heart cases.
Callaghan said: "I understand that your lawyers have written to the Sphere & International and given 'em a month to pay. Otherwise they're going to issue a writ. I think that was a wise thing to do."
Vendayne sighed. He said:
"I wonder." He paused for a moment; then went on: "They're a very good company. As you know, the insurance of the jewellery has been in the hands of the Sphere & International for nearly three hundred years. That's what is so worrying. I feel they must have some reason for not having paid the claim before."
Callaghan shrugged his shoulders.
"When a hundred thousand pounds worth of jewellery is stolen, Major," he said, "any Insurance Company has got to go through certain processes before they pay a claim. First of all they've got to try and find the jewellery. You probably know as well as I do that even if the police are working on a case the Insurance Company put assessors on the job. Well, it seems as if in this case nothing's happened. I expect you'll find they'll pay the claim before the month's out, Major, unless..."
Vendayne looked at Callaghan.
"Unless what?" he said.
"Unless during that time the company get an idea that this robbery was an inside job and that somebody interested financially in that jewellery had a hand in stealing it. There have been fake insurance claims, you know, Major, before now."
"I suppose there have," said the Major. "But it's rather a terrible thought to have in one's mind. The only people living in this house are myself and my three daughters. Naturally none of us could possibly have had anything to do with it. Beyond that there are the servants, every one of whom has practically grown up with the family. We know everything about them. It's quite impossible to associate this robbery with any of them."
Callaghan said: "You haven't had an odd man or woman working about the place—a jobbing gardener, a housemaid—someone who stayed for a few weeks—who might possibly have got the combination of the safe and given it to associates outside?"
"No," said the Major, "we have not."
Callaghan said: "You know, Major, there are one or two things about this robbery which aren't too easy. It was a coincidence that whoever stole that stuff knew it was going to be in the house that night. It was another coincidence that they knew just how to get into the house without disturbing anybody, and the third coincidence is that they knew the combination of the safe. I don't like it."
Vendayne said: "What do you propose to do? Have you got any ideas as to how you're going to start on this thing?"
Callaghan shrugged his shoulders again.
"How can I?" he said. "You have got to remember that this robbery took place three months ago. Directly you had reported the matter to the local police they would have inquired about any strangers in the vicinity. They would have checked up on everybody, and whoever it is has got that stuff isn't in any particular hurry to sell it."
Callaghan took out his cigarette-case and lit a cigarette.
"I gather I've come in on this mainly through your nephew, Lancelot Vendayne," he said. "And I don't think the idea's a bad one. After all, the fact that you've put a private investigator in on this job while it's still being handled by the police shows the Insurance Company that at least you're doing your best. It would be funny if we found that jewellery..."
Vendayne said: "It would be wonderful. The jewels have been in this family for hundreds of years. I should hate to feel that they were lost to us, more especially to Lancelot who, as you know, would have been the actual owner under the terms of the original will."
"Well, we must hope for the best, Mr. Callaghan," he said. "In the meantime, come into the drawing-room. I want you to meet my daughters."
Callaghan stubbed out his cigarette.
He said: "I've been looking forward to meeting them."
He followed his host.
Clarissa Vendayne was standing in front of the fireplace in the large oak panelled drawing-room, drinking a glass of sherry. She was tall, slim. Her face was very white and her large brown eyes rested humorously on Esme, who was sprawled in a chair by the side of the fire. Audrey Vendayne, who was writing a letter at a table by the french windows, got up as the Major and Callaghan entered the room.
Vendayne said: "These are my three daughters, Audrey, Clarissa and Esme. My dears, this is Mr. Callaghan, who I hope is going to find the jewellery for us."
Callaghan smiled. His eyes took in Esme, who was arranging her skirts demurely, then wandered to Clarissa, who was looking at him under deep lashes over the rim of her sherry glass. Audrey was not smiling. It was with a certain amount of difficulty that she kept the hostility out of her eyes. Callaghan gave her an extra smile.
Esme said to Clarissa: "We'll finish our conversation afterwards. I'm never rude in front of guests."
Clarissa made a face.
"No?" she said. "And may I ask how long have you been so courteous?" She said to Callaghan:
"We're an extraordinary family, Mr. Callaghan. You'll probably realise that in a day or two. We have only one serious trouble—Esme."
Esme said: "Mr. Callaghan, my sister can't help it. Being a bit of a basket—I mean."
Vendayne said: "Children, please!"
Audrey said: "Esme, your language is foul."
Esme picked up her glass of sherry from the small table beside her.
"Are you trying to tell me, Audrey, that Mr. Callaghan has never heard the word basket before?"
Audrey said: "Mr. Callaghan has probably heard a lot of things. But he doesn't have to hear them at Margraud."
Esme said: "Well, I always think it's best for a detective to know the worst, and Clarissa is a basket."
Clarissa said: "Don't repeat yourself, darling. For myself, I think it's just too, too thrilling to have a detective in the house."
She shot a slow smile at Callaghan.
"For once," said Esme, "I agree with you. I imagine he'll take you out on to the balcony this evening and drag the whole of your past life from you."
Clarissa said: "That would be interesting, but I think not possible. He couldn't possibly stay here as long as that would take."
Vendayne said: "Mr. Callaghan, you mustn't take my little girls too seriously. They don't mean anything."
Callaghan said: "I'm sure they don't. By the way," he went on, addressing the three women, "are you going to be in to-night?"
Clarissa said: "I knew it. He's going to cross-examine us. It's going to be like the district attorney in the gangster films."
"Not necessarily," said Callaghan. "But I want to talk to you all about what happened on the night of the robbery. I want to know where you were, if you heard or noticed anything. It's just a matter of routine, of course."
Esme said: "I'm fearfully sorry, Mr. Callaghan. I'd love it, but I've got an appointment to-night."
She looked at Clarissa.
Clarissa said: "That reminds me that I think I have too. Would to-morrow do, Mr. Callaghan?"
"To-morrow would be excellent," said Callaghan.
Esme said: "Perhaps it would be a good idea if you deal with Audrey to-night. I've often thought she was a bit mysterious."
Clarissa said: "Definitely."
Audrey said: "You two are ridiculous."
Stevens came in with sherry glasses. A minute afterwards Nikolls arrived. The Major introduced him.
Nikolls said: "I don't know what you think, ladies, but I reckon this is goin' to be one of the most interestin' cases in my life."
Clarissa favoured him with a long look.
"Mr. Nikolls," she said, "you look to me like a man who's had a great deal of experience. One day we must get together in the flower garden and you must tell me about it."
Nikolls said: "Why not? Let's do that."
Stevens reappeared and announced that dinner was served. They went into the dining-room.
On the way Nikolls whispered to Callaghan: "Slim, I always thought this was goin' to be good. Now, havin' seen these babies I know it's goin' to be a riot!"
The first shadows were beginning to fall. Callaghan stood at the far edge of the rolling lawn behind Margraud Manor. In front of him on the other side of the neatly clipped hedge, the fields rolled down to the edge of the cliffs a mile and a half away.
Callaghan turned and began to walk towards the house. Between the lawn and the covered veranda that ran round the back of the house, a series of terraces rose one above the other. Callaghan, who had an eye for atmosphere, stood there with the cool evening wind on his face, thinking that if he had a choice between owning the Vendayne jewellery or Margraud, he'd have the Manor House.
Nikolls came round the side of the house. Callaghan went to meet him.
Nikolls said: "I like this. This is the sort of life I go for. Nice air, nice women an' nice food." He grinned at Callaghan. "Clarissa and Esme don't like each other much, do they?" he said.
"Not so you'd notice it," said Callaghan. "I wonder what the war is between those two."
Nikolls said: "I've got an idea that Clarissa is one of those babies who just have to queer other dames' pitches."
"I thought that too," he said. "After all, the easiest thing for two women to quarrel over is a man."
"I've just been walkin' around the garage," Nikolls went on. "The gardener is pumpin' up a tire of Esme's car, and when he's done that he's goin' to fill the tank of Clarissa's roadster. Those two are goin' places."
Callaghan said: "Listen Windy. Go back to the garage and hang around. When Esme comes out ask her if she can drop you at Kingsbridge. Wherever she's going to it's ten to one she'll have to go through the town. Ask her to drop you there. If she does, get the hired car out of the garage, get over to this Yard Arm place. Have a look round and see if you can pick up anything."
"O.K.," said Nikolls.
He went off.
Callaghan walked up the terrace steps towards the house. He sat down in a low chair on the balcony. He lit a cigarette and began to blow smoke rings. A soft voice said:
Callaghan got up. It was Audrey Vendayne. Looking at her in the half light Callaghan thought that except for the temperament she had a great deal more, in his opinion, than either Clarissa or Esme. He liked the lines of her slim black dinner frock.
He said amiably: "It's a lovely evening, isn't it?"
She said coldly: "Possibly, Mr. Callaghan, you can imagine that I didn't want to talk to you about the evening."
"No?" said Callaghan. "What did you want to talk about?"
"Three hundred pounds," she said. She smiled cynically. "I've always been led to believe that private detectives are rather strange people," she went on, "but I couldn't imagine even a private detective having the effrontery to do what you did."
Callaghan knocked the ash off his cigarette. He said slowly:
"You mean taking that three hundred pounds from you to keep out of this case and then going on with the job?"
"That is what I mean," she said.
Callaghan said: "Miss Vendayne, I think you're stupid. Whatever personal opinion you may have of private detectives they're usually considered to be intelligent. You must admit it was particularly stupid of you to try and bribe me to keep out of this investigation."
He drew a mouthful of smoke down into his lungs and exhaled it slowly through one nostril. He continued:
"Quite obviously if a private detective wasn't straight, he'd do what I did—keep the money and still go on with the job." He grinned. "After all, I was paid £250 yesterday by your father's lawyers. If on the other hand the detective was an honest man; supposing—if such a thing were possible—and he wanted to do a straight job of work, then his best plan would be to play you along to find out just why you wanted him to lay off the case. You couldn't squeal anyway."
Her eyes flashed. She said:
"I told you my reasons for not wanting you here."
"Maybe," said Callaghan. He was smiling. "A lot of people tell me things, but I don't have to believe them."
She looked at him. Her eyes were wide with amazement.
"Mr. Callaghan," she said, "are you trying to tell me that I'm a liar?"
"No," said Callaghan. "I'm not trying to tell you anything, but I'm going to state some facts to you, and you can think 'em out. When you rang my office the night before last and made that appointment to meet me at the Ventura Club, I wondered why."
She said: "How very interesting."
"I'm going to be still more interesting," he said. "I'll tell you why you did it. You had a reason for making that appointment to meet me at the Ventura Club, the reason being that before you saw me you wanted to see Gabby Ventura. You thought it would be a good thing to have a little ammunition to bribe me with if necessary."
Callaghan stopped talking. He flicked the ash off his cigarette and looked at her. One corner of his mouth was wreathed in a cynical smile.
"Well?" he queried.
She said nothing. He continued:
"You got to the Ventura Club early and you borrowed £300 from Gabby Ventura. Then you waited outside till I came along.
"Strangely enough," said Callaghan, "I went back to the club later. I wanted to see Lancelot. I got into a little poker game with Lancelot and Gabby and another man. I lost some money, and I paid my losses with one of the fifty pound notes that you gave me."
Callaghan's grin broadened.
"Yesterday morning," he went on, "Gabby Ventura came round to my office trying to find out where I got the note from. He said he'd lent somebody some money the night before. Naturally he was very interested to know just how and why that fifty pound note had got into my hands."
Callaghan's grin altered. It became almost angelic.
"And you don't like being called a liar, do you, Miss Vendayne?" he concluded.
She stood looking out over the terraces. She said nothing. Callaghan stubbed out his cigarette and lit another.
"The joke is," he said, "I don't really disbelieve you. Immediately I saw your father I could understand any daughter wanting to save him any trouble. He's a sick man. All I say is that your technique wasn't too clever. If I were you I'd remember in the future that even if you think private detectives are dishonest as a tribe they're seldom unintelligent. At least this one isn't."
She said: "Mr. Callaghan, why should you believe that I am interested in anything you think?"
"That's just another bluff," said Callaghan. "You're fearfully interested in what I think, and I know it. The trouble is that you're one of those people who've still got to learn that honesty is the best policy."
His smile showed his white teeth. He said:
"I'll make a little bet with you. Before we're through on this job, you'll tell me what's on your mind."
"Really," she said sarcastically. "And, of course, you know why I shall do that."
"I can make a good guess," said Callaghan. "Believe it or not I can be quite useful when people are in tight corners, and I've got an idea you're in one."
She turned on her heel and disappeared through the french windows.
Callaghan walked down the terrace smoking, appreciating the evening air.
SOMEWHERE in the Manor House a clock struck eleven. Callaghan thought that the chimes, brassy and resonant, possessed an almost antique note that might well be associated with a headless ghost that wandered playfully about the dark, oaken corridors.
He lay stretched out on the four-poster bed in his room, looking at the ceiling, wondering why he disliked oak panelling even when it was relieved by tastefully selected chintzes.
After a moment he concluded that he was not really thinking about panelling or chintz; that his mind was concerned with Audrey Vendayne.
After all, you've got to know a man like Gabby fairly well to borrow three hundred pounds... if you are a woman.
He got up, switched on the light, straightened his tie. He went over to the corner cupboard and took out a bottle of rye whisky and a glass. He drank five fingers of neat whisky, lit a cigarette and went downstairs.
When he reached the big hallway he began to cough. He coughed for some time. Then he replaced the cigarette in his mouth and walked towards the doorway.
Behind him, in the main passage, a door opened. Audrey Vendayne's voice said: "Oh, Mr. Callaghan."
Callaghan turned. He was smiling cheerfully. He said:
"Hallo... Miss Vendayne. It seems to be a nice night. I thought I'd go and look at it. Will you come too?"
She said shortly: "No thank you."
She walked towards him and stopped when she was a foot or two away from him.
Callaghan was thinking to himself. "She doesn't like me a bit. And she isn't quite certain why. She's wondering just how crooked I am and just how much she can play me along. She's fed up to the back teeth about that three hundred..."
He grinned amiably at her.
She said: "I've been talking to my father. We've come to a conclusion. It should interest you."
Callaghan said nothing.
"I think, and my father agrees with me, that in the circumstances we ought to postpone the claim against the Sphere & International Company. It's quite obvious from their attitude that they think there's something wrong with the claim. Or alternatively the police have not had time to find the culprits. We propose to give them more time. If they fail we can always claim when the position is more definite."
Callaghan said: "It would be a good idea if it worked."
"What would be a good idea, Mr. Callaghan?" she asked.
His smile was beatific.
"It would be a good idea if I fell for that line of talk and allowed the Major to fall for it," he said. "If I fell for it I'd pack my bags and get out because there wouldn't be anything or me to do here. Well... I'm not going to do that. I'm going to stay here until such time as I get my hands on something tangible... that is if I haven't got something tangible now..."
She turned away with an angry gesture and moved towards the staircase. She stopped with her foot on the first stair and half turned. Callaghan liked the pose. He thought that she had quite delightful ankles, that her frock hung gracefully, that the poise of her head was as it should be. He noticed that, under the hall light, her hair had auburn tints.
She said: "You're really an impossible person, aren't you?"
"Maybe," said Callaghan. "But the best thing you can do is to stand for my being impossible, otherwise I'm going to tell the Major that you went dashing up to town for the express purpose of touching one of the lousiest night club proprietors in London for three hundred pounds to buy me off with, only a few hours after your own lawyers had put me in on this business. I don't think you'd like that."
She smiled. There was a great deal of dislike in her smile.
"Perhaps I shouldn't," she said. "Any more than you would like my father to know that having accepted the case you took the money from me and kept it."
He grinned at her.
"And you're going to tell him, I suppose?" he asked. "Sticking to that three hundred was about the safest thing I ever did in my life. You just can't do anything about it. It's one of those things you have to stand for and like."
She took her foot off the stair and faced him. Her face was flushed. She said, controlling her voice:
"I suppose it's part of the technique of a private detective to be as gratuitously insolent as possible."
There was a world of contempt in her voice.
"That is fairly right," said Callaghan very cheerfully. He drew some smoke down into his lungs and began to cough. "It's these damned cigarettes," he explained. "I smoke 'em all the time and I've a permanent smoker's cough."
She said: "Am I supposed to be interested?"
He grinned at her.
"I forgot—you wouldn't be, of course," he said. "And about being insolent, I've found it's not a bad thing. It gets a reaction sometimes. People are more inclined to tell the truth when they're in a bad temper. Besides which I like looking at you when you're in a temper. It suits you."
She said sarcastically: "You're fearfully clever, aren't you? Quite a psychologist. I suppose you know everything there is to be known..."
"I wouldn't say that," said Callaghan. "I just know a little. But I know one thing."
He exhaled cigarette smoke slowly.
"To-morrow," he went on, "your father and you and I are going to have a show-down. I'm going to tell you one or two things that might be good for you to hear. Or perhaps you'd rather I had the conversation with you?"
Her expression altered. She said quickly:
"I've told you that my father is a sick man. Naturally, I'd do anything to save him trouble..."
"Rubbish," said Callaghan amiably. "What you really mean is you're afraid of a show-down. I suppose you've made a fool out of the old boy and you think I might have guessed how you've done it."
She caught her breath. It was almost a gasp of rage. She said in a low voice:
"There are moments when I think I could quite easily kill you. I think you are easily the most loathable person I've ever met..."
Callaghan said: "Well, that's something. I never mind what a woman feels so long as she's not quite disinterested."
She turned quickly and began to walk up the stairs. Callaghan watched her. Every movement spoke of the rage that possessed her.
Somewhere down the passage a telephone bell jangled. After a moment Stevens appeared. He said:
"Mr. Nikolls is on the telephone, sir. He wants to speak to you."
Callaghan walked down the passage to the alcove where the telephone stood. He took up the receiver. Stevens disappeared.
Nikolls said: "Slim, have a good laugh. Esme dropped me at Kingsbridge. I thought you could push a car along but that baby's drivin' is an eye-opener. I'm surprised I'm still in one piece."
Callaghan said: "Well... ?"
"She dropped me and went off on the Totnes Road," Nikolls continued. "I got the car out of the garage and went after her. I had an idea that maybe she was goin' to that Yard Arm dump I told you about. Well, the hunch was right. She's there now. So's Clarissa. Their cars are both parked behind the place."
Callaghan asked: "Is it still open?"
Nikolls said: "No. But here's the funny thing. I stuck around outside behind a hedge. When the place closed down Esme and Clarissa went out the back with a guy. They walked across a little orchard an' went into some other place—a fairly large sorta cottage at the back. I stuck around for a bit to see if they'd come out, but they didn't. So I tried something. I went up to the back door and knocked. Some guy opened the door, not the guy who the girls had gone in with. I asked him for some water for the car. When he went to get it he switched the light on an' I nearly had a fit. Who d'you think the baby was?"
Callaghan said: "What am I supposed to do—have three guesses?"
"Sorry," said Nikolls. "Well, you remember that boyo who was doorman on that dive of Ventura's, the Backstairs Club, in Soho—Ropey Felliner? Well, it was him. Was I surprised?"
"I bet you were," said Callaghan. "Did he recognise you?"
"He did not," answered Nikolls. "I kept away back in the dark."
"Where are you speaking from?" Callaghan asked.
"I'm in an A.A. box away down the road," Nikolls replied. "About half a mile from the Yard Arm."
Callaghan said: "I'm coming along. I think it's time something happened. If it doesn't, we'll make it. I'll be with you as soon as I can."
"O.K.," said Nikolls. "I'll just stick around an' look at the moon. I'm feelin' poetic to-night, anyway."
Callaghan hung up. He went up to his room and got an overcoat. He rang the bell, came downstairs and met Stevens in the hall.
He said: "Stevens, I may be a little late to-night. Have you a spare key?"
"Yes, sir," said the butler. "I'll go and get it."
Callaghan walked up and down the hall waiting for Stevens to come back. He looked contented. He was intrigued by Nikoll's news that Ropey Felliner was at the cottage behind the Yard Arm. He wondered why.
Stevens came back with the key. As he gave it to Callaghan he said:
"I hope things are going all right, sir, and I hope I'm not too curious, but have you got any idea yet, sir? We are naturally very interested."
"I've practically got the criminal, Stevens," he said. "I think I know who stole the Vendayne jewellery."
The butler's eyes widened.
"My God, Mr. Callaghan, he said. "Who was it, sir?"
"Santa Claus," said Callaghan, as he went out.
The moon was full. The road in front of the Jaguar was like a grey ribbon. Nikolls came out of the darkness of the hedge and stood in the midde of the road. He got on the running board of the car. He said:
"I got the bus parked in a field three or four hundred yards down the road on the right. The gate's open. How about you parkin' in there, too?"
Callaghan let in the clutch. He drove down the road, through the open gate. He parked the car beside Nikolls's. He said:
"Where's this cottage, Windy?"
"About sixty or seventy yards down the road," Nikolls answered. "On the left is the Yard Arm. There's a sign outside. Just past it is a pathway leading through an orchard. The cottage is on the other side."
Callaghan said: "All right. You'd better look at the moon some more."
He began to walk down the road.
He passed the Yard Arm, found the little pathway running behind it, began to walk across the orchard. He was thinking it was a lovely night and wondering about Felliner. Just in front of him, almost hidden by the trees, was the cottage. It was a large two-storied affair formed, evidently, of two or three cottages knocked into one. The little lawn and the white palings that surrounded it were well kept, and the windows carefully blacked-out. Callaghan pushed open the gate, walked up the short path and knocked on the door. He stood there, looking at the glowing end of his cigarette. After a minute the door opened.
Callaghan, looking past the man who stood in the doorway, could see that the hall of the cottage was luxuriously carpeted, well-furnished. Then he looked at the man. He was about thirty-five years of age; had very sleek black wavy hair, a face that was almost too good-looking, a decided jaw. He was tanned. Callaghan's eyes, straying from the man's face to the side of the cottage doorway, noticed the plate that bore the name of the place. On it was the word: "MALMESBURY."
He said: "My name's Callaghan. I'm staying at Margraud Manor. I understand that Clarissa and Esme Vendayne are here."
The man said: "Yes?"
"He raised his eyebrows. The tone of his voice was half inquiring, half insolent. Callaghan went on:
"I don't think the Major's very well," he said, lying easily. "Miss Vendayne's a little bit perturbed about him. She thinks the girls ought to go home."
The other said: "How did you know they were here?"
Callaghan said: "That's my business."
The man in the doorway shrugged his shoulders.
"Well, if you want to be rude..." he said.
"I don't want to be rude," said Callaghan, "but why shouldn't anybody know where they were. Or is it a secret?"
The man stood back. Callaghan noticed he was fairly tall and muscular, that he moved easily.
He said: "There isn't any secrecy. Perhaps I sounded a little short. Come in. My name's Blaize."
"I'm glad to meet you," said Callaghan.
He stepped into the hallway. Blaize closed the door behind him. Esme came out of the door on the other side of the hall. She turned her head and spoke into the room behind her.
"My God," she said. "It's Mr. Callaghan. I'm thrilled. He's a fast worker, isn't he?" She said to Callaghan: "Don't tell me you couldn't wait till to-morrow to question me."
Clarissa came out from the room. She stood behind Esme. Esme murmured:
"Well, three's a party—sometimes. But I rather think that four's a crowd."
Callaghan said: "I think so too." He went on: "Miss Vendayne asked me to come over and say that she was worried about the Major. She thinks maybe he's going to have one of his attacks. She thought you might like to go back."
Esme's face became serious.
"Oh, dear," she said, "Come on, Clarissa, we'd better go. Good-night, Willie."
She walked straight past Blaize, out of the cottage. Close behind her came Clarissa. She stopped as she reached Callaghan. She said:
"I think you two should know each other. William dear, this is Mr. Callaghan, a veritable prince of private detectives. Mr. Callaghan, this is Mr. Blaize—Mr. William Blaize. I think he's rather a sweet, don't I, William?"
"In case you should want to know why I think he's a sweet," Clarissa went on, "it's mainly because Esme's stuck on him, and as my only amusement in these parts is trying to pinch Esme's young men, there, Mr. Callaghan, you have a logical and deductive reason as to why I think William's sweet. He's awfully relieved that we've got to go. I know he's got an appointment somewhere."
Blaize said with a grin: "I've been wanting to go to Exeter for the last hour, but I'm always a little gentleman." He grinned ruefully. "It'll be about three before I get there."
"Poor William," said Clarissa. "It's just too bad! Good-night, Sweet William. 'Bye, Mr. Callaghan."
She went out.
Callaghan stood looking at Blaize. After a minute he said: "It's nice work if you can get it."
Blaize said: "Exactly what do you mean by that?"
Callaghan said: "I don't know. You probably do. Good-night."
He went out of the doorway and began to walk across the orchard. From somewhere in the vicinity he could hear the sound of Clarissa's and Esme's cars starting. He walked back on to the main road. He waited until he saw the tail lights of the girls' cars disappear. Then he walked down the road through the gateway into the field.
Nikolls was sitting in the driving seat of the hired car, smoking, looking at the moon, his hands behind his head.
"Didn't take long to break that party up, Slim," he said. "How did you do it?"
Callaghan said: "I told 'em the old man was going to have one of his attacks. They decided they'd go home. You'd better go back. Put your car in the garage at Margraud—I left the door open."
Nikolls said: "O.K. You're not comin'?"
Callaghan said: "No, I'm going to have a little talk with Felliner."
Nikolls raised his eyebrows.
"What about the other guy?" he asked.
Callaghan said: "There's a rumour he's going to Exeter. I'll wait for a bit and see."
Nikolls said. "I get it. You're gonna use the old system?"
"Why not, Windy?" he said.
Callaghan got into the Jaguar and sat there smoking. He was listening for the sound of a car. He was wondering about Blaize. He waited ten minutes—then he got out of the car, threw his cigarette end into the damp grass, walked out into the road, keeping in the shadow of the hedge. He began to walk towards the Yard Arm. When he had gone thirty yards down the road, a long low car shot out from the drive on the right of the Yard Arm building and turned left.
Callaghan walked through the orchard. He walked round the side of the cottage. At the back, beside a white painted water-butt, was a door. Callaghan rapped. After a minute he heard some sounds from inside, then the noise of a bolt being pulled. The door opened.
Callaghan said: "Good-evening, Ropey."
Someone from inside the doorway said: "What the hell... Callaghan... !"
"That's right," said Callaghan. "Come outside, Ropey. I want to talk to you."
Felliner came into the doorway. He was very big. His shoulders were wide. He looked like a boxer. His great hands hung down by his sides relaxed, like a gorilla's. He said:
"Supposin' I don't want to talk to you. What the hell do you want? What's going on round here? You're the second guy that's knocked me up to-night."
Callaghan said: "I know. The first one was Nikolls. You didn't recognize him. Your eyes aren't so good as they used to be, are they?"
Felliner said: "Cut it out. What is it you want?"
Callaghan lit a cigarette. He said:
"I want to know what you're doing down here."
Felliner said with a faint grin: "And supposin' I tell you to mind your own damn business?"
Callaghan took the cigarette from his mouth with his left hand casually. Almost simultaneously he moved forward on to the ball of his left foot. His right fist caught Felliner fairly in the mouth. The big man went over backwards. Callaghan stepped into the doorway. As Felliner got to his knees, Callaghan put out his left hand and put his fingers inside Felliner's collar. He helped him to his feet. When he was almost there, Callaghan hit him again.
Felliner went down with a crash. A beam of moonlight came through the doorway. On the other side of the room Callaghan could see an electric light switch. He went across, switched on the light. Felliner had got to his feet. His shoulders were hunched like a bull's. His mouth was bleeding. He stood looking at Callaghan.
He said: "I've always wanted to paste you, Callaghan, and now, by God, I'm goin' to do it!"
Callaghan grinned. He said:
"Well, there's no law against trying, Ropey. I hope you're in better condition than you were when you were working for Gabby, throwing half-cut sissies out of the Backstairs Club..."
Felliner said something under his breath. He moved quickly forward.
Callaghan put his hand on the back of a kitchen chair that stood underneath the switch. He spun the chair suddenly towards Felliner. It hit him fairly across the shins.
Felliner swore viciously. He jumped in at Callaghan with an agility that was surprising and swung a left hook. Callaghan caught the punch with his right hand, put out his left hand and caught Ropey's right wrist. His fingers seemed to be resting easily on the pulse.
Felliner began to howl. Callaghan brought over his right hand and took hold of the other's fingers. He exerted a little pressure. Felliner screamed. His forehead was covered with sweat.
Callaghan said: "I'll always back, judo against old-fashioned slugging tactics, Ropey. This is one of the sweetest Japanese hand-holds I know. If you try and move anyway at all you break at least two of your fingers. Would you like to try?"
He released his hold and put his hands in his pockets. Ropey went over to the other side of the room and sat down. He was nursing his wrist, massaging the fingers.
"The trouble with you, Ropey, is that slugging has always been your best bet and you think it always does the job. If you're as wise as I think you are, you'll cut out any ideas of rough stuff and begin to think. You're in a bad jam, Ropey."
Felliner said: "I don't know what the 'ell you're talkin' about. You're barking up the wrong tree, I'm tellin' you."
Callaghan picked up the fallen chair. He sat down on it. He was thinking quickly... considering the best line of bluff to use. He said:
"Ropey, you know damn well I always know what I'm doing."
Felliner growled: "I don't know what you're talkin' about. It's lucky for you that Blaize isn't 'ere. If he was there'd be some trouble. He'd 'ave you pinched maybe."
He said: "I wouldn't be too sure of that, Ropey. And since you seem to have become so unintelligent, perhaps you'd like to listen to why I think you're in a bad jam. Three months ago some jewellery was stolen from the Vendayne Manor House, see? Well, I don't think it looks too good for you—with your record—being around."
Callaghan took out his cigarette-case, selected a cigarette. He went on: "The police must have overlooked you when they were checking up."
Felliner grinned. There was a look of relief in his eyes. He said:
"I get it. So you're trying to tie me up with that steal, are you? Well, you can't do it. I wasn't anywhere near 'ere when that stuff was pinched. I've only been 'ere three days, an' how do you like that, Mr. bleeding know-all?"
"I don't mind it," said Callaghan. "It doesn't prove anything one way or the other. All right, Ropey, if you're so certain of yourself I'll have a word on the telephone with Walperton, the Scotland Yard man who's handling this job. I think he might like to have a little talk to you... that is, of course, if you don't like talking to me."
Felliner said: "I'm not looking for trouble, and I've got nothing to be afraid of either, but I don't want to have any truck with coppers. I don't like 'em, you know that."
"All right, Ropey," said Callaghan. "Well, let you and me be friends, shall we? Maybe that way nobody'll get hurt, at least not any more than they have."
Callaghan got up. He walked round the kitchen table and sat on the edge of it, looking down at Felliner.
He said: "You know, Ropey, you're not the sort of man who gets himself a job in the heart of Devonshire as a caretaker or a servant or whatever you are just because he likes fresh air. That's sense, isn't it? What are you doing down here?"
Felliner said nothing. Callaghan went on:
"For the last six or seven years you've been working for Gabby. You've worked in every club he's had. If there's been any dirty work afoot you've been in it—well in it. There's a lot of funny business going on round here and the fact that you're here shows me that Gabby's interested. The best thing you can do is to talk."
Felliner said: "Well, all right. What's it matter anyway? I came down 'ere and I took this job because Gabby told me to."
"I see," said Callaghan. "So Gabby knew the job was going?"
" 'E didn't," said Felliner. "There was an advertisement in a paper. The boss saw it. He told me to answer it."
"And what were you supposed to do?"
"Stick around an' keep my eye on Blaize," said Felliner. "Gabby thought he was goin' off somewhere sort of sudden. He wanted to know where 'e was goin'. 'E wanted to know anythin' I could find out."
Callaghan got up. He said:
"You take a tip from me, Ropey, keep your nose clean. I've got an idea there's going to be a little trouble flying about in these parts. If I were you I'd keep out of it."
"You're telling me?" said Felliner. "I reckon I've had all the trouble I'm going to have. I'm getting out."
"No, you're not," said Callaghan pleasantly. "You're going to stay put just where you are, and another thing you needn't bother to let Gabby know I've seen you. Let's keep this little conversation a secret as between friends, shall we?"
He walked over to the door. He stood for a moment looking out at the moonlit orchard. Then he turned and said:
"Ropey, you remember that fellow who was rolled a year ago at the Backstairs Club—the one they found out in the alleyway? Well, I don't believe that case is marked 'closed' yet. The police still want to know who it was threw him out of the window. Maybe you'd like me to tell 'em?"
Felliner said hoarsely: "You're a bastard, that's what you are. If you can't get a thing one way you get it another."
"That's right, Ropey. We get there somehow and who the hell cares how. Keep your nose clean, and behave, and you're all right. But if you get up against me I'll stick you inside over that Backstairs job, and you know I mean it.
Callaghan sat behind the wheel of the Jaguar. He sat there for a long time looking across the fields. Eventually he drew on his gloves, lit a cigarette, let in the clutch.
He drove slowly back to Margraud enjoying the night air. Nikolls was waiting outside the garage.
"I reckon you're a thought reader or something, Slim," he said. "I thought I'd be the first to give you the good news."
Callaghan raised his eyebrows.
"What's happened?" he said.
"Well, it's damned funny," said Nikolls. "You go out to that Yard Arm place an' tell those girls a phoney story about the old man havin' a seizure, an' when they get back here they find it's right. He has."
"Well... ?" said Callaghan.
"They took him away," Nikolls replied. "The ambulance got here about half an hour ago. They took him to Exeter. I reckon he's pretty bad, too."
Callaghan said: "I wonder."
Nikolls said: "How do you mean? Do you think it's screwy, too?"
"Why not?" said Callaghan. "Maybe little Audrey wanted the Major out of the way for a bit. Maybe she thinks it'll be easier if he's not around."
Nikolls said: "So you think she's going to do something?"
Callaghan began to walk towards the house.
"She's got to do something," he said.
NIKOLLS reclined in a wicker chair set back behind a little table in Grantley's Café in Kingsbridge High Street. He finished his coffee and pondered heavily. He ordered more coffee with a large portion of Devonshire cream, looked at his wristwatch, observed the morning sun illuminating the new bread and cakes in the Window, considered critically the hip-lines of the two young women behind the counter.
It was ten minutes past eleven. Nikolls fished about in his pocket for a Lucky Strike, found one, put it in his mouth, reread the note from Callaghan:
Try and get a minute with Clarissa after breakfast. Make a date with her to meet you at the café in Kingsbridge at half-past eleven. Get there first and wait for her. When she turns up work the old stuff on her. If she seems interested, mention Slapton Sands casually when I arrive. Play it up like hell—I think shell fall for the line.
Nikolls produced his lighter and lit the corner of the note. He held it up in his plump fingers and watched it burn. He lit his cigarette from the last corner and put the ashes carefully into the ash tray.
He wondered if Callaghan was right about Clarissa. He realised that Callaghan was right about women more often than not. On the other hand, Clarissa was a smart package, ruminated Nikolls. She had brains in her head. All the Vendayne women had brains. The fact just stuck out and hit you when you looked at them. Nikolls, who reduced most problems to terms of betting, thought that it was about six to four on Callaghan. Clarissa came in.
Nikolls eyed her critically as she walked towards his table. He thought: "A hell of a dame, she knows how to walk an' her hips are just right, an' what she don't know about clothes could be stuck up your nose and it wouldn't even make you sneeze."
Clarissa was wearing a sage green tweed coat and skirt over a matching jersey that was tied at the neck with a yellow cord. Pulled well on to one side of her carefully dressed auburn-dark head was a sage green Robin Hood hat with a yellow ribbon to match the neck cord. Her shoes were polished calf-skin. Her stockings beige silk. Her small hands were encased in sleek pigskin driving gauntlets.
She said sweetly as Nikolls got to his feet:
"Hallo, Windy... I'm going to call you Windy because I heard Mr. Callaghan do it. And why are you called Windy... Windy?"
Nikolls grinned amiably. He said:
"My name's Windemere... It's a helluva name but I couldn't do a thing to stop it. My old man usta live around there before he went to the States."
She said: "You're not an American, Windy?"
"American... hell," replied Nikolls. "I'm a Canadian. I was born there an' so was my ma. I've spent a lot of time in the States though. I usta work for a Detective Agency there until some guy shot Monty Kells who usta be Slim's assistant. Then he cabled for me an' I came over here."
Clarissa said: "Why is he called 'Slim'?"
Nikolls grinned at her.
"Because that's just what he is... as slim as they make 'em. He'd slide through or round or under anythin'. There's only one thing that ever gets him beat——" Nikolls produced an air of ponderous gravity— "an' that's what I'm afraid of now..."
She said: "I want some coffee, please." She began to take off her gloves. "Do tell me, Windy," she murmured angelically, "just what it is you're afraid of."
Nikolls looked out of the window. His face expressed concern and a suggestion of doubt. Nikolls was a very good actor—a fact that few people raised until it was too late.
He looked at her. It was a long searching look. Then he said very seriously:
"Clarissa, I'm very fond of Slim. I'd do anythin' for that guy. To me he's just the biggest guy in the world... an' I just don't wanta see him get hurt."
Clarissa's big eyes widened. She leaned across the table, folded her hands together. She said:
"But this is exciting. I'm thrilled. Tell me... please... Who's going to hurt Mr. Callaghan?"
Nikolls drew in a deep breath of tobacco smoke. He drew it right down into his lungs and allowed it to trickle out of one corner of his mouth. He said quietly:
"My God," said Clarissa. "How marvelous! Why might I?"
Nikolls stubbed out his cigarette. He stubbed it out with an air of finality. The air of a man who has made up his mind. He said very quietly, his eyes on hers:
"Clarissa... I wanna tell you somethin'. An' if you ever let on I'm gonna cut your pretty throat from ear to ear. Slim's nutty about you, see? Ever since he set eyes on you last night he's gone crackers over you. And get this; women fall for that guy like ninepins an' he usually just don't take any notice. He's just like an ice-box where women are concerned. So any time he does give a dame a tumble she's entitled to fly flags an' give herself a twenty-one gun salute."
He shrugged his shoulders sadly.
"Maybe I ought not to have said anything'," he went on. "But I'm sorta worried. You see, when he told me he was chuckin' the case this mornin'..."
Clarissa interrupted: "Why is he giving up the case?" she asked.
Nikolls said: "He says it's because he can't get a line on anythin'. But I don't believe it. I believe it's you. I watched him lookin' at you last night, after he got back from the Yard Arm—when you were pourin' tea for us all an' I knew."
He stopped suddenly and regarded the cakes in the window. He was watching Clarissa out of the corner of his eye. He noted with satisfaction that her eyes were soft.
"He mustn't give up the case, Windy," she said. "He just mustn't. And you needn't worry about me. I couldn't do anything to hurt him. I just couldn't. I'm not like that. Besides... I think he's terribly sweet. Directly I saw him I thought he was fearfully sweet. He's got that look in his eyes, that faraway look... you know, Windy?"
Nikolls said softly: "I know..."
He was thinking: "By heck... Slim was right again. She's fallen for it."
He put his hand over hers as it lay on the table. He said gravely:
"Clarissa, I trust you... remember... If you take Slim for a ride I'm gonna personally cut your throat... that is if he don't do it first..."
Clarissa's right hand went to her throat. She smiled happily. Nikolls, looking at her, thought: "Hell... she looks as if she'd like to have her throat cut..."
She said: "This is all too marvellous. Windy, I'll do anything to help. Just anything..."
Nikolls looked out of the window. Outside, Callaghan was getting out of the Jaguar. Nikolls said:
"Here he is. We better pretend we met by accident." When Callaghan came in, he went on:
"This is funny, Slim. Miss Vendayne just arrived for some coffee. Maybe you'd like to talk to her. I want to take a look at Slapton Sands. They tell me there's some marvellous pike fishin' there." He looked quickly at Callaghan. One eyelid quivered almost imperceptibly. He went on: "They tell me that the fish there just go for everything... hook, line an' sinker."
He got up.
"I'll be seein' you," he said.
He gave Clarissa a long look and went out.
Callaghan ordered some coffee. He was wearing a grey flannel suit, a fawn silk shirt and a brown tie. Clarissa found herself looking at his mouth, thinking that it was a very mobile mouth.
She said: "Slim... I'm going to call you Slim, and you're going to call me Clarissa... I want you to know that I'd love to do anything I can do to help you. Directly I saw you I felt I wanted to do anything I could... You understand?"
Callaghan looked at her. His expression was soulful. His features arranged themselves in an expression of almost hopeless passion. He said softly:
"Clarissa... you're wonderful. Directly I saw you I knew that you were different—yes, that's the word—different. Somehow I felt you'd help me. Of course, it's going to be difficult, but..."
She said: "Nothing's difficult unless one makes it so."
He smiled at her. It had taken him several years hard work to perfect that smile. He put his hand over hers. He murmured: "Let's talk, Clarissa."
Callaghan sat on a green-painted garden seat on the edge of the lawn that bounded the bottom of the lower terrace. Fifty yards away on the other side of the flower-garden Nikolls, in a multi-coloured sweater—practised putts on the miniature golf green. Over his shoulder Callaghan could see Esme, sitting on the covered balcony that ran past the French windows of the dining-room, reading a book. He thought she was having a little difficulty in concentrating.
He lit a cigarette, got up and strolled down the tiled pathway between the lawns. He stood at the bottom looking out over the green fields toward the sea.
Audrey Vendayne came out of the side door of the house. She walked swiftly down the steps that led between the terraces, along the pathway. Callaghan turned and walked to meet her.
She was wearing a fawn-coloured woolen suit. She was bareheaded. He noticed that the afternoon sun brought out the auburn tints in her hair.
She said abruptly: "As much as I dislike doing it I have to apologise to you. I received the three hundred pounds you registered to me from Newton Abbott, by the after-lunch post. I suppose you've been waiting to see, if I would apologise."
Callaghan grinned. "More or less," he said. "But I wasn't worrying about it."
She went on: "I suppose it was part of your technique not to tell me that you'd returned the money, when we were talking last night. I imagine it gave you a feeling of superiority."
"It did, rather," said Callaghan.
He stamped out his cigarette, kicked the butt to the edge of the path.
"How's the Major?" he asked. "Have you had any news?"
"He's better," she said. "He is to have complete rest and quiet. I'm glad he's not here."
His grin was cynical.
"That seems to indicate that you don't think it's going to be either quiet or restful here."
She said: "Candidly, I'm certain of nothing while you are here, Mr. Callaghan. In a way I'm glad my father had that attack. At least he will not be worried."
He looked at her. He noticed that her eyes were very blue and very steady.
"I imagine you'll return the three hundred to our friend Gabby," he queried. "I bet he'll be glad to see it come back again. He'll probably wonder what's been happening to it. That three hundred has been playing ring of roses like a playful boomerang."
"Gabby—as you call him—isn't my friend," she said coldly. "If I decide to return the money I shall return it to the person who lent it to me. In any event I don't see what it has to do with you."
"You will," said Callaghan.
She was about to say something but she checked herself. She turned on her heel and walked back towards the house.
Callaghan lit a cigarette and walked across the lawn to Nikolls who was concentrating on a six-foot putt.
He stood watching. Nikolls tapped the ball neatly. It trickled slowly across the velvet green into the hole. Nikoll's sighed. He said:
"I'm marvellous at this game any time I ain't really playing it. As I said before, it's a nice life!"
Callaghan said: "Listen, Windy. I'm going up to town. I may be a day or two: I don't know yet. But you don't have to let anybody here know where I'm going. You might even suggest that I've gone over to talk to the police at Plymouth."
"O.K.," said Nikolls. "How was Clarissa?"
He grinned at Callaghan, who grinned back.
"Clarissa was pretty good," said Callaghan.
"Yeah," said Nikolls. "It's marvellous how the idea that a guy is in love with a dame will make the doll talk."
Callaghan stood looking towards the sea. He said:
"I think Clarissa's scared. I think she's afraid that the business that happened between Esme and the fisherman at Beesands is going to be repeated with Blaize. Esme seems stuck on Blaize, but not in the usual light-hearted way that she adopts towards most of her boy friends. Clarissa thinks this time it might be really serious."
"I get you," said Nikolls. "So Clarissa plays around an' makes out that she's tryin' to queer Esme's pitch and pinch her boy friend, when all the time she's trying to keep her eye on those two just to stop things comin' to a head."
"It looks like that to me," said Callaghan. He went on: "While I'm away you might try and pull one on Esme. Use exactly the opposite tactics to those you used on Clarissa. Give Esme the idea that you don't like me very much. Try and get her confidence. Maybe she'll do a little talking."
"Who knows?" said Nikolls. "I'll try it anyway. When are you goin', Slim?"
"In about ten minutes," said Callaghan. "I'll just take the car out of the garage and disappear. I shan't take any clothes. If Audrey wants to know when I'll be back, say you don't know, but I'll be back."
Nikolls stooped down and picked the ball out of the hole. He threw it six or seven feet from him.
He said: "Audrey'll be pleased to know you're comin' back."
He walked to the ball and putted. This time it stopped three inches off the hole. He kicked it in.
He said: "I thought she looked a bit high-hat when she was talking to you just now. She ain't very pleased with you, Slim. It must be that three hundred."
Callaghan said: "Not exactly. I registered the money back to her at Newton Abbott. She got it this afternoon."
Nikolls raised his eyebrows.
"What was the idea in that, Slim?" he asked.
Callaghan said: "That money came originally from Gabby Ventura. I told her he'd be pleased if she sent it back to him. She said she'd return it to the person she borrowed it from. That sounds a bit odd, doesn't it, Windy?."
"Yeah," said Windy. "But I don't see it."
Callaghan said: "I didn't but I'm beginning to."
He walked away. He walked back to the path that led up to the house between the terraces. At the top he turned to the left past the balcony where Esme was sitting. Her eyes were concentrated on the page in front of her.
Callaghan said: "It's a lovely day, isn't it?"
She closed the book, marking her place with her finger. She looked pale and unhappy. There were circles under her eyes. Callaghan thought Esme was worrying about something.
She said: "The weather is so good down here, Mr. Callaghan, that we seldom take very much notice of it. We're used to fine days."
She smiled at him, one corner of her mouth twisted cynically.
Callaghan said: "Yes, it would be like that. Of course, in London you never know what the weather's going to be like."
He stood, his arm resting on the rail of the balcony, looking at her.
She said: "We're having an interesting conversation about the weather, aren't we? Or is this a prelude to something else?"
"I don't think so," said Callaghan. "I thought I'd like to talk to you, that's all I wanted to ask you something."
Esme took her finger out of the book and put it on the seat beside her. She said:
"Ask on! Aren't you sorry you haven't got a lie detector or whatever they call it fixed on my arm?"
Callaghan said: "I don't believe in lie detectors. They like 'em in America, but I don't. I think you can always tell."
"I expect you would be able to in any event, Mr. Callaghan," said Esme. "But I'm curious. Won't you ask your question?"
Callaghan said: "I wanted to know how you liked Malmesbury. It's a nice place isn't it?"
Esme opened her mouth to say something. Then she closed it.
She said: "I don't know... I wasn't fearfully interested in it. I wasn't in the Cape very long."
Callaghan was grinning. She went on:
"And may I ask what amuses you so much about it?"
Callaghan said: "I think you're clever. It was on the tip of your tongue to tell me you'd never heard of Malmesbury. I'm glad you didn't do that. I shouldn't have believed you."
He smiled at her and walked on towards the side of the Manor. Esme picked up her book, but she did not open it.
She sat looking over the terraces wondering about Callaghan.
Callaghan went into the garage and tested the air pressure in the tires on the Jaguar. He went back to the main door of the Manor House. Inside the hall he rang the bell. When Stevens appeared he said:
"Where's Miss Clarissa, Stevens?"
The butler said: "I think she's in her room, Mr. Callaghan. I believe she's lying down."
Callaghan said: "I'm going round to the garage in a few minutes. I'd be obliged if you'd tell her I'd like to have a few words with her there."
He went up stairs for his hat and gloves. He was sitting in the car waiting when Clarissa appeared.
She said: "Well, Slim, where are you going to?"
"I'm not quite certain," Callaghan answered. "I think I want to go to Plymouth to talk to the police there. Maybe I'll go on somewhere else afterwards."
Clarissa said hopefully: "Do you want me to come too?"
"No," said Callaghan. "I'd like you to come." He smiled at her. "But I don't think it's indicated. And I want you to do something for me here. Do you ever do anything that's dishonest, Clarissa?"
"Good God, yes," she answered. "I suppose everybody does, don't they?"
"I suppose they do," he said. "But I mean really dishonest, such as grabbing letters out of other people's mail, opening letters—steaming 'em open—listening to telephone calls... things like that."
Clarissa said: "Well, I haven't gone in for that sort of stuff much, but I dare say I could if I tried. By the way, whose post is it that has to be watched?"
Her eyes rested steadily on Callaghan's.
He said: "Listen, Clarissa. What I'm talking to you about now has nothing to do with this case. It's just a little thing on the side!"
Her eyes widened.
"You don't mean there's something else happening here?" she asked.
Callaghan began to lie. He said:
"I don't like that fellow Blaize, Clarissa. I can't quite place him, but I've got an idea that I remember his name in connection with something that wasn't quite so good. Ever since I had that talk with you this morning about Esme being stuck on him, I've been doing some serious thinking. I know you don't like him, and I don't."
Clarissa said: "What are you afraid of, Slim? Do you think..."
Callaghan said: "I don't think anything, but I don't like Blaize and I think Esme is much too nice a girl, even if she is a bit wild, to get mixed up with a fellow like that. My idea was," said Callaghan, "that you might keep your eye on the post if you can, and if a note or letter comes from Blaize you might have a look at it."
Clarissa said: "That wouldn't be difficult. The post is always left on the tray on the hall table. Everybody collects their own, and Esme's always last down. Besides," she added, "I could get up a little bit earlier—for you."
Callaghan said: "You're a sweet."
"What do I do? Steam open the letters and take a copy? And how shall I know if it's one from Blaize? Sometimes Esme has quite a large post," Clarissa went on. "Imagine me surrounded with letters, steaming them open upstairs in my room."
"I shouldn't worry about that," said Callaghan. "All you have to do is to look at the postmark. The only letters you want to bother about are ones that are posted in the county. Another thing, you needn't steam 'em open."
He put his hand into his breast pocket and produced a leather case. He opened it. Inside were three slim steel instruments rather like darning needles. He took one out, handed it over the side of the car to Clarissa.
"These are nice little things," said Callaghan. "Scotland Yard and the Postal Censors use 'em. Most people don't stick down the top edges of the envelope flap. All you have to do is to push this through the opening at the top, straight along the top of the envelope, turn it round until the top of the letter inside works itself through the slit."
He took a pound note from his note case and demonstrated.
"When you've got the top of the letter in the slit you start turning," said Callaghan. "Then the letter twists round the rod and you pull it out through the side of the flap. You do that very carefully. When you've read it you can put it back the same way—you merely reverse the process."
"You think of everything, don't you, Slim?" she said.
"I try to," he said. "Tell me something, Clarissa," he went on. "What sort of allowances do you girls have—much or little?"
"Not too bad," said Clarissa airly. "We have enough to get along on. One can always do with more, of course."
"And I suppose you're all pretty well broke most of the time?" he queried. "Every woman overspends her allowance."
"I wouldn't say that," said Clarissa. "I don't, and Audrey doesn't. Esme's the one who's always broke. How that girl does it I don't know. She's always up to her neck in debt. But why did you ask?"
Callaghan said: "I was just wondering."
He took her hand and squeezed it.
"So long, Clarissa," he said. "Don't forget you're working for Callaghan Investigations."
"I won't," she said. "Perhaps when you come back you'll give me a medal... or something?"
He smiled at her and let in the clutch. He backed the car slowly out of the garage, turned it, drove down the drive.
She stood watching it until it was out of sight.
IT was nine o'clock, Callaghan unlocked the door of his apartment in Berkeley Square, entered the flat, threw his hat and overcoat over a chair and helped himself to four fingers of rye whiskey from the sideboard.
He went into the bedroom, undressed, ran the bath, got in when it was half full. Then he turned on the cold tap and let it run. He lay at full length in the bath, his feet resting on the brush board, looking at the ceiling. He was thinking about Audrey Vendayne.
When the bath was almost filled with tepid water, Callaghan turned off the cold tap. He reached out for his cigarette-case which lay on the stool beside the bath, took a cigarette, lit it and relaxed.
He thought that the Vendayne case was beginning to resolve itself into a series of questions. He liked questions, not so much because finding the answers was amusing, but because in the process of trying to find the answers a case was often solved.
Callaghan, whose practice it was to regard investigations purely from the point of view of the people concerned in them, thought that the Vendayne burglary presented a most interesting picture. He was no armchair detective, possessed of a unique brain, a needle point mentality able to discover and assemble infinitesimal points called "clues" obvious to no one—including the reader—but the armchair detective himself.
A case, to Callaghan, was merely a collection of people, some of whom—or all of whom—were giving incorrect information, or telling lies, because circumstances either forced them or led them into the process.
But the fact that they had to tell lies, had to give false impressions, necessitated a reorientation of their own viewpoints and their own lives. Sooner or later they became exhausted or careless. Then, and not until then, was an investigator able to put his finger on the one fact that would lead him to a possible, logical solution.
Callaghan thought that Audrey Vendayne was an excellent example of this process. In spite of the opinion that Nikolls had formed of the lady, Callaghan himself was not so certain. Audrey radiated a certain atmosphere—an aura of apparent honesty and essential frankness. Also she was inclined to be proud. It was a bad egg to all the tea in China that the things that she had done which, according to his working-out, were not normal actions on her part, were the result of circumstances which made it imperative for her to behave in that way.
As for instance the borrowing of the three hundred pounds and her attitude to him at Margraud. Neither of these things were characteristic of her and they were, therefore, all the more interesting.
He was concerned to find the reasons.
He considered it was his business to continue to create other situations—a verbal or practical—in which people in the case would enmesh themselves. And any situation was better than none at all. Such was the Callaghan system.
It was this system which had been responsible for the motto which Chief Detective-Inspector Gringall had originated for Callaghan Investigations—"We get there somehow and who the hell cares how!"
The system could possibly be criticised as unmoral, to which criticism Callaghan, if asked, would have probably replied that, as most interesting things in life—especially crime—were unmoral, it was an obvious truism that the remedy must, of necessity, be more violent than the disease.
He began to think in terms of blackmail. Life, he ruminated, consisted of fifty per cent of the world trying to blackmail—in some way or other—the other fifty per cent. The hair-line between "moral persuasion" and honest to goodness blackmail was very often a hair-line.
He switched his mind to the three girls in the Margraud Manor. He thought that Audrey could be a worthwhile opponent in any battle of wits. Clarissa was not quite so clever. If anything she was the most innocuous of the three. Callaghan found himself concentrating on Esme. One of the things that intrigued him was the question of Esme's allowance. Esme was always broke; yet as far as he could see she did nothing that the other two did not do. Here was an interesting question. He wondered if he had already found the answer.
The second question was that of the three hundred pounds. Callaghan remembered what Audrey had said when he had suggested that she might like to return it to Gabby Ventura. He wondered if she were speaking the truth. Supposing she were. This presented another, quite interesting, angle of thought. He thought possibly he might have an idea about that, too.
He got out of the bath, began to dry himself. During the process and when he was finished and sitting on the bathroom stool rubbing eau-de Cologne into his hair, he was still thinking about the other questions. Why was Gabby interested in Blaize? Who and what was Blaize? Why were his movements of such importance to Gabby that Ropey Felliner—one time custodian of the alleyway entrance to the Backstairs Club—was sent post-haste down to Devonshire in order to keep an eye on Blaize's movements?
Callaghan thought that this technique was not of the type usually employed by Gabby. Gabby was a tough egg. He either had something on you or he had not. If he had dealt with the situation personally. The fact that he was having Blaize watched by Felliner indicated to Callaghan that Gabby knew little about Blaize. He wondered if he even knew Blaize.
He went back to the bedroom, began to dress. During the process he considered another angle of the case—the angle of the mortgage on Margraud. He wondered if Nikolls's theory was correct. Callaghan thought there was something funny about that mortgage. First of all, it was entirely unlike an individual of the characteristics of Major Vendayne to utilise the services of a strange firm of lawyers over an important matter like a mortgage on Margraud. Yet he had done so. But the more interesting part of this question was how had the mortgage been paid off. Where did the money come from? If, as Nikolls had suggested, the scheme was Audrey's, and Audrey had hoped to satisfy the mortgage by the money paid by the Insurance Company under the claim, she had been disappointed. There had been no money. Yet the mortgage had been paid.
Callaghan's mind came back to Esme. When he had last seen her sitting on the balcony at Margraud, he had tried a shot in the dark about Malmesbury. The shot had come off. There at least it seemed he had something tangible.
He tied his tie carefully, went into the sitting-room. He lit a cigarette, moved over to the window and stood looking out into the dusk. He stood there for some minutes, his hands in his pockets. Then he turned and went to the telephone. He dialled a Clerkenwell number. After a minute he said:
"Is that you, Blooey? Listen carefully: There's a good-looking young fellow by the name of Lancelot Vendayne. He lives at Grant's Hotel in Clarges Street. He's supposed to have lots of money. Anyhow," he went on, "he's much too good-looking not to have a girl friend. You might get around and find out who she is. And I'd like to know if possible by tomorrow evening. If you come up against anything else in the process, let me know. You got that?"
Blooey said he had got it. Callaghan hung up. He lit another cigarette, drank a little more whisky.
Callaghan went out. He walked slowly across Berkeley Square. He found himself thinking about the characters that made up the "picture" of the Vendayne case. Major Vendayne, Audrey and Clarissa and Esme. These people, with the possible exception of Audrey, were fairly obvious, he thought. Audrey was not obvious. She was not obvious, because one knew nothing of the motives that actuated her own particular line of thought or conduct. Only one thing about her was obvious and that was that she was damned attractive.
Callaghan thought that of the Vendayne women she was easily the winner so far as the sex-appeal stakes were concerned. The fact that her attitude towards life was quieter than that of her sisters meant nothing. Quiet Women were invariably dangerous. Callaghan, who liked his women quiet and dangerous—but not too dangerous—considered that the progress of the investigation might produce some fireworks from Audrey. It would have to produce fireworks of one sort or another.
Then there was Gabby Ventura, Lancelot Vendayne, and William Blaize. Just how these three people came into the pictures was a question which Callaghan could not, at that moment, attempt to answer. Whether there was an actual connection, an actual contact, as regards the case between Gabby and Audrey, Gabby and Lancelot, Gabby and Blaize, was an unknown quantity. Audrey's remark—if it had been truth—about returning the three hundred pounds had unsettled his original conviction about a definite connection between her and Gabby.
Callaghan allowed his mind to dwell on Gabby's career as he knew it. He had no respect for Ventura, merely a grudging admiration. Gabby had a quick brain and a flair for "keeping his nose clean." During the last ten years he had been associated with some of the toughest night haunts in London. Not those near-nice places around the West End which are considered dangerous in war time, but the really tough places—the ones you seldom hear about. Gabby had made money out of these haunts and he had never taken the knock. They had been raided, closed down; there had been prosecutions galore, but it was always someone else that the "blue inks" pulled in—never Gabby. Callaghan thought that if Ventura had cared to use his brains in some legitimate line of finance he might have been one of those people whose pictures one sees periodically in the evening papers and who are called kings of industry. But even if Gabby was not a king of industry he was certainly a small time emperor of underworld finance. Callaghan was intrigued with any connection, no matter how vague, between Gabby and the other people in the Vendayne picture. Gabby presented himself—for a reason which Callaghan could not quite make out—as the centre point of the situation—a rather vague situation.
But he proposed to make the situation clear and to do that quickly. It was time, he thought, that something happened, and if it would not happen of itself then it must be made to happen.
At the corner of Hay Hill he stopped to light a cigarette. Then he went into the phone box and looked up the number of Grant's Hotel in Clarges Street. He dialled the number, asked for Mr. Lancelot Vendayne. After a moment Vendayne came on the line. Callaghan said:
"Good-evening. This is Callaghan. I've just got back from Devonshire. Your uncle's had one of his periodical heart attacks. They've taken him to the Nursing Home in Exeter. I want to see you. Is that possible?"
"Of course," said Lancelot cheerfully. "Has anything happened? I'm dying with curiosity."
"Nothing's happened," said Callaghan. "What about meeting me at the Ventura Club at half-past ten?"
"I'd like to," said Vendayne. "Anyway, even if you've nothing to tell me, we can have a drink."
Callaghan said: "I haven't anything to tell you, but there're one or two things I want to ask you. I'll see you at ten-thirty."
He hung up. As he came out of the phone box he was smiling.
Lancelot Vendayne was leaning up against the bar in the Ventura Club talking to the plump blonde. There were few people in the club and only half a dozen couples were dancing, and few more people finishing late dinners or early suppers. Ventura was nowhere in sight. Callaghan walked over to the bar. He said:
"Let's take our drinks and sit down at a table. I want to talk to you."
Vendayne, who was drinking whisky and soda, ordered another one. He picked up the glasses and followed Callaghan, who was on his way to a lone table in the corner. When they were seated Callaghan said:
"There's one rule that we always stick to in Callaghan Investigations. We never delude our clients—well not much, and only then if we think it's good for them. As you are in effect my client, I think you ought to know that I don't like this Vendayne burglary business at all."
Lancelot said: "Why not?" He was frowning.
"There's nothing about it that looks like a burglary ought to look," said Callaghan. "Just because the police don't pull in somebody over every job that's done that fact doesn't mean that they don't know who it is. It usually means that they just haven't got any evidence. But in this case nobody knows anything about anything—including me."
Lancelot raised his eyebrows. He said:
"I thought the idea was that you were the person who was going to find things out."
"Oh, no, you didn't," said Callaghan. "You know why you put me in on this job and it wasn't for that reason at all. You put me in as an additional lever to force the Insurance Company to pay up. You probably knew that old Layne had threatened them with an action if they didn't pay up by the end of the month. I was to be a sort of gesture of good faith."
Lancelot said: "Well, do you think they will pay by the end of the month?"
Callaghan said: "I don't know, but if an opinion's any use to you I think it's very doubtful. The second thing is, I don't think I'd worry the Insurance Company. I'd leave 'em alone for a bit."
Vendayne shrugged his shoulders.
"Either they're going to pay or they're not," he said. "If they're not, I want to know why."
"That's all right," he said. "Your wanting to know why, I mean. But you realise you haven't any right to know why. You have no interest in the Vendayne jewellery until your uncle is dead, and he's not dead yet."
"That's perfectly true," said Vendayne. "I haven't any legal right to do anything at the moment. But what is all this leading up to? I suppose I've a legal right to employ you to watch my interests."
"That's the point I was coming to," said Callaghan. "I want to alter my status in this job. I don't want to feel I'm acting as a lever on the Insurance Company. I just want to play around and find out one or two things that interest me."
Vendayne shrugged his shoulders.
"That's all right," he said. "I suppose it will come to the same thing in the end."
"I should think it might," he said. "And there's something I want to discuss with you. It's this——"
He stopped speaking suddenly as if an idea had just come to him. After a pause he said:
"You might tell me something. It's rather a personal question. Were you ever stuck on any of the Vendayne girls, or shall we narrow that down a bit? Were you ever stuck on Audrey?"
Vendayne smiled. He said:
"Well, that's not a bad guess, Callaghan. How did you know?"
Callaghan said: "I didn't know, I just guessed. I could imagine anybody being stuck on Audrey."
Lancelot said: "I was. For quite a little time there was an idea that she and I might become engaged. Then for some reason or other she didn't like the idea, so we weren't. That's all."
Callaghan nodded. He said:
"Did you know that your uncle had mortgaged the Manor House on a mortgage payable in one year at 6½% for £20,000, in order to get the place repaired?"
Vendayne said: "How did you know that? Did the old boy or Audrey tell you?"
"No," said Callaghan. He smiled amiably. "You know we don't sit down on our bottoms all the time and just do nothing, Vendayne," he said. "We get around sometimes. An assistant of mine found the deed and the satisfaction recorded on it in the Registry in Exeter."
Lancelot said: "Well, I knew all about it. As a matter of fact, I thought it was a good idea at the time."
"And you weren't curious," he went on, "about where the Major was going to get the money to pay off that mortgage with?"
"Oh, yes," said Lancelot. He paused for a moment. "My uncle was in a deal—a share deal," he went on, "and he was perfectly certain that this thing was going to come off and make him three or four hundred per cent profit. The idea was that he would pay the mortgage off on the proceeds of that. He had quite a bit of his capital in this deal."
"I see," said Callaghan. "And the deal didn't come off?"
"I believe not," Lancelot answered.
Callaghan drew his cigarette smoke down into his lungs and exhaled through one nostril. He said, looking at Lancelot.
"And you haven't got any ideas as to how that mortgage was paid off?"
"Not one in the world," said the other. "Until you told me I didn't know it was paid off. I thought naturally that my uncle or Audrey had got it extended. After all a year for a mortgage is a very short term. My uncle's well known in the county and the property is fairly valuable. The mortgagees would have been glad to extend the time."
"Maybe," said Callaghan. "But the fact remains that they weren't asked to extend. The mortgage was paid off in full. You wouldn't know where the money came from?"
Lancelot said: "I would not." He smiled at Callaghan. "And purely from a point of view of curiosity I would very much like to know."
"So would I," he said.
He got up.
"I suppose I can always find you at Grant's Hotel?" he asked.
"Most of the time," said Lancelot. "Anyway, they can always let you know where I can be got at. Won't you stay and have another drink?"
"No thanks," said Callaghan. "I've got one or two things to do. By the way," he went on, "what do you think of Gabby? Are you and he friendly?"
Lancelot made a wry face.
"Just about as much as a man like me could ever be friendly with the proprietor of a place like this," he said with a whimsical smile. "I come here quite a bit because it's cheerful and amusing. I used to think that Gabby wasn't a bad sort, but now, between you and me and the gate-post, I don't like him very much. I think he's a bit crooked."
"You don't say?" he said airily. "It's taken you a hell of a time to find that out, hasn't it?"
Lancelot's smile faded. He looked at the table. He said:
"I don't see why you should say that. I don't see why I should be particularly interested in whether Ventura is crooked or not. His character doesn't concern me. I merely use this place as a bar and to amuse myself. Incidentally," he went on, "I didn't like the way you said that."
"No?" said Callaghan cheerfully. "Well... what am I supposed to do—burst into tears?"
Lancelot said nothing.
Callaghan went out.
It was eleven o'clock when Callaghan, having negotiated the black-out between Shepherd Market and Soho, walked into the Backstairs Club.
If the Backstairs Club was a little different to the others it was merely in the fact that practically every one who used the Backstairs smoked marihuana. The purchase and sale of the noxious weed—together with the "by-products" thereof—and when one considers the effect of a couple of marihuana cigarettes on some women one realises that there are "by-products"—constituted its main business.
The club premises consisted of a long room with a very low ceiling and an appalling odour. The room was approached through a passage which was guarded at the far end by a cubby hole in which the watch-dog of the moment sat and scrutinised would-be users.
The odour which was most prevalent at the far end—where the stink of cheap scent and stale marihuana smoke was joined by that of oil from the infinitesimal kitchen—presided over by a buck nigger—which stood just off one corner of the room—was entirely lost on the white-faced young gentleman who, seated at an ancient piano, from the keyboard of which at least a dozen ivories were missing, played a hot number called: "I don't know what it is you've got but I want it," and pondered, possibly, on the days when he used to wash at least once a day and shave, at any rate, sometimes.
There were a dozen people seated at the little tables set round the room. They were the sort of people you expected to find in the Backstairs Club. They had no memories, no hope and no morals. They were not interested in peace or war or any state between those two conditions, because most of them had never known peace, and most of them were continuously at war with something or somebody—the police, their friends, or themselves.
When Callaghan passed through the room they looked over their shoulders with the sudden furtive glance characteristic of people who are never quite certain as to what is going to happen from one minute to another.
Callaghan looked round the room. Sitting by himself at a table at the top was Kittel. Kittel was a tall, thin individual who purported to be an artist. He had a long white face, a bad temper and an addiction to barbituric drugs.
Callaghan walked over to the table. He sat down.
Kittel said suspiciously: "What do you want, Callaghan?"
"Just to talk to you for a minute or two, Jimmy," said Callaghan cheerfully. "And I think I'd like to buy you a drink. You don't look so well. I suppose the war's cut off most of your supplies."
Kittel said: "You mind your own damned business."
Callaghan signalled the bleary-eyed waiter in the dirty apron who was leaning against the kitchen door.
He said: "What you need, Kittel, is a double brandy."
Kittel looked relieved. When the drinks were brought Callaghan said:
"I wonder you come down here. If you had a pound for every time you'd been chucked out of here you'd be a rich man."
The dope grinned cynically.
"I shall never be that," he said. "Although I thought at one time there was a chance of it. I hate this damned place," he went on. "But life's like that. You hate a place, but you go there. You don't want to do a thing, but you do it."
"Quite," said Callaghan. He grinned. "True happiness would appear to consist in not doing all the things we want to do," he said.
He put his hand into the breast pocket of his coat and brought out a note case. He took out five one pound notes. They were new notes. They rustled. Callaghan could see Kittel eyeing them greedily. He said:
"Have you got any use for a fiver, Jimmy?"
Kittel said: "There are times when I think I'd murder someone for five pounds."
Callaghan said: "It's not as bad as that." He looked at his watch. It was half-past eleven. He said:
"I want you to start something around here at half-past twelve. Just hit the waiter or start throwing glasses at the doorman, enough to create a little sensation without the police being called in. Understand, Jimmy?"
Kittel asked wearily: "Is that all I've got to do for five pounds?"
"That's all," said Callaghan.
Kittel said: "Give me the fiver."
Callaghan handed over a pound note.
"Where are you living now, Jimmy?" he asked.
Kittel looked at the pound note.
"I'm living at the same place," he answered.
"All right," said Callaghan. "I'll send you round the other four pounds to-morrow when the job's done."
Kittel looked at him. Callaghan noticed that the pupils of his eyes were mere pin-points. Kittel said:
"You're a disbelieving swine, aren't you?"
"You bet," said Callaghan. "Don't forget... at half-past twelve."
"All right," said Kittel. "You needn't worry. I need the other four pounds."
Callaghan finished his drink and went out.
It was nearly twelve when Callaghan took his feet off his office desk, stubbed out his cigarette in the ash tray and rang the Ventura Club. He asked for Gabby Ventura.
"He's not down here, Mr. Callaghan," said the voice at the other end of the telephone. "He's upstairs in his own rooms. Perhaps you'd like to get through to him direct. I'll give you the number."
Callaghan said: "Thanks."
He wrote down the number and hung up. After a moment he dialled the number he had been given. Ventura's voice answered.
"Hallo, Gabby," said Callaghan cheerfully. "I want to talk to you. It might be important."
"All right, Slim," said Gabby. "Would you like to come round and have a drink?"
Callaghan said: "I'll be with you at twelve o'clock. I'd like to talk to you upstairs. Just you and me."
There was a pause. Then Ventura said:
"You'd better come to the back door. Ring the bell and I'll come down and let you in. Then we shan't be disturbed."
"That'll be fine," said Callaghan. "I'll be with you in a quarter of an hour."
He lit a cigarette and blew smoke rings for a minute or two. Then he dialled Effie Thompson's number. When she answered he said:
"Hallo, Effie. Are you in bed?"
"Yes, Mr. Callaghan, I am," she said. "Can I do something?"
"You can," Callaghan answered, "and you needn't even get up to do it. Just stay awake for a bit. At half-past twelve exactly ring through to Mayfair 995469—that's Gabby Ventura's private number in his flat over the club. He'll answer the telephone. Put on a false voice—a rather common voice—tell him you're Lilly Dells, that you're speaking from the call box near the Backstairs Club. Tell him that Jimmy Kittel's been hitting the dope again and that he's creating murder at the Backstairs. Lay it on thick. Say Kittel's slugged the waiter and knocked out the doorman. And you needn't be particular about your language. Let yourself go a bit. Directly you've said your piece, hang up. Have you got that, Effie?"
"I've got it," said Effie caustically. "You're sure that's all you want done? You don't want me to give an imitation of Greta Garbo as well?"
"No thanks," said Callaghan. "Not to-night."
He hung up.
He waited a moment, then rang the Berkeley Square cab rank. He said:
"Is Fairley on the rank? He is. Tell him to come round to the office and pick me up."
He hung up the telephone, went over to a filing cabinet in the corner of the office, opened it and took out a small bunch of "spider" keys. He put them in his pocket. Then he went downstairs and waited for the cab. When it arrived he handed the driver a pound note.
"Listen, Fairley," he said. "Take me round to the back door of the Ventura Club in Shepherd Market. Then go back to the rank. Wait there until twelve twenty-five and then drive back to the Ventura back entrance. I want you to be waiting for me outside the door at twelve thirty-five. See?"
Fairley said he saw.
Callaghan got into the cab. He lay back in the corner and relaxed. He began to smile.
He was still thinking about Audrey Vendayne.
GABBY, at the sideboard, mixed two large whiskies and sodas. He was wearing a blue-grey Glen check suit with a white silk tie. A large diamond pin twinkled in the centre of it. He looked contented, almost cheerful.
Callaghan, sitting in the big armchair on the other side of the table, watched Gabby's precise movements as he handled bottle and syphon. He moved quickly and easily in spite of his bulk and he had a good jaw even if it was concealed by a jowl. Callaghan thought that Gabby could be tough if necessity arose—very tough. He would stick at nothing to attain a desired end. It would be interesting to know, thought the detective, just what "end" Gabby wanted.
Ventura came back to the table with the glasses. He sat down and produced a cigar. He said smilingly:
"I'm getting curious about what you wanted to see me over, Slim. Something important, hey?"
Callaghan said: "Not very, Gabby. Just important to me. Besides which, I've been thinking..."
He took out his cigarette-case and lit a cigarette. Ventura regarded the glowing end of his expensive cigar. He said nothing. He waited.
Callaghan went on: "I was thinking I was a bit short with you the other day when you came round to my office and asked me about that £300."
"I thought you were a bit short, too, Slim," said Gabby. "Naturally I didn't believe that stuff you told me."
Callaghan drew the cigarette smoke down into his lungs.
"You know that I'm investigating the Vendayne burglary," he said. "I'm doing the job because Lancelot Vendayne wanted it investigated. The night before you came to see me, his cousin, Audrey Vendayne, made a date to meet me at this club. She waited for me outside. She gave me £300 to keep out of the case. I concluded she'd borrowed it from you. That's why I was glad to take a hand in that poker game and let you see the banknotes she'd given me. Now I've come to the conclusion that I was wrong."
Ventura knocked the ash from the end of his cigar. He said softly:
"You don't say, Slim."
Callaghan grinned at him.
"I've got another theory now," he said. "Supposing I made a guess. Supposing I suggested that Lancelot Vendayne lent Audrey that £300 after he had borrowed it from you. Would I be very far wrong?"
Gabby said: "You wouldn't be wrong at all. You'd be dead right. I lent Vendayne that £300. I didn't know what for. He told me a hard luck story—that he was in a jam—so I let him have it."
"That was nice of you, Gabby," said Callaghan. "I didn't know you were so kind-hearted. What did you do it for?"
Ventura shrugged his massive shoulders. He smiled wryly at Callaghan. He said:
"I'm not quite certain. I get like that sometimes."
Callaghan said: "When was he going to pay you back?"
"I wasn't worrying about that," Gabby answered. "I expect him to pay it back pretty soon. He said he would."
Callaghan said: "Gabby, you told me Lancelot Vendayne was rather a clever fellow. You told me he was making money. If he was making money, what did he have to borrow £300 from you for?"
Gabby said: "That don't signify, Slim. Anybody can be making money and be short of a few hundred ready, especially when they want it in a hurry."
"Would you call Lancelot a pal of yours, Gabby?" he asked.
"I wouldn't exactly call him that," he said. "He's all right and he's a good customer. Sometimes I think he's a bit of a bastard."
Callaghan said: "I see."
He glanced at his wrist-watch. It was just after twelve-thirty. The telephone on the desk in the corner jangled. Gabby went over. He took off the receiver. Callaghan could hear a high-pitched almost hysterical voice coming through the telephone—a metallic, common voice. He grinned. He thought that Effie was doing pretty well. Ventura began to talk into the transmitter. He said:
"All right... all right." He hung up suddenly. He said to Callaghan: "Sorry, Slim, but I got to get away from here. I've just had a call—some rush business. Why don't you go downstairs and have a drink? I'll be back in half an hour."
"No thanks, Gabby," said Callaghan. "I've said all I wanted to say and I've got a date myself. If you're in a hurry you'd better take my cab. I've got one waiting outside. I can get another."
Ventura said: "That's nice of you, Slim."
He led the way down the dark staircase, opened the back door. Outside, Callaghan's cab driver, Fairley, was standing beside his cab. Callaghan said:
"Take this gentleman wherever he wants to go to. I think I'll walk. Good-night, Gabby."
Gabby said good-night. He got into the cab.
Callaghan walked a few yards down the dark side street, then he turned back. He put his hand in his pocket and brought out the bunch of "spider" keys. In two minutes he had the back door of the Ventura Club open. He closed it behind him, went swiftly and silently up the stairs. He switched on the light in Gabby's room. On the other side of the room was another door leading down to the club. There was a bolt on the inside. Callaghan shot it home. Then he began a systematic search of the room.
He went round opening drawers, taking out the contents, going through them, replacing them in the same order. He worked rapidly, thoroughly. The roll-top desk in the corner on which the telephone stood was open. Callaghan turned his attention to that. One drawer in the bottom right-hand pedestal was locked. He opened it easily with a "spider." There were a bundle of papers in the drawer. On the top of them was an envelope addressed to Gabby Ventura in a sprawling handwriting. Callaghan picked it up. The stamp bore the Kingsbridge postmark. He opened the envelope, drew out the sheet of notepaper inside. He read:
There's some proper bleedin trubble poppin down here. The boys been on the telephon to-day. He was shoutin his head orf, talkin a lot of stuff about some deal being phoney. And he's gettin ready to get out. He's been packin all day. Sent one trunk to Exeter orlreddy. I think he's goin' abroad. I couldn't get all he said on the telephon but I herd him say there was goin to be a showdown pretty soon and that he was goin to keep the party he was talkin to tied up properly. He said the whole bag of tricks was as phoney as hell. Whatever the showdown is goin to be its goin to be pretty soon because I don't think he'll be here for more than a couple of days. Let me know what you want done. You better let me know quick.
Well, so long,
P.S. That bastard Callaghan is kickin around here."
Callaghan sat in the armchair that stood before the desk. He copied the letter on the back of a tailor's bill. Then he put it back in the envelope, replaced the envelope in the drawer, shut it and relocked it. He drew the bolt on the door leading to the club, looked round the room to see that everything was as he had found it, went down the stairs. Outside he began to walk in the direction of Berkeley Square. He was whistling softly to himself.
Callaghan woke up at eleven o'clock. He reached out for the bedside telephone that connected his flat with the office below. He said:
"Good-morning, Effie. You did very well last night. I didn't know you were such a good actress. Congratulations."
Effie Thompson said primly: "Thank you, Mr. Callaghan. I like to be a help."
Callaghan went on: "Get through to Layne—the Vendayne solicitor, Effie. Tell him I'm coming round to see him. I'll be there at twelve. When you've done that, get through to Detective-Inspector Walperton at Scotland Yard. Ask him if it would be convenient to see me at a quarter to one."
He hung up, bathed and began to dress. Five minutes afterwards Effie Thompson rang through to say the two appointments were in order.
Callaghan finished dressing, took the lift down to the offices, read his mail, drank a cup of tea that Effie brought to him. Then he went around to Layne's office.
When the detective was shown in, Layne looked at him suspiciously over the top of his pince-nez. Callaghan said:
"I don't want to waste a lot of your time, Mr. Layne, but I want to have a straight talk with you. I suppose that anything that's said in this office can be considered to be 'off the record'?"
The lawyer said: "Rather a strange request, is it not, Mr. Callaghan? May I ask why?"
Callaghan said: "There ought not to be anything 'off the record' between you and me; at the same time there are one or two angles on this business that you don't know. For instance, am I right in supposing that you didn't know that your client, Major Vendayne, mortgaged the Margraud Manor for £20,000 at 6½% for one year, and that the mortgage has been paid off?"
Layne's eyebrows went up. "You amaze me," he said. "I certainly did not know."
"I thought as much," said Callaghan. "I thought so because the mortgage was put through by a firm of Exeter lawyers." He went on: "I believe you've written to the Sphere & International and told them that unless this claim is settled by the end of the month, you're going to issue a writ."
The lawyer nodded.
"That is correct," he said.
Callaghan lit a cigarette.
"I want you to do something," he said. "Something that is maybe a little bit odd. You won't like it. It's going behind your client's back."
Layne said: "I don't think I could do that."
"Oh, yes, you could," said Callaghan. "If it were in your client's interests you could do it."
The lawyer pursed his lips.
"Possibly," he said, "But I should have to know that it was in my client's interests."
"All right," said Callaghan. "Well, look at the facts. When this jewellery was stolen, I believe I'm right in saying that your client wasn't in a fearful hurry for the claim to be put in to the Insurance Company. The person who was responsible for getting after the Sphere & International—tryin' to get 'em to pay—wasn't the Major, it was Lancelot Vendayne. You can understand that too; he was worrying about whether he was going to get what was coming to him when the Major dies. But the point is that he was the person who's been trying to bring pressure to bear on the Sphere & International."
Layne said: "That is correct, but I still don't see——"
"You will," said Callaghan. "Listen. When I went down to Margraud, Audrey Vendayne told me she'd had a word with her father and they had an idea of writing to the Insurance Company and postponing the claim."
Layne looked surprised.
"Really," he said.
"Well, I stopped that," said Callaghan. "Obviously, it would have been a ridiculous thing to do. First of all, it is sticking out a foot that the Insurance Company are already suspicious and any request to them merely to postpone the claim would make them more suspicious."
"Quite," said Layne. "Unless there were some good reason for the postponement."
"Exactly," said Callaghan. "We've got to find a reason. The point is," he went on, "the Insurance Company have delayed paying this claim because they smell a rat, and we don't have to do a lot of thinking to know what that rat is. The only time when an Insurance Company don't pay is when they believe that a claim is phoney. They believe this claim is phoney, and they're not the only ones—I think so, too."
The lawyer said nothing. He looked very grave.
Callaghan went on: "It would be a bit difficult for the Vendayne family—or one or more members of it—if the Insurance Company were to pay this claim and then discover afterwards that there'd been funny business. Somebody might find themselves stuck in gaol."
"I see," said Layne. He put the tips of his fingers together and looked out of the window. "And your idea is?" he queried.
Callaghan blew a smoke ring. He watched it sail across the office.
"My idea is this," he said. "You write to the Insurance Company to-day. You tell 'em that Callaghan Investigations, who were put in on this job to find out what has happened, think they have got a line on where that jewellery is; that, in the circumstances, pending a further report from Mr. Callaghan, Major Vendayne wishes to withdraw the claim, as that is the obvious thing to do."
The lawyer nodded.
"I see..." he said.
"It's not particularly clever, it's common sense," said Callaghan. "If we really thought we had an idea where that jewellery is, the obvious thing would be for us to withdraw the claim. Doing it that way doesn't look suspicious."
Layne said: "I think I ought to have a word with my client about this."
"You can't," said Callaghan. "He's had a heart attack. He's in a nursing home at Exeter. They won't let him talk to anybody. Anyway," he went on, "you'll be well advised to do what I suggest."
"Shall I?" said the lawyer. "Why?"
"Because if you don't," said Callaghan, "I'm going down to the Insurance Company to tell 'em the same story myself. I feel it is necessary that that claim is stalled for a bit anyway."
Layne said: "Mr. Callaghan, I suppose you realise what you are suggesting? Your attitude suggests that the original claim made against the Insurance Company was a fake claim and that either my client or some member or members of his family knew that fact. That is a very serious suggestion."
"You're telling me," said Callaghan. "And I'm not suggesting anything. I'm telling you. The only way out of the job is my way. You've got to do it whether you like it or not. If you don't, I'll do it for you."
"I don't like your attitude but I think you're right," said the solicitor. "In the circumstances, and as I can't get into touch with the Major immediately, I'll do as you suggest, but I'm very worried about this."
Callaghan exhaled smoke slowly.
"What's worrying you?" he asked.
"You're practically suggesting that some member of the Vendayne family is concerned in that burglary, Mr. Callaghan," said Layne. "And the fact that you've told me that it was Miss Vendayne who told you that she had talked to the Major about withdrawing the claim seems to indicate that she was the person. I find it very difficult to believe."
"I expect you do," said Callaghan. "And as for suggesting that some member of the Vendayne family had something to do with this steal, you're entitled to think what you like."
He got up, picked up his hat.
"I'll take it you'll get that letter off to-day," he said. "If I were you I'd write it now and send it round by hand."
Layne said: "I think I will do that, Mr. Callaghan."
"Nice work, Mr. Layne," he said.
He went out.
Callaghan sat in the waiting-room at Scotland Yard thinking about Detective-Inspector Walperton. It was obvious, he thought, that Walperton was going to be a little difficult, and the business of putting him in the waiting-room for a quarter of an hour or so, to cool his heels, was merely part of the process.
He lit a cigarette and began to consider the letter he had found in Gabby's roll-top desk. A very interesting document, thought Callaghan. And not only interesting but practical—about the only practical thing, the only fact that had showed up in the Vendayne case up to the moment.
And Callaghan liked a fact. A fact was a good thing to start working from, and the Ropey Felliner letter was, as he saw it, an extremely illuminating document.
He took the copy of the letter out of his pocket and studied it. He put it back as the door opened and a detective-constable put his head in to say that Mr. Walperton was ready now and would Mr. Callaghan come along.
Callaghan followed the policeman. His face was composed into a picture of beatific innocence. The detective-constable held the door open and Callaghan went in.
Walperton was sitting behind his desk, with the window behind him. The desk was a large one. At the left hand end of it, with his note-book already open and his pencil almost poised, was Detective-Sergeant Gridley, whose reputation for writing shorthand almost more quickly than the English language could be spoken had preceded him so far as Callaghan was concerned.
Walperton was thirty-eight years of age, keen-eyed, round-faced, a thruster. He had heard quite a lot about Callaghan and Callaghan Investigations. He had wondered why it was that Gringall and one or two other of the senior men at the Yard talked about Callaghan with a certain respect. Walperton had no respect for Callaghan. He did not like private detectives. He thought that there was no place in the English legal system for private investigation and he was prepared heartily to dislike any private detective from the word go.
He said: "Good-morning, Callaghan. I understand you've got something to say to me. Before you say it I'd like to make my own position quite clear. In doing so I shall make yours clear too."
Callaghan said nothing. He went over to the wall, picked up a chair that stood there, brought it back, placed it squarely in front of the Detective-Inspector's desk. He sat down, crossed his legs and drew cigarette smoke down into his lungs with obvious pleasure.
He said: "That's what I like to hear. I think there's nothing like having a position made clear. So you get ahead and make it clear, Walperton, and don't waste any time in doing it because I'm very busy." Walperton raised his eyebrows just a little. Gridley, his eyes on his note-book, began to grin.
"All right," said Walperton. "Well, the position is briefly this so far as I'm concerned: I understood from Chief Detective-Inspector Gringall that the Vendayne solicitors had retained you in this case. Well, that's all right. It means you're working for the family..."
"I'm retained by the Insurance Company too," he said. "So I'm working for them as well. It also looks as if I'm working for you."
"I see," said Walperton. "So you're working for the Sphere & International as well. That surprises me a little. Hasn't it struck you that the interests of the two parties might clash?"
"I don't know," said Callaghan. "But I'd like to. Just how could they clash? The Vendayne family want to know where their jewellery is. The Insurance Company want to know too—otherwise they've got to fork out one hundred thousand pounds. So do you. You want to know as well—because that's what you get paid for."
Walperton flushed a little. He said:
"I presume you didn't come here to tell me what I get paid for. I imagine you came here to give me some information."
"You're quite wrong," said Callaghan. His smile was angelic. "I don't intend to do your job for you, Walperton, because I don't get paid for doing your job and I didn't come here to help you do it, which is what you hoped I was going to do."
He blew a large smoke ring.
Gridley said: "Do I make a note of this?"
He looked at Walperton.
Callaghan said: "You ought to know better than that, Gridley. Of course, you don't make a note of it. You can't make a note of part of what I say, unless you make a note of the whole lot. That's sense, isn't it? It's not only sense, it's police regulations—even Mr. Walperton knows that."
Walperton got up. He went over to the window and turned facing Callaghan. He said angrily:
"I know all about you, Callaghan. You've got medals for teaching police officers their business. Well, I'd like to tell you something, and I've already mentioned it to Mr. Gringall. I'd better tell you here and now. It's this: If I have any reason to believe that you are deliberately obstructing me or any other officer in the execution of his duty, I'll..."
"... Apply for a warrant," said Callaghan. "Also under the old Act, you can apply for one if you have reason to believe that I am 'mischievously giving wrongful or false information to an officer.' But you can't use either of those things unless I'm making a statement. So let's fix just what I am doing, shall we?"
He sent a thin stream of tobacco smoke out of one nostril. He went on:
"I'm either just talkin' to you, Walperton—just a little heart-to-heart talk—without any notes being taken of what I say—or else I'm definitely making a statement, in which case we'll get busy on it and we'll take note of everything I say and when they're made I want 'em transcribed right away so that I can see they are what I said, and I'll sign the statement. Well... what are we going to do?"
Walperton turned and looked out of the window. He was cursing himself for a fool. He realised that, up to the moment, he had played into Callaghan's hands by losing his temper. After a moment he turned away from the window, went back to his desk. He said:
"All right, Callaghan, have it your way. This is a heart-to-heart talk."
He produced an icy smile.
Callaghan grinned amiably. That expression of supreme frankness and candour which came over his face when he intended to lie brazenly, appeared in all its glory. He looked almost winsome.
"That's fine, Walperton," he said. "Now... you can believe it or not, but I came here to give you a hand. I know you've had very tough luck with this case. I know you've had nothing at all to work on. Well, I think I've got something for you. It's not much, but it's something..."
Walperton, in spite of himself, began to look interested. He said:
"Well, I'll be glad of any information, Callaghan." He paused for a moment, then: "You're going to tell me that this was an inside job?" he queried.
"No," said Callaghan, "I'm not. In spite of the fact that the Insurance Company probably thinks that there's been some funny business I don't think that it was an inside job."
He stubbed out his cigarette. He was thinking that he would have to have a really good story for Walperton. He began to think it out while he was lighting a fresh cigarette.
When that process was finished he said:
"I thought at first that the case was a bit fishy. I thought—just as you and any other sensible person would think—that everything pointed to someone inside Margraud Manor being concerned in that steal. I thought so until I ran into Ropey Felliner."
Walperton said: "Who the hell's Ropey Felliner?"
"He used to work for Gabby Ventura. You ought to send down for his record. It's a sweeet one. He was doorman at the Backstairs Club for a long time," said Callaghan. "Well, Felliner took a job at a cottage not twenty miles from Margraud. He's working for a fellow called Blaize. I've got my own ideas about Blaize. I think that this Blaize is a very smart piece of work and I think that he could have told you quite a bit about the Vendayne steal."
"Could have?" queried the police officer. "Why 'could have'?"
"Because I don't think you'll pick him up now," said Callaghan. "If you get after that bird—which I think you ought to do—you'll find he's flown."
Walperton made a note on his blotter. "Where do I find this Blaize, Callaghan?" he asked.
He sounded much more friendly.
"You find him at a place called the Yard Arm—a road house between Totnes and Plymouth," Callaghan answered. "He lives in a cottage at the back of the Yard Arm—rather a nice place—with Ropey Felliner as a servant. I should think that if you got a man down there the day after to-morrow—I think he'll be there then—you might get Ropey. I don't think you'll get Blaize. I've had the place watched and it looked as if he was packing up."
Walperton said with a grudging note of admiration in his voice: "You don't waste much time, do you, Callaghan? Is there anything else?"
Callaghan got up.
"Nothing else," he said. "I thought that information would be better than nothing."
"I'm very glad of any information on this damned job," said Walperton.
"And I'm very glad to have been of use," said Callaghan.
He grinned at Walperton, nodded to Gridley, picked up his hat and went out.
Walperton lit a cigarette. He said to Gridley:
"What the hell's Callaghan playing at. D'you think he came in here just to give me that information?"
Gridley shrugged his shoulders.
"I don't know," he answered. "But I know one thing an' that is that Callaghan's too clever to give you information that wasn't O.K. Besides," he went on, "there wouldn't be any harm in somebody going down to this Yard Arm dump and taking a look."
"Perhaps not," said Walperton. "You'd better go down. You'd better go down to-morrow night. Maybe by the day after to-morrow this Ropey bird will be back. See what you can get out of him. You'd better be careful. If he's got a record he might try to be clever, and we've got no charge to make against him."
Gridley said: "I remember Ropey Felliner. He's been in twice on drug charges and once for receiving. He used to be a dope runner for somebody or other."
"Get his record," said Walperton. "Anyhow you won't do any harm by talking to him."
"I don't think I'll do much good," he said. "There's only one way to talk to Ropey and that's with a length of lead piping. Still... there's no harm in trying."
Callaghan went into the Premier Lounge in Albemarle Street, ordered a salad and a double whisky and soda.
While he was eating he was thinking about Walperton and what Walperton would do. Probably, Callaghan thought, the Detective-Inspector would send someone down to Devonshire. But he would not do that for a day or two. Callaghan had already made up his mind that when Walperton's emissary arrived he should find the birds—both the birds—flown.
After which the detective-officer would make inquiries in the neighbourhood. He would discover that there had been a William Blaize and a Ropey Felliner at the Yard Arm cottage. And once this fact was established Walperton would begin to believe the theory that Callaghan intended he should believe—that the Vendayne job was not an inside job but a cleverly conceived outside job pulled by somebody who had been astute enough to get the safe combination by some extraneous method and experienced enough to negotiate an entrance into Margraud without leaving trade marks all over the place.
He ordered another double whisky, drank it, paid his bill, lit a cigarette and went out into the street. He walked down Albemarle Street, went into the telephone box on the corner of Hay Hill and rang through to the Ventura Club. He asked for Mr. Ventura:
After a minute or two Gabby came on the line. Callaghan said:
"Gabby? This is Callaghan. I'm going to do you a good turn. I looked in at Scotland Yard this morning. A D.I. called Walperton had telephoned my office and asked me to. He knew I'd been down to Margraud. Well, this Walperton is a bit of a mug. He talked quite a lot."
Ventura said: "Did he? Well, what did he have to say that would interest me?"
"Just this," he said. "It seems that they've got a line on Ropey Felliner—you know the slugger who used to work for you. Apparently he's been working at some place near Margraud. Walperton has checked on Ropey's record and doesn't like it. I think they might pull him in. I thought perhaps you wouldn't like that?"
There was a pause. Then Ventura said:
"I don't know that I'd mind it."
Callaghan said: "Don't bluff. I'm doing you a good turn. You get through on the telephone to Ropey and tell him to clear out quick before they get down there and start putting him through it. Well... good-bye, Gabby."
He hung up. He stood for a moment outside the call box thinking about the next step. Then he lit a cigarette and began to walk towards the Empire Cable Office in Piccadilly. He spent a few minutes evolving the cable:
TELEGRAPHIC ADDRESS: INVESTIGATE CAPE TOWN.
URGENT RUSH ME INFORMATION WILLIAM BLAIZE PROBABLY USING THAT NAME LAST YEAR CHECK LOCAL RECORDS CHECK MALMESBURY DISTRICT STOP. FIVE FEET ELEVEN INCHES BLUE EYES BLACK CURLY HAIR WELL DEVELOPED SLIGHT SCAR UNDER LEFT EAR MIGHT BE CON MAN CHECK FAMILY HISTORY
REPLY MARGRAUD MANOR GARA DEVONSHIRE MAKE IT SNAPPY GOOD WISHES
He marked the cable "Priority," handed it in, and went back to the office.
IT was just before six o'clock when Callaghan went back to Berkeley Square.
He found on his desk an envelope. Written on it, in Effie Thompson's handwriting, were the words: "Stevens left this."
Callaghan opened the letter and read the report written in the almost unintelligible scrawl that Blooey affected. It said:
Up to the beginning of this year, Lancelot Vendayne was getting around with a young woman called Paula Rochette. Paula is a blonde who lives at Flat 7, 263a Courtfield Gardens. She is a night club artiste and used to work at the Ventura Club. I believe she was introduced to Vendayne by Gabby Ventura the proprietor. Vendayne and Rochette used to get around a lot together until a few months ago. Then it finished. I don't know why. Since then she's tried to get back working at the Ventura but Gabby s not having any. That's all.
Callaghan made a note of Paula Rochette's address on his blotter, tore up the report and threw it into the waste-paper basket. Then he took from his pocket the copy of the letter from Ropey Felliner to Ventura. He read it through carefully, then he got up and went into the outer office. Effie Thompson was putting her machine away. Callaghan took his note case out of his pocket. He extracted five five-pound notes, handed them to Effie. He said:
"Get around to Bond Street as quickly as you can. If you hurry you'll be there before the shops close. I want a piece of jewellery. You can spend all that on it. I want something that looks as if it costs more than twenty-five pounds—something flashy. See?"
She said: "I see. You want something to give to a woman who is not of the class of women you usually give things to."
Callaghan said with a grin: "That sounds all right to me. By the way, what sort of women do I usually give things to?"
She looked at him. Her green eyes were jealous.
She said: "They vary, Mr. Callaghan... don't they? There was Mrs. Thorla Riverton and that other woman in the Riverton case and there was..."
Callaghan said: "Never mind. Just go and get that bauble before the shops close."
After she had gone, Callaghan looked through the telephone directory and found the number of Miss Paula Rochette, who described herself as an actress. He sat down at Effie Thompson's desk and dialled the number. He asked if Miss Rochette was in. When the voice at the other end asked who it was, Callaghan said it didn't matter, that he wanted to speak to Miss Rochette. Two minutes later a rather high-pitched voice came on the telephone. Callaghan said:
"Is that Miss Rochette? Well, my name's Callaghan. You don't know me, but I know you. I've seen you do your show at the Ventura Club in the old days a dozen times. I used to go every night to watch you. I thought you were marvellous."
Miss Rochette said that was very good news, that she was glad when people rang her up and told her that they liked her show. Her voice was curious.
Callaghan went on: "I often wanted to talk to you. In fact I asked Gabby Ventura if he'd introduce us, but for some reason or other he stalled. He didn't want to do it, which was a little bit tough when you come to think of it."
Miss Rochette said that Ventura was an old devil who would queer anybody's pitch. She asked why it was tough—particularly.
Callaghan said: "Well, to tell you the truth, last time I went round there, I think it was the last night you gave a show there—I bought a little present for you, but owing to Gabby's attitude I never had the chance to give it to you. He said he didn't like patrons meeting artistes at the club."
Miss Rochette said that Gabby was a lousy liar, that he did not mind anything of the sort, that he was just trying to queer her pitch.
"Well, it doesn't matter much," said Callaghan. "The point is I'm at a loose end, and I'd still like an opportunity to give you that mark of my appreciation of you as an artiste. I wonder if you'd like to have dinner somewhere to-night."
Miss Rochette gurgled. She said she would like it immensely. She agreed to meet Callaghan at the Jewel Club off Conduit Street at eight o'clock. Callaghan hung up. He was looking quite pleased with life.
Miss Rochette sat opposite Callaghan at a corner table at the Jewel Club. She was dressed in a very tight-fitting black frock and wore a great deal of imitation jewellery. She was of the peroxide blonde type, and Callaghan noticed that her hair was reverting to its original colour at the roots. He hoped she would have it dyed again soon for her own sake.
At the moment she was giving an imitation of a high-class cabaret artiste, carefully sticking out her little finger when she drank and doing all the things which she considered to be the hall-mark of "class."
She said: "I've enjoyed my dinner immensely, Mr. Callaghan. I must say it's a great treat going out with a real gentleman. In my business too many people try to get funny with you."
"I know," he said. "It must be tough. But then you see I've always admired you as an artiste."
She said: "It's nice to hear that. Tell me, which of my numbers did you like best?"
Callaghan said: "Don't ask me a thing like that, because I wasn't so much interested in the numbers as the way you put them over."
He put his hand in his pocket and brought out the jewelled clip that Effie had brought. He slid the case towards her. He said:
"You'd have had this a long time ago except for Gabby Ventura. I could never make out why he wouldn't let me meet you. He'd always got some sort of excuse."
"I don't understand it either," she said. "He used to bring a lot of thugs round to see me. Maybe he had some reason. Anyway, Ventura's an old devil. He'd do anything to crab my pitch. I always think..."
She stopped talking as she opened the case and saw the clip. She squealed with delight.
"It's just too divine," she said. "I've always wanted one of them, you know." She looked at him archly. "Of course, I ought not to take presents from gentlemen..."
Callaghan said solemnly: "That is a gift to an artiste—not a woman."
"I see," said Paula.
She did not sound too pleased.
"It's funny," she went on. "I mighta met you a long time ago if it hadn't been for Gabby. But as I was saying he'd always do anything to queer my pitch."
"Would he?" said Callaghan. He signalled the waiter. "I want you to try a cocktail they serve here. It's a very good one. You'll like it."
He told the waiter to bring two double Bacardi cocktails. Miss Rochette said:
"I ought not to drink a cocktail after whisky." She looked at him archly. "I shall be telling you all about my past life in a minute."
Callaghan thought that that was exactly what he wanted her to do. When she had drunk her cocktail he gave her a cigarette. He said:
"It's a small thing, but I wonder why Ventura got rid of you, Paula. I should have thought you took a lot of custom to the club."
"I did," she said. "My show was always a riot there. Lots of people came to see me. All my boy friends too. I used to have a lot of boy friends in those days," she added with a look that was supposed to be demure.
She took her cigarette out of her mouth and looked at it for a moment. She said:
"I've got an idea why Ventura sacked me. I've always hoped I'd have a chance to get back on him."
Callaghan said: "You never know. You might get a chance. Tell me—I'm curious. Why did he sack you?"
She put her fingers to her hair and pushed a blonde tendril back into place. She said:
"It was over some fellow—a fellow called Lancelot Vendayne. He used the club a lot. Gabby introduced him to me. Gabby told me that he was the sort of fellow who'd give me a good time."
"I see," said Callaghan. "So you and Lancelot were friends, eh?"
"More or less," she answered. "For about eight or nine weeks. According to Gabby I thought this Vendayne bird was going to give me a hell of a time. But don't you believe it. He was the meanest thing I've ever struck."
Callaghan said: "Meanness is a bad thing in a man."
"That's right," said Paula. "He was as mean as a monkey. As for havin' money, I don't think he'd ever had any money."
"I see," said Callaghan. "Tell me something, Paula," he went on. "Did Gabby and this Vendayne bird quarrel over you?" He looked at her. "I don't see why they shouldn't have," he said seriously. "You're the sort of woman that men would quarrel over."
"Well, I s'pose I am in a way," she said. "But it wasn't over me. I don't know very much about it, but there was some share deal on. Vendayne was mixed up in it. I believe he thought he was going to make a fortune in about four weeks. My opinion is," Paula continued, "that Vendayne had got Gabby to put some money into this share business and when it didn't come off he lost his dough, and I think there was a bit of a schmozzle. And I got the sack. Gabby said he couldn't afford to run a floor show at the club any more, and that anyway with this war going nobody wanted to see floor shows. I think he was wrong."
Callaghan said: "I'm sure he was."
He lit a cigarette. Paula took out her compact and began to powder her nose and to touch up her too-scarlet mouth. Callaghan watched her. He was rather pleased with Paula. She had given him another piece of the jig-saw puzzle to fit into its place.
And she was an odd sort of person. Paula was definitely not the sort of women that a man like Lancelot Vendayne would go for. She was not his type. Lancelot, who liked—at least—the outward appearance of success, would certainly not get around with a woman who was obviously not off the top shelf, who didn't know how to dress, who didn't know how to behave and who wore the cheapest sort of perfume.
He began to think about Audrey Vendayne, who had, for a period, played with the idea of becoming engaged to Lancelot and then had not liked it after all.
Lancelot, thought Callaghan, would probably have started with Paula after Audrey had given him the air. But why?
He thought he probably knew the answer to that one. There was an old-fashioned idea about Gabby Ventura—one not unassociated with night club proprietors—which was that whoever was starring as an artiste in his club, was also pro tem, his mistress. Callaghan thought that it would be quite on the cards that Lancelot had gone out to make Paula, merely because, having been associated with Gabby, she might be able to give him some information he required.
And it was just as much on the cards that Gabby was quite prepared to allow such a situation to exist while it suited his book.
Then, when Lancelot's "deal" failed to materialise; when, owing to something or somebody, he was short of money, the first thing he did was to get rid of Paula, and Gabby, true to type, having finished with her as a means of inside information about Lancelot, promptly dismissed her from her job at the club.
And Lancelot thought that Gabby was a crook and Gabby thought that Lancelot was "clever" and a "bastard." And yet, in spite of their obvious dislike for each other, Lancelot was not disinclined to borrow three hundred pounds from Gabby to lend to Audrey, and Gabby was not disinclined to lend it.
A very pretty set-up.
Callaghan said: "Paula... there's something about you that gets me. I think you're swell. What would you like to do?"
She smiled. The Bacardi cocktail after whisky was beginning to affect her outlook. Life, in spite of the war, and this and that, appeared almost rosy.
"I think you're pretty good, too," she said. "Well... I'd like to go along to the Minnelola Club an' have a drink. An' then I'd like to go along to the Blue Pennant an' have another little drink an' then..."
"And then," interrupted Callaghan, "we'll go along to Gabby Ventura's place and show him that Paula Rochette isn't such a back number as he thinks she is."
"That's a hell of an idea," she said. "I like it. Let's do that."
Callaghan signalled the waiter for the bill. He thought the evening was going to be interesting. He said:
"I've got to make a telephone call. I'll be back in a minute."
He went into the call box in the corner. He rang Grant's Hotel. He asked if Mr. Vendayne was in. The clerk said he was.
"All right," said Callaghan. "Well... I don't want to talk to him. Just give him a message, will you? Say that Mr. Callaghan will be at the Ventura Club at twelve-thirty, and he'd like to have a word with Mr. Vendayne before he goes back to Devonshire."
Paula leaned back in the corner of the cab and squeezed Callaghan's arm. She said:
"I think this is a marvelous idea—you an' me goin' to Gabby's place an' lettin' him see that little Paula is still gettin' around with the right sort of people."
She smothered a hiccough with difficulty.
Callaghan said: "I think that too."
But he was not thinking that. He was thinking that it would be amusing to watch the reactions of Gabby Ventura and Lancelot Vendayne when they saw Paula with him.
If the association between Vendayne and Paula had been merely what it appeared to be then there was no reason why either Gabby or Lancelot should be unduly interested in the fact that Callaghan was amusing himself by taking around a rather passé night-club turn.
But if, on the other hand, Gabby had put Paula in to keep an eye on Lancelot, and Lancelot had given the lady the air immediately he had realised what Gabby's scheme was—if this were so, then both of them would be very interested in the Callaghan-Paula association.
The cab stopped outside the Ventura Club. Callaghan helped Paula out. She was happy. A small bottle of champagne at the Minnelola Club, followed by another small bottle at the Blue Pennant, had put the seal on an ideal evening. And then there was the brooch that Callaghan had given her. Life, thought Paula, was not so bad after all, and even if she was experiencing a little difficulty in enunciating the rather long and "classy" words that she had been using during the latter part of the evening, she was well aware of the fact that she was a perfect lady with everything that being a perfect lady implied.
They went into the club. When they were seated at the table in the corner and another bottle of champagne was ordered, Callaghan saw Gabby standing by the bar. Gabby was looking towards them. His attitude was, as usual, relaxed, but there was a certain stiffness about the stock smile round his plump lips. He came over to them.
"Hallo, Slim," he said cheerfully. "An' hallo, Paula. It's nice to see you around again. How's tricks?"
Paula tossed her head.
"Tricks," she said brightly, "is all right, although why you should condescend to worry about the state of my relatively unimportant existence is more than I can say, Mr. Ventura."
She bestowed a glance on Gabby that was intended to be cynical, proud and indifferent.
Callaghan said: "Why don't you sit down and have a drink, Gabby?"
Ventura sat down. He produced a gold cigarette-case and lit a cigarette. He said:
"It was nice of you to trouble to call through to me about Ropey, Slim, but you needn't have bothered. Anyway, I didn't know what you was takin' about."
"That's fine," said Callaghan. "If you didn't know what I was talking about, then I was wasting my time. But I don't think I was. I bet you got through to Ropey on the telephone or wired him."
He grinned at Ventura.
Paula, who had drunk half a glass of champagne, said acidly:
"Mr. Ventura, you're no gentleman. I've been wanting to tell you that for a long time."
Ventura looked at her. Then he said to Callaghan:
"I don't know what the idea is, Slim—you chasin' around with this floosie, I mean. But I flung her out of this club once an' if she don't keep her ugly mouth shut up I'm personally going to throw her out on her ear. She makes me sick."
Paula stood up.
"Oh, my God!" she said. "So I've got to be insulted, have I? Mr. Callaghan, if you're the man I take you for, if you've got one instink of a gentleman, you're goin' to smack that fat slob's lousy ears right off. The dirty..."
"Sit down, Paula," said Callaghan. "You're first-class provided you don't try to talk, and you'll find that sitting down is much easier than standing up."
Paula began to cry. He patted her hand.
Ventura said softly: "Look, Slim. You know me. I'm all right. I never start anythin'. You an' me have always got along. You've used this club for a long time, an' I've always treated you right, haven't I? But don't start anythin', Slim. I'd hate to get sort of annoyed with you."
"You don't say," said Callaghan. "All right, Gabby. Any time you want to get annoyed just start right in. I'll chance what happens."
He was smiling amiably.
Ventura got up. He said:
"O.K. Slim. I reckon that you an' me know just where we are."
"You may know where you are, Gabby," said Callaghan. "But I don't." His smile was more amiable than ever. "But I'm going to find out before I'm through."
He stubbed out his cigarette. Ventura got up.
"I'll be seein' you," he said. "And don't let that cheap skirt start anythin' around this club, otherwise I'm going to have her pinched."
Callaghan said: "She wouldn't worry. Maybe she likes being pinched. So long, Gabby."
He watched Ventura as he walked back to the bar, and thence to the pass door at the end of the club that led to the stairway to the flat above.
As Gabby disappeared Lancelot Vendayne came through the entrance curtains. He stood, looking around the dance floor. Eventually he saw Callaghan and Paula. Callaghan thought that Lancelot was looking rather unhappy, rather strained.
He said: "Paula, I've had a very nice evening and so have you. And even if you have a headache to-morrow, you'll still have that brooch."
"Oh, yes?" said Paula. "What're you tryin' to tell me? I s'pose you think the time has come when I ought to do a disappearing act." She snivelled a little. "I don't understand you," she concluded.
Callaghan got up.
"Come on, honey," he said. "I'm going to get you a cab and send you home. One of these fine days you and I will meet again and have another little drink together."
He put his hand under her arm.
She said: "It's bloody awful, that's what it is. Any time I meet a man who I think is a real gentleman he walks out on me. I don't understand it. I give up."
She arranged her features into what was intended to be a picture of distressed hauteur—a picture which, having regard to the fact that her eyeblack was running down her well peach-bloomed cheeks, was not entirely successful. But she went quietly.
When Callaghan came back Lancelot was standing at the bar. He said:
"I didn't know you knew Paula. Paula can be amusing sometimes when she's quite sober."
"You'd be surprised at the things and people that I know, Vendayne," he said. "Let's have a drink."
He ordered double whiskies and sodas.
Vendayne said: "Shall we sit down? I want to talk to you."
They went over to a table. Callaghan drank his whisky and soda. He said:
"I thought you and I might have a little talk before I go back to Devonshire. I'm going early to-morrow morning."
Vendayne said: "And what the hell d'you propose to do when you get there? Tell me that."
Callaghan said: "I don't know. That's half the fun of being a detective. You never quite know what you're going to do."
Lancelot drank some whisky.
"That's damned nice for the people who are paying the detective," he said caustically. "I expect the fact that he never quite knows what he's going to do amuses them immensely."
"Possibly," said Callaghan. His voice was insolent. "But why should you worry? You're not paying me."
"Which is lucky for me," he said. "If I was paying you I should want some results for my money. As it is"—the sneer became more apparent—"it's quite obvious that you are working for the people who are paying you."
"That shows how honest I am—don't you think?" he asked.
Vendayne put down his glass. He fumbled with his cigarette-case. Callaghan could see that his hands were trembling. He said:
"I've heard about you, Callaghan. You're supposed to be damned clever. Let me give you a word of advice. Don't be too damned clever where I'm concerned. There might be a come-back."
Callaghan blew a smoke ring. He blew it with great artistry right into Lancelot's face.
"There is, of course, always the possibility of a come-back," he said. "But I doubt its efficacy if a rather weak-kneed sonofabitch like you was behind it." He smiled at Lancelot.
Vendayne said: "I see. So that's how it is." He controlled his rising temper with difficulty. "I wonder why you think you can talk to me like that?" he asked.
"I don't know," said Callaghan. "I get that way sometimes. It must be the weather or the war or something. Don't you like it?"
His blue eyes, very cynical, very hard, watched the other.
"I don't like it," said Vendayne. "And what's more I'm not going to stand for it. I..."
Callaghan said: "You tell me something." He leaned across the table. "Just how are you going to stop it?" he asked.
Vendayne said: "It might be easier than you think. You might be working very hard for the people who are paying you. You might even be assisting in something that could put even the clever Mr. Callaghan in a tough spot."
"Dear... dear..." said Callaghan. "Now I believe you're getting tough. But you've a lot to learn, Lancelot. You ought to take some lessons in bluffing. You're not good at it."
Vendayne's face was white with rage.
"Possibly you'll find out that I'm not bluffing," he said. "Perhaps sooner than you expect. People like you are too prone to think that people like me must be fools."
"I don't think you're a fool," said Callaghan. "I know you're a fool. If you weren't you wouldn't be sitting there trying to bluff me. Trying to teach your grandmother how to suck eggs."
Vendayne leaned across the table.
"Really," he sneered. "Well, let me tell you something. I began to suspect that you were up to something when you advised me that the claim against the Insurance Company ought to be withdrawn. Why did you do that? You know damned well that I created the situation in which you were brought into this case, and I created it because I wanted the screw put on the Insurance Company. I wanted to know why they wouldn't pay. Your job was to find that out. Instead of which you are the person who wants the claim withdrawn. Any one might easily think..."
Callaghan said quietly: "What might any one easily think?"
Vendayne sat back in his chair. The expression on his face was not amiable. He said:
"They might easily think that the people who ought to have been most keen on the Insurance Company paying aren't too keen. And the reason for their being not too keen was that they might know something about that burglary. And because they were scared when I had you put in they've got you on their side. You're working for them because you're as crooked as they are..."
Callaghan said smoothly: "I don't wonder Audrey wasn't keen on you. I don't wonder she gave you the air... you cheap sissy..."
Vendayne flushed. His face was the colour of beet-root. He muttered:
"All right, Mr. Callaghan. If you wait long enough you'll see who wins. And I don't think you'll have to wait long."
Callaghan lit a fresh cigarette.
"I've told you that you're bluffing," he said. "And you haven't said or done anything to show me that I'm wrong. So I still think you're bluffing. See... ?"
Vendayne fumbled in the inside pocket of his jacket. He brought out an envelope. He flung it on the table.
"So I'm bluffing, am I?" he said. "Well, read that, Mr. Know-all!"
Callaghan looked at the envelope. It was addressed, typewritten, to Lancelot Vendayne at Grant's Hotel. The postmark was Exeter.
He opened the envelope. Inside was a sheet of quarto notepaper. He read the typewritten note:
To Lancelot Vendayne Esq.
I thought that I was the only sucker in this job. I'm glad you've joined me.
Even if the Vendayne jewels hadn't been pinched they'd have done you a bundle of good if and when you got 'em after the old boy passed out. I should think the whole goddam lot was worth about forty pounds. Why don't you get wise to yourself? Love to Mister Callaghan.
With best wishes
From one Mug to Another."
Callaghan read the note through twice. He put it in the envelope and handed it back to Lancelot. He said:
"Very interesting. D'you know what I'd do if I were you?"
Vendayne did not answer.
Callaghan continued: "If I were you I'd take that down to Detective-Inspector Walperton at Scotland Yard. That's what I'd do. But you won't."
Vendayne looked at him.
"No?" he said. "And why not?"
"Because you haven't got the nerve," said Callaghan. "Because you might start something that you can't finish. And lastly because if you did I'm going to make life so tough for you that you'll wish you'd never seen me. Understand?"
"I understand," said Vendayne. "And I'm telling you to go to hell. I'll teach you to call me a sissy before I'm through with you Callaghan."
Callaghan said: "I oughtn't to have called you a sissy. You're not good-looking enough. You're just a plain cheap sonofabitch and you make me sick."
Vendayne jumped to his feet. Callaghan put out his hand and pushed. Vendayne fell backwards over his chair.
Callaghan said: "You run off and get somebody to give you a bromide. You ought not to be out at this time of night without your nurse."
After he had finished brushing his clothes Lancelot Vendayne went back to the bar and ordered a large whisky and soda. He felt he needed it. When he had drunk it he asked the plump blonde behind the bar where Mr. Ventura was. She said he was up in his flat, that she would ring through.
She rang through. She did not get an immediate answer because Gabby was busy sending a wire over the telephone. It was addressed to Ropey Felliner and it consisted of three words:
GET OUT QUICK."
CALLAGHAN drove the Jaguar slowly into the garage at Margraud. He got out of the car, lit a cigarette, walked out of the garage, round the east side of the house and stood, at the end of the top terrace, looking out towards the sea.
It was just after six o'clock. The late afternoon sun, still brilliant, gilded the Margraud terraces, turned into sheets of golden velvet the lawns below the terrace steps. Callaghan thought it was a lovely afternoon and an exquisite setting for something—he was not quite sure what. He ruminated that dramatic situations were sometimes the better for a suitable decor, decided that the scenery was all right and that only the drama was, at the moment, lacking.
He walked slowly back to the entrance. Stevens was standing in the cool, shadowy hall. He said:
"I'm glad to see you back, Mr. Callaghan. I hope you aren't too tired. Would you like something?"
"You can send a bottle of whisky up to my room, Stevens," said Callaghan. "And where's Mr. Nikolls?"
The butler said he thought that Mr. Nikolls was at Slapton Sands fishing. Callaghan, on his way up the stairs, wondered what Windy was fishing for.
When, half an hour later, Nikolls knocked and put his head round the door, Callaghan was lying on the bed, naked except for a pair of lemon silk shorts, drinking neat whisky, looking at the ceiling.
He said: "How was the fishing, Windy?"
Nikolls grinned. "Not so hot," he said. "I didn't even catch a cold."
Callaghan picked up the bottle of whisky from his bedside table and inserted the cork. He threw the bottle to Nikolls, who caught it expertly, then got a chair and Callaghan's tooth glass, sat down and poured himself a drink.
Callaghan asked: "What's new, Windy?"
"Nothin's new," said Nikolls. "Clarissa has been goddam mysterious, snoopin' about the place like she was chief agent to the Gestapo or somethin'. Audrey has just been around lookin' as if life had declared a blitzkrieg on her just for nothin' at all, an' as for Esme..."
Callaghan interrupted: "What's the matter with Esme?"
"Search me," said Nikolls. "That dame is either as dumb as they come or else she's up to somethin'. She's worried sick. I tried that stuff on her like you said, tryin' to get her to fall for the idea that I didn't like you a bit an' that she could rely on little Windy till the cows came home, but she just wasn't buyin' it. She looked at me as if I was somethin' the cat brought in an' scrammed. It's my considered opinion that she don't like me, an' she don't like you and she don't like anybody. I don't believe that baby even likes herself."
Callaghan said: "That's all right. I don't see why she should like herself either."
He caught the bottle and drank some more whisky.
Nikolls said: "I'm glad to have you back with us, Slim. It's been sorta lonely down here just hangin' around."
"Well, it won't be lonely any more," said Callaghan. "I think something's going to happen any minute."
"That'll be nice," said Nikolls. "I'd like something to happen. I've never been on such a screwy case in my life. I suppose you wouldn't have an idea..."
"I've got plenty of ideas," said Callaghan, "but the main thing is, I think I've started a little trouble."
"Swell," said Nikolls. "Anythin' is better than nothin' an' there's nothin' like a spot of trouble to make people start talkin'. I remember a dame I knew in Wisconsin..."
"So do I," said Callaghan. "I've been remembering her ever since the first time you told me about her. She was the one with the legs, wasn't she?"
"Correct," said Nikolls. "They was her one redeemin' feature. She got through life on them an' a cast iron nerve..."
He sighed at the recollection.
Callaghan blew a smoke ring. He began:
"I went down and saw Walperton at the Yard yesterday. He doesn't like private detectives. I sold him a pup."
"You don't say," said Nikolls. "Maybe he won't like that."
"He won't like it if he finds out," said Callaghan, "but I don't see why he should find out. I told him Ropey Felliner was living over at that cottage at the Yard Arm. I told him about Blaize and suggested that Blaize had a record. I believe Blaize has either cleared out or is just about to clear out, and Ropey Felliner will be clearing out too. I told Gabby Ventura to give him the tip. Gabby pretended that he knew nothing about Ropey, but I bet he got through and told him to get out of here quick."
"I get it," said Nikolls. "Walperton either comes bustin' around here himself or sends somebody down. He finds Ropey an' Blaize are gone. He checks on Ropey's record and finds it as long as a bride's night-dress, after which he comes to the conclusion that Blaize has gotta record too—even if the cops don't know it. He then begins to believe that the Margraud burglary was an outside job pulled by Blaize and or Ropey and or pals of theirs."
He put his glass down suddenly and leaned forward in his chair.
"Hey, Slim," he said, "what's the big idea? What are you selling that boy that phoney stuff for?"
"What do you mean?" he said.
Nikolls shrugged his shoulders.
"If ever there was an inside job, this is it," he said. "And how could Ropey have had anything to do with it? He's only been down here a few days."
"Quite," said Callaghan. "But Walperton's not to know that."
He blew another smoke ring at the ceiling.
"Windy," he said, "when I came in on this job I thought I was working for Lancelot Vendayne and the Vendayne family. Well, I think I'm working for the Vendayne family now and not Lancelot."
"You don't say," said Nikolls. "What you mean is, you're working for that dame Audrey." He laughed. "I don't blame you either," he said, "I could go for that baby myself. But it wouldn't be so good if Clarissa found out. She thinks you're for her."
Callaghan said: "Don't concern yourself with Audrey, Windy. Just get that great brain of yours concentrated on this case. I think I'm beginning to see daylight."
"Yeah?" said Windy. "Well, you've got something on me. This case looks to me as clear as a bottle of ink."
Callaghan said: "We know that Gabby sent Ropey down here to keep an eye on Blaize. Well, you know as much about Gabby as I do. He's a tough egg. If Gabby had known Blaize—known he was a crook—if he'd ever met him before, he wouldn't have sent Ropey down. He'd have come down himself and had a show-down. But he didn't know anything about Blaize, so he sent Ropey down to keep an eye on him, taking advantage of an advertisement that Blaize had put in the newspaper."
"I got that," said Nikolls.
"All right," said Callaghan. "Now, when does Gabby send Ropey down here? He sends him down here after the burglary has been committed—not before. So it is only after the burglary had been committed that Gabby is interested in Blaize. Now can you see some daylight?"
"Not particularly," said Nikolls. "Listen, are you trying to tell me it was Blaize pinched this stuff?"
"Why shouldn't he?" asked Callaghan. "It's a free country, isn't it? Anyway, that's my story."
"Blaize won't be here to deny it," said Nikolls. "Well, you think what you like, Slim, but my guess is still Audrey."
Callaghan said: "Windy, there are moments when you're positively thick. Take a look at Audrey Vendayne, and ask yourself whether you really believe that that woman could be mixed up in a burglary."
Nikolls raised his eyebrows.
"Sarsaparilla!" he said. "Listen, Slim, experience has taught me that any goddam woman can be mixed up in any goddam business no matter how bad it is. Ain't that what women were made for? Look," he said, "you never knew any trouble in this world that some dame wasn't at the bottom of, and the sweller the dame the worse the trouble is. So why not Audrey?"
Callaghan said: "She just isn't the type, Windy."
"I see," said Nikolls. "So she's just not the type! But she's done one or two things that're pretty suspicious looking to my mind."
"I agree with you," said Callaghan. "But that isn't the point. Audrey's attitude may be suspicious; she may have done some things that are suspicious, but that doesn't mean to say she knew anything about the burglary."
"All right," said Nikolls. "What does she want to give you £300 to stay out of this case for? I suppose that was honest."
Callaghan said: "Windy, you answer your own question. Why should she give me £300 to stay out of this case? What's the logical answer to that question?"
Nikolls said: "The logical answer to that question is that she didn't want the case investigated because she'd had something to do with it. She was scared."
"That's all right," said Callaghan, "but that doesn't mean that she had anything to do with it."
Nikolls pursed his lips and whistled.
"I see," he said. "I'm beginning to get it. You think she's scared for somebody else?"
"That's right," said Callaghan. "If you use such brains as you've got, Windy, it wouldn't take you very long to work out who that somebody is."
Nikolls refilled the tooth glass with whisky. He took a long drink.
"I think this is a nice case," he said. "Something happens every minute, but nobody gets pinched except maybe Ropey, and that wouldn't hurt anybody."
Callaghan said: "Go over to the wardrobe and feel in the breast pocket of my coat. You'll find a copy letter. It's a copy of a letter that Ropey Felliner wrote to Gabby. I found the original in Gabby's desk... Well, read it."
Nikolls read it. "Nice work," he said.
"All right," said Callaghan. "Well, take the operative points in that letter. Ropey says Blaize is telling somebody that the deal was phoney. Mark the word 'deal.' So there's been a deal with somebody, and that has to be between Blaize and somebody else, because Blaize is the person who's complaining, and the other person—whoever it is—has given Blaize a raw deal—has twisted him. That could be the only explanation of Blaize saying that the deal had been phoney.
"Now look at the other operative words in that note. Blaize says he's going to keep the other party tied up properly, that there was going to be a show-down pretty soon. What does Blaize mean when he says he's going to keep the other party tied up? Well, it must mean that he's got some sort of hold or lever on the other party and he's going to use it. Probably that's what the show-down is going to be. Ropey says that that show-down is going to take place pretty quickly because Blaize is only going to be down here for a couple of days—that was two days ago."
"I see," said Nikolls. "So you're expecting some fireworks?"
Callaghan lit a fresh cigarette.
"Correct," he said.
He got off the bed, walked over to the wardrobe and began to dress. He asked:
Nikolls said: "She's around somewhere. She was in early this afternoon. She's been sticking around pretty close the last day or two."
"You don't know where Clarissa is at the moment?" queried Callaghan.
"I believe she's in her room," said Nikolls. "I told you I thought that baby was practising to join the Ogpu, didn't I?"
"I know," he said. "But in this case we're the Ogpu. She is working for us."
Nikolls got up.
"I'm glad somebody's working for us. Maybe before we're through with this bezusus we'll need it. I'll be around if you want me."
Callaghan walked down the stone steps that led from the lower terrace on to the lawn. At the bottom he took the left-hand pathway, walked parallel with the terrace, turned right at the end. At the end of the path where the wall that surrounded that side of Margraud separated the lawn from the fields outside was a summer-house. Callaghan walked down and stood leaning up against the wall of the summer-house looking out towards the sea, smoking. He stood there for three or four minutes; then he heard the sound of light footsteps on the path behind him. He did not move. Somebody said in a cold voice:
Callaghan turned. He was smiling. He took the cigarette out of his mouth. He said:
"Good-evening, Miss Vendayne."
She was as white as death and her hands were trembling. Callaghan realised that she was fighting a first-class rage. He said:
"It looks as if you're angry with me about something. I seem to be thoroughly unpopular with you. I wonder why?"
"You have the impertinence to wonder why, Mr. Callaghan?" she said. "Anyhow, I don't want to discuss that with you, but I'd be glad if you would do something for me, and it's the last favour I'll ever ask. I'd be glad if you'd pack your bags and get out. There's nothing you can do down here. There's no need for you to stay."
"That's where you're wrong," said Callaghan. "There is an awful lot for me to do down here, and I've got an idea I'm going to stay down here and do it. But why the sudden anger?"
She said: "I've just been talking to my cousin Lancelot on the telephone. It seems he's been making one or two inquiries about you in London, Mr. Callaghan. It seems that whilst you are purporting to be working for Mr. Vendayne and us, in reality you are working for the Insurance Company."
Callaghan put the cigarette back in his mouth and inhaled. He said coolly.
"Let's go into the summer-house. I want to talk to you. You're beginning to make me feel bored."
She looked at him in surprise for a second, then she moved into the summer-house. Callaghan went in after her. He pointed to the rustic bench on one side. He said. "Just sit down there and listen to me, because, as I told you just now, you're beginning to make me feel very bored."
She opened her mouth to speak. He put up his hand. She shrugged her shoulders. Callaghan went on:
"During my experience as a private detective, I have met a lot of fool women, but you take the prize. One moment I look at you and think you're clever and the next moment you say something that gives me the idea that you are solid lead above the ears. Now listen... you have just accused me of working for Lancelot Vendayne, this family and the Insurance Company itself. Well, why shouldn't I? If this business is straight, then all those people want the same thing—the recovery of the Vendayne jewellery. Why shouldn't I work for the Insurance Company, if the Vendayne family and Lancelot Vendayne are straight?"
She said: "How could Lancelot be anything else but straight? He stands to lose a great deal——"
Callaghan said: "I don't think Lancelot Vendayne is straight. Maybe that surprises you." He grinned. "Possibly you didn't think he was straight either."
She said: "What do you mean by that?"
"Why did you throw him over?" said Callaghan. "You two were going to be engaged one time. Then you gave him the air. You're a wise girl. I think Lancelot's too clever for you."
He saw that she was fighting to control her temper. He wondered just how much that temper was due to anger and just how much to fear. Either way he proposed to take advantage of the situation.
She said: "I don't think it matters whether I'm a wise girl, whether Lancelot has been too clever for me, or anything else. All that has nothing to do with you."
"It's got a lot to do with me," said Callaghan with an amiable grin, "as you'll see before long. The trouble with you is that you get scared. You start something and you can't finish it. You go rushing around the place being impulsive, doing things before you think. You're stupid. If you hadn't been stupid you'd have taken the trouble to find out something about me before you tried to bribe me to keep out of this case. If you had you might have discovered that I can't be bought anytime..." He paused. "Not for money, anyhow..."
"I see," she said. Her voice held all the sarcasm she could put into it. "I see. So the great, the clever Mr. Callaghan has a price after all—even if it isn't money. Well, what is it?"
Callaghan grinned at her. His grin was pleasant and cool and quite kindly. He looked at her for a long time.
"You can have two guesses," he said.
She flushed. She began to speak, then stopped herself. After a moment she said:
"I prefer not to understand you."
"That's all right," said Callaghan. "You and I understand each other very well. You think I'm a double-crossing detective who's been grafted by the Insurance Company to snoop out the truth down here, and I think you're a fool woman who could be intelligent if she wanted to, but who is stuck so full of high-falutin' nonsense that, at this moment, you don't know which way you're pointing. Now if you had any sense..."
She interrupted. She said coolly:
"This might be interesting. I should like to know exactly what I should do if I had any sense."
"I'll tell you," said Callaghan.
He leaned up against the wall of the summer-house beside the door, looking down on her. He looked pleasantly impersonal.
"If you had any sense," he went on, "you'd realise a lot of things. First of all you'd realise that if I was working for the Insurance Company to the exclusion of the Vendayne interests I'd have already told 'em that you tried to bribe me to keep out of this case. That fact alone would have sewn the Vendayne family up as far as ever getting any money out of the Insurance people was concerned. Secondly, you'd see that after I got down here and you thought I'd double-crossed you over that three hundred you went into a huddle with your father and the pair of you decided to tell me you were going to postpone the claim. I put a stop to that idea. But if you use such brains as you've got you'll realise I did that for the Vendaynes. You'll see why in a minute. The next thing is that the Major has a heart attack. I don't blame him. The probability is that he had the heart attack after you told him what was worrying you, and then I imagine he told you what was worrying him. I wonder you didn't have a heart attack too!"
He produced his cigarette-case and lit a cigarette. He was watching her. Her eyes were on his and they were interested.
"I'm not doing so badly, am I?" said Callaghan.
He inhaled cigarette smoke and allowed it to trickle out of one nostril.
"The point is," he went on, "when I'm working on a case I like to work on it and I like to work for somebody. I don't just kick around trying to scrape off odd bits of money. I've discovered that you make much more the other way. In this particular case I don't think that there's a lot of money to be made but I've got other interests..."
She said: "Really. May I know what they are?"
"Certainly," answered Callaghan. "I'll tell you. You're my main interest. I like your type of woman. I like the way you dress and walk and behave generally. Even if you do go off the rails sometimes and do silly things I still think I like you... quite a lot."
She said: "I think you are the most impertinent person I've ever met. Your insolence is amazing. I suppose you consider I ought to be flattered when you say you 'like' me. Well... I don't like you!"
"The joke is you do," said Callaghan. He was still smiling. "You like me quite a lot and because you do you take an awful lot of trouble to make yourself believe that you don't. That's why you lose your temper so easily."
She said: "I don't see why we should discuss the psychological angles of my character."
"All right," said Callaghan. "We won't. We won't discuss the psychological angles of your character. We won't even discuss the psychological angles of Esme's character or any of the other interesting things about this family. What we will discuss is what's going to happen and what you're going to do. And when I say what you're going to do I mean it. You're going to do what I say and like it. Understand?"
She got up. For a moment Callaghan thought she was going to strike him. She said in a low voice: "Don't you dare talk to me like that. I..."
He said: "You'd be surprised if I told you what I'd dare to do. But I meant what I said just now. There's going to be a show-down here at Margraud pretty soon and I want it to be played my way. That's the only way that's going to do you any good. Otherwise there's a damned good chance of Detective-Inspector Walperton—a most keen, efficient and busy young police officer—coming down here and finding out one or two things that are better left where they are. You're between the devil and the deep sea and even if you think I'm the devil you'll find I'm more accommodating than the deep sea."
She put her hand out against the wall of the summer-house to steady herself. Her face was very white. She said:
Callaghan threw his cigarette end away.
"I've been up to London," he said. "I've done one or two things I wanted to do, found out one or two things. The main thing is:
"I've seen Layne, your father's solicitor. I've persuaded him to write to the Insurance Company and withdraw the claim. The Insurance Company are not going to be at all suspicious about that, first of all because I'm supposed to be working for them, and secondly because we've led 'em to believe that we're withdrawing the claim because I've an idea that I know where that jewellery is. That fixes the Company. All they want is not to have to pay that claim, and if they don't have to pay the claim their interest in who's done what and why promptly ceases. Understand?"
She said: "I understand."
She took her hand away from the wall and went back to the seat. She sat down. All the while she kept her eyes on Callaghan's face.
"The next thing is Lancelot," he went on. "Lancelot is going to make all the trouble he can. He's started in already by trying to get you up against me. Remember that Lancelot was the one who wanted this business investigated and the screw put on the Insurance people. I'll bet he's been down to see them and they've said their piece and he doesn't like it—especially as he has decided not to like me."
She said: "Is there any way of stopping Lancelot making trouble—as you call it?"
Callaghan said: "I'll find a way to do that."
She looked at the floor.
"I see," she said very quietly.
Callaghan said: "I've got to find ways to stop a lot of things happening. But with luck I might even manage that too..."
She got up.
"We shall be late for dinner," she said.
She moved over to the doorway, stood there, looking along the path. She turned suddenly.
"It would be funny," she said in a peculiar, strained voice, "if you really were a friend, if you weren't such a..." her voice trailed off.
"Stranger things have happened," he said. "Anyhow, stop worrying. Worry killed the cat and in any event it's illogical. It never stops things happening and it never helps. Don't worry and don't do anything. I think it's time you began to take things easy for a bit. At the moment there's only one thing—or possibly two things—for you to do."
She turned towards him, away from the doorway.
"What things?" she asked.
"First of all, relax," said Callaghan. "You're almost at breaking point now. Secondly, when you've got time to get to it just ask yourself if it isn't possible—having regard to what I've told you—that instead of being your most bitter enemy I might even be almost a friend—shall we say a sheep in wolf's clothing."
He smiled at her. She noticed, once again, the whiteness of his teeth and the firm angle of his jaw. Suddenly, and for no reason that she knew, she began to sob. She stepped back into the summer-house, her head in her hands.
Callaghan said: "Come here, Audrey. Stop crying. Take your hands away from your face and don't be a little fool."
She did as she was told. She said:
"Well... what do you want... ?"
Callaghan put his hand under her chin and lifted it. He kissed her on the mouth.
He said: "You'd better sit down and arrange your face and your mind. They both need it. I've got one or two things to do. I'll be seeing you."
She said: "Very well..."
She produced an infinitesimal handkerchief from her tweed jacket pocket and dabbed at her eyes.
She said vaguely: "I wonder why I did that... or rather why I let you do that."
"You didn't do it," he said. "I did. But next time I hope you'll be the originator of the idea."
He walked over to the doorway and lit a cigarette. He said, smiling:
"I told you I had my price. You realise now that I'm a most expensive person."
He walked along the pathway towards the house.
When he was out of sight she sat down on the bench and concentrated on being normal.
The process took five minutes. When she had achieved it successfully she decided to cry some more.
CALLAGHAN came out of the side entrance, walked down the terrace and turned right towards the putting green. He thought Nikolls would be there. He was right. That one, struggling with the intricacies of an eight-foot putt, kept his eye on the ball, hit it smartly and with determination and watched it as it travelled towards the hole. He said, as he put the putter under his arm:
"Maybe you think I'm goin' nutty, but this game's got me bad. One of these fine days when I come into some money or somethin' I'm goin' to give up bein' a detective. I'm goin' to be a golf pro."
Callaghan said: "I don't see any difference so far as you are concerned."
"Think of it," said Nikolls. "Out in the open all day knockin' a little white ball about, teachin' beautiful dames how to swing."
Callaghan grinned. He said:
"You're not having such a bad time on this case."
"Correct," said Nikolls. "At the same time all good things come to an end."
He bent down and picked the golf ball out of the hole. He said:
"By the way, Clarissa was talkin' to me just after dinner—I just remembered. She asked me for a good name to call a really bad guy. Well, I didn't like to tell her anything sorta strong. I told her 'sonofabitch' was best, that is unless she wanted to call the guy a 'heel.' I got an idea she liked 'heel' best."
Callaghan said: "Where is she?"
"I think she's gone to her room," said Nikolls. "Either that or else she's the one who's playin' the piano in the drawin'-room. You can hear it—but maybe that's Audrey."
He put the putter under his other arm and felt in his jacket pocket for a cigarette. After he'd lit it, he said:
"Where do we go from here, Slim? Do we know?"
Callaghan said: "I don't think we'll have to wait very long now. I think a very nice little situation is blowing up. Stay around, Windy. Don't go on any more of those fishing trips until I say so."
"That's O.K. by me," said Nikolls. "I'm dyin' to get to work. I've almost forgotten how to be a detective."
Callaghan said: "I don't think you ever remembered."
He walked away towards the house. As he neared the side entrance, Stevens came out. He said:
"Here's a cable, sir. It's just arrived. I think it has been at Kingsbridge a couple of hours. They had difficulty in finding a boy to bring it over."
Callaghan nodded. He took the cable, opened it, read it. It was from Harvey Soames in Cape Town. Callaghan began to grin. He was half joyful, half satanic. He went into the house, put his head round the door of the drawing-room, looked in. Audrey was seated at the piano running her fingers idly over the keys. She did not see him. Callaghan closed the door softly and went upstairs.
He was half-way down the first floor corridor on the way to his room when a door opened. Clarissa came out.
She said. "Slim, you're a heel. Alternatively, you're a sonofabitch. Personally, I think you're both."
He grinned at her.
"I'm surprised you should have to get your vocabulary from Windy, Clarissa. What's the matter?"
She leaned up against the door-post.
"The only trouble with me is my eyesight—that, and a little synchronisation."
"What's the matter with your eyesight?" said Callaghan. "And who have you been synchronising with or haven't you?"
Clarissa said: "The trouble is my eyes are too good, and as for the synchronisation, I happened to be in the end room of this corridor looking out towards the summer-house some time before dinner. I saw you and Audrey. I didn't know she liked being kissed like that. Was it good?"
"Very," said Callaghan. "Well, how do you think she'd like to be kissed?"
Clarissa said: "Maybe I'll give you a demonstration one day. In the meantime, as I've told you before, I think you're a heel. You make love to me and kiss my sister. Do you think that's fair? But perhaps you were only practising. You are a heel, Slim."
He said: "Clarissa, all's fair in love and war. Didn't you know?"
"That's all right," said Clarissa. "But were you and I in love or having a war? You needn't worry, Slim. I've had the idea that you were leading me up the garden path, using me as a sort of 'stooge.' That's what they call it, isn't it?"
Callaghan said: "Clarissa, I think you're fine. I wanted to get you working on my side, and I just didn't know the best way to do it. I thought that was a good approach."
"I see," said Clarissa. "I suppose Audrey's working for you too... only in her case the approach has got to be a little more passionate. What do I have to do to get kissed like that? I think it's lucky I haven't got any more sisters."
Callaghan said: "You didn't waylay me to tell me all this?"
She shook her head.
"No," she said, "I didn't. I wanted to ask you something and I'd be rather obliged if you'd tell me the truth. That was all nonsense, wasn't it, that stuff you told me about merely having an idea about Blaize and about your thinking that he hadn't anything to do with the burglary? You're worried about Blaize, aren't you, Slim?"
"Just about as much as you are, Clarissa," he said. "I knew you were putting on an act that night I went over to his cottage behind the Yard Arm and found you and Esme there. I guessed why you were stringing along with Esme. I realised that you weren't a natural gooseberry..."
"You were right," she said, "I was frightened for her. She's so silly. Esme's always been the bloodiest fool, Slim."
"That's what I think," said Callaghan. "And you've got some news for me?"
She said: "Yes, I've got some news for you. Ever since you've been away I've been snooping about, keeping an eye on Esme and on her post as we arranged. She's had no letters of importance—at least nothing that was posted in this county—but this evening while you and Audrey were indulging in the summer-house somebody came through from Exeter. They wanted Esme. I happened to be in the hall, so I went quickly into Daddy's room where there's an extension from the hall phone. I listened in."
Callaghan lit a cigarette.
"This sounds as if it might be interesting."
"It is very interesting," said Clarissa, "and rather worrying. It was a man. He didn't shout or anything like that, but he sounded terribly angry. He told Esme he wanted to talk to her, that the time had come for a show-down. He said she was to meet him as usual at half-past eleven tonight, that if she didn't turn up there was going to be a lot of trouble. I didn't like the sound of him a bit," Clarissa concluded.
Callaghan said: "I shouldn't worry about the sound of people's voices. Words don't hurt very much. Do you know where the 'usual place' is?"
Clarissa shook her head.
"I don't," she said. "I didn't even know there'd been a usual place. I didn't know that Esme had been meeting anybody. Why should she want to meet anybody surreptitiously?"
"Why does any woman meet any man surreptitiously?" he said.
Clarissa said: "Do you know who the man is?"
"I can make a good guess," said Callaghan.
She put her hand on his arm. She said:
"You know, Slim, you've deluded me, but I'm inclined to trust you. There's something about you I really like. Promise me something—you won't let anything happen to Esme, will you? I'd hate anything to happen to her."
Callaghan said: "Don't you worry. I'll try and take care of Esme. I'm learning to be the Santa Claus of this family."
She said: "Like hell you are!—and I learned that from Windy, too. Anyway," she said, "it's probably the first and the last time, but I want payment for my information, and when I say payment, I mean just that. You owe me a lot, Slim. You got that Windy person to tell me a lot of rubbish about you being fearfully attracted by me and I fell for it like a schoolgirl. You've probably ruined my life anyway. I might even go into a nunnery or something at any moment."
She came up close to him. She said:
"Mr. Callaghan, I think I've got something in my eye. Will you look, please?"
Callaghan said: "Clarissa, there's something damned nice about you. If it wasn't for Audrey..."
"To blazes with Audrey," said Clarissa. "Audrey can look after herself. Just let yourself go for a minute, will you, and don't bring up other women when you're supposed to be kissing me."
After a minute she said: "Is there anything else you want me to do?"
"I don't think so," said Callaghan. "You've done a good job, Clarissa."
"All right," she said. "Only remember... I'm relying on you... I expect Audrey is too... look after Esme..."
She went back to her door.
"I think you're rather nice, Slim," she said. "I know you're fearfully stuck on Audrey. I can understand it too... If I were a man I'd be stuck on her. She's got something, hasn't she... you know..."
She made a face at him and closed the door.
At nine o'clock Callaghan went into the smoking-room on the first floor. He rang the bell and sent for Nikolls. When Nikolls arrived Callaghan said:
"Listen to this, Windy: I've got an idea that to-night, possibly about eleven, Esme's going out to keep an appointment with somebody. I'd rather like to be there or anyway in the neighbourhood. The devil of it is I don't know where the appointment is."
Nikolls said: "What the hell! It can't be far away. Where do you keep appointments around here anyway?"
Callaghan said: "Quite. So this appointment's either got to be in a place like Kingsbridge or some place you get to by car, or it's going to be local. The best thing for you to do is to keep your eye on the garage. It'll be fairly dark by that time, and if you hang about in that thicket on the far side of the lawn you can see the garage doors. If Esme takes the car out, you've got to go after her. When she gets to wherever she's going to you can telephone me."
"O.K.," said Nikolls. "An' supposin' this date is a local date?"
Callaghan said. "The same thing applies. But if it's a local date the obvious place to have such a date is somewhere in the grounds here—at the back of the house. There are plenty of places to meet. There's that stretch of cliffs along by the sea—an ideal place. I'll keep my eye on the gardens and terraces," said Callaghan. "I can do that from the balcony. But don't lose her if she goes out your way. I want to find where that girl's going to."
"All right," said Nikolls. "I'll watch her plenty."
Callaghan said: "There's just a chance that Lancelot Vendayne may be hanging around here to-morrow or the day after. Lancelot doesn't like me very much. He got an anonymous note from somebody. He showed it to me. The note said that Lancelot was a mug. It also said that even if he had inherited the Vendayne jewellery he would have found that it was worth about forty pounds."
Nikolls said: "For cryin' out loud! You don't mean to tell me that we've been chasin' around after some stuff that's worth about two hundred dollars?" His eyebrows went up. "Say, what about that insurance claim!"
Callaghan was grinning.
"It's a nice situation," he said. "But Lancelot isn't going to like it. I've got an idea in my head that the only thing Lancelot cares about is money, and when he thinks he's not going to get what he thought was coming to him, he's going to turn damn' nasty."
"Yeah," said Nikolls. "And Audrey wouldn't like that, would she?"
He grinned sardonically at Callaghan.
Callaghan said: "Windy, you're a fool. You're still harping on that old theory of yours about Audrey. You just don't know how wrong you are."
"Maybe," said Nikolls.
Callaghan said: "All right. Keep your eyes skinned and don't miss anything. I'll be seeing you."
He went out.
The moon came up from behind a cloud. Callaghan, seated on the balcony outside the dining-room French windows, could see the lawns and terraces plainly in the silver light. He looked at his watch. It was eleven-thirty. He swore softly under his breath, lit a cigarette, went through the dining-room into the corridor and out by the side door near the garage. He stood there in the shadows smoking.
Five minutes passed. Callaghan could hear the sound of an approaching car coming up the drive. He walked into the moonlight. Nikolls braked the car to a standstill at his side.
"Not so hot, Slim," he said. "That little so-an'-so ditched me. Around ten past eleven she came out to the garage an' got her car out. I gave her a start an' went after her. Believe me she was goin' some. About two miles away I found her bus parked by the side of the roadway. But no Esme!"
Callaghan said: "That's all right. Maybe she has an idea someone was going after her. Which direction did she take? Where did you find the car?"
"She took one of the secondary roads, leadin' off to the left, in the direction of Gara," said Nikolls. "I reckon if she was goin' on on foot she was goin' across country. She had to be. I drove down the road for a coupla miles more an' there wasn't a sign of her."
"All right," said Callaghan. "Put the car away and stay put."
He went back into the house. He found Audrey in the drawing-room. She was sitting at the writing table playing patience. He said:
"You ought to be in bed. You look tired. Why don't you call it a day?"
"I am tired," she said. "But I don't want to go to bed. I feel I shouldn't sleep. Do you want something?"
"Yes," said Callaghan. "I want to know what Esme usually does with her spare time. Does she ever go for walks? If she does, has she got a favourite walk?"
She said: "Esme used not to like walking. But she's done more walking during the last few months than ever before. I've seen her going along the cliffs towards Gara quite often. Sometimes in the evening."
Callaghan asked: "Do you think she'd be going to Gara? Or would she be going to some place between Gara and Margraud?"
"I don't see why she should go to Gara," said Audrey. She began to stack the patience cards. "There's only the hotel at Gara and the golf course on the other side of the hill. Besides, between here and Gara is a deep cleft in the cliff—a along one. It's quite wide where it runs into the sea and you have to walk right round the far end. That means climbing. I can't visualise Esme taking the trouble to walk uphill round the cleft, when, if she wanted to go to Gara, she could so easily go by road."
"Thanks," said Callaghan. "That's what I wanted to know."
She got up. She said:
"What's happening? Has Esme gone out? What is in your mind, please?"
Callaghan took out his cigarette-case. He offered her a cigarette, lit it, and his own. She stood quite close to him, holding the cigarette limply between her fingers, watching his eyes.
"Esme's ditched us," he said. "I knew she had a date with someone to-night at eleven-thirty. I particularly wanted to be present because I've an idea in my head that unless the person that Esme intended to meet is dealt with in rather a tough way he's going to make a whole lot of trouble. I imagined that she'd either take her car, in which case I'd arranged for Nikolls to go after her, or else, if the meeting-place was somewhere in the locality, she'd go out through the grounds. I've been waiting to see which thing she'd do. She got round the problem by taking out her car, driving like the devil for a couple of miles and leaving the empty car on the roadside for Nikolls to catch up with."
She said: "It's quite awful... isn't it? I wish I knew what to do. I'm scared about her. And I don't know why. Can you tell me?"
"I'll tell you what to do," he said. "You go to bed. Take three Veganin tablets and count sheep going through a gate. They tell me it works very well. Good-night."
He went out of the room.
She stood for a moment looking at the door after it had closed behind him. Then she went back to the table and took up the pack of cards. She began to play patience.
Nikolls was drinking whisky out of a hip flask when Callaghan came into his room. He said:
"Would you like a drink?"
He held up the flask.
Callaghan said: "I don't want a drink. I want a little action. Go down to the garage and get that car of yours. Drive over to the Yard Arm and see what's going on there. There's just a chance that Blaize hasn't gone yet. Even if he has there must be someone looking after the Yard Arm. See what you can find out. And look out for Esme."
Nikolls said: "O.K."
Callaghan went to his own room and got a hat. He went downstairs out of the side entrance, down the terrace steps, across the lawn at the bottom and out of the gate on the west side. He began to walk across the fields towards the footpath that ran along the cliffs.
It was a fine night. The moon was up and walking was not unpleasant. Callaghan stepped out briskly. After a while he came to the path that led along the cliff edge towards Gara. He walked for ten minutes, then stopped and looked at his watch. It was nearly twelve o'clock.
He lit a cigarette and continued along the narrow path. A few feet away on his left was the cliff edge. Below he could hear the sea breaking against the rocks. He thought, with a sardonic grin, that the cliffs and beaches in these parts had been wreckers' grounds in the old days and that even if there weren't any more wreckers the technique had merely altered with the passing of time.
On his right the ground sloped upwards towards the hills. He began to curve round the cliff. Except for the crying of the gulls as they hovered over the sea the night was still. Callaghan began to think about gulls and concluded that the feathered specimens were perhaps the luckiest.
He walked for another ten minutes before he saw Esme. She was sitting on a piece of cliff rock off the pathway on the hillside. Even before he was able to recognise her he knew it would be Esme.
She looked at him as he approached. Her face was pallid, terribly strained. Her large eyes peered at him questioningly. There were black circles beneath them, and in one hand he could see the screw-up ball of handkerchief.
He stopped walking and stood on the narrow footpath, looking at her. He produced his cigarette-case, took out two cigarettes. He handed one to her. She took the cigarette mechanically and put it into her mouth. Her hand was trembling almost violently.
Callaghan lit her cigarette and his own, shading the flame of the lighter from the sea with his hand. He said:
"Well... what sort of a show-down was it? Tough, very tough, or just normal?"
She said in shaky voice: "I don't know what you mean. I don't want to talk to you. I'm tired of you. I feel that most of the time you're watching me trying to find things out. Why don't you leave me alone? You won't do any good."
Callaghan grinned. He sat down on the grass by her side. He was careful to look out to sea. It was quite obvious to him that the last thing that Esme desired was to be looked at.
He said: "I'm sure you're tired of me, but it's a feeling that you'll have to get over. As for not wanting to talk to me, that's all right with me. If you don't want to talk—don't. What I want you to realise is that, having kept your nerve for so long, it's a damned silly proposition to lose it now. Even you must realise that there are other people to be considered. Besides your blackmailing friend—I mean."
Esme drew on her cigarette. He could see the end glowing. She said:
"What other people should I consider?"
"You and I ought to stop fencing," he said. "It won't do you any good and it doesn't even amuse me. By 'other' people I mean your father. You knew that anyway. It must be obvious to you that he's got enough trouble as it is at the moment without you going out of your way to make things worse."
She laughed. It was a small hard laugh meant to indicate complete indifference. Then she said in a voice that was steadier:
"I don't care about anything else or any one else. I suppose it's fearfully selfish and cowardly, but I'm going to kill myself. After I've done that people can think what they like and blame me for everything. It's obviously the easiest way out of a difficult and quite ridiculous situation."
Callaghan grinned at her. He said coolly:
"Ridiculous is good! But that's all right by me. If you want to kill yourself, you go ahead and do it. But killing yourself won't do any good to anybody except you, and it mightn't even do you any good. Being dead is a lousy proposition and you'd probably go on worrying afterwards."
He inhaled a mouthful of cigarette smoke with obvious pleasure. He allowed the smoke to trickle slowly out of pursed lips. There was quite a pause before he went on:
"And even if you do kill yourself and everybody is quite prepared to blame you for everything... well, you might get some sort of a kick out of that, but it wouldn't alter the fact that the jewellery Blaize got was fake. There'd still have to be post-mortems on that angle. It wouldn't make your passing out any easier to realise that the police would probably have to arrest your father in any event. Even if they thought that you were responsible for the burglary, they'd know damned well that he must have been the person who switched the jewellery..."
She said: "Oh, my God... I never thought of that..."
She made a hoarse sobbing noise.
Callaghan said softly: "That's the trouble with you. You never think of anything or anybody except yourself. You're a selfish little fool. Because you were short-circuited over making a first-class damned fool of yourself with a good-looking fisherman from Beesands you have to get yourself in a mess, right up to the neck, with a cheap four-flusher like Blaize."
He inhaled some more smoke. He went on:
"Take a pull at yourself, Esme, and don't behave like a spoiled child. After all it must have been obvious to you when Blaize told you—as I imagine he has done and not so long ago—that the jewellery was fake—that he wasn't going to let the matter end there. That boy's going to talk even if he sinks himself in doing it. He's annoyed. I'll bet he's very annoyed."
"He was," said Esme. Her voice was almost shrill. "God... was he angry! But he won't talk. He won't ever talk..."
Callaghan made a grimace.
"Don't you believe it," he said. "He'll talk all right. He'll have to."
"He can't," said Esme. "He's dead... I killed him."
Callaghan looked at her quickly. She was looking out towards the sea. Her face was like a death mask.
He said quietly: "Hell... that was a damned silly thing to do. What did you do it for?"
"I didn't mean to," said Esme. "He brought one of the bracelets to show me. Apparently he'd kept that one. He'd sent the rest of the jewellery away. He hadn't discovered that it was all fake until the people who were supposed to cut up the stones wrote and told him so. Then he examined the bracelet and found it was true. He brought it to show me. I thought—quite insanely—that if I could get the bracelet—if he hadn't got any more of the jewels—he couldn't prove what he said. So I snatched it away from him and tried to run away."
She ran her tongue over her lips.
"We met by the cleft on the Gara side. We've always met there. It's been the place of some marvellous scenes—horrible, beastly scenes. When he came after me I ran towards the edge. I intended to throw myself over with the bracelet. At that moment the process seemed the obvious way out. As I reached the edge of the cleft—about ten or fifteen yards from the sea—he caught hold of me. I struggled and fought. I pushed him over. I stood there for a minute and then I heard him cry out."
Callaghan said: "What did you do then?"
"I ran away," said Esme. "I began to run towards Gara. I still had the bracelet, but I was so frightened, so mad that I dropped it. Presently I stopped and tried to think. I came back and tried to find the bracelet. I searched for a long time but I couldn't find it. Then I began to walk home. I stopped here because I was tired."
She began to cry bitterly.
He shrugged his shoulders. After a minute he said:
"I wish you'd stop crying. It doesn't help. I'm trying to think. Why the hell don't you stop being sorry for yourself and try to pull yourself together. You make me feel sick."
She stopped crying. She said:
"You're a nice sympathetic sort of person, aren't you?"
"I don't believe in sympathy at the wrong time," said Callaghan. "And this is the wrong time. There's no need to panic. There might still be a way out of this, but whoever finds it has got to be damned good. Tell me something..." he turned towards her. "....If you were running towards Gara, you dropped that bracelet on the far side of the cleft, fairly near to it. Is that right?"
"I imagine so," said Esme. "But I don't know. I don't know anything. And what does it matter, anyhow?"
Callaghan said: "You listen to me. You're a damned selfish bit of work and I don't like you a bit. Even so, with a bit of luck you can get away with this. Not because you particularly deserve to but because it happens to suit my book."
Esme said: "What do you mean?"
There was a small note of interest in her voice.
"Listen to me," said Callaghan. "And listen hard. When you leave here and go home—which is what you're going to do in a minute—go straight to your room and don't talk to any one. You understand? Just go to your room and lie on the bed and relax, and then tell yourself this:
"You went to keep your appointment with Blaize tonight. You were frightened sick. You knew he was going to be tough. You knew he was going to be tough because you knew weeks ago when you let him into the house and he stole that jewellery it was fake. That's your story. The only reason that you let him into Margraud to steal the jewellery was because you knew it was worthless."
"But I didn't..." she muttered. "I didn't... I..."
"Of course you didn't," said Callaghan cynically. "You intended to let Blaize steal the real stuff. That was his price, wasn't it, and you were prepared to pay for it... with somebody else's jewels? All right. Well, we don't have to tell 'em that. We tell 'em my story. So listen and don't talk.
"To-night when you went to meet Blaize you knew there was going to be one hell of a show-down. You knew that he would have found out the jewellery was false. And you were prepared to stand for what happened. But when you got there and Blaize lost his temper and began to get tough you ran away. You had met him at the top of the cleft and you began to run round the edge, towards Margraud. You got round the edge all right and you could hear him coming after you. You looked over your shoulder. Just as he was rounding the edge of the cleft he slipped. The grass is wet and slippery. You saw him fall. You heard him yell. You fell down in a faint. When you came to you walked along here and sat down trying to recover your nerve."
He got up. He stood looking down at her.
"That's your story. You stick to it and you'll be all right. There's no one can break it down because there's no one who saw. You've got to have the benefit of the doubt and all the facts leading up to the meeting in your favour. Well... are you going to do it?"
She said: "Very well. I'll do what you say. I'll remember that. It's near enough to the truth anyway... except for the bracelet."
"Don't worry about that," said Callaghan. "Nobody's going to visualize you struggling with Blaize for a worthless bit of goods like that bracelet. Anyhow I hope to find it. I'm going to look for it... Now pull yourself together. Get up and go home. When you get there be careful to give Audrey a miss. She'll probably be hanging about the place waiting to talk to you. Go straight to your room and get that story set in your mind."
Esme got up. She said:
"Very well. I'll do what you say." She smiled suddenly. A quick curious smile. "You're a funny man, aren't you?" she said. "Why are you taking all this trouble anyhow? What does it matter to you?"
Callaghan said roughly: "You mind your own damned business and get out of here. I'll see you when I get back, or to-morrow. Remember you've been a pretty fatuous sort of little idiot up to date. Try and square off the account by behaving yourself and doing what you're told."
She nodded her head. She began to walk unsteadily along the footpath towards Margraud.
Callaghan sat down on the stone and watched until she was out of sight.
After a while he took out his cigarette-case and lit his last cigarette. He smoked it slowly. It lasted twenty minutes. He stubbed the end out on the rock and began to curse fluently. He used some very curious and definite words about Esme.
Then he got up, stretched himself and began to walk back towards Margraud.
CALLAGHAN walked quietly along the corridor until he came to the door of Nikoll's bedroom. He turned the handle quietly and went in. Inside the door he found the light switch, turned it on. He closed the door gently.
Nikolls was lying on his back. He was sleeping soundly. An almost angelic smile wreathed his plump countenance. His mouth was wide open.
Callaghan went over to the bed. He shook Nikolls's shoulder. He said:
"Wake up, Windy. And I wonder if any one has ever told you how awful you look when you're asleep."
Nikolls gave a grunt and awoke. He sat up in bed, rubbing his eyes, trying to come back to earth.
He said: "Ain't it my luck? Ever since I been down here I been sleepin' bad. To-night I get a good sleep. I get around to dreamin' of a dame with the swellest hips I ever saw in my life an' I have ta get woke up. It ain't human. I wish you coulda waited another five minutes. Things was just gettin' interestin' with that dream dame...."
Callaghan said: "Get up and get dressed as quickly as you can, Windy. Then go round to the garage and see if you can find a rope—a fairly long one."
"O.K.," said Nikolls. "What are we gonna do? Hang somebody?"
"No," said Callaghan. He grinned cynically. "The execution has already taken place," he said.
Nikolls got out of bed. He was wearing pale blue pyjamas with red spots on them. He looked like a gigantic and ponderous insect. He went over to the chest of drawers, found his whisky flask and took a long pull, sighed and began looking for his clothes.
Callaghan sat on the bed. He said:
"Did you find anything interesting at the Yard Arm? What about Ropey?"
Nikolls sat down on a chair and began to pull on his socks.
"Ropey's gone," he said. "Blaize ain't there either. I reckon you was right about those two babies. They both took a quick run-out powder. Blaize had fixed the sale of the Yard Arm an' the cottage to some guy days ago—a guy named Wallers. Not a bad sort of palooka."
He fixed a bright blue sock suspender round a calf that looked like a young tree trunk. Then he looked at Callaghan. He was grinning.
"This is where the story gets interestin'," he went on. "The Wallers guy tells me that Blaize has got out—to-day—an' that he reckons he's goin' abroad if he can get a boat to take him. He tells me that somebody else has been hangin' around tryin' to see Blaize an' that this somebody else come down in a car that was parked just inside the Yard Arm cottage orchard.
Wallers had told this bozo that he reckoned that Blaize was gone but that he didn't sorta think he'd been gone long because Blaize's stuff had only been taken outa the cottage a few hours ago. So the guy with the car says he'll take a look around."
Nikolls got to his feet and took another pull at the flask.
He said: "I thought I'd take a look in at the cottage orchard just to make certain, an' sure enough this guy's car was still there. He'd parked it under the trees—a big tourin' car—switched the lights off an' taken the ignition key away. There was a leather pocket in the side of the door on the drivin' side an' I took a look inside. I found a drivin' licence an' did I laugh or did I. The drivin' licence was in the name of Gabriel Ventura. Does that add up to anythin'?"
Callaghan nodded. He said:
"It's working out. Having got Ropey out of the way, Gabby just had to make sure that Blaize was gone. He had to make sure that he was gone, or if he wasn't Gabby was going to try and do a deal with him. I bet he was disappointed when he found that Blaize had only left an hour or so before."
He lit a cigarette.
"Did Blaize leave any message with Wallers before he left?" he asked. "Any instructions about forwarding mail?"
Nikolls shook his head.
"Nope," he said. "The only thing he said was that he was goin' an' that he might look back to see if anythin' came for him by the late post. Well, he didn't go back, an' I'd like to know why."
Callaghan blew two or three smoke-rings. He said:
"Blaize has been having a busy day. He went out to-night—after he'd left the Yard Arm—to meet Esme. They had the devil of a rough house. Blaize fell over the edge of a cleft between here and Gara. That's why he didn't go back to collect that mail. He's probably lying down at the bottom somewhere. We'd better take a look at him."
"I see," said Nikolls. "Me... I don't want to beef or anythin' but I do think it's a bit tough to come out of a dream like I was havin' an' then haveta go an' look at what's left of fellas who have fell over cliffs. Life's a scream, ain't it?"
He struggled into his trousers.
Callaghan went on: "You get that rope and go out the back way over the far lawn and through the west gate. It's a fine night and you can see easily. Take the path that runs along the cliff edge towards Gara. When you get to the cleft you'll have to go uphill and work round it. Don't try and find Blaize until I get there."
"Oke!" said Nikolls. "What do I amuse myself doin' until you do get there?"
"When you're on the Gara side of the cleft," said Callaghan, "you start a search for a bracelet. I don't know what sort of a bracelet it is, but I should think you could find it if you look hard enough. It will be fairly near the edge of the cleft on the side farthest from the sea. Concentrate on that job, Windy. I want that bracelet."
"If it's findable I'll find it," said Nikolls. "An' supposin' I've found it. What do I do then?"
"Just take a rest and smoke until I get along there," said Callaghan. "Then we'll go into this business of discovering what's left of Blaize."
"That suits me," said Nikolls.
He began to put on his waistcoat. He said ruminatively:
"It's funny Blaize fallin' over the cliff like that... hey? Would that be convenient or inconvenient?"
Callaghan said: "It might be convenient."
"Yeah," said Nikolls. "It ain't often that somethin' happens at a time you want it to, is it?" He lit a cigarette. "It would be a yell if Esme had pushed that mug over, wouldn't it? An' I wouldn't put it above her."
"I wouldn't worry about it," said Callaghan easily. "We don't have to worry about how things happen. The fact that they happen is good enough. Besides we're working for the Vendayne family—not Blaize."
"I got that," said Nikolls. He grinned amiably at Callaghan. "I hope the Vendayne family appreciates the fact. Maybe those mugs don't know how lucky they are."
He went out quietly.
Callaghan walked down the corridor past Clarissa's door, past the next door—which was Audrey's—and stood listening outside the third door.
He could hear Esme crying quietly. Callaghan tapped gently on the door, pushed it open and went in.
She was lying face downwards on the bed. Her shoulders were shaking. She did not move when Callaghan closed the door.
He went over to the bedside and stood looking down at her. His expression was almost contented. He said:
"Cut it out, Esme, and quieten down. I want to talk to you. And what are you crying for? Don't tell me that your heart's broken because you've lost your lord and master. If it's not that, it's self-pity."
She moved her face away from the pillow and looked at him sideways. Her eyes were red-rimmed. Callaghan thought she looked rather ugly.
She turned over on her back and swung her legs off the bed. She sat on the side of the bed looking at Callaghan. She said in a dull voice:
"Did you find the bracelet?"
"I haven't looked for it yet," said Callaghan. "I'm going back there presently. Nikolls is on his way now. Also I want to have a look at Blaize. But the bracelet doesn't particularly matter at the moment."
"I see," said Esme. "What does matter?"
Callaghan said: "The story I told you to get into your head is the main thing. Have you done that?"
"Yes," said Esme. "I've got that in my head all right."
She got up and walked over to the dressing-table. She switched on a light and began to do her face. The process seemed to interest her. After a moment she drew up a chair and sat down before the mirror, using a lipstick with steady fingers.
Callaghan walked over to the corner of the room and picked up a chair. He carried it to the side of the dressing-table and sat down. He said:
"I suppose after you married Blaize in Malmesbury you realised that you'd made a fool of yourself. I suppose when you discovered just what sort of person he was you wanted to get rid of him."
"How did you know that?" said Esme.
She looked at him closely. Callaghan saw antagonism in her eyes.
"I knew you'd been to the Cape," he said. "I happen to remember Malmesbury. I wondered why Blaize's cottage should be called Malmesbury. I suppose you'd call it a good guess on my part, but then you see I know quite a lot about you."
"How nice for you," said Esme. Her voice was very nearly insolent. "And just what do you know."
Callaghan said coolly: "When a girl in your position is damned fool enough and cheap enough to go chasing a young fisherman and has to be sent off while the scandal blows over she's not likely to develop intelligence quickly. I should imagine that one man is very like another so far as you're concerned. You were just unlucky to pick on Blaize. He was too good for you. For once, instead of being the boss, you had to do what you were told—and like it."
"I'm not very lucky about men," she said. "I certainly wasn't very lucky about him. He thought I had more money than I had. He wasn't very pleased with that."
Callaghan went on: "He followed you over here and took the Yard Arm. I suppose he wanted to be in the neighborhood. I imagine he's had most of your money."
She finished with the lipstick. She put it into a drawer and shut the drawer with a click.
"He's had all the money I had—and could get," she said. "I was trying to buy him off. He said he'd let me divorce him quietly if..."
"If you could find enough money," said Callaghan. "And you couldn't. So then the idea of his taking the Vendayne jewels suggested itself to someone. Was that your idea or his?"
Esme looked at him. She was smiling faintly.
"That was my idea," she said. "And in point of fact it wasn't quite so selfish as it might appear on the face of it. I thought it might be a very good thing for my father if the jewellery were stolen. I imagined he'd have the insurance money—or some of it. I knew he wanted money."
"Killing two birds with one stone," he said. "The Major would have a fit if he had heard you say that."
She shrugged her shoulders.
"I had no reason to believe he would ever know about it," she murmured.
Callaghan lit a cigarette. He drew in a mouthful of smoke. He was watching her carefully.
"Before the idea of Blaize stealing the jewels suggested itself to you," he said, "you had been giving him such money as you had. I should think that wasn't very much. I imagine you tried to raise more... didn't you?"
"Yes," she said. "I tried everything I knew. But it wasn't any use. I couldn't get any."
"Not even from Lancelot?" he queried.
She looked at him sharply.
"How did you know I'd asked Lancelot?" she demanded.
"Just a guess," said Callaghan. "By the way, when you asked Lancelot if he could lend you some money to give to Blaize, you didn't by any chance tell him what the position was between you and Blaize? You didn't tell him that you were married to Blaize?"
"Yes, I did," she said. "I had to tell him something. He swore he'd never tell any one. He said he'd do anything he could to raise some money for me. He tried, but he couldn't manage it."
Callaghan said nothing for a moment. Then he began to grin happily.
"That suits me very well," he said. He got up. "Just stick to the story I told you, Esme," he said. "Maybe you won't ever have to tell it. But there's just a chance that a Detective-Inspector Walperton, who's in charge of the burglary, might want to ask some questions. I don't think he will but he might."
He walked to the door.
"If I were you I'd go to bed and get a really good sleep," he said.
She looked at him over her shoulder.
"You're very funny, aren't you?" she murmured. "As if I could sleep to-night."
Callaghan smiled at her.
"Why not?" he asked. "You don't mean to tell me that a little thing like a dead husband is going to keep you awake!"
He closed the door gently behind him.
It was two o'clock when Callaghan reached the cleft. He worked up the hill and round the end of the cleft. He found Nikolls seated behind a grassy mound, smoking a cigarette.
Callaghan said: "How about the bracelet?"
"Search me," replied Nikolls. "I've been over every bit of the ground with a tooth-comb—as the old lady said—but if there's a bracelet around here it's hidin'."
"All right," said Callaghan. "Relax. When you've finished that cigarette you can start looking some more. That bracelet has to be round here."
"Supposin' it is," said Nikolls. "It's no good—is it? It won't do any mug who finds it any good."
"I wouldn't want Walperton to find it," he said. "Esme was running away from Blaize with that bracelet in her hand when he fell over the edge—that's our story anyhow."
"I see," said Nikolls. "An' you won't need that rope. If you start climbin' down the cleft from the hill end it's easy. It's only the part around here that's steep. An' if Blaize was runnin' after Esme he'd have to be runnin' round the cleft edge up the hill, an' so he'd have to fall an' bounce a bit an' he'll be at the bottom at that end. That's logic, ain't it?"
"It's reasonable," said Callaghan.
He began to walk up the rising ground towards the end of the cleft.
The moon was full. On the hillside it was almost as light as day. Callaghan, after a long look over the cleft edge, began to climb down the incline of rocks and earth that led down to the beach below. As he progressed the way grew less steep, and after a while the climb became almost easy. Callaghan began to think about Esme. He began to wonder.
At last he arrived at the bottom. The walls of the cleft rising on each side of the thirty-foot space in which Callaghan stood, cast black shadows over the sandy rock-strewn ground. Callaghan looked about him in the half-darkness. There was no sign of Blaize.
After a moment Callaghan stopped looking. He lit a cigarette and began to walk towards the sea. As he walked the cleft widened and visibility became more easy.
Twenty feet or so from the end of the cleft, on the Gara side, Callaghan found Blaize. He was lying across a rock that was half-submerged in the sand. His face, white and distorted, with eyes wide open, showed plainly against the dark background of the shadows. His body, twisted peculiarly, told of a broken back.
Callaghan knelt down. He opened the dead man's coat and began to search through the pockets. He found nothing until he put his fingers into the inside jacket pocket.
He smiled and withdrew his hand. In it was the bracelet.
Callaghan, walking carefully over the rocky edges at the cleft-side, so as to leave no unnecessary foot-marks, made his way to the top of the beach. He looked at the bracelet in the moonlight. It consisted of twenty peculiarly cut rubies, mounted in antique gold settings, joined by tiny diamond clasps. He realised, after a moment's examination, that the diamonds—which were of the "splinter" type and of little intrinsic value—were real, that the rubies were merely excellent imitations.
He stood, looking at the sea, twisting the bracelet in his fingers, thinking. Then he threw away his cigarette, returned to the spot where Blaize lay and replaced the bracelet in the breast pocket of the dead man's jacket. Then he walked back to the end of the cleft and began to climb up the incline.
He climbed carefully, looking about him. Halfway up, on the Gara side of the cleft, separated from the incline which Callaghan was climbing by some fifty feet, and situated about fifteen feet from the top of the cleft, was a ledge. Callaghan noted its position carefully. He resumed his climb.
Arrived at the top, he found Nikolls gloomily considering a pair of gulls.
"I've been over the ground again, Slim," he said, "an' I'm tellin' you there ain't any bracelet around here. Either that or I'm losin' my eyesight."
Callaghan said: "Your eyesight's all right, Windy. The bracelet was below. I found it."
"How come?" said Nikolls. "Bracelets can't walk."
"You've said something, Windy," he said. "They can't."
Nikolls fumbled in his coat pocket for a cigarette.
"You got it, Slim?" he asked.
Callaghan shook his head.
"I left it where it was," he said. "In Blaize's pocket. His back's broken. He must have died right away. He won't worry any one any more... not so they'll notice it, anyhow."
"That's O.K.," said Nikolls. "But I thought that Esme had to have that bracelet. I thought it was bad evidence if the cops found it."
"I've changed my opinion about that," said Callaghan. "I think I'd rather like 'em to find it. In fact I'm going to take damned good care they do find it. Come on, Windy, let's get back."
They began their walk back to Margraud. When they were crossing the lawn at the back of the house Callaghan said:
"I'm leaving for London in an hour or two—about five o'clock. The roads will be clear and I can get a move on. I'll probably stop at Exeter and have a talk with the Major. It's time someone talked to the old boy. Anyhow, he'll have to come back into circulation fairly soon."
"Yeah?" he said. "If you talk to him an' tell him about Esme an' that stiff Blaize an' a few other things that've been happenin' around here he'll probably blow up altogether and hand in his dinner pail. I reckon he won't be so pleased to hear about little Esme havin' moonlight meetin's with the boy friend along the cliffs. Maybe it won't sound so moral to the old guy."
"It was moral enough," said Callaghan. "Esme was Blaize's wife."
Nikoll's eyebrows went up.
"You don't say?" he said. "It just shows you, don't it? Maybe they'd better've let little Esme have her fun an' games with the blue-eyed cod trapper from Beesands. Is that baby a mug or is she? I s'pose Blaize told her a bunch of fairy stories, an' bounced her into a quick seance at the register office with one eye on the family plate. Nice work if you can get it."
Callaghan said: "It didn't work out so well for him."
He stopped on the terrace to light a cigarette. He went on:
"I shan't be in London for long, Windy. And here's your end. First thing in the morning you take a walk along the cliffs and you discover Blaize's body. I said discover. Then you get right over to Kingsbridge and report to the police that you've found it. You don't know anything about it at all. You don't know who Blaize is or what he was doing. All right. It's going to take the Kingsbridge police a couple of days to get a post-mortem done and identification. Have you got that?"
"I got it," said Nikolls.
"Then the day afterwards you go dashing over to Kingsbridge again. You tell 'em that Esme has told you all about it and what happened. She knows her story and she'll stick to it for her own sake. They'll probably send an officer over to Margraud to see her. I say probably because maybe, in the meantime, I can fix something in London that will short-circuit police inquiries down here."
"Supposin' Walperton comes kickin' around in the meantime?" asked Nikolls. "Or suppose he sends some other guy down to check on Blaize over at the Yard Arm?"
"That's all right," said Callaghan. "What can they find out? Ropey's gone. If Walperton's sent someone down they'll have to get in touch with him for further instructions."
"An' in the meantime you're gonna pull another one on that sucker," said Nikolls. "This guy Walperton is gonna just love you before you're through on this job."
"The joke is he probably will," he said. "We'll see."
"O.K.," said Nikolls. "An' what about the bracelet? Wasn't that important?"
"Leave the bracelet out of it," said Callaghan. "Esme can tell the truth about it if she likes. The bracelet is all right. I've got an idea about that."
They had reached the house. Callaghan said:
"You can go fishing at Slapton all the rest of the time if you like. This case is almost over—bar the shouting."
"That's all right by me," he said. "I never did think much of this case. I wonder..."
"What do you wonder?" asked Callaghan.
Nikolls said: "Last night an' the night before I didn't take an indigestion tablet and I had two lousy nights. To-night I took one an' I had one helluva dream about that baby with the swell hips. I got a big idea."
"I'll buy it," said Callaghan.
Nikolls grinned at him. "I'm gonna take two of them tablets when I get upstairs," he said. "Maybe I'll dream about two honeys. Would that be a scream or would it? So long, Slim. I'll be seein' you...."
He went swiftly up the staircase like a plump cat.
Callaghan switched on the torch he found in the hallway and investigated the lower regions of Margraud. He found the kitchen, the range, a kettel, crockery and a teapot. It took five minutes to unearth the tea.
He put the kettle on the gas range, arranged the teacups on the table and went upstairs. He walked softly along the bedroom corridor and listened outside Esme's door. He heard nothing. He moved along to the next door. A gleam of light showed beneath it. Callaghan tapped softly.
A moment passed and the door opened. Audrey stood framed in the lighted doorway. She wore a tailored dressing robe of white spotted red silk with a red sash. Her dark hair, tied with a ribbon, accentuated the whiteness of her face.
Callaghan smiled at her. He said very softly:
"You look marvellous. Most of the women I've seen in dressing-gowns look like sacks with a string round the middle. When I'm an old gentleman I shall remember how you looked to-night."
She smiled in spite of herself. She said as quietly:
"Did you come here to tell me that?"
"Not exactly," said Callaghan. "You and I have got to talk. It's important. I'm leaving in an hour or so and we've got to arrange things first. I've put the kettle on in the kitchen. I had an idea that you're going to need some tea."
She said: "So it's going to be as bad as that?"
"Yes," said Callaghan. "But only as bad as that. It could be a lot worse. In fact"—he smiled again—"with a little fan-dangling—as Nikolls would say—I think we can fix things. If we play it my way. D'you think you'd like to do that?"
"I've got to," said Audrey. "Candidly, I don't quite know just what I ought to do about anything. I don't know enough. If you mean do I trust you or not, I can only say I don't know. But I've got to trust somebody, so I might as well try and trust you... mightn't I?"
"That'll do," said Callaghan. "It's a start anyway. Let's go and get tea."
Callaghan put his cup down and produced his cigarette-case. He took out two cigarettes, handed one to Audrey, lit them both. He got up and leaned against the dresser.
She sat on the other side of the kitchen table. Her eyes, a little sleepy but curious, watched him. Callaghan thought: "I wonder is she thinking about what I'm going to tell her or wondering about me—or both. I hope she feels as curious about me as I do about her."
He said: "This is where you bite on the bullet, Audrey, because some of it isn't going to be quite so good. First of all, let me tell you one or two things about the Vendayne family."
He blew a smoke-ring with care; watched it until it dissolved. He went on:
"Clarissa is rather sweet. A trifle wild but straight. You're a dear. You're a little stuck up, a little too proud, but you're quite honest and I'm terribly taken with the way your mouth curls up at the end when you smile and the way that your clothes fit you. Esme is a damned little fool who is naturally dishonest. She's as selfish as the devil and quite reckless. Your father is a dear old boy who ought to be spanked and stood in the corner. If he wasn't your father I'd say he was a damned fool. I think you'll agree with that anyway.
"Lancelot, your cousin, is just a plain ordinary sonofabitch. He hasn't enough guts to be crooked—even to get something he wants—but he has enough brains to create—or help create—situations. So much for the family."
He blew another smoke-ring. Audrey watched him; her eyes, wider and less sleepy now, never left his face. Callaghan realised that she was one of those women who can look at you without blinking.
"I don't know how much or how little you know about Esme," said Callaghan. "But I do know that both you and Clarissa were a bit worried about Esme and this fellow Blaize. I suppose you thought it might be a repetition of the Beesands fisherman business; but in any event Clarissa tried to do her best to stop any eventualities by tagging along and playing gooseberry when she could. It was a good effort, but she might have saved herself the trouble. People like you and Clarissa will never be quite as clever, or smart, as people like Esme and Blaize. That's because you two girls are essentially honest and Esme and Blaize essentially dishonest.
"When I went over and saw the two girls at Blaize's cottage the first night I got down here, I noticed the place was called "Malmesbury." I remembered that there was a little place called Malmesbury near Cape Town. It struck me as a coincidence. I cabled an associate of mine over there and got a check up on Blaize. Esme married him in Malmesbury the day before she sailed for England. He came over three weeks afterwards."
She said: "My God... how terrible. What is Blaize?"
"Blaize was a nasty bit of work," said Callaghan. "He was a specialist in women. He was attractive to people like Esme. His line was to make love to a woman and then collect what he could from her and clear out.
"Esme was just what Blaize was looking for. He married her because he thought that was the best way to make a really good clean-up and because the Cape was getting too hot to hold him. I believe the police want him on two or three charges for which they've been trying to get evidence for years. It's always damned difficult to get evidence against people like Blaize. You never get a prosecutor willing to go through with it, mainly because the prosecutors are usually women and they can't bear the idea of standing in a witness-box and practically telling the world that they've been foolish enough to be mistress to the marcelled, patent-haired cheat in the dock. That's why people like Blaize usually get away with it.
"He thought that she had a lot of money. Esme probably allowed him to think what he liked. She wanted to marry somebody. She couldn't marry the fisherman so she bounced back on to Blaize. He was masculine and virile and attractive. He belonged to that peculiar type that's obviously lousy and yet manages to get quite nice women to fall for it."
Audrey nodded. She said slowly:
"I can visualize Esme doing all that. It's what she would do. She's like that."
Callaghan said: "I'm not going into details because I haven't got time. I want to be in London as soon as I can manage it. Very well. Blaize has been getting such money as he could from Esme. She paid, first of all because she'd discovered what sort of a man he was and she didn't want her family to know what an utter fool she'd made of herself, and secondly because he'd told her that if she paid he'd allow her to divorce him. Naturally, he wanted more money than she had.
"Eventually," continued Callaghan, "things came to a head. Blaize was getting tough about money. Esme tried to raise money where she could. She even tried Lancelot. She told Lancelot the truth about herself and Blaize. Lancelot, naturally, didn't supply any money. He hadn't got it. Lancelot's broke.
"So Esme made a bargain with Blaize. She was to let him into Margraud, give him the combination of the safe and allow him to steal the jewellery. I must say she thought that the robbery might be of help to your father. She thought the mortgage on Margraud wasn't paid and she thought that it could be paid with the money he'd get from the Insurance Company.
"When Lancelot heard about the burglary he put two and two together and came to the right conclusion. He guessed that Esme was behind the steal. But it didn't matter to him. He was quite content to take three-quarters of the insurance money, leave your father with the odd twenty-five thousand and call it a day. But he wanted the claim paid. That's why he forced your father to bring me into the case. I was the fellow who was to put the screw on the company."
Audrey said softly: "This is all quite terrible... quite awful...."
Callaghan said: "This is nothing. Just wait a minute."
"But," she said, "I didn't know the mortgage was paid off. Clarissa didn't know. How was that done? Who paid it off? My father couldn't..."
Callaghan said: "Let's leave that for the moment. We haven't got time for all that."
He lit another cigarette.
"Blaize and Esme had a meeting to-night," Callaghan went on. "There was a quarrel and Blaize fell over the edge of the cleft between here and Gara. His back's broken. He's dead, which is a damned good thing in one way because it simplifies matters."
She seemed stupefied. She put her hands over her face. Callaghan could see her fingers trembling.
"Take it easy, Audrey," he said. "Worse things happen at sea."
She took her hands away from her face.
"Go on," she said. "I'm all right... but... but... d'you think that Esme... ?"
"Do I think that Esme pushed Blaize over?" said Callaghan. "Candidly I did think so... but I'm not worrying about that now. I don't think the point matters. Anyway, Blaize got what was coming to him.
"Don't worry about Esme and Blaize," Callaghan continued. "Nikolls will look after that end. I've had a talk with Esme to-night and she knows just what she has to do. I don't think you'll be worried with the police. I've fixed things so that I get a day or two to do what I want to do. When I come back I hope we can clean up the mess. I've got an idea we can."
She smiled suddenly.
"You mean you have an idea you can," she said. "I haven't been very much use up to date, have I? You and I seem to have spent our time quarrelling."
"That doesn't matter," said Callaghan. "I hope we'll have an opportunity to quarrel again one day... a really nice quarrel."
"What am I to do?" she asked. "When are you coming back? What do you want me to do?"
Callaghan looked at his watch.
"Believe it or not," he said, "it's nearly five o'clock. I'm going to have a shower, change my clothes and get out of here. I shall be at Exeter by eight. You've got to get through to the nursing home and arrange for me to see your father at eight-thirty—that gives me time for breakfast. I've got to see him, otherwise he may find himself in a bad spot. Also I want to know where the nursing home is."
She told him. Callaghan said:
"All right. Now you go back to bed and get three hours' sleep. Telephone through at eight and tell 'em I shall be there at eight-thirty. And don't worry."
She got up. She said:
"I'm terribly grateful to you. I do trust you. I even believe that you'll manage to straighten out all this beastly business. God knows why you should take all this trouble."
Callaghan grinned. He said:
"I've three reasons. The first, you didn't like private detectives. You practically said so in that club in Conduit Street. D'you remember? I wanted you to change your opinion. Secondly, I was paid two hundred and fifty pounds by Layne to do this job."
She said: "You've forgotten the third reason?"
Callaghan said: "No, I haven't. And I don't have to tell you what it is. You know."
She said: "You're an extraordinary person, Mr. Callaghan. One might get used to you in time. I wonder if you know what I mean?"
"No," said Callaghan. "Do you?"
"Strangely enough I believe I do," she said.
"Go to bed. I'll be back in a day or two. Good-night."
She got up.
"Good-night," she said. "And thank you. Once again I'm very grateful."
"Don't be silly," said Callaghan. "You know you don't have to be grateful. You know it because you know I'd do any damned thing for you and you're beginning to realise that you like knowing it."
He went out.
Upstairs in her room, she waited until she heard the car leave the garage.
Then she sat on the edge of her bed and tried to think clearly, to sort things out. After a few minutes she gave up the process.
She discovered that logical thought was not possible. No matter what line of thought came to her she found Callaghan's face, his sardonic smile, his absolute certainty of the shape of events obtruded.
She decided to think about Callaghan and found that much easier.
CALLAGHAN came into the bedroom and put his hat on a chair. He looked cheerful. He leaned up against the mantelpiece grinning at Major Vendayne, who regarded him with unhappy and curious eyes.
Callaghan said: "I suppose Audrey has been through on the telephone. Did you speak to her?"
"What did she tell you?" Callaghan demanded.
"Not very much, Mr. Callaghan," said the invalid. "She said you were coming here. She said that she'd decided you were a trustworthy person."
Callaghan's grin broadened.
"Well, that's something," he said. "Now listen, Major. The doctor tells me that you're not to be worried, so I'm going to make this as short and sweet as I can. Just believe what I say and don't argue. Not that you've anything to argue about."
Vendayne said: "Very well, I understand. I wonder if you know what a fool I've been."
Callaghan said: "I can make a good guess, but I don't know that it matters an awful lot."
He lit a cigarette.
"When I started on this case," he said, "I was very interested in that mortgage on Margraud. I was even more interested by the fact that you'd been able to pay it off, and within a few months. I had to make some guesses—I couldn't ask you; you were here and things were moving too quickly for me to come over. Also I didn't think you'd be inclined to tell me the truth at that time."
The Major looked up at the ceiling. After a moment he said:
"Why do you think that I shall be prepared to tell you the truth now?"
"You've got to," said Callaghan. "You're in a jam and you know it." He inhaled cigarette smoke. "The funny thing about this case is that there are two points of view that can be taken about the actions of practically every one concerned. I'm rather keen on getting over the points of view I want. If by some chance Scotland Yard succeeds in proving the other points of view it isn't going to be too good for you, for Lancelot, for Esme and for the Vendayne family generally. So let's get down to brass tacks.
"I believe," Callaghan went on, "that you put most of your available capital into some wild-cat scheme of Lancelot Vendayne's. Both you and he were certain that that share scheme—whatever it was—was going to come off. You wanted to spend money on Margraud, and you were so certain the Lancelot business was going to come off that you mortgaged the place. You imagined you'd be worth a lot of money within a few months.
"Well, it didn't come off. You were in a jam. Quite a large lump of your income which had been produced by your original capital was gone and you were faced with a £20,000 mortgage plus six per cent interest. Right?"
Vendayne nodded gloomily.
"That's right," he said.
"You were in a bad spot," Callaghan went on. "You didn't know what to do, but I've an idea that someone made a suggestion. I've an idea that somebody got in touch with you—somebody from London—and suggested that they might be prepared to give you a hand out of your difficulties. The reason this person probably gave was that he too had been taken in by the Lancelot scheme. He'd lost his money but he wasn't in such difficulties as you were. He rather sympathised with you.
"Of course you were pretty fed up with Lancelot, but you didn't say anything to Audrey because you had an idea that she might be going to marry Lancelot. Afterwards—when she decided she wasn't going to marry him—you were too worried and scared of the situation to want to discuss it with any one.
"Anyhow," Callaghan went on, "your benefactor lent you the twenty thousand. You had no security to offer him, so he had an idea. He suggested to you that you hand over to him the Vendayne jewellery—that he'd keep it until you'd repaid the twenty thousand. He suggested that, in the meantime, just for the benefit of those people who came to see the collection in glass cases when it was on view, he would replace the original jewellery with first-class replicas.
"Well, you accepted the proposition, and why not? You weren't doing anybody any harm. So long as you could pay that twenty thousand back in your lifetime you thought you'd be able to get the jewellery back again. To your mind the deal was not dishonest because in fact it was at the moment hurting no one. What you didn't realise was that the individual who lent you that £20,000 was quite prepared to kiss the money good-bye, because he never intended to return the jewellery."
The Major said nothing. He looked at Callaghan in amazement.
"The trouble with people like you, Major," said Callaghan, "is that you trust people. You believe—because life has never taught you anything different—that people are as honest as you are. When you were told that the jewellery would be returned when you repaid the twenty thousand, plus whatever rate of interest was agreed on, you believed that.
"But you didn't realise that your benefactor had you where he wanted you immediately he lent you the money and took over the jewellery. Even if you'd gone along with the twenty thousand in your hand you wouldn't have got the jewellery. And then what could you have done? You couldn't have gone to the police and complained. You'd made yourself an accessory to an illegal transaction."
Vendayne said grimly: "What a fool I've been."
"The point is," Callaghan went on, "that the individual who lent you the twenty thousand never expected to be repaid. He believed that you were not long for this earth and that you'd probably die before you had a chance to repay the money. Then Lancelot would have gone rushing around trying to get his hands on £100,000 worth of jewellery to which he was entitled under the original deed and which he was also entitled to sell—if he wanted to sell it.
"But there wouldn't be any jewellery and Lancelot wouldn't get it until he'd done what your benefactor had made up his mind he was going to do. I doubt," said Callaghan with a grin, "if Lancelot would have got it even then."
He stubbed out the end of his cigarette, lit a fresh one. He said:
"Well, then, things went from bad to worse. Somebody stole the Vendayne jewellery. At least they stole the imitations. You can take it from me that Lancelot wasn't particularly surprised to hear about that burglary—he was rather expecting it. He could have made one guess as to who was really responsible and been right. But the situation was perfect so far as he was concerned. So he dashed down to Margraud and made a deal with you that seemed, on the face of it, generous. When the Insurance Company paid, you were to get £25,000, and he was to take the balance of £75,000. The devil of it was that the Insurance Company didn't pay. They didn't like the burglary or anything about it. So they stalled.
"You would probably never have put that claim in. Lancelot was the person who forced that issue, and you had to stand for it. You couldn't tell Lancelot or anybody else what you'd done.
"All right," said Callaghan. "Now the situation's not half as bad as it seems. There are three or four points that we have to worry about. But you and I at this moment are only concerned with two of those points. The first concerns the Insurance Company. Well, I think I ought to tell you that we don't have to worry about them because your solicitor has withdrawn the claim on the grounds that I have a very good idea where that jewellery is and that we feel we may get it back. The Insurance Company aren't worrying for another reason. Before I went down to Margraud in the first place I saw the Sphere & International arranged to represent them too. They know me—I've worked for associates of theirs before. So that situation is all right.
"The second point concerns the police. As you know, Scotland Yard have been brought in on this job. Things have happened since you've been in this nursing home which are going to interest Scotland Yard a great deal. With luck they won't disturb you, but if you're not lucky it's on the cards that a police officer is coming over here to ask questions. I think he'll only have one question to ask you and I'm going to tell you the answer.
"The only thing he'll want to know," said Callaghan, "is what is the reason that you removed the original—the real—Vendayne jewellery and had it replaced by imitations. Remember this: in his mind will be the idea that you might possibly have sold the original jewellery and that when the imitations were stolen you thought you could collect from the Insurance Company. We can answer the second half of this question because the claim against the Insurance Company has been withdrawn.
"In regard to the first half, the reason that you had the jewellery replaced by imitations is this: you knew that your daughter Esme was mixed up somehow with a nefarious character by the name of Blaize who had come to live somewhere in the neighbourhood of Margraud. You were afraid for that jewellery. So you had it replaced by imitations.
"It doesn't matter," said Callaghan with a grin, "whether they believe you or not. That's your story, and you stick to it and everything will be all right."
He picked up his hat.
"So long, Major," he said. "Don't worry. You probably won't even be worried at all. I think there's a good possibility that nobody will even want to ask you any questions."
He went out. Five minutes later the Jaguar was speeding along the Exeter-London road. Behind the wheel, the inevitable cigarette in his mouth, Callaghan pondered on possibilities.
But in the main he was satisfied.
Callaghan parked the car in Berkeley Square, walked to Hatchett's Restaurant in Piccadilly and ordered a chicken salad and a double whisky and soda. When he had finished his lunch he lit a cigarette and began to think. His thoughts were, in the main, concerned with personalities. He began to think about Lancelot and Gabby Ventura, both individually and as a possibly unwilling corporation of two. He thought about Esme and Blaize. Ropey Felliner was dismissed as being unworthy of consideration.
Having concluded this series of thoughts, Callaghan turned his mental attention to Detective-Inspector Walperton. He spent quite five minutes thinking about that keen and efficient police officer, but he was concerned with the nuances of Walperton's private character rather than with his abilities as a policeman.
Walperton was antagonistic and sure of himself and inclined to be what is generally known as "cocky." Walperton was too antagonistic, too sure of himself and, in effect, too cocky. But Callaghan realised that, after his last interview at Scotland Yard with the police officer, Walperton would, in all probability, take a more cautious view of Callaghan. He would be very careful not to walk into any traps. But he would certainly not give Callaghan the benefit of any doubt that arose.
Against all this Walperton was ambitious. And it was with this facet in his character that Callaghan was concerned. Walperton wanted to "get on." He would do anything that was legitimate and possible in order to get on. Callaghan made up his mind that Detective-Inspector Walperton should get on even if he, Callaghan, had to help him.
He paid his bill and walked out into the sunshine. Piccadilly was quiet and orderly and cheerful. There were fewer people on the streets, fewer cars. But in spite of the grimness of the war situation people were cheerful and more inclined to smile than to be serious.
Callaghan walked to Berkeley Square, got into the Jaguar and drove to the building in which his offices and flat were situated. He parked the car round the corner, went up in the lift to his own apartment, washed, rubbed eau-de-Cologne into his hair, then descended to the office floor.
Effie Thompson, immersed in the latest "romance" novel, with a box of chocolates open on the desk in front of her, sat relaxed in her chair. She straightened up as the door opened and Callaghan came in.
He stood behind her looking at the title of the novel. He said: "Any good, Effie?"
"Not too bad, Mr. Callaghan," she replied. "The book moves fast and my only objection to it is that none of the characters are alive."
Callaghan sat down in a chair on the other side of her desk.
"So the characters aren't alive," he said cheerfully. "What do they do that they ought not to do or what is it they don't do that should be done?"
She said: "The men are sticks. The hero never gets a move on. He is supposed to be a man of definite character and he's also supposed to be madly in love with the girl Germaine; yet when they have to make a forced landing in a deserted spot in the country, he leaves her with the aeroplane at two o'clock in the morning and goes off to look for help."
"Too bad," he said. "What ought he to have done?"
She looked at him coldly.
"I should have thought you could have answered that, Mr. Callaghan," she said, pursing her lips primly. "If I loved a woman—to that extent—and found myself in a deserted part of the countryside at two in the morning with an aeroplane I should do something about it."
"I gathered that, Effie," he said. "But what I wanted to know was what you would have done."
Effie looked out of the window. After a moment she said:
"You take a fiendish delight in embarrassing me, Mr. Callaghan, don't you? You know perfectly well what I meant...."
Callaghan said: "I don't and you don't either."
"You'll excuse me, Mr. Callaghan, but I do," she retorted.
"All right," said Callaghan cheerfully. "If you know you tell me. I want to know what you would have done."
She said: "You know perfectly well that it's impossible for me to answer that question, Mr. Callaghan." She looked out of the window again. "The English language doesn't lend itself to a description of that sort. What I mean is..."
"I know what you mean," said Callaghan. "You mean that if you'd been the hero in your book and—for the sake of argument—I'd been Germaine, the beautiful heroine, and we made a forced landing in a deserted part of the countryside you'd have taken advantage of me. That's what you mean, and you know it, Effie.... I'm surprised at you."
She blushed furiously. She said:
"Mr. Callaghan, you always put words into my mouth that weren't there. I mean to say, you always make me appear to say or think something that I didn't intend to say or wasn't thinking. It's too bad."
"I know," said Callaghan. "But even if I do pull your leg sometimes, Effie, you can always congratulate yourself that you've got a nice leg."
She said primly: "That, from you, Mr. Callaghan, is indeed a compliment. I'm sure you're an authority on the subject. Did you want to dictate something?"
"No," said Callaghan. "Just put your typewriter on my desk. I want to type a letter personally. Then look up the telephone number of Miss Paula Rochette—it's somewhere in Courtfield Gardens, after which you can take a couple of hours off. Just look in in time to close the office."
"Thank you," said Effie. "That is rather nice. I saw some sunbronze silk stockings that I thought I'd be able to buy if I had that rise you said you'd consider three months ago."
"This is no time for rises," he said. "Take up the question of a rise with me in three months' time, Effie. In the meantime Callaghan Investigations will stand you some silk stockings as a bonus." He laid three one-pound notes on her table. "The only thing is," he went on, "they should be beige—not sunbronze. Your type of leg needs a beige stocking."
She picked up the notes.
"Thank you, Mr. Callaghan," she said, "but I prefer sunbronze."
He shrugged his shoulders.
"That's all right with me, Effie," he said. "But I knew a woman once who used to wear sunbronze stockings and all of a sudden she went bow-legged. But don't let me put you off."
She did not reply.
She carried her typewriter into Callaghan's office, put it on the desk, found the Rochette telephone number, wrote it down on his desk pad, put on her hat and jacket and went out.
She walked to Bond Street and examined the sunbronze stockings. She came to the conclusion that they were just what she needed.
After which she bought half a dozen pairs in beige.
Callaghan sat at his desk with the typewriter before him.
He lit a cigarette and indulged in a little quiet consideration of the qualities, virtues, and possible failings of Detective-Inspector Walperton. He began to grin sardonically.
He put a sheet of notepaper into the machine and began to type a letter:
To Detective-Inspector Walperton,
Criminal Investigation Department,
New Scotland Yard.
My Dear Walperton,
I don't know you very well, because, as you know, my association at the Yard, over different cases that have come up, has always been with Chief Detective-Inspector Gringall, whose opinion I have found to be of great use to me whenever I have had occasion to ask for it.
Candidly, since I saw you last, and since my return this morning from Devonshire, I have been very worried. I am in a rather unpleasant jam. I have got to choose between my duty as a private investigator, employed by the Vendayne family and the Sphere & International Insurance, and my duty as a private citizen with its responsibilities of giving information to the police which I think they should have.
So I have decided to put myself absolutely and entirely in your hands. In spite of the fact that you have a reputation for not liking private detectives a great deal, I am of opinion that you are keen—as a police officer—to see that your duty is done and that a case which you are handling is brought to its official and proper conclusion. In this connection I know that you are as keen on protecting the innocent—even from their own foolish actions—as you are in seeing that the guilty person or persons are brought to book.
This is where I am in a jam. I want to talk to you and to put my cards on the table. When I have done this I think you will be able to go right ahead and close this case. But—and this is a big "but"—I have got to sort out my ideas and marshal my facts so that there is no possibility of innocent people being involved in a bad case. I know that you will agree with this.
So, with your permission, I propose to call and see you tomorrow and give you every bit of information which I have collected. The fact that I have (possibly) more information than has been available to the police, both in Devonshire and at Headquarters, is, of course, merely due to my personal contacts with members of the Vendayne family and others.
In the meantime, because things may be happening which will merit your professional attention, I would like to tell you that when I returned to Devonshire after our last meeting I discovered the following facts:
1. Ropey Felliner has cleared out. I think I know the reason for this. Felliner was employed by Gabriel Ventura of the Ventura Club, near Shepherd Market, to keep an eye on Blaize. I have an idea that I can guess the motive for the necessity for this and will discuss this with you to-morrow.
2. Blaize has also disappeared. It seems that he was in the neighbourhood until some time last evening, and your own information has probably told you that he had arranged the sale of the Yard Arm Road House and the cottage behind it to a man named Wallers (who, I think, is entirely unconnected with this case) some days ago. Quite obviously Blaize has been preparing to make a quick getaway. I am not certain of his reasons for wanting to do this but I feel that they must, in some way, be connected with either (a) a member of the Vendayne family, or (b) Ventura.
3. Now I must make an admission. You will remember that when I saw you last I said that I was fairly certain that the Vendayne robbery was an "outside" job. I knew at the time that you thought I was wrong, and that the steal bore all the hall-marks of an "inside" job. You were right and I was wrong. The job was an inside one and yet the obviously guilty person is quite guiltless. Believe it or not, this is a fact!
I think that after we have had our conversation to-morrow—I will telephone you when I am coming along to see you—you will agree that, as always, I have tried to do my duty and given the fullest possible co-operation and information to the authorities.
Looking forward to seeing you,
I am, sincerely yours,
Callaghan addressed an envelope, sealed it down, rang down to the porter's lodge for a page-boy. When the boy appeared Callaghan instructed him to take a cab and deliver the letter at Scotland Yard.
He replaced the typewriter on Effie Thompson's desk, returned to his office, sat down, put his feet on the desk and lit a cigarette.
When the cigarette was finished he looked at his watch. It was half-past four. Callaghan got up, walked into the outer office. He walked over to Effie Thompson's desk. He took up her note-pad, wrote on it: "I bet you bought beige stockings."
He closed and locked the office door and took the lift up to his apartment. He undressed quickly, dropping his clothes as usual on the floor, set the small alarm clock for six-thirty, lay down on the bed.
In two minutes he was asleep.
The afternoon sunshine, gilding the Berkeley Square roofs, came in at the open window and illuminated one half of the beige and blue carpet, over which Callaghan's clothes were strewn, with streaks of gold.
The small alarm clock on the bed-table, set for six-thirty, began to jangle. Callaghan grunted, awoke, looked at the ceiling as if he hadn't seen it before, and then, with a sudden movement, swung his legs off the bed and sat, running his fingers through his dishevelled hair, thinking.
This time it was Audrey.
After a few moments he got up, went to the compactum, got out fresh underwear, shirt and suit. He went into the bathroom, took a cold shower, dressed. He returned to the bedroom, drank four fingers of rye whisky out of the bottle in the cupboard and called the Rochette number on the telephone.
He was lucky. He grinned as the rather metallic voice of that lady came on the line. Callaghan said softly: "Is that you, Paula? This is Slim Callaghan speaking."
She said: "Oh, is it?" Her voice became very "county." She went on: "I'm a little bit surprised that you should have the sauce to ring me up, Mr. Callaghan."
Callaghan said: "I know, Paula, I know just what you're thinking, and believe me you're wrong. You think I ought to have set about Gabby Ventura when he was rude to you the other night."
"Well," said Paula, "what do you think? You tell me something, Mr. Callaghan... do you consider me to be a perfect lady or not?"
Callaghan said: "There can't be any question about that, Paula. I'll tell the whole world that you come out of the top drawer."
His mouth was twisted cynically.
"All right,"said Miss Rochette. "If you think I'm a perfect lady, and if you consider you're a gentleman, Mr. Callaghan, all I want to know is why didn't you smack the ears off that lousy slob Gabby when he said he'd have me pinched?"
Her voice rose at least three tones.
Callaghan said very quietly: "That's just it, Paula—that's what you don't understand. Look here, my dear," he said, "you don't like Gabby, do you?"
"Like him!" shrilled Miss Rochette. "I know just what I'd like to do with him—I'd like to..."
She told Callaghan what she would like to do to Gabby. Callaghan listened appreciatively. When she had finished, he said:
"I feel like that too, but there's more ways than one of killing a cat. I didn't do anything to Gabby that night, Paula, because I've got something worse for him up my sleeve, and how do you like that?"
"I like it all right," she said. "I'd do anything to even up with that fat bladder of lard."
Callaghan said: "There's another thing, my dear, last time I saw you you did me the favour of accepting a little gift from me—that brooch—remember? Well, I've been thinking things over and I don't think it was good enough for you."
"Oh, yes?" said Miss Rochette suspiciously. "What's the idea? I suppose you want it back?"
"Nothing like that," said Callaghan. "I told you I thought it wasn't good enough for you. I thought perhaps you'd like to give it to a friend or get rid of it. I thought you'd like something better, but I didn't want to make a mistake about buying anything, so I thought we might: meet to-night and have dinner, and I'd give you the fifty pounds to buy something really decent with."
Miss Rochette began to coo. She said:
"Mr. Callaghan—or perhaps I ought to call you Slim—I always felt underneath everything that you were a gentleman, and if you've got anything that you want put over on Gabby Ventura, I'm with you the whole way."
Callaghan said: "All right. Let's meet at the Jewel Club at eight o'clock tonight. We'll have dinner and I'll tell you my idea. So long, Paula."
He hung up the receiver.
His grin was more sardonic than ever.
IT WAS seven o'clock when Callaghan, having finished his second whisky and soda, came out of the Berkeley Buttery.
He walked slowly down to the telephone box on the corner of Hay Hill and dialled the number of Grant's Hotel. He asked for Mr. Lancelot Vendayne.
He was told to hold the line. With his free hand he took his cigarette-case from his hip pocket, extracted a cigarette, lit it. He began to blow smoke-rings.
Callaghan was thinking of the number of times he had used this particular call box in regard to different business with which Messrs. Callaghan Investigations had been concerned in the past. He remembered that most of these investigations had been brought to a conclusion that was—if only from the point of view of Callaghan Investigations—successful. He remembered also that when you spin a penny although it may come down heads twelve times in succession it is all the tea in China to a bad egg that on the thirteenth spin it will come down tails.
He hoped that the Vendayne case was not going to come down "tails."
He drew on his cigarette appreciatively. He realised, quite definitely, that the results of the Vendayne case depended on the interviews he was hoping to arrange for the night that lay before him. In any event he had burned his boats so far as Walperton was concerned. He had done that when he had written and despatched the letter which, by now, had been read and re-read by the efficient police officer with—the detective thought—a certain relish. Callaghan had to present a cut-and-dried story to Walperton next day—a story that matched up. He had to. He had been forced to burn his boats by despatching that letter, because it was on the cards that the news of Blaize's death might have, by now, come through to Walperton. With Callaghan's letter in front of him Walperton could do nothing definite. He must and would wait. He must hear what Callaghan had to say before making a definite move.
Without the letter Walperton would, in all probability, be, at that moment, on his way to Devonshire, and once arrived might, by luck—or sheer ability—discover many things that Callaghan desired should not be discovered.
Lancelot Vendayne's voice came on the line. He said:
"Who is that?"
He sounded acid and unhappy.
Callaghan said: "This is Callaghan. How are you? Are you feeling well, Lancelot? Do you feel that you can stand up to life? Or do you feel that life is too much for you and that you just can't take it?"
"Look here..." Lancelot began.
"I once said that you were a sonofabitch, Lancelot," he said amiably. "I was wrong. It would be complimenting you to call you that. You're something much worse. I'll probably think up just what you are and tell you when I see you at Grant's Hotel at eleven-thirty."
"I shan't be here at eleven-thirty," said Lancelot. "So you can save yourself the trouble of coming round. If I were here I shouldn't see you. You rather fancy yourself, don't you, Callaghan? To hell with you."
"All right," said Callaghan. "To hell with me. But even that isn't going to help you. Let me tell you something, you two-by-four love-child, and you listen to it and like it!"
Callaghan's voice took on a quality that was metallic and tough. He spoke almost softly but the words possessed a peculiar resonance that positively impinged, through the telephone receiver, on to Lancelot's ear-drum.
"I'm coming round at eleven-thirty," said Callaghan grimly. "You're going to be in your apartment, and you'll have a bottle of whisky and a siphon of soda waiting for me. If you're not there I'm going out to find you. When I've found you I'm going to knock about seventeen different kinds of hell out of you, and when you come out of hospital I'm going to have you arrested and slung into gaol like any other cheap crook who's caught breaking the law. Understand?"
"Oh, really..." Lancelot sneered. "And may I ask what the charge would be?"
Callaghan began to lie. His voice held the honest vibrancy of truth which invariably accompanied his best-thought-out and most blatant falsehoods. He said:
"I've got all I want on you... you nit-wit. I'm in possession of evidence which shows clearly that you were concerned with an individual named Blaize and your cousin Esme Vendayne in a plot to steal the jewellery at Margraud. Unluckily for you, the Major was too clever for you, and secondly, Esme has decided that it is better for her to tell the truth. I've got enough on you to put you inside for five years, you cheap four-flushing wash-out. And how do you like that?"
"My God," said Lancelot. "This is rubbish. This is..."
"Like hell it is," said Callaghan. "But if I were you I wouldn't take any chances on it being rubbish. You be at that hotel at eleven-thirty or I'll kick your teeth down your throat."
He hung up the receiver and stepped out on to Hay Hill. It was a quarter-past seven. He began to walk in the direction of Albemarle Street, towards the Jewel Club.
He thought that Lancelot would not have a very pleasant evening. He thought that Lancelot would spend two or three hours running round in circles and trying to think out just what Callaghan was planning to do to him. He grinned happily.
Miss Paula Rochette regarded Callaghan across the table, set discreetly in the corner of the Jewel Club, with an amiability that bordered on affection.
She had eaten an excellent dinner. She had, by now, accounted for three cocktails and the greater part of two bottles of champagne with appreciation. Her long, thin fingers were set daintily—with the little finger stuck well out in the manner of the best people—round the stem of a balloon glass that carried an adequate measure of fine maison.
Miss Rochette was—very nearly—at peace with the world. Wars may come and wars may go, thought Paula, but I'm here and so what. She considered that she was looking her best—a process which necessitated her squeezing a pair of hips that were beginning to show the first signs of spreading into a "wrap around" quite two sizes too small for her. Her bosom was encased in a new brassière which, invented by a lady with an eye for "uplift," was doing its stuff one hundred per cent.
Paula felt that she was uplifted in all the places that needed uplift and controlled in the places that needed control. Her complexion, after a three-quarters of an hour death struggle before the mirror in her bedroom, bore a peach-like bloom that was not more than one-sixteenth of an inch thick. Her eye-brows, plucked into the slimmest possible lines, were to her own eyes superb—even if to the impersonal gaze they resembled nothing so much as the track of an unintelligent and feeble centipede whose legs had been dipped in Indian ink. Her eyelids, shaded with a middle blue that, while suggesting to the most casual observer that Paula had not been to bed for about three years, to her own, favoured vision showed a delicate tiredness and an inclination for love—in the best possible manner of course.
She said: "Me...I've always been one for dignity—that's what I say, 'dignity,' and I don't mean anything else. My landlady—well, I call her that, but she's more of a lady's maid to me, so to speak—said to me the other day: 'Miss Rochette,' she says, 'what about these Germans, that's what's worryin' me.What do we do if they come 'ere?'
"I turned on her," said Paula. "I said: 'If they come heah, Mrs. Carroway... if such a process obtains, then what we need is fighting spirit and dignity—especially dignity."
"She says: 'Oh,' she says, 'an' what good's that goin' to do? They don't need dignity—what they need is a couple of Mills bombs.' So I turned on her again an' I said: 'Mrs. Carroway, the Mills bomb is for the soldier, but what a woman—a lady—needs is dignity. If I was to find myself confronted by a German officer of high rank, I should merely shrug my shoulders at him and say: "Herr Kapitan, I wish you to understand that you can't go on like that around here. Not with Paula Rochette anyway." I should freeze him with a look.'"
"'Oh, yes,' she says. 'An' supposin' he wasn't goin' to be froze with a look? What about it then, Miss Rochette?'
"'Then an' only then,' I told 'er, 'I should use other means. I should probably set about him, but in a ladylike manner,' I said to her, I said. 'If the worst comes to the worst there's always the flat-iron... but dignity first. Let's be ladies while we can an' if we can't go on bein' ladies then, of course, we've just got to set about 'em.'"
Paula absorbed a large gulp of brandy. She leaned towards Callaghan.
"You've heard about Helen of Troy?" she said mysteriously.
Callaghan said: "No, Paula. Tell me about her."
"There was a woman," said Paula. "She'd got something all right. Look what she done to Marc Antony. When things was goin' bad an' this Marc Antony was ravagin' around the countryside like a human grass'opper, what does she do? Tell me that. What does she do?"
"Well, what did she do?" asked Callaghan.
Miss Rochette's lips set in a firm line.
"She lured 'im into 'er tent an' cut off 'is retreat," she confided. "An' the next day they gave 'er a golden apple. If you go down to Chelsea you can see the Chelsea 'Ospital that they built as a memento. What I've always said is the moment produces the woman. Every big moment produces a big woman. Boadicea, Joan of Arc, Nell Gwyn, Mae West and Mademoiselle from Armentières... history's full of 'em."
Callaghan nodded. "You're right, Paula," he said. "These were women who knew when and how to take their revenge. You're that sort of woman. A modern Boadicea with a touch of Mae West. That's why I wanted to talk to you about Gabby."
"Gabby..." She almost hissed the word. "There's somebody I'm waitin' for..."
Callaghan interrupted. His voice was soft and intriguing.
"Tell me something, Paula," he said. "Did Gabby try and get in touch with you after he was rude to you at the Ventura Club the other night? Did he try to apologise?"
"Apologise nothin'," said Paula. "But he got in touch all right. He 'ad the nerve to ring me up an' ask me what I'd been doin' with you... what we'd been talkin' about. He said he wanted to know an' that if I didn't tell him he'd fix it so that I never got another job in any club in the West End."
"Ah," said Callaghan. "And did you tell him?"
Paula made a grimace intended to denote deep disdain.
"I wish you could have heard what I told him," she said. "I was as cold as ice. I said: 'Mr. Ventura,' I said: 'there's no need for you to ring through to me an' ask me questions because I don't want to talk to you. Another thing,' I said, 'as for workin' at your club or any other club, any time you feel like tryin' to put the bar up to me, you go right ahead.' I said: 'I don't want to lose my temper or my dignity with you, Mr. Ventura, but if you try any funny business with me I'm comin' round to that lousy dump of yours that you call a club, an' I'm goin' to tear your bled-in' ears off. So now you know!' An' with that I hung up."
Callaghan nodded appreciatively.
"That's the spirit, Paula," he said. "It's time someone put Gabby in his place, and..." He leaned towards her, smiling. "I think you and I can do it."
Paula finished her brandy. She said vaguely:
"Anything you want, dear. I always liked you. I always know a gentleman when I see one...."
Callaghan looked at his wrist-watch. It was a quarter to eleven. He put his fingers into his waist-coat pocket and extracted five new ten-pound notes. He folded them carefully and laid them beside Paula's empty brandy glass.
"Buy yourself something with that, Paula," he said. "Something worthy of you. I hate giving you money, but it's better than buying something that doesn't match up with your particular personality."
Her fingers closed over the notes. Callaghan went on:
"Gabby's met his Waterloo. And I don't mean the railway station. If I don't get him pulled in within two or three days, my name's not Callaghan. How d'you like that, Paula?"
"Marvellous," she said, with a suggestion of a hiccough. "I'd give a couple of toes to see that fat son of a so-and-so wearin' broad arrows. It 'ud suit his complexion."
Callaghan said: "Would you like to help in the process, Paula?"
His voice was almost like the cooing of a dove.
"You watch me, darlin'," said Paula with feeling. "I'd swim through fifty feet of snow to even up with that lousy false alarm—even if I am a lady."
She paused while Callaghan poured a generous measure of brandy into her glass.
He took out his pocket-book and extracted a card. He wrote something on it, handed it to Paula.
"At twelve o'clock to-night," he said, "I want you to telephone through to Gabby at the Ventura Club. When you get through say it's a matter of life and death. That you must speak to him. When he comes on the line say your piece. Tell him what I've written on that card. Only you needn't be polite about it."
Paula read the card. Her eyes popped.
"Lovely," she said. "This is where I get a real thrill. I'm goin' to love tellin' 'im that...."
Callaghan signalled the waiter and paid the bill. He said:
"I've got to be getting along, Paula. One of these days, maybe sooner than you think, we'll meet again."
She gulped down the brandy. She said:
"Anytime you want to get in touch, dear, just ring me. There's something about you that sort of appeals to me." She looked wildly round the room. She believed she was being dramatic. She went on: "I've always been lookin' for somebody like you. Somebody who was a real gentleman with money no object. I wonder is my search at an end...."
The effect of this speech was spoiled by another hiccough.
Callaghan said: "Let's leave future meetings in the hands of Fate, Paula. All you've got to remember is to get through to Gabby at twelve o'clock and give him that message. You won't forget?"
"Never," said Paula. "Never... while I can stand on my feet I always keep my word."
"Fine," said Callaghan. "I knew I'd picked the right woman. I'll put you in a cab, Paula. You'd better go home."
Miss Rochette got up with dignity. She said:
"Maybe you're right, sweet'eart. I think I will lie down for a bit, because I've got a feeling if I don't lie down, I'll fall down."
Outside, as Callaghan put her into the taxicab, she said:
"So long, Slim. I shall always remember you as the perfect gent. Only next time we meet you'd better come round and have a drink at my place. I think it does everybody good to relax sometimes...."
The cab drove away. Callaghan heaved a sigh. He walked quickly back to Berkeley Square. Let himself into the office, sat down before Effie Thompson's typewriter, inserted a quarto sheet of plain typing paper and began to type...
Grant's Hotel, Clarges Street...
At eleven-thirty precisely Callaghan walked into Grant's Hotel in Clarges Street. He went to the reception desk. He said:
"I've come to see Mr. Vendayne. He's waiting for me. Where's his room?"
The clerk told him. Callaghan walked up the stairs to the first floor. When he came to Lancelot's door he pushed it open and went in.
He found himself in a well-furnished sitting-room. To the left was an open door leading off, he imagined, to a bedroom. In the centre of the sitting-room was a table and on the other side of it sat Lancelot. Callaghan noted with appreciation that there was a bottle of whisky, a siphon and glasses on the sideboard.
Lancelot said: "You've got a hell of a nerve, Callaghan. I really don't know why I stayed here to talk to you. If I did the right thing I'd call the police."
Callaghan walked round the table past Lancelot and went to the sideboard. He poured himself out four fingers of whisky, drank it, followed it with a chaser of soda-water. He walked back to the table and stood looking down at Lancelot.
Callaghan said: "You're just a big air balloon, Lancelot. You're tall, you're good-looking, you look like a man ought to look, but inside you're all air. You make me feel sick."
Lancelot jumped up. He aimed a wild blow at Callaghan's face. Callaghan caught the punch easily with his left hand, then he stepped back and hit Lancelot fairly between the eyes.
Lancelot went over the back of his chair. He lay on the floor for a minute, then began to scramble up. When he was fairly set on his feet Callaghan knocked him down again. He said:
"That's that. Now let's finish with this idea of rough stuff; you're no good at it. You're no good at anything. Just sit down and relax. I'm going to talk to you."
Vendayne wiped the blood from his mouth. He said:
"All right, but I'm going to even up with you for this. You wait."
His voice was almost petulant, like that of an angry woman.
Callaghan said: "I'll chance that."
He went to the sideboard, mixed a stiff whisky and soda, brought it back, put it on the table before Lancelot.
"Drink that," he said. "You need it. I told you you couldn't take it."
He returned to the sideboard and got himself another drink. Then he moved to the fireplace and stood, his back to the empty grate, the whisky glass in his hand, looking at Lancelot.
"If you're wise," he said, "if you have any brains at all, you're going to listen to me very carefully. I'm going to tell you two stories. One of them is the truth. The second one is a little variation on the truth evolved by me. When you've heard it, you'll realise that the second story sounds as if it's the true one, and that the first story, which is in effect the truth, sounds as if it were false. Now here's the first story:
"Last year you got your uncle, Major Vendayne, to put a large lump of his capital into some wild-cat share scheme of yours. It must have been a good-sounding scheme because, not only did you get Major Vendayne to put his money into it, but you got Gabby Ventura to put money in too. Well, it didn't come off. Both Major Vendayne and Gabby lost their money, but whereas the Major probably considered that it was just bad luck that the deal didn't come off, Gabby wasn't prepared to be so accommodating. He had the idea that you anyhow had made something out of it. He didn't like that. I imagine he got rather tough with you about it, and in trying to excuse yourself you told him that he wasn't the only person who'd lost his money; that your own uncle had gone down too.
"At this time there was an idea about that you might marry Audrey Vendayne. Because of this the Major said nothing to Audrey about the share deal. Afterwards, when she decided she didn't like you very much—and I don't blame her either—he couldn't tell her. The reasons don't matter.
"Anyhow in those days you were hanging about Margraud, probably trying to get Audrey to change her mind, and you were hanging about there when Esme came back from Cape Town.
"Esme wasn't feeling so good. She was worried. She had to confide in someone and she wanted money. She wanted money to keep Blaize quiet. She tried everything she knew, but eventually she could do nothing more and as a last resort she came to you. She told you the story. She told you how she'd married Blaize in Cape Town, how Blaize was blackmailing her. She told you how he had come over and taken the Yard Arm so as to be in the vicinity. She told you how he'd promised, if he got sufficient money, he'd allow her to divorce him quietly without the news of the marriage coming to the ears of her father or family.
"I expect you were interested—possibly you were amused," Callaghan went on. "But you didn't do anything about it. When you came back to town I've no doubt that you told Gabby Ventura the news as an amusing tit-bit. You were trying to make friends with Gabby. You'd never been particularly happy since that business of the share deal. You were rather afraid of him.
"All right. The next thing is that you hear that the Vendayne jewellery has been stolen. You know that both the local police and Scotland Yard believe it to be an inside job. Well, it didn't take very much intelligence for you to put two and two together. You guessed that Esme had found a way of paying off Blaize. You guessed that she'd let him into the house, given him the combination of the safe. You didn't even guess, you knew. You knew Blaize had that jewellery.
"Well, that suited your book. What did it matter to you? In the normal course of events you would neither have had the jewellery nor the proceeds from the sale of it until after the Major's death. The burglary was all right for you provided the Insurance Company paid up. You just stood around and watched points. You noticed that the Major didn't seem in any hurry to put in a claim to the Insurance Company. You practically forced him to. Incidentally, I expect you wondered why he hadn't done it earlier.
"But even after the claim had gone in, the Insurance Company weren't keen to pay, so you thought you'd use another lever. You got me brought in on this job, the idea being that when I went down to Margraud, Esme would get the wind up, tell her father the truth, and in order to save his daughter's reputation he'd come in on your side. He would insist on an immediate payment of the claim, and when he'd got it I imagine you'd have wanted all the money.
"When Audrey Vendayne heard the scheme for putting in a private detective on this case, she didn't like it—her reasons don't matter—I know and understand them. She came up to town. Her idea was to keep me out of this case. She thought she'd need some money to do it with, so she asked you to lend her £300. You lent it to her, not knowing what she wanted it for, because you thought you might make a come-back with her, but you didn't lend her your own money—you hadn't got £300. You borrowed it from Ventura, and Ventura lent it to you because at that moment it suited his book.
"Naturally," Callaghan went on cheerfully, "you weren't very pleased when I told you that I'd got Layne to withdraw the claim against the Insurance Company. You went snooping around and found that I'd arranged to represent them too, so you rang through to Audrey and tried to make things tough for me. Well, it just didn't come off.
"In fact," said Callaghan, looking more amiable than ever, "I have for once done my complete duty. I've not only represented the Vendayne family fairly adequately, but it looks to me as if I've also saved the Insurance Company a whole lot of money. That," said Callaghan with a grin, "makes me feel very good."
Lancelot said nothing. Callaghan lit a cigarette, drank a little whisky and soda.
"Now, Lancelot," he said, "that's the truth—the whole truth and nothing but the truth. That's the story which, if I tell it to the police, they won't believe. You'll agree that to any normal policeman such a story would sound impossible.
"So," Callaghan continued, "I've another story, a story which isn't true, but which matches up with the facts. I'm going to tell it to you. When I've told it to you, you're either going to agree to do what I want, or I'm going to tell this second story to the police. I think it'll put you inside. Listen to it."
Lancelot sat back in his chair. He had finished dabbing his mouth with his handkerchief. He took a gulp of whisky and soda. His eyes were interested.
Callaghan said: "This Vendayne case is a scream. It's one of the funniest stories I've ever heard in my life. I'm going to give you laugh number one: when Blaize got into Margraud and stole that jewellery, he didn't get the real stuff. He got imitation jewels—fakes that the Major had had made in place of the originals. Esme didn't know that, and you didn't know it, at the time. But my story is going to be that you did know it. My story is that when Esme came to you and said she needed money, you suggested to her that Blaize should steal the Vendayne jewellery, knowing it to be imitation, so that the Major should be forced to put in what was in effect a fake claim on the Insurance Company, of which you would take £75,000 and out of which you promised you'd settle up with Blaize. If you examine the situation you'll find that the evidence points to that being the actual case, although, as you and I know, it isn't.
"Blaize knew about you," Callaghan went on. "Esme had probably told him that she was trying to get money from you. He also knew that when the Major died the jewellery came to you. When Blaize discovered that it was fake, that all his trouble and risk had been for nothing, he was naturally annoyed, so he tried to make things hot for Esme. He sent you an anonymous note—you showed it to me yourself—saying that the jewellery wasn't worth £40. You didn't do anything about that note," said Callaghan, "because you hoped the Insurance Company would still pay. That makes you out to be a crook, because you knew then that the jewellery that had been stolen was fake. But you told one person—I believe you told Ventura."
Lancelot said: "What's all this stuff about Ventura? How does he come into this?"
"That's no business of yours," said Callaghan. "When I want you to ask questions I'll tell you."
Callaghan finished his whisky and soda.
"I've got an appointment at Scotland Yard to-morrow," he went on. "I've got to tell something to this policeman Walperton, who's in charge of this job. Walperton is keen. He's thirsting for somebody's blood. Well, I'm going to give him somebody—I'll give him you, Lancelot."
Lancelot said bitterly: "I see. So I'm to be the one to suffer. But if you do that, tell me one thing: what explanation will you give to the police about the switch over of the jewellery? My uncle must have been responsible for that. Well, what will you tell them about that?"
Callaghan smiled. His smile was beatific.
"That's easy, Lancelot," he said. "The Major will tell them that he suspected an attempt, was going to be made on the jewellery, so he had it replaced by imitations—a most praiseworthy thing to do."
"I see," said Lancelot. "So that's the story. But at the same time you've got to admit one thing. He allowed that claim to be put in on the Insurance Company, knowing that the jewellery was fake."
"All right," said Callaghan. "Didn't you do the same thing? When Blaize wrote you that note and told you the jewellery was fake, did you go down to the Insurance Company and tell 'em about it?"
Callaghan's grin was broader than ever.
"You're beat, Lancelot, and you know it. If you've got any sense you'll play things my way. That way you'll get something."
Lancelot looked at the table. After a minute he said:
"Well, what's your way?"
Callaghan put his hand in his pocket. He produced the quarto sheet of notepaper. He said:
"I have typed out a little document here. You're going to sign it. I'll tell you what this document says. It says that as final and last owner of the Vendayne jewellery after your uncle's death, you're entitled to sell that jewellery. It says that you're prepared, with his consent, to sell it now, and that you're prepared and wish to divide the proceeds of approximately £100,000 with him.
"That means," said Callaghan, "that you'll get £50,000 and no accusation from me. Well, that's fair enough, isn't it, Lancelot?"
Lancelot said: "That's all right so long as I get some money. But how can we sell the jewellery? We haven't got it."
Callaghan said: "Don't you worry about that, Lancelot. I'm going to get it."
He walked over to the table and put the sheet of notepaper in front of Lancelot. He handed Lancelot his pen. He said:
"Of course you could say this document was obtained from you under duress. You could say a lot of things, Lancelot, but you won't, because if you do you know exactly what I'll do to you. I'll get you a sentence as an accessory before and after the Vendayne burglary. If Esme is brought into this, you're going to be brought into it too, and whatever she gets you'll get too. Remember that."
Lancelot said impatiently: "Very well, I've got no choice. I agree to sign the document."
As he laid down the pen he said: "And what about Blaize?"
Callaghan said: "You don't have to worry about Blaize. Nobody has to worry about him." He picked up the sheet of notepaper, his pen and his hat. "He hasn't even got to worry about himself," he said.
Callaghan stood outside the entrance of Grant's Hotel in Clarges Street. He looked at his watch. It was twelve o'clock. He began to walk towards Berkeley Square.
Miss Rochette's alarm clock, which she had set carefully for midnight, exploded with a jangle. Paula, who, dressed in her cami-knickers, was lying full length on her bed, indulging in a little quite lady-like snoring, awoke with a start. She yawned, stretched, sat on the edge of the bed, ran her fingers through her hair. After a moment she got up. She went to a cupboard and extracted a bottle of gin, poured out a full measure, drank it. She went to the dressing-table and picked up the card which Callaghan had given to her. She walked a little unsteadily to the telephone, sat down by it, took off the receiver and dialled the Ventura Club. She said:
"I want to speak to Mr. Ventura... Never mind who I am, you can tell him it's urgent. It's a matter of life and death."
Her voice was dramatic. Paula was enjoying herself. After a moment Ventura's voice came on the line. Paula said:
"Is that you, you fat slob? This is Paula Rochette. So you're the feller who's going to have me barred from working in the West End clubs, are you? All right. Did anybody ever tell you that 'hell hath no fury like a woman scorned'? Well, you listen to this: I've been dining with a friend of yours tonight. Maybe he's not such a friend as you think. His name's Callaghan. He told me something in confidence, and I ought not to tell you. But I'm going to. You get those big fat ears of yours open and listen to this:
"Callaghan's got you. He's going to slam you inside. He knows all about the Vendayne jewellery. He knows all about you. You big fat false alarm, you haven't got a leg to stand on, and when they get you stuck behind the bars I'm coming down every day just to make faces at you. Good-night, sweetheart."
Miss Rochette slammed down the receiver. She looked at herself in the glass. The mascara from one eyebrow had run into her eye. She was not pleased with the effect. She sighed, drank a little more gin, saw Callaghan's five ten-pound notes folded on her dressing-table, sighed contentedly and went back to bed.
IT was exactly twelve o'clock when Detective-Inspector Walperton braked his well-polished two-seater to a standstill outside a block of apartments in Chelsea.
He went inside, got into the lift and ascended to the second floor. He walked along to the flat at the end of the corridor and rang the bell. Then he lit a cigarette and waited.
Three minutes afterwards Chief Detective-Inspector Gringall, in a blue dressing-gown and with a surprised expression, opened the door. He stood for a moment looking at Walperton. Then he began to smile. It was a nice, sympathetic smile. It was the smile of a parent who has experienced certain difficulties in life and who realises that someone not so experienced as himself is beginning to discover them too.
Gringall raised one eyebrow quizzically.
He said: "Callaghan?"
"Yes, Mr. Gringall," he replied. "Callaghan... you've said it."
Gringall said: "Come in. I rather thought you'd have something to get off your chest about the Vendayne business."
He led the way into his study, closed the door, got out a bottle of whisky, a siphon of soda and two glasses. He began to mix the drinks. Walperton sat in one of the big leather armchairs.
"Go ahead," said Gringall. "What's our friend Callaghan been up to now?"
Walperton took the glass from his superior's hand.
"I got a letter from Callaghan this afternoon," he said. "It was sent round by hand. It was a funny sort of letter. Perhaps you'd like to read it."
He brought the letter from his pocket, handed it to Gringall. Gringall read the letter. When he had finished, he said:
"I've had letters like this from Callaghan too. They tell you nothing. They suggest that Callaghan knows a lot and that in due course, if you're good and wait around, you'll know it too."
"It's like his damned insolence," said Walperton.
"Quite," he said. "He is an insolent fellow, isn't he? But he's damned clever. What's the position, Walperton?" he went on. "Is there anything fresh in the Vendayne case?"
"Plenty," Walperton replied grimly. "When I got the letter from Callaghan this afternoon I wasn't worried. Things were more or less as they had been. There's only one point of interest since I last talked with you about this business and that was that Layne—Major Vendayne's solicitor—had withdrawn the claim against the Insurance Company, on the grounds that Callaghan had got a line on where that jewellery was. He thought he was going to get it back. That intrigued me, but there was no reason why I should do anything about it.
"Very well," Walperton went on. "At ten o'clock Gridley came through to me from Devonshire. I sent him down there last night to investigate a feller named Blaize who's been living in the neighbourhood. You notice Callaghan says in his letter that Blaize had disappeared. Well, they've found Blaize's body lying at the bottom of a sort of ravine in the cliff between Margraud and the place where Blaize lived."
Gringall raised his eyebrows.
"What do you think about that?" he asked.
"Work it out for yourself, sir," said Walperton. "Callaghan admits in that letter that his opinion about the burglary was the same as mine—that it was an inside job. That means it was some member of the family. That member of the family was probably working with Blaize.
"I see," said Gringall. "That makes it serious, doesn't it? And what did you do then?"
"I didn't do anything," said Walperton.
He paused for a moment because he noticed the faint smile which had reappeared on Gringall's face. Then he went on:
"I didn't do anything because I was a little worried. I thought it would be foolish for me to go down there or to give Gridley some definite instructions before I'd heard what Callaghan had got to say to-morrow."
"Quite," said Gringall. "Callaghan knew you'd do that. That's why he sent you that letter. He's playing for time."
He took a pipe from one pocket of his dressing-gown, a pouch from the other. He began to fill the pipe.
Walperton said: "If Callaghan obstructs me I'm going to arrest him, sir. I'm getting a little bored with Callaghan."
Gringall said: "Walperton, I've been bored with Callaghan. I've been angry with him. There have been moments when I could cheerfully have killed him, but I have never been such a fool as to consider arresting him."
Walperton raised his eyebrows.
He said: "No?"
"No," said Gringall. "Now let me tell you something. You've heard of the motto of Callaghan Investigations: 'We get there somehow and who the hell cares how'? The joke is he does get there somehow."
Gringall sat down in the other armchair. He drew contentedly on his pipe.
"My advice to you, Walperton," he said, "is just sit tight and hear what Callaghan's got to say to-morrow, because my bet is that you'll hear as much of the truth as he wants to tell you."
Walperton raised his eyebrows again.
"As much as he wants to tell me," he said.
"Precisely," said Gringall. "If Callaghan doesn't tell you any part of the story it's because he knows that the part he doesn't tell you is so vague, so ambiguous and so impossible for you to check, that he's safe in not telling it to you. I know the Callaghan system. To-morrow he'll give you just as many facts as he wants to give you." He smiled sympathetically. "I'll take a little bet with you, Walperton," he said. "Callaghan's got this case in the bag. Whatever he's planned to do has been carried to a more or less successful conclusion."
Walperton said: "Well, I hope it'll be successful in my opinion, Mr. Gringall."
"I don't see why it shouldn't be," said Gringall. "Work it out for yourself. Callaghan's been representing two parties in this case—two parties whose interests at first seemed to be at opposite ends of the stick—the Insurance Company and the Vendayne family. Well, he's done the right thing by the Insurance Company, hasn't he?"
Walperton nodded glumly.
"You mean they're happy because the claim's withdrawn?"
"Precisely," said Gringall. "And the second thing that Callaghan's got to do is to keep the Vendayne family happy, and I imagine he's taken steps to ensure that. Then there's a third thing—he's got to keep Detective-Inspector Walperton happy. I imagine," said Gringall, smiling broadly, "that he'll start making you happy to-morrow."
Walperton got up. He said:
"Thank you very much, sir. I'll wait and see what happens."
"That's right," said Gringall. "When in doubt don't do anything. I've always found that a very good rule for a police officer..." He led the way to the door. "Especially in dealing with Slim Callaghan."
Callaghan lay on his bed, looking at the ceiling. He was thinking about Audrey Vendayne and, at the same time, telling himself that he spent too much time on the process. He turned his mind to other matters.
Being a private investigator was an odd business, thought Callaghan. People came to you because they were in some sort of a jam; because they didn't want to go to the police, because for some reason they were afraid of the police.
Sometimes they told you the truth; usually they told you half or a quarter of the truth. Then you began to fill in the blanks for yourself and if you could you started something, sat back, watched things begin to happen.
You planned a definite scheme based on the personalities in your investigation. Once you had started the scheme you couldn't stop. You hoped for the best. But you could be certain of one thing. Either it came off or it didn't.
And up to the moment, Callaghan ruminated with a half smile, it had come off.
He hoped it would continue to come off.
He turned over on his side and reached for the whisky bottle which stood on the bed-table. He put the neck of the bottle in his mouth and took a long pull.
The telephone on the table began to jangle.
Callaghan, with the neck of the bottle still in his mouth, grinned. He finished drinking, replaced the bottle, picked up the receiver.
It was Gabby Ventura. He said:
"Hallo, Slim. Listen... I want to talk to you."
Callaghan said: "There's no law against it. Won't to-morrow do?"
He was still grinning. He looked almost satanic.
There was a pause. Then Ventura said:
"No. This is urgent, Slim. It's urgent for you an' me. I've got to talk to you now. What about coming over? I've got a bottle of champagne that's asking for you to drink it."
"I never drink champagne," said Callaghan. "Only whisky—at this time of night anyway."
He turned his wrist over and looked at his watch. It was twelve-forty.
Ventura said, in a voice that was intended to be facetious: "Well... I've got a lot of whisky. Come on over, Slim."
"Why don't you come over here... to the office?" said Callaghan. "I've got some whisky too."
There was another pause. Then:
"Look, Slim... don't be difficut. I want you to come over here. I've got somethin' I want to hand over to you."
Callaghan said: "Ah... Now you're talking, Gabby. Do I take it you're going to hand over the Vendayne jewellery—the real stuff?"
"That's right," said Gabby in a near-cheerful voice. "I know when I'm beat, Slim."
Callaghan swung his legs off the bed. He said:
"All right, Gabby. I'll come over now. I'll meet you in the club."
"No," said Ventura. "Don't do that. There's not many people there. They'll be closing down in a little while. Come around to the back door and up to the flat. I'll be waiting downstairs for you."
"All right," said Callaghan. "I'll be with you in fifteen minutes. I'll come straight round."
He hung up. He got up, put on his hat, walked along the corridor, took the lift down to the office. He opened the outer door, went into his own room, sat down in front of the desk and opened the lowest drawer in the right pedestal.
The drawer contained a Luger pistol, a .32 automatic and a bottle of Canadian Bourbon. Callaghan picked up the Luger, looked at it, examined the cartridge clip, pushed it back into the butt, pulled back the recoil action, thereby pushing a cartridge into the breech, put on the safety catch and put the pistol in the pocket specially inserted under his left arm.
He took a long swig at the Canadian rye, replaced the bottle, closed the door, went out of the office and took the lift down to the street level.
He closed the lift gates behind him and walked along the passage to the porter's lodge. Wilkie—the night porter—was sitting in his glass box smoking, reading The Evening News.
Callaghan said: "Wilkie... Listen to this, and no mistakes now. I'm going to see a gentleman named Mr. Ventura. You'd better write down his telephone number"—Callaghan gave him the number. "At ten past one precisely," he went on, "I want you to telephone through to that number. When you get through ask for Mr. Ventura. When he asks who you are, you say: 'This is Detective-Inspector Walperton, Scotland Yard. I want to talk to Mr. Callaghan, please.' "
Callaghan paused to light a cigarette.
"Have you got that, Wilkie?"
Wilkie said he had got it.
"Then," Callaghan continued, "I'll come on the line. I'll probably talk a lot of nonsense but you don't have to take any notice. See?"
Wilkie said that was O.K. Callaghan laid a pound note on the little desk in front of the night porter and went out.
He began to walk towards Shepherd Market. He skirted the market, turned into the Mews, turned right and found himself in the passage that led to the rear of the Ventura Club. Twenty yards away the passage was bisected by a narrow cross-road that ran down by the side of the club.
He walked slowly down the passage. When he had walked five or six steps he stopped and listened. He took out his cigarette-case and lighter and lit a cigarette. All the time he was listening.
He snapped out the lighter, put it back into his pocket and continued on his way down the passage. He was whistling softly.
He came to the place where the narrow roadway ran across the passage. Callaghan, his nerves alert, stepped into the roadway, made as if to take another step, stopped, jumped backwards.
A touring car screeched past, missing Callaghan by a good twelve inches.
Callaghan crossed the road. He moved into the shadows of the passage on the other side. He stood there waiting. Five minutes afterwards he heard the quiet throb of the motor.
He came out of the passage and turned up by the side of the Ventura Club. He walked twenty paces and turned right. He stopped in front of the dark entrance of the club. The driver of the touring car was turning the car, backing it towards the mews opposite.
Callaghan slipped his hand inside his coat for the Luger. He took three very quick, quiet strides. He put his hand over the side of the car and caught the driver by the front of his collar.
"Switch off, Ropey," said Callaghan. "You can leave the car here. And get out."
Felliner grunted. He switched off, put on the hand-brake and got out. He said:
"Look... what the 'ell...?"
Callaghan dug the Luger barrel into Ropey's soft oversized belly. He said:
"Just walk in front of me round to the back entrance. Gabby's waiting there."
Felliner obeyed. They walked back to the passage, turned left. Fifteen yards away Callaghan could see the dim glow of Gabby's shaded flash-lamp.
Gabby said: "What's goin' on, Slim? What the hell! Why... it's Ropey! Why...?"
Callaghan said: "Cut it out, Gabby. It didn't come off, that's all. Now we can have our little talk. But excuse me for just a minute."
He pushed Ropey against the wall. He said in a very soft and pleasant voice:
"I'm a bit fed up with you, Ropey. I don't like you. I never liked you anyway, but since two or three minutes ago I positively dislike you. You get out of here, Ropey, and keep going. In the meantime let me give you a little memento to keep with you."
Callaghan threw up the Luger and caught it by the barrel. He hit Ropey fairly across the face with the pistol butt. Ropey emitted a shrill whine. He slipped down against the wall until he was sitting on the stone pavement. His hands were pressed to his face.
Callaghan said: "Get up and get out. The next time I see you I'll tear you open, you cheap has-been."
Ropey got up. He was still whining softly. He kept his hands pressed to his face. He began to walk unsteadily down the passage.
Callaghan said: "Come on, Gabby. Let's have our talk. It's too bad for you that: Ropey missed me with that car." He paused to light a cigarette. "I've been waiting for you to telephone me," he went on. "I knew you'd try something directly Paula Rochette came through to you with that stuff I told her to hand out. I guessed you'd try something with a car. All Ropey had to do was to knock me down and then run over me again and finish me. Just another accident in the blackout."
"Nice work if you can get it," he said.
Gabby said nothing. He turned and began to walk up the stairs. Callaghan closed the door behind him and followed. When they got to the flat above he put the Luger back in his pocket.
It was five minutes past one. Callaghan, seated in the armchair by the side of the empty fireplace, watched Gabby as he mixed two whiskies and sodas at the sideboard. Gabby turned and brought the drinks to the table. He handed one to Callaghan. He said:
"Look, Slim, you know me. I'm one for letting bygones be bygones. It's no good me telling you that I wasn't behind this idea of Ropey's—this car business—because you wouldn't believe me. But I wasn't. I think maybe Ropey was a little bit annoyed with you on his own account, see?"
Callaghan said: "I see." He took a long drink. "Don't you think it's time you stopped telling lies, Gabby?" he said. "You know you're in a jam. There's only one way out of it."
Gabby sat down in the armchair opposite. He took a small but expensive cigar out of his waistcoat pocket and lit it. The diamond pin in his tie was twinkling. Callaghan noticed that Gabby's mouth was almost relaxed, apparently contented. He thought that there was nothing wrong with Ventura's nerve.
Gabby said pleasantly: "All right. For the sake of argument I'm in a jam and I can get out of it. Well, I never mind listening to you talk, Slim. You're always interestin'. How am I in a jam and how do I get out?"
Callaghan said: "Listen, Gabby. I know the story, so do you. Let me give you an outline of how you're mixed up in this thing. First of all you weren't very pleased with Lancelot Vendayne. He got you in that share deal. You put money into it. It didn't come off and you lost your dough. You began to dislike Lancelot. Well, Lancelot had a respect for you—he wanted to be on the right side of you. He was careful to explain that you weren't the only person who'd lost money. He told you that Major Vendayne had lost his too; that he was in a worse jam than you were—you still had some left anyway, probably plenty. Lancelot probably enlarged on that argument. He told you what a tough spot old man Vendayne was in. He probably told you about the mortgage.
"You got an idea, Gabby—quite a sound idea. Lancelot had pointed out that when Major Vendayne died he'd have the jewellery, that he was legally entitled to sell it; that he'd be worth £100,000. He promised you that he'd repay the money he owed you if you'd finance him some more.
"You probably agreed, but you wanted to keep an eye on Lancelot, so you introduced him to Paula Rochette, who was working in your club. You instructed her to let you know what he was doing.
"Well, the next thing that happened was that Lancelot told you that Esme Vendayne was married to Blaize. I'll take another shade of odds that he also told you that Blaize had come over to this country and was blackmailing Esme, that she'd asked him—Lancelot—for money, but that he couldn't put it up. I should think that he suggested to you that Esme might find a way out of her difficulties by letting Blaize steal the Vendayne jewellery. Lancelot wouldn't have worried about that anyway. If the jewellery was stolen he'd get the major portion of the insurance."
Callaghan paused. He drank a little more whisky.
He said: "How am I doing, Gabby?"
Ventura grinned at him quite amiably through the cigar smoke.
"You're not doing so badly. Go on, Slim. I told you you're always interestin'."
Callaghan went on: "The position wasn't good enough for you, Gabby," he said. "You've always been a one for taking chances, and you thought out a little scheme by which you could get on the right end of this deal. You made an appointment to see Major Vendayne. You pointed out to him that his position was fairly desperate, that if he didn't pay off that £20,000 mortgage, the mortgagees would foreclose on Margraud, and that would have broken his heart. You offered to lend him £20,000 to pay off that mortgage, provided he would hand over the Vendayne jewellery to you."
Callaghan lit a fresh cigarette. He went on:
"The old boy was quite desperate. He would have done anything to save Margraud, but he probably put up a couple of objections. You smoothed them over. You said that there'd be plenty of time for him to pay back the money, in which case you'd give him back the jewellery, and that if he died the jewellery would go to Lancelot Vendayne. You then told him how Lancelot had taken you both in over the share deal. You told the old man that you would simply hold the jewellery as a security, in the event of his death, until Lancelot arranged to pay you back what he owed you.
"The Major's next objection was what was going to happen on the occasions when the jewellery was supposed to be shown. You said you'd look after that," Callaghan grinned. "You know a lot of people in the fake jewellery business, don't you, Gabby?" he said. "Well, one of them did a nice job for you. He made you a complete replica of the Vendayne jewels and you handed them over to the Major. Even when they were sent back to the bank vault nobody would open the cases to look at them. It wasn't their business, and anyway nobody would distrust the Major." Callaghan paused. He said: "Am I still doing pretty well, Gabby?"
Ventura nodded. "Nice work. Slim," he said. His voice was almost patronising.
"Well," said Callaghan, "everything was all right. You'd got the Vendayne jewellery. You knew that the Major would never be able to repay the debt during his lifetime. You thought he'd die pretty quickly. You'd have stuck to that jewellery. You wouldn't have worried about the money that Lancelot owed you. The jewellery was worth much more.
"Unfortunately," Callaghan went on, "things began to happen. The fake jewellery was stolen. Then you began to get a little worried. Lancelot, I think, was rather pleased. He probably told you that this was the time to collect the insurance, that when he'd got the money he'd pay you back. That suited you all right, but you were worried in case Blaize discovered the jewels he'd stolen were fake, so when you got the opportunity you sent Ropey Felliner down to Devonshire to keep an eye on Blaize.
"I imagine Blaize is not much of an expert on jewels. Anyway, he probably sent that stuff away to be re-cut, only keeping one bracelet. It took quite a little time before his friends in the jewellery business told him that the stuff was fake. Then Blaize got tough with Esme. Not only did he get tough with Esme, but he sent an anonymous note to Lancelot, telling him the stuff was fake. Lancelot knew where that note came from. He showed it to me, and I'll bet he also showed it to you.
"Now look, Gabby," Callaghan went on, "you hand over that jewellery and as far as the Vendayne burglary is concerned, the claim on the Insurance Company and all the rest of that stuff, you're going to be all right."
He stopped talking as the telephone began to ring. Ventura lifted the receiver and spoke. After a minute he turned to Callaghan and said:
"There's a policeman—Walperton—wants to talk to you."
"Oh, yes," said Callaghan. "I fixed for him to ring through just in case anything happened to me around here."
He walked over to the telephone, picked up the receiver. He said:
"Is that you, Walperton?"
At the other end of the line, Wilkie said softly: "O.K., Mr. Callaghan."
"I think everything's all right," said Callaghan. "I'm with Ventura now. I don't think there'll be any need for any prosecutions. The whole job's straightened out all right. Thanks a lot. Good-night, Walperton."
He hung up. Gabby was standing in front of the fireplace, one hand on the mantelpiece, looking down into the empty grate. He said:
"O.K., Slim. I know when I'm licked. This is the first time in my life I've been taken for a sucker. And I don't mean you," he went on, "I mean that Lancelot bastard."
His face flushed. Gabby was very angry.
Callaghan said: "Don't worry, Gabby. I've seen Lancelot to-night." He produced the sheet of notepaper from his breast pocket. "You're going to be all right, Gabby," he said, "now that you're going to play ball. Lancelot and Major Vendayne have agreed that the jewellery shall be sold. Lancelot is going to get £50,000." Callaghan grinned at Gabby. "So all you've got to do," he said pleasantly, "immediately the sale is completed, is to keep after Lancelot for the money he owes you."
Gabby grinned. He said:
"That's pretty decent of you, Slim, to tell me that. I won't forget it."
Callaghan said, just as pleasantly: "I think it's decent of me, too, Gabby, especially after what Ropey tried to pull on me to-night."
"What's a little thing like that between friends?" he said. "It didn't come off—so what... When Lancelot settles up with me I'll look after you, Slim."
He went to the sideboard, poured out two more drinks. He said, raising his glass:
"Here's to you, Slim. You're a clever devil."
Callaghan finished his drink.
"That's fine," he said. "Now what about that jewellery?"
"I've got it here," he said. "I'll get it for you."
Callaghan lit another cigarette. He watched Gabby as he took down a picture from the wall and opened the wall safe.
Callaghan stood in the open doorway at the bottom of the stairs leading to Ventura's flat. In his left hand he held one of Gabby's suitcases. It was heavy with the Vendayne jewellery.
Ventura said: "Good-night, Slim. It looks as if everything's going to be fine for all of us. There's only one point that's worrying me now."
"I'm sorry to hear that, Gabby," said Callaghan. "What is it? Is there anything I can do?"
Gabby said: "About my getting that money from Lancelot. He can still do me down if he wants to. After he's got his £50,000 he doesn't have to pay me what he owes me—the money I lost was in a share deal. I've got no legal claim on him."
Callaghan said: "I wondered when you were going to think about that, Gabby. I've got an idea. You've played the game with me, and I'm going to do the right thing by you." Callaghan smiled in the darkness. "You be here to-morrow night," he said, "after the club's closed, about twelve o'clock. I'll bring Lancelot round. I've got him where I want him anyway. I'll make him sign a new document, admitting that he legally owes you the money, agreeing to pay it immediately the jewellery's sold. How's that?"
"Fine," said Gabby. "I'll be waiting for you, Slim. You're a good guy. I'll see you don't lose anything over this."
"Thanks, Gabby," said Callaghan.
He walked away into the darkness. Ventura stood in the doorway for a moment drawing on his cigar. He was smiling. After a moment he closed the door, went upstairs, gave himself a large drink.
Callaghan came out of the lift, walked along the passage, went into his apartment. He threw his hat on the table in the drawing-room, put the suitcase on a chair. He went into his bedroom, dialled "Trunks." He asked for the Margraud number. Twenty minutes afterwards, Stevens' tired voice came on the telephone.
"Hallo, Stevens," said Callaghan. "Sorry to worry you, but this is urgent. Ask Miss Vendayne to come to the telephone, will you?"
Stevens said he would.
Callaghan reached for the whisky bottle. He put the neck in his mouth, took a long pull. He put the bottle back on the table.
Audrey Vendayne came on the line. Callaghan said:
"Hallo, Audrey. Were you asleep?"
She said: "No. I was awake. I was thinking."
Callaghan said: "Are you wearing that white-spotted red silk dressing-gown?"
She said: "Yes. Why?"
"And have you got that ribbon in your hair?" queried Callaghan.
"My hair is tied with a ribbon too," said Audrey.
"All right," said Callaghan. "I wanted to know what you were wearing. The last time I saw you, you were wearing that dressing-gown. I thought you looked charming. I told you so. Do you remember?"
She said: "Yes, I remember. Did you want something?"
"I wanted to tell you that everything's pretty well all right," he said. "When I had that talk with you just before I came away—when I told you about Esme and Blaize and all the rest of it—there was just one little thing I didn't tell you. I thought you'd better not know it then, but you can know it now. The jewellery that Blaize stole from Margraud was fake—the Major had switched it over. He'd pawned the real jewels for £20,000 to pay off that mortgage."
He heard her catch her breath. She said:
"It's all right," said Callaghan. "I've got the real stuff in an attaché-case here, and I don't think you need worry very much about the police. I don't think Esme need worry. If by any chance anybody asks her any questions to-morrow about what happened at her meeting with Blaize, tell her to tell 'em the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. You understand?"
"I understand," said Audrey. "Is everything really going to be all right?"
"You bet it is," said Callaghan. He went on: "Let's change the subject. I want to ask you a question. Do you remember that night when we first met and you gave me £300 to stay out of this case because you yourself suspected that Esme had something to do with that robbery? Do you remember when I bought you that drink in the little club in Conduit Street—which you left, by the way? I've got an idea that that was the evening you told me you didn't like private detectives."
She said: "Yes, that's right. I didn't."
Callaghan said: "How do you feel about 'em now?"
She laughed. It was the first time he had ever heard her laugh.
"I don't think I want to discuss that with you on the telephone," she said. "When are you coming to Margraud?"
"Probably in the middle of to-morrow night," he said, "if I can get down there. If not, the next day."
"All right, Mr. Callaghan," she said. "When you arrive I'll tell you what I think about private detectives."
"Right," said Callaghan. "That's a bet."
He hung up.
DETECTIVE-INSPECTOR WALPERTON, whose features expressed the most extreme and incredulous surprise, looked at Callaghan with his mouth slightly open. For the moment he was unable to speak.
Sergeant Gridley, lately arrived back at Scotland Yard from Devonshire, looked at his superior officer with an expression which, if anything, expressed more amazement than that of the detective-inspector.
Callaghan, an amiable smile wreathing his countenance, smiled at them both. He looked at his wrist-watch, noted that the time was eight o'clock.
Walperton said: "Callaghan, we've been listening to you talking since six o'clock. After I read your letter yesterday I thought that you were going to tell me something, give me some sort of information that might enable me to move in this case."
He sighed heavily.
"It seems," he continued, "that the sum total of your information adds up to the amazing fact that it is not possible for the police to arrest anyone at all in connection with the Vendayne burglary, that all they can do is to mark the case closed."
He got up and walked over to the window. He stood for a moment looking out on to the Embankment. Then he turned and walked back to his desk. He sat down, picked up a pen and began to stab the blotter viciously.
"I've never heard such damned impertinence in my whole experience as a police officer," Walperton continued. "Never."
He looked at Gridley. Gridley shrugged his shoulders. Walperton's eyes went back to Callaghan, who was busily engaged in lighting a cigarette.
"Just listen to his, Gridley," said Walperton. His voice was sarcastic. "I'm going to summarise what Mr. Callaghan has told us. I'm not going to embellish that summary with any opinions of my own. I'm merely going to state facts. When I've finished I want you to tell me quite candidly whether I'm stark, staring, raving mad, or whether I've misunderstood Mr. Callaghan."
He threw the pen down on the desk.
"First of all," he continued, "I would like to state the opening facts of the case. It seems that a burglary is committed at Margraud Manor. Valuable jewels, heirlooms of the Vendayne family, are stolen. They are worth somewhere in the region of £100,000 and are insured for that sum. The County Police are called in, and then, some time afterwards, we are asked to assist and take the case over. Everything about the burglary indicates that it was an inside job.
"Major Vendayne, the owner, in his lifetime, of the jewellery, does not, for reasons best known to himself, make a claim against the Insurance Company for some time, and even then he doesn't actually do it. His lawyer, Layne, does it, apparently at the request of Mr. Lancelot Vendayne, who has an interest in the jewellery after the Major's death."
Walperton stopped speaking and looked at Callaghan. "Do you agree with all that up to the moment?" he asked.
Callaghan nodded. He was smiling pleasantly.
"You're doing very well, Walperton," he murmured.
Walperton continued: "Then, when the claim does go in, the Insurance Company don't pay. I don't blame them. So Mr. Lancelot Vendayne insists that a private detective be brought in on the case in order to prove to the insurance people that the family are doing everything in their power to discover the whereabouts of the stolen jewellery.
"Mr. Callaghan begins to investigate, and I must say"—the sarcasm began to disappear from Walperton's voice—"that he discovered a great deal more than we were able to do. First of all, he discovers that the jewels that were stolen were not the Vendayne jewels but imitations, supplied by Gabriel Ventura, who had taken over the real ones as security for a temporary loan of £20,000 which he had made to Major Vendayne.
"Mr. Callaghan informs us that there is nothing illegal in the action on the Major's part. He points out that the original Vendayne Trust lays down that the jewels must be kept in a safe place. He says that the fact that the Major handed them over to Ventura as security for the loan does not break that rule in the original trust deed. Because, says Mr. Callaghan, Ventura kept the jewels in a safe place as agent for the Major, and his willingness to return them on demand has been proved by the fact that he has already handed them over to Mr. Callaghan."
Walperton sighed again. He continued:
"Mr. Callaghan tells us that there was nothing illegal in the claim against the Insurance Company. He says that the claim was made by Layne, the Vendayne solicitor, at the instigation of Mr. Lancelot Vendayne. He says that at the time the claim was made both these gentlemen believed that the actual Vendayne jewels had been stolen. He says that their complete innocence of any illegal motive is proved by the fact that immediately he informed Layne that the stolen jewels were fakes, Layne withdrew the claim against the Insurance Company."
Walperton drew a deep breath. Sergeant Gridley's face had assumed an expression intended to denote that he felt a great and unhappy sympathy for his superior.
The detective-inspector went on: "Now we come to the actual burglary. Mr. Callaghan admits that this burglary was a co-operative affair between Blaize, who is now dead, and Miss Esme Vendayne, who was his wife and whom he had, for some time, blackmailed into supplying him with money and, eventually, into assisting him in the burglary.
"Miss Esme Vendayne is responsible for supplying Blaize with the combination of the Vendayne safe, and for letting Blaize into the house on the night of the burglary. But Mr. Callaghan informs us that no police action is possible against either of these two people, because (a) Blaize is dead, and no action can be taken against him for that reason, and (b) that Miss Esme Vendayne is innocent because at the time she supplied Blaize with the combination and at the time she let him into her father's house she knew that the jewellery was fake and therefore worthless, and she knew that the real jewellery was in a safe place. Her reason in making herself a party to the business with Blaize was so that she might be in a position to prefer an actual charge against him and so rid herself of him once and for all."
A deep breath escaped from Gridley. It sounded almost like a groan of despair.
Walperton said: "Now we come to Ventura. Mr. Callaghan informs us that we cannot prefer any charge against Ventura, because Ventura has done nothing illegal. Mr. Callaghan says that Ventura generously advanced a sum of £20,000 to the Major and agreed to keep the real jewels as security in a safe place as joint custodian with the Major. Mr. Callaghan says that Ventura has never attempted to dispose of the jewellery and, as I have already said, has handed it back on demand."
Walperton banged his fist down on the desk. His face was scarlet.
"My God!" he said. "What a mess! The devil of it is I believe that Callaghan is right. I don't believe we've got a charge against anybody. I believe from first to last everybody in this case has been playing their own hand, doing what they want, making fools of the County Police, making fools of Scotland Yard."
He paused for breath.
"Hell!" he said bitterly. "Here we've got the one person that we could have charged and he's dead.... He had to fall over a cliff and kill himself!" Walperton gulped with rage. "Perhaps it's lucky for us he is dead," he spluttered. "If we'd pulled him in his defence would probably have been that he knew the jewellery was false as well... that he just stole it for fun...!"
Callaghan blew a smoke-ring. He said:
"I'm damn sorry for you, Walperton. From your point of view this case has been a lot of trouble about nothing. However... let's get down to the thing that matters...."
Walperton pricked up his ears.
"So there is something that matters?" he said. "Amazing." His eyes narrowed. He shot a sharp look at Callaghan. He said: "Callaghan, I believe you've got something up your sleeve. Mr. Gringall said..."
"That I always keep something up my sleeve," said Callaghan with a grin. "Well... why not?"
He got up.
"Listen, Walperton," he said. "I told you that if I could do anything for you I'd do it. You've played ball with me. You've practically admitted that there's no police charge lying against my client, Major Vendayne, or any member of the Vendayne family. You have admitted that, haven't you?"
Walperton said: "Well... supposing I have? All right, for the sake of argument, I have."
Callaghan walked over to Walperton's desk. He stood looking at the police officer. He was smiling pleasantly.
"I'm going to give you a damned good case, Walperton," he said. "But you've got to do something for me first...."
"What?" demanded Walperton. "What do I have to do first?" His voice was suspicious.
"Nothing much," said Callaghan. "But I've an appointment to-night. I want to talk to you before I keep it. I'm going to suggest that you pick me up at my office in Berkeley Square at eleven-thirty. I think I can promise you an interesting evening."
Walperton said nothing for a moment. He was thinking about Gringall, remembering what Gringall had said about Callaghan.
Eventually: "All right," he said. "What can I lose? I'll pick you up at your office at eleven-thirty. But remember this..."
Callaghan put up his hand.
"Don't worry, Walperton," he said amiably. "You come round at eleven-thirty. I'm going to make you a promise. I'm still going to give you the Vendayne case on a plate!"
He nodded to Gridley and went out.
Callaghan lit a cigarette, tilted his office chair back and put his feet on the desk. He sat there for five minutes, pondering on possibilities, assessing chances. Then he took his feet off the desk and looked at his wrist-watch.
It was twenty-five minutes past eleven.
He picked up the telephone and rang down to Wilkie, the night porter. He said: "I'm expecting Mr. Walperton. When he comes bring him up to my office, put him in my room and give him a cigarette. I'm going up to my flat. I'll be down in a few minutes."
He went out of the office, up the stairway to his apartment. He went into his bedroom and opened the wardrobe. He took out a dark grey felt hat.
Inside the hat, fixed on a leather base, just underneath the fold in the hat, was a wire spring. Callaghan went to the chest of drawers, unlocked one of them and produced a .22 automatic. He slipped the automatic into the spring inside the felt hat and put the hat on his head. The butt of the automatic rested on the top of his head, taking the weight off the inside of the hat.
He went to the corner cupboard and took out a fresh bottle of Canadian Bourbon. He unscrewed the cap, put the neck of the bottle in his mouth, took a long pull.
He went downstairs to the office. Walperton was sitting in a chair, smoking. He said:
"I've got to admit I'm very curious about all this."
Callaghan sat down behind his desk. He grinned at Walperton.
"I've got to admit that you're entitled to a lot of explanation, Walperton," he said. "But not now."
He inhaled a mouthful of cigarette smoke.
"I take it," he said, "that you meant what you said earlier this evening, that so far as the police are concerned they're not interested in any members of the Vendayne family from the point of view of any sort of proceedings?"
"You can take that as official," said Walperton. "I've seen my chief about it. He agrees that there's no point in a prosecution against anybody as regards the robbery. But there's one point I've got to make."
Callaghan said: "Don't try and make it. I know what it is. Let it alone for the moment."
He got up and stood leaning against the mantelpiece looking at Walperton. He said:
"Gabby Ventura is expecting me to call round and see him with Lancelot Vendayne. Lancelot owes Gabby money. Gabby thinks that now the Vendayne jewellery is in the market legally Lancelot will have some money. Gabby wants to make certain of getting it."
Walperton said: "I thought Lancelot was your client?"
"You've thought a lot of things that have been a bit wide of the mark," said Callaghan cheerfully. "Let's go."
Walperton got up.
"You're a damned funny fellow, Callaghan," he said. "But I believe you know what you're doing."
Callaghan walked towards the door.
"You'd be surprised," he said.
It was just after twelve. Callaghan and Walperton stood at the back door of the Ventura Club. Callaghan put his hand into his pocket and produced his "spider" key. Walperton's eyebrows went up in the darkness.
"So we're going in that way," he said. "Illegal entry?"
Callaghan started work on the door lock, fiddling the "spider" until it found the wards of the lock.
"We should worry about that," he said.
He pushed the door open.
They began to walk up the stairs, Callaghan in front. They walked very quietly. At the top, Callaghan pushed open the door and stepped into Gabby's sitting-room.
Ventura was sitting at his desk. He spun round as they entered. He said, with a grin:
"How the devil did you get in, Slim? I was waiting to hear you ring."
Callaghan said: "I had a key. This is Detective-Inspector Walperton, Gabby. He wanted to have a little talk with you. He's rather interested in one or two aspects of the Vendayne case. Mind you... there's nothing to worry about. Everything about the burglary and all that is quite in order, but there are one or two little points.... So I brought him along. I thought Lancelot could wait until to-morrow."
Ventura got up.
"Surely," he said. "I'm glad to be of any help to anybody, any time."
He walked over to the sideboard and produced whisky, a siphon and glasses.
He mixed three drinks. Callaghan and Walperton sat down on one side of the table. Ventura, his drink in his hand, stood in front of the fireplace.
Walperton put his hat on the table. Callaghan kept his on his knee.
Ventura drank some whisky. He put the glass down on the mantelpiece behind him. He said cheerfully:
"Well... what can I tell you, Mr. Walperton?"
He was at ease, expansive.
Callaghan said: "I'll do the talking, Gabby." He paused for a moment, then continued: "Let's get down to brass tacks. The position is a little bit difficult. You see, Mr. Walperton isn't satisfied with just one aspect of the Vendayne case. He's not satisfied about Blaize."
Ventura looked at Callaghan. His eyes were very bright, very intelligent. Walperton, his hands clasped easily on his knee, was watching Callaghan.
Ventura said: "Well... what about Blaize?"
Callaghan went on almost casually.
"The devil of it is, Gabby," he said, "something serious has turned up. Just at the time when I thought I'd got everything very nicely cleaned up; just at the time when I believed we could call the Vendayne case closed and all go home and be happy, this thing has to turn up. It's the very devil...."
Ventura said impatiently: "Well... what is it?"
Callaghan said smoothly: "Don't be impatient, Gabby. Getting impatient won't get you anywhere."
He took out his cigarette-case and lit a cigarette. He took a lot of time about lighting the cigarette.
Walperton was sitting very still. He was thinking. "My God... I wonder... ?"
Callaghan said: "Mr. Walperton isn't satisfied with the obvious explanation for Blaize's death. He believes that Blaize was murdered. He doesn't believe that Blaize fell over the edge of the cleft accidentally. He believes that possibly someone pushed him over."
Ventura smiled. He felt in his waistcoat pocket and produced a small cigar. He bit the end off and lit it with a gold lighter. He said:
"Well... if you ask me, I think he might be right. After all, Esme Vendayne didn't like him very much, did she? When she met him.... "
He looked at Walperton and Callaghan. He shrugged his shoulders expressively.
Callaghan said: "How did you know that Blaize had met Esme Vendayne on that night? How did you know? There's only one person could have told you. And that person was Blaize!"
Ventura's jaw dropped. His mouth opened. Walperton caught his breath.
Callaghan went on: "Why don't you stop stalling, Gabby? You know damned well you killed Blaize. We've got a cut and dried case."
Ventura laughed. It was a peculiar laugh. He said:
"You think you're damn' clever, don't you, Callaghan? Well... perhaps you'll tell me how and when and where I killed Blaize. You must be nutty. You ought to take more water with it or see a doctor or something...."
Callaghan said: "On the night that Esme Vendayne went to meet Blaize I knew all about it. I'd had the telephone wire tapped by Clarissa, Esme's sister. After Esme had gone off to meet Blaize I sent Nikolls over to the Yard Arm. Then I went after Esme.
"When I found her she'd seen Blaize. She had tried to run away from him with the fake bracelet that he had brought to show her, to prove to her that she'd made a fool of him. She was running round the hillside edge of the cleft and he came after her. He fell over the edge. She went on running, and dropped the bracelet. She tried to find it but she couldn't.
"I sent her home. I followed her and saw Nikolls. Nikolls had been over to the Yard Arm. He saw the man Wallers who'd bought the place from Blaize. He was told by Wallers that Blaize had said he would be back to see if any letters for him arrived by the late post. Wallers had told you that too. Nikolls found a car parked near the cottage. It was your car. Your driving licence was in the pocket. You were waiting somewhere in the neighbourhood for Blaize to come back for his post.
"After I'd seen Nikolls I sent him back to the cleft to look for the bracelet. I had a talk with Esme and then I went and joined him. I climbed down the cleft and found Blaize's body a good fifty feet from the place where it ought to have been.
"Blaize's body ought to have been at the bottom of the incline. And the bracelet ought to have been lying about somewhere on the cliff top, near the far edge of the cleft. It wasn't. It was in Blaize's pocket.
"I got it at once. When Blaize went over the edge of the cleft he fell on to the ledge fifteen feet below. He lay there for a little while and then climbed back to the top. Esme had gone. Blaize searched until he found the bracelet and put it in his pocket. Then he went and picked up his car, which he had parked somewhere in the vicinity, and drove back to the Yard Arm Cottage. He went back to collect his post.
"You were waiting for him. You stopped him before he arrived at the cottage. I imagine that Blaize was rather interested to meet you. You probably first of all offered him money to keep his mouth shut about the jewellery being fake, but Blaize wasn't having any. He was going to tell the world the truth just to get back on Esme and ruin her once and for all.
"That didn't suit your book. Did it, Gabby? You wanted to keep the Vendayne jewellery, and if once Blaize publicly stated that the stuff he'd stolen was fake then the game was up so far as you were concerned. The Major would have to tell the truth about his deal with you and you'd have to hand over the jewellery.
"Blaize played into your hands. He told you about the row he'd had with Esme. He told you how he'd fallen over the cleft edge and climbed back again. So it was easy, wasn't it, Gabby? You hit Blaize over the head and knocked him out. You drove back with him in his own car to the nearest point to the cleft. You carried him down there and you threw him over—unfortunately you threw him over in the wrong place. Also, unfortunately for you, he had said nothing to you about the bracelet. You didn't know that he had it in his pocket.
"And you've just given yourself away absolutely and entirely by telling us that Blaize had had a row with Esme, that he had met her, when the only person who could have told you that was Blaize himself.
"It's too bad for you, Gabby," said Callaghan. "You were in a hell of a hurry to return the real Vendayne jewellery to me because you wanted to save your own skin. You knew that I would do everything I could to keep the Vendaynes out of this. You thought that Wallers was the only person who'd seen you in Devonshire and that he would never connect you with Blaize's death—why should he? Once the jewellery was returned to me you'd be out of the case. No one would worry about you. Well... how am I doing, Gabby?"
Ventura said: "Very nice... very nice indeed... Callaghan. There's only one point you've missed. Let me show you something...."
He walked over to the roll-top desk and pulled the top up. He spun round suddenly. Walperton saw the automatic in his hand and stiffened.
Ventura said: "All right. Well, I've still got a chance. Maybe with all this black-out I can still make a break. But I'm going to fix you first, Mister bloody Callaghan. I'm going to..."
"Like hell you are," said Callaghan.
He fired through the hat on his knee.
Ventura looked surprised. The automatic pistol slipped from his fingers. He sagged at the knees, flopped on to the floor.
Walperton said: "Nice work, Callaghan... phew... I didn't like that a bit. This boy's nasty."
He went to the telephone.
Callaghan kneeled down beside Ventura. Gabby was bleeding from the mouth.
Callaghan said: "Well... it's better this way, Gabby. Better than a six-foot drop."
Ventura said hoarsely: "You bastard... you..."
His head turned over as he died.
Walperton was saying: "Whitehall 1212? O.K. This is Walperton. Get me an ambulance round to the back of the Ventura Club. Yes... all right... make it snappy."
He hung up
Callaghan said: "Well, Walperton, I promised you the Vendayne case on a plate. You've got it and I hope you like it.
"By God, you're a marvel."
He sat down and produced a packet of cigarettes. He handed one to Callaghan. He said, still grinning:
"Gringall told me the motto of Callaghan Investigations—'We get there somehow and who the hell cares how'..."
He began to laugh.
"You're telling me," he said.
Effie Thompson looked quickly at Callaghan when he came into the office. He was wearing a blue suit with a faint chalk-stripe, a pale blue silk shirt and collar and a navy blue tie. His dark brown shoes shone as the sun caught them.
She said: "Good-morning, Mr. Callaghan. I've seen the papers this morning. It seems that you're quite a hero."
"Thank you, Effie," said Callaghan. "So long as I'm not like the hero in that book you were reading...."
He went into his office.
Through the open doorway Effie Thompson could see the day porter struggling along the passage with a Callaghan suitcase in each hand. She sighed heavily.
Callaghan came out of his office. He said:
"Effie, I'm going to Devonshire. I shall probably be away for two or three weeks. I'll keep in touch. Nikolls will be back here to-morrow. He can take over."
"Very good, Mr. Callaghan," said Effie.
Callaghan went on: "You might get through at once to Miss Audrey Vendayne at Margraud. Tell her I'm on my way and that I'm not telephoning personally so as to save time. Tell her I hope to arrive about three o'clock this afternoon."
He put on his hat, walked towards the door. He was almost outside when she said:
"Mr. Callaghan... when I said you were a hero I certainly did not mean that you were like the hero in the book I was reading—the one who left the girl in the aeroplane while he went off to seek aid...."
"I'm glad about that," he said.
She went on: "I've a message for you. Miss Audrey Vendayne telephoned through at nine o'clock this morning. She gave me definite instructions that you were not to be disturbed. She asked me to tell you that she received the telegram you phoned through to Kingsbridge last night. I was also to tell you that she and her family are eternally grateful to you and she expects to be able to thank you personally shortly. The rest of her message was a little cryptic, Mr. Callaghan. She said that when she did see you she hoped to be able to continue with a conversation which she once had with you in a summer-house somewhere."
She shut her notebook with a snap.
"Thank you, Effie," said Callaghan. "The message isn't at all cryptic. You'd better get through to Miss Vendayne and tell her I'm coming right away."
Effie Thompson looked at Callaghan primly.
"I hope it keeps very fine for you, Mr. Callaghan," she said.
Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
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