Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
An RGL First Edition
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In the 1920s and 1930's Peter Cheyney wrote over 30 short stories featuring Alonzo MacTavish—a gentleman jewel thief and rogue patterned after E.W. Hornung's famous amateur cracksman, A.J. Raffles.
In 1943, the London-based Todd Publishing Company printed several short collections of MacTavish stories in the form of 16-page Octavo booklets. The titles of these collections were:
In 1954 the same publisher issued a collection of nineteen MacTavish tales under the title He Walked in Her Sleep and Other Stories.
This 190-page volume, which was distributed by G.G. Harrap & Co., London, contained the stories:
He Walked in Her Sleep and Other Stories was reprinted by Belmont Tower, New York, in 1973 under the title MacTavish.
This RGL first-edition e-book offers a total of thirty-three MacTavish stories. The date and place of first publication of most of them could not be ascertained. The syndicated versions given here were found in the digital newspaper archives of the National Library of Australia. Thanks and credit for making them available to RGL go to the Australian bibliophile Terry Walker, who collected and pre-processed them for publication in book form. The stories are arranged chronologically in the order of their publication in the Australian press. All illustrations found in the source files have been included.
—Roy Glashan, February 8, 2017.
ALONZO MACTAVISH, his hat set at a rakish angle and his green eyeglass fixed firmly in his eye, regarded the resplendent entrance of the Excelsior Restaurant, and the brilliant crowd of men and women whose black coats and gorgeous evening gowns turned the oak lounge into a kaleidoscope of colour.
Alonzo knew the Exelsior well. He wondered whether it knew him too well. Gretton, that persevering Scotland Yard inspector, who had sworn that he would bring Alonzo to book, usually had one or two sleuths about the place just on the off chance of obtaining some sort of evidence which would place the elusive MacTavish within the law's long arm. For Alonzo had always managed to "go one better" than Scotland Yard.
He decided to chance it. Almost sub-consciously he slipped his hand into the breast pocket of his evening coat, and for a moment a look of anxiety crossed his clean-cut face. Then he smiled—the joke was really too good. He, Alonzo MacTavish—the cleverest swell cracksman of three continents—had been robbed. His pocket had been neatly picked!
Still smiling, he considered the situation. With the exception of a few odd shillings, all his money had been in his pocket book. He was broke! Being broke meant nothing to Alonzo in the usual course of events! But at the moment, with Gretton still on the lookout for the man who had removed the priceless Delmere rubies from their setting, and a getaway to some quiet spot a necessity, the loss of his money was a serious business.
A hand was laid gently on his shoulder, and he turned to look into the smiling face of Dalvarez, the jovial proprietor of the Excelsior.
"All, Meester MacTaveesh," said that worthy, "Eet ees such a long time since we see you. You've not been in the Excelsior for a month, and I theenk that perhaps, in some way, I offend."
"Not at all Dalvarez," laughed Alonzo. "I am dining at the Excelsior tonight. But tell me, what are you doing walking about at a time when you should be looking after your customers?"
Dalvarez pulled a wry face. "I am seeck to deat' of the restaurant tonight," he said. "My 'ead waiter 'as not turned up. Drunk once again. I suppose. That man—three, four pounds a night in teeps alone—and yate is always drunk and neglect my business."
A sudden idea flashed into Alonzo's mind. Three or four pounds meant salvation for him.
"Look here, Dalvarez," he said with smile. "I've a suggestion to make. I've often wondered what it felt like to be a head waiter, and I rather fancy I'd be good at the job. I'll take your headwaiter's place for tonight. It will be a lesson for him and an amusing experience for me."
Dalvarez grinned broadly. "Meester MacTavish, you will be the deat' of me. But I know you like vat you call 'ze lark.' Come with me and we drink a cocktail on ze strength of eet. I only 'ope that pig dog will turn up and see my beautiful new 'ead waiter! Eet vill he a good lesson for 'eem!"
Alonzo smiled to himself as they crossed the road and made their way to the back entrance of the Excelsior, where, after consuming three cocktails apiece to the health of the new "head waiter," Dalvarez, still chuckling, escorted Alonzo, who had removed his overcoat and eyeglass, into the brilliantly lit restaurant, and with a parting grin left him to his own devices.
Alonzo, left to himself, looked carefully round the restaurant. Many of the diners were known to him. At the little table in the corner sat Patsy Rourke, one of the cleverest pickpockets and confidence men in Europe. Alonzo wondered, as he watched the little, well-groomed man eating his dinner, if his missing pocket book was, at that moment, reposing in Patsy's pocket. Then, as his eyes left Rourke's table and turned in the direction of the restaurant entrance, he gave an involuntary start.
Coming through the entrance were two men, one clean shaven and weak looking, the other with a pointed beard and well trimmed moustache. With them walked a girl, whose proud bearing and imperious beauty made her the cynosure of all eyes.
Alonzo, as he advanced to meet them, the stock smile of the head waiter on his face, wondered if he would be recognised, for the man with the beard he knew well: Doctor Theodor Klaat, crook and blackmailer—but the other man was unknown to him, and the woman whose bearing seemed to show an instinctive dislike for her companions, was also a stranger.
Alonzo, keeping his face turned away from Klaat, showed them to a table in the top left hand corner of the restaurant which stood just in front of a service screen. When they were seated he left them, and, congratulating himself on the fact that he was still unrecognised, took up a position in the opposite corner, where he could watch the trio unseen.
Klaat, with his usual quiet suavity, ordered dinner, whilst the other man regarded the girl with something of a sneer on his weak face. Alonzo judged him to be a tool of Klaat's. The doctor always worked with weak fools—they were easier to manage, thought Alonzo. The woman stared straight in front of her, her chin raised proudly, her eyes steady, as if the very sight of her companions was distasteful to her. Just then a little crowd of people entered the restaurant, and Alonzo, immersed in his duties, lost sight of Klaat and his companions.
Twenty minutes later he was able to return to his corner. From his point of vantage Alonzo saw Klaat leaning over the table, and talking to the woman in a low voice, his face determined and cynical. Alonzo could see the long white fingers of the girl clasping and unclasping beneath the cover of the table. She was frightened, for all her proud bearing.
Throughout his chequered career, Alonzo had never failed to help a woman in distress. He wondered what scheme was being plotted at the corner table. The sight of the service screen gave him an idea, and, working his way quietly round the restaurant, he took up a position behind the screen, which, standing behind Klaat's table, enabled him to hear what was going on.
"My dear girl," Klaat was saying in his low and perfect English, "It's not the slightest use adopting that attitude. You have got to pay, and pay quickly, or those letters go to your father. He will be awfully pleased to get them, won't he," Klaat sneered. "He'll be awfully pleased to know that six months after your mother married him she was carrying on an affair with our friend here," he indicated the weak-faced man. "Oh, it's easy for you to say that it was very innocent, but do you think that he will believe that? Well, what are you going to do?"
"How much do you want?" the girl asked, in a low voice, which trembled a little in spite of her efforts to keep it steady.
"I want £2,000 tonight," replied Klaat. "This England of yours is getting a little too warm for me. I think a trip to the Continent would be beneficial for my health. If you want to close the deal it's got to be done now. I have the letters in my pocket. You can get the money if you want it. Well, go and get it now! We will await you here. Return with the bank notes, and I will hand you the letters, and the little affair is closed."
The girl looked up, and from his hiding-place Alonzo saw the misery in her eyes. "I haven't got two thousand," she said, "but I have fifteen hundred pounds, won't you take that?"
Klaat grinned. "Two thousand is my price, Madame." he said. "It will be easy for you to get the balance. Listen to me! It is eight o'clock now. I will wait here till 9.30. If you do not return with the money by that time, I go straight to your father with the letters. Do you understand?"
The girl nodded, and rose wearily. Klaat's companion, helped her with her cloak with a cynical politeness, and without another word to the two men she turned, and left the restaurant. Klaat handed his cigarette case to his companion.
"She will find the money, never fear, and then, my friend, you and I will what you call 'make tracks' for a somewhat more healthy spot."
The weak-looking man laughed, and Alonzo moved away.
As he walked across the restaurant, his glance fell on Patsy Rourke's table, and his mouth twitched with amusement, for Patsy Rourke was, at that very moment busily engaged in paying his bill from the contents of Alonzo's note case, which was prominently displayed in the enterprising Patsy's hand. For a moment Alonzo hesitated, then an idea flashed into his mind, and, as Rourke, having paid his bill, strolled in the direction of the cloak-room, Alonzo followed him.
As Rourke came out of the cloak-room Alonzo tapped him on the shoulder, and the little man turned with a start to look into the humorous grey eyes of MacTavish with something akin to fear on his face.
"Hallo, Patsy!" Alonzo greeted the little man cheerfully. "I hope you enjoyed your dinner. I've often wanted to stand you one, and it seems to me that you have gone out of your way to save me the trouble!"
The humour faded from his eyes and he took the other's arm and drew him into a quiet corner of the vestibule.
"Look here, Rourke," Alonzo continued quietly. "With regard to that little matter of my pocket book.
"I'm certain that you wouldn't like any unpleasantness about it would you, Patsy? I rather fancy the police would like the opportunity of getting their fingers on you again, wouldn't they, Patsy? I rather think it would be a three years' stretch this time, don't you think so, Patsy?"
Two or three beads of perspiration showed on Mr. Rourke's forehead.
"What's the game, Mac?" he demanded, huskily. "I know I was a blame fool to think I could get away with anything of yours, but s'welp me, when I took it orf you I didn't know it was you. What's the game?" he repeated.
"Just this, my friend," said Alonzo with a smile. "You've done a little job for your own amusement, and now I suggest that you do another one for mine. Do it successfully, and you can rest assured that I shall forget all about that little business of my pocket book, otherwise I am afraid I shall have to hand you over. Well, what's it to be?"
Patsy Rourke grinned. "I'm on, Mac," he said. "Hand me out the dope!"
FIVE minutes afterwards, Mr. MacTavish took up his position near the corner table occupied by Dr. Klaat and his companion. Outside in the vestibule, smoking an excellent cigar provided by Alonzo, and keeping an occasional eye on Dr. Klaat, sat Mr. Patsy Rourke, who, as he blew smoke rings in all directions, ruminated on the strangeness of life in general.
Alonzo, hidden once more behind the service screen, watched Klaat's face, as the girl, punctually on the stroke of 9.30, entered the restaurant. The two men rose, with sarcastic politeness as she approached the table, and Klaat assisted her to remove her cloak. "Well, Madame," he said suavely. "Did you find what you were looking for?"
"I've got the money," said the girl, laying a packet of bank notes upon the table. "Now give me the letters, and let me go."
"All in good time, my dear," replied Klaat. He ran his fingers through the notes. "Two thousand pounds. Good!" he exclaimed.
He drew a packet from his breast pocket and handed it to the girl.
"Examine them carefully, dear Madame," he said with a grin. "You will find that they are all there."
The girl opened the envelope with trembling fingers. Inside were a few sheets of blank paper!
She looked across the table, her face as white as chalk. "But where are the letters, Dr. Klaat?" she asked.
Klaat laughed mockingly.
"My dear girl, you didn't think, that I am going to hand over the real letters for a paltry £2,000, did you?" he asked. "The real letters are, at this moment, reposing safely in my breast pocket. Let us regard this money as a little payment on account, and when I return to England in a few months you shall hand me another two thousand, and the letters shall be yours."
Her eyes blazed. "Oh, you cheat!" she said. "I might have known that your word was worth nothing—that this was a trick."
"No trick at all," said Klaat. "You have ample time to find the rest of the money, which you will be well advised to collect in time for my return, otherwise—" He spread out his hands in an eloquent gesture.
The girl rose from her seat, and without a word walked hopelessly out of the restaurant.
Klaat watched her slim figure recede. "Quite satisfactory," he murmured. "With the two thousand pounds which I already possessed we have ample capital for our operations abroad." He summoned a waiter. "We will drink to future successes," he said smilingly to his companion.
Alonzo, waiting in the vestibule, approached the girl as she neared the entrance.
"Please excuse me," he said with a charming smile, "but I am quite harmless, and I think that a few moments' conversation with me will convince you that the world is not such a bad place after all. Will you come and talk to me!"
FIVE minutes afterwards Alonzo returned to the restaurant in time to observe that Dr. Klaat and his companion were about to leave. With a final glance at Mr. Patsy Rourke, who was hanging about in the vicinity of the cloakroom, Alonzo passed through the service doors and made for Dalvarez' office, where he informed the proprietor of certain events which seemed to excite that voluble gentleman immensely.
DR. THEODOR KLAAT, smoking an excellent cigar, strolled through the vestibule towards the main entrance of the Excelsior. He was smiling, and reflecting that life was, financially, quite pleasant, and that the gentle sarcasm to which he had treated the individual who had, on two occasions, and for no apparent reason, rudely pushed into him in the cloakroom, was of the first order.
A waiter touched his arm apologetically. "Excuse me, sir, but the proprietor would like to speak to you."
Klaat followed the waiter to Dalvarez' office. He gave a start as he entered, for, standing behind Dalvarez' desk, his eyeglass in his eye, and the usual imperturbable smile on his face, stood Mr. Alonzo MacTavish.
"Sir," said Dalvarez, leaning back in his chair. "Zis gentleman, Meester MacTaveesh; has a serious accusation which to make against you."
"Indeed!" said Klaat, slowly, his eyes on Alonzo, "and may I ask what it is?"
"Briefly this," drawled Alonzo. "Ten minutes ago I missed my pocket book from my pocket. A few minutes afterwards I saw you paying your bill with my pocket book in your hand. As my pocket book happens to contain £4,000, I thought you might like to return it!"
Klaat drew himself up. "Sir," he said, with dignity, "I know nothing of your pocket book. It is a lie!"
Alonzo shrugged his shoulders. "I suggest that you turn out your pockets," he said. "Otherwise I shall send for the police."
Klaat smiled. "With great pleasure," he said. He proceeded to turn out his pockets, and, as he withdrew his hand from the breast pocket of his dinner jacket his face went white. In his hand was the pocket book of Mr. Alonzo MacTavish!
"This is a frame up!" exclaimed Klaat. "Some one has taken some letters from my pocket, and put this in their place!"
Alonzo smiled. "All right, Dalvarez," he said, laying his hand upon the proprietor's shoulder. "Don't worry to send for the police, I'll give him a chance this time." He turned to Klaat.
"Get out," said Alonzo, "and if I see you again, I'll give you in charge."
Klaat picked up his hat.
"You win this time, MacTavish," he said. "One day I'll get even with you!"
The office door slammed behind him. Alonzo returned to the girl. "Here are your mother's letters and your money," he said. "Don't let anyone bluff you again, will you?"
A few minutes afterward, he watched her cab recede in the distance. The situation was amusing. The girl had her letters and her money. He had Klaat's £2,000. Klaat had nothing!
He found Patsy Rourke seated in the lounge with a large whisky and soda. Alonzo threw him a folded £20 note.
"It must have been quite an experience for you, Patsy," he said, "to actually put something into some one's pocket instead of taking it out, for once. Good-night!"
He strolled back to Dalvarez's private office.
"I am so glad, Meester MacTaveesh," said that worthy, "that you 'ave got your money back. How bad it would have been if my new 'ead waiter 'ad been robbed," he continued with a smile.
Alonzo helped himself to a whisky and soda. "All things come to him who waits," murmured Mr. Alonzo MacTavish.
MR. ALONZO MACTAVISH, seated in the hot-room of the Turkish baths, regarded the only two other occupants of the room from the shadow of the alcove which very effectively concealed him from their sight.
The first of the men, and the one who appeared to be doing most of the talking, was a tall, thin specimen of humanity of Asiatic type, whose thin, black moustache did little to conceal the line of his sneering lip. The other, a short man, inclined to stoutness, appeared to be suffering from an excess of alcohol, and seemed to be endeavouring to argue with his companion.
Alonzo was decidedly interested, for he was certain that he had heard his own name mentioned during the course of conversation.
Both of the men were, he thought, unknown to him, and he wondered how he could possibly be the subject of their discussion.
The stout man rose to his feet and staggered in the direction of the door and, as Alonzo drew back into the shadow of the alcove, he heard the black moustached man mutter: "All right, you drunken fool. It's in my pocket. I'll bring it to you later."
Through the glass doors Alonzo watched the stout man stagger away in the direction of the cubicles; then, wrapping his towel around him, he quietly opened the door and, unobserved by the remaining occupant of the room, slipped through and made off after the drunken man.
Alonzo noted, with some amusement, that the drunken one, whose couch was evidently next to his own, had mistaken his cubicle, and by the time that MacTavish had arrived the stout gentleman was already sleeping the sleep of the intoxicated on Alonzo's own couch, and a glance at the recumbent form showed him that it would be a waste of time to endeavour to arouse the sleeper.
Alonzo came to the conclusion that there was only one thing to be done, and entering the cubicle to which the drunken one rightly belonged, was about to lie down, when something caught his eye which caused him to give a whistle of astonishment. From the pockets of the stout man's trousers, which hung from a peg beside the couch, protruded the butt of a Mauser pistol. This, in itself, was not at all likely to arouse Alonzo's curiosity. It was the additional fact which amazed him. The pistol was his own!
There, on the butt of the pistol, were his initials, inlaid in ivory, "A.M."! His thoughts were disturbed by the sound of shuffling footsteps outside, and a quick glance through the curtains of the cubicle told him that the black moustached man, whom he had left in the hot-room, was approaching. Alonzo flung himself down on the couch, threw a fold of the towel over his face, and commenced to snore in no uncertain manner. The footsteps outside ceased, and the thin man threw aside the curtains of the cubicle. Through a tear in the towel Alonzo was able to observe the cynical smile which disfigured the saturnine face of the man. In one hand he had an envelope, while the other clasped his bath towel about him.
"MacGuire, you drunken dog, are you asleep?" he asked. Alonzo turned his face away and grunted. This evidently satisfied the other that he was awake, for, walking to the hanging pair of trousers, the thin man carefully placed the envelope in the side pocket. "Your instructions are in your trouser pocket, MacGuire," he said. "Read them carefully when you are awake, and sober, and as carefully destroy them. Also make no mistake, otherwise I shall deal with you."
The Mauser pistol caught his eye, and he stood for a moment regarding the initialled butt with amusement.
"A very good idea—quite good," he muttered. "I am afraid that it would not meet with the complete approval of Mr. Alonzo MacTavish, and his astonishment should eventually be rather amusing."
The thin man laughed quietly to himself, and, without another glance at the recumbent form on the couch, left the cubicle.
Alonzo, his eyes still closed, heard him enter the empty cubicle on his left, where he was evidently making preparations for sleep, whilst the noise of snoring from the drunken individual on his right, assured him that there was nothing to be feared from that quarter, and, after waiting ten minutes until the sound of regular breathing emanating from the thin man's cubicle told him that that worthy was asleep, Alonzo sat up, and reaching ever, extracted the envelope from the pocket of the trousers where the thin man had put it.
He tore it open, and found inside a single sheet of paper, then, with the utmost care he rose from his couch, and slipping between the curtains read the note beneath the dim electric light of the corridor.
The address of our friend is 17 Lennox Mansions, and if you call there at 3 o'clock J will give you the pistol. The other address is 76 Park Lane. Do the front and library doors, then 'phone me. There is a telephone in the library, and no one will hear. When you phone I will come and fix the actual job. Meet me afterwards at 10 Grosvenor Court to settle. Have your part of the business done by 3.00. Destroy this immediately.
Alonzo, back on his couch, smiled quietly to himself. Things were beginning to shape themselves in his brain. It was fairly obvious that the instructions in the first part of the note had been carried out. No. 17 Lennox Mansions, was his own address, and "J" evidently stood for Jarvis—his man—who looked after the place. So Jarvis had handed over the Mauser pistol to MacGuire. Why? Suddenly, as he recollected the initials at the end of the note, the solution sprang to his mind. "S.E." stood for Shapiro Essen, one of the cleverest "safe blowers" that ever came out of the United States. Mr. Shapiro Essen and Alonzo MacTavish had agreed to disagree over one or two little matters some years ago, and evidently this was Shapiro's method of getting even.
Having bribed or threatened Alonzo's servant to hand over the pistol, MacGuire was to force the front and library doors of 76 Park Lane, and then telephone Essen, who would come along and deal with the safe himself, leaving the Mauser pistol behind, as if it had been accidentally dropped, to constitute damning evidence against Alonzo.
Alonzo admitted that the scheme was good. The fortunate part of the business was that, owing to the alcoholic tendencies of the esteemed MacGuire, he was in a position to look after himself. He thought quietly to himself, visualising in his mind, schemes for turning the tables on Shapiro Essen.
Eventually an idea came to him, and after working out the details of the scheme he dropped off to sleep to the accompaniment of sonorous snoring from the sleeping MacGuire in the next cubicle.
AT eight o'clock the next morning Alonzo left the Turkish bath, and after partaking of breakfast, sought a public library. A brief examination of "Who's Who" showed him that the possessor of No. 76 Park Lane, was an American, Mr. Cyrus K. Harding, who, having amassed a large fortune in canned meat, was now spending it in adding to a world-famous collection of precious stones. He was noted especially as being the owner of two pearls reputed to be the largest and finest specimens in the world—the Saras Pearls.
Pearls were a speciality of Mr. Shapiro Essen, and Alonzo decided that this was the spoil which had attracted him. It was fairly obvious also, that the "job" was to be done that night, and probably the drunkenness of Mr. MacGuire was the result of a celebration in advance.
At ten o'clock Alonzo, having previously telephoned, met a small and perky individual in a well-known bar in Maiden-lane, when, after a short conversation and a whisky and soda apiece, they repaired to the British Museum, and inspected the models of the two famous Saras Pearls. Then, the short and perky gentleman, having managed in an extremely expert and unostentatious manner to photograph the models with a vest pocket camera, they bade the curator good morning and left the museum.
They parted at the entrance, Alonzo having arranged that the two imitation pearls, which the perky gentleman was about to make, should be left at his flat at ten o'clock that night. These details being settled to his complete satisfaction Alonzo returned to his flat at Earl's Court, and after greeting the unsuspecting Jarvis went to bed, and ten minutes afterwards was sleeping the sleep of the innocent.
AT three forty-five the following morning, Alonzo, lounging in the shadows of Grosvenor Court, observed Mr. MacGuire arrive and enter the portals of No. 16—a cheap private hotel. Exactly thirty-five minutes later Mr. Shapiro Essen, immaculately dressed in evening clothes and with his hands in his pockets, strolled along the street and followed in the footsteps of MacGuire. Then, having selected and lit a cigarette, Alonzo, whistling to himself, walked slowly round to No. 76 Park Lane. Five minutes' concentrated effort on the front door bell sufficed to arouse the butler, who, clad in a dressing gown, and somewhat outraged at being disturbed, opened the front door.
"You might tell Mr. Harding that I should like the pleasure of a few minutes' conversation," said Alonzo, presenting his card.
The butler stared. "Mr. Harding is in bed and asleep, sir," he said. "He would not see you. Are you aware that it is half-past four in the morning?"
"Precisely," drawled Alonzo. "But I am under the impression that your master might like to know that about half an hour ago his safe was opened and the Saras Pearls stolen. Do you think he might be sufficiently interested to get up and discuss the matter?"
Fifteen minutes afterwards Mr. Cyrus K. Harding, the butler, and Alonzo stood in front of the safe. Chief Inspector Gretton, summoned hurriedly from Scotland Yard, was examining the safe carefully. After a few minutes he turned and faced the trio.
"Well, the pearls are gone, Mr. Harding, and we've got to do our best to recover them." He faced Alonzo. "You'll have to clear yourself over this, MacTavish," he said. "We've never actually got you, but this sort of job is your speciality, and there's another little matter you might explain—this—" The Inspector produced the Mauser pistol and held the butt towards Alonzo. The initials in white ivory showed plainly on the blued pistol grip.
Alonzo yawned. "You'd love to make a case of me, wouldn't you, Inspector?" he smiled. "Really it's most annoying that rate-payers should have to pay for the upkeep of the C.I.D. and that really self-respecting crooks like myself should have to do your work for you. It might interest you to know that the two men who stole those pearls will be here in a few minutes. Inspector Dale, of D Division, has by this time arrested them at No. 10 Grosvenor Court. I expect the evidence will be on them."
The Inspector stared. At the same moment the front door bell rang, and a few minutes afterwards Shapiro Essen and MacGuire handcuffed together, were brought in, accompanied by Inspector Dale and three policemen. Dale touched his hat to the Chief Inspector.
"I was informed at three-thirty o'clock tonight that this burglary was to be attempted. This gentleman informed me personally—" he indicated Alonzo. "I arrested these two men in one of the bedrooms of Chayles Hotel, No. 10 Grosvenor Court."
"Have you got the pearls safely?" asked Cyrus Harding anxiously.
"Unfortunately, no, sir," replied Dale. "No sooner had we entered the room than this man Essen opened the window and threw a small package into the street, shouting out something as he did so. A man outside who was on the point of entering the hotel, picked up the package and ran. We couldn't get him, and he got away with the stuff."
Chief Inspector Gretton shrugged his shoulders. "Why didn't you inform me earlier, MacTavish?" he said. "We could have arrested them before they left this house."
He turned to Harding. "Well. I hope we get the pearls, Mr. Harding," he said. "But whoever has got them has a good start, and pearls are easily disposed of."
"Look here, Mr. Harding..." Shapiro Essen, his usual cynical grin on his face, spoke. "I know where those pearls are. If you care to withdraw this charge against us, I guess I can wise up the Inspector as to where he can put his finger on those pearls. But it's got to be made worth my while. The police here have got nothin' on me. I can only get two or three years for that an' if I don't get what I want I guess I can do my time and get what's coming to me when I get out."
Harding held out a hand as Gretton was about to speak.
"I guess it's the best way, inspector," he said. "Look here," he turned to Essen, "tell us where the pearls are and I'll withdraw the charge." He left the room and returned in a minute with ten £100 notes. "When those pearls are returned this money is yours, and you go free," he concluded.
"Good enough," said Essen. He turned to Dale. "The man I threw the pearls to was Jarvis, his servant," he continued, pointing to Alonzo. "Jarvis was in on it with us. If you go to Lennox Mansions, Earls Court, you will find him, and the pearls, too."
"Just a moment," said Alonzo, as Gretton and Dale made for the door. "I think there is a slight misapprehension. The Pearls are not at Earls Court." Alonzo took a step forward and calmly took the bank notes from the hands of Cyrus K Harding.
"The two Saras pearls are at the bottom of that vase on the mantelpiece," continued Alonzo. "You see, I burgled the safe before Mr. Essen got anywhere near it—at one-thirty this morning—and, as you will observe, carefully placed the pearls at the bottom of the vase. The two pearls which our friend Essen has so successfully stolen were two imitations which I had made this afternoon. Essen left my automatic, which he had obtained from my rascally servant, in the hope that our friend Gretton, who is always desirous of arresting me, would charge me with the burglary."
Alonzo took the vase from the mantelpiece, and, turning it upside down, showed the pearls in the palm of his hand. He handed them to Harding with a smile.
"Say MacTavish, you've got some nerve," said the millionaire admiringly. "I guess you deserve the £1,000."
"Exactly," said Alonzo. "Now everyone is happy." He smiled at Gretton mischievously. "You get your pearls, I get £1,000, and friends Essen and McGuire get time for attempted burglary, and all is well. So I wish you all a very good morning."
So saying Alonzo, carefully putting on his hat at its accustomed angle, and affixing his eyeglass in his eye, wandered from the room. They heard the front door bang behind him. A muttered curse came from the lips of Shapiro Essen as he glanced at his accomplice.
"Strike me pink!" gasped Mr. McGuire.
THE eyes of the half-breed were riveted on the woman who sat on the lounge seat in the vestibule of the Elect Theatre, and from his seat on the other side of the lounge Alonzo thought he saw a gleam of cynical amusement in their depths.
She was beautiful, Alonzo considered, and his mind harked back to the day, years ago, when Kitty Harkness, then a leading lady at the Elect, had, for some reason known only to herself, shielded Alonzo, on the only occasion when the ubiquitous Inspector Gretton had seemed to have a good chance of running him to earth. And, as she sat talking to her well-groomed companion, and swaying the gorgeous peacock fan backward and forwards before her, many a man glanced back admiringly, and not a few women stared enviously at the slim figure, whose flung-back cloak of bronze velvet revealed a shimmering gown whose splendour vied with the brilliant colour of the fan.
The slowly moving fan hypnotised Alonzo. Deep in his brain its colours stirred some memory—some near-lost thought which seemed to connect the beautiful fan with the sordid atmosphere of a Chinese "yen shop" or a low 'Frisco dive.
He searched his brain vainly. Where had he seen the peacock fan before? He wondered why the half-breed evinced such interest in the woman with the fan. Half hidden by the heavy velvet curtain which concealed the entrance to the stalls the eyes of the tall Asiatic never left her.
Suddenly a new interest engaged Alonzo. On his right, above him, standing on the top stair of the flight which led to the dress circle, and peering over the edge of the balustrade stood a short Chinaman. His evening suit, though well made, hung badly on the stumpy figure, and his white collar threw into prominence the yellow skin and almond eyes—strange, smiling eyes, which were firmly fixed on the eyes of the half-breed below.
The yellow face was familiar to Alonzo. Above the right eye was a small scar, which gave a whimsical appearance to the eye beneath. But Alonzo, during the course of his strange career, had met many Chinamen—in San Francisco, Shanghai, and Hong-Kong—and out of the many familiar yellow faces which crowded into his memory he could not place the one which, inscrutably smiling, gazed blandly down on the Asiatic below.
A bell sounded in the vestibule announcing that the second act was about to begin, and the woman with the fan rose, and, accompanied by her companion, walked back to her seat in the stalls.
Alonzo followed, and, standing in the gangway at the side of the auditorium, saw that the half-breed was seated in the row directly behind the couple, whilst above, in the centre of the front row of the dress circle, sat the smiling Chinaman.
The play bored Alonzo. Life itself was much more amusing, he thought, as he made his way back into the vestibule. He lit a cigarette and once more tried to "place" the Chinaman, and to remember where he had seen the wondrous peacock fan before. His curiosity was thoroughly aroused. Why was the half-breed watching the woman with the fan, and why was the smiling Chinaman watching the half-breed?
He got his hat and cloak from the cloak room and left the theatre. Near the theatre was a telephone box, and Alonzo entered and rang an East number. After a short interval a voice answered him.
"Is that you, Lon?" asked Alonzo. "Good. Listen to me. There is a Chinaman sitting in the centre of the dress circle at the Elect Theatre, Strand. Be outside the theatre when he comes out, and follow him. Find out if you can who and what he is. Telephone me in the morning. Get that?"
"Right, Mac," the voice answered, and Alonzo strolled back into the Strand.
At eleven o'clock he was back in the vestibule of the Elect Theatre, his eyes on the exit from the stalls. At the end of the play the woman, the closed fan in her hand, accompanied by her companion, came out. Close behind them was the half-breed. The pair stopped at the entrance of the theatre evidently awaiting the arrival of their car, and Alonzo saw the half-breed pass them and walk quickly to the cab rank outside the Savoy Hotel.
A moment later Alonzo saw a small two-seater car detach itself from the rank and pull into the pavement on the left-hand side of the road. The half-breed was at the wheel. As he made for the cab rank, Alonzo saw the Chinaman standing at the entrance of the theatre, concealed by a pillar, watching the two-seater on the other side of the road. A few paces away, his hat over his eyes and his hands in his pockets, stood Lon.
Alonzo secured a cab.
"Follow that two-seater when it gets going, and don't lose it, but don't let him see he's being trailed," said Alonzo to the driver, who, after a quick glance at Alonzo's well cut evening clothes, came to the conclusion that he would be well "looked after."
From the cab window Alonzo saw the woman and her companion step into their car, which drove off towards Charing Cross; at the same time the half-breed started his two-seater in their wake, and after him came Alonzo's cab. As they passed the theatre MacTavish saw the smiling Chinaman slowly walking in the opposite direction with the watchful Lon a few paces in the rear. Charing Cross sped by, then Piccadilly. Soon the lights of Kensington appeared in the distance, but the car containing the woman with the fan and her companion did not slacken its pace, and it seemed that their destination was somewhere outside London. Through the front windows of the cab Alonzo could see the figure of the half-breed crouched over the wheel a dozen yards behind the leading car.
Something made Alonzo glance over his shoulder, and he gave a whistle of astonishment. Through the little window at the back of the cab he saw that a large touring car was behind his taxi-cab.
The electric light was switched on, and leaning back in the corner of the car was the little fat Chinaman! Alonzo grinned. He was thoroughly interested. He wondered what would be the end of this strange chase.
They passed through Richmond and, with the deserted country road in front of them, the four cars sped through the night. It seemed certain that the first two were unaware that they were being followed.
Suddenly, the leading car slackened pace, and about half a mile in front of them Alonzo saw, distinct in the bright moonlight, a large country house, standing in its own grounds about three hundred yards from the road. It was evidently the destination of the lady of the fan and her escort.
Just as suddenly the half-breed's two-seater swung off, and disappeared up a narrow road running off to the right. The pace of the taxi-cab was too fast for Alonzo's driver to follow, and he pulled in to the left of the road. Alonzo, his eyes glued to the back window, saw the car containing the Chinaman swing out to the right after the half-breed's two-seater.
"Sorry I lost 'im, sir," said the taxi-driver, as Alonzo dismounted from the cab. "I was going too fast to get round after 'im. I'll try and pick him up if you like."
"That's all right," said Alonzo. "You did your best." He gave the man a couple of pound notes, and stood by the roadside undecided as the taxi-cab disappeared in the direction of London.
Eventually he walked slowly along in the direction of the house, smoking a cigarette. There was a decided idea in his head that something was going to happen, and there seemed nothing for him to do but to carry on and await events. Two things were obvious—firstly, that the Chinaman had given Lon the slip, and, secondly, that the yellow man had known that the two-seater was going to swing off to the right, otherwise his driver could not have slackened pace sufficiently to enable him to get the big car round the sharp corner.
About a quarter of a mile from the house Alonzo stopped suddenly. A red gleam of light showed for a moment across the fields to his right, and then disappeared. He pushed his way through the hedge, and set off in the direction of the light, for he was certain that it was the rear light of the half-breed's car that he had seen.
Keeping in the shadow of the hedge which ran across the field Alonzo made his way towards the place where he had seen the light, and in five minutes' time he had proved the correctness of his surmise. Hidden in a little declivity was the two-seater car, unattended. The scheme of the half-breed was plain. He had approached the house from the rear. Fifteen yards from the car, the engine of which was quietly running, Alonzo made out a wicket gate which evidently gave access to the grounds of the house. He passed through this gate, and continued through the trees. A short distance in front of him he could see the gently sloping lawn, which led to the back of the house.
Picking his way through the undergrowth, Alonzo made his way towards the edge of the lawn. He stopped dead as the noise of splintering glass came to his ears. Almost simultaneously a revolver shot rang out—then another! Peering through the trees, Alonzo saw, in the bright moonlight, across the broad lawn, the figure of the half-breed running towards him. In one hand he held a revolver, and in the other, its colours vibrant in the moonlight, was the Peacock Fan!
For a moment Alonzo hesitated, undecided. Then, his mind made up, he raced for the car. Behind the dickey seat was a grid for carrying luggage and he managed to seat himself on this. A few seconds later the half-breed sprang to the driver's seat, and the car made off, and turning to the right, sped along a narrow road, which led away from the house.
Fifteen minutes afterwards the car slowed down, and peering round the back Alonzo saw that they had stopped outside a small cottage. The half-breed left the car and, walking along the irregular and overgrown path which led to the cottage door, he inserted a key and entered. Alonzo followed, and creeping to a window on the right of the door, looked through a small hole in the blind into the room beyond.
An extraordinary sight met his gaze. The half-breed had pushed open the door of the room into which Alonzo was looking, and with the Peacock Fan in his hand was gazing at the opposite corner of the room. There, seated in the semi-darkness, for the room was lit only by a flickering lamp, sat the Chinaman smiling inscrutably at the astonished face of the half-breed.
"I wish you good evening." said the Chinaman in excellent English. "Mr. Singh, for many years I have awaited the esteemed honour of your acquaintance."
He rose and bowed. The half-breed showed his teeth.
"Who are you and what do you want?" he asked. Alonzo noticed that his fingers had tightened hard around to handle of the fan and that his right hand was creeping in the direction of his hip pocket.
The Chinaman smiled. "I am Li-Hung," he said softly. "One who wears the yellow jacket and lives above the Monastery of Tsao-Tse. You know it, I believe. Mr. Singh—that darkened temple where our priests were wont to worship—that same dark temple from which you stole the Peacock Fan!"
The half-breed laughed. He had recovered his nerve.
"Why should I steal this worthless fan, Li-Hung?" he asked.
"Because of the priceless jewel which is concealed in the handle, Mr. Singh," smiled the Chinaman. "And because it was so written."
The half-breed threw the fan upon the table. Then he withdrew his right hand from his pocket, and Alonzo saw that it held an automatic pistol. He laid the pistol upon the table within reach, and drawing a cigarette case from his pocket, lit a cigarette.
"Well, do we talk business, Li-Hung," he asked. "I suppose you want your share."
The Chinaman still smiled. "I want the jewel that is concealed in the handle of the fan," he said quietly. "It is the eye of our god. It must be returned to the Temple."
The half-breed laughed again. An idea came to Alonzo. Through the slightly opened door he could see the two men plainly, and almost within his reach was the Peacock Fan. Alonzo quietly put his hand to the door, and pushing it open, sprang for the table, his hand was almost upon the fan when he found his wrist in a grip of steel.
Another Chinaman, hidden in the corner of the room, had seized him!
Li-Hung smiled at him across the table.
"Good evening Mr. MacTavish," he said. "I expected you. Just the same Mr. MacTavish. Quick to help one who has befriended you. You would return this fan to Miss Harkness? Have patience. Li-Hung does not forget a friend—nor the opium shop on the waterside at San Francisco."
Then Alonzo remembered. "Ho-Lung!" he said in astonishment. "You!"
"Li-Hung is my name," said the Chinaman. "I was Ho-Lung, for I have called myself many things in quest of the fan."
The half-breed picked up the pistol and showed his teeth in a grin. "Suppose we end all this argument," he said. "I have the Fan, which I will return with pleasure—" he smiled wickedly at Li-Hung—"when I have removed the jewel. My car is outside, and if any one interferes it will be the worse for him!"
With the pistol still in his hand, he unscrewed the end of the fan and touching a hidden spring disclosed in the cavity. Flashing from its place of concealment was a huge diamond. He grinned and inserted his finger in the cavity. As he did so the fan jerked, and he staggered back against the wall, his face grey with agony.
Li-Hung still smiled. "That was the reason why I would not have you touch the fan, Mr. MacTavish," he said. "Underneath the jewel there is a piece of mechanism containing a poisoned needle. It has done its work!"
He pointed to the half-breed, who had sunk to the floor his face distorted with pain. Li-Hung rose from his chair.
"He will be dead in ten minutes," he said. He stooped and took the diamond from the dying man's fingers. Then, from the fan je extracted the mechanism which worked the poison needle, and, replacing the handle, handed the fan to Alonzo.
"It was written that he should die," he said simply. "The eye of our god shall be replaced. The fan's yours to keep or to return to the lady who bought it. This"—he handed a small package to Alonzo—"is in memory of Ho-Lung, who was glad of your courage. Let us go."
FOUR hours later Alonzo, seated at breakfast at the house from which the half-breed had stolen the fan, smiled across the table at Kitty Harkness.
"The fan suits you," he said. "I couldn't bear you to lose it."
She smiled. "You always were generous, Mr. MacTavish," she said. "But you must have had great difficulty in regaining the fan. Was it worth your trouble?"
Alonzo smiled. On his way to the house he had unwrapped the package which Li-Hung had given him. Inside was a splendid ruby and a scrap of paper. Written on the paper were these words:—
Through him who succoured the high priest of the temple shall that which was stolen be restored and to him shall be given the reward of the god.
Alonzo passed his cup for more coffee.
"I think it was worth while," he murmured.
THE atmosphere of the Lyon's Tea Shop was restful. Outside, the busy traffic in Southampton Row, and the summer heat, made life unendurable. Alonzo had already consumed three pots of China tea, mainly as an excuse for staying on, in order to consider the problem which, for the last hour had engrossed his attention. He propped the newspaper up against the tea pot, and read, once again, the paragraph which had caught his eye early that morning.
MOTE HALL MURDER MYSTERY.
The body of the man who was found murdered in the entrance hall at Mote Hall, the deserted Sussex Mansion, was today identified as that of Carl Kleiner. This information serves to deepen the extraordinary mystery which has puzzled Scotland Yard and the Sussex Police for the last fortnight.
Kleiner is a clever American crook, who landed in this country only three days before he was found stabbed to the heart in Mote Hall. His presence in the empty house is unaccountable. He had been staying at Carret's Hotel, Mayfair, and had told the hall porter that he was going to Sussex for two days and would return to the Hotel.
Robbery was not the motive for the crime, as his watch and a large diamond ring were found on the body. The medical evidence at the inquest stated that the force which drove the dagger to Kleiner's heart must have been practically superhuman.
Alonzo ordered a fourth pot of tea, and considered the mystery. Carl Kleiner was a clever American crook, who had managed, very successfully, to evade the police for the last five years. What was he doing down at Mote Hall, in Sussex? An expert burglar does not usually amuse himself inspecting deserted country mansions, Alonzo thought, and Kleiner was very expert, besides which he was a man of imagination, and something told Alonzo that there was more in the sudden visit to the empty mansion than was obvious at the moment.
A slim, dark young fellow entered the tea shop, and, catching sight of Alonzo, made his way to the table. "Hullo, Mac," he said cheerfully. "I got your 'phone message all right, but I had to jump about a bit to get the job done, but I think I've got the dope on Kleiner."
"Where did you get it, Lon?" asked Alonzo, signalling for another cup.
Lon Ferrers grinned. "Do you remember Lopey Steve, Mac?" he asked. "Well, he wasn't particularly fond of Kleiner, but he knew more about him than anybody this side of the Atlantic. Here you are..."
He threw a folded paper across the table, and drinking the cup of tea which Alonzo had poured out for him, put on his hat.
"So long, Mac," he said. "I'd like to know what the game is, but I know it's no use asking. Till next time. So long!"
Alonzo, left to himself, opened the slip of paper and read:—
"Kleiner came over three days before he was found croaked in Mote Hall. He was believed to have some game on down there. Said he was thinking of buying the place, but that was all eye wash. There must have been something big on, for Kleiner only went out for big stuff. Hertz, a Dago, who used to be Kleiner's 'side stepper,' landed in England the day after Kleiner arrived. He had it in for Kleiner, who, he said, had twisted him on their last deal. Hertz may have done Kleiner in. He will stick at nothing. Photo herewith."
Alonzo examined the photograph of Hertz carefully. He came to the conclusion that he had never seen such a villainous-looking face in the course of his adventurous career.
After some further consideration, Alonzo came to the conclusion that there was nothing for it but to go down to Mote Hall and investigate. He was certain that there was something tangible in Mote Hall, and that Kleiner had been after it.
An A.B.C. borrowed from an adjacent chemist's shop told him that there was a train for East Shallock—a station about five miles from Mote Hall—at four-thirty. He took a cab to his flat at Earl's Court, and packing a suitcase, into which he slipped his automatic pistol, he caught the train and was soon en route for Mote Hall.
East Shallock was a small country station that boasted of no cabs or other means of conveyance. Alonzo learned that there was an inn two miles further along the road where he could find accommodation. Gripping his suit case he swung cheerfully along the road, his brain busily endeavouring to evolve some scheme of action.
Presently the inn came in sight. It was a prepossessing-looking, old-fashioned place, where Alonzo obtained a hearty greeting from the landlord, who, he was glad to find, was inclined to be talkative.
"Terrible thing, this 'ere murder, sir," he volunteered presently, as Alonzo was eating his dinner in the tiny dining room. "We ain't 'ad a murder in these parts for nigh on 30 year. A strange business for a man to be found stabbed in a 'ouse that 'asn't been lived in for two 'undred years. But Mote 'All's a strange place—I wouldn't like to spend a night there, and many's the strange tales they do tell about the old house."
"Haunted?" queried Alonzo, with a smile.
"They do say so, sir," replied the landlord. "You see, the 'all used to be a monastery in the olden times, and the monks as were in it never came out of the place. When they died they were just buried by the others. Well, the story goes that at last there was only three of 'em left, an' these three used to take turn and turn about to guard the treasure that was supposed to be in the vaults underneath. Some rapscallion in the neighbourhood, thinking to get the treasure, climbed the monastery wall one night. He was never 'eard of again, but years after they found what was left of 'im in the 'all, just the same as this 'ere Mr. Kleiner. There's old folk about 'ere who swear they've seen the ghosts of the Three Grey Men of Mote Hall—as they are called—walkin' about the grounds at night with daggers in their 'ands, and tho' it may sound silly like, I've often thought I've seen a light in the windows late at night myself."
Alonzo, his dinner finished, lit a pipe. It was strange, he thought, that Kleiner should have met his death in the manner of the old legend, for although Alonzo did not believe in ghosts, he had encountered strange coincidences in his time. After a few minutes he strolled into the passage between the dining-room and the private bar. He looked through the bar door, then drew back quickly out of sight, for, sitting against the bar, drinking a whisky and soda, was the man whose photograph was in Alonzo's pocket—Hertz!
Alonzo, back in the dining-room, considered the situation. What was Hertz doing at Mote Hall? Was it merely curiosity to see the scene of his late partner's death, which had brought him here, or was there some other and more sinister motive?
A glance at the inn's register showed him that Hertz had registered as a "Tourist." with an address in Paris. Alonzo smiled gently to himself, and, knocking out his pipe, went up to bed.
IT was 3 o'clock the next morning. The moon had sunk behind the clouds, and the night was dark as Alonzo ascended the bracken-covered path which led to Mote Hall. The outline of the old mansion, ghostly in the dim light, brought to Alonzo's mind the landlord's story of "The Three Grey Men." A convenient tree helped him to scale the wall, and ten minutes afterwards he forced the dusty shutters which covered a ground floor window and made his way into the house.
Walking on tiptoe he quickly found the entrance hall and examined the spot where the body of Kleiner had been found. The ominous red stain was still on the wooden floor, and, as Alonzo's electric flash lamp travelled over the walls of the old place, he wondered whether the story of the treasure was true, and whether Kleiner had thought the tale worth investigating. After a few minutes' search he left the hall and, mounting the wide staircase, examined the rooms on the first floor. Empty and thick with dust, they told him nothing, and, after some fifteen minutes' fruitless search he returned to the entrance hall.
He flashed his lamp round the place once more, and as the white beam of light fell on the back of the ancient fireplace he stifled an exclamation. Almost hidden behind a projecting stone was a piece of white paper. He picked it up, and a soft whistle of astonishment escaped him. The handwriting was the same as that in the inn register. The note in his hand had been written by Hertz. He opened the folded paper and read:
The stuff is in the third vault next to the old torture chamber. Wall facing the door. Fourth stone from the ground upwards, sixth stone from the wall sideways. Press. When wall opens out, you will find oak cupboard inside. Press middle rose in bunch of flowers carved on right panel, and the cupboard opens. Meet you as arranged. Good luck.
So Hertz had been in the game with Kleiner! And, the stuff was downstairs in the vaults! Alonzo sat for a moment, his torch switched off, staring straight at the darkness in front of him. Then a smile curved his lips, and he nodded his head, in silent amusement.
After a minute he rose and, walking as quietly as a cat, made his way by the winding stone staircase down to the vaults. The light of his torch enabled him to find the middle vault—the one next to the small square room which had been used, as a torture chamber in the olden times. He walked to the opposite wall and, carrying out the instructions in the note, threw his weight against the brick indicated. A moment passed then, with a creaking noise, a square of the stone wall moved outwards, disclosing, as the note had said, the door of an ancient oak-carved cupboard.
Alonzo stepped back, every nerve strained to catch the slightest sound. Suddenly he switched off his torch, and, moving quickly and silently to the stone staircase which led upstairs, he ascended half a dozen steps. Above him he heard a slight shuffle. Descending quickly, he switched on his torch again, and making his way to the treasure cupboard, he found the middle rose in the bunch of flowers carved on the right panel. He put his thumb on the rose and pressed, and, as the cupboard doors slowly commenced to open, he sprang backwards.
A second later an iron bar, worked by some hidden mechanism, came downwards and outwards from the cupboard. Affixed to the top of the bar was a gleaming knife. The bar struck suddenly at the place where Alonzo had been standing, then disappeared back into the cupboard. Alonzo switched off his torch and dropped it with a crash; then, giving a deep groan, he moved into the shadows. As he did so the light of an electric torch appeared on the stairs and, a moment later, his face working with excitement, the figure of Hertz appeared at the bottom of the stairway.
Alonzo stepped forward into the circle of light.
"Good evening, Mr. Hertz!" he said, smiling into the astounded countenance of the other. "How disappointed you must be at the failure of your little scheme. Your annoyance at not seeing me lying dead on the floor must be acute, I am sure!"
"What the hell do you mean?" gasped Hertz, his face white with fear and anger.
"I'll tell you, my friend, exactly what I mean." replied Alonzo. "You knew of the existence of this treasure and you wanted to get it; at the same time you were aware that the doors were guarded by this device of the olden time monks, and that if any one attempted to open the door without knowing the actual secret they would be stabbed by the mechanical knife. I've seen another, exactly like it, in Strasbourg. But you had to get the doors open somehow, and so the idea came to you, that you might kill two birds with one stone. You put Kleiner on to the job, and when he was stabbed you came down to Mote Hall and moved the body upstairs carrying away just as much of the treasure as you could.
"You saw me enter the Hall tonight, and you wrote out that note, which I found in the fireplace, whilst I was on the first floor. You knew that I would descend to the vaults and carry out the instructions in the note, and you hoped to get me out of the way and the treasure chest open a second time. Luckily for me I realised that the note which I found had been written only a few minutes before. I have good eyesight, and I realised that that note was not three weeks old. Hard luck, Mr. Hertz!"
"Who are you, any way?" asked Hertz angrily.
"My name is Alonzo MacTavish," replied Alonzo quietly.
Hertz gave an exclamation of surprise. "MacTavish," he ejaculated, "Why Kleiner often told me about you—the cleverest crook in the world, he called you. Now, look here, MacTavish, you've got me beat. I guess you're right about Kleiner. I had to get him out of the way, but he'd have done the same to me. Help me get this stuff away, and we'll go halves. There's a king's fortune in that cupboard. Well, what do you say?"
"I don't do business with murderers, Hertz," replied Alonzo, quietly.
"Say, don't be a fool," Hertz pleaded. "Do you know what that stuff is in the cupboard? Well, I'll tell you. Don't you believe any old stories about monks' treasure—the stuff in that chest is the jewels brought from the Russian Churches during the revolution. There's diamond crosses and things worth thousands. I guess some refugee royalists put it here for safety, so that the Bolsheviks shouldn't claim 'em, thinking that nobody would ever find 'em out. I found out anyway, and I'm going to have my whack at 'em."
"Oh, no, you're not, Mr. Hertz," said Alonzo. "I've done some funny things in my time, but I don't work with murderers, and I don't rob churches. This stuff is going to stay exactly where if is for the moment."
Alonzo took out his cigarette case and lit a cigarette. Then he looked up—straight into the barrel of the heavy automatic which shone in Hertz's hand.
"Oh, you think so, my chivalrous friend, do you?" answered Hertz. "Well, I'll tell you what I'm going to do. You know too much, and I'm going to see that you don't talk. I'm going to shoot you, my friend, and your body is going into that cupboard when I've cleared it of some of the stuff that's in it. Dead men tell no tales, and—"
Something whizzed past Alonzo's head, and Hertz, dropping the revolver, staggered back, his eyes wide with fear. A long knife, unerringly thrown, had transfixed his right arm. Alonzo spun round then stepped back with an involuntary gasp of astonishment. Half of the wall which separated the vault from the torture chamber had swung back, and in the opening stood the Three Grey Men of Mote Hall!
The dim light from the chamber beyond showed faintly on the long grey monks' gowns and the hoods which concealed the faces of the wearers. The tallest of the three stepped forward and spoke to Hertz.
"Do not be alarmed, my burglaring friend," he said, speaking with a slight accent. "We are not ghosts, but very much flesh and blood."
He bowed to Alonzo.
"Sir," he said, "may I introduce myself—Colonel Count Stefan Ketivra, late of the Russian Imperial Life Guard." The next grey-gowned figure stepped forward—"Lieutenant Kapek Packski, of the Sharpshooters, and"—as the third figure advanced—"Lieutenant Karolis Ivanoff, of the same regiment."
Alonzo returned his bow.
"I am Alonzo MacTavish," he said—"gentleman adventurer, knight of the road, or, if you will, plain crook!"
Ketivra held up his hand.
"Sir," he said, "crook or not, you would have protected the holy treasure which we guard, and for that we salute you. For years we have guarded this, the remnants of our churches' treasure and, but for the conversation which we overheard, this murderer would have succeeded in his foul plot. We shall deal with him in good time. As for you, you must leave Mote Hall at once, and never set foot in it again. This you must swear upon your honour, also that you will never mention what you have seen this night."
"I give you my word," said Alonzo.
"Good," replied the Count. "We have found the ancient legend of The Three Grey Men most useful for our secrecy, and it must be guarded. And now, Good-bye. Kapek will see you safely away."
Alonzo bowed and followed the silent lieutenant of Sharpshooters.
AS the village clock struck five and the dawn broke, Alonzo, whistling quietly to himself, walked along the country road towards the inn. The mystery of Kleiner's death was solved, and Alonzo's curiosity was satisfied. He stood on the crest of the hill and looked back at Mote Hall. Suddenly, on the quiet morning air, a shot rang out: then all was silence. Alonzo raised his cap.
"Good-bye, Mr. Hertz." he said, and, singing, strode off to the inn.
IT was not the beauty of the girl which had attracted Alonzo's attention, but the colour of her stockings! He gazed after her as she hurried up Red Lion Street. He was all the more interested because the stockings were out of keeping with the rest of her attire. Her costume was neat and well-fitting—only the awful stockings erred.
He came to the conclusion that he had never, in his whole life, seen such an appalling shade of blue. He dismissed the matter from his mind with a shrug, and once more turned his attention to the matter which had brought him to Red Lion Street. Eventually he found the house he was looking for, tucked away in a little court which ran parallel with the main street. He rang the bell. A tired-eyed woman with a wan smile opened the door.
"Any news?" asked Alonzo.
"Not a word, Mr. MacTavish," answered the woman, fingering her apron nervously. "'Ere, Mr. Mac., you don't think they've done 'im in, do yer? Its four days now, an' you know what a fool Lon is when 'e's in a corner—hit first and thinks afterwards!"
After a few reassuring words, Alonzo left the house and walked in the direction of Kingsway. He was worried about Lon. Much more worried than he had shown Lon's wife, whose only fear appeared to be that Lon might hit first.
Alonzo realised that little mercy would be shown by Marinski, and cursed the day when he had conceived the idea of putting Lon on the job of stealing the ivory box.
Marinski had waited three years for an opportunity of getting the box, which contained the secret of the treasure chest on Deepsea Island, and he was not likely to show any mercy to an associate of his sworn enemy—Alonzo MacTavish! Every precaution had been taken, and it had seemed that with ordinary care Lon should have succeeded in getting away with the box.
Marinski had been kept under observation for some time, and it was obvious that he was easy in his mind that no suspicion attached to him or his gang for the theft from the West Norwood Museum of the little ivory casket, whose carved figures contained the secret of great wealth. Indeed, so careless had he grown, that Alonzo learned that the ivory box was not even under lock and key, but stood openly on Marinski's desk.
From the other side of Clarges Street, Alonzo had watched Lon negotiate the wall of Marinski's house, and disappear through the study window into the room where the ivory box was. Lon had not reappeared and nothing had been seen or heard of him since the moment, four days ago, when Alonzo had watched him get through the window.
MacTavish walked slowly down Kingsway, his brain busy with conjectures. A familiar face passed him and he looked round. He grinned as he recognised the woman with the extraordinary blue stockings. One of those flashes of intuition which come sometimes to a woman, but seldom to a man, came to Alonzo at that moment, and he turned and followed the woman.
At Leicester Square the woman in the blue stockings took a taxi and Alonzo, securing a cab, still followed. He felt no surprise when her cab stopped at Marinski's house in Clarges Street, where she paid off her cab and entered. Standing at the corner of the mews opposite Marinski's house, Alonzo's eyes travelled over the red brick exterior to the library window through which Lon had made his entrance.
Suddenly, something caught his eyes. Over the library window, just above the centre of the ornamental carving was a brick, of a most peculiar blue colour. Alonzo wondered where he had seen that colour before—then he remembered. The brick was the exact colour of the stockings of the woman who had just entered the house!
He considered for a moment, then, with a muttered "I'll chance it," he dashed to the Mews to a public house at the far end, where he knew there was a telephone box. In two minutes he was speaking to the house in Red Lion Street.
"Is that you, Mrs. Lon? Good! This is MacTavish. Tell Blooey to get a cab at once and offer the driver treble fare if he can get to me here at the top of Mullins Mews, Clarges Street, in 12 minutes, Good-bye!"
Alonzo returned to his post, at the other end of the Mews, and after ten minutes wait observed Blooey's cab arrive.
Blooey joined him in response to a signal.
"Look here, Blooey," said Alonso. "There's a woman in that hotel. When she comes out follow and don't lose her. Go back to your cab and tell him to drive round to Clarges Street so that you can pick him up if she takes a taxi-cab." Blooey obeyed and presently rejoined Alonzo.
Just at this moment the woman came out of the house opposite. She waited for a cab, and eventually drove off, with Blooey in pursuit. Alonzo stood gazing after the two cabs, wondering, for he had noticed that the woman had changed her blue stockings for an even more appallingly coloured pair of mustard yellow ones. Then, as his eyes returned to the house he saw that the blue brick above the library window, worked evidently by some mechanism inside the house, turned slowly over and displayed a side that was mustard yellow, the exact shade of the woman's stockings.
Alonzo lit a cigarette and smoked it thoughtfully. Then he crossed the road and rang the bell of Marinski's home. The door was opened by a sleek butler whose face betrayed no sign of recognition as Alonzo stood smiling at him.
"Well, Flash Mick," said Alonzo. "So you're a butler now, are you?"
He stepped inside the hall before the other had recovered from his surprise.
"I want to see Marinski," he said.
The butler showed his teeth in a grin. "Supposin' he don't want to see you?" he asked. "You take a tip from me an' keep clear of Marinski, 'e's 'ad about enough of you, MacTavish, an' it might not be 'ealthy to interfere; so..."
He stopped suddenly, for Alonzo had stepped forward, and seized his wrist in a Ju-Jitsu grip.
"Do what I tell you, my friend," said Alonzo, "or it will be the worse for you. Now, where is Marinski?"
"In the study," growled Flash Mick, rubbing his arm as Alonzo released him. "I'll be even with you yet for this, MacTavish."
Alonzo laughed. "I'll chance that, Mick," he said. "Pretty little grip that, wasn't it?" he added over his shoulder as he ran up the broad staircase which led to Marinski's study.
Arrived, he pushed open the door, and stepped into the room. Marinski was at his desk writing. A glance showed Alonzo that the ivory box was not on the desk.
"Well, Marinski, and how are you?" asked Alonzo, taking a chair.
Marinski put down his pen and, placing the tops of his fingers together, looked at Alonzo. His thin fingers seemed like devils' claws, and his long, thin face and bald head gave him a weird and ghoulish appearance. He smiled evilly.
"So it is our friend Alonzo MacTavish," he said. "Mr. MacTavish. I feel that you have not yet learned that discretion is the better part of valour. I am afraid that is a lesson which, eventually, I shall have to teach you, even as your bright assistant, Lon Ferrers, is being taught at the moment!"
Alonzo threw his cigarette end into the grate. "Marinski," he said. "It will be a bad day for you when I learn that anything has happened to Lon Ferrers."
Marinski laughed. "Have you not learned, young man, that threats do not frighten me? Your friend, Ferrers, abstracted an ivory box, in which you and I are both interested. He got rid of this box in some marvellous way, possibly by throwing it from a window, for we caught him before he got out of the house. I want to know where that box is; beyond that Ferrers does not interest me."
Alonzo realised that no good would be done by further conversation with Marinski so, with a sarcastic 'good morning' and a final warning, he left the house.
He wondered if Blooey had managed to find out anything about the girl with the peculiar stockings, for he was certain that the coloured brick above the window in the Clarges Street house, and the peculiar coloured stockings of the girl, constituted some sort of signal. However, nothing could be done at the moment and, deep in thought, he made his way back to his flat in Earl's Court.
IT was 3.30 when his telephone bell rang, and he put the receiver to his ear to hear the excited voice of Blooey at the other end.
"That you, Mac? Good. Listen! I traced her to the end of a narrow road that leads off the Mile End Road, and she walks up and down one side until somebody in the end 'ouse raised the window curtain. This must 'ave been a signal, for she walks down the street, and presently stops at a 'ouse half way down the street. She went in, and directly the door shut be'ind 'er I nipped down, and as I was passin' the 'ouse I gave Lon's whistle. Somebody whistled back, and it seemed to come from the grating over the basement. I'm certain it was Lon, and I was all for bustin' the front door in, but I thought I'd better leave it to you. What's the next move?"
"Meet me at Mile End Church at eleven o'clock," replied, Alonzo. "Bring a gun with you. In the meantime you can keep an eye on Clarges Street. Good work, Blooey!"
It was midnight when Alonzo forced the door of the house in Ratten Street, off the Mile End Road and, with Blooey on guard on the other side of the street, stepped into the hall.
He stood at the bottom of the rickety staircase and whistled softly a few bars of an old song—a favourite melody of Lon's. Then he listened. From somewhere below very softly came an answering whistle.
A search revealed a door under the stairs, and he descended into what had evidently been a coal cellar. He whistled again, and this time the reply was fairly distinct. He flashed his torch, and the light showed him a door at the far end of the cellar.
A few minutes sufficed to open the cheap lock on the door and, flashing his torch into the darkness within, he saw Lon, handcuffed hand and foot and securely chained to an iron staple in the wall.
"Evening, Mac," said Lon laconically "I guessed you'd turn up. You're just in time, too. They tell me that that bomb there is due to go off in an hour's time."
Alonzo grinned sympathetically, as he saw the infernal machine in the corner of the cupboard and, drawing a bunch of skeleton keys from his pocket, commenced operations on the handcuffs.
"I'm glad you turned up, Mac," said Lon, "I was just wandering what I should do when they called my bluff."
"What bluff?" asked MacTavish, his deft fingers at work with the skeleton keys.
"I've refused to tell them where the ivory box is," replied Lon. "When I got into Marinski's room I saw the box on the top of the desk. I grabbed it, but just as I was turning to get out of the window I heard a step outside the door, and before I could say 'knife,' Marinski and Flash Mick came into the room. Quick as a flash, I pushed the ivory box behind a coal scuttle which stood by the window, and then, slipping behind the curtain, pretended to throw something out of the window. They're both certain that I threw the box to someone outside. Marinski has been at me every day to know where the box is and I promised to tell him tonight if he came down himself. I had an idea that you might follow him and..."
Alonzo held up a warning finger, for the sound of a footstep above them had come distinctly to his ears. He switched off his torch and, signalling Lon to remain silent, moved quietly to the foot of the cellar stairs. As he pressed himself into the dark shadows by the side of the stairs, the door above opened. The second figure carried a lamp, and by its light he recognised Marinski, Flash Mick, and the girl in the yellow stockings.
As they reached the bottom of the stairs Alonzo flashed on his torch and Marinski spun round open-mouthed at the sight of Alonzo and the automatic pistol which showed ominously in his hand.
"Good evening, Marinski," said Alonzo quietly. "Don't move, any of you, or this gun might go off." He seated himself on an upturned barrel.
"Undo those handcuffs, Flash Mick," he commanded, indicating the still-trussed Lon, "and be mighty quick, about it unless you want to be here when that little infernal machine of our friend Marinski goes off!"
In a few moments Lon was free, and was sent upstairs in search of Blooey, who was still watching the street above. They returned in the course of a few minutes and, standing by Alonzo, regarded the sulky faces of the three plotters opposite.
Alonzo lit a cigarette and passed his case to his friends. "What's the story of this bomb, Flash Mick?" he asked. "I want the truth, and if you want to save your own skin you'd better be truthful for once in your life."
Flash Mick shuffled his feet uncomfortably, and with a sidelong glance at the scowling Marinski, spoke:—
"We got Ferrers after he'd taken the box," he said, "but the box wasn't on him, and he wouldn't split where it was. Marinski had him brought down here and fixed up that infernal machine in the corner. It's worked from the house at the end of the road. The girl came down here every day, and walked past the end house where I was keeping watch. I could tell by the colour of her stockings whether Ferrers had split where the box was, and if I was to set off the bomb..."
"I see," interrupted Alonzo—"you were to explode the bomb after Ferrers had confessed where the box was."
He turned to Marinski. "So you were lying when you told me that you would release Ferrers when he told you where the ivory box was. You intended to get his secret and instead of freeing him, Flash Mick was to blow up this house and Ferrers with it. Very pretty, I'm sure! Well, friend Marinski, I'm going to hoist you with your own petard."
He turned to Blooey. "Put those handcuffs on him, Blooey," he ordered, "and secure him to the wall. You Lon, take Flash Mick and this girl to the house at the end of the road and wait for me. Is he trussed up all right, Blooey? Good. Go with Lon."
When Blooey and Lon and their prisoners had departed, Alonzo sat regarding the manacled Marinski. Beads of perspiration had broken out on the greasy face of the captive, and he looked a picture of abject fear.
"Well, Marinski," said Alonzo, "this looks like the end of the story, doesn't it? You've had a long run, and there isn't any rotten or beastly thing which you haven t done. I've never heard any one who had a good word for you."
"Give me a chance, Mac," pleaded Marinski. "I wouldn't do you or Ferrers or any one any harm, you know that. Straight, I wouldn't. Give me a chance—just one more chance."
Alonzo smiled, and turned away. As he walked past Marinski his automatic fell from his pocket almost into the hands of the other. Marinski seized it and, taking aim at the back of the unsuspecting MacTavish, pressed the trigger. Then, as Alonzo turned, still smiling, Marinski, with a curse, threw the automatic from him. It was unloaded!
"That was your chance, Marinski," said MacTavish—"your last chance." He picked up the automatic and placed it in his pocket. "I dropped it entirely for your benefit, just to see what your word was worth. You've promised Mile End an explosion, and I'm going to see that it gets one! If you hadn't tried to shoot me in the back just now I'd have let you go; as it is—"
He shrugged his shoulders, and with a final glance at Marinski, left the house.
Fifteen minutes later Alonzo, Blooey, and Lon Ferrers drove rapidly in the direction of Aldgate. As they sped out of the Mile End Road a muffled roar broke the stillness of the night, and police whistles sounded from the direction of Ratten Street. Alonzo, at the steering wheel, accelerated the speed of the car.
"So much for Marinski," he said with a smile. "Now for the Ivory Box!"
THE beauty of the moonlight was entirely lost upon Mr. MacTavish as, with his hands stuck in his trouser pockets and his silk hat at its accustomed angle, he wandered slowly down Park Lane in the direction of Piccadilly and ruminated upon the hardships of life. Things had not gone well of late. An attempt to remove a diamond necklace from the strongroom of an American millionaire had resulted in complete success—with the exception that the diamonds, on examination, proved to be excellent imitations of the original necklace, which, he discovered later, was safe on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean. Added to which, the knowledge that the information contained in the secret diplomatic papers which he had, so assiduously, stolen from the Moravian Legation, was already in the possession of the Ambassador to whom he proposed selling it, did not help matters a bit.
Money is always necessary to a swell cracksman and, at the moment, it was only distinguished by its absence.
He stopped half way down Park Lane and, looking over the quiet park which lay before him, considered the matter. What was to be done? The question was never answered, for at that moment there sounded on his ears the unmistakable sound of a woman crying quietly.
He looked up and down Park Lane, and was, apparently, the sole occupant of the street, except for the motionless figure of a policeman near the Marble Arch end. A further search, however, revealed the fact that there was, a few paces to his left, a narrow mews, the entrance of which was obscured in the shadow, and it seemed that the sound had come from this direction.
Alonzo walked quietly to the end of the narrow passage and looked round the corner. The possessor of an extremely soft heart, where the feminine sex was concerned, he could not fail to sympathise with the sight which met his gaze, for sitting on the stone steps which led to the entrance of one of the small houses attached to the mews, was a lady.
Her evening cloak was wrapped close about her and a stray gleam of moonlight from the opposite end of the mews glinted on a mass of high-piled auburn hair—a wondrous sight in these days of bob and shingle—whilst the small handkerchief with which she was endeavouring to stifle her sobs obscured only a small portion of a face which was unmistakably beautiful.
Alonzo removed his hat and stepped forward. The slightest suggestion of a subtle perfume greeted his nostrils as he approached the lady and he sniffed appreciatively.
"You will excuse me, I know," said Alonzo, in the gentle manner especially reserved for beauty in distress, "but I heard you crying. Can I help?"
The lady looked up. "N-no, you can't, th-thank you v-very much," she murmured, endeavouring to stifle the sobs which persisted in spite of her efforts.
"I hate everybody, and I'm frantically unhappy, and life is awful, b-b-but, n-nobody cares!"
Alonzo dusted the other end of the stone step with a handkerchief, and sat down.
"May I point out to you," he said, "that your last remark is absolutely untrue. I care. How can I possibly go to bed on a beautiful night like this, knowing that you are still seated on a cold stone step in Park Lane, crying? It couldn't be done! Would you like me to get you a cab and take you home."
"N-no, I wouldn't," said the lady with a fresh outburst of sobs. "I haven't got a home, anyway. I only want to die!"
Experience having taught Mr. MacTavish that when a lady wants to die there is usually some extremely strong reason why she should wish to continue living, he said nothing, but lit a cigarette and regarded the features of an interested cat who sat on the wall opposite. This procedure was entirely successful, inasmuch as within two minutes the lady's tears abated somewhat and Alonzo could see that he was being regarded with great curiosity out of the corner of her eye.
"Now, what's it all about?" he asked, handing the girl his cigarette case. They sat and smoked in silence for a few minutes, then, with sudden movement, she turned to him.
"If you've ever heard of Sloan Duquesne you can probably guess the rest of the story," she said. "Have you heard of him?"
Alonzo smiled. "Who hasn't?" he said. "The newspapers have been full of him for days. Apparently he is a young gentleman who, at the age of 25, inherited much too much money, and appears to be addicted to drugs, drink, and every other form of nonsensical amusement. The last news of him says that his latest escapade has been to turn his sister into the streets for some entirely silly and trivial reason. Pretty hard luck on the girl," he concluded.
"It is," said the girl bitterly. "You see, I happen to be his sister!"
Alonzo whistled quietly. "I say, that's pretty bad, isn't it? And is this stone step your only abode at the present?" he asked.
"Yes," said the girl. "You see, things came to a climax today, and I really couldn't stand it any longer. I've no money, but that doesn't trouble me. I daresay I can get a job of some sort in time. But he's got my mother's diamond tiara which she gave to me. He refuses to give this up. You see, it's quite valuable, and I intended selling it, and starting some sort of business with the proceeds."
"Why did you let him have it?" asked Alonzo.
"I only got it from the bank the day before yesterday," she answered. "I took it down to a jeweller who knew my mother, and he arranged to give me five thousand pounds for it. The deal was to be completed tomorrow morning, but in the meantime he did not want the responsibility of keeping the necklace, so I asked my brother to put it in his safe. He was quite pleasant about it at the time, but in the meantime he'd had another of his attacks, and absolutely refuses to part with it. I really don't know what I shall do."
She dabbed her eyes with her handkerchief. Alonzo considered for a moment.
"Where does your brother live?" he asked.
"He lives in Brook Street, No. 340, but it isn't any use. No one can move him when once he has made up his mind. I do wish I hadn't put it in the safe."
"Couldn't you go there and open the safe?" Alonzo asked.
She shook her head.
"No. He's there all the time, and the safe is in his study on the first floor. He keeps the key in his pocket. It's a wonderful safe too—a Brigg's burglar-proof—and I never could get it open without having both the key and the code word which works the lock. I haven't got either," she added dismally.
Alonzo smiled to himself. "Brigg's burglar proof safes," whilst being excellent safes, had hitherto presented no difficulty to him. As a matter of fact he had "negotiated" five such safes during the last two years. He turned to the girl.
"Look here, Miss Duquesne," he said. "I know your brother—I did him a good turn once—and I think he might listen to me. I'll go and see him in the morning. In the meantime I'm going to drive you to an hotel, if you'll let me, where they'll give you credit until such time an you can square up. They know me awfully well, you see," he explained. "What do you say?"
She considered for a moment, then she smiled. Alonzo thought it was the most wonderful smile he had ever seen in his life.
"Thanks awfully," she said. "I'll do it. If you are a friend of my brother's he might listen to you. Thank you so much Mr...?" She looked questioningly at Alonzo.
"My name is Umfreville O'Halloran," replied Alonzo with great promptitude, "and if you'll wait one moment I'll get a cab."
HALF an hour later, Miss Duquesne was comfortably installed in the Langley Hotel, Piccadilly, and Alonzo, his mind busy, hurried to the Tube Station, which was on the point of closing.
He entered a telephone box and rang a Museum number.
"Is that you, Lon?" he asked. "Good. Meet me at the corner of Bond Street and Brook Street in an hour's time—two o'clock precisely. Wear evening clothes and bring the kit with you. It's a job in Brook Street—a Brigg's—should take about an hour. Got that?"
"Right, Mac," replied Lon Ferrers casually. "I'll be there, and I hope it keeps fine for us!"
At two o'clock precisely Alonzo met Lon Ferrers as arranged, and relieved him of the wide belt, worn round the body under the coat, containing the tools and apparatus specially designed by MacTavish for the opening of Brigg's Safes. He had already inspected the premises at 340 Brook Street, which, standing on a corner formed by a narrow turning leading to a garage, presented no difficulty as to effecting an entrance. All was quiet and, with Lon keeping a lookout below, Alonzo climbed to a window on the first floor and entered the house. As he closed the window behind him it seemed that a noise came from the direction of the hall downstairs. He listened attentively for a minute, but heard no further sound, and switching on his electric torch discovered that he was in a bathroom.
He opened the door and, stepping into the passage beyond, quickly found the library, the door of which was open. In the corner was the safe. He examined the massive door. Then, taking off his coat, he commenced operations, and an hour afterwards the heavy door swung open.
The safe was empty except for a few books, and papers, and a black Morocco leather case which rested on the second shelf. He broke the slight lock with a penknife and, opening the case, gazed at the diamond pendant which lay within. Then, with a glance at his watch he switched off his electric torch and, slipping the case into his pocket, he donned his overcoat and turned to the door.
Suddenly there was a click and the room was flooded with electric light. Alonzo smiled grimly as he found himself looking down into the barrel of a heavy service revolver held by the tired looking young gentleman in evening clothes who stood by the door. The young gentleman yawned, and sat down in an armchair, keeping MacTavish covered with the revolver.
"Well, Mr. Raffles," he said. "I suppose I must apologise for spoiling your evening. It was unlucky for you that I should return and hear you just at the moment that you were bringing your efforts to a successful conclusion. By the way, how did you know that the pendant was in the safe?" he asked.
"Does that matter?" replied Alonso, putting on his hat. "Would it not be more expedient to proceed to the next stage of the game, say telephoning for the police—I suppose that's rather indicated, isn't it?"
The young man grinned.
"Oh, I don't think so," he said. "You see, I happened to be walking down Park Lane just after midnight"—his grin broadened—"and taking a look into Farrow's Mews I saw my delightful sister and yourself engaged in deep conversation. The rest of the story is easy. Simply putting two and two together, I conclude that my adventurous sister has engaged, or persuaded, you to remove the necklace and hand it over to her. Incidentally, I must congratulate you on the efficient way in which you have dealt with that safe. Personally, I think it was very sporting of you. When you see my sister again you might say that I sympathise with the failure of your little plot. In the meantime would you mind handing over the pendant? Thanks very much."
The young gentleman replaced the pendant in the safe and shut the iron door. With his left hand he took a cigarette case from his pocket and turned to Alonzo with a smile.
"Have a cigarette?" he said. "And I'd be awfully glad if you'd close the front door, behind you as you go. Thanks very much. Good-night!"
ALONZO, and Lon Ferrers walked slowly in the direction of the Criterion Restaurant. Eventually, when they arrived and were seated at a table in the almost deserted "all night restaurant," MacTavish consumed cup after cup of coffee and consigned all women in distress to the nether regions. He hated to admit defeat, but, at the same time he could think of no possible way to obtain possession of the pendant.
Suddenly he put down his cup and, summoning a waiter, paid the bill.
Outside the restaurant, he turned to Lon.
"Look here, Lon," he said. "I've made up my mind to get that pendant. I've an idea. It's risky, but I'm going to chance it. I'm going back to 340 Brook Street, and I'm going to ring the bell like an honest citizen. When somebody opens the door I'm going to stick an automatic into their ribs and walk up to the library and take that pendant. The safe isn't shut because all the lock tumblers are broken. If it comes off I'll see you at my flat at four o'clock. Good-night!"
Alonzo walked quickly in the direction of Brook Street. As he approached No. 340 he could not fail to be aware of the commotion which was afoot inside and outside the house. Lights showed in every window, and the wide open front door was guarded by the portly figure of a policeman. On the pavement outside the house stood a police sergeant and two more constables.
Alonzo pushed his silk hat further back on his head, and rumpling his shirt front after the manner of an all night roisterer, addressed the sergeant.
"What's the excitement, officer?" he asked. "Want any help?"
The sergeant grinned.
"Too late, I'm afraid, sir," he said. "It's all over bar the shouting. This place has been burgled tonight, and they've got away with the Duquesne pendant. Pretty slick work, whoever they are!"
Alonzo said good-night, and walked down Brook Street, his brain whirling. He stood for a moment on the corner of Grosvenor Square, utterly amazed. Then a suspicion of a smile broke over his face and, walking quickly to Oxford Street, he hailed a cab, and drove off rapidly to the Langley Hotel.
"No, sir, Miss Duquesne isn't here," said the night clerk in answer to his question. "She left suddenly, about an hour and a half after she arrived here with you. She said you might be calling, and she asked me to give you this note."
He handed a sealed envelope to Alonzo. MacTavish walked out into Piccadilly, the note in his pocket. At the first street lamp he tore open the envelope and read:
A pretty good bluff, wasn't it? Don't you think I acted the part of the sorrowful Miss Duquesne awfully well? I thought you'd recognise me any moment, in spite of my dyed hair. You see, we had got the key to the front door of the Duquesne house, but there's only one man in Europe can open a Briggs burglar proof safe, and that's yourself! I knew you'd go off and crack the crib immediately. The young man who held you up was not Sloan Duquesne, but my brother, Fred. He was rather good, wasn't he? You're rather a dear, aren't you, Mac? And if you'd like to join us at Monte, I'll thank you personally. Please find enclosed banknote for £500. Buy yourself a cigarette case, or something in memory of
Alias Kitty Marshall.
Alonzo leaned up against the lamp post and gasped. Then he roared with laughter. For the first time in his life he had been double-crossed—and by a woman! A passing policeman regarded him with amusement. "It's a fine night, sir," said the policeman.
Alonzo felt in his pocket for a pound note.
"Officer 434K," he said, handing the note to the astonished police officer, "It's the finest night I've seen for a long time."
So saying, Mr. MacTavish adjusted his monocle in his eye and went home to bed.
AS the last notes of the violin echoed through the Music Hall, a thunder of applause rang through the building, and away, and recommenced as John Ackroyd, 'The Singing Fiddler,' came through the curtains to take his final call. It seemed impossible to Alonzo that the tired features—the lines apparent under the stage make up—were those of his friend, John Ackroyd. Ackroyd had been a laughing, cheerful fellow in the old days somewhat inclined to stoutness, and Alonzo wondered what trouble or ill-health had caused the great change in appearance which had undoubtedly taken place.
The applause continued and Ackroyd, bowing and smiling, prepared to play a final encore, and the house hushed into a deep quietness as the haunting melody flowed from his violin.
It was a slow mysterious Blues that seemed to hypnotise the whole audience. Alonzo's eyes were riveted on the performer. Ackroyd's smile seemed very forced, and occasionally he appeared to stagger as if the strain of playing were too great.
As the final notes of the violin died away, Alonzo rose, and made his way to the stage door. He nodded to the stage doorkeeper—an old acquaintance—and went upstairs to the star's dressing room.
"Evening, Tom," said Alonzo to the dresser, selecting a cosy armchair.
"Good evening, Mr. MacTavish. It's a long time since we've seen you. Mr. Ackroyd won't he long, he hasn't been well lately, and likes to take some rest in the wings before he comes up. Strangely enough, he won't let me stay with him neither."
Alonzo lit a cigarette. "I thought he looked seedy from the front of the house," he said. "What's wrong, Tom?"
"I don't rightly know, sir," answered the dresser. "He's been nervy-like, very irritable for about three months as near as I can remember. I think it was Miss Sally wanting to marry Mr. Lassey upset him first of all."
"Mr. Lassey!" queried Alonzo.
"I don't think you ever met him, sir," said the dresser. "Clever chap, Mr. Lassey, but evidently Mr. Ackroyd didn't think he was good enough for his sister. He's very fond of Miss Sally is Mr. Ackroyd, and he's too kind-hearted to have stepped in without good reason. I've been with Mr. Ackroyd thirty years, and I've never known him lose his temper, except with Mr. Lassey."
Alonzo smiled. "Thirty years is a long time, Tom. You must be very nearly a millionaire!"
The clothes brush slipped from his fingers, and as he stooped to pick it up, Alonzo noticed that the dresser's face had paled, and that his lips were trembling.
"Excuse me, sir," he said, making for the door, "but I think I can hear Mr. Ackroyd coming."
Almost as he spoke Ackroyd entered the room. Surprised as he had been at his friend's changed appearance on the stage, MacTavish was amazed to see him at close quarters. His face was wan and drawn, and the light of fun and mischief had gone from his eyes. He handed his fiddle to the dresser and, with a smile at Alonzo, sank wearily into a chair.
"Well, Mac," he said. "I'm glad to see you. It's strange that you should have come tonight. I was on the point of writing you."
He glanced nervously round the dressing room. "I shan't want you for a bit, Tom," he said. He watched the man out of the room, then leaned closer to Alonzo.
"Listen, Mac," he said. "There's some mysterious business going on around me. Something that I can't understand or see. I feel as if I were in a net, which is closing tighter and tighter about me each day. It sounds silly, I know, but look at me! I'm a shadow of my former self, and I've never suffered with nerves in my life."
Alonzo lit another cigarette. The thought came to him that there was something almost pathetic in the appearance of his old friend.
"Can't you think of any explanation?" he asked, eventually. "Have you any enemies who might try to do you harm?"
"I haven't an enemy in the world that I know of," replied Ackroyd. "Besides, if I had, that wouldn't account for this business."
He rose and walked wearily to the dressing-room door, saw that it was safely shut, and returned to his seat. "Three months ago," he said, "I was as fit as a fiddle. Then, suddenly, after my performance one night, I seemed to have an indescribable feeling of nausea. I can't explain it. About the same time my health began to fail, and I dreaded coming down to the theatre at night. Then I began to smell the violet scent! I couldn't get away from it."
"Violet scent," interrupted Alonzo. "What do you mean?"
John Ackroyd raised his head and sniffed the close air of the dressing room. "It's here now, can't you smell it?" he said. "Wherever I go, I smell the same odour—the scent of violets. Very faintly in the morning, but always strongly at night." He laughed nervously. "I know it sounds like an old woman's tale," he said, "but I've a feeling that there's a connection between this scent and my illness, whatever it may be."
Alonzo sniffed the air, but he could smell nothing. He wondered for a moment if Ackroyd had developed nerves, and whether the whole story was simply the remit of a disordered imagination. He was about to ask more questions, when he noticed that the door, which had been tightly shut, was slightly ajar.
"Possibly an over-scented young female of the soubrette variety," he drawled, languidly, his eyes on the crack in the door. "I shouldn't bother my head about it, John."
"Perhaps you're right, Mac," Ackroyd assented wearily, and they fell to discussing other matters.
The door of the dressing-room closed silently, but not before Alonzo had caught a glimpse of the white coat of Ackroyd's dresser, Tom.
ABOUT ten minutes later Alonzo rose. "I'd like to stand at the side of the stage in the next house, if you don't mind, John," he said. "We'll talk about yourself again, some time. See you later, old chap," he concluded, as he strolled out.
At the end of the corridor he met Tom. "Excuse me. Mr. MacTavish," said the dresser. "It's no affair of mine, but I wish you'd persuade the Guv'nor to cut out that encore piece he plays—the 'Mystery Blues' he calls it."
"Cut it out, Tom! Why that's the best thing he does."
Tears came into the old dresser's eyes. "I know it is, sir," he said, "but somehow he always seems worse on the nights he plays that for an encore. I hate that 'Mystery Blues.' Couldn't you persuade him to cut it out, sir?"
Alonzo shook his head. "I'm afraid I couldn't interfere," he said. "Oh, by the way, I forgot to ask Mr. Ackroyd for his private address whilst he is in town. Can you give it me?"
"I'll write it down," the dresser answered. He pulled out a stump of pencil and wrote the address on the back of an envelope. "There you are, sir," he said as he handed the envelope to Alonzo. "Good night, Mr. MacTavish." He hurried off down the corridor.
Alonzo stood gazing at the back of the envelope. He had turned it over nonchalantly between his fingers, and printed on the back were the words, "The Associated Counties Life Insurance Co."
He stood looking after the retreating figure of the dresser, wondering.
HALF an hour later Alonzo stood quietly in the prompt corner, his eyes on the stage as John Ackroyd made his entrance in the second house. Ackroyd, he thought, looked better and seemed more cheerful. The first part of the act consisted of a 'cello solo, then a song, and the finale, a violin number. Sally Ackroyd, her eyes on her brother, stood at the side holding his violin, ready to hand it to him when the time came.
The first part of his act over, Ackroyd came to the side of the stage and took the violin and a clean handkerchief from his sister's hands. He returned to the centre of the stage and, tucking the handkerchief in his collar, commenced to play. As the first notes of the violin echoed through the house, Alonzo, his eyes riveted on Ackroyd, noticed the sudden paleness of the latter's face.
He felt a touch on his arm, and found Tom, the dresser, standing beside him. "Look at the Guv'nor," whispered Tom. "Do you see how his face has changed. It's that accursed 'Mystery Blues.' I'll swear that's the cause of all the trouble."
Alonzo was about to reply when his foot touched something. He bent down and picked it up. It was a small cork, and some instinct made him hold it to his nose. A peculiar violet smell, languid and seductive, filled his nostrils, and his mind flashed back to the remark which Ackroyd had made an hour previously, the remark about "the violet scent."
He quietly slipped the cork into his waistcoat pocket.
"Tell Mr. Ackroyd I couldn't wait," he said to the dresser, and moved quietly to where Ackroyd's sister was standing.
"Good night, Miss Sally," he whispered.
"Good night, Mr. MacTavish," she smiled. She held some letters towards him.
"Do be nice and post these for me," she whispered. "I'd forgotten them."
Once out of the theatre, Alonzo made for a telephone box, and was soon connected with Lon Ferrers.
"Is that you, Lon? Good. I've just left the Frivolity Music Hall. I want you to keep an eye on Tom Watson, who acts as dresser to John Ackroyd, the 'top of the bill,' at the Frivolity. Find out what dealings he has had with the Associated Counties Life Insurance. Let me know as early as possible tomorrow morning. Good night, Lon!"
NEXT morning Alonzo found Lon Ferrer's note awaiting him on the breakfast table.
Watson—Ackroyd's dresser—has drawn all his savings out of the bank. He hasn't a bean except his weekly wage. He has insured the life of John Ackroyd with the firm you mention for £10,000. That's all at the moment.
Alonzo finished his breakfast and lit a pipe. A plan of campaign was beginning to shape itself in his mind.
At half past eleven he went out and took a 'bus to Notting Hill Gate. He investigated the outside of No. 17 Denman Street, taking careful note of the "geography" of the house, after which he returned to his flat at Earl's Court and indulged in a long conversation with Lon Ferrers.
AS the neighbouring church clock struck eleven-thirty, Alonzo moved out of the shadows opposite 17 Denman Street, Notting Hill Gate and, opening the iron gate, walked quietly along the strip of pathway which led to the back of the house. The place was as quiet as the grave and, as far as he could see, all the rooms at the back of the house were in complete darkness, except one on the right of the top floor, where a tiny glimmer of light showed between the blind and the window ledge.
He found a door which was evidently the back entrance to the kitchen and, drawing a bunch of skeleton keys from his pocket, commenced operations. Eventually he found the right key and, opening the door, entered the house. The light of his torch showed him that he was in the kitchen. He crossed the room and found a passage, and a short flight of steps leading up to the hall. At the top of these steps he stood and listened. From somewhere above came a noise, and, sniffing the air, Alonzo was certain that there was an almost imperceptible scent of violets about the place.
He switched off his torch and commenced to ascend the stairs leading to the bedrooms. The noise from above became more distinct, and as he ascended the stairs to the second floor he discerned a glimmer of light coming from beneath the door of the third room along the passage. He crept along the passage and listened.
From within the room came a steady grinding noise, and Alonzo moved silently along the passage and entered the next room. It was a bedroom and had been slept in recently for the bedclothes were untidy. By the moonlight which flooded through the dirty windows he saw that the room was in disorder, articles of attire and pieces of scientific apparatus being scattered about the place. A glimmer of light high upon the wall caught his eye, and a quick examination showed him that it was a ventilator between this and the next room from which the grinding noise still came.
Alonzo put the chair upon the bed and, standing upon it, was able to look through the ventilator into the next room. Standing in front of a long table loaded with apparatus stood a short, fat individual, who was busily engaged with a pestle and mortar, which accounted for the noise which Alonzo had heard. Eventually he finished his task and poured the white powder from the bowl into a glass bottle. Then he went to a cupboard and, taking a chemist's mask from within, put it over his face. He then returned to the table and, taking another bottle, poured some liquid on to the powder. A pungent and sickly smell of violets came to Alonzo and for a moment his brain reeled. Then he quietly descended from the chair and, sitting upon the bed, considered the situation. Presently a grim smile crossed his face and, stealing quietly from the room into the passage, he halted outside the door of the next room. He had noticed that the key was in the outside of the door and he turned it quietly in the lock. Having done this, he returned to the bedroom and once more mounted the chair and looked through the ventilator.
The man, an evil grin on his face, was regarding the corked bottle which stood upon the table, beside which lay the chemist's mask. Alonzo quietly drew his automatic pistol from his pocket and pushed back the ventilator to its full extent.
"Good evening, Mr. Lassey," said Alonzo through the ventilator. "I got your address from a letter I posted for your wife. You really should tell her not to be so trusting!"
Lassey spun round, amazement written on his face.
"Don't move, Lassey," said Alonzo. "I've got you covered, and if you move an inch I'll shoot you like the murdering dog you are. Put your hands on the table in front of you. Good. Now listen to me. I have just locked the door of that room from outside, and you are a prisoner. In that bottle on the table there is enough poison gas to kill a dozen men—not a particularly nice death either. Now, you are going to sit down at that table and write a full confession of the means which you and your double-faced wife have been using to encompass John Ackroyd's death. Quite a good scheme, wasn't it, for you two to get married quietly after he had refused his consent, and to commence a systematic scheme of murder, knowing that his fortune would go to her? Still more clever to blackmail old Tom Watson, whose soul you had got in your clutches, and cleverest of all when you forced him to take out that insurance policy when he had no more money to pay out! The idea of your wife putting a little of that poison on the handkerchief which John Ackroyd used each night when he played his violin solo, so that he inhaled the poison, was very neat, but not quite neat enough! It was unlucky for you that she dropped the cork from the phial, otherwise your little plot would probably have been successful. Well. Lassey, what about it?"
"It's a lie!" snarled the man, his face white with fear.
Alonzo grinned. "A lie, is it?" he said. "Very well. If it's a lie you can prove it! I happen to be a pretty good shot. You can't get out of that room, and I'm going to fire through the ventilator and smash that bottle on the table. Then I'm going to close the ventilator, and if you're alive ten minutes afterwards I'll confess I'm wrong!"
Alonzo pushed the barrel of his automatic a little further through the ventilator and took careful aim. Lassey flung himself in front of the bottle. "For God's sake don't shoot!" he screamed. "I'll confess anything you like, only don't smash that bottle..."
His voice trailed off into a whimper.
"Good," said Alonzo. "There's a pen and ink on the table. The estimable Sally—your accomplice—will be here shortly, and the police soon afterwards. I arranged that this afternoon. Now sit down and write the whole story, and when you've finished it get on a chair and pass it up to me. Incidentally, before you begin, as I see you have a telephone in that room, you can ring up the Frivolity Music Hall, and tell John Ackroyd's dresser that the mystery of the 'Mystery Blues' is solved!"
ALONZO listened intently, but heard no sound except the occasional hooting of a tug as it steamed slowly up the river. Through the mist he could see the lights blinking faintly on the opposite shore.
A few feet below him the river lapped against the broad piles which supported the landing stage on which he stood, and the wharf above. Behind him, at the far end of the landing stage was the basement floor of Sievert's warehouse.
He made his way quietly across the platform to the warehouse door. It was locked and bolted and a heavy iron bar, padlocked at each end, secured it effectively. That something had happened to Stevens was obvious. Alonzo thought it was improbable that he would be a prisoner in the warehouse. He was either dead or on the barge. It seemed certain that no one would have the slightest interest in Stevens before he had kept the appointment with Sievert on the Pride of Mersey, just as it was certain that a lot of people might be interested in him after he had left the barge, more especially if he had been carrying the parcel which Sievert had arranged to hand over.
Alonzo sat down by the warehouse door and looked at his watch. It was 11.30, four and a half hour after Stevens should have reported. The mist had lifted a little, and he strained his eyes to make out the outline of the barge, which, it had been arranged, should be moored in front of the landing stage, but he could see nothing.
Sitting in the darkness, it seemed to Alonzo that a peculiar droning noise came from somewhere above him. He listened and, as the noise became more distinct, he recognised it. Someone was playing a Chinese reed pipe somewhere in the neighbourhood and, strangely enough, the tune seemed familiar to Alonzo. He wondered who it could be, who, at this hour of the night, came to a deserted warehouse near the Isle of Dogs, and played Chinese music—and why?
From the wharf above him came a shuffling noise, and he crept silently to the foot of the winding iron staircase, which led from the landing stage to the wharf. The noise became more distinct and, crouching in the shadow, he realised that the footsteps were approaching the staircase. Then the noise ceased and, looking up, Alonzo saw, silhouetted against the sky, the figure of a short and bent individual, who, with one hand on the iron balustrade, had halted in a moment at the top of the stairs, before descending.
He drew back into the shadow. It seemed that the figure above him must be one of Sievert's men and, this being so, it was fairly obvious that the Pride of Mersey was somewhere in the vicinity.
The man slowly descended the iron staircase. At the bottom he paused and looked round cautiously, then, apparently certain that he was alone on the landing stage, advanced in the direction of the river, Alonzo following quietly. A few feet from the edge of the landing stage the man halted and, standing behind one of the supporting piles, gazed steadfastly out into the mist. Alonzo stepped forward and touched the man upon the shoulder.
"Well, my friend, and what are you looking for?" asked Alonzo.
The man spun round. "'Struth! It's Mr. MacTavish!" he gasped.
Alonzo laughed quietly. "So it's you, Blooey," he said. "Where's your brother?"
"That's just it," said Blooey, "Where is he? I tell you, guv'nor, I don't like this business. It fair gives me the creeps and no mistake. George got your note this morning telling him that he was to come down here to Sievert's wharf at six thirty, and that a boat would take 'im orf and put 'im aboard the barge, Pride o' Mersey, and that Sievert would 'and 'im a parcel that he was to take straight to you at Farren Street, Limehouse. Well, where is 'e? I tell you, George didn't like this job either. 'E didn't trust Sievert round the corner, George didn't, since the three of us twisted 'im over that dirty business of 'is six years ago. I shouldn't be surprised if Sievert ain't done 'im in," concluded Blooey ruefully.
"Why should Sievert do him in?" asked Alonzo. "If Sievert didn't want to hand over the goods why would he ask me to send George aboard to get them. Sievert knew jolly well that the Customs had their eyes on him, and that his only hope was that George would get ashore with the goods unobserved. It was to Sievert's advantage for the job to go through."
"That's right enough," assented Blooey. "All the same, I don't like it, guv'nor. There's a nasty air of mystery about this 'ere wharf. I come down 'ere on the 'opes of bein' able to see the Pride of Mersey, an' get aboard 'er an' see what'd 'appened to George. The larst thing 'e says to me was: 'If I ain't back by tea you can bet your boots Sievert's up to some dirty work, an' you'd better come down an' see where I am, that is, if I ain't already in the river!' I feel George 'ad a sort of presentiment."
Blooey stopped speaking and listened for a moment.
"I must be going crazy," he said. "I could 'ave sworn I 'eard some one playin' a funny sort of tune just now. I thought I 'eard it before, too, when I was up on the wharf."
They stood there silently, and it seemed that the volume of music increased gradually. They looked at each other in surprise. "Where the 'ell's that music comin from, Guv'nor?" asked Blooey. "It must be upstairs somewhere on the wharf."
Alonzo led the way up the iron staircase which led to the wharf. Once upstairs they looked about them, but could see nothing. The mist was clearing but the wharf, which was disused, was littered with old packing cases, coils of rope and spars, which cast shadows all about the place and made observation impossible.
Suddenly Blooey gripped Alonzo's arm and, following the direction of the little man's finger, Alonzo saw, on the far side of the wharf, the slowly moving figure of a man. As he entered a small patch of light thrown from a nearby barge lantern, the jacket and pigtail of the Chinaman were obvious, as was the reed pipe on which he was playing.
He walked slowly from the patch of light into the darkness, and the weird cadence of the music grew more faint as he moved away from the two men who stood straining their eyes after him.
"Listen, Blooey," Alonzo spoke quietly. "He can't get off the wharf except through the warehouse door, which is locked. You go round to the right and I'll go to the left. We've got to meet him somewhere. When you do meet him—grab him! Have you got a gun?"
Blooey grinned and showed the blued automatic in his hand.
"Off you go. Blooey," said MacTavish, "and don't shoot unless you have to. Try reason first!"
He disappeared into the darkness.
Alonzo made his way cautiously round past the ground floor entrance, picking his way through the littered coils of rope and junk which lay everywhere. He stopped with a jerk as the music broke out suddenly, almost beside him.
On his left and almost at the end of the warehouse wall was a pile of bales standing about eight feet from the ground. Walking on tiptoe, Alonzo approached and, reaching the end of the warehouse, drew his automatic from his pocket and stepped round the edge of the bales.
Seated on an upturned cask, his pipes across his spindly legs and his wizened yellow face wrinkled in a grin, was the Chinaman. Alonzo looked into the lined face for a moment and then slipped his automatic into his pocket. Then he drew a box beside the barrel and, sitting down, held out his hand.
"This is a happy meeting, Fu Chan," he said.
The Chinaman smiled.
"The meetings of friends are always happy," he said in good English. "I rejoice to meet you, my friend."
Alonzo lit a cigarette, and looked into the whimsical face of the Chinaman. The inscrutable eyes told him nothing.
"Why do you walk about this wharf playing your pipe, Fu Chan?" he asked.
"Often I come here in the evening and play my pipe," said Fu Chan. "This place has memories for me."
"How long have you been here tonight?" asked Alonzo.
"For about two hours, my friend," replied the Chinaman.
Alonzo nodded. "Fu Chan," he said, "you will remember that years ago I was of service to you. Tonight a man of mine has disappeared from this wharf. He came here at 6.30 to board a barge which is called Pride of Mersey. He has disappeared. It may be that he is still on the barge, but I do not think that this is so."
Fu Chan nodded his head. "I do not think he is on the barge," he said. "Come with me," he continued, "and I will show you."
Alonzo followed the figure of the Chinaman round the pile of bales in the direction of the staircase. At the top he looked round the wharf, but there was no sign of Blooey, and after a moment he turned and followed the Chinaman down to the landing stage. At the bottom of the stairs they turned away from the river, and approached the basement of the warehouse. On the right of the locked door the Chinaman stopped, and Alonzo saw that there was, in the wall, another smaller door, hidden in the shadows.
The Chinaman pushed open the door and, stepping inside, switched on a light. They were in a small room, about twelve feet square, furnished only with a table and a chair.
The Chinaman touched Alonzo's arm and pointed to the left-hand corner. There, lying in a pool of blood, a Swedish knife still protruding from his heart lay George Stevens—dead!
For a moment Alonzo stood regarding Fu Chan with amazement, but the Chinaman returned his gaze with his usual imperturbable smile, and Alonzo turned once more to the body as it lay huddled in the corner of the room.
George Stevens had not been dead long, for the body was still quite warm. Alonzo walked to the door where Fu Chan stood.
"When did you find this, Fu Chan?" he asked.
"About two hours ago," replied the Chinaman softly. "I looked in, and I found him there. I do not tell anyone or do anything. It is no affair of mine."
A step sounded outside, and the next moment the head of Blooey Stevens appeared round the edge of the door. His face went deathly white as his eyes fell on the body of his brother, and something like a sob sounded in his throat.
"Keep cool, Blooey," said Alonzo. "It's no use getting upset. Somebody's got George, and we've got to find out who did it. Fu Chan has been on the wharf for two hours, and has seen no one."
Blooey Stevens stood by his brother's body, his tattered cap in his hand.
"I wonder who's done this. Guv'nor?" he said, between his teeth. "Gord, I wish I 'ad 'em 'ere now...the swine!"
Alonzo was silent. Fu Chan had gone, but from the wharf above came the sound of his weird music.
MacTavish looked out over the river. The fog had lifted, and off the landing stage he could see the lights of the Pride of Mersey.
"What, the 'ell's it all mean?" said Blooey, quietly. Alonzo gave no reply. The mystery seemed to grow deeper each moment and, as if in accompaniment to the scene below, the weird music of Fu Chan came from the wharf above. Suddenly MacTavish spoke.
"It looks as if they are getting under way on the barge," he said.
Blooey Stevens joined him at the door, and they watched the sudden sign of activity on the Pride of Mersey. So engrossed were they that they failed to hear the scraping noise behind them, and it was only when Sievert's hoarse laugh fell on their ears that they spun round to see him standing in front of the sliding panel in the wall.
"You stand still," said Sievert, raising the heavy revolver which he held in his right hand. "You don' move, else the same thing 'appen to you as to that." He indicated the dead body in the corner.
"So it was you, Sievert," said Alonzo. "I'll get you for this, my friend!"
He drew out his cigarette case and lit a cigarette, his eyes fixed on the heavy face of the Norwegian.
Sievert laughed loudly. "You, MacTavish, think I am a fool," he said. "But I am not. Six years ago you made of me a fool. Tonight I shall make of you something worse." He turned to the door as, with silent steps, Fu Chan entered the room.
"Tie the dogs up, Fu Chan," said Sievert. The Chinaman picked up a coil of rope from the corner of the room, and quickly bound Alonzo and Blooey hand and foot.
"This is bad payment for a good service." said Alonzo. The Chinaman smiled, but said nothing.
"Well, what's the next move, Sievert," said Alonzo.
The Norwegian laughed. "I tell you," he said. "There is a secret way out of this room. You two and that body will be taken downstairs through the passage. There is a little room that has a grating facing the river. When the tide comes up the grating is covered, and you will drown."
Sievert laughed once more.
"A very clever little plot, Sievert," said Alonzo. "You knew that we would come down when George Stevens didn't turn up."
Sievert grinned and pointed to Fu Chan.
"To him is the credit," he said. "Do you think I have forgotten the trick you played me years ago? For nothing else but revenge on you and these two Stevens would I come again to your accursed country!"
He walked heavily to the sliding panel and pushed it back. "Bring them along, Fu Chan," he said, looking into the darkness below.
Then Fu Chan did a strange thing. He took two catlike steps and flung himself against the heavy back of the Norwegian, who, with a curse, fell down the short flight of steps leading to the passage and, before he could regain his feet, the Chinaman had flung back the panel, and secured it with an iron staple. Then, still smiling, he drew a razor from his jacket, and silently cut the ropes which bound Alonzo and Blooey Stevens.
Then he took a chair and opened a little grating high up in the wall. "Listen to me, Sievert," he said, his mouth to the grating. "I am, indeed, clever, for I knew that vengeance on MacTavish was the only thing which would bring you back to your deserted warehouse. But MacTavish is my friend, and has done me a service which I remember. Neither do I forget the little Lo Son, my laughing daughter, whom you took away six years ago in your boat, and who has not come back to me. Do you remember the playing of my pipe in the olden time, O Sievert, and how I would charm a snake with my music, and how you laughed when the snake danced? Sievert, there is a snake in the room above you, but it is a different snake, and it is large and hungry. For six years, O Sievert, have I taught this reptile what it should do when Sievert should come back for vengeance on my friend MacTavish and, when I play my music it will come to you through the hole which I have made in the roof above you, and you shall essay to fight it for you are a great fighter-of-women. Thus shall the vengeance of Fu Chan be complete."
Alonzo touched Blooey Stevens and they crept from the little room and made their way across the wharf above. As they scaled the wall at the wharf end the sound of music came softly from below. It was the music of Fu Chan.
ALONZO, his hands stretched towards the glowing fire, regarded his midnight visitor with some amusement. "Well, Jenny," he said, "to what am I indebted for the honour of this visit. I gather it must be something important for I imagine you do not usually pay calls at twelve o'clock at night!"
Jenny Marchant, otherwise known as "The Lady" by her own particular friends of the underworld, threw open her cloak and with deft fingers extracted a cigarette from the silver box which stood on the table at her elbow.
She was beautiful after a manner of her own, Alonzo thought and, as she sat with the firelight gleaming on her bronze hair, she looked anything but one of an international gang whose activities were as clever as they were unscrupulous. She looked up at MacTavish with a charming smile which was one of her greatest assets.
"See here, Mac," she said, "I guess you and I understand each other pretty well. I've been working with Sharpy Alec for five years now, and I'm pretty wise to the fact that you and he like each other as much as a dog likes poison!" She leaned forward suddenly, and her face changed.
"Sharpy's turned me down, Mac," she said—"turned me down after all these years, and for some blue eyed kid that knows as much about the game as a child of two. It's got me pretty badly, I can tell you, and I've only got one idea in my head in coming here. I want to get back on Sharpy, and anything that I can do to get even with him and that blue-eyed cat, well, I guess I'm out to do it, and that's that!"
Alonzo considered the ceiling with some amusement. "Do I understand, Jenny," he said eventually, "that you propose transferring your allegiance to me?" His smile broadened. "If you do, get rid of the idea. I haven't got any room for you and, if I had, I shouldn't accept your offer. Sorry!"
She laughed softly. "Don't be a fool, Mac" she said. "I wouldn't work with you for a million a year. You're too high-flown for me, and you've got too many scruples when it comes to real dirty work. I've come to wise you up, that's all. You've been lucky—or clever, I don't know which—an' you've never seen the inside of a prison, but if you're not careful you're going to qualify for a five year stretch. See?"
Alonzo whistled, quietly. "Tell me more, Jenny," he said.
"I'm not telling you this because I'm keen on you, because I ain't, Mac," she said. "But only because I want to get back on Sharpy. He's laying for you." She leaned forward and spoke more quietly. "Two months ago, as you know pretty well, Mr. Ram Singh, the confidential envoy of the Rajah of Tendore, arrived from India. The Rajah was broke, and this Ram Singh fellow came over to sell the Dagger of Tendore, a chunk of gold set with jewels worth a king's ransom. Well, Sharpy's wise to the fact that you're after that dagger. You've been keeping Ram Singh's flat in Knightsbridge Mansions under observation, and your man, Lon Ferrers, is living in the flat above. Sharpy knows that you're going to try an' get that dagger pretty soon, an' you've got to be quick, that's all, for he's on the job himself tomorrow night. He'd love to put a spoke in your wheel, and he's got the whole lot ready-eyed. Skeleton keys made for the flat door, an' the combination of the safe all worked out an' everything. I've got em in my bag. Understand?"
"I'm afraid I don't quite," murmured Alonzo.
Jenny Marchant smiled. "You will in a minute," she said. "You've got to go and get that dagger tonight. You can have the flat keys an' the safe combination. I happen to know that Ram Singh is at a dance till two in the morning, an there's nobody in the flat. All you've got to do is to walk round and help yourself. Of course, you can give me something for my trouble when you've pulled the job off, if you like, but if you didn't I shouldn't grumble. All I want is to get even with Sharpy."
Alonzo considered the ceiling once more. "Go on smoking, Jenny," he said. "I'll consider the proposition."
They sat in silence, the woman puffing vigorously at her cigarette, and Alonzo gazing quietly into the fire, a suspicion of a smile on his face. Suddenly the sound of a squeaky violin came from the street outside, playing an old waltz. Street sounds are common in London, and the woman took no notice, but underneath his calm exterior Alonzo had stiffened from excitement. He recognised the tune, and he realised who was playing the violin. Monkey Green, the beggar, who made a vicarious living by playing outside public houses in Limehouse, was the street musician. But why was he here, in Earl's Court? For some reason the scrapy music sounded like a warning to Alonzo. He strolled to the door.
"I'll go and give that street musician a shilling. Jenny." he said, "It's impossible to think while that noise is going on outside. I'll be back in a moment."
Alonzo hastened downstairs and, standing in the shadows of the main entrance, saw, on the opposite side of the street, the figure of Monkey Green, standing beneath a street lamp, his eyes on the windows of MacTavish's flat.
Crossing the road, MacTavish handed a coin to the violinist.
"What is it, Monkey?" he asked.
Monkey Green put the fiddle beneath his arm and the coin in his pocket. "Be careful, Mr. MacTavish," he said in his whiney voice "Read this 'ere note, an' be careful."
He grinned at Alonzo and shuffled off down the street. Alonzo nodded, and, returning to the main entrance, slowly made his way up the stairs, tearing open the envelope as he did so.
On the first landing he paused and hurriedly scanned the note which Monkey Green had given him. A smile crossed his face as he read the badly scrawled words. So that was the explanation of Jenny Marchant's visit.
He put the note into his pocket and let himself into his flat. The woman was sitting gazing into the fire. She looked up as Alonzo approached.
"Well, Mac," she said. "You haven't much time to decide. What are you going to do?"
He looked down at her and smiled. "I'm going to do the job right away, Jenny," he said. "If you'll hand over those keys I'll get busy. It's twelve thirty now. I've got an hour and a half before Ram Singh gets home."
Jenny Marchant smiled.
"Good for you, Mac," she said. She laid the two keys and a piece of paper on the table. "Don't worry to show me out, Mac," she said, with a smile. "Don't lose that paper, it's the combination of the safe. Good-night, and good luck."
Alonzo heard the door of the flat close behind her. He stood for a few minutes smiling into the fire. The situation was really very amusing. Presently he crossed to the telephone and rang up Lon Ferrers, who, according to plan, had been the occupant of the flat above Ram Singh's at Knightsbridge Mansions for some three weeks. This done, Alonzo slipped on an overcoat and, picking up the keys and paper, left the flat and was soon on his way to Knightsbridge.
Arrived at the Mansions, a glance through the glass entrance showed him that the night porter was asleep in his box. Alonzo casually pushed open the door and stealing past the sleeper, made his way up the second floor. Here he found Lon Ferrers awaiting him.
"Keep a watch from your front window, Lon," he said, "and let me know what happens."
He then descended the stairs and listened for a moment outside the flat occupied by Ram Singh. All was quiet within, and, opening the door with the key supplied by Jenny Merchant, he entered silently.
Fifteen minutes later he left the flat, and, closing the door silently behind him, whistled Lon Ferrers, who joined him on the landing. After ascertaining that the coast was clear they crept past the still sleeping night porter, and walked quickly back to Alonzo's flat.
"What's, the joke, Mac?" asked Lon Ferrers as they strode along. "I saw a couple of fellows who looked suspiciously like C.I.D. men on the other side of the road whilst you were in Singh's flat, and I believe that they are following us now!" Alonzo laughed, and signalled a passing taxi-cab. Ten minutes afterwards they were seated in his flat at Earl's Court.
MacTavish passed the cigarette box to Ferrers, and seated himself by the dying fire. "I had a visit from Jenny Marchant tonight, Lon," he said. "She came to me with a story that Sharpy Alec had turned her down, and that to get back on him she was handing over the keys of Ram Singh's flat, so that I could get away with the Tendore Dagger before Sharpy removed it himself tomorrow night. I smelt a rat, because Jenny is quite smart enough to have removed the dagger herself. Whilst she was here I heard old Monkey Green outside. I went down ostensibly to give him a shilling, and he handed me a note and told me to be careful.
"Apparently there was a meeting between Sharpy Alec, Ram Singh, and Jenny down at the Apple Blossom Café in Limehouse two nights ago, and Monkey got an idea into his head that they were laying for me. Jenny Marchant is certain that I went to get that sword tonight, and probably Gretton of the Yard had been tipped the wink, and the men you saw watching were his men. If I'm not very much mistaken, we shall have a visit from the police before long.
"You see, they'd be fairly certain that I'd bring the sword back here with me, and the fact that it was here would be sufficient evidence for the police to get a conviction."
"But where is the dagger? Did you bring it back?" asked Lon, anxiously. Alonzo smiled.
"Not on your life," he said. "There's a drain pipe outside Ram Singh's flat window, which runs down to the street level, and a good push sent the dagger down the pipe to the bottom, where it is waiting for us when we want it. What I can't understand is how Ram Singh comes in on the job, however—"
He stopped suddenly as the door bell rang violently. Alonzo winked at Lon, and, going to the front door of the flat, flung it open. Outside stood Inspector Gretton and four plainclothesmen.
"Good evening, Inspector," said Alonzo; "and what can I do for you?"
"Oh, cut that stuff out, MacTavish," replied Gretton. "A jewelled dagger was stolen tonight from Mr. Ram Singh's flat in Knightsbridge. It's on these premises. It looks as if we've got you this time, MacTavish, and I want you to tell us straight away where the dagger is."
"Really I don't know what you are talking about. But if, of course, you are certain that there is a dagger here, why you'd better look for it." He seated himself down once more, and smilingly watched the five C.I.D. men turning the place upside down in their endeavours to find the dagger. Every room in the place was ransacked thoroughly, and it was only after two hours hard work that, finding their endeavours of no avail, five perspiring C.I.D. men mopped their brows and looked at each other.
"Well, Inspector," said Alonzo. "Are you satisfied that that dagger isn't here? I could have told you that two hours ago, only you wouldn't have believed me. Of course, if you really want to know where the dagger is, and you like to ask me really nicely, I might tell you."
Inspector Gretton grinned wearily. "I must say you've got a nerve, MacTavish," he said. "We had absolute information that the dagger was here, and that you had taken it within the last three hours from Ram Singh's flat in Knightsbridge."
Alonzo laughed. "Listen to me, Gretton," he said. "You've been trying to get me for years, and you haven't succeeded yet. Take a tip from me and give up trying! You've been double-crossed, and in your very praiseworthy endeavour to get a conviction against me you've played right into the hands of a bunch of clever crooks. Mr. Ram Singh has reported to you that the Tendore Dagger was stolen within the last three hours, and I'll bet that Sharpy Alec gave you the unasked-for information that I had done the job. Now I suggest that you go home to bed, and if you will be at your office at the Yard at ten o'clock tomorrow morning I'll tell you just when and where you can lay your hands on that sword!"
The Inspector picked up his hat. "You're a clever devil. MacTavish," he said ruefully. "I ought to have known that you wouldn't be fool enough to have the goods on you. However, I shall be at my office at 10 o'clock tomorrow morning. Good-night."
"Good-night, Inspector," said Alonzo, "and better luck next time!"
THE next morning, at ten o'clock, Mr. Alonzo MacTavish, having hurried from Scotland Yard, walked into the office of an insurance company in Cornhill and asked to see the general manager. Two minutes afterwards he was seated in the private office of that individual. Alonzo stated his business quickly.
"I have reason to believe," he said, "that you have this morning received a claim for payment of a large sum of money on the policy on the Tendore Dagger, which was insured in your office by Mr. Ram Singh. The dagger was stolen last night, and Mr. Ram Singh informed Scotland Yard early this morning."
Alonzo leaned over the manager's desk. "Do you know," he said, "I rather think I know where that dagger is!"
The general manager looked surprised.
"Well, Mr. MacTavish," he said, with a glance at Alonzo's card, which lay on the table before him, "it would be well worth your while to place your information in the hands of the police. This notice is just going out to the papers—"
He handed a type-written slip to Alonzo, which stated that the insurance company would pay a reward of £1,000 to any one who supplied information leading to the recovery of the Tendore Dagger.
Alonzo put the slip in his pockets and, leaving the office, returned to his flat to await developments.
About the same time, a page boy at the Hotel Splendide, at which hotel Miss Jenny Marchant was staying, handed in at her apartment a large bunch of red roses, which had been left a few minutes previously by a gentleman, who had left no name or message. As she held the bouquet to her nose the telephone bell rang. Miss Marchant went to the instrument.
"Hallo, Jenny," said Alonzo's voice, "I hope you like your flowers. Better luck next time!"
She heard the click as the receiver was hung up. Miss Marchant, with an expression which belied the prettiness of her mouth, flung the bunch of roses against the wall. As the flowers struck the wall the wire which bound them burst, and something fell to the floor. A gasp of amazement broke from her. There, gleaming on the floor, in the bright sunlight, lay the Dagger of Tendore! She picked it up and stood, wondering. Before she had recovered from her surprise, the door burst open, and Inspector Gretton and two plainclothesmen entered. His eyes fell on the dagger in her hand.
"Well, Jenny," he said. "We've been waiting in the lounge for an hour to get you with the goods on you. MacTavish told us you had the dagger, and that you and Sharpy Alec tried to lay for him. It looks to me like he returned the compliment."
"It's not true!" she gasped. "I know nothing of this dagger. It's just arrived in that bunch of roses. MacTavish has planted it on me!"
"You tell that to the marines," said the Inspector. "MacTavish told me two hours ago that you had the sword, and what your little game was. It's no good trying to bluff, Jenny. Sharpy Alec has confessed that you tried to switch it on to MacTavish. Get your things on, my girl, you're for it this time!"
One hour afterwards Mr. Alonzo MacTavish strolled out of the general manager's office in the City. In his pocket was a cheque for £1,000 "for information received." and his face was wreathed in an extremely self-satisfied smile.
MR. CYRUS K. LEGITT took not the slightest notice of Alonzo's remark, but continued gazing with steadfast eyes in the direction of Cranford Towers, chewing the end of his long black cigar in a ruminative manner. Alonzo, looking in the opposite direction, regarded the sunset with equanimity. As he had previously remarked, the sunset was beautiful, as indeed was the whole scene which lay below them. To their left in the valley was the beautiful park surrounding Cranford Towers, whilst below the little hill on which they were seated, the white country road ran from the distant village of Cranford, and wound like a white ribbon on its way to Kellthorpe.
Mr. Leggit removed his cigar, and spat reflectively. "Say, MacTavish," he drawled, "I guess I'm not entering into any argument with you about the sunset or any other fixin's of your durned English climate. If you think I've come all the way across the Atlantic to this one-eyed spot, miles an' miles from Nu York, or any other civilised city, for the purpose of admirin' your weather, you're wrong!"
"What's worrying you, Cyrus?" asked Alonzo.
Mr. Leggit expectorated once more with great precision. "Just this," he said, "how are we goin' to get that durned picture away from the house?" He pointed in the direction of Cranford Towers. "It's one thing to cut a Velasquez out of its frame, an' another to hike it across the countryside."
He turned to Alonzo with a grin. "Say, even your nippy rural police would ask questions if they saw us carrying an eighty thousand dollar picture along a country road, wouldn't they?"
"Don't worry," replied Alonzo. "I've fixed all that. The Count, Blooey Stevens, Mousey and Carey, are living in that farmhouse away to the right of the Towers. They're supposed to be students taking a vacation, and if Blooey doesn't talk too much the farm house people might believe them. They've got a car over in the garage in Kellthorpe, and when we've cut the picture all we have to do is to get it to the park gates, where they will meet us. We'll have that Velasquez in London ready for shipment in no time. The whole things easy," concluded Alonzo, screwing his green eyeglass into his eye with a nonchalant air.
"Sure thing." agreed Mr. Leggit, throwing the cigar stump away and substituting a piece of chewing gum. "You're a clever crook, MacTavish, an' if you ever come over my side of the Atlantic I'll be tickled to death to work with you." He rose to his feet and brushed his immaculate flannel trousers.
"We'd better be moving, MacTavish," he said, "if we're going to make Cranford in time for dinner."
They descended the hill slowly and, to the casual observer, the two slim, well-dressed figures might have been those of a country gentleman and an American friend instead of two of the cleverest swell cracksmen in Europe. They stepped out along the road in silence, each busy with thoughts of the job in hand. So engrossed were they that they hardly noticed the big touring car which sped along towards them, and it was only when Leggit shouted that Alonzo jumped for the side of the road, narrowly escaping the car which tore past them.
"Darned impertinence!" said Leggit, but Alonzo did not reply, for he was gazing at something which he had caught, something flung from the window of the car as he had jumped aside—a black lace mantilla.
The mantilla had been rolled into a ball, and as Alonzo shook out its folds a crumpled piece of paper fell on to the road at his feet. He stooped and picked it up, and an exclamation escaped him as he read the one word scrawled on it in pencil—"Help!"
"Say now," drawled Cyrus Leggit, looking over Alonzo's shoulder. "What's all that about?"
Alonzo gazed after the automobile, which was by now a mere speck in the distance. As the car had sped past him he had caught a momentary glimpse of the white face of the girl seated in the corner—the girl who had flung the mantilla.
"Look here, Leggit," he said quietly. "We've got to stop that car—"
Leggit grinned. "Waal, I don't know how you're going to do it," he said, but Alonzo was already running down the road towards Cranford, and with a sigh, the American started off in pursuit.
After running a hundred yards Alonzo's scheme became apparent to the panting Leggit. On the Cranford Road was a small branch turning, and at the apex stood the telephone box of an A.A. Scout. The man was standing by the box and touched his hat as Alonzo appeared.
"Look here," said MacTavish, "I believe this is the only road to Kellthorpe. Isn't that so?"
"That's right, sir," said the man. "It's a straight run of about 12 miles, with no side roads."
"Good," said Alonzo. "Is there a constable in Kellthorpe?"
The A.A. man grinned. "There is, sir," he said. "I know him well. I've got his telephone number if you want it."
A moment later Alonzo was speaking to the village constable in Kellthorpe. "See here, officer," said Alonzo. "My car's been stolen and the people who went off with it should be passing through your village in a few minutes. Just stop the car and hold 'em up till I get there, will you?"
"That I will, sir," came the voice of the constable from the other end. "I'll hold 'em up all right, an' you get along as soon as you can."
A few minutes later, MacTavish, with Leggit seated on the carrier, drove the A.A. Scout's motor bicycle rapidly in the direction of Kellthorpe. As they bumped down the country road Leggit, who was particular as to his mode of travelling, sighed heavily.
"Say," he drawled, endeavouring to insert a piece of chewing gum into his mouth. "Say, MacTavish, you've got a nerve, I'll tell the world!"
When MacTavish and Leggit entered the single street which constituted Kellthorpe they saw that the village constable had been as good as his word, and the touring car was drawn up on the left of the road outside his cottage. The three men stood arguing with the constable a little further away, and the girl appeared to be taking little interest in the conversation.
MacTavish stopped the motor bicycle and, as arranged, Cyrus Leggit, chewing busily, swaggered jauntily down the street until he reached the waiting group, and in two minutes was immersed in a wonderful argument with the village constable and the three men, and so successfully did the enterprising Leggit conduct his side of the business that Alonzo, standing at the top of a side turning, was able to signal to the girl, who, after a momentary pause, and with a disinterested glance at the group, walked slowly up the road and joined Alonzo.
He raised his cap and produced the black mantilla from his pocket. "This is yours, I believe," he said. "I found this piece of paper inside it. Did you write it?" The girl looked him steadily in the eyes.
"Yes, I did." she said softly, and a smile brought two dimples to her cheeks. "You didn't lose much time in answering my appeal," she said, with a whimsical glance at the still arguing group in the village street.
Alonzo smiled. "Adventure is always acceptable," he said. "What's wrong?"
A frown chased the smile from the girl's face. "Just this," she said. "In a month's time I inherit Cranford Towers—I am Marion Cranford. Mr. Steen, my guardian—the stout man—" she pointed to the group by the ear, "has not been very careful in the management of the estate, I am afraid"—she smiled ruefully—"and I believe is in difficulties with regard to the account which he has to render me next month when I come of age. Two days ago he informed me that it was necessary to sell the Velasquez picture, for which the Towers is famous, and which has been in my family for many years. He told me that the sale had been arranged and that the picture was practically sold. The other two men are the dealers who have come down to see the picture. They are Americans, and I dislike them both intensely. I've tried to get away from the Towers, and see if the solicitors can do something to stop the deal going through, but I'm afraid there isn't time, and I'd hate any sort of publicity, besides which I'm practically a prisoner in the house at the moment. I just didn't know what to do, and when I saw you walking along the road you looked like the sort of man who would help."
Alonzo smiled his thanks for the compliment. It seemed that several people had their eyes on the Cranford Velasquez at the moment besides himself and Cyrus K. Leggit!
He glanced towards the car. Leggit seemed to be apologising profusely to everybody, and Alonzo realised that his interview with the girl must end. "You'll have to be rejoining your guardian Miss Cranford," he said. "Otherwise he may suspect. Please don't worry about the Velasquez. I rather fancy that I shall be able to keep an eye on that for you. You see, my friend and myself happen to be collectors of pictures, and we are naturally interested in the safety of the Velasquez."
He held out his hand. "I feel we shall meet again, Miss Cranford." he said smilingly. They shook hands.
"I'm so glad I threw you the note," she said with a smile. "Somehow I feel more safe now. Good-bye."
Alonzo watched her as she walked across the street and rejoined the party with the car.
Cyrus K. Leggit stood hat in hand as the automobile moved off, and then joined Alonzo, grinning rather ruefully.
"I've had a jewel of a time, bo'," he said, as they walked to the spot where the motor bicycle stood. "Anyway, I told 'em eventually that I'd made a mistake, and that the car was a similar colour and make to my own."
He chewed reflectively for a moment. "Say, Mac." he continued. "Do you know who the two guys were—the tall thin one and the little one standin' with him? You don't? Well, I guess they're the biggest pair of receivers of stolen pictures that ever kept out of prison. What they're doin' over in this quarter of the universe I don't know, but I could make a couple of guesses that it's got something to do with the Cranford Velasquez. Larry Single and Dippy Sauerman are their monikers, an' practically every big picture that's pinched in America goes to them eventually to dispose of. I guess Larry Single is takin' a holiday over here till that little business of the Rembrandt that disappeared from the New York Museum has blown over. I thought for a moment that they'd remember me, but they didn't. Darned funny—the world's a small place, ain't it?"
Alonzo did not reply. He was deep in thought, and as the motor bicycle sped back to the crossroads he reflected on the situation.
After handing over the bicycle to its rightful owner, together with a generous tip, they started off on their long walk back to the inn at Cranford.
Mr. Leggit, after a glance at Alonzo's knit brows, came to the conclusion that silence was a virtue, and consumed chewing gum in silence.
It was after they had consumed their supper that Alonzo broke into a roar of laughter. Leggit, who was admiring the beauties of the moonlight from the window, looked round in amazement.
"Say," he grinned. "I thought you'd gone dumb. What's hit you?"
"Leggit." replied Alonzo. "I've got an idea for fixing this Velasquez business. For once we're going to be on the side of law and order. Tell me what you think of it."
He unfolded his plan, and a few minutes later two farm labourers passing the Inn regarded with amusement the contortions of Mr. Leggit as he roared with laughter at the window.
"Say, Mac," he gasped admiringly, the tears running down his face. "I always thought you had a brain. You've got the goods! There's only one thing wrong with you. You ought to be an American!"
TWO nights afterwards, at midnight, a dark shadow crossed the lawn in the rear of Cranford Towers and, reaching the side entrance to the house, proceeded to pick the look. Then, with a cautious glance round, the shadow, which was Mr. Alonzo MacTavish, entered, quietly closing the door behind him. Once inside, he ascended quietly to the first floor and, catching sight of a gleam of light showing under a door, listened for a moment, and recognised the voice of Steen, who was talking rapidly in low tones. Presently other voices joined in the conversation, which voices, Alonzo concluded, belonged to Single and Sauerman.
Then he made his way silently along the corridor, turning into the narrow passage which led to the picture gallery. He entered the right wing of the gallery and, finding a chair, sat silently in the darkness. It was only when the clock struck 12.30, that he commenced to make himself heard. First he scraped the chair along the floor, quietly; then a little more loudly, and eventually dropped it on the floor with a crash.
A moment afterwards a light flashed on in the gallery, and Alonzo, simulating surprise, turned to find himself facing Steen, Single, and Sauerman. Single held a revolver in his hand, with which he covered Alonzo. He whistled as he recognised MacTavish.
"So that was the game, eh?" he sneered. He turned to his companions. "This was the fellow who was with the chap who held the car up the other day," he said. "Can't you see the game? They're after the Velasquez! Say, you've come to the wrong side of the gallery, you mug," he grinned, "an' you'll be on the wrong side of a police cell tomorrow morning, too!"
"Shall I?" queried Alonzo pleasantly. "Well, you won't send me there, Larry Single, or your friend Sauerman, or even our esteemed guardian, Steen!"
Single started as Alonzo mentioned his name. "Look here, what's the game?" he said.
"Simply this," replied Alonso. "I know all about your little scheme with regard to the Velasquez. Mr. Steen"—he bowed ironically—"sells you the Velasquez as Miss Cranford's guardian for a nominal sum, say, £5,000. You resell it in America for its value, which is about six times as much, and split the difference. Extremely clever. Well, the point is that unless I come in on the deal I'll queer your pitch. I rather fancy the New York police might like to know your whereabouts, Single, and Miss Cranford's lawyers might like to know some interesting things about you, Steen. Well, what do I get?"
Fifteen minutes afterwards Alonzo left Cranford Towers with £3,000 in English and American notes in his pocket and a self-satisfied smile on his face.
Up in the picture gallery, where he had left them, Messrs. Steen, Single, and Sauerman discussed the situation.
"Oh, it's all for the best," said Single morosely. "The only thing we could do was to buy him off, otherwise he'd have spoiled everything. Say, let's talk tomorrow morning, I'm tired and—" He broke off abruptly as a dishevelled man-servant entered the gallery.
"Mr. Steen, sir," said the man breathlessly, "the Velasquez—"
"Well, what about it?" snapped Steen.
"It's gone, sir," said the man. "I walked through the other side of the gallery a minute ago. The frame's empty, and the picture's gone!"
Single jumped from his chair as if he had been shot. "Curse him!" he exclaimed. "Don't you see the game? We've been sold. While we were sitting here talking to that guy his pals were on the other side of the gallery cutting the picture out. Oh, Hell!"
AT the inn in Cranford, Alonzo, busy at the writing table, read the letter which he had just written. Cyrus K. Leggit, looking over his shoulder, grinned broadly as he read:—
Dear Miss Cranford,
The Velasquez is on its way to London, and is perfectly safe with me until such time as you come of age and ask for it. If you want it sold let me know, and I will arrange for this on the usual ten per cent, commission. Remember me kindly to your esteemed guardian.
Mr. Leggit sighed. "Say, Mac," he said. "Do you think she'll ask us over to tea?"
Alonzo adjusted his eyeglass.
"I am perfectly certain she will, Cyrus," he said, "but you will not accept the invitation. Two's company, you know!"
THE wind shrieked and whistled across the house tops, and the pattering of the rain formed a melancholy accompaniment. Alonzo, wet to the skin, and huddled against the lee side of a chimney stack, made rude remarks about the English climate, and cursed his selection of such an inclement night.
He knew that Lon Ferrers, engaged on the same business as himself, was taking shelter somewhere in the vicinity, but where, he had not the slightest idea. To move was dangerous, for it was impossible to distinguish where one parapet ended and another began, and one false step meant a drop of sixty or seventy feet.
Alonzo wondered whether Lon had been more lucky in the business on hand, and had succeeded in finding the roof of the house, through which, three nights later, they had planned to effect their entrance. Alonzo had not the faintest idea where the roof of No. 16 was, for they had twisted and turned so many times in the darkness that, besides getting separated, he had lost all sense of direction.
He sat down behind the chimney stack and lit a cigarette. The only thing to do was to wait for the rain to stop and the passing of the black cloud which obscured the moon. He felt in his pocket and produced Blooey Stevens' note. Blooey Stevens—a friend and colleague—had unfortunately fallen into the hands of the guardians of law and order whilst essaying the very business which Alonzo and Lon Ferrers were now attempting, but had managed to get the note conveyed to Alonso.
MacTavish opened his raincoat and, holding the note within the shelter of the coat, switched on his electric torch and read:—
No. 16 Felsham Gardens. Get through the roof. This is easy. Through studio and passage. Right hand room. Cedar wood box in bottom drawer of escritoire. Be careful of the brothers. They'll stick at nothing. You can recognise roof by three grey chimney stacks.
Alonzo put the note back in his pocket. It was now possible to see a little way and, stepping gingerly, he commenced his search for the three grey chimney stacks. He had been progressing slowly along the roof for some twenty minutes when he first noticed the light. The light was diffused as if behind a frosted glass, and it seemed to shine from several different places, within a square of about 40 feet, on a nearby roof.
Alonzo, his hand on the butt of his automatic, approached carefully. A quick examination showed him that the light came from a square roof which was enclosed by a low wall about four feet high. Peering over the wall he saw that the light came through the roof in patches, and a further examination showed him the reason.
The roof was made of frosted glass, and beneath this glass was stretched a cover intended to prevent the light from showing through the roof. The cover, however, was torn in places, and patches of light showed through the frosted glass.
Alonzo looked up and saw, almost in front of him on the other side of the parapet which surrounded the roof, the three grey chimney stacks! He had found No. 16!
He made his way round the roof with the intention of examining the three grey chimney stacks. He had hardly reached the end of the wall when he heard a scraping sound, and dropped to his knees behind the cover of the wall. Sliding down the sloping roof of the next house was the figure of a man. For one moment, Alonzo thought it was Lon Ferrers, but as the figure entered a patch of moonlight he saw that he was mistaken.
The man approaching was tall and thin. He was wearing a black sombrero hat, which, with a black beard, added to his mysterious appearance. He slid carefully down the side of the roof and disappeared from view, reappearing a second later on the other side of the glass roof.
Alonzo, bent double, and keeping under cover of the wall hurried round the glass roof in the direction of the mysterious stranger. The bearded man in the black hat seemed familiar with the geography of the neighbouring roofs, and an idea came to Alonzo that this same individual might know the secret of the glass roof.
He reached the end of the wall and, peering cautiously round, saw the figure of the man by the side of the three chimney stacks. He was looking over the edge of the wall, and appeared to be searching for something. After a moment he vaulted on to the wall and Alonso, quietly approaching, saw that the man was lying full length on the wall with his left hand stretched down over the edge of the parapet.
Alonzo rose to his full height and, stepping quietly forward, pushed the barrel of his automatic against the back of the man's neck.
"Don't move, please!" said Alonzo, "Otherwise you might become a casualty. Just get off that wall quietly and come and hold a conversation with me beneath the shade of the chimney stack?"
The man scrambled off the wall. For a moment Alonzo thought that he was going to show fight, but, after a glance at MacTavish's automatic, he seemed to think better of it, and seated himself sulkily by the side of the chimney stacks.
Alonzo leaned up against the wall. "Well, my friend what is the secret of the glass roof?" he asked.
The man regarded him in silence for a moment, and then shook his head.
"Ah," said Alonzo, "I see. You don't speak English. Well, that saves a lot of argument. Just hold out your hand, will you? Like that. That's right!"
Five minutes later the mysterious individual with the black beard, bound hand and foot, and with his own handkerchief stuffed in his mouth, lay in the shadow of the chimney stack.
This important business over, Alonzo, lying upon the wall, examined the roof below him. Reaching down his left hand he came in contact with a handle affixed to the wall. He seized the handle and pulled it towards him. As he did so a portion of the glass roof below him opened, disclosing a flight of steps loading down into the darkness, and, with a final glance at his captive, Alonzo let himself gently over the edge of the wall, and commenced to descend into the darkness.
Soon his feet touched the floor beneath the glass roof which, he imagined, must be the studio referred to in Blooey's note. The next thing was to find the passage and the room which contained the cedar wood box.
He stood silently in the middle of the big studio and listened. He could hear no definite sound, but from somewhere in the vicinity there seemed to come a low droning noise as if some one was speaking in a continuous monotone. He switched on his electric torch and flashed it about him. The room in which he stood was sparsely furnished, with only a chair or table here and there to accentuate its bareness. At the far end was an oak door and, switching off his torch, Alonzo approached this door and tried it. It was unlocked, and he passed through into a long oak panelled passage lighted only by a single electric lamp set in a frosted shade. At the end of this passage and facing him were two doors similar to the one through which he had just entered. These, he imagined, were the doors of the two rooms mentioned in Blooey's note. As he stood motionless the droning noise, which he had first heard in the studio, recommenced, but this time it sounded nearer.
He commenced to creep along the passage, but had hardly taken three steps, when the dim light set in the roof of the passage went out, leaving him in complete darkness. He moved forward again, but stopped after a dozen steps and listened once more. He seemed to be approaching the noise, which appeared to be caused by some low and deep voice speaking slowly and quietly.
Strangely enough the sound of the voice came from somewhere at his left elbow, and he realised that the wall on the left of the passage contained some secret chamber. He switched on his torch, placing his fingers over the bulb, so that only a tiny streak of light showed, and commenced to examine the wall. To all outward appearance it was an ordinary oak-panelled wall, and he could find no sign of a secret spring or of any other means of obtaining entrance to the room beyond.
Suddenly he switched off the torch and flattened himself against the wall. At the far end of the passage on the left, the oak panelled wall had commenced to move slowly towards him, leaving an opening about three feet wide through which a bright beam of light flowed into the passage. The wall stopped moving, and through the aperture came a strange figure, dressed in a long black monk's gown, but with a white cowl which completely covered the face and head.
Once in the passage the figure turned and, pressing a spring in the opposite wall, closed the opening behind him, but not before Alonzo had heard a voice speaking in the secret chamber, a voice which he knew almost as well as his own—that of Lon Ferrers. The explanation came to him in a flash, and a piece of Blooey's note was explained—"Be careful of the brothers. They'll stick at nothing."
The white cowled figure which was now approaching towards him in the darkness was evidently a member of some secret brotherhood. Lon Ferrers had found No 16, and discovered the secret of the glass roof, before Alonzo had arrived, and had been captured.
Alonzo held his breath. The figure in the black gown passed by him so closely that one of the flowing sleeves touches his arm. Quick as a flash Alonzo made up his mind, and followed the figure in the direction of the studio door. The man in the white cowl passed through the door and left it slightly ajar.
Alonzo, looking through the crack in the door, saw that the man had switched on the light and was engaged at a cupboard on the opposite side of the room.
Years of experience had taught Alonzo that the most efficacious, method of keeping an adversary quiet was chloroform, and he seldom started on any expedition without a small bottle of the drug in his pocket. He drew out the bottle and, soaking his handkerchief with chloroform, quietly waited in the dark passage by the studio door.
After a moment the hooded figure finished his business at the cupboard and, closing it, crossed the room. As the black gowned arm went up to switch off the electric light Alonzo stepped forward and, seizing the man round the waist with his left hand, pressed the drug-soaked handkerchief over the white cowl. The man struggled violently, but the chloroform soaked quickly through the linen cowl, and after a moment the black-gowned figure hung limply in Alonzo's arms.
MacTavish dragged the limp figure to a corner of the studio and laid it upon the floor. He pulled the cowl off and flashed his torch on the face of the unconscious man. The facial muscles had relaxed under the influence of the chloroform, and the man's mouth hung open, and Alonzo stifled an exclamation of surprise as he saw that the man's tongue had been cut out at the roots.
He switched off the torch and stood for a moment undecided as to his next move. He wondered why the tongue of the unconscious man had been removed. Was this one of the methods of "the brothers who would stick at nothing" of obtaining silence? The very thought gave him an idea. He stripped off the gown and cowl from the man and, in a moment, wearing the strange garb of the brotherhood, Alonzo crept back quietly along the passage until he reached the two doors at the end. He found the right-hand door unlocked and, entering, switched on his torch and searched the escritoire mentioned in Blooey's note. In the bottom drawer he found the cedar box.
He opened it, and to his surprise found merely an ordinary envelope inside. He tore this open and read:—
2nd. 2nd. 11.30. Brother will divulge as directed.
Was this the quarry for which Blooey had risked so much? He read the note again and suddenly a possible meaning came into his head. That day was the second day of the second month, and the time of his entrance into the studio approximately 11.30. Was it possible that the man who he had bound and gagged on the roof was the "brother who would divulge?" He slipped the envelope into his pocket and left the room.
In the passage he could still hear the droning noise, and could occasionally distinguish the tones of Lon Ferrer's voice. He hurried up the passage, crossed the studio, and climbed the ladder rapidly to the trapdoor in the glass roof, then, scrambling over the low wall, he conducted a hurried search of the bearded man's pockets.
FIFTEEN minutes afterwards Alonzo scrambled down the ladder to the studio floor and, hurrying down the passages searched for the spring which the black gowned brother had used to open that secret panel.
At last he found it—a small button high up on the opposite wall. He pressed this button, and as the panel commenced to open he pulled the cowl closer about his face, and with his automatic concealed in the voluminous sleeve of his gown, stepped through the opening and entered the secret room.
Seated round a table were ten men. They were all dressed in black gowns with white hoods. At the top of the table one of the mysterious figures was standing and, at the bottom, his hands manacled, stood Lon Ferrers. The standing figure addressed Alonzo. "You have been a long time, brother," he said. "Has our absent brother arrived?"
Alonzo shook his head.
"He should be here at any moment," continued the standing figure. "Brothers, it is obvious that this meeting place is known, and arrangements have been made to transfer our headquarters. Instructions should have arrived ere now."
He spoke to Lon Ferrers.
"For the safety of this brotherhood it is necessary that you die," he said. He turned to Alonzo, "Brother, take this man away and carry out the sentence, and report when you have done so."
Alonzo was hardly able to conceal his elation. He took Lon Ferrers by the arm and led him through the secret panel, which he closed after him.
A few seconds sufficed to cut Ferrers' bonds, then MacTavish, throwing off his gown and hood, led his amazed companion through the studio door and, closing it, commenced piling all the furniture he could find against it. In a few minutes, with Lon's assistance, the door was securely barred, and they mounted the ladder and made their way to the roof unhindered. Seated on an adjoining roof they listened to the sounds of banging which came from the street below.
"It's all right, Lon," said Alonzo, in answer to his companion's inquiring glance. "These fellows are part of an anarchistic brotherhood. I managed to capture one of their fellows who was on his way with warning of a police raid, which is apparently going strong at the moment. That accounts for the noise downstairs, and as we have cut off their retreat, it looks as if they are for it. We'll wait here until the coast is clear."
Ferrers nodded, and helped himself to a cigarette from Alonzo's case.
"I say, Mac." he said eventually, "what was in the cedar wood box?"
"Nothing," replied Alonzo, "except a message that the brother who was coming here tonight 'would divulge.' He did. He divulged where the treasure was—the stuff that poor old Blooey had wind of. It consisted of a packet of bank notes with which these gentlemen were going to make their getaway. They were in our bearded friend's pocket. They're much safer now I've got them!"
A gust of wind shrieked over the housetops and Alonzo caught his hat just in time.
"It's an ill wind that blows nobody any good," he quoted. "Let's go home."
MR. ALONZO MACTAVISH, clad in a brilliantly-hued dressing gown, smoking a large briar pipe, and surrounded by newspapers of every size and description, gazed into the fire and endeavoured to formulate some definite plan of action.
The abilities of the detectives who were watching the wedding presents at the Heckenheimer house, in Park Lane, were an unknown quantity to Alonzo. He had an idea that Mr. Dirk K. Heckenheimer would spare no expense in looking after his daughter's property.
The job presented itself to Alonzo as a matter of simple burglary, and simple burglary did not appeal to him in the slightest. A swell cracksman of the highest order, his gifts had been devoted to the use of the brain more than that of a burglar's tool kit, and the idea of breaking into the Park Lane house did not appeal to him at all. Yet, at the moment, that method appeared to be the only one by which he could become possessed of the pearl necklace.
He picked up the newspaper which he had last read, and turned to the paragraph describing the gifts:—
Foremost amongst the gifts of jewellery to the prospective bride is the wonderful pearl necklace presented by Mr. Cyrus J. Swaffer, the millionaire friend of the bride's father. The necklace consists of no less than one hundred and twenty superbly matched pearls, and is valued at £10,000.
The wedding of Miss Heckenheimer and Sir John Haversley is to take place next Monday. Admission to view the presents is by ticket only.
Alonzo smiled at the last sentence. He had "viewed" the necklace on three separate occasions by means of forged tickets, but he had had little opportunity of making himself acquainted with the geography of the house, except the opportunity of noticing which windows gave access to the ground floor dining-room, in which the presents were on view.
The telephone bell disturbed his thoughts. He took off the receiver and recognised the voice of Jim Maitland, who had the Heckenheimer house under observation.
"Hallo, Mac," said Maitland. "You'll have to look slippy if you want that necklace. A few minutes ago I was having a drink at The Green Man on the corner of Sellars Mews, and one of the Heckenheimer servants came in and said that the old man had been warned that an attempt might be made on the goods, and that the presents are being moved tomorrow. I'll ring again if I hear anything else. So long, Mac."
MacTavish hung up the receiver with a grin. The difficulties were apparently increasing. One thing was certain. If the job was to be done at all it must be done immediately.
He looked at his watch. It was 11.30. Alonzo imagined that the keenest detective might begin to feel tired somewhere about midnight, especially after the tempting supper which Mr. Heckenheimer's butler was certain to supply. He threw off his dressing gown and changed into a lounge suit and a pair of brown, rubber-soled shoes. Then, slipping an electric torch into his pocket, he left the flat and walked quickly in the direction of Park Lane.
As he walked he rehearsed in his mind the method which he had decided to adopt. It was fairly certain that there would be at least one detective in the ground floor dining-room, where the presents were on show. The other detectives would be stationed in different parts of the house, or would be off duty. With a detective inside it would be impossible to effect an entrance through the dining room window. The front door was out of the question, as Maitland had discovered that it was not only locked, but barred and chained as well. It seemed to Alonzo that it would be necessary for him to make his entrance through one of the upper windows of the house and, after spying out the land, await or make some opportunity of getting into the dining-room.
He wondered what Maitland meant by saying that "some one had warned the old man that there might be an attempt on the goods." It would be amusing, thought MacTavish, if some rival collector of unconsidered trifles was also on the war path. Tonight being the last night it stood to reason that any attempt would, more or less, synchronise with his own, and might possibly add a little more excitement to the night's amusement.
He entered Park Lane from the Piccadilly end and approached the Heckenheimer house from the rear, through a mews which stood at the back of the house. The coast was clear and he quickly scaled the wall which separated the house from the turning leading to the mews and, dropping down on the other side, stood silently, listening. From the other side of the wall, somewhere in the mews, he could hear soft footsteps and, as he stood undecided, a soft whistle sounded on the stillness of the night air. There was silence for a moment, then the whistle was repeated. But this time the sound came from above him. Some one in the Heckenheimer house had answered a signal from the mews! Alonzo smiled to himself. Things were getting exciting. There could be only one explanation. The gang, of whom Heckenheimer had been warned, were at work and, what was more important, they were evidently in communication with some one in the house.
He crept along the side of the house until he stood immediately below the dining-room window. The window was slightly open at the top, and from inside he could hear the unmistakable sound of snoring.
Suddenly an idea flashed into his head. Was the detective in the dining-room asleep, or had he been drugged? Supposing one of the servants inside the house was in league with the individual who had whistled from the mews. Alonzo crept along by the house wall until he came to the rear end, which was overshadowed by a tree. The architecture of the house presented many footholds and, with a final glance round, he commenced to climb, finding himself after a few minutes' endeavour outside a small window, just above the first floor. The window was unlatched, and it was the work of a moment to climb through.
He closed the window behind him, and found himself on the landing of a small stairway, dimly lit. Opposite him, on the other side of the landing was a door, and he could see the gleam of light underneath the crack. He tiptoed carefully in the direction of the stairs. As he did so the door opened and a head protruded, "Is that you...?"
The head stopped speaking as it saw Alonzo. MacTavish, without hesitation, stopped forward, and struck the man fairly between the eyes. The man dropped like a log. Alonzo pulled the prostrate figure into the room and, shutting the door behind him, took stock of the situation. The man whom he had knocked unconscious was obviously the butler, who had evidently made no attempt to go to bed. Alonzo tiptoed to the window and, cautiously drawing back the edge of the blind, looked out.
On the far side of the mews he could just discern a figure waiting in the darkness, and, as he watched, the soft whistle was repeated. Alonzo smiled once more. The matter was becoming really interesting. The butler was evidently an accomplice of the gang, a member of which was waiting outside in the mews until the coast was clear. Alonzo dragged the portly form of the butler to the bedside and, with difficulty, raised the unconscious figure on to the bed. Then he securely bound and gagged the unfortunate menial and, switching off the light, left the room.
He continued his journey downstairs and had succeeded in reaching the ground floor, when the sound of heavy footsteps sent him behind the cover of a hanging curtain. The footsteps approached and a light was switched on.
Through a fold in the curtain Alonzo saw a man—evidently one of the detectives—look round the hall, and then, switching off the light, depart in the direction from whence he had come.
Alonzo waited a moment then, moving silently in the darkness, crossed the hall and gently turned the handle of the door, which he guessed was that of the dining-room. He was greeted with a sound of heavy breathing. Crossing to the window, he slowly pulled down the blinds and, drawing his automatic pistol from his pocket, switched on his electric torch. Sprawled in a chair beside the long table, on which the glittering array of presents were laid out, was the recumbent figure of one of the detectives.
Alonzo approached the man and put his face close to that of the sleeper. The unmistakable odour of chloroform came to his nostrils. The man had been drugged. Alonzo switched off his torch and, finding a chair beside him, sat down in the darkness. The situation was fairly apparent. The butler had drugged the detective and, being bound and gagged upstairs, was unable to signal to those outside to complete the job. He rose from the chair and switched on his torch, sending the beam of light along the glittering table.
There, in its black Morocco case in a place of honour in the centre of the table, was the £10,000 pearl necklace. Alonzo, a connoisseur of pearls, admired the matchless beauty of the necklace. As he moved towards the table the beam of light from his electric torch fell on the handle of the door. It was slowly and silently turning! In a flash Alonzo switched off his torch and, with catlike steps, moved to the dark shadows by the side of the window.
The door slowly opened and, against the dim light in the hall outside, Alonzo saw the slim figure of a girl framed in the doorway. She wore a trim costume and hat, and in her hand was a small attaché case. Swiftly and silently she closed the door behind her and, as Alonzo drew further back against the wall, the light from the torch she carried lit up the table once more.
She approached the table and, disregarding the lesser jewellery, took the necklace in its case from the table. She was about to move towards the door when Alonzo stepped forward.
"Please don't be frightened," he said. "Won't you sit down?"
He drew forward a chair, and, with a little smile—for she had entirely recovered her self-possession—she seated herself.
"I suppose you are one of the new detectives." she said with a smile.
"Nothing so interesting." replied Alonzo. "I am Alonzo MacTavish."
She gave a little start.
"MacTavish!" she exclaimed softly. "The swell cracksman—the man the police can't catch!"
Alonzo bowed. "I hope they never will," he said. "But it seems to me that unless we are fairly expeditious they'll get the pair of us. Someone is sure to come along in a moment, you know. In the meantime I suggest that we come to some arrangement about this pearl necklace. Being in the same line of business, don't you think we ought to go fair halves?"
She smiled and the light of the torch lit up the gold of her hair. Suddenly there was a noise of hurried footsteps in the hall. Alonzo sprang to his feet and snatched the case from the girl's hand.
"Quick," he said. "Behind that curtain by the window! You'll find the window open. Go quickly!"
He pushed the girl behind the window curtains and turned, the necklace in his hands, as the electric light flashed on and two men entered the room. The shorter man covered Alonzo with a revolver.
"This is the fellow, Mr. Heckenheimer," he said. "We found the butler bound and gagged upstairs—and look—Seaton's drugged! A pretty near thing..."
He mopped his brow.
Heckenheimer, scowling under his heavy brows, advanced and snatched the necklace case from Alonzo's hand.
"Say, my clever friend," he drawled. "Guess you've still got something to learn. I'll send you up for a little stretch that'll cure you of your darned burglarin' habits. Put the bracelets on him, Smith."
The detective drew a pair of handcuffs from his pocket and approached Alonzo. As he moved the girl stepped out from behind the cover of the window curtain. Heckenheimer and the detective started amazedly.
"Oh, you little idiot," murmured Alonzo. "Why didn't you make your get away while the going was good?" He sat down on the vacant chair with a sigh.
"It's all right, Mr. MacTavish," said the girl calmly, "I'm afraid you don't quite understand the situation."
She turned to Heckenheimer. "The gentleman isn't a burglar, father," she said, "but a friend of mine!"
Heckenheimer dismissed the detective with a wave of his hand. When the man had gone he turned to his daughter. "Now, look here, girl," he said. "What does all this mean?"
She looked him straight in the face. "Just this," she said quietly. "I'm not going to marry Sir John Haversley on Monday, whatever you may say or do. I don't love him, and that's that. Tonight I made up my mind to go off with the man of my choice and, as I hadn't any money, and I knew that you'd give me none, I made up my mind to take the pearl necklace—after all, it is mine!"
A spasm of rage crossed Heckenheimer's face.
"Say, my girl," he said gruffly, "just stop this theatrical nonsense. You'll marry John Haversley on Monday because I say so."
He threw the pearl necklace back on to the table—"an' you can make up your mind to that here an' now. Let's have no more nonsense. As for you"—he turned to Alonzo—"you can get out of here as soon as you like!"
Alonzo strolled slowly round the table. As he reached the door he shut it quickly and spun round. In his hand was an automatic pistol.
"Now. Mr. Heckenheimer," he said. "We'll talk sense. Your daughter was a sportsman to invent a little fiction for my sake. I knew nothing of her plan to escape. As a matter of fact I thought that the man outside was after these things here"—he indicated them—"instead of which I gather he is the man of Miss Heckenheimer's choice. But if she wants to marry him, I really don't see why she shouldn't, and if she wants to take her own pearl necklace she's going to take it!"
"I'll have the police on you for this," snarled Heckenheimer.
Alonzo laughed. "Oh, no you won't," he said. "Can't you imagine what the papers would say: 'Millionaire's daughter escapes from home with stolen necklace, assisted by Alonzo MacTavish, the international crook.' Don't you think that would look rather good in print, Mr. Heckenheimer? Well, what is it to be? Does Miss Heckenheimer go with your consent of without it? Only I tell you this much, that if she goes without it, quite a lot of the presents will go with her. You'd better make up your mind quickly!"
HALF an hour later Alonzo stood on the front door steps of the Heckenheimer house. The girl held out her hand.
"I knew father would come round," she said. "I think it was your persuasive powers that did it."
Alonzo laughed "You're a great sportsman, Miss Heckenheimer," he said.
She looked at him with a smile. "You were the sportsman." she said. "All you worried about was my safety. You didn't think of yourself at all. If ever I turn crook I'll come into partnership." She laughed and held out her hand. Alonzo shook it.
"Good-bye, Miss Heckenheimer," he said "And good luck."
She held out something to him in the half darkness. It was half the pearl necklace.
"You've got to take this, Mr. MacTavish," she said. "In memory of the happiest night of my life. I won't have you refuse!" She dropped the half necklace into Alonzo's hand "Halves, partner!" she smiled.
AN east wind whistled through Grosvenor Square, blowing the coat tails of Mr. Alonzo MacTavish around his shoulders as if it delighted in his immediate predicament. Then, having disarranged his hair, tie and temper, and succeeded in causing his green eyeglass to drop from his eye—necessitating the careful readjustment of the same, for Alonzo was lost without his eyeglass—it turned its attention to other mischief and died away leaving him to deal with a somewhat delicate situation as best he might.
He took shelter beneath one of the imposing porticos on the west side of the square, after a casual glance round to make sure that there were no police inspectors or other nuisances in the vicinity, for Mr. MacTavish and the officials of Scotland Yard had agreed to disagree on a score of matters and, as Mr. MacTavish wished to continue having the best of the argument, he had no desire to come under the notice of any minor official whose zeal might outrun his discretion.
Mr. MacTavish, safe for the moment from the troublous forces of Nature, gave vent to his feelings by smiling sweetly. When other men lost their tempers and cursed, it was his invariable habit to smile, and at the moment he was permitting himself a smile of extremely long duration. Quietly but firmly he consigned roulette tables, chemie games, faro, poker and other inducements of the devil to the lower regions. Things had been bad enough in all conscience, but to arrive in England after having given the police of two countries the chase of their lives, and then, on the first conceivable occasion to be lured into a roulette game and to lose not only every penny which one possessed, but also one's overcoat—new—one's silk hat and gloves—new—one's watch and chain—very dear for sentimental reasons—and one's Malacca and gold walking stick—a very old friend—well, it was too bad! What was to be done?
Mr. MacTavish realised that it is not possible to stand permanently in Grosvenor Square. At the same time he did not relish the idea of walking to his flat in Earl's Court, more especially as a drizzling rain had commenced. He waited impatiently for a few moments, and then put his head round the corner of the portico in order to study the weather. Something caused him to withdraw his head very quickly.
Hurrying towards him, apparently perfectly heedless of the rain, clad in a shimmering evening gown, but with no cloak or gloves or covering of any sort, came a lady. As she passed the porch under which Alonzo was sheltered, the moonlight glinted on her hair, on the whiteness of her shoulders, and lit up for a moment the perfect oval of her face. She passed in a flash.
Alonzo followed. As far as he was concerned, the inclement elements were forgotten. The possessor of an insatiable curiosity towards everything and everybody, he insisted on knowing why exquisitely gowned ladies should walk about in the wet. She crossed the square quickly and turned into Brook Street. Something white dropped from her hand, but in spite of the metallic tinkle which sounded as the white object hit the ground, she walked straight on looking neither to right nor left.
MacTavish picked up the white object. It was a tiny vanity bag as ladies carry in the evening, and a quick squeeze told Alonzo that it contained keys and money. MacTavish continued the chase with the intention of returning the vanity bag, but suddenly the lady turned into one of the houses past Claridge's Hotel, and in a moment Alonzo heard the door close after her.
An idea struck him. Why not utilise the money in the bag in the hire of a taxi home? He could replace it in the morning and return the bag. He turned, and was about to whistle a passing cab, when a tall figure in evening clothes stepped out of the darkness.
Alonzo stopped dead. There was no mistaking the saturnine face with the drooping black moustache, and the brilliant eyes which twinkled like diamond points.
MacTavish smiled sweetly. 'Doctor Theodor Klaat,' he murmured with a bow. 'I am delighted to see you once again. How do you do?'
The brilliant eyes narrowed. Underneath the thin black moustache the full lips curved into a bitter smile. 'I am very well, Mr. MacTavish,' said Theodor Klaat, 'I was observing that you have lost none of your natural curiosity, Mr. MacTavish, and I would advise, if you value your esteemed liberty, that you do not permit valour to be the better part of discretion.'
'Good-night, Mr. MacTavish.'
The tall figure disappeared into the darkness.
Alonzo found a taxi-cab in Oxford Street, and instructed the driver to hurry to Earl's Court. Then, leaning back in the corner of the cab, he gave himself up to deep thought. So Theodor Klaat was back in London. Alonzo realised that this fact boded no good for himself. Klaat had made three attempts to get him out of the way. Two of them—in Vienna—had been simple affairs, and ones which gave the brain of Alonzo little trouble, but the third—in Paris—had been a nasty business and very nearly came off. Since then he had neither seen nor heard of the doctor.
What was the meaning of the warning which Klaat had so melodramatically issued in Brook Street?
Suddenly Alonzo sat up with a jerk. The explanation was obvious. Klaat had seen him following the uncloaked lady! Alonzo felt in his pocket and produced the little vanity bag. Inside were three one pound notes, two keys, a box of cigarettes, and a few visiting cards.
He examined one of the cards, which read:—
Lady Hermione Margrave,
267, Brook Street, W.
On the back of the card was written in pencil:—
The Nessim Cigarette Co.,
764, Jermyn Street, S.W.
He examined the cigarettes and discovered that they were faintly perfumed. He lit one and inhaled the smoke, and somehow the taste and smell of the cigarette brought something to his brain—something from out of the past. Alonzo took the cigarette from his mouth and threw it out of the window, and, leaning back once more in his seat, he smiled grimly as he remembered.
HE was astir early next morning, and paid a visit to a narrow and dirty turning off the Waterloo Road, where he interviewed an old acquaintance, who proceeded to take a wax impression of the two keys which Alonzo had found in the vanity bag. Blooey, for such was the name of Alonzo's friend, promised that the duplicate keys should be at Alonzo's flat that evening and, having effected this important piece of business, Mr. MacTavish sauntered back to the Waterloo Road, and proceeded in the direction of Waterloo Bridge, swinging his cane, and obviously on the best of terms with the world. Beneath his apparent unconcern, his brain was working quickly.
Why had Theodor Klaat warned him to mind his own business. Alonzo was puzzled, for Klaat was a pseudo medical blackmailer and forger of the first water, whereas the speciality of Mr. Alonzo MacTavish was the removal of valuable jewels, pictures, and objects d'art generally from the houses of those men whom he considered were too richly blessed with this world's goods. A newspaper boy ran past him with a 'special,' and Alonzo bought a paper.
A glance at the front page pulled him up with a jerk, and a whistle of surprise came from his lips. He folded the paper and walked quickly over the bridge to the Strand, where he entered a Lyons tea shop, and ordering some coffee, re-opened the paper, and read the report at his leisure. The paper announced:—
MARGRAVE CORONET STOLEN.
A mysterious burglary occurred last night at 267, Brook Street, the residence of the Duke of Margrave. During the absence of the Duke, who was at the theatre, and his daughter, Lady Hermione Margrave, who was with friends at a nearby house, the burglars entered, presumably through the front door, and succeeded in opening the safe in the library and removing the coronet. A strange feature of the case is that an obviously imitation coronet, which would have deceived no one, was left in place of the real one. The skill shown in opening the safe points to the work of expert criminals. The Margrave coronet is valued at £100,000, and contains some of the finest diamonds and rubies in the world. The case is in the able hands of Detective-Inspector Birkett, of Scotland Yard.
Alonzo finished his coffee and wandered out into the sunshine. He was certain that Klaat was responsible for the burglary, but who had actually done the job? Klaat was no burglar, and the safe had been opened by an expert. The main point which puzzled Alonzo was the leaving of the fake coronet behind. He made up his mind that he would have a look at that coronet, for he was certain that there was some definite reason for that part of the business.
He turned up a narrow passage, which ran into Maiden-lane. Here he called on an old friend and, borrowing ten pounds, replaced the three one pound notes in Lady Hermione's vanity bag; then he hailed a cab, and ordered the driver to proceed to the Nessim Cigarette Company in Jermyn Street.
The Nessim Cigarette Company he discovered was a dirty little shop in a side turning off Jermyn Street. He went in and ordered a box of five hundred cigarettes. The wizened old woman behind the counter seemed surprised at the size of the order, and MacTavish noted with some amusement that the whole shop was being ransacked to produce the five hundred cigarettes. He came to the conclusion that very few cigarettes emanated from the Nessim Company.
At the back of the shop was a door, the upper part of which was of glass, and through the dirty pane Alonzo could just discern a dark flight of stairs leading to the upper regions. There was a smell of stale garlic about the place, and he was glad to get back into the open air.
He paid off his cab and walked slowly round to Brook Street. At the back of his brain a definite idea was beginning to take shape—an idea which at first seemed too ludicrous to be possible.
THE butler who opened the door of the Brook Street house regarded Alonzo with interest. Evidently there had been many curious callers that day.
'I'm sorry, sir, but it is absolutely impossible to see Lady Hermione,' he said in answer to Alonzo's request. 'She is indisposed, and has given instructions that she will see no one.'
'I am sorry to disturb Lady Hermione,' replied Alonzo with a suave smile, 'but it is absolutely necessary that I should see her. Will you take up my card?'
Seated in the hall, awaiting the butler's return, Alonzo wondered whether he would succeed in seeing Lady Hermione. A believer in coincidences, he was of the opinion that there was some connection between the burglary and the dirty little shop in Jermyn Street, and that Lady Hermione might be able to throw some light on the subject.
The butler returned.
'Lady Hermione will see you, sir,' he said, and led the way up the broad staircase.
Alonzo was ushered into a room on the first floor, the furniture and decorations of which gave ample evidence of exotic taste. A woman rose from a low seat by the fireside, and he recognised immediately the owner of the vanity bag. She came towards him, and Alonzo thought that he could detect a look of fear in her eyes. She was beautiful, but her beauty was marred by the dark shadows beneath her eyes and the tired look within them. She glanced at the card in her hand.
'Mr. MacTavish,' she said. 'I do not know you. What do you want?'
'Only to return your bag, Lady Hermione,' said Alonzo, producing the vanity bag. 'I was lucky enough to notice it as you dropped it.'
He placed the bag on the corner of a nearby table.
She smiled wearily. 'Thank you very much,' she said. 'I did not even know that I had dropped it.'
Her smile vanished and her face became suddenly tense. 'Where did you find the bag? You said that you saw me drop it. Where?'
MacTavish lied easily. 'Just outside the Nessim cigarette shop in Jermyn Street,' he said with a smile.
She glanced at him sharply.
'The Nessim Cigarette shop,' she repeated. 'What was I doing there?'
She passed her hand across her forehead wearily, as if trying to remember. 'Thank you very much for troubling to bring my bag back,' she said. 'It was good of you.'
'Not at all,' said Alonzo. 'It was a great pleasure, Lady Hermione.' He continued, 'you will probably think me very impertinent, but for your own sake, keep away from the Nessim Cigarette shop.'
She raised her head imperiously and Alonzo saw that her face was white with anger. 'I do not understand you, sir,' she said haughtily.
He smiled. 'Lady Hermione,' he said, 'I do not wish to be cryptic, but I am inclined to agree with you.'
He bowed and turning on his heel left the room.
ON returning to his flat in Earl's Court, MacTavish was glad to find that Blooey had been as good as his word, and that a small package containing the duplicates of the keys which Alonzo had found in the vanity bag, had arrived. One of these keys, Alonzo was certain, was the key of the Brook Street house, but what was the other? For a long time he sat in his armchair, swinging the two keys on a long forefinger. Then a smile of satisfaction curved his mobile lips. The pieces in the jigsaw puzzle were beginning to fit together.
AT seven o'clock Alonzo dressed, and after telephoning for a stall at the latest revue, slipped a pair of rubber gloves and an electric flash lamp into his pocket and sallied forth. The revue was a good one, but the thoughts of Mr. MacTavish were far from the stage. His mind was entirely occupied by the Nessim Cigarette Co., Lady Hermione Margrave and Doctor Theodor Klaat.
He realised that Klaat would waste no time now that his main object had been achieved, and he wondered, with a smile, exactly how wise Detective-Inspector Birkett was with regard to the real situation.
Alonzo had a sincere admiration for Birkett, who possessed few brains, but was as tenacious as a bulldog. A sudden humorous thought came to Alonzo as he realised that for the first time in his chequered career he was ranging himself on the side of law and order, a situation unprecedented, surely, since the time of Vidocq! Still smiling, he collected his coat and hat from the cloakroom, and left the theatre. He stood on the corner of Trafalgar Square, undecided, then with a whimsical twist of the lips, he summoned a passing taxi and ordered the man to drive to New Scotland Yard, and a few minutes later he was being shown into Birkett's room.
That gentleman's eyes widened as he read the card which his subordinate had laid on the table before him. 'MacTavish!' he exclaimed in surprise. 'Well, of all the cool cheek!'
ALONZO regarded the detective across the table, his grey eyes twinkling humorously as he observed the blank look of astonishment on the face of the police officer.
'Well, Birkett,' he said cheerfully. 'Aren't you glad to see me? Oh, I know what is going on in your mind! You are thinking of the Lagrane pearl business, the affair of the Amsterdam rubies, the extraordinary mystery of the renovated Gainsborough, and several other little matters, all of which, you are perfectly certain, bore traces of the elusive personality of Alonzo MacTavish. Well, I haven't walked into the enemy's stronghold for the purpose of discussing these trivial matters, but to see you on some very much more important business.'
Alonzo took a chair and sat down.
'What do you know about the Margrave Coronet, inspector?' he asked with a grin.
Birkett sat bolt upright in his chair.
'The Margrave Coronet,' he repeated.
He opened a drawer in his desk and produced a cigar box, which he handed to Alonzo smilingly. 'Some, MacTavish?' he asked, and lit his own cigar in silence. Suddenly he looked up.
'What do you know, MacTavish?' he asked. 'You haven't come here for fun!'
Alonzo watched the cigar smoke curling upwards towards the ceiling.
'I've got my own code of morals, Birkett,' he said. 'There are the things which are done, and also the things which are not done. Well, the Margrave Coronet business, in my opinion, is one of the things which are not done. That's why I'm taking a hand in the game.'
He drew his chair closer to the desk. 'Do you remember "the Mystery Doctor," Birkett?' he asked quietly.
The detective-inspector grinned.
'I do,' he said, a trifle ruefully. 'He did us in the eye. But he never got away with the scheme. Somebody double-crossed him,' he added.
'Exactly,' said Alonzo. 'I did, and he hasn't forgiven me, either! Doctor Theodor Klaat has got it in for me, Birkett,' continued MacTavish cheerfully; 'he tried a sandbag and an arsenic capsule in Vienna, and a car smash in Paris, but I'm still here.'
Alonzo considered the white ash on the end of his cigar. 'I don't like Doctor Theodor Klaat,' he concluded quietly.
Birkett's eves flashed. 'So Klaat's got the coronet, has he?' He leaned back in his chair and whistled. 'Well, what next?' he queried.
Alonzo peeled off his white kid gloves and threw them on the desk. 'You're wrong, Inspector,' he said. 'Klaat hasn't got the Margrave coronet, but he's going to have it, for I'm going to see that he gets it!' He regarded the astonished detective with equanimity. 'Listen to me, Birkett...'
ONE hour later Mr. Alonzo MacTavish left Scotland Yard, and walked rapidly down Parliament Street, humming a haunting revue chorus. In his room, in the red brick building which never sleeps, Detective Inspector Birkett lay back in his office chair and roared with laughter.
As a neighbouring clock struck two, Mr. MacTavish slipped the duplicate key into the front door of 267 Brook Street, and disappeared into the darkness within. He had taken his bearings carefully during his previous visit, and certain information imparted to him by Birkett enabled him to find the library without trouble. Once in the library he carefully inspected the window blinds, then having made certain that his movements could not be observed from the street, he took off his overcoat and evening coat, and slipped on a pair of rubber gloves. Then, drawing a bunch of keys from his pocket, he commenced operations on the safe.
It was three o'clock before the massive steel door swung open, and ten minutes afterwards Alonzo quietly let himself out of the front door, but not before he had observed through the corner of the library window, the dark figure which lurked in the shadows of the narrow turning opposite.
As Alonzo reached the Grosvenor Square end of Brook Street, he turned suddenly in time to see the figure of the man receding towards Bond Street, and with a grin on his face MacTavish crossed the square, and turning off to the left, was about to cut through Deanery Street, when a seedy-looking individual slouched out from the shadows in front of him. MacTavish gave the man a quick glance, and then spoke, looking straight before him, and timing his footsteps so that he passed the slouching figure of the beggar whilst speaking.
'Klaat's man saw me enter and leave the house, and they are certain to try and finish the business tomorrow night. I'm going round to Jermyn Street now.'
The beggar nodded almost imperceptibly and Alonzo passed on.
TWO hours later, seated before a cosy fire in his Earl's Court flat, he smoked a final cigarette before turning in. The glowing coals of the fire made pictures before his eyes. First, the tired, beautiful face of Hermione Margrave, the sinister olive countenance of Theodor Klaat, and finally the round and jovial countenance of Birkett.
Alonzo rose and stretched gracefully. 'Well, Doctor Klaat,' he murmured to himself. 'It's you or me, and somehow I think it's going to be you.'
IT was ten minutes to twelve on the night after Alonzo's interview with Inspector Birkett at Scotland Yard, and an observer with a sense of humour might have obtained a great deal of amusement from a study of the characteristics of the somewhat varied assembly which was seated round the library table in Lord Margrave's house in Brook Street.
The single electric light—for Alonzo had insisted on dim lighting—lit only the centre of the huge table, and reflected dimly on the stern countenance of Lord Margrave, the prosaic, and philosophic faces of Birkett and his two colleagues, and the insouciant nonchalance of Mr. Alonzo MacTavish, whose glistening shirt front was the one bright spot in the dim desert of the library.
Lord Margrave tapped the polished table impatiently with his finger-tips.
'I cannot believe that this is true. There must be some mistake,' he said, speaking half angrily in an endeavour to conceal his real feelings. Inspector Birkett grinned.
'It's true enough, my lord,' he said. 'At least, there doesn't seem much possibility of a mistake.' He turned to where Alonzo's shirt front shone in the half light.
'You're certain about the Nessim Cigarette business, MacTavish,' he whispered.
Alonzo smiled. 'I am—very much so,' he murmured. He stiffened suddenly and held up a warning hand. 'Hush,' he whispered, 'not a word. The slightest sound may spoil the whole thing.'
Every head turned in the direction of the library door, and not a sound broke the silence, save, perhaps the slightly wheezy breathing of Birkett, produced possibly by the excitement of the moment.
The library door opened slowly. Walking with a strangely erect carriage, her eyes half closed, and her face chalk white, Lady Hermione Margrave entered the room. She looked neither to right nor left, but slowly and with seemingly measured pace walked straight to the safe, and taking a key from the pocket of her navy costume opened the massive door of the safe. After a moment she turned and the watchers saw that she held in her lands the fake Margrave coronet. With the same slow step she walked to the table around which the five men sat, almost touching the arm of her father in her progress, then, drawing a sheet of brown paper and some string from beneath her coat, she made a rough parcel of the coronet and, placing it under her arm, left the room. A gasp broke from Lord Margrave's lips.
'Keep still!' commanded Birkett, as with Alonzo, he made for the library window.
Lady Hermione Margrave was walking slowly down Brook Street. Suddenly, from the mews opposite, a big limousine appeared, and drove along the edge of the pavement beside her. The door opened and the watchers saw a black arm assist the girl into the car. Then the door closed with a bang, and the car shot off across Bond Street in the direction of Hanover Square.
'Come on!' shouted Birkett, and they raced for the front door, where a whistle from MacTavish brought a car from the shadows of Grosvenor Square. 'The Nessim Cigarette Company, Jermyn Street, via Bond Street!' commanded Birkett, and the car dashed off at a pace which made the point policeman in Piccadilly open his eyes with wonder and feel for his notebook.
'Pull up outside the Mars Hotel,' said Birkett, as they swung into Jermyn Street, and the driver obeyed, just as the yellow limousine, bearing Lady Hermione, entered Jermyn Street from the other end. The yellow car passed them and stopped at the end of the little turning which led to the Nessim shop. The figure of a man emerged from the car, his arm supporting the girl, and in a moment they had disappeared.
Alonzo quietly led the way over. At the door of the cigarette shop he paused, and drawing the second duplicate key from his pocket, quietly opened the door. They stole noiselessly across the dark shop, lit by the flash lamp which Alonzo carried. Opening the dirty glass door, he crept up the stairs, followed by Birkett and his two colleagues, the astounded Lord Margrave bringing up the rear.
At the top of the stairs was a passage. A streak of light showed brilliantly in the blackness from beneath an ill-fitting door at the end. The sound of a man's laughter came from within. Noiselessly Alonzo stole along the passage. Arrived at the door, he flung it open and stepped into the room, the others crowding behind him.
'My trick, I think,' murmured Mr. Alonzo MacTavish, smiling urbanely across the dirty deal table at the infuriated countenance of Doctor Theodor Klaat.
Birkett stepped forward. 'Well, Mystery Doctor, we've got you this time,' he said with a grin. 'Theodor Klaat,' he continued. 'I arrest you on a charge of stealing the Margrave coronet, and of illicitly being in possession of drugs.' He added the usual warning, and a pair of steel handcuffs snapped about the doctor's wrists.
ALONZO, seated once more in Lord Margrave's library, regarded the end of his Corona with bland satisfaction, and holding his wineglass to his nostrils considered, with satisfaction, the bouquet of the Duke's oldest port.
'The whole thing was fairly easy once the idea came to me,' he said. 'It was obvious to me that ladies do not walk about in the rain without cloaks, and in thin shoes, unless they are either mad or doped. Then it struck me that the second key which I found in the vanity bag was the key to the door of the Nessim Cigarette shop. After I had inspected the coronet which had been so cleverly faked to look like an imitation, I paid a visit to the Nessim shop, and found what I was looking for.'
He felt in his waistcoat pocket and produced a packet of cigarettes.
'These cigarettes are scented,' he said. 'Scented with dope! The name of this particular drug is hypnosforgene. It does not render the subject unconscious, but places them entirely at the mercy of the hypnotist. Klaat had arranged that Lady Hermione should get one of these cigarettes at the party which she attended on the night of the burglary. He was waiting outside, and as she was about to leave he suggested to her brain—for he is a skilled hypnotist—that she should dismiss her car and walk home. He followed her while she was in this hypnotic state and ordered her to open the safe and fake the real coronet to look like an imitation. This is a simple matter and was easily done by filling in the spaces at the back of the gems with soft blue lead which kills the fire in the gems and gives them the appearance of paste. He handed the lead to Lady Hermione at some stage of her journey home, probably just before I saw her, and when I called next day I could see the bluish stain which the lead leaves, still on her fingers. The soft gold-work of the coronet was simply filed down a little with a nail file, with, the result that even an expert would have pronounced the coronet to be a "dud."
'Klaat's idea was a good one. He knew that there would be a hue and cry after the missing coronet, and that the police must fail to find a coronet which had never been stolen. He would then have arranged that, after a few weeks, Lady Hermione should smoke another cigarette and, under the influence of the drug, would obey his mental command to bring the real coronet to him. Unfortunately for him, he saw me following Lady Hermione and tried to rush the job. I suppose he lost his nerve, for you see I have spoiled one or two of his little coups before. Lady Hermione, of course, knows nothing of the business, and when she wakes up in the morning, except for a slight headache, she will be quite fit.'
'I can only say "Thank you," Mr. MacTavish,' the Duke said. 'Inspector Birkett tells me that but for you this plot would have been successful, and my own daughter an unwitting confederate. I am very grateful.'
Alonzo bowed. 'There's just one thing more,' he said. 'The second cigarette must have been given to Lady Hermione by someone in this house. That someone is your butler, Stevens. His whiskers are very good, but I happen to remember the red mole on the left side of his neck. Stevens is Klaat's right hand man—the man who tried to sandbag me in Vienna.'
'We're making quite a haul tonight, MacTavish, thanks to you,' he said. 'By the way,' he continued, 'Yesterday, Lord Margrave offered a reward of £5,000 for the recovery of the Coronet, and he insists that you shall have it. Come and see me in the morning and we will settle that matter.'
Alonzo rose. 'All things come to him who waits,' he said smilingly, shaking hands with the Duke. 'Au revoir, till the morning, Birkett!'
At the door he stopped. 'You'll want to see Stevens, the butler, Inspector,' he said. 'I'll send him up to you.' The humorous smile deepened upon his mouth.
Downstairs in the hall, Stevens was waiting in a dressing gown to show him out. As he opened the door Alonzo slipped a pound note into his hand. Stevens bowed his thanks.
'Oh, Stevens,' said Alonzo with a cheery smile. 'Go up to the library. Lord Margrave wants to see you. Good-night!'
Mr. Alonzo MacTavish walked towards Grosvenor Square, whistling quietly to himself. The night was fine, and, because he loved the moonlight, he was happy. Very much more so, because the pound note which he had presented to Mr. Stevens was one which had been made originally by Doctor Theodor Klaat!
MR. ALONZO MACTAVISH, seated in the resplendent lounge of the Hotel Splendide, screwed his eyeglass a little more tightly into his left eye, adjusted an immaculately cut evening waistcoat and gazed about him with that charming expression which had won him so many friends, and which had driven half the police forces of Europe into a state of desperation.
Things were very quiet, ruminated Alonzo. Three months before he had been instrumental in the removal of certain important documents from the safe of the Moravian Embassy in Paris. These documents he had, with great wisdom, sold to the Rostovian Ambassador on the other side of the street. Two months after this exploit, Mr. MacTavish, with the same urbane smile, had quietly and skilfully removed the same documents from the Rostovian safe, and sold them back again to the Moravian Ambassador, who was glad to get them without asking any questions—at any price.
Mr. MacTavish had then considered that the air of England might be more agreeable to his health for a while and had taken the first boat just in time to miss the visit of three very quiet gentlemen who called at his apartment to inform him that his absence from France would be appreciated.
Since then nothing had turned up, and inaction bored Alonzo. Also, he realised that it was up to him to give his friends, the police, one more chance to get him. They had failed dismally up to date, although they knew very well that the fertile brain of MacTavish was behind a dozen or more mysterious "jobs" which had taken place in Europe during the last two years.
Alonzo selected, with care, a cigarette from a thin case, and was just about to light it, when his eyes fell upon a girl seated on the opposite side of the lounge. She wore a green gown—a wonderful Paris creation Alonzo guessed, and it suited her to perfection. For a moment, as she raised her head, it seemed to him that, as her eyes met his, a tiny smile illuminated them for a moment. Then, she rose suddenly and, still smiling, walked towards the entrance.
So the smile had not been for him. A soft whistle escaped Alonzo's lips as he observed the tall, well-groomed man whom the girl in green was greeting so effusively—Caesar D'Alvarez, international crook and Jewel thief, an arch enemy of Alonzo, who had spoiled his game on more than one occasion. What was D'Alvarez doing here?
Alonzo, very unobtrusively, rose from his seat, and made his way to another seat in the shadow of the pillar. He waited until D'Alvarez had registered at the reception office; then, when he and the girl had disappeared in the direction of the lift, he wandered casually over and examined the register. He read "Count Caesar D'Esterro, Rome." After which Alonzo made his way back to his seat and, lighting the delayed cigarette, gave himself up to quiet thought.
So Caesar D'Alvarez had become "Count Caesar D'Esterro!" Alonzo wondered exactly what the game was. The girl was a stranger to him—he had never encountered her on any of his international adventures, and her beauty appealed to him. He hoped with a half sigh, that she was not intended to be the pawn in some low down game of D'Alvarez.
He picked up the illustrated weekly which lay on the lounge table before him and idly ran his fingers through the pages, his mind still busy with D'Alvarez. Suddenly he sat bolt upright and gazed at the page before him on which appeared a portrait of the girl in green, the girl who, a few minutes before, had greeted D'Alvarez so warmly. Underneath the picture were the words: "Miss Aline Carnford of Philadelphia, whose marriage with Count Caesar D'Esterro is announced to be taking place shortly."
An involuntary exclamation escaped him. What was the D'Alvarez game? Was he planning to marry an heiress, despite the fact that he already possessed about four other "wives" in different parts of the world! Alonzo, keen for immediate action, threw down the magazine and made rapidly for his room.
Ten minutes later, overcoated, and with his immaculate silk hat at its usual angle, Alonso strolled out of the Splendide and walked rapidly across Piccadilly Circus. In Leicester Square he procured a taxi and ordered the man to drive to Grant's Court, Limehouse, and half an hour later Alonzo alighted from the cab in one of the most disreputable quarters of London's underworld. He walked rapidly through Grant's Court and turned into a narrow alley that led in the direction of the river. After a few minutes he stopped beneath the shadow of a tumbledown warehouse and whistled the first few bars of "Annie Laurie." Immediately a small and dirty window in the wall, just above him, opened, and a tousled grey head was thrust out.
"Oo's there?" a hoarse voice demanded.
"It's all right, Inky—its MacTavish," replied Alonzo. "I want a word with you."
The head was withdrawn, and a moment afterwards to the accompaniment of creaking bolts and locks, a door was opened. MacTavish entered and followed the shambling figure of Inky up a rickety flight of stairs to the dirty and ill-kept room which that worthy inhabited. Arrived, he dusted a chair carefully with his handkerchief and sat down. Inky, sensing something important, lit an old clay pipe and puffed vigorously, his eyes on Alonzo's face.
"Listen Inky," said MacTavish. "I did you a good turn two years ago. I want you to do something for me. Are you on?"
"I'm on, Mac," replied Inky promptly. "I'd be doing five years if it wasn't for you. What's the lay?"
"Caesar D'Alvarez is over here and I want to know what he's doing," said MacTavish. "He arrived today at the Splendide and a girl met him. Not his sort of girl either. Just afterwards I read that Count Caesar D'Esterro was marrying her, and D'Alvarez had registered under that name. Is he after the girl's money? Surely he doesn't expect to get away with that? The Italian police want him badly at the moment. Find out what he's at, Inky, and as quickly as you can!"
Inky grinned as he refilled his old clay pipe. "I don't 'ave to find out nothing, Mac," he wheezed with a grin. He leaned across the table. "I knows!"
Alonzo, as excited as he ever allowed himself to get, drew his chair closer. "Well, what is it, Inky?" he demanded.
"I 'eard larst night, round at Blooey Stevens," said Inky. "D'Alvarez 'as got a big idea. 'E's after the Rodney Diadem—you know, the diamond tiara wot belongs to Lord Rodney. Well D'Alvarez lays that he can crack the crib all right—the stuff is in the 'ouse at Pont Street—it's easy for a man like D'Alvarez, but the thing wot he couldn't do was to get the stuff out of England. 'E knows that the perlice is after 'im, an' directly that tiara is pinched every port in England will be watched, and D'Alvarez knows that 'e'd never get through. So 'e 'as a brain wave. 'E meets this American girl in Paris were she's stayin' with 'er people an' tells 'er 'e's a Count, an' she falls for 'im. So 'e gets 'er to come over 'ere to marry 'im. See the game? 'E cracks the crib on the night of the ninth, after the ball at Rodney 'Ouse. 'E marries the girl on the mornin' of the tenth an' then she goes back to Paris to tell 'er people. See the idea? D'Alvarez will stick the bloomin' diamonds in the' girl's jewel case without 'er knowin.' If she gets through all right, 'e'll join 'er in Paris that night, take the stuff and take 'is 'ook. If she don't get through, well, the police'll find the stuff on 'er an' D'Alvarez will be orlright. 'E's a dirty dog is D'Alvarez!"
Alonzo smiled. "So he's going to crack the crib on the ninth, is he?" he said. "The day after tomorrow. Thanks for your information, Inky." MacTavish extracted a five pound note from his well filled case and threw it across the table to Inky. "You need not tell anyone you've seen me," he continued. "We'll keep this little meeting to ourselves. Good-night, Inky!"
Inky watched the retreating figure of Alonzo as it disappeared down the narrow passage, and grinned.
"Well, Mister Bloomin' D'Alvarez," he wheezed, as he ascended the rickety staircase with Alonzo's fiver held tightly in his dirty fingers. "I wouldn't give much for your bloomin' chances now!"
IMMEDIATELY after leaving Inky, Alonzo, a slight smile playing about the corners of his well-cut mouth, walked rapidly to Poplar High Street, where he secured a taxi-cab. He drove westward alighting at a block of mansions in Bloomsbury. He paid off the cab and, mounting the stairs quickly, knocked at the door of a flat on the second floor. After an interval the door opened and a red head peered round the corner.
"Mac, by all that's holy!" said Lon Ferrers, the possessor of the red head, and Alonzo's trusted henchman. "I thought you were in Paris. What's brought you here? Come right in!"
Alonzo entered, took off his coat and hat, and seated himself.
"A little job is afoot, I think, Lon," he said smilingly. "One of those charming little jobs where one is able to combine business with pleasure. Ever heard of Caesar D'Alvarez?"
"I should think so!" answered Ferrers. "The dirtiest crook in the whole world. He'd sell his own mother for sixpence!"
"Exactly," said Alonzo. "Well, he's not out to sell his own mother this time. He's out to sell a rather pretty girl in a green gown. She's much too nice for D'Alvarez, Lon, and I think we can take a hand in the game. Tell me, has Blooey still got the keys of that empty house in Camberwell? He has. Good. Now," he drew his chair close, "listen to me. Lon...."
THE last car had driven away from Rodney House after the ball, and one by one the brilliant lights went out, leaving the mansion in darkness. An hour passed and, as a neighbouring clock struck three, a beam of light from an electric torch played over the walls of the library and came to rest on the safe which stood in one corner, in which reposed the Rodney Diadem.
D'Alvarez, for it was he who held the torch, drew an electric lamp from his overcoat pocket, switched it on, so that the beam of light played on the indicator dial of the safe, took off his overcoat and, opening the attaché case which he carried, took out a small oxy-acetylene blow pipe, the tool of the modern burglar.
For an hour he worked rapidly and silently on the safe, the beads of perspiration standing out on his forehead. Then a sigh of relief broke from him and, putting down the blow lamp, he pulled at the massive safe door. It swung open easily, and with feverish hands he pulled at the drawers and searched the different compartments until he found what he sought.
He stepped back from the safe his eyes feasting on the piece of incomparable jewellery which flashed and glittered in the light of the electric lamp. Then he looked up and a gasp escaped his lips, for he found himself looking straight down the barrel of an automatic pistol behind which smiled the face of Mr. Alonzo MacTavish.
"Good evening, or rather, good morning, D'Alvarez," said Alonzo. "There's no need to get excited. Just pack up your attaché case, put the Rodney Diadem inside your overcoat breast pocket, close the safe door and walk quietly downstairs in front of me. When you get outside turn to the left and walk until you meet a car, which will be driven by my friend and colleague, Lon Ferrers. Be quick, or I'll give the alarm and hand you over. It would be very easy for me to say that I found the front door open and seeing the light of your torch, surprised you."
"Look here," snarled D'Alvarez. "What's the game, MacTavish. What are you after?"
"The game is, briefly, this," replied Alonzo with a smile. "You are not going to be married to Miss Carnford in the morning, friend D'Alvarez, not at all. At the moment we propose to take you out to Camberwell for a little rest cure, and when you get there you are going to write a letter to Miss Carnford informing her that you are not Count Caesar D'Esterro, but a rather second-rate crook, and apologising to her for any inconvenience to which you may have put her. Now then, my friend, get a move on!"
D'Alvarez obeyed with a muttered oath. He knew Alonzo of old, and that he meant what he said. Five minutes afterwards the pair quietly left the house. Down the street Lon Ferrers awaited them with the car and two hours afterwards Mr. D'Alvarez, tied hand and foot, reposed on a bed in a small house in Camberwell, using language which was worthy of a better cause.
NEXT afternoon Alonzo, delicately sipping a cup of tea in the lounge of the Hotel Splendide, looked up with a smile as Lon Ferrers appeared.
"Everything is O.K. Mac," said Ferrers. "I've just seen Miss Carnford off. Needless to say she was amazed when she read D'Alvarez's confession. Jove, how he hated writing it. She'll be back in Paris with her people tonight."
"Good," murmured Alonzo, pouring himself out some more tea. "I feel at peace with the world, and now for the reward of virtue. Tell me, did you give Blooey his instructions?"
"I did," answered Ferrers, "and I've just telephoned him. D'Alvarez is trussed up on the bed. He could never escape in a thousand years, and the Rodney Diadem is in his coat pocket as per your instructions. Blooey is leaving the house in five minutes' time. What's the idea, Mac?"
Alonzo grinned. "Just this, Lon. In this afternoon's paper Lord Rodney offers a reward of five thousand pounds for the recovery of the Rodney Diadem. Well, when I have finished this cup of tea, I'm going round to tell his lordship where his diadem is. In half an hour's time he will have back the family jewels, our friends from Scotland Yard will have D'Alvarez, and we shall collect five thousand, the reward. Although," murmured Alonzo, with a dreamy smile. "I would have done it for the lady in green for nothing. It's almost a shame to take the money!"
CLAD in a silk dressing-gown, the colours of which rivalled the fast departing sunset, Mr. Alonso MacTavish gazed idly at the open page of the magazine before him. Then he transferred his gaze to the folded newspaper which lay on his knee, and read, once more, the paragraph which had attracted his attention.
He was undecided. The magazine informed him that Mr. Adolph Garrat, the South African millionaire, had taken up his quarters for the season at Chelt Lodge and proposed staying there for some six months, whilst his wonderful collection of precious stones, including the famous Garrat ruby, which he had brought with him from South Africa, were being catalogued.
This interested Alonzo immensely. He was intensely desirous of doing a little collecting himself, and he saw no reason why a little scheming should not transfer the Garrat ruby from the Chelt Lodge safe to his own pocket.
On the other hand, the paragraph in the newspaper before him was not without interest. This informed him briefly that Doctor Theodor Klaat, the noted Austrian scientist, had arrived in London. The paper went on to say that Dr. Klaat has purchased on behalf of a foreign syndicate the wonderful Tindore pearl, which he would take back to Austria in order that certain experiments with regard to the manufacture of synthetic pearls might be carried out.
Alonzo wondered what Klaat's game was. Klaat, who certainly possessed some slight scientific qualifications was nothing more than an international blackmailer of the worst description, who had come up against Alonzo more than once during the latter's adventurous career, and usually these encounters had ended rather disastrously—for Theodor Klaat!
The point which was worrying Alonso was briefly this. Which was the more worthwhile; the Tindore pearl or the Garrat ruby? He couldn't steal both, for he realised that whatever job was to be done must be done quickly and quietly. Probably, he thought, the Garrat ruby was worth slightly more than the Tindore pearl, but at the same time Alonzo wanted the opportunity of once more putting Klaat's nose out of joint. He imagined that gentleman arriving back in Austria without the pearl, and endeavouring to make explanations to the unfortunate syndicate who had already trusted him sufficiently to hand over the money for the purchase of the gem.
ALONZO'S thoughts were disturbed by a tap at the door and Lon Ferrers, who when otherwise disengaged posed as Alonzo's valet, entered.
"There's a lady to see you, Mac," he said. "An awfully pretty one, too. She says it's urgent."
Alonzo smiled. "I can't guess who it is, Lon," he said, "but show her in!"
Lon disappeared, and returned in a moment to usher in a pretty girl of about twenty-eight years of age. Alonzo sprang to his feet at the sight of her.
"Anne," he exclaimed.
The girl came forward and took Alonzo's hand which he held out to her.
"You never expected to see me Alonzo, did you?" she asked, seating herself in the chair which he placed for her. "You look just the same. You don't seem to alter with the years, in spite of your wicked life, and your planning and plotting and scheming!"
Alonzo bowed. "And you, Anne, look more wonderful than ever," he murmured. "How is life with you?"
"Very good," said the girl. "Since you got me out of that terrible scrape when I nearly fell into Klaat's clutches ten years ago, I've travelled a little and now possess a hat shop in Paris. I had hoped..." She stopped suddenly, and flushed rosily.
"Hoped what...?" asked Alonzo, his smile more charming than ever. "Tell me, Anne, what have you been hoping?"
She looked up defiantly. "I hoped that you'd give up this life, Alonzo," she said. "You don't have to be a crook—even if you are the cleverest crook in the world and one that the police have never yet laid hands on."
"Did you come to tell me that?" asked Alonzo, still smiling.
"No, I came to warn you," she said tensely. "Klaat is over here, Alonzo, and he's planning to trap you. He swore that he'd never rest until he was even with you and now he thinks that the time has come. Listen to me," she continued, leaning forward and dropping her voice. "Two months ago I was dining in a little restaurant in Paris when, looking up, I recognised Klaat, seated at the next table to mine. He was with another man and they were speaking English—I suppose they thought that there was less chance of being overheard. Klaat drank a little too much and I heard your name mentioned. Naturally, I listened, and I gathered enough from their conversation to realise what Klaat's scheme was.
"He has come over here to purchase the Tindore pearl on behalf of some Austrian syndicate, and he has been careful to have the fact advertised in practically every newspaper in the country, and only for one reason, so that you will see it! He knows that you would never miss an opportunity to score off him and he is perfectly certain that you will make an attempt to steal the pearl. He is counting on this. The pearl is in the safe of the house he has taken in Reigate, and he has men watching night and day. Besides this, there are electric alarms all over the house and Klaat is certain that they will catch you red handed. He already has an arrangement with the local police by which they will send assistance immediately he telephones. Alonzo, for goodness sake, don't attempt to steal that pearl!"
Alonzo lit a cigarette.
"Little Anne," he said, "I am very much obliged to you for your information. You can consider any obligation that you felt you were under to me more than squared by this. But don't worry. Just before you came in, I was endeavouring to decide whether I should go after the Garrat ruby or the Tindore pearl. Now my mind is made up. I shall get the Tindore pearl, but not in the manner which my friend Klaat thinks."
The girl rose. "Well, I've warned you. Alonzo," she said. "I can't do any more. But beware of Klaat!"
"I shall," said Alonzo, grimly. "If you are not engaged the night after tomorrow, will you dine with me? I think I shall have something amusing to tell you. In the meantime, don't worry about Klaat. Thanks to you, forewarned is forearmed!"
AFTER the girl had gone Alonzo sat gazing into the fire before him. The ghost of an idea had already taken shape in his fertile brain, and it seemed to him that there was no time to lose. He rang the bell and Lon appeared.
"Lon," said Alonzo, "Get in touch with Blooey Stevens on the telephone. Find out just where Chelt Lodge is, how far it is from London. If you can, get an idea of the geography of the house, and also ask Blooey if he can tell you what sort of safe the Garrat ruby is kept in."
"So you're going for that, are you Mac?" said Lon Ferrers with a smile. "When is the job to be done?"
"Tonight, Lon," said Alonzo with a smile. "That is, if Blooey can let us have that information. Be careful how you speak on the telephone. Use the code."
Lon went off, and reappeared twenty minutes later with the information which MacTavish required. Blooey Stevens had been able to supply it, for Blooey, who owed MacTavish many a good turn, was one of these weird people who earn a precarious living by knowing all sorts of things about the geography of big country houses, and the types of safes which they possess, which information is as necessary to the swell cracksman as a guide book is to a tourist.
Two hours later, just as the moon sank behind a bank of dark clouds, MacTavish and Lon Ferrers set out in Alonzo's high-powered car on their way to Chelt Lodge. In the back of the car, in its case, reposed MacTavish's oxy-acetylene apparatus—his own invention, which, up to the moment no safe, no matter how strong, had been able to withstand.
Their journey ended, they parked the car in the corner of a field close to the lodge and, carrying the apparatus between them, they made their way in the direction of the house.
One hour later Alonzo's car purred its way back towards London, and MacTavish sat behind the driver's wheel with a self-satisfied smile on his face, for in his waistcoat pocket reposed the Garrat ruby, and in his brain lay the plan which was to turn the tables on Doctor Theodor Klaat.
Lon Ferrers, glancing at Alonzo, saw the smile.
"What's the joke, Mac?" he asked.
MacTavish's smile became broader still.
"You'll see tomorrow night, Lon," he said. "Incidentally, you ought to have rather an interesting time. By the way, you might remember to telephone Inky, the Count, and our stalwart friend Muggins, in the morning. They're all big fellows, and I might be able to offer them a little job tomorrow night; something after their own hearts. Tell them they'll have a good joke and a ten pound note apiece."
SEATED at the head of the table in the dining room of his Reigate house, Doctor Theodor Klaat smiled amiably at his four companions.
"You will see my friends, that I am right," he said in his slow and perfect English. "MacTavish will come tonight. The notices appeared in the newspapers two days ago. Yesterday he will have spent planning how he will steal my Tindore pearl, and tonight he will act—about two o'clock; that is his usual time. We shall surprise him at it, and then we simply telephone our friends the local police, as arranged. I shall get my pearl back, and MacTavish will get five years. At last I shall be revenged."
He blew a smoke ring from his cigar and watched it float across the room, smiling pleasantly.
Perhaps he would not have smiled quite so much had he known that at that moment Lon Ferrers, with a small telephonist's box slung around his shoulders, was working his way quietly across the lawn at the back of the house.
Arrived under the shadow of the wall, Lon worked his way cautiously round the house until he found the spot where the telephone wires lead in. Opening his box he produced pair of clippers and cut the wires. Then producing a field telegraph outfit, he calmly proceeded to connect up the house wires with his field telegraph set. This done, he stole off quietly to reappear in a few minutes accompanied by Blooey Stevens.
"Here you are Blooey," whispered Lon, with a grin. "Just hang on to the end of this. Directly you get a ring, answer and say that you are the Reigate police station. So long!"
Blooey grinned. "So long, Lon," he said. "It'll be wonderful just for once, to be a copper!"
As a neighboring clock struck two Alonzo, having prized open one of the folding windows which looked out on to the lawn in front of Klaat's house, stepped through, and drawing the curtains close behind him switched on his electric torch.
He crossed the room, opened the door on the opposite side, and stepped into the library. Straight in front of him, let into the wall on the far side was the safe. He walked over to it and, placing his torch on a convenient table, commenced operations.
The safe was not a difficult proposition, although it would have appeared to any observer who knew the quiet methods of MacTavish that he was making an unnecessary amount of noise. It almost seemed that he was deliberately courting discovery. Eventually he swung the heavy safe door open and, at the same moment, the electric lights flashed on and MacTavish swung round to find himself confronted by Theodor Klaat and his four friends.
Klaat smiled grimly. "So at last the great Alonzo MacTavish is laid low," he answered. "We have caught you red-handed my friend, right in the act of removing the Tindore pearl from my safe. This means five years for you!" He turned to one of the other men. "Telephone the police, Karl," he said, with a grin.
The man went to the telephone and gave a number. Alonzo, whose acting was perfect, smiled inwardly as he imagined Blooey Stevens outside on the other end of the field-telephone, carefully pretending to be the Reigate Police Station. Alonzo smiled still more as he thought of the tiny package which he had slipped into Klaat's safe just at the moment that the electric lights had gone on.
The man Karl finished speaking. "They're sending up a sergeant and two police officers, Klaat," he said. "They'll be here in two minutes."
Klaat turned to Alonzo.
"So, my clever friend, this is the end of you—the one crook that the police could not lay hands on! Well, I hope that you will enjoy the next few years. You will have ample opportunity to think of Theodor Klaat!"
There was a peremptory knock at the door and one of Klaat's men went to open it. He returned, followed by a sergeant and two police officers. Alonzo's eyes gave no sign as he looked at the "sergeant," who was none other than Inky, and the two "police officers" who were "The Count" and Muggins. They were certainly playing their parts wonderfully.
"Sergeant, I discovered this man in the act of removing my Tindore pearl from the safe," said Klaat.
"That's all right, sir," said the sergeant. "We've been after him for a long time, but he's always eluded us. We'll have to take the pearl along as evidence, but it will be returned to you in the morning. Put the bracelets on him," he ordered.
The handcuffs clicked about Alonzo's wrists, and a moment later he was led away between the two "policemen" and the sound of Klaat's laughter followed them.
SOME four hours later, Alonzo, Lon, Blooey, and "The Count," Inky and Muggins, still in their police uniforms sat round the fire in MacTavish's flat.
"Well, Mac you've done it on Klaat once again," said Lon. "By Jove, he'll be wild when he realises the trick you've played on him. But you'll have to make a quick getaway. He'll have the police after you in no time!"
"I don't think so, Lon." said MacTavish, with a smile. "You see I expect him to be arrested in the course of a few hours. Why? I'll tell you. You see, I made a point of stealing the Garrat ruby last night for one reason only. When I opened Klaat's safe, just before he switched on the lights, I threw the Garrat ruby into his safe. A few minutes ago a friend of mine telephoned Garrat and informed him that the thief was Doctor Theodor Klaat, and that the ruby would be found in his safe in the house at Reigate. I expect the police will be on their way there in a few minutes from now, and what explanation will Klaat be able to give? He won't be able to say a word for himself, and I think that once more he will find himself inside an English jail, all of which goes to prove," said Alonzo, with his usual charming smile, "that he who laughs last laughs longest!"
AS eleven o'clock struck the Astoria Theatre disgorged its patrons on to the pavement of Piccadilly, from whence, with the usual accompaniment of motor horns, commissionaires shouting for taxis, and boys selling their late editions, the theatre-goers made their respective ways home.
Foremost amongst them was Mr. Alonzo MacTavish who, immaculately dressed, his eyeglass screwed firmly into his eye, and his silk hat at its usual angle, certainly did not look the individual who, three weeks before, had pulled off one of the biggest coups of the year, from the police point of view, in removing a ten thousand pound necklace from the safe of its rightful owner in Paris.
Alonzo stood smiling quietly to himself and, watching with obvious pleasure a pretty woman who, accompanied by her escort, made her way daintily across the road to a nearby restaurant. So engrossed was he that the envelope was slipped into his hand, and the short man with the oriental eyes had disappeared into the crowd before MacTavish could speak.
Alonzo walked quickly into the comparative quietness of Jermyn Street and, by the light of a street lamp opened the envelope and read the note inside. He had some difficulty in reading the spidery writing which decorated the heavily perfumed notepaper.
Honoured and respected MacTavish,
Li Cho Tsae thy unworthy servant, calls to the celestial memory of MacTavish that once on a time this Chinaman aided the esteemed MacTavish, who, in unnecessary gratitude, promised assistance to his servant. If it be that great and not sufficiently honoured MacTavish would condescend to render assistance quickly to the unworthy Li Cho Tsae, then the forbears of the latter will descend from the celestial homes bearing thanks.
Alonzo summoned a passing taxi and ordered the man to drive to his flat in Earl's Court. On the journey he re-read the note from Li Cho Tsae, wondering what ill luck had befallen the little, smiling Chinaman who, years before, had rendered assistance of the greatest value to MacTavish. Li Cho Tsae was not the type of man to ask assistance in a hurry unless the matter was serious.
Arrived at his flat, he kept the taxi waiting and quickly changed into a lounge suit and soft hat, then slipped an automatic pistol into his hip pocket. He ordered the taxi-man to drive as quickly as possible to Limehouse Causeway. Here he paid off the cab and, walking quickly, made his way through the labyrinth of narrow streets and alleys that led in the direction of Pennyfields.
SOME twenty minutes later he knocked at the door of a small house standing at the beginning of a long and narrow lane that led down to the river. The door opened and Alonzo entered. He walked quickly down a passage which confronted him and, passing through a heavy door, walked into a long low room, luxuriously furnished in Chinese style. Seated on a pile of cushions in the middle of the room, cross legged and with his hands hidden in the voluminous folds of his kimono, sat the smiling Li Cho Tsae. About forty years of age, the face of the Chinaman radiated a certain charm and good humour.
"You are welcome, O MacTavish," he said bowing, "for a great sorrow is about to descend upon my head, and a great wrong is about to be done to me, unless I have your help, for it is written that only the great MacTavish can circumvent the wiles of the evil ones."
Alonzo laughed "I'll certainly do what I can to help you Li Cho," he said, pulling up a spider legged chair and lighting a cigarette. "First of all, what's the trouble about?"
Li Cho took a pinch of snuff, delicately.
"I will tell you, MacTavish," he said. "Know then that I love the girl So Harl Sen, which you call Rose Petal. I had arranged a marriage with her father, who is a tea merchant, and whose abode is within the throwing of a stone, but I have a rival and one who is known to you, one Larssen!" he exclaimed.
"Even so," continued Li Cho, "Larssen, who is a smuggler of opium and cocaine, and who trades with the father of Rose Petal who is called Hang Li. And Hang Li has agreed that this Larssen shall marry Rose Petal because of a certain thing which Larssen has promised to do, and which he has nearly done. And Rose Petal is very sick for she loves me and does not wish to marry a man not of her own race. Therefore, unless I have your help, I must kill this Larssen, which is a bad thing for they will hang me, and Rose Petal will be desolate." Li Cho took another pinch of snuff.
"Know then MacTavish," he went on, "that the uncle of Hang Li was called Wo Hang, and that when he died he was buried in a cedar wood coffin and the coffin was studded inside with jewels of great value. Now this Larssen came to Hang Li and plotted with him saying that if he would give Rose Petal in marriage to Larssen, Larssen would steal the coffin of Wo Hang from our graveyard in Thibet and would bring it to Hang Li so that Hang Li might take the jewels from it and be rich. Tonight the ship of this Larssen is in the river, and I know that he has the coffin, and that tomorrow he takes the coffin to Hang Li, who will burn the body of his uncle and take the jewels, and give Rose Petal to Larssen, which is a double sin. What then, O MacTavish, shall thy servant do?"
Alonzo thought for a moment.
"Where is Larssen now?" he asked.
"He drinks at the Green Posts," said the Chinaman.
Alonzo sat smoking silently for some minutes; then he laughed.
"Li Cho," he said "I have a plan whereby all things will be well. Do not worry about Rose Petal. Larssen is an old enemy of mine and it will please me to spoil his game. At what time tomorrow is the ceremony to take place?"
"Larssen brings the coffin to Hang Li at midnight tomorrow," said Li Cho, "and he marries Rose Petal there, at that moment, in our Chinese fashion."
"Very well," said Alonzo. "Li Cho, you will be waiting at the door of Hang Li's house tomorrow night at five minutes past twelve, and I shall give Rose Petal into your hands. Where is she now?"
"She is locked up in the house of Hang Li," said Li Cho.
Alonzo rose. "Good-night, Li Cho," he said. "Till tomorrow, when all shall be well!" He turned to go.
"May the sun shine upon you for ever," said Li Cho gravely, taking one more pinch of snuff.
Alonzo walked slowly in the direction of the Green Posts, turning his plan over in his mind. There was no doubt that Larssen was cunning and that he possessed courage and there was no doubt either that, having taken a chance in stealing the coffin and bringing it to England, he would be prepared to take some more chances in order to complete the business, hand the coffin over to the mercenary Hang Li and go off with the unfortunate Rose Petal, whom he would probably desert after a few weeks.
Arrived at the Green Posts, Alonzo pushed open the folding doors and entered. Standing up against the bar at the end of the saloon was Larssen.
The Swede, a splendid specimen of manhood, standing well over six feet in height, looked over his shoulder as MacTavish entered and recognised him. Alonzo saw the blue eyes narrow and the cynical smile appear upon the thick lips of the Swede, a smile which boded no good to any enemy.
MacTavish walked straight up to the Swede.
"Hallo, Larssen, so you're back again." he said smilingly.
Larssen grinned. "I'm back MacTavish," he said.
"Going to be married, I hear—to a China girl, Larssen," said Alonzo, smiling cynically. "I hope it comes off all right!"
Larssen's eyes narrowed "What you mean 'comes off all right?'" he said.
Alonzo's smile deepened "There's an old proverb which says that there's many a slip between the cup and the lip, Larssen," he said. "You'll get the girl if old Hang Li gets the coffin, and not otherwise!"
Larssen's face was grim.
"Who'll stop Hang Li getting the coffin?" he asked. "Will you, MacTavish?" He put his heavy face close to Alonzo's. "You spoiled my game once, MacTavish." he snarled. "Don't try to do it again, see! You keep outa my way!"
"Don't get excited, Larssen," answered Alonzo. "I only wanted a little bet with you, that's all and my bet is this: that you won't deliver that coffin to Hang Li and you won't get the girl! By tomorrow night we shall know who is right, you or me. So long!"
Alonzo turned on his heel and left the Green Posts. When he had gone, Larssen finished his drink quickly, pushed his way out of the crowded bar and made tracks for the river. Here he entered a dingy and rowed himself out to his boat—a tramp steamer, which lay out in the river. Larssen, scowling, clambered aboard, and summoned his mate.
"Listen hard." he said. "That MacTavish is up to some game. I think he's after the coffin. Keep a watch on it all the time. He's got the better of me once, and if he tries it again, this time he gets a bullet!"
THE following evening at six o'clock. Alonzo might have been seen seated in a little café in Soho, deep in consultation with his friend and chief assistant, Lon Ferrers. After some half an hour's talk, Alonzo got up.
"I'll be off now, Lon," he said. "Remember, Larssen's boat is moored opposite Streeve's Wharf. I've arranged with the two men you are to take with you. You can meet them at the Green Posts at nine o'clock. It doesn't matter if Larssen or any of his men see you—I expect them to, for they are sure to be keeping a close watch. There's a dinghy moored to the wharf, which you can use. With luck I shall be seeing you about midnight."
Lon grinned. "Au revoir, Mac," he said. "See you later, and I hope it keeps fine for you!"
MacTavish made his way back to his flat and took out a very old suit of clothes: then, after changing, he took a cab across Waterloo Bridge, and eastwards along the south bank of the river until he found himself practically opposite Streeve's Wharf. Here he paid off the cab, and finding a convenient tavern, prepared to while away an hour or two.
At nine o'clock Lon Ferrers, accompanied by two burly friends, left the Green Posts and made his way down to Streeve's Wharf. Here, as Alonzo had said, Lon Ferrers found the dinghy moored. The three quietly got into the boat and, casting off, commenced to pull in the direction of Larssen's boat. A slight mist had fallen, and it was possibly for this reason that Lon and his friends took little care about the noise they made in approaching the tramp. Eventually, and with a heavy bump against the steamer's side, they reached their destination and, headed by Lon, commenced to clamber up the boat's side, unconscious of the fact that Larssen and his mate had been watching them for the last four or five minutes.
As Lon Ferrers stepped over the rail, he found himself confronted by the giant Swede.
"So Ferrers, it is you!" said Larssen seizing him in an iron grip. "So MacTavish was afraid to come himself, was he, and he sends three fools to steal my coffin. He must be mad. Tie them up, boys!"
Four or five men who constituted Larssen's crew had appeared from the shadow of the deck house and approached Lon and his companions, who, it appeared, suddenly made up their minds to put up a struggle. Odds told, but it was only after ten minutes hard scrapping that Larssen and his men succeeded in tying up the three unfortunates, most of whom had black eyes and other minor injuries.
As they were being led below, Hans, the mate, whispered in Larssen's ear.
The Swede roared with laughter.
"A good idea," he laughed. "Ferrers, you and your fool companions shall carry my coffin from the wharf up to Hang Li's house, so that you will be of some use after all. And tomorrow you can tell your master MacTavish, that we found a job for you!"
AT eleven-thirty Larssen, his mate, and three of the crew, accompanied by Lon Ferrers and his two assistants, landed at Streeve's Wharf. The six foot coffin which was in the boat was landed carefully, hoisted on the unwilling shoulders of Lon and the other two men, and the party set off.
The house of Hang Li was within a few minutes' walk of the wharf, and Lon and his companions were not sorry when they reached it. They entered the house and carried the coffin to a brilliantly lit room on the first floor, where some trestles were already waiting to receive it. The coffin was placed across the trestles and, whilst Lon and the other two wiped their perspiring brows, Larssen informed Hang Li, a decrepit and villainous old Chinaman, the story of Alonzo's attempted raid on the coffin.
Suddenly the door opened, and Hang Li's daughter was led in. She was a beautiful girl of about twenty-one years of age, and Lon's heart went out to her as she stood, obviously frightened, gazing at the coarse features of Larssen, who was feasting his eyes on her beauty.
"Well, Hang Li," he said cheerfully, "Let's get on with this marriage. I sail tonight, and there is no time to lose."
Hang Li smiled. "We shall be velly quick," he said softly. "But first we look in the coffin and see that the jewels are there. No jewels—no marriage, the coffin by itself is of no use to me."
Larssen laughed. "Well open it," he said. "It hasn't been touched, and whatever was in it is there now. Here, I'll do it."
He took from the hand of one of Hang Li's servants a crowbar, inserted it under the lid of the coffin, and was about to endeavour to prize it open, when, without warning, the coffin lid suddenly shot up and the amazed Larssen found himself looking into the barrels of two black automatics held by Mr. Alonzo MacTavish, who was lying in the coffin.
"Good evening, everybody," said that worthy. "Here, Lon, just take one of these pistols whilst I get out, will you? Thanks!" He sprang out of the coffin and faced Larssen and Hang Li.
"Sorry to interrupt your little marriage ceremony, Hang Li," he said. "But I had a little bet with Mr. Larssen about it."
He turned to the girl. "May I introduce myself, Miss Rose Petal?" he said. "I'm your best man, and your husband-to-be, Li Cho, is waiting downstairs. My car is waiting round the corner and you can be properly married according to English law in the morning. Just see the lady downstairs, will you Lon?"
After the smiling girl had left, Alonzo turned to Larssen, who stood scowling.
"Hard luck, Larssen, and hard luck on you too, you old grave robber," said Alonzo to Hang Li. "Well, you've got your coffin, anyway, although I'm afraid it's not exactly as it was. You see I thought I ought to prize off one or two of the jewels as a memento, and I've taken the two largest I can find. By the way, Larssen, it was awfully good of you to have the whole of your crew on deck waiting for Lon and the other two. You see, I just slipped over the other side of your boat whilst you were all engaged in fighting each other, went below, opened the coffin, and after removing the unfortunate Wo Hang, got in myself. And, by the way, Larssen, whilst I was in your boat I left a fairly large packet of opium there and a friend of mine is ringing up the river police in half an hour to tell them that you are opium smuggling, so unless you get away fairly quickly, you'll see what the inside of an English jail looks like!"
And with this parting shot, Mr. Alonzo MacTavish, adjusting his hat at its usual angle, and keeping Larssen carefully covered with his pistol, backed out of the room. A moment later they heard the sound of a car driving off.
Hang Li looked out of the window for a moment, then he turned to Larssen.
"I would like velly much to be in business with that man," he said. "He got brains!"
"IT'S a very nice flat you've got here, Mr. MacTavish," said Chief Detective Inspector McCarthy, settling himself comfortably in his armchair and lighting one of Alonzo's Coronas. "It must take a lot of money to keep a place like this going."
"It does," replied Alonzo, smilingly. "But you didn't come here to tell me that, did you, Chief?"
McCarthy grinned. "Candidly, I didn't," he replied. "And I'll tell you, very briefly, why I am here." He leaned forward and regarded MacTavish quizzically.
"As you know, Mr. MacTavish," McCarthy went on, "there have been, during the past eighteen months, no less than six mysterious robberies. In each case the article stolen was of great intrinsic value and, in several cases, of great historic value as well, as, for instance, in the case of the Rodney Diadem. Well, the strange thing about these six particular thefts is this: in each case we have been unable to trace the thief, and also, in each case, after a fairly large reward has been offered, you have come forward and, acting on information supplied by you, we have recovered the stolen property!"
"Well?" queried Alonzo, still smiling.
McCarthy grinned. "Look here, Mr. MacTavish," he said, "let's not beat about the bush. I've got my own opinion, and I think that you know what it is. We've never been able to get our hands on you. You've always been too clever for us, and you've been too clever, too, to dispose of the stuff that you've stolen through the usual cheap channels. Oh, no, you just wait until the reward is big enough! My own candid opinion is that your brain and your organisation was behind every one of those thefts?"
"Really, now, Chief," said Alonzo, laughing. "What do I say now?"
"Knowing you, I know that you say nothing," said McCarthy. "One of these fine days, Mac, you're going to make a slip, and then I'm going to be on you like a ton of bricks. I keep a little private notebook in my office at the Yard, and that book is full of unexplained mysteries, behind which, in my mind, lurks the rather clever personality of Alonzo MacTavish. You've given the police of Europe a jolly good run, and I think it's time that they had a bit of their own back. However, I'll get down to brass tacks, and tell you the real reason for my presence here today. Briefly the situation is this. On the day after tomorrow, Cartier's head assistant Crallard, is coming over from Dieppe. He is bringing with him a carved Chinese box, and in that box is the world famous scarab belonging to the Maharajah of Tipoore, which he is presenting to the Egyptian Society. Now it occurred to me that that diamond scarab is just the sort of thing that would interest the gentleman who has been responsible for the other six thefts, just the sort of thing that he'd like to get his hands on, and I suppose a few weeks after its disappearance we should have Mr. Alonzo MacTavish coming forward and claiming the reward and telling us where it could be found."
The Chief Inspector looked straight at Alonzo and grinned. "Well, Mac," he went on, "my advice to you is this. Keep away from that diamond scarab. Directly Crallard gets his foot on the boat at Dieppe, that scarab comes under my charge. Two of my smartest men will never leave Crallard for one moment until that jewel is in the Egyptian Society's safe-keeping. Forewarned is forearmed; just keep away from that scarab, Mac."
The C.I.D. man rose and picked up his hat.
"Chief," said Alonzo, rising, his usual charming smile illuminating his countenance, "I think that this is awfully nice of you. But why you should think the scarab interests me, I don't know. I suppose though, that if it disappeared, there would be a fairly large reward offered, wouldn't there? However, Chief, thank you very much for calling, I've been delighted to see you. Come in any time you're passing, won't you?"
After McCarthy had gone, Alonzo sat deep in thought for half an hour. Then he rose and pressed the bell. In a few moments Lon Ferrers who, when otherwise disengaged, posed as Alonzo's man, entered.
"Listen, Lon," said MacTavish. "The day after tomorrow, Crallard, Cartier's, the French jewellers' chief assistant, is coming over here via Dieppe, bringing with him the diamond scarab—you know, the Tipoore jewel. Get in touch at once with our man in Paris, by telephone, and tell him to send us immediately a perfect drawing of the box in which the scarab is kept—it's a Chinese casket I'm told. If he gets on with it at once we should have the drawing by midday tomorrow. Directly it arrives ring up Blooey Stevens and tell him I want him to do a job for me. I shall leave for Dieppe probably tomorrow night, and you might look out for a suitable set of false whiskers for me. I'm coming back on the same boat as this Crallard fellow."
"I thought you'd be after the diamond scarab, Mac," said Lon Ferrers. "Be careful, though. They'll take care of it."
"I know," laughed Alonzo. "McCarthy was here to warn me to keep off it. Apparently they know who's been responsible for the last six jobs. I've got to be careful Lon, but with a little luck, well pull it off."
ON Thursday afternoon Crallard, bearing the casket containing the Diamond Scarab in a waterproof case beneath his arm, accompanied by two burley C.I.D. men, made his way across the gangway of the Mail Packet Dieppe, bound for Newhaven. Evidently McCarthy had told the detectives that they were to take no chances for, once aboard the boat, they made their way to the private deck cabin which had been reserved.
Alonzo, wearing a small fair moustache, and looking like a tourist in a rather loud suit of plus fours, quietly noticed the progress of the little party and, having seen them ensconced in their cabin, procured a deck chair and prepared to while away an hour or so with the aid of a newspaper.
He remained engrossed in the news for about an hour and a half then, under cover of the newspaper, he produced from his breast pocket a small tube about the size of a tube of toothpaste. To this he fitted a small length of thin rubber tubing to which was attached an air bulb. Then he rose from his chair and walked casually in the direction of the cabin in which the party guarding the Diamond Scarab were travelling.
The wind had become fresh, and a slightly heavy sea was running. Alonzo was glad to note that the deck was fairly deserted. Standing with his back against the door of the cabin, he cautiously inserted the nozzle of the rubber tube through the keyhole, then puffing at his cigar, and holding the newspaper before him in his left hand, he commenced to press the air bulb until the tube in his right hand was empty. After which, with a glance round which showed him that he had been unobserved, he quietly made his way back to his chair and sat down.
He remained interested in his paper for another half-hour, then he strolled below, and securing his suit case, opened it, and took from within a package. He made his way quickly back to the deck, his package under his arm. A quick glance up and down the deck told him that the moment had arrived and, inserting a master key in the Crallard cabin door, he pushed it open, slipped quietly inside and closed and locked the door after him.
Once inside, Alonzo acted quickly.
First of all he donned a small gas mask which he took from his breast pocket. The inside of the cabin was hazy, and there was a distinct smell of chloroform about the place. Crallard and the two detectives lay, in different attitudes, just where the chloroform gas, which Alonzo had pumped through the keyhole, had caught them.
He unwrapped his package and placed the contents on the table. It was a Chinese casket, exactly the same as the one in which the Diamond Scarab lay.
Alonzo worked quickly, and five minutes afterwards his task was completed. This done, he opened the air shutter in the cabin wall and, flapping vigorously with his newspaper, succeeded in dispelling most of the heavy fumes which hung about the place. This job concluded to his satisfaction, he slipped quietly from the cabin, made his way back to his deck chair, after dropping a small parcel into the sea, and went to sleep.
THE Dieppe was already in sight of the Newhaven cliffs when Mr. Crallard, feeling very heavy about the eyes, awakened. He sat up, looking around the cabin and rubbing his eyes. Then he saw the two recumbent figures of the C.I.D. men as they lay across the table, breathing heavily.
"Mon Dieu!" almost screamed Mr. Crallard, "Ze diamond... it 'as been stole!" He shook the two sleeping figures frenziedly, until they, too, were awake.
"Someone 'as been in the cabin." exclaimed Crallard. "My friends, we 'ave been drugged. Ze diamond...!"
"What about the diamond?" asked one of the detectives. "Have you looked in the casket?"
Crallard undid the waterproof case which covered the casket, unlocked and opened the casket and looked within. Then an exclamation of amazement broke from his lips.
"Ze diamond is 'ere!" he exclaimed, excitedly. "It is not stole...Thank Heaven...it is all right!"
One of the detectives looked over Crallard's shoulder. There was no doubt about it. The Diamond Scarab lay in the middle of the velvet pad, untouched.
"It's funny," said the other C.I.D. man, "all of us going off like that. Still, it might have been the sea air. It does funny things to you sometimes, especially if you're not used to it."
Crallard looked dubious. "I do not like eet," he said. "This MacTavish—this master robber of yours...I 'ave been warned against 'im."
"Well you haven't much to worry about Mr. Crallard," said the detective. "There's the diamond, right in front of your nose! What have you got to worry about? Don't let's find any trouble until it happens."
Half an hour afterwards Crallard felt more secure, for his little party were met on the Newhaven Pier by four more stalwarts from the Yard. It was obvious that Chief Inspector McCarthy was taking no chances. At the same time, had the Frenchman seen the quiet smile which illuminated the countenance of Mr. Alonzo MacTavish as he watched the party of seven making for the London train, he would, possibly, not have felt quite so much at peace with the world.
AT twelve o'clock that night, Chief Inspector McCarthy's telephone bell rang. He went to the instrument, and was surprised to hear the cheerful voice of Mr. Alonzo MacTavish.
"Is that you, Chief?" said Alonzo. "I'm terribly sorry to hear about the Diamond Scarab!"
"What the devil do you mean, MacTavish?" said the police officer.
"What do I mean?" repeated Alonso in surprise. "Well, I hear that the scarab has been stolen, that's all! Incidentally, I was going to suggest that if the reward is big enough I might give you a hand in recovering the jewel!"
"Now look here, MacTavish," said the astounded police officer, "I've had two of my best men watching that casket ever since it arrived in London, and they're watching it now. The jewel is there all right!"
"Is it?" said Alonzo cheerfully. "Well, I'm prepared to bet you a five pound note that it isn't. I've information that the jewel has been stolen. Incidentally I've got an excellent idea where the Diamond Scarab is at the present moment. Look here, if you don't believe me, get into a taxi-cab and meet me round at the Egyptian Society headquarters, where the jewel was taken on arrival. You'll find that it's gone."
"Very well," spluttered McCarthy, "but I tell you, MacTavish, that its impossible that the scarab has been stolen. Still, I'll meet you round there." He rang off.
HALF an hour later, Alonzo, McCarthy, two C.I.D. men, and the president of the Egyptian Society, who had been summoned by telephone, stood round the table on which the casket stood. McCarthy took the key and, rather red in the face, opened the casket. The others crowded round, amazement written on their faces, except in the case of Alonzo, who grinned cheerfully. The casket was empty! The Diamond Scarab was gone!
McCarthy stifled an exclamation.
"Well, that beats me," he said "Who's got it, MacTavish?"
Alonzo grinned. "I can't say for certain," he answered. "But I think I know. The point is that if you want that scarab back you'll have to be pretty quick about offering a reward otherwise it will probably be out of the country by tomorrow morning."
McCarthy looked at the president.
"We can offer a reward of five thousand pounds," said the latter. "It is absolutely necessary that we recover the scarab. Do you think that will be sufficient, Chief Inspector?"
McCarthy, red in the face, scowled at Alonzo.
"I think it's too much," he muttered. "Still, I suppose it's got to be paid. Where's that scarab, MacTavish?"
Alonso smiled. "I don't think we ought to be in a hurry," he said. "Lets leave it like this. I'm fairly certain that I can produce that stone when the reward is paid over. So if you'll hand me the five thousand tomorrow morning, I give you my word that I'll produce the stone within ten minutes of receiving the money. Will that do?"
"Very well," said McCarthy. "In the meantime, I'm going to keep this casket. There may be some finger prints on it. It'll go hard with the thief if I get my fingers on him." He glowered at Alonzo.
Alonzo smiled cheerfully. "All right," he said. "Let's meet here tomorrow morning. Good night, gentlemen."
AT eleven o'clock on the following morning the party met in the private office of the president of the Egyptian Society. McCarthy had found no trace of fingerprints on the casket, and was more nonplussed than ever.
Rather dubiously, the president produced a packet of bank notes and laid them on the table.
"There's just one point, Mr. MacTavish," he said. "How do I know when I hand you this money that you will actually be able to produce the scarab. Once you leave this room, we have absolutely no guarantee."
"Quite," said Alonzo cheerfully, "but you see I do not intend to leave this room." He reached out, took the packet of banknotes, counted them, and placed them in his breast pocket. Then he sat down and taking out his cigarette case, selected and lit a cigarette.
"Well," said McCarthy impatiently. "Who's got that scarab, MacTavish?"
Alonzo looked up with a smile. "You have!" he said quietly.
"What the devil do you mean?" spluttered the angry detective.
"Look in the casket," said Alonzo, still grinning.
McCarthy took the key, opened the casket, and gasped. There, on its black velvet setting, lay the Diamond Scarab, its brilliant facets twinkling in the morning sunlight.
Alonzo put on his hat. "Well, gentlemen." he said, "thanks for the reward. Possibly I'll see you later, Chief. Good morning, all!"
He sauntered out.
What Mr. McCarthy said is not printable.
IT was late that evening when Chief Inspector McCarthy rang the bell of Alonzo's flat. Lon Ferrers, looking thoroughly staid, and without the shadow of a smile on his grave countenance, led McCarthy to Alonzo's sitting room.
McCarthy accepted the cigar which MacTavish offered. Then, he sat back in his armchair and looked straight at Alonzo, who sat smiling at him.
"Well," said McCarthy, "how was it done?"
Alonzo lit a cigarette. "They tell me that it was done like this," he said. "The people who planned this job had someone on the boat who shot a little sleeping gas through the keyhole of the cabin door where the scarab was being carefully guarded. Crallard and your two men went off to sleep. Then, someone forced the door, entered, and"—Alonzo paused and grinned—"simply substituted a casket for the one containing the jewel, carefully placing the jewel in the new casket. When Crallard and the two C.I.D. men awoke, they immediately looked into the casket to see if the jewel was safe, and finding that it was, they did not worry further.
"Had they examined the casket carefully, they would have discovered that it had a false bottom worked by a time watch mechanism, and eight hours afterwards, the bottom simply turned over. Of course the casket appeared empty. Twelve hours after that the mechanism worked again, and the scarab reappeared, but in the meantime the jewel had been missed and the reward, so generously paid to me, had been offered. I was paid for telling you where the scarab was, and I did so. I told you it was in the casket—and it was! Have another cigar, Chief?"
McCarthy rose to his feet. His face was a study. Then his sense of humour got the better of him, and he roared with laughter.
"One of these fine days Mac," he said, "you'll go a little bit too far, and then I'll get you—as sure as Fate!"
Alonzo smiled. "Possibly, Chief," he said. "But you'll have to get up a lot earlier in the morning. Going? Good night. I'm off to Monte Carlo tomorrow to spend a little of that five thousand. When I come back, I'll be glad to see you again. Cheerio, Chief!"
ALONZO, seated in the little Italian café which stood in the alley running from Covent Garden into Long Acre, tapped upon the marble topped table impatiently, and wondered what had delayed the coming of Blooey.
His plans, worked out to the last detail brooked no delay. Yet, at the same time, he knew that Blooey was not one to be unnecessarily late. What was holding him up? A glance at his watch told him that already Blooey was half an hour late.
For once Alonzo was uncertain of himself. The brain behind a dozen affairs which had baffled the police of two continents, he left nothing to chance. Every move in the game was worked out to the uttermost. Yet, on this occasion, for the first time in his adventurous career, MacTavish felt a mysterious atmosphere of uncertainty—an atmosphere which made him feel almost inclined, for once, to give up the business of the Stuart chest.
At the same time he could not see what could go wrong. He had secured and studied the complete plan of Ramsden House, where the Stuart chest lay. Every burglar alarm and electric bell in the house had been marked on his chart. The actual burglary would be the easiest he had ever organised; for some strange reason, known only to old Colonel Ramsden, the Stuart chest was not even kept in a safe, but stood on a marble pedestal in the library, the doors of which were double locked at night.
Again an element of doubt crept into Alonzo's mind. Why was the old Anglo-Indian Colonel so certain that the Stuart chest would never be stolen. Why had he, time and time again, refused to insure a property which, at the lowest valuation, was worth twenty thousand pounds?
Alonzo drew his pocket book from his pocket, and opening it, examined once more the newspaper cutting.
THE STUART CHEST
Colonel Ramsden, who has just arrived from India, and has taken up his quarters at Ramsden House in Essex, today informed our representative that he had no intention of insuring the Stuart chest.
The Stuart chest is a small wooden chest twenty-four inches long, and eight inches high, which is reputed to have been the property of the Stuarts. The inside of the box is encrusted with precious stones of great value.
Yet Colonel Ramsden refuses to insure the chest, and even omits to keep it in a safe. He says that the chest will never be stolen, and that the legend surrounding it which says that to be in possession of the chest for more than six hours brings ill luck, except to the rightful owner, is sufficient safeguard.
Alonzo folded up the cutting and returned it to his pocket. He was no believer in myths, and he had left nothing to chance in making his plans for stealing the Stuart chest. Then he wondered had old Colonel Ramsden taken some unknown precaution for the protection of the box, which he had not divulged to the Press?
The door of the café opened, and Blooey entered. He had been hurrying for his face was red, and his usual cheerful smile was conspicuous by its absence. He sat down in the seat opposite MacTavish and lit the cigarette which was offered him.
"Well Blooey," said Alonzo. "Is everything O.K.?"
"Yes and no, Mac," replied Blooey. "Everything's all right as far as we're concerned. Lon will have the car waiting at twelve o'clock, just by the Marble Arch. You ought to arrive at Ramsden House by about one o'clock. Everything, should be easy then. The French windows looking out on to the lawn at the back of the house can be opened with a penknife, and the electric alarm connected with all the window and door fastenings will be cut at twelve thirty tonight by Inky. Everything's just as you arranged, but there's one thing wrong...."
"What, Blooey?" asked Alonzo quickly.
Blooey leaned across the table. "Skarvass is in London, Mac," he said. "He was seen last night in Wu Li's, in Limehouse. He's been hanging about for the last three or four days, and you know, Mac, that he's sworn to get you. Dead or alive! He's never forgiven you for that business you caught him over, in Paris."
Alonzo laughed. "I don't see that he matters very much, Blooey," he said. "I expect that, like most others of his sort, his bark is worse than his bite."
"So it may be," said Blooey, "but here's the point. Lon telephoned me not half an hour ago from a public call office in Essex, near the Ramsden House, that he had seen Skarvass hanging about down there. There's only one reason for his presence there, Mac. He's after the Stuart chest. He's going to try and do you out of it!"
Alonzo smiled. "Well, there's no harm in his trying. Blooey," he said. "Although just how he intends to do it, I don't know."
"Look here, Mac," said Blooey earnestly. "Why don't you take either Lon or me along with you tonight? It's all very well you doing this job on your own, but forewarned is forearmed. Supposing Skarvass is down there waiting for you?"
"Well, supposing he is," replied MacTavish. "Don't worry, Blooey. I've been a match for Skarvass before, and I expect that I'll be able to deal with him should he turn up. Now, have some coffee and don't be nervous. Skarvass or no Skarvass, I shall get the Stuart chest tonight."
IT was nearly one o'clock in the morning when Alonzo slowed down the car on the narrow cart track which led to the rear of Ramsden House. He switched off the lights and, leaving the car standing by a gate which when opened would enable him to turn the automobile round, he walked down the track for another fifty yards. When he reached the selected spot he scaled the wall easily by means of the small steel points which he had inserted earlier that night, and dropped into the grounds.
There was not a sound to be heard except the soft swish of the wind as it blew through the trees which surrounded the well-kept lawns at the back of the house.
Keeping in the shadow of these trees, Alonzo made his way carefully round to the side of the house. Moving quickly, his eyes were alert constantly looking for some moving shadow which might betoken the presence of Skarvass.
That Skarvass was somewhere in the vicinity, Alonzo was certain. There was no doubt that somehow, possibly through some rumour which had circulated round the London underworld, he had known that Alonzo was attempting the theft of the Stuart chest and had made up his mind that he would take a hand in the game, too.
And Skarvass would stop at nothing. Alonzo, during his adventurous career as a swell cracksman had made many enemies, spoiled many opponents' games, but he had made no more bitter enemy than Enrico Skarvass, to whom no less than three undiscovered murders were attributed.
Alonso wondered what his enemy's game would be. Was it simply to beat him in obtaining the Stuart chest or was it something more ominous? Alonzo realised with a grin that the police would not be amazingly disturbed if his body should be found in a ditch, for MacTavish had caused more trouble to Scotland Yard than a dozen other criminals put together, and he had never been caught. Although the police were certain that his master brain was behind practically every big coup, yet there had never been evidence which would definitely connect him with the thefts.
Having reached the spot where the trees were closest to the house, and keeping well in the shadow, Alonzo crept slowly to the French windows which looked out on to the lawn at the back of the house. As Blooey had said, they required only a penknife to open them, and in two minutes Alonso stood silently within the room. Opposite him, he knew, was a passage, and the library door was the second door on the right.
Carefully pulling the curtains to, behind him, he crossed the room and, opening the door leading into the passage, switched on his electric torch and listened intently.
There was not a sound. After a second's pause, he made his way noiselessly down the passage and tried the handle of the library door. It turned easily. The library door was unlocked!
Alonzo stood wondering. Surely the door had not been deliberately left unclosed by the inmates of the house. Had Skarvass been there first?
He opened the door and stepped into the library. The room was in the centre of the house and possessed no windows. Alonzo, switching on the light, glanced instinctively at the spot, where according to his information, the Stuart chest should stand on its' pedestal—and, sure enough, there it stood.
So Skarvass had not been first? Alonzo now imagined that the library door was left unlocked owing to the carelessness of some servant. He crossed the room quickly, and took the Stuart chest from its stand. Then, quickly and quietly he made his way out of the house by the same way as he had entered, the chest under his arm.
As he walked through the trees, Alonzo came to the conclusion that the Skarvass business had been a scare, and nothing more. Lon Ferrers, his assistant who had telephoned Blooey that Skarvass had been in the neighbourhood, had probably been mistaken.
He scaled the wall, dropped down on the other side and, placing the chest in the back of his two-seater car, opened the gate which led into a field and turned the car round. Then, driving slowly, for the track was narrow, he moved away from the house.
Suddenly there was a heavy bump and the car stopped. Alonzo, switching on the headlights for one quick moment, saw what had happened. Across the narrow path lay a tree stump. He got out of the car quickly, and his hand was already moving in the direction of his hip pocket, when a shadow moved and he heard a voice—Skarvass' voice!
"Don't move, MacTaveesh," said the soft voice of the Italian. "I gotta you covered, I 'ave. You move a 'alf a inch an' I feel you full of lead. I fink I 'ave a leetle talk wit' you, MacTaveesh!"
Alonzo's brain worked quickly. So Lon Ferrers had been right after all! Alonzo, standing quite still, smiled at Skarvass.
"Glad to meet you again, Skarvass," he said quietly. "What's the game?"
Skarvass grinned evilly. "Ze game?" he repeated. "I tell you, MacTaveesh. I wan' the chest that you 'ave stole. I let you steal it—I watch while you creep roun' the trees. Now I 'ave it. Zat is part of my revenge on you, my friend! An' then, the other part of my revenge—I keel you—see! Getta back into the car quick!"
Alonzo obeyed. Presently another man joined Skarvass, appearing from further down the track, and on Skarvass' instructions, Alonzo drove the car slowly in the direction of the main road, Skarvass' automatic pistol sticking into his back.
That something had to be done quickly was obvious. MacTavish did not doubt for one moment that Skarvass meant what he said. He had been out for two things: the Stuart chest and Alonzo MacTavish. He would allow MacTavish to drive him to his destination, and then a bullet would do the rest. Alonzo realised that the Italian had very effectively killed two birds with one stone.
Alonzo looked around him. He could see no way out of his dilemma.
"'Ave a good look; my friend," said Skarvass, with a laugh. "For soon you will see nothing any more. In an hour you will be as dead as a doornail, an' you will also know that I, Skarvass, shall be rich, made rich by your own trouble and planning. I shall often think of you my friend...very often!"
Alonzo said nothing. A few yards away the track ran directly into the main road and there, a few inches from the road, lying by the side of the track, Alonzo saw something which gave him a gleam of hope. A large stone lay by the side of the track.
Suddenly, and without warning, Alonzo accelerated and deliberately drove over the stone. The car lurched sideways and, as for the moment, Skarvass was thrown off his balance, Alonzo leapt out of the car, across the hedge which bounded the side of the track and, twisting from side to side, dashed madly across the field on the other side of the hedge.
Skarvass, standing up in the car fired savagely, but the night was so dark that in a minute Alonzo had disappeared into the darkness. Then, with a curse, the Italian drove rapidly away.
NEXT morning, Alonzo, having finished breakfast, lit a cigarette and gazed ruefully at Lon Ferrers, who sat opposite reading the newspaper.
"Well, Lon," said MacTavish, "Skarvass scored off me all right last night. He's got away with the Stuart chest, and he very nearly finished me. I'm annoyed because it's the first time that I've ever failed in any job I've planned. I had a feeling last night that something might easily go wrong, and I should have been guided by it. As it is, I simply played into Skarvass' hands. All my planning, in order to get the chest, was simply for his benefit, and with Skarvass at large I have an enemy who will spare no pains to get me yet."
Lon Ferrers looked up with a grin.
"So you think your luck's out, Mac, do you?" he said. "I'll tell you what I think. I think that you're the luckiest man in the world. We wondered why it was that old Colonel Ramsden always refused to insure that Stuart chest, and why it was that he didn't keep it in a safe deposit or, at least, a safe, instead of just letting it stand about in that library of his. You remember also that legend he told the Press people about, the one which said something would happen to anyone who stole the Stuart chest. Well read that!"
He threw the newspaper across the table to the astonished Alonzo, who read:
ATTEMPT ON THE STUART CHEST
An attempt was made last night to steal the famous Stuart chest, the property of Colonel Ramsden. An Italian named Skarvass, known to the police as an expert burglar, evidently succeeded in getting the chest away from Ramsden House in a car. He must have stopped the car in order to examine the inside of the chest, which is studded with valuable jewels, for his body was found lying across the bottom of the car, whilst beside him, curled up, lay a moccasin snake, the property of Colonel Ramsden. Colonel Ramsden has for the last two years kept the snake inside the chest as a guard against robbery and, as a bite of a moccasin means death within fifteen minutes, we imagine that no further attempt will be made on the Stuart chest.
Alonzo whistled. "Poor old Skarvass," he said. "Instead of murdering me, he was the direct cause of my life being saved. If he hadn't appeared, I should have opened the box myself. You are quite right, Lon, the luck of Alonzo MacTavish is still going strong."
CHIEF INSPECTOR MCCARTHY, busy at his desk in his private office in Scotland Yard, looked up as his subordinate entered.
"What is it, Glass?" he asked. "You look excited."
"So I am, Chief," replied Glass. "Look here, you remember Striker, the man who used to do all sorts of odd jobs for MacTavish? Well, he's downstairs—says that he has something of importance to tell you."
McCarthy chewed the end of his cigar.
"So he's going to give Alonzo MacTavish away, is he," he ruminated. "I've heard that there's been some sort of bad blood between them lately. Still, I'm surprised. MacTavish is usually pretty careful in the selection of the men with whom he works. There are only two men that he really trusts—Lon Ferrers and Striker. Well, I'll see Striker. If he's going to give me some information that will enable me to get my hands on MacTavish, I'll be obliged to him. I've had enough of that gentleman. Show Striker in, Glass."
Two minutes later Inspector Glass re-entered the room and motioned the man who followed him to a chair in front of McCarthy's desk. Striker, a fine, upstanding man of over six feet in height, certainly did not look the type of individual who would give a confederate away to the police. He sat quite still, looking at the floor, until the Chief Inspector spoke to him.
"Well, Striker," said McCarthy taking a box of cigars from his bureau drawer, and offering it to the man who sat opposite, "what is it? Have you come to put us wise to a new move of MacTavish's?"
Striker lit his cigar. His hand was quite steady.
"I suppose I have," he said eventually. "I've been good pals with Alonzo MacTavish for years. I've worked with him and for him faithfully, but he's done something I don't allow any man to do and he's got to pay for it."
McCarthy grinned. "There's a girl in this, I suppose," he said.
Striker looked up. "Perhaps there is," he said. "But that's neither here nor there. Anyhow, it's all to your advantage. You'd never get Alonzo MacTavish without my help and you know it. He's given you the slip time and time again. He's done jobs under your very noses and you've never been able to hang anything on to him. He's laughed at you for years. Now, if you've got any brains at all, you'll get him easy!"
McCarthy leaned across the table. "That's the talk I like to hear, Striker," he said. "It would be worth something to me to get MacTavish—a hundred pounds I should say."
"Would it?" said Striker. "Well, let's see the hundred."
McCarthy smiled. "When we've heard the story," he said.
Striker grinned. "I'll have the hundred now," he said, "or there won't be any story."
McCarthy thought for a moment. Then he got up and left the room, returning a few minutes later with a packet of five pound notes. He threw them across the table to Striker.
"There you are," he said. "There's your blood money. Now, what's the story?"
Striker put the notes in his pocket. "There's an old fellow called Grant," he said. "He lives in Berkeley Street quite close to the park, and he's got a collection of antique Roman jewels in a case. He keeps them in a special sort of safe, I believe, just as if there was any safe that Alonzo MacTavish couldn't open if he wanted to, providing he'd had a good look at it first. Well, MacTavish is going to have that collection."
Striker drew at his cigar and regarded the ceiling.
"Is he?" said McCarthy. "When?"
"Tomorrow night," answered Striker. "He's got everything ready. There are three of us in it, MacTavish, Lon Ferrers, and myself. MacTavish is getting into the house by the first floor window which is at the side of the house, in the entrance to a garage. He reckons that it will take him twenty minutes to get the safe open. My job is to watch the Piccadilly end of Berkeley Street."
McCarthy looked across at Glass with a smile.
"Looks like the end of Alonzo MacTavish," he said. "Five years, at least. MacTavish, the swell cracksman who has never been caught! Jove! It'll be a haul for us, Glass!" He picked up a pencil from the desk. "What time is he doing this job, Striker?" he asked.
"I don't know for certain," the man replied. "You know what MacTavish is. He never lets his right hand know what his left hand's doing, but it'll be somewhere round about twelve o'clock at night.
"That need not worry you, though. Directly MacTavish enters the house, I'll cut into the telephone box near the Berkeley and ring you up. You can be there in ten minutes, and it'll take him at least twenty minutes to half an hour to get that safe open."
McCarthy considered for a moment. "I think you're right. Striker," he said. "It wouldn't do for us to be hanging about there too early. That neighbourhood is usually deserted at midnight, and he might smell at rat. You telephone to me directly he enters the house, and we'll be along inside five minutes. And don't let me down, Striker; otherwise it will go hard with you!"
"You need not worry about that, Chief," Striker grinned. "There's just one thing. Directly you've got MacTavish, I'd like to make a quick getaway. I don't want him to suspect that I've shopped him."
"That's all right," said McCarthy. "You can clear off directly we get our hands on him. I shan't need to call you as evidence. He'll have the goods on him—caught in the act. That's good enough for me. All right Striker, you can go now—everything is arranged."
"Right, Chief," said Striker, "You can rely on me."
After Glass and the traitor had gone, McCarthy rose and stretched himself. A pleased smile played about his mouth.
"Got you MacTavish," he murmured. "Got you—at last!"
ON the following night, as eleven thirty struck, Mr. Alonzo MacTavish, immaculately garbed in evening clothes with his silk hat at its usual rakish angle, and his eyeglass screwed firmly into his left eye, walked slowly up Berkeley Street, and with a quick glance round, turned sharply into the garage entrance which ran by the side of Grant house. Then, secure in the thought that Lon Ferrers was keeping watch on one end of the street and Striker at the other, he climbed quickly up the side of the house, the grooved architecture affording ample foothold, and climbed over the balcony. He forced the window with quick precision, and got through into the room beyond.
He stood in the darkness for a minute, listening intently. Then switching on an electric torch, he crossed the room and stood before the iron safe which was let into the wall. It was a very modern safe, guaranteed burglar proof and fireproof, but Alonzo's month curved into a smile as he examined it.
He took from his pocket a box, which appeared to be made of steel, and which was about the size of an ordinary cigar box. Alonzo inserted a key into an aperture at the end of the box and wound up some mechanism within. The box immediately began to tick loudly—after the manner of an alarm clock. MacTavish placed the box immediately beneath the bottom of the safe, switched off his electric torch, made his way out of the window, over the balcony, and climbed down the wall in a trice.
At the bottom Lon Ferrers met him, and handed him a leather case, about the size of a small attaché case.
"Everything's all right, Mac," said Lon Ferrers. "I've just given Striker the signal to telephone. I'll get out of the way."
"That's right, Lon," said Alonzo. "The window is opened and everything should be easy for you. Don't let anyone see you about here now. So long!"
Lon Ferrers disappeared as quickly and as quietly as he had come and Alonzo, placing the leather case under his arm, waited patiently in the shadows of the alley.
Five minutes previously, Striker, a grin hovering about his face, had slipped into the telephone box near the Berkeley Hotel, and had telephoned Chief Inspector McCarthy.'
"MacTavish has just entered the house. Chief," he had said. "You'd better hurry. He may be quicker than we expected."
McCarthy had answered that he would be along immediately and Striker, hanging up the receiver, had walked quickly down Berkeley Street. As he passed the garage alley, he nodded quickly to Alonzo standing in the shadows.
"O.K., Mac," said Striker.
MACTAVISH, his leather case still under his arm, walked from the alley into Berkeley Street and commenced to stroll very slowly in the direction of Piccadilly. As he neared the top of the street, McCarthy's car shot round the corner. Alonzo heard the sound of brakes, and the car pulled up abruptly beside him. He stopped with a smile as McCarthy leapt from the car and confronted him.
"So you were quicker than we thought, MacTavish." said McCarthy with a grin. "Well, the game's up this time!"
"I'm afraid I don't understand," said Alonzo, still smiling.
"Don't you?" said McCarthy. "Well, I'll be a little more plain. I arrest you on a charge of theft—the theft of the Grant collection of Roman jewels—they're in that case under your arm. I happen to have seen the collection and I recognise the case."
Alonzo's smile became broader. "I'm afraid you're making a rather serious mistake, Chief Inspector," he said. "Will you allow me to explain?"
"You can explain at the Yard," said the Chief Inspector shortly. "It's a cop, MacTavish, get in!"
Ten minutes later in McCarthy' room at Scotland Yard, Alonzo was formally charged. Then, with a somewhat pained smile, he sat down in a chair and regarded the Chief Inspector.
"You know, McCarthy," he said, "you always were a bit of an ass, but this really takes the cake." He pointed to the open case which lay on McCarthy's table, in which a collection of antique stones glittered. "Those aren't the Grant Roman Jewels," continued Alonzo. "Those stones were bought by me about a week ago. I recognised them immediately as a very good imitation of the Grant collection, and immediately wrote to Mr. Grant informing him that, an imitation set of his collection existed, and asking if he would like to see them. He wrote and told me he would. I've got his letter in my pocket now." Alonzo threw a letter on to the table in front of the Chief Inspector.
"It was arranged," continued Alonzo, "that, as I was engaged at an earlier hour, I should call on him at twelve o'clock to night. I was just on my way there when you arrested me," said Alonzo, "and let me tell you this, Chief Inspector, unless I am immediately released, you're going to get into trouble. You can't go about arresting people promiscuously.
"If you don't believe what I say, telephone to Mr. Grant and ask him to get into a car and drive down here. He'll tell you that those jewels are simply imitation paste, and that that letter is the actual letter which he wrote to me!"
McCarthy said nothing. Then, after a moment, he stretched his hand out for the telephone.
"You're a clever devil, MacTavish," he said. "I'll not take any chances with you!"
Whilst they waited the coming of Grant, Alonzo smoked a cigarette patiently, and chatted pleasantly with Glass. McCarthy was already beginning to feel slightly uncomfortable. He knew the clever brain which existed behind the bland smile of Mr. Alonzo MacTavish, yet at the same time, he could not see where he had any possibility of a chance.
Fifteen minutes afterwards, Grant, amazed at being telephoned for from the Yard, arrived. He looked at the jewels and the letter, and turned to McCarthy with a surprised smile.
"This gentleman is perfectly right," he said, indicating Alonzo. "This is my letter which I wrote to him, and these are, apparently, the imitation jewels which he so kindly promised to show me. I am terribly sorry that this unfortunate mistake has occurred," he continued, turning to Alonzo.
MacTavish grinned. "You know what our police are like," he said, looking at McCarthy. "They're always making mistakes. Never mind, they can't really help it. Well, Chief Inspector, I suppose I may go now. Really, I think I ought to insist on a written apology from you, but I'll be nice to you this time and let you off. Good night, Chief Inspector. Be good!"
And with a pleasant smile. Alonzo strolled out of the room, and away from the Yard, leaving Chief Inspector McCarthy white with rage.
HE had been gone about twenty minutes when Inspector Glass, feeling that it was up to him to say something comforting to his Chief, walked into McCarthy's office.
"Pretty hard luck, that," he said. "I wonder...." He broke off abruptly as the telephone rang. McCarthy stretched out his hand and took off the receiver.
"Hello," he said. "Yes...who's that? Mr. Grant? What? What? Your Roman jewels have been stolen. What's that? They were stolen whilst you were down here at the Yard? Yes. I'll come immediately!"
He put down the receiver and looked blankly at Inspector Glass.
"Well, that beats everything," he said. "Grant's jewels were stolen between the time he left the house and arrived here. It couldn't have been anything to do with MacTavish because MacTavish was sitting here all the time. I wonder who in the name of goodness has pulled this!"
Inspector Glass thought deeply for a moment, when a slow smile broke over his taciturn countenance.
"I'll tell you who pulled it, Chief," he said. "Alonzo MacTavish!"
"What the devil do you mean?" spluttered McCarthy.
"Simply this," said Glass. "It's as plain as the nose on your face."
He sat down opposite the astounded Chief Inspector.
"MacTavish was after the Grant jewels, and he knew that old Grant had got some new sort of safe. Now MacTavish always likes to have a look at a safe before operating it. He gets Striker to come down here with a cock and bull story, which we believe. Incidentally, Striker gets one hundred pounds out of you for the information. Then what happens? MacTavish has had the imitation set of jewels made, and has actually written to old Grant asking if he would like to see them. Of course, Grant says 'yes.'
"Then, instead of Striker telephoning you when MacTavish entered the house, he telephoned you when he left it. So don't you see what happened? MacTavish entered the house and simply left a time bomb under the safe. The bomb was timed to explode about an hour afterwards. He then walks up the street knowing perfectly well that you are going to meet and arrest him. He knows that you will bring him back to the Yard to formally charge him, and he insists on old Grant being brought down here to prove that the set of jewels which MacTavish was carrying were actually imitations of the real thing. Whilst Grant is away, the time bomb explodes, blows up the safe, and one of MacTavish's men, probably Lon Ferrers, who is hanging about in the neighbourhood, simply enters through the window, which MacTavish had carefully left open, and grabs the real case of jewels.
"MacTavish has the most perfect alibi in the world. Whilst all this is happening, he is sitting down here in Scotland Yard, having been wrongfully arrested for something which he has certainly succeeded in doing.
"You can bet your life that at this moment MacTavish is examining those jewels and having the laugh of his life at us. He set a trap for you, Chief, and you fell into it. Not only did you fall into it but you paid a hundred pounds for the privilege of doing so. It's no good. Chief. MacTavish has been too good for us. We're a pair of also-rans. We've been sold!"
ALONZO MACTAVISH, standing in the doorway of his recently-acquired house in Regent's Park, looked a trifle suspiciously at the broken key chain which dangled from his fingers, and wondered.
Someone had certainly pushed against him rather forcibly as he had left the Cinema Theatre in which he had spent the earlier part of the evening. Had the key chain been broken deliberately, or was it an ordinary accident which might happen to a very slender and not amazingly strong chain?
And supposing it had been an accident. Then, surely the key ring with the keys should have been in his trouser pocket, even if the chain were broken, and not missing. Also, to Alonzo, it was obvious that someone should be after that key ring, for on it hung the key of the Regent's Park house, and in that house were certain articles of great value in which quite a lot of people might be interested at the moment.
Alonzo MacTavish had many enemies. One of the cleverest swell cracksmen in the world, and one on whom the police up to the present had not laid hands, he had, during his adventurous career made many enemies, people who, knowing or guessing what was in the house at the moment would not scruple to gain an entrance by any means.
Alonzo took from his pocket a small steel instrument, and with a smile at the idea of forcing his own front door proceeded to pick the lock. He did this with great care, and having effected an entrance, closed the door carefully behind him, mounted the stairs to his first floor sitting room, and throwing himself into a chair gave himself up to thought.
Who, of the many crooks in London would be the most likely person to have stolen the key ring? Dr. Theodor Klaat, that enterprising blackmailer, was in prison, so he could be counted out. Marney, another enemy of Alonzo's, was in London, but was engaged on other business at the moment. Suddenly the name shot into Alonzo's mind—Largasso. That was the man!
MacTavish lit a cigarette and thought rapidly. In the sitting room downstairs were two steel safes. In one of them lay a collection of uncut stones of great value which Alonzo had "removed" from their rightful resting place some three weeks before and which, pending negotiation, were kept in the safe. In the other safe, in a sealed envelope, were certain documents which had two nights before been stolen from the Andarian Embassy—documents which were of the utmost value to certain political gentlemen who, through various other people, had commissioned Alonzo to steal them. It seemed to Alonzo that there was no possibility of Largasso knowing anything about the Andaria documents, and if he were the person who had actually stolen the key ring the thing he would be after would be the case of uncut stones.
At the same time Largasso was no fool. Surely he did not imagine for one moment that Alonzo, missing the key ring, would not take steps to ensure the safety of the gems. Or did he guess that at the time Alonzo made the discovery that it would not be possible for him to take measures to remove the booty. If Largasso intended to move immediately then he had struck at the right time. Lon Ferrers, MacTavish's trusted henchman, was away and would not be returning till the early morning, and there was no one else of MacTavish's little band of trusted associates who could be secured immediately in order to remove the gems.
One thing was entirely obvious. Somebody had the key to the front door and the keys which opened the two safes downstairs, for all the keys were on the same key-ring. Therefore, it seemed to Alonzo that the only thing he could do was mount guard all night, and in the morning clear the two safes and have a new key fitted to the front door.
He walked across to his bedroom, which was on the other side of the first floor passage, opposite the sitting room, slipped on a dressing-gown and, taking an automatic pistol from a drawer, placed it, fully loaded, in the right hand pocket of his gown. Then he placed an easy chair at the top of the curving stairway, from which position he could hear the slightest noise on the floor below. Returning to the bedroom he snapped off the electric light, walked over to the sitting room and repeated the same process, and then sat down in the easy chair at the stair-top to await developments.
One o'clock struck, but nothing happened. The minutes lengthened into hours. Alonzo's head was beginning to nod, when, just after three o'clock a slight noise came to his ears from the floor below. He rose noiselessly from the chair, descended a stair or two, and stood in the darkness listening intently. He was not mistaken. Someone was moving quietly in the hallway downstairs!
The footsteps moved cautiously in the direction of the dining room. Alonzo grinned to himself. In his brain there was not the slightest doubt that the marauder was the enterprising Largasso. Now he could hear the sound of the dining-room door knob being turned quietly and cautiously; the door opened, and then as quietly closed. Alonzo gave the interloper time to find and open the safe in the dining room, then he ran swiftly and silently down the stairs, flung open the door, switched on the light and received the surprise of his life.
He stood there, his pistol in his hand, and an amazed smile breaking over his handsome face, for instead of gazing at the foreign and beetle browed features of that old jail-bird Largasso, he found himself regarding a beautiful woman who stood, looking thoroughly frightened, before the left hand safe, with Alonzo's key ring and its attendant broken chain dangling from her slim fingers.
Alonzo returned the automatic pistol to his pocket, took out his cigarette case, and with the same amused smile found a match and lit his cigarette.
"Good evening, or perhaps I should say good morning," he said. "By the way, you've opened the wrong safe. The gems for which you are looking are in the other safe—the one on the right hand side of the room. Incidentally, you must be rather tired of standing. Won't you sit down?"
She gave a little gesture of dismay, drew her evening cloak closer about her and threw the key ring on to the table.
"I suppose you will telephone for the police," she said, tearfully. "But it was not the gems that I came for. I didn't even know that you had any precious stones in the house."
Alonzo drew up a chair and motioned her to be seated.
"If you are not interested in the stones," he said with a smile, "may I ask what it is you really do want? Incidentally, I suppose it was you who stole my key ring tonight at the cinema?"
She nodded. "I didn't actually steal it myself," she said, "but I paid a man to do so."
Alonzo nodded. He was beginning to feel really interested. "It seems to me," he said, "that if you did not know of the existence of the precious stones which are in the other safe, that there is only one thing which you did want—"
"Exactly," she interrupted "I wanted the papers which you stole from the Andarian Embassy." She raised her head and looked at him, and Alonzo realised how beautiful she was.
"Listen, Mr. MacTavish," she continued. "I am not a thief, but it was necessary that those papers should be returned. My first thought on hearing that you were the most likely person to have stolen them was to have come to you and put my story before you. I have heard that you are kind-hearted, that there isn't any crook in the world who is exactly like you, and that you very often steal things more for the fun of the game than the actual profit derived. But afterwards I thought that you might refuse and, after making inquiries, I found out the name of a man who, I was told, would help me."
"Tony Largasso, I expect," murmured Alonzo.
She nodded. "Yes, that was the chap. He told me that the papers were probably concealed in this house, and suggested that he should steal your key ring, and that I might come and try to get them. He said that in any event, even if you discovered me that you were very soft hearted where women were concerned, and that if I told you my story you would probably tell me where the papers were, supposing that you had already parted with them."
"So, there is a story, is there?" smiled Alonzo. "May I hear it?"
"I want you to hear it," she said. "You don't look like a man who would hurt a woman, and the return of those papers to the Andarian Embassy means more to me than life itself. I am engaged to the man in whose charge they were, and unless they are returned within forty-eight hours it means absolute ruin for him. When the theft was discovered, the Andarian Ambassador, knowing that a foreign country was most desirous of getting those papers at any cost, suspected that my fiancé had been bribed to hand them over. Denials were of no avail, but eventually the Ambassador agreed that if the papers were returned within forty-eight hours from this morning that he would be prepared to let the matter rest and give my fiancé the benefit of the doubt.
"Since this morning, neither of us have rested one moment. Separately, we have been all over London making inquiries, trying to get some clue which would tell us where the papers were. It was by chance that I was put in touch with the man Largasso, who said that the most likely person to have them was you, as it was the sort of job in which you specialised. Largasso followed you this evening when you went to the cinema, and it was easy for him, mixing with the crowd after the performance was over, to cut your chain and take the keys. He gave them to me and I paid him for his services. The rest of the story you know."
Alonzo nodded. "I'm not surprised that Largasso would not actually do the job himself," he grinned. "He probably guessed that he would get a warm reception from me if I caught him here. As for my being soft hearted where women are concerned, I suppose that is true and, in any event," he continued with a charming smile, "I would be very unhappy to think that any act of mine had jeopardised your happiness."
He rose to his feet, took the keys from the table, and walking over to the safe on the right hand side of the room, opened it, and took out the bulky packet of documents. He returned to her, and with a bow, handed the package to her.
She got up. Alonzo thought that her smile was the most wonderful thing he had ever seen in his life.
"You're very good," she said. "But I'm going to ask you to do one thing more. I'm going to ask you to go round to the Andarian Embassy and hand these documents over to the Ambassador, and to tell him that my fiancé was absolutely guiltless in the matter. Needless to say, no action will be taken against you. The papers are of much too great an importance to have any publicity attached to them. Will you do this for me?" She smiled up a him, and Alonzo, looking down at her, marvelled at the beauty of her eyes.
He smiled back. "Yes," he said. "I'll do that."
"Good," she sparkled. "My car is waiting round the corner. I'll drop you at the Embassy, and, please, will you take this as a memento of your great kindness?"
She unpinned a small diamond brooch which fastened her cloak, and held it out to Alonzo. He took it.
"This is of much more value to me than all the diplomatic documents in the world," he said.
TEN minutes later she dropped him at the doors of the Andarian Embassy and with a smile drove off. Alonzo sighed as he watched the rear lights of her car disappear down the street. Then he mounted the Embassy steps and rang the bell.
The Andarian Ambassador, somewhat surprised at being told of an urgent caller at three o'clock in the morning, received Alonzo in a dressing-gown. MacTavish, who knew that, in any event, he was safe as there was not the slightest possibility of any police action being taken by the Ambassador, and wishing to make absolutely certain that no blame attached to the betrothed of the charming lady, told the Ambassador fully and completely the whole story of the theft of the documents. It was twenty minutes afterwards, when, having finished his tale, he took the package from under his arm, and handed it to the white haired Ambassador.
"I am greatly indebted to you, Mr. MacTavish," he said. "But there is one thing which I do not understand. I do not know who this charming lady is, and I have certainly never heard of her fiancé who, I can tell you definitely, has never had charge of these papers. Candidly I did not even know that they were stolen, as I have had no need to go to our safe for the last three days!"
"What!" exclaimed Alonzo. "You did not even know that the papers were stolen?"
The Ambassador shook his head. "I had no idea," he said.
Alonzo said good-night hurriedly, and made for the street. There was not a taxi-cab in sight and it took him five minutes to procure one. Then, telling the man to drive like the devil, he sat back in the cab, a slight smile playing about his mouth.
Five minutes later they arrived at Alonzo's house. He paid off the man quickly and turned to the door. It was open. He walked in, turned into the dining room, and snapped on the lights. The right hand safe was open.
Alonzo walked over to it. As he had thought, the case of gems was gone. In its place propped up on the shelf was a note addressed to "Alonzo MacTavish, Esq., Knight Errant."
With a rueful smile Alonzo opened the note and read:
My dear Alonzo,
You did fall for it beautifully didn't you? I've often heard of your wonderful cleverness and made up my mind to try conclusions with you. Largasso told me that you kept the jewels in the right hand safe. He also told me about the Andarian papers. More importantly, he told me that you were always nice to a pretty woman. I got him to steal your key ring and immediately had duplicates of the keys made. I intended that you should discover me at the safe. I thought that little fairy tale I told you about my imaginary fiancé and the Andarian papers rather good didn't you? Then, all I had to do was to get you out of the house, drive back immediately, open the door and the safe with my duplicate keys and get away with the goods.
Anyhow, I did give you my brooch and I did smile prettily at you, didn't I? By the way, if ever you come to the USA, come and see me.
Your very grateful.
Alonzo, his sense of humour coming to his rescue, sat down and laughed heartily. He turned over the brooch in his fingers and the tiny diamond sparkled at him, rather like Philadelphia Kitty's eyes had sparkled.
He got up, and mounted the stairs slowly.
"The biter bit," murmured Alonzo MacTavish, and went to bed.
MR. ALONZO MACTAVISH, having eaten an excellent dinner, and smoking an expensive cigar, threaded his way carefully through the tables, and made for the vestibule of the Restaurant Splendide.
He appeared to be deep in thought as he got his coat and hat at the cloakroom, but the matter which was engrossing his attention was not one of urgent importance. It was merely a matter of whether he should go to a theatre or not before keeping the interesting appointment made for 11.30 that night.
He tipped the attendant and wandered out into Regent Street, still undecided as to what he should do. He walked in the direction of Piccadilly, and was about to turn into Maddox Street when he found himself face to face with no less a person than Doctor Theodor Klaat!
For a moment they stood looking at each other. Alonzo, smiling, perfectly poised and debonair, and Klaat smiling, too, but it was a terrible smile which curved the thin cruel lips beneath the black, carefully kept moustache; also, it was a smile of triumph.
Alonzo passed on, thinking, this time about something which really mattered. So Klaat was back in England—Klaat his arch-enemy, who had sworn to be even with Alonzo even if it cost him his life. Klaat—scientist, blackmailer and worse, at whose crimes many a hardened crook had shuddered.
Alonzo realised that his enemy's smile boded no good for himself. Klaat was not a man to smile triumphantly unless he had got something up his sleeve.
He summoned a taxi-cab and ordered the man to drive him to his flat at Earl's Court. Seated in the cab he dismissed Theodor Klaat from his mind, for the moment, and took from his pocket the letter which he had that morning received. He unfolded it and read:—
New Scotland Yard. 10th May.
My Dear MacTavish,
Though it goes against the grain, I am going to ask you (for a consideration) to assist me in the unravelling of a little matter which has been engrossing my mind for the last five months, and which I am desirous of bringing to a successful conclusion. Unless I hear from you to the contrary, I shall call on you at your flat at 11.30 tonight. I hope this will not be too late.
Alonzo smiled to himself as he replaced the letter in his pocket. So Chief Inspector McCarthy required assistance! MacTavish realised that McCarthy must, indeed, be put to it to come to him. At the same time he wondered whether there was some thought, some scheme, behind the Chief Inspector's letter. McCarthy was no fool. Alonzo made up his mind that he must go carefully in his conversation that night, for McCarthy was a born cross examiner, and it seemed quite possible to Alonzo that the C.I.D. man's idea was to get some information, and very possibly some information which he might use against Alonzo himself.
He paid off the cab, and entered his flat.
Walking into his sitting-room, he pressed the bell, and, a moment afterwards, Lon Ferrers, in his usual "get-up" as a respectable butler, appeared.
"Lon," said Alonzo, "McCarthy's coming here tonight at 11.30. He wants to have a talk with me. I wonder what about. Evidently he wants to get some information about something. Do you know what cases he's been on lately?"
Ferrers grinned. "There's only one case that McCarthy's interested in, Mac," he said, "and I think that you could give him a lot of information about that—his big case is the Lonley Pearl robbery, and I think you know something about that—don't you?"
Alonzo smiled. He did. The Lonley Pearl, one of the largest pearls ever brought out of the ocean had mysteriously disappeared seven months before. No further news had been obtained about it. The robbery had been perfectly carried out and there was not one single clue to aid Scotland Yard. The owner of the pearl, a wealthy South American had driven the C.I.D. nearly mad in his endeavour to secure the return of the pearl. But nothing had been done, nothing discovered, and the two people who could have told the police all about it, maintained a discreet silence. These two people were Mr. Alonzo MacTavish and Lon Ferrers.
"That's funny, Lon," said MacTavish, "I expect he's coming here tonight to ask me if I know who's got it. I like the idea. He will probably sit in that armchair over there, the very chair in the arm of which the Lonley Pearl is hidden—most amusing. Well, we'll hear what he has got to say. In the meantime I've got a bit of interesting news. Theodor Klaat's back in London!"
Lon Ferrers' face darkened.
"I don't like to hear that, Mac," he said. "You know he's sworn to get you by any means in his power and he'll stop at nothing." He stopped suddenly, as the telephone bell rang, and walking to the instrument, picked it up. He spoke and then, placing his hand over the mouthpiece, turned to Alonzo.
"It's Klaat, Mac," Lon whispered. "He wants to speak to you!"
MacTavish rose, and took the receiver from Ferrers' hand.
"Good evening, Dr. Klaat," he said.
Klaat's sibilant voice came over the phone.
"So that is my old friend MacTavish," said the voice. "I was very glad to see you looking so well this evening. Incidentally, my friend, I want a little conversation with you. A matter which, possibly, may be urgent where you yourself are concerned. May I come and see you?"
Alonzo did not hesitate one moment.
"Certainly, Klaat," he said. "When will you arrive? I shall be glad to see you."
"I shall be with you in ten minutes," said Klaat. "Goodbye, my friend."
Alonzo hung up the receiver.
"Klaat's coming round here in ten minutes, Lon," he said. "He's got some definite idea in his head, and seems very certain of himself. Now listen, carefully. Directly Klaat goes, get out of the building by the back entrance, dash round the side, and follow him. Then get back to me as quickly as you can and report."
ALONZO was seated before the fire, reading a book when Klaat was announced by Ferrers. MacTavish rose and motioned his enemy to a chair.
"Well, Klaat," he said. "What do you want?"
Klaat grinned evilly. "My friend, I want twenty thousand pounds, and I want it as quickly as you like to get it!" He took a cigarette from a jewelled case and lit it carefully. "I observe that you smile, my friend MacTavish," he went on in his careful English, "but I should like to tell you that unless I have the money within 24 hours, then I shall be forced to make you smile on the other side of your face!"
"Really," said Alonzo, with a grin. "And may I ask how you intend to do that?"
Klaat spread out his hands. "It is really a very simple business," he said. "I happen to know that you are the person who stole the Lonley Pearl, and I also know that you have still got it in your possession. Rather unfortunately for you, my friend, one of the people who assisted you in that little matter was a friend of mine, and I have a full confession from him as to how you did the job. Therefore, I made it my business to let a hint reach the ears of our esteemed friend, Chief Inspector McCarthy, that it was possible that you might be able to give him a little information." The smile disappeared from Klaat's face, and his expression became grim.
"You cannot trifle with me, MacTavish," he said. "This time the trump cards are in my hands. Once that confession is in McCarthy's possession you are as good as in gaol. And how glad they will be too get you, my friend—Alonzo MacTavish, the master cracksman who, for years, has eluded the vigilance of the European police. Well, what do you intend to do?"
Alonzo, still smiling, lit another cigarette, but as he held the match between his fingers, his brain was working rapidly. Klaat was pulling no bluff. He would not dare, and what he said about the police was right enough. Any excuse would be good enough for the arrest of Alonzo MacTavish, the author of a dozen master robberies which had startled Europe. Then an idea came to him, an idea so daring that it increased the smile about his mobile mouth.
"I'll have to think this over Klaat," he said. "Twenty thousand is a big job. I doubt whether I possess as much money at the moment. However, I'll see what I can do. You've got the low down on me this time all right. Look here, can you come back at twelve o'clock tonight? By that time I may have been able to raise some of the money."
Klaat's eyes gleamed. "Very well." he said. "I will return at twelve o'clock. But I shall bring a friend with me. It might be safer! For the moment my friend, au revoir!" He took his hat from Lon Ferrers and, with a casual nod, departed.
Immediately he heard the front door shut MacTavish sprang to the window and looked out. Beneath him, in the street, he saw Klaat's private car move off slowly. It was only half way down the street when a taxi-cab shot round the corner from the rear of the flat and went after the car. Alonzo smiled. Lon Ferrers was on the job. Then, seated before the fire MacTavish thought out carefully the details of his plan.
IT was ten o'clock before Lon Ferrers returned.
"Klaat's living at Cordery Mansions, a block of flats in Maida Vale, Mac," he said. "Luckily the estate office was open. They are working late, and I was able to make inquiries under the pretence of taking a flat there next year. Incidentally, when the clerk's back was turned, I pocketed this plan of the flats. Each flat is marked, you see, with the name of the tenant in possession at the moment. Klaat is on the top floor."
Alonzo took the plan. "He is, is he?" he said half to himself. "By the way, what are the flat chimneys like?" He examined the plan carefully, then an amused smile broke over his face.
"Listen, Lon," he said. "There's not a minute to lose. I've told Klaat to return here at twelve o'clock. McCarthy will be here then. It's nearly a quarter past ten now, and there's a lot to be done. Dash downstairs quickly and get some asbestos from the caretaker. Say that we want it for the electric fire. Then, take the Lonley Pearl out of the arm of the armchair, and pack it carefully inside a piece of asbestos. Hurry now, Lon!"
Ten minutes later, Alonzo left the flat, leaving Lon Ferrers entirely mystified as to the plan in his chief's head.
At ten minutes past eleven Alonzo returned, looking quite pleased with himself, and prepared to receive Chief Inspector McCarthy.
WHEN McCarthy arrived, he found Alonzo quietly reading in front of the fire. The C.I.D. man took off his coat and accepted a cigar.
"Well, MacTavish." he said. "I won't waste any words with you. You will remember that some seven months ago the Lonley Pearl was stolen. Well, we've got no nearer to discovering where it is than we were then. It's a very difficult jewel to dispose of, for it can't be cut up, and any dealer would recognise it immediately. There are only two or three crooks in this country who possess the brains to pull off a coup like that, and one of them is you!" The Inspector grinned at MacTavish.
Alonzo smiled back. "Very complimentary of you, I'm sure, Chief," he said. "But I am afraid that I know very little about the business. Of course, if it were made worth my while, I might go out of my way to give you a tip or two."
The detective drew at his cigar. "Look here, MacTavish," he said, "the owner of this pearl has offered a reward of five thousand pounds for its return. Give me any clue which will put me on the right track, and I'll split the reward with you. Is that a bet?"
"It is," replied Alonzo, promptly. "You always keep your word, Chief, and in one way I'm glad that you've come here tonight. Directly I got your note this morning, I knew what you were coming for—you wanted information about the Lonley Pearl. I'm glad to give it you, not only because of the two thousand five hundred, but also because of my own safety."
McCarthy looked surprised. "Your own safety—what do you mean, MacTavish?" he asked.
"I'll tell you," replied Alonzo. "As you may guess, there are several people who would be glad to see me out of the way, and the most dangerous of those people is one Theodor Klaat, of whom you have probably heard. Seven months ago, Klaat stole the Lonley Pearl, and he stole it very cleverly. He was assisted by a man who had previously done a little business with me and who, after the robbery, wrote a confession, which purports to describe how I effected the theft. Klaat then sent this fellow off to South America where he is at the moment. A friend of mine met him out there, and in a drunken fit, this tool of Klaat's divulged the whole plot. He also said where Klaat intended to hide the pearl. Klaat arrived in England a little while ago, and immediately I heard of his arrival, I knew that he would endeavour to secure my arrest for the theft, so I got busy. I have actually invited Klaat here tonight—he should be here at any moment now. Listen! That's his car arriving, outside. Leave this to me, Chief, and I guarantee that that pearl shall be in your possession by tomorrow morning!"
"Right, MacTavish," said the Chief Inspector. "Do as you say, and the money is as good as in your pocket."
He had hardly finished speaking when Lon Ferrers announced Klaat and his friend. As Klaat stepped into the room and saw McCarthy, his face dropped for a moment, and then broke into his usual cynical grin.
"Sit down, Klaat," said Alonzo briefly. "I've got a few words to say to you." He turned to the detective.
"Chief," he said, "this man came here tonight, and asked me to pay twenty thousand pounds as the price of his silence. Otherwise he threatened to produce a fake confession which he got from his associate in the robbery, saying that I was responsible. Had you not seen me first you would probably have acted on it." He pointed to the amazed Klaat. "There is the man who stole the Lonley Pearl," he said. "Unluckily for him, his confederate talks too much in his cups. The pearl is hidden in Klaat's flat at the moment in a place where no police officer would ever think of looking for it. It is encased in a piece of asbestos and is kept in the fire. Who would think of raking out a fire to find a pearl!"
Klaat, with an oath, leapt to his feet "It is a lie." he said. "I tell you that—"
"Steady on," said McCarthy. "We'll easily settle all this."
He walked to the telephone and, after a moment, got on to the Maida Vale Police Station.
"Send a man round to Dr. Theodor Klaat's flat," he said. "Tell him to rake out any fires which may be burning and try to find a piece of asbestos with something concealed in it. If he finds it, ring me up at once!"
Klaat produced his cigarette case and lit a cigarette. "You are wasting your time, Chief Inspector," he said. "MacTavish has the Lonley Pearl!"
They sat in silence for ten minutes. Then, the telephone rang loudly. The C.I.D. man went to the instrument and spoke. Then he hung up the receiver and turned to Klaat.
"Theodor Klaat," he said. "I arrest you on a charge of robbery." He snapped the handcuffs on the astonished Klaat "Don't worry to say anything," continued McCarthy. "You've got a rotten record, Klaat, and you'll get five years for this. MacTavish, come round in the morning, and I'll give you that money. Good-night!"
WHEN the Inspector and Klaat had gone, and when Klaat's astounded "friend" had been shown off the premises, Lon Ferrers turned to MacTavish.
"How the devil did you do it, Mac?" he said.
"The easiest thing in the world, Lon," he said. "Directly you showed me that plan, the idea came to me. Klaat's flat was on the top floor, and the chimneys are absolutely straight running down into his fireplaces. At the opposite end of the block of flats is a fire escape. I simply worked out carefully where Klaat's flat was, climbed up the fire escape, selected the chimney leading into Klaat's flat, from which smoke was emerging, showing that a fire was lit in the room beneath, and dropped the bit of asbestos with the pearl in it down the chimney. The rest you know. I'm well out of that business. I could never have disposed of the pearl. It was too well known, and as it is I get two thousand five hundred, and Klaat will probably get five years. I've killed two birds with one stone. It's almost a shame to take the money!"
LON FERRERS, that enterprising colleague of Mr. Alonzo MacTavish, had said on more than one occasion that if ever the police did lay hands on Alonzo, it would be through a woman. According to Lon, MacTavish, who possessed an extraordinary genius for leaving no clue whatsoever behind him in his operations, was careless where a pretty woman was concerned, would listen to any hard luck story that was told him by a member of the fair sex and, in nine cases out of ten, would lend a helping hand regardless of consequences.
Alonzo, strolling along the Rue Royale, endeavouring to while away fifteen minutes before keeping his appointment at the Hotel Continental, thought of Lon and his inevitable warnings and wondered what he would say of the matter which was, at the moment, engrossing Alonzo's attention.
Mr. Alonzo MacTavish had found that the air of London was a little sultry. Also Scotland Yard was taking much too much interest in his movements, this interest being caused no doubt by the mysterious disappearance of a diamond necklace from a house of a well-known financier. He had, therefore, come to the conclusion that a week or so in Paris would do no harm.
But he was not to be left in peace for long. Two days after his arrival a page boy from the Hotel Continental had arrived at Alonzo's suite in the Rue Royale with a delicately perfumed note which read:
"Lady Alicia Darrington presents her compliments to Mr. Alonzo MacTavish, and would be glad if he could find it convenient to take tea with her at four thirty on Thursday afternoon. It is quite probable that Mr. MacTavish will hear something to his eventual advantage."
Alonzo summoned one of the taxi-cabs which drive so recklessly about the Paris streets, and ordered the driver to take him to the Continental. On the way he allowed his mind to wander along all the different lines which his interview with Lady Alicia might possibly take. A visit to Messrs Smith's bookshop in the Rue de Rivoli early that morning, and a careful examination of the English papers of recent date, had told Alonzo all he wanted to know about the lady.
She was nineteen, she was very pretty, and she had run away and got married without her father's consent. Lord Darrington had made no bones about his opinion of his daughter's runaway match, and had stated quite definitely that he had stopped every penny of her allowance, until such time as she should come to her senses and leave her husband, whom he described as a "rapscallion artist." It therefore seemed to Alonzo that the lady would probably require something done, something which was probably just outside the law, and had been recommended to ask Alonzo to do it.
A few yards from the Continental Alonzo paid off his cab and walked. An individual approaching, who was looking over his shoulder at someone approaching behind him, almost knocked MacTavish down, and then proceeded with great charm to apologise in very good French.
"You don't have to talk French to me, Wilmer," said Alonzo, with a smile.
"Good heavens!" said the unobservant one, "if it isn't MacTavish!"
"Look here, Wilmer," said Alonzo "I consider that this encounter has been planned by a kindly Fate. You know all about the aristocracy—a least you're always going to people's parties and balls, when you are not in prison for stealing something from them! Tell me what you know about the Darrington family."
Wilmer considered for a moment.
"They're a very old family," he said eventually, "and, as you've probably read, the youngest daughter, Alicia has just run off and got married to some artist fellow. Old Darrington is terribly annoyed with her, and won't allow her a penny. You remember the Darrington case some months ago. A Rembrandt oil painting disappeared from the picture gallery at Darrington Lodge in Hertfordshire and has never been heard of since. It was valued at £20,000, too. I suppose you didn't steal it?" said Wilmer, with a grin.
"Unfortunately, no," replied Alonzo. "Anyhow, thanks very much for the information. I'll probably see you at the club, later." He nodded to Wilmer and walked quickly into the Hotel Continental.
THE quick glance at Lady Alicia Darrington, which Alonzo took as he was shown into her pretty sitting-room on the first floor, told him that, allowance or no allowance, she appeared to be making the best of things. Young and beautiful, exquisitely gowned, and charming, she seemed to Alonzo to be the sort of girl that any man would run away with.
"Sit down, Mr. MacTavish," she said smilingly, "and let me give you some tea. I expect you are wondering why I asked you to come and see me and I'll set your curiosity at rest as quickly as I can.
"I expect that you have heard all about my marriage, and how I ran away from Darrington. Well, my father has been very hard on us! He is rather a stupid sort of father, and not only has he stopped my allowance, but he actually refuses to forward any of my clothes or other belongings, which I was forced to leave behind me at Darrington Lodge. Now there is one thing which I insist on having and as it seems that I cannot obtain it by fair means, then I am reluctantly forced to resort to foul ones." She smiled charmingly at Alonzo.
"I want you to steal something for me, please," she said. "I've heard that you are the most wonderful cracksman in the world. That the police have never succeeded in proving anything against you, and that you invariably succeed in whatever you set out to do."
Alonzo bowed. "Thank you for the compliment," he said with a smile. "May I ask what it is you require stolen?"
"It's a picture," she answered. "And it belongs to me. Some months ago a rather valuable picture—a Rembrandt—was stolen from Darrington Lodge. It was never recovered. In the meantime our butler, who had been with us for many years, and who was an amateur painter, presented me with a picture—a landscape, and this was hung in the picture gallery in the place of the missing Rembrandt. Now I have a very great sentimental regard for that picture, and I want it. I have asked my father for it, and just because he's annoyed with me he refuses to let me have it. But I insist on having it more for the principle of the thing than anything else. Now Mr. MacTavish, will you go to England and burgle Darrington Lodge for me and get my picture? I can't pay you very much for doing it but I'll pay you what I can. What do you say?"
Alonzo laughed. "Why, I say yes," he said. "And I won't take a penny for doing it. Let me see, today is Thursday. Very well, then, by next Thursday, I promise that your picture shall be here, that is, of course, unless they catch me in the attempt."
"In which case I should tell them the whole story," she said smilingly. "But I don't think you'll be caught. They tell me that you are much too clever! Now, I'd better tell you all about the Lodge, and where the picture gallery is!"
Half an hour later Alonzo left the Hotel Continental, and made his way back to the Rue Royale. An amused grin played about the corners of his mouth.
"By Jove," he murmured. "What a job, stealing a butler's picture for nothing, at least not quite for nothing, but merely to make a pretty girl happy! I wonder what Lon Ferrers would say to that!"
IT was on the following Monday night that Alonso found himself crouching in the shadow of the trees which surrounded the lawn at the back of Darrington Lodge. He had learned by heart the plan of the house, and knew that once he had entered by means of the French windows, the library and the picture gallery were near at hand, and that it would be but the work of a few minutes to remove the picture and carry it to the two-seater car which he had waiting in the dark corner of a nearby field.
He commenced to work his way carefully round the lawn, keeping well in the shadow of the trees. It was a beautiful moonlight night—too beautiful, Alonso thought—but he succeeded in reaching the window without any cause for alarm. Two minutes' work with the small steel tool which he produced from his pocket, and the windows were opened. Alonso slipped through, closed the windows carefully behind him, made his way quietly across the darkened library, switched on his electric torch, found the door, and, mounting the stairs which he saw straight before him, found himself in the Darrington picture gallery.
Darringtons of past ages looked down from the walls at Alonzo, as he tip-toed to the far end, where, he knew Lady Alicia's landscape picture hung. As he stood before it, examining it closely, he realised that it was indeed a woman's whim which demanded the stealing of such a worthless painting. A veritable daub, obviously the work of an amateur, it showed crudely against the works of art which surrounded it.
Alonso took a chair, and standing on it endeavoured to lift the picture, but found himself unable to do so. The frame was fixed firmly to the wall. Alonzo, used to quick decisions, realised that there was but one thing to be done. The picture must be cut from its frame.
Such an eventuality had occurred to him before setting out on this adventure, and from his pocket he produced a small razor. He inserted the blade at the top of the picture, against the frame, and commenced to cut, but the movement of his hand unsteadied him and he almost fell from the chair.
Recovering himself, he saw with annoyance that he had scraped the surface of the picture badly. He flashed his light on it to examine the damage, and an exclamation broke from his lips. At the same moment the light was snapped on, and Alonzo turned to find himself gazing at the angry countenance of Lord Darrington, who, a revolver in his hand, stood at the far end of the library.
Alonzo sprang from the chair and advanced to meet the enraged Peer.
"Good morning, my lord," he said smilingly. "I'm sorry if I have disturbed your slumbers, but I was just doing a little moving job for your daughter, Lady Alicia. She asked me to get her picture for her, and I thought that I'd just come in through the window instead of knocking up the whole household!"
"Look here, sir," shouted Darrington. "I have a good mind to hand you over to the police. Oh, I don't doubt your story. I have no doubt that that scatter-brained daughter of mine is behind all this! I give you five minutes to get off these premises. Otherwise, I'll hand you over to the police!"
Alonzo took up his hat, and advanced towards the door. "I'm really very sorry, Lord Darrington..." he began. Then, without a moment's hesitation, he sprang sideways, seized the unfortunate Darrington in a grip of iron, placed one hand over his mouth, and despite the struggles of the Peer, who was no match for Alonzo's muscle, bound, gagged, and eventually seated Darrington in a chair in the space of two minutes. Then he returned to the picture, and after a little difficulty, succeeded in cutting it from its frame.
He tied it carefully in the baize cloth which he had brought with him for the purpose, put on his hat, and bowed gracefully to the frenzied Lord Darrington, who glared at him like a tiger.
"Au revoir, my lord." said Alonzo. "I say au revoir because I feel that I shall be seeing you again shortly. I am afraid that you will have to stay tied in that chair until tomorrow morning, when someone will probably discover you in time for breakfast. Anyhow, let this be a lesson to you not to be a hard-hearted parent in future. Just think how pleased Lady Alicia will be to have her picture back again, and try and smile. Good-bye!"
Lord Darrington said nothing, but if looks could have killed, Alonzo would have been dead on the spot.
THREE days later. Lord Darrington, sitting at his breakfast table at Darrington Court, received a letter from Mr. Alonzo MacTavish, which read:
Dear Lord Darrington,
I write to you because I feel that I may have a suggestion for you that may appeal to your sense of business. As you doubtless remember, you discovered me the other night in the act of removing a picture which belonged to your daughter, and which she asked me to obtain for her. In attempting to cut it from its frame, I scratched the surface and was surprised to discover that there was another picture underneath. To cut a long story short, this picture is none other than the Rembrandt which was stolen some months ago. Apparently, your enterprising butler stole the picture, and with more brains than butlers usually possess, painted another picture over it, mounted it in another frame, and presented it to your daughter, knowing perfectly well that no one would dream of looking for the missing Rembrandt underneath the horrible daub of your butler. I suppose that when everything had blown over, he would have painted another picture like it and substituted it one night.
I have had the scraped portion carefully painted in again, and have forwarded the picture to Lady Alicia, who of course, thinks that it is her picture, and does not know that the Rembrandt is underneath. She is going to present it to her husband, who, being an artist, will probably put it on the fire, which would be unfortunate.
Now I believe, that this picture is worth £20,000. Therefore, if you care to wire to me care of Hatton Garden post office, that you will pay to your daughter the sum of £15,000, I will inform her that the picture underneath is your property, and she will probably return it. Don't waste any time.
Lord Darrington's language would have done credit to a trooper. But his sense of business triumphed, and that afternoon he wired Alonzo agreeing to the terms.
Alonzo, his usual smile illuminating his countenance, immediately wired Lady Alicia in Paris:
YOUR FATHER OFFERS £15,000 FOR THE PICTURE. REMBRANDT UNDERNEATH. DO YOU ACCEPT? MACTAVISH.
Three hours afterwards he received the answer:
YES. AREN'T YOU WONDERFUL. COME OVER HERE AND COLLECT FIVE THOUSAND. ALICIA DARRINGTON.
Mr. Alonzo MacTavish looked up the train and boat service to Paris, then he turned to Lon Ferrers.
"Lon," he said, "just pack my bag, will you? I'm going to Paris to collect some money. By the way, wasn't it you who warned me against helping a pretty woman? I think you're rather behind the times, Lon. You'd better go to the movies more!"
ONE of the main reasons why Mr. Alonzo MacTavish had never been an inmate of one of His Majesty's prisons was because he possessed an uncanny instinct which invariably told him when some enterprising C.I.D. man was taking a shade too much interest in his movements.
And this instinct was not only confined to the police. For Alonzo had many enemies outside the forces of law and order. The sport of upsetting other swell cracksmen's plans was one in which Alonzo MacTavish was very fond of indulging, and this weakness had procured for him many bitter enemies in every part of the world.
Directly Alonzo saw Marney and Klausen together, he knew that something was afoot. Walking after dinner, down Cork Street, he had observed Marney, over-dressed, and with his usual large cigar, swagger out of the Bristol Restaurant. This fact by itself meant nothing, but when Alonzo noticed that, from the garage entrance opposite the Bristol, Klausen emerged, walked down the street and joined Marney, he knew that something was going to happen which boded no good for someone—possibly himself.
Marney and Klausen were bitter enemies, and Alonzo reasoned that when bitter enemies get together, it is probably only for combination against a common enemy whom they dislike more than each other, and no doubt existed that no greater enemy lived, as far as that pair were concerned, than Mr. Alonzo MacTavish. He had spoiled their individual plans on a dozen occasions. Marney had served a three years' sentence in a French prison for stealing rubies which had actually been "removed" by the enterprising Mr. MacTavish. Klausen had effected one of the greatest coups of latter years in the criminal world by substituting a paste imitation for the Maharajah of Tinpoor's State sword, only to find afterwards, that Mr. MacTavish had in turn substituted an imitation and removed the real one from Mr. Klausen's rooms in St James's Street. At the back of his head Alonzo was rather surprised that Vokell was not joining the other two in their plans. Vokell hated Alonzo as much as Marney and Klausen put together.
MacTavish smiled as this thought came to him, for, at this very moment, from the end of Burlington-avenue, Vokell appeared, and with a quick glance up and down the street joined the other two.
Alonzo knew now that his surmise had been correct. They were out for him, and the question was how.
At the bottom of Cork Street, Marney stopped a passing taxi-cab and the three got in. Luckily, the driver accidentally stopped his engine, and the delay necessitated by the restarting of it enabled Alonso to summon a cab which was crawling along the far end of Burlington Street.
"Follow that cab in front," he demanded, and sitting back, well out of view from the cab windows, lit a cigarette.
THE evening was falling as the two cabs drove up Regent Street, and so long a journey did the enterprising trio make that it was almost quite dark before the first cab stopped outside an unpretentious house on the outskirts of Edgware. Alonzo, stopping his own taxi further down the road, paid off the man and watched his three adversaries enter the small house, which was surrounded by a miniature garden.
He had no idea as to what his next move would be, until he saw a light go up in one of the windows on the first floor of the house. Apparently, this was the room which the three were going to use, and Alonzo's curiosity as to what was going to be discussed there, was almost unbearable.
He walked quietly down the opposite side of the road, until he was directly in front of the house. Standing under a tree, in the shadow, he looked carefully at the other windows, but could discover no sign of life except in the room on the first floor, where the light showed.
Presently, the street being deserted, Alonzo slipped quietly across the road, opened the wooden gate, and slipped round by the side of the house. He moved all round it, keeping in the shadow, listening carefully, but no sound came from within. It seemed to him that there was no one within, except the three conspirators.
His mind made up, he returned to the back of the house and, taking a miniature pick-lock from his pocket, commenced operations on the kitchen door. Two minutes later he was standing in the kitchen, listening intently. Then he made a careful inspection of the ground floor but, as he had thought, there was no one there. Moving slowly and silently he then proceeded to crawl up the stairs and, at the top, a gleam of light showing under the door indicated the room where Marney, Klausen and Vokell were in consultation.
Alonzo moved to the door, and slipping a small automatic pistol from his pocket and holding it in his left hand he commenced, inch by inch, to turn the handle of the door, until it was possible for him to push the door slightly open. Luckily the lock was well oiled, and Alonzo succeeded in opening the door an inch or two, without disturbing the three within.
He placed his ear to the crack and listened. From within the room came the sound of glasses being filled and of a siphon being squirted. Then the nasal American drawl of Klausen came distinctly to Alonzo's ears.
"Say," said the American, "I tell you that we've got the low down on this MacTavish if we play our cards properly. I tell you that he's after that Von Hatten necklace, an' I'll tell you how I got wise. I got the idea of having a go for it myself, an' I wanted to know how the land lay, so I went down to Surrey to have a look at the Von Hatten mansion. I was lying in a hedge, when who do I see crawling along the lane a few yards from me, but Lon Ferrers, MacTavish's side kicker. Ferrers had got a pocket camera and was takin' snaps of the house. Well, you know what that means—it means that MacTavish is going to have a go for that necklace, because he always photographs a house where he's goin' to crack a crib, from every side—he's a careful feller is Alonzo MacTavish! Now, what's the night he's going to try and do the job? There's only one night when he can do it and that's next Thursday night. There's a dance on there that night and the old Von Hatten girl will be wearing that necklace, and when she takes it off it'll go into the safe. Next morning it'll be sent back to the safe deposit where even MacTavish couldn't get at it. So that's the only night he can have a go. See?"
"Vell," said Vokell, in his high pitched foreign accents. "Vot's the big idea?"
"The big idea is this, boys," said Klausen: "I guess we don't love each other much, but I reckon we're brothers compared with what we think of Alonzo MacTavish. He's spoiled our game a dozen times. Marney here has done time for a job that MacTavish cracked. MacTavish has had stuff off me that it's taken me months to plan to get. Gee! I'm sick of that feller. I guess you've got one or two things up against him, too, Vokell, ain't you?"
"Vun or two things!" hissed Vokell. "I'd like to murder zat MacTavish!"
Klausen laughed. "I bet you would," he said. "So would I! But we got to get him first. That feller's full of brains, but I think that this time he gets what's coming to him. Here's the big idea. Next Thursday night we'll all go down to Marstead in Surrey, separately, and we'll watch that Von Hatten house like cats watching a mouse. There's only three sides of it that he can get through, an' we'll watch one side each. Directly that guy appears and gets into the house, we'll telephone through to Scotland Yard and wise 'em up. They'll be after him fast enough. He's not too popular with them. He's given them the slip too many times. When he gets into that house it's goin' to take him three-quarters of an hour to get the safe open. It'll only take the flying squad half an hour from the Yard in their fast car, an' MacTavish'll walk right into their arms. In the meantime, we make a quiet getaway and disappear, an' we'll have the satisfaction of knowing that we've put MacTavish out of the game for a few years. Well, what do you say?"
"I think it's a big idea," said Marney. "I'm for it."
"So am I," said Vokell. "I'll feel relieved ven zat man is be'ind the bars!"
"All right then," said Klausen. "This is how we do it. I'll take the front of the house. Marney can take the right hand side, and Vokell the left hand side. MacTavish can't get us from the back, that I know. Directly we see him at it, whoever spots him runs round and tells the other two. I'll have my car hidden down the road, and we'll drive to Hatstead, which is only five minutes away and telephone from the public call office. Everybody understand? All right, let's have a drink."
Alonzo heard the sound of the siphon once more. Then, with the utmost care, he closed the door, descended the stairs, and made his way carefully out of the house by the same way that he had entered.
Outside, he walked in the direction of Edgware Station. As he walked along Alonzo smiled to himself. Klausen had had a big idea, but Mr. Alonzo MacTavish had thought of a better one!
An hour later, arrived back at his flat in Earl's Court, Alonzo sat down at his writing table, and after some little thought wrote three letters. One he addressed to Mr. Marney, one to Mr. Klausen, and the third to Mr. Vokell. Having completed this task to his satisfaction. Mr. MacTavish smoked a cigarette and went to bed.
ON the following Thursday night a beautiful moon illuminated the stately towers of the Von Hatten home at Marstead. It was half past three in the morning, and the ball had been finished an hour. Crouching in the long grass, which bordered the lane running along one side of the house, Marney shivered, and wished that he had brought a heavier overcoat.
Suddenly someone approached him. He looked up. It was MacTavish.
"Everything's O.K." said MacTavish, with a smile. "Come along."
Marney scrambled to his feet and followed Alonzo who, making a wide detour, made for the other side of the mansion.
"What about Vokell?" whispered Marney. "He's watching round there isn't he?"
"Don't worry about him," he said. "I've knocked him over the head with a sandbag. He's in the tool shed, bound and gagged. Someone will let him out in the morning—if he's lucky!"
They worked their way round to the side of the house which Vokell should have been watching, and Marney saw, with no small admiration, a thin steel ladder which ran up to the first-floor window.
Alonzo prepared to mount. "After me," he said, "and not a sound."
When Alonzo had disappeared through the window, Marney clambered up and joined him. He found himself in a dark passage.
"Give me your hand," said Alonzo. "I don't want to use a torch, if possible. I know the way."
He took Marney's hand and together they walked quietly down the passage. Half a dozen yards down, Alonzo stopped, opened a door quietly and led Marney into a room which was in utter darkness. Marney found himself pushed into a chair.
"Sit there," said Alonzo, "and wait until I come back. We've got to use a blow-pipe on this safe, and I've got it just along the corridor. Don't move, and don't make a noise. I shan't be a minute."
Marney sat in the darkness. Minutes passed, but still there was no sign of Alonzo. The minutes lengthened into a quarter of an hour, then, half an hour, and Marney began to feel decidedly uneasy.
At last he made up his mind to go. Alonzo had fooled him, that was certain. With a muttered curse, Marney rose from the chair and commenced quietly to make his way in the direction of the door. Suddenly be stopped dead. He could hear someone breathing!
Marney stood listening intently. There was no doubt about it. Someone was in the room.
A cold sweat broke out on Marney's forehead. This was no place for him! There was something eerie—something uncanny about this breathing. He continued his progress towards the door, and eventually with a sigh of relief his fingers found the door-handle. He turned it, and pulled the door. It was locked!
At the same moment a hand closed over Marney's as it lay on the door-knob. Marney turned and struck out with his fist, and an exclamation broke from the other man. With a gasp Marney recognised the voice. It was Klausen.
"Klausen!" he gasped. "What are you doing here?"
"And what the hell are you doing here?" muttered Klausen.
A third voice—Vokell's—joined them:
"My Gott! Ve're all here!" hissed Vokell.
From somewhere at the far end of the room a voice sounded—the voice of Alonzo MacTavish.
"Keep quite still gentlemen," he said, "and don't move. Otherwise you'll disturb the whole household. I expect that you are all very surprised to meet each other here, and personally, after my dealings with all of you, I'm rather surprised at the idiot who said that there was honour amongst thieves.
"I expect that you would like me to satisfy your curiosity. Well, I'll do it. I saw you meet in Cork Street, and came to the conclusion that you were up to no good. I followed you to the house—Klausen's house—at Edgware, got in through the back door and overheard your little plot to put Scotland Yard on my track the night that I came here after the Von Hatten necklace. My next step in the game, knowing what a bunch of double-crossing crooks you were, was to write to each of you, making an appointment to see each of you separately. At this appointment I proposed that I would split the profits derived from the sale of the necklace, if that particular man would act as accomplice to me in the robbery. Each one of you, knowing that the others would be watching on the other sides of the house agreed. You were quite prepared to sell each other for a share of the loot.
"However, our friend Klausen made one mistake. He was perfectly right when he said that I took pains to find out about the inside. It may interest you to know that at this moment, I am standing in the entrance of a secret passage leading from this room to the outer ground. I came through this passage soon after the ball and removed the necklace from the safe in this room, which safe is still open. Then I went to each of you in turn and brought you up here and sat you in a chair. There is only one door leading from this room and it is locked. There are no windows at all. Now gentlemen, I am going to leave you via the secret passage, and on my way back to town I'm going to ring up Scotland Yard and inform them that the Von Hatten necklace has been stolen, and that if they will go down to Marstead that they will be in time to get the men who stole it. I've rather turned the tables on you, haven't I?"
There was a scraping sound, and Alonzo's voice came to them a little more faintly.
"Good night, gentlemen," he said "And I hope it keeps fine for you!"
PARK LANE was deserted, and it seemed to Mr. Alonzo MacTavish as, with his overcoat over his arm and his silk hat on one side of his head, he walked slowly in the direction of Piccadilly, that he had never seen Park Lane look so depressing.
And there was no reason for this. Park Lane had really never looked better. A beautiful moon was shining, lighting up the fronts of the white painted mansions, and causing the windows to glisten with a thousand little points of light.
Mr. MacTavish, however, was depressed. Things had not gone too well of late, and nothing had presented itself to Alonzo as being worth the risks which he usually took in his profession as the world's master cracksman.
Also, he found himself thinking a shade too much of Chief Inspector McCarthy. Chief Inspector McCarthy had sworn that he would get Alonzo MacTavish in the end, and Alonzo's own secret service had informed him only that morning that McCarthy seemed very pleased with life, and had boasted to a colleague that within a few weeks he would have MacTavish 'behind the bars.'
Alonzo wondered if McCarthy had got something up his sleeve, some overlooked clue in a past robbery which had given him some idea for trapping the elusive MacTavish.
Alonzo's mind, busy with these thoughts, jumped suddenly as he saw the figure in front of him. He was half-way down Park Lane, and a dozen yards in front, the broad backed figure of a man in evening clothes was staggering along, obviously the worse for liquor.
There was nothing very amazing in this fact. It is not terribly unusual to see such a sight in Park Lane at two o'clock in the morning if it is fine, but the part which interested Alonzo was the identity of the stranger. There was no mistaking that back. It was Goylaff!
MacTavish wondered what Goylaff was doing in London. Goylaff was one of the most enterprising diamond thieves on the Continent, and he seldom honoured London with his presence. Also, it seemed that he must be very drunk, for he staggered along, reeling all over the pavement, and eventually fell, with a terrific bump, into the porch of one of the houses.
It was a very big porch, and quite dark inside. Alonzo, after a quick glance up and down Park Lane, which showed him that he was, apparently, the only inhabitant of the street, with the exception of the inebriated Swede, quickened his pace, turned into the porch into which Goylaff had fallen, and stood, looking down at the Swede as he lay across the step, his white shirt front crinkled and creased, and his silk hat badly dented as a result of his fall.
He was in a drunken sleep and breathing heavily. His evening coat had fallen back, disclosing a piece of white envelope sticking out of the breast pocket and, as curiosity had always been a strong point with Alonzo, especially where people like Goylaff were concerned, he bent down and took the envelope from the drunken man's coat.
He took the letter from the envelope, and, as a stray beam of moonlight fell on the handwriting, he gave a slight start. The handwriting was Radker's—Radker, one of Alonzo's greatest and most dangerous enemies, and one of the cleverest safe blowers in the United States.
MacTavish held the letter in the moonlight and read:
The stuff is in my flat at Gratton House, near Vine Street. I have to leave for Paris at seven o'clock tonight, so come along and get the sparklers and negotiate them as arranged. I enclose the street door key and the flat key herewith, as the night porter goes off immediately everyone is in. Pick up the stuff about three in the morning, and be careful with it—it's worth a small fortune. Any further information from bearer.
A slight whistle escaped Alonzo. So the enterprising Goylaff should have been on his way to pick up some "sparklers" from Radker's flat. Alonzo suddenly realised what those sparklers were. A fifteen thousand pound necklace had been stolen from Carthews, the Bond Street jewellers a week before, and no doubt existed in the mind of Alonzo that this was the booty which Goylaff was to pick up and "negotiate as arranged."
With a smile Alonzo bent down and, feeling in the pockets of the drunken man, found the two keys referred to in the letter. There was no doubt that the necklace would be in some easily accessible spot in the flat, for Alonzo reasoned that, had it been locked away, a further key would have been enclosed.
It seemed to him, therefore, that all he had to do was to walk along to Radker's flat, find the necklace, and wander home to bed. He grinned as he thought of Goylaff coming back to his senses and finding the letter and keys gone. But it would take him some time to sleep off his present stupor, quite enough time for Mr. Alonzo MacTavish to secure the necklace.
Alonzo pushed and pulled the recumbent Goylaff until he was in a fairly comfortable position against the door, and also well in the shadow, so that it was unlikely that he would be seen by a passing policeman. Then, walking quickly, he made his way to Park Street, where he secured a taxi-cab and drove to Sackville Street.
Gratton House was but a few yards away, and Alonzo soon found it. As Radker had suggested, the night porter had closed and locked the main entrance to the flats, everyone being in for the night. Using the entrance key, Alonzo walked into the hall, closing and locking the front door carefully behind him. There was an indicator on the wall which showed him that Radker's flat was on the second floor. Alonzo produced from his pocket a small electric torch and, switching this on, made his way quietly to the second floor.
Inside three minutes he was in Radker's flat. Radker had evidently been doing well of late, for the place was ornately furnished. Alonzo passed from room to room, switching on the electric lights and looking about him for a likely place in which Radker might have put the necklace to await Goylaff's coming. There was no doubt in Alonzo's mind that such a place had been arranged by the two conspirators.
As he walked about the sitting room a large dish of fruit in the centre of the table caught his eye, for it seemed to him that as he had switched on the light he had seen some reflection from the fruit dish. He walked over to it and moved the fruit. There, at the bottom of the silver dish, wrapped in a piece of cotton wool, from which one end had escaped, lay the diamond necklace.
Alonzo picked it up and examined it under the electric light. The beautiful, flawless stones flashed and glittered. A very good haul, thought Alonzo, and by far the easiest bit of business he had ever done in his life. Radker had evidently taken the trouble to steal the necklace. Goylaff was to "negotiate it," and then, through Goylaff's fondness for liquor, the necklace had fallen into his hands, and all for the trouble of opening a couple of doors with keys which had been supplied to him.
He dropped the necklace into his breast pocket, switched off the light, and was about to leave the flat, when some instinct made him go over to the window, draw aside the curtain and look out. In the shadow on the other side of the road Alonzo could discern the figure of a man. He stood, in a dark doorway, waiting. Straining his eyes, MacTavish could see, a few doors further up, the figure of another man. He left the window, walked into the dining room, which looked out on the back of Gratton House, and carefully looked out of the window. Inside one or two minutes he saw the figure of a man walk across the narrow alley leading to Vine Street and halt in a doorway.
Alonzo, the smile gone from his face, returned to the sitting room. One thing was obvious. The house was being watched. The men outside were plainclothesmen! Suddenly the explanation struck him. The whole thing was a trap to get Goylaff arrested, a trap set by Radker, and one into which he, Alonzo, had walked, with the innocence of a babe! Evidently, it had become obvious to Radker that the police knew who had stolen the necklace from Carthews, and he had made up his mind to make a quick getaway, leaving the necklace to be picked up by his accomplice, who would walk straight into the arms of the police.
Sitting in the darkness, he thought rapidly. Then, an idea struck him—the roof. If he could find a way to the roof, he might easily walk over the adjoining roofs of the Sackville Street houses, and descend a hundred yards away. This was the only chance!
He left the Radker flat, closing the door quickly behind him, and mounted the stairs to the upper floor.
On the sixth floor he found what he wanted. A collapsible ladder led to a trapdoor in the roof. His foot was on the first rung of the ladder, and he was just about to mount it when another idea came to him.
Supposing that this was not a trap to catch Goylaff, but a trap to catch himself, Alonzo! Radker was an old enemy. Supposing for the sake of argument that Goylaff had not been drunk at all, that he had simply feigned the drunken stupor, knowing perfectly well that Alonzo seeing him, would certainly search him. Supposing Radker, whose brain might easily be behind all this had telephoned McCarthy and told him that a watch kept on his flat might lead to the arrest of the celebrated Alonzo MacTavish. The idea seemed to Alonzo to be the right one. Also it would account for McCarthy's boast that he would have MacTavish within the month!
There was only one thing to be done. Alonzo realised that he must fall into the hands of the police, but without the diamond necklace in his possession. And how was this to be done without losing the necklace? Suddenly in the darkness, a smile broke over Alonzo's face. He walked quickly down the flat corridor, flashing his light about him. He soon saw what he wanted, and returning quickly to Radker's flat, he sat down at the writing table and wrote a note.
WHEN Alonzo had written and sealed his letter, he returned quickly to the top floor, mounted the fire escape, got through the trapdoor, and found himself on the roof of Gratton House.
Peering over a parapet, he could see, quite easily, the figures dotted down the street—plainclothesmen who were waiting for him to emerge.
Then he proceeded to make his way along the rooftops, working up towards Sackville Street. About half-way up the street, a narrow lane ran between the houses, and a convenient fire escape enabled Alonzo to make his way down into this lane.
Here, he dusted his clothes carefully, screwed his eyeglass into his eye, and lighting a cigarette, casually commenced to walk down the street towards Gratton House.
He was just passing the door when he felt a tap on his arm. He turned to find himself face to face with McCarthy.
"Good evening, MacTavish," said the Chief Inspector. "I think I've got you this time, haven't I?"
Alonzo smiled. "Have you?" he said. "Exactly what do you mean, McCarthy?"
The C.I.D. man's smile became a trifle broader.
"I mean that you've got the diamond necklace that was stolen from Carthews, in Bond Street, MacTavish," he said. "Got anything to say?"
Alonzo laughed. "Nothing at all, Chief Inspector," he said. "Except that I think you're wasting your time. I think that someone has made a fool of you."
"Have they?" said McCarthy, grimly. "Well, supposing that you come round to Vine Street Police Station and be searched."
Alonzo shrugged his shoulders. "Just as you like," he said, "but I shall insist on an apology for this, McCarthy!"
McCarthy looked a trifle surprised as he led the way through the narrow passage which led to Vine Street Police Station.
Arrived at the station, a most thorough search was made but, of course, no necklace was found. McCarthy scratched his head.
"It's darned funny, MacTavish," he said, "but I was assured that you had the necklace in the Gratton House flat, and that you would be going for it tonight."
Alonzo lit another cigarette.
"Chief Inspector," he said, "someone has been pulling your leg, and I think I know who that someone is. Did you get your information from Radker?" A glance at McCarthy's face showed Alonzo that his guess had been right. "Well," he continued, "you can take it from me that he's made a fool of you and got away with it. Radker telephoned me before he left London, and told me that he had left a dog locked up in his flat and would I mind going round and releasing it. He knows that I'm rather fond of animals. He also told me where I could get the keys. I went round there and found no dog. Then it struck me that, in all probability, he had told you that I was going there to get the necklace, so that your attention would be focussed on me, and he would have a chance to get away with it. He's had you on toast McCarthy, and I feel so sorry for you that I won't even make you apologise for trying to arrest me for being in possession of a necklace that I've never seen!"
And with these remarks, Alonzo, settling his hat at its usual angle, strolled out of the Police Station, leaving Chief Inspector McCarthy muttering words which were certainly unprintable.
Twenty-five minutes later, Alonzo, looking quite pleased with life, let himself into his flat at Earl's Court. Lon Ferrers who, when not assisting Alonzo on some exploit or other, posed as his butler, strolled into the sitting room in a dressing gown.
"Lon," said Alonzo, "you will probably be surprised to hear that I've collected the necklace that Radker stole from Carthews last week."
"How did you do it, Mac?" inquired the surprised Ferrers.
Alonzo told him the story in a few words, and Ferrers listened attentively.
"That's all very well," he said when Alonzo had finished, "but where is the necklace? And how did you get rid of it?"
Alonzo smiled. "The easiest thing in the world," he said. "You see there is a post box on each floor at Gratton House, so I just slipped the necklace between a couple of sheets of stiff paper, addressed an envelope to myself at this address, stamped it, and posted it in the third floor box. It will be collected first thing in the morning and I shall get it tomorrow night. Perfectly simple, wasn't it? So simple, that it never entered McCarthy's head, but then who ever expected a C.I.D. man to think of anything. Good-night, Lon. Pleasant dreams!"
MR. CYRUS K. VANDERLEN, alias "Blower Joe," alias "The Shark," and half a dozen other appellations, applied a match carefully to the end of his expensive cigar and gazed blandly across the smoke-laden atmosphere at Alonzo.
"Now see here, MacTavish," he said. "I ain't no guy to beat about the bush, I ain't, an' believe me, if I could handle this proposition myself, I wouldn't come to you, but I can't handle it, an' I'm wise guy enough to know when a job's too big for me. Live an' let live, I says, an' I'm always out to give the other fellow a chance. See?"
"Exactly," murmured Alonzo, knocking the ash from his cigarette, "but what's holding you up, Vanderlen? Where's the difficulty? I thought that safe-blowing was your speciality."
"So it is," drawled Mr. Vanderlen, "but this ain't a safe blowing job. The house is badly shaped for noise, and if I tried to blow that safe open, I guess I'd have the whole of Brook Street aroused. Besides, Brook Street is one of your swell localities. Everybody's up late, an' ten to one someone would be throwin' a party or somethin' in the house next door, an' before I knew where I was, I should be in the local jail. Nope! That safe has got to be opened quietly, an' it's a Brigg's burglar-proof safe, an' as far as I know, there's only one man alive who can crack a Brigg's safe, an' I take my hat off to him—the cutest cracksman that ever wore an eyeglass—Mr. Alonzo MacTavish!"
Alonzo bowed. "Thank you for the compliment, Vanderlen," he said. "And supposing I do the job for you, what exactly do I get out of it?"
"You get half," said Vanderlen, "an' you're on the softest thing you ever did in your natural. Don't you see, this American guy, Marlin, can't even go to the police about it. The stuff we're after is a bit of the crown of the Tzarina. You know that when the revolution happened, all the Crown Jewels were pinched by the Bolshies.
"Well, the Tzarina's crown was broken up, an' bits of it were sold all over the place. By rights, that bit which Marlin's got belongs to the present Government of Russia. He bought it for a song from some Russian fellow, an' if it's stolen, how can he go to the police an' ask them to recover what is nothing more nor less than a bit of property which he has himself bought off a thief? The thing's so simple! I've got a plan of the house. You can get in easy through the first floor window at the back. You walk across the room, you step into a passage, an' the third door on the right is the room where the safe is. It'll take you about twenty minutes to get the safe open, an' then you simply walk away with the goods. I can sell it easy. I got a feller in Amsterdam who'll give me fifty thousand for it, an' that means twenty-five thousand each. Well, are you on?"
Alonzo appeared to be thinking deeply. At the same moment his fingers pressed a concealed button in the arm of his chair. This button controlled a bell which rang in Lon Ferrers' room downstairs, and was used as a means of communication between Alonzo and his assistant without the knowledge of any other people who might be in the room.
"I'll just think this over if you don't mind," said Alonzo, but while he was speaking, his finger was pressing out a message in Morse to Lon, downstairs, a message which ran: F-O-L-L-O-W V-A-N-D-E-R-L-E-N W-H-E-N H-E L-E-A-V-E-S H-E-R-E. Then Alonzo casually took a fresh from his case and lit it.
"All right, Vanderlen," he said. "I'll do it. But it will have to be done pretty quickly. This dark and stormy weather is just the time for a job like this. When do you suggest the job should be done?"
"What's the matter with tomorrow night?" asked Vanderlen. "This fellow, Marlin, goes to bed fairly early—about twelve o'clock. All the servants sleep in the basement, so there's not the slightest possibility of your being disturbed. The first floor window at the back is usually left open, an' the wall leading up to it is as easy to climb as a ladder."
"All right, Vanderlen," said Alonzo. "I'll do it tomorrow night, and the arrangement is that we go fifty-fifty in the proceeds."
"Sure," said Vanderlen. "That's right. I'll come an' see you the day after." He shook hands. "So long, an' good luck," he said.
After Vanderlen had gone, Alonzo walked up and down his sitting-room, deep in thought. He was suspicious. Something about the Americans' tale did not ring true. Vanderlen had blown open more safes than, probably, any other safe blower in the world, and the excuse that the noise might disturb the neighbourhood was a weak one. At the same time he might be speaking the truth, more especially as the safe was a Brigg's burglar proof safe, a new and extremely scientific invention and one which, up to the moment only the extraordinary skill of Alonzo MacTavish had been able to cope with. Alonzo hoped, however, that Lon Ferrers' investigations might throw a little more light on the subject.
IT was eight o'clock before Lon Ferrers returned. He appeared to be tired out and sank into the armchair opposite Alonzo, with a sigh of relief.
"It was a good idea of yours, Mac," he commenced, "getting me to follow this Vanderlen merchant. There's something behind this. He went straight from here down to Charley's, in Limehouse. I suppose he knew that Charley was a friend of yours. Anyhow, he hung about there for some time, and had a long conversation with Charley. I managed to get a quiet word with Charley myself, and he told me that Vanderlen had been trying to pump him about you, and especially he had tried to find out whether you carried a gun when you were on a job, and if so, what type of gun. He handled the conversation very cleverly, and Charley told him that you carried a .38 Colt automatic. Soon after this, Vanderlen went off. He got a cab and drove all round the place, but I didn't lose him. Eventually he stopped the taxi in Davies Street and went into a Brook Street house by the back entrance."
"Did he?" said Alonzo, with a grin, "and it was No. 17, I'll bet!"
"Right every time," said Lon Ferrers. "How did you know?"
Alonzo smiled. "That's the house where the safe is," he said. "The house which I am supposed to burgle tomorrow night. I'd like to know what their game is. Evidently there is something between Vanderlen and this Marlin fellow. Another thing, why does Vanderlen want to know what sort of a gun I carry?"
He walked up and down the room deep in thought. Suddenly, with an exclamation, he stopped, and turned to Ferrers.
"By Jove, Lon!" he said, "I can guess what the game is, and believe me, it's a very clever game, too! However with a little luck I think I can manage to hold my own. Now, you've got to get busy. First thing tomorrow, go and find out all you can about this fellow Marlin. Find out the time that he has dinner. Luckily for me, it's dark about seven o'clock at night and I want to do a little scouting in that house before I break in at midnight. I've got a very good idea that Marlin is none other than our old friend, Marney, and you know what sort of a deal I can expect from him!"
Lon Ferrers whistled. "By Jove, Mac!" he exclaimed, "if it's Marney, you'd better look out. He's sworn to get you."
Alonzo laughed. "Well, he hasn't got me yet," he said. "Anyhow, you get busy in the morning, and let me have all the information you can by six o'clock."
AT eight o'clock on the following evening, Alonzo walked quietly along Davies Street and slipped unobtrusively into a narrow passage which ran parallel with the backs of the Brook Street houses. No one was about, for it was the hour for dinner in what is probably the most select neighbourhood in the world.
Arrived at the back of No. 17, Alonzo produced a bunch of keys from his pocket and tried them, one after another, in the wooden door leading to the garden of No. 17. Eventually he found the right key, opened the door, and with a quick glance round, slipped in.
He found himself in a well-kept garden at the back of the house. The back of the house was in darkness, and Alonzo knew from the information supplied by Ferrers that the household would be at dinner.
He crossed the garden quickly and, taking advantage of the footholds which the architecture of the house afforded, commenced climbing up to the first floor window.
The window was open and Alonzo, taking care to leave no marks of any description on the window ledge, scrambled in. Crossing the room in which he found himself, he entered the passage on the right hand side of the room. The third door on the right he knew, was the library in which the safe stood, but the second door on the right, according to Lon Ferrers' information, was Marlin's bedroom. With a sigh of relief Alonzo found the door unlocked, and, pushing it open, entered.
He switched on a small electric torch, and commenced a systematic search of the room. Eventually in the top drawer of the large chest of drawers standing by the window, he found what he sought.
The drawer contained two pistols. One a .38 Colt automatic, and the other a Smith and Wesson revolver. Alonzo examined them quickly. The Smith and Wesson was loaded with the usual six cartridges, but from the clip of the .38 Colt automatic, which should have held ten bullets, one cartridge was missing, and in its place was an empty cartridge shell.
Alonzo smiled to himself, and fumbled in his pocket. Three minutes afterwards, he replaced the weapons in the drawer, just as they were before, slipped quietly out of the room and, five minutes later, was walking along Davies Street smiling the smile of the innocent.
AT half-past twelve that night Alonzo repeated the process as earlier in the evening, except that he took not so much trouble to remain quiet opening the gate at the back of No. 17. He walked across the garden, climbed up to the first floor window, got through, crossed the room into the passage, and opened the third door on the right.
Once in the room, he turned on the electric light taking care first of all that the curtains were carefully drawn across the windows, and took off his coat. In a wide leather belt around his body were the tools he required for opening the safe. Alonzo took off his belt and, with the same quiet smile, commenced operations on the safe.
Half an hour afterwards his work was completed, and he swung back the heavy door of the Brigg's safe. As he did so a slight sound came to his ears, a sound which seemed to him to emanate from the passage outside.
Walking quickly and quietly to the door where the switch was situated, he snapped off the light and, returning to the safe, quickly donned the leather tool belt and his coat. As he did so the door opened, the light was switched on, and Alonzo found himself gazing into the barrel of a revolver held by his old enemy, Silas Marney!
"Good evening, Marney," grinned Alonzo, "so you are Mr. Marlin, are you?"
Marney grinned. "I sure am," he drawled. "Say, MacTavish, this is where you and I settle off old scores, I guess. An' if you've got any prayers to say, just say 'em, because I'm going to kill you in a minute. I guess we've been a bit too clever for you this time, my lad. You just walked into the cutest little trap that was ever planned out for a guy like you. I sent Vanderlen to you with that cock an' bull story about the jewels from the Tzarina's crown. I knew that was the sort of junk you would fall for, an' now the rest is easy. I'm going to shoot you like a dog! I've waited seven years for my revenge, but I ain't forgetting that I spent five years in Sing Sing through you, an' now you're going to get what's coming to you. An' I shan't suffer for it either, see? It'll be self-defence. Vanderlen found out that you carry a .38 Colt automatic, an' when I've shot you, I'm going to put a .38 gun in your hand, a gun with one cartridge fired. Then, I'm going to call in the police an' tell 'em that I surprised you at that safe, that you fired at me, and that I shot you in self-defence! Well, so long. Alonzo MacTavish!"
Marney raised his revolver, took careful aim at Alonzo, and fired.
As the shot reverberated through the room, Alonzo crashed to the floor. His body jerked spasmodically. A stream of blood ran from his head over the light collared carpet staining it an ominous red.
At the same moment Vanderlen appeared.
"I've got him all right," said Marney. "Quick, Vanderlen. Stick this gun in his hand, an' then run for the nearest policeman!"
Vanderlen did as he was bid. Crossing to Alonzo's recumbent figure, he placed the .38 Colt in his fingers. Then he joined Marney at the door, and together they stood looking at the still figure on the floor.
"Well," drawled Marney, "that's the end of that wise guy, Alonzo MacTavish."
As the words left his lips, Alonzo sat up straight, covering the pair with the Colt automatic.
"Don't move an inch," he commanded. "So you thought that you had got me, did you Marney? Well just remember that there are nine live cartridges in this gun, will you? Rather hard luck on you isn't it? You see I visited this house a few hours ago. I guessed that you would have the guns all prepared in your bedroom, and all I did was to substitute blank cartridges in your revolver. I knew you were going to put the Colt automatic in my hand. It looked a most realistic murder, I must say. How do you like this blood? It cost me a shilling, at the local oil-shop!
"This has been very nice of you, Marney. I see that there are some quite valuable articles in your safe, which I intend to take with me. Just get over to the other side of the room and keep your hands up; otherwise, I'll fill you full of lead. You know Vanderlen, you shouldn't go about making inquiries as to what sort of gun I carried. This was the thing that gave me the clue to your little game."
So saying, Alonzo proceeded to empty the safe of the small articles of jewellery which it contained. Marney said nothing, but his face was distorted with rage. As for Vanderlen, he was weak with anger.
Having stowed away as much as he could carry. Alonzo made for the door.
"I'm locking this on the outside," he said, "and by the time you succeed in getting it open, I shall be well away. I've arranged a little supper party tonight for a few friends of mine. I know they'll enjoy themselves, for I'm going to tell them all about the murder of Alonzo. Good-night!"
MR. ALONZO MACTAVISH was extremely discontented, even although his smile did not indicate this. Things were very bad.
Of course, he realised that it was an interlude. Something must eventually turn up, he thought, mainly because it was necessary that something should turn up. Alonzo possessed fourteen shillings and ninepence—enough for lunch, together with an attractive smile, a figure that made fat men register vows about physical jerks, and an eyeglass. These things constituted, at the moment, his sole possessions.
And he knew that he could expect no help from the fraternity of crooks on the outskirts of which he conducted his operations. They did not appreciate his aptitude for playing his game just within the border line of the law—they hated him for his cleverness.
He walked slowly up Berkeley Street. Glancing down he caught a glimpse of his left shoe. The sole was about to part company with the upper. At the same moment it began to rain, so without the slightest hesitation, Alonzo turned into the Hotel Reina and made for the restaurant.
He saw her from the top of the stairs. She radiated breeding, and her rare smile appeared to be charming to her middle-aged companion who, Alonzo's practised eye told him, was a wealthy American. Her clothes were perfect. She was exquisite.
She looked up and saw Alonzo. Then with a smile, she deliberately beckoned him to their table.
He walked across slowly. Obviously she had mistaken him for someone, but even as he stood before her, the smile persisted. She beckoned him to sit down.
"I think..." began Alonzo, but exactly what he thought remained unsaid, for, at this moment, a small foot was pressed softly against his, and an eyelid quivered, almost imperceptibly. Mr. Alonzo MacTavish smiled.
"I'm so glad you've come," she said. She turned to her companion, indicating Alonzo. "This is Mr. Shelton, your expert. Mr. Shelton, this is Mr. Van Straat who is buying the El Caras mine from us," she said smilingly.
"Glad you've come. Mr. Shelton," said Van Straat "I want to hear all about that mine. Come and see me at the Alcazar tonight and tell me what you think about it. Just an informal talk. Your firm's reputation is good enough for me."
The small foot pressed Alonzo's once more, beneath the table.
"Thanks, Mr. Van Straat," he said. "My firm is, justifiably, I hope, proud of its reputation." He looked, his eyes laughing, straight into the violet eyes opposite! They laughed back.
Mr. Alonzo MacTavish lunched with Mr. Van Straat. Also, he talked about everything in the world, except gold mines. At 2.30 the American discovered that he had an appointment but requested Alonzo not to hurry over his coffee.
"I'll get along," he said. "Meet me tonight at the Alcazar—first floor suite. We'll dine at eight and talk about that mine. In the meantime you can tell Countess d'Iriet all about it."
He signed the bill, made his adieux, and departed.
Through his cigarette smoke. Alonzo regarded the still laughing eyes of his companion. Eventually, he said:
"I am enchanted to meet you, Countess. May I ask you some questions, or does my responsibility end with lunch?" he smiled quizzically.
"Ask on, Mr. MacTavish," she said. Alonzo's smile deepened. So he was known!
He rested his elbows on the table and leaned towards her.
"Question number one; are you Countess d'Iriet? It's a good Russian name, I know. Two. Why am I Mr. Shelton? Three. How do you know I am Alonzo MacTavish? Four. Exactly what is the game?"
"I am Countess d'Iriet. My husband died in Russia three years ago. He left me only a string of pearls. I sold the last one two months ago. Two. You are Mr. Shelton, because it is necessary that our good Mr. Van Straat should receive a personal report on the El Caras mine tonight in order that he may buy all the shares tomorrow. Three. I know who you are, because Siriet, chief of the Paris police, pointed you out to me two years ago, as the one international cracksman that the police could not lay hands on. You are much too clever! And four, the game, as you call it, is simply this, there being nothing dishonest about it. Nine months ago I was in South America and met a charming man—Jean d'Alvarez. He owned the El Caras mine and wanted to sell it. Then Mr. Van Straat, who I met casually in New York, came along and I introduced him as a possible purchaser. Mr. Van Straat sent for a mining engineer, a Mr. Gerald Stevens. This gentleman reported on the mine five days ago and told of the discovery of a pocket of gold. A month ago, Mr. Van Straat wrote here from New York instructing Mr. Shelton, the English mining expert to go out and confirm Stevens' report.
"D'Alvarez arrives in London tonight, and tomorrow, all being well, the purchase will be completed. But this morning I got a frenzied Marconigram from d'Alvarez that Shelton had been taken ill and left behind, and that as Mr. Van Straat's confidence might be shaken by the non-appearance of Shelton, who was personally coming to confirm Stevens' report. I must find a substitute. This was quite possible, as Van Straat has never seen Shelton."
"Ah," said Alonzo, "and what is Mr. d'Alvarez like?"
"Oh, he's amusing, tall, dark, and very handsome in a Latin sort of way."
"And are you in love with him?"
"Heavens no! Why?"
"If you are not, why are you taking all this trouble?" queried Alonzo.
She regarded him quizzically. "For five thousand pounds, which I receive from d'Alvarez when the purchase is completed. I've got only twenty pounds in the world left...you see?"
Alonzo nodded. He saw.
He leaned back in his chair and thought. He couldn't understand it. D'Alvarez—one of the cutest fake share pushers on the Continent—so d'Alvarez was behind this. Alonzo sensed that there was dirty work somewhere.
And the woman. Was she telling the truth? Did she believe the deal to be straight, and the production of the false Mr. Shelton simply as a business move? Alonzo wondered.
"And what," he murmured, "do I get out of this?"
"I'll split my five thousand commission with you," she said. "We'll go halves. And, if you'll let me, I'll give you one of my two remaining tenners on account." She smiled delightfully. "I've noticed your left shoe needs dry-docking," she said.
"Thanks." said Alonzo. He slipped the bank note into his pocket. "Incidentally I'm wondering why I'm doing this—but perhaps I know."
She looked astonished. "I thought you always did things like this," she said, "things most people wouldn't do."
"I agreed to do it," said Alonzo, "firstly because I'm having an interlude—a pretty bad one, and secondly because I think I like you rather a lot. I like the way you wear your clothes and your perfume. So I'll take a chance. Excuse me going won't you? I've got to 'mug up' my story for Van Straat—all about the El Caras mine, I suppose we shall meet tomorrow when the big finance comes off. Au revoir!"
AS Alonzo walked up the rather ornate staircase at the Alcazar, to keep his appointment with Van Straat, he wondered whether he was taking too big a chance. Then an incident attracted his attention.
A small page boy ascending the stairs in front of him, dropped from a bundle of letters a pink cablegram. Alonzo picked it up, and was about to call the boy, when he noticed that it was addressed to Van Straat.
Curiosity being a strong point in Alonzo's character, he stepped into a convenient telephone box and, taking a leather case from his pocket, extracted a small curved needle. This he inserted in the top of the envelope, and in a moment the cablegram was in his hands. Alonzo read it with a surprised smile, returned it to its envelope by the same process, stopped the page boy on his return downstairs and handed it back to him. Then, smiling happily, he made for Van Straat's suite.
The dinner was excellent and Alonzo was in good form when he left the Hotel at nine thirty. Van Straat accompanied him to the entrance.
"D'Alvarez arrives tonight," said the American, "and after your excellent report, I shall complete the deal here, tomorrow, at twelve o'clock. Come along, and drink a glass of champagne to the new owner of the Caras!"
Alonzo said he would, bade his host good-night, and made quickly for Piccadilly. Here, outside the Monaco, he stood deep in thought, his brain searching for the name he wanted. Eventually it came—Tony Largasso, who knew the history of every crook in the world. Alonzo hurried inside and looked him up in the telephone book. Then he hailed a taxi and drove off. Midnight found him still making inquiries about Van Straat, in a dingy flat in Long Acre, and two hours later, smiling happily, he made his way back to his flat in Earl's Court.
It was a beautiful night, and the air was soft and refreshing. Alonzo found himself thinking of a pair of violet eyes.
"I wonder," he murmured to himself, "is she trying to catch me, or is she being caught herself?"
No answer being possible, Mr. MacTavish let himself into his flat and slept the sleep of complete innocence.
NEXT day, at the Alcazar, the formalities had been completed. On the table in front of the smiling d'Alvarez lay sixty thousand pounds in English bank notes. That worthy, who had noted Alonzo's appearance as "Mr. Shelton" without any surprise, was about to pick them up, when the door opened and a quiet and burly individual appeared.
"Sorry to interrupt you. Mr. Van Straat," he said shortly. "I'm Chief Inspector Dunant of Scotland Yard. You've been rather badly had, I think sir!"
He turned from the astonished Van Straat to d'Alvarez, whose smile had entirely disappeared.
"D'Alvarez, I have a warrant for your arrest for conspiracy to defraud. Stephanie, Countess d'Iriet, I have a warrant for your arrest as an accessory. I've no warrant for you, MacTavish," he continued. "We only had information as to your part in this business this morning, but I'm going to hold you on suspicion."
"Look here, officer. What does this mean?" asked the amazed Van Straat.
"Simply this, sir," said the police officer. "We know this d'Alvarez. He's an international crook. Share planting is his game. Oh, there's no doubt that he's the legal owner of El Caras, but it's worthless. The man Stevens that you took out originally to report on the mine was bribed by d'Alvarez to put the gold there which he found."
"But Shelton..." spluttered Van Straat, "Mr. Shelton here—"
"He's not," replied the Scotland Yard man. "He's Alonzo MacTavish, who has always kept out of our hands till now. The Shelton you had sent to El Caras was knocked over the head by d'Alvarez and held out there to prevent him giving you a true report. You had never seen him, and it was easy for them to plant this chap on you with a fake report."
Van Straat gasped. The woman sat, very white, her hands clasped.
"I know nothing of all this," she said. "No one will believe me, but I know nothing. Also, this gentleman, Mr. MacTavish, is quite innocent. I persuaded him only yesterday to impersonate Mr. Shelton. Please believe me..." she gazed at Alonzo dumbly.
"Of course I believe you," said Alonzo. "Lock the door, Inky," he continued to the "Chief Inspector." Then he picked up the banknotes and put them in his pocket. They gazed at him in astonishment.
"The 'Chief Inspector' here is a friend of mine," he said with a smile. "He's as much a policeman as I am. Now, let me explain." He turned to d'Alvarez. "Jean, for once in your life you've been double-crossed." He indicated Van Straat. "Allow me to present Cyrus Freimen, the cutest crook in the United States. Sit down, Freimen. Don't get excited. Now I'll tell you what really happened."
"Freimen heard that there was gold in El Caras. He also heard that you were trying to sell the mine through Countess d'Iriet, although you didn't tell her of your murky past. He sent a crooked mining engineer, Gerald Stevens to see the mine. Stevens discovers a big vein of gold, reports to Freimen, and then allows d'Alvarez to bribe him to salt the mine and send a second report to Freimen. The Shelton sent out by Freimen was a second accomplice sent out for the purpose of belittling Stevens' fake report in order that Freimen might have the mine more cheaply. D'Alvarez has this fellow held out there and wires the unsuspecting Countess to find another Shelton. She finds me.
"Last night a page boy dropped a cablegram addressed to Van Straat on the stairs here. I read it. It was from Stevens informing Van Straat, otherwise Freimen, that there was gold all over the place at El Caras. I got in touch with Tony Largasso who identified Van Straat as Cyrus Freimen. Then I staged this little comedy with the 'Chief Inspector,' and here we are.
"Now I'll settle the matter. D'Alvarez, the mine is still yours. For my services I'm going to stick to the sixty thousand pounds less what is due to the Countess, and a bit for the Chief Inspector's trouble. As for Freimen, this little failure costs him sixty thousand pounds, but he can go to the police if he wants to, although I rather think he'll keep as far away from them as possible. They want him on about fifteen different counts. Inspector, open the door for Mr. Freimen. I think he's going to be ill!"
ONE hour later, Mr. Alonzo MacTavish lunched sumptuously at the Hotel Reina. He appeared to be deep in thought.
"Of what are you thinking, Mr. MacTavish?" inquired the Countess.
Mr. Alonzo MacTavish smiled at her across the table.
"I was thinking of an old proverb," he said, "one which says that it's an ill wind which blows nobody any good. Freimen has lost sixty thousand, d'Alvarez has got a valuable gold mine. You have got thirty thousand pounds, and I have the other thirty thousand. The wind has blown quite a lot our way. I wonder will it blow me anything else?" He looked into her eyes.
She looked at her plate. "I should ask if I were you," she said.
DETECTIVE INSPECTOR MULLINS—that painstaking officer with a long record of efficiency and a reputation for "getting his man"—can tell you the story of "The Snowball" with a wry smile. He will admit the tardy satisfaction that, even if he did not "get" Alonzo (which he has tried to do for more years than he cares to remember), at least he had the satisfaction of knowing that the best man won!
The fact that the third largest diamond ever won from the De Beers' mines was christened "The Snowball," because of its shape, size, and whiteness, adds a seasonable touch to the fact that the peculiar circumstances surrounding its theft took place on Christmas Day.
Alonzo MacTavish told me the story himself as we sat sipping vermouth outside the Café de La Paix in Paris two years ago, and what he did not tell me I got from Mullins; for, knowing both of them, I was in the favourable position of the onlooker who sees most of the game.
It was two days before Christmas and Alonzo, seated in a big armchair in his comfortable flat in Knightsbridge, felt at peace with the world. A big fire blazed before him, an excellent cigar burned evenly in his fingers, and the fact that his latest escapade on the Continent had turned out well added to his satisfaction. He was considering whether he should change and go to the theatre, when Lon Ferrers who, when the pair were not engaged on "business," posed as Alonso's valet, put his head round the door.
"There's a lady to see you, Mac," he said. "She says it's urgent. Will you see her?"
Alonzo cocked an eyebrow. "Do we know her?" he asked.
Ferrers shook his head. "I don't," he said. "But she's one of the prettiest girls I've ever seen in my life!"
MacTavish smiled. "In that case I shall certainly see her," he said. "Ask her to come in."
He rose to his feet as Ferrers ushered the girl into the room, and Alonzo realised that he had not exaggerated when he said that she was pretty. The word hardly described her. Tall, blue-eyed, and with a dazzling complexion, set off by as superb a coiffure of blonde hair which had never encountered the peroxide bottle, she walked with a grace seldom encountered in these days of hurry and bustle. Her evening gown and cloak of black velvet, lightened by a diamond clasp, expensively created, told Alonzo that his visitor was a person of some importance.
He ushered her to a chair and gave her a cigarette. He was curious to hear her speak, to know whether the quality of her voice would match her other attributes of breeding, and he was not disappointed.
"You will probably wonder why I have come to see you, Mr. MacTavish," she said. "I do not propose to waste your time, which is probably very valuable, but to come straight to the point. First of all let me tell you why I have come to you specifically.
"My name is Marion Gervase, and last year when I was in Paris I was drinking one night at the Continental with Monsieur Gaucharde, head of the French Criminal Investigation Department. On that same evening you were also dining in the restaurant. Gaucharde pointed you out to me. He told me that you were the cleverest cracksman in three continents, that the police had never succeeded in apprehending you, that you had more brains than all the other crooks in the world put together. More, that you were incurably romantic, and that you followed your somewhat strange profession—strange to a man of your accomplishments—because of your sense of adventure."
Alonzo bowed. "I find myself extremely flattered," he said. "It is apparent that you know all about me, and even if I do not admit all Monsieur Gaucharde's soft impeachments, at the same time he was probably right about one or two things. But please go on."
She snuffed out her cigarette in the ash tray by her side, and leaned forward. Her face was tense.
"Mr. MacTavish," she said. "I am in great trouble. I have come to ask you to help me, and you will forgive me if I tell you that your assistance will be well rewarded. I believe you know an individual named Doctor Theodore Klaat?"
Alonzo grinned. "I know Doctor Theodor Klaat extremely well," he said. "I have no respect for him whatever. He is a bungler of the worst description, a blackmailer, and a disgrace to our nefarious profession. Also, he is my worst enemy and has on half a dozen occasions endeavoured to have me put out of the way. Have you fallen into his clutches?"
"I am definitely in his clutches," she answered. "Monsieur Gaucharde, on the occasion which I have mentioned, told me that Klaat and yourself were bitter enemies—that is my other reason for seeking your assistance. But let me tell you my story.
"You have probably heard of The Snowball diamond. Some months ago it was bought in Paris by a gentleman who gave it to a relative of mine. When this relative left for the Argentine, the diamond was given to me for safe-keeping, and I was also given permission to wear it when I wanted.
"Soon after this I met a young man in Paris. He seemed charming, well-bred, and well-connected. I fell in love—at least I thought that I had fallen in love—with him. I wrote him a great many foolish letters—some of them more than indiscreet, for, at this time, I had quarrelled with the man to whom I was engaged.
"Not long afterwards I discovered that this scoundrel, for whom I had in fact broken off an engagement to the best man in the world, was none other than an associate of Doctor Theodor Klaat. Immediately I ceased to have anything to do with him, and a month or two afterwards made up my quarrel with my previous fiance and our engagement was resumed. We planned to marry next month.
"Two weeks ago, just before I left Paris, I was approached by Klaat. He informed me that unless I handed over the Snowball diamond to him he would produce all the silly letters I had written to his villainous young associate, and hand them to my intended husband.
"I was desperate. I did not know what to do and, instead of going immediately to the police, I lost my head and handed over the diamond to Klaat. But he never returned my letters. He still has them.
"Now, my relative, the owner of the diamond, has written to me and asks me to return it immediately."
Alonso nodded. "A pretty kettle of fish," he murmured. "And you want me to..."
She rose to her feet. "I want you to steal the diamond and return it to me, Mr. MacTavish," she said. "Klaat is here in England. He has taken a house near London. He has the Snowball diamond in the safe. Don't you realise that if you could obtain it, he could never go to the police, for he himself has obtained it by criminal means. I dare not go to the police for if I did, Klaat would produce my letters to the man I hope to marry in a few weeks!"
"I must say that the idea appeals to me," he said, "and, much as I hate to talk finance, I should like to know exactly what my reward would be—that is, if I seriously considered taking this little business in hand."
She opened her handbag. "Here are five hundred pounds, Mr. MacTavish," she said. "When you hand me the diamond I will give you another thousand."
He walked to the window and looked out. For a few minutes he thought deeply then, a little smile playing about his mouth, he returned and faced her.
"I will do what you ask Miss Gervase," he said. "But first I want you to give me some information. You had better write it down."
He walked to the writing desk and brought her a piece of notepaper and a pen. "Write down Klaat's address and, if you do not mind, write a note to me confirming what you have said about the means by which he obtained possession of the diamond. This is merely as a protection in case Klaat should catch me in the act—I want him to know that I know all about it. Then, I think, with a little luck, in a day or so we shall manage to put your mind at ease and return you the Snowball diamond!"
She smiled—a wonderful smile, Alonzo thought, and, sitting down at the table, wrote the note for which he had asked. When she had finished she handed it to Alonzo who read it carefully.
"Excellent," he said. "Now Miss Gervase if you will give me your address I will get in touch with you in the course of a day or so. I do not think that there will be a great deal of difficulty about this."
She opened her handbag, extracted a visiting card and handed it to him.
"I can never thank you enough, Mr. MacTavish," she said. "And now, if you will send your man for a taxi, I can go back to my hotel knowing that I have at least one good friend in this time of trouble."
She held out her hand. He took it, and stood smiling at her.
"I hope we shall all be satisfied," he said. "Oh, by the way, can you tell me what the snowball Diamond looks like?"
"Yes, I can," she answered, "or better still, if you will go to Flavin's the Jewellers in Bond Street, you will see in the window a photograph of the diamond. It is in the form of a pendant."
"Very well," said Alonzo. "Now don't worry. All will be well."
He rang the bell for Ferrers and, five minutes later, his fair visitor had gone. He sat once more deep in thought.
Eventually he rang for Ferrers and, when that worthy appeared, outlined to him the story which Marion Gervase had told him.
Ferrers grinned. "A Christmas present for her, eh?"
"Well, we'll see. In the meantime slip round to Flavin's and take a snapshot of that photograph of the diamond, through the shop window. Then come back, there's a lot to be done."
IT was Christmas day. Alonzo, sitting in front of a roaring fire, looked at the velvet lined case which, opened, lay on the table before him. Inside, flashing against the velvet, the Snowball glinted, its facets reflecting the firelight. On the other side of the fire sat Lon Ferrers, his mouth twisted into a grin.
Suddenly the telephone rang and Alonzo, with a smile at Ferrers, took up the instrument. His smile persisted as he listened to the voice of Doctor Theodor Klaat.
"A merry Christmas, MacTavish," said the guttural voice of the Doctor. "I hope you will enjoy it in prison! Perhaps, my friend, you will now find a little admiration for Klaat whom you have boasted of outwitting on so many occasions. Are you not going to congratulate me on the success of my plot!"
"Ah, Doctor," murmured Alonzo. "So it's you, is it! By the way what are you talking about. What is this marvellous plot?"
"Just this," sneered Klaat. "We have made a fool of you my friend. I thought that my little lady friend would take you in. Your sense of the romantic is too developed!" Klaat's voice changed ominously.
"You fool," he hissed over the telephone. "Let me tell you what I have done to you. The relative that the supposed Marion Gervase mentioned to you as being the owner of the Snowball Diamond was myself, and it was my idea that she should come to you, tell you that cock-and-bull story and persuade you to come here to my house, which you did last night, open the safe and steal the diamond.
"And I suppose when you telephoned her this morning that you had the diamond at your flat, you thought that she was coming round to collect it and to pay you the other thousand!
"You fool...the only people who are coming round are the police and they will be with you very shortly. I have proved to the satisfaction of Scotland Yard that I am the legal owner of the Snowball Diamond and I have informed them that you have stolen it and have it, at the moment, in your flat. Your place has been under police supervision all day. As for the five hundred that my lady friend advanced to you. Well, I hope you will be able to spend it in prison...!"
Alonzo smiled. "Listen, Klaat," he replied. "Do you know, I'm afraid that you are making the mistake of your life, and I want to warn you because I would hate to see you get into some trouble. I am going to suggest that you telephone Scotland Yard and tell them that you have made an unfortunate mistake, and then, I think, if you are wise, you will come round here, bringing with you the other thousand pounds that your lady friend promised to pay when the Job was done.
"Now don't get excited Doctor, just listen carefully to me. You see, the supposed Miss Marion Gervase, in spite of the careful tuition which I am sure you gave her, made one very great mistake. She was so keen on getting me to steal the diamond that she forgot to ask me to steal the letters which she said were the cause of your getting possession of it!
"Obviously, my dear Doctor, had her story been true, her great concern would have been to secure the return of her letters as well as the diamond. This fact made me suspicious, and so, my dear Doctor, when I came and burgled your safe last night, I merely removed the Snowball Diamond from the safe and hid it somewhere else in your house.
"When the police come here—and they will come unless you are wise and stop them—we shall simply tell them that the supposed Miss Marion Gervase came here and told us a little fairy tale for the purpose of getting me to steal your diamond. We can prove this because I got her to write a note setting out the whole story and she was foolish enough to do it. Handwriting can't lie you know, Doctor.
"At the present moment the Snowball Diamond is safe in your house. Just where it is hidden is my affair and I'm prepared to tell you when you come round here and pay up the other thousand, and if you'd like to bring the charming Miss 'Marion Gervase' with you I'll give her a little Christmas box. I've had a facsimile of the Snowball Diamond made, and I'd love to give it to her and watch her face!
"Au revoir, Doctor—Happy Christmas, and if I were you I'd be round here before two o'clock with that money. So long!"
And, as Detective-Inspector Mullins added with a grin, Doctor Klaat came!
MR. ALONZO MACTAVISH, resplendent in a plum-coloured velvet smoking jacket, over an immaculate white evening waistcoat, his green eyeglass screwed into his left eye and the usual urbane smile about his mouth, gazed appreciatively at his visitor.
'Of course, I'm curious,' he said. 'When I receive a note from a lady whom I do not know, informing me that she is calling to see me at 11.30 at night on a matter of the most extreme importance to myself, then I become merely curious. But when, on her arrival I am enthralled by her face, her figure, the superb simplicity of her evening frock, and the amazing charm of her personality, then I am both curious and delighted.'
She smiled. Alonzo noted the curve of her mouth, the whiteness of her little teeth.
'Mr. MacTavish,' she said, 'my name is Janet Larne.' She glanced at a tiny wrist watch worn over her long glove. 'I have not a great deal of time at my disposal, and I must also have some regard for my reputation. Therefore, if you do not mind, I will state my business very quickly and go.'
'And do we never meet again?' he queried softly, cocking one eyebrow.
Her smile deepened. 'That depends upon you,' she said. She look a cigarette from the box he held towards her. As he lit it for her he looked through the flame of the lighter into her eyes. They were violet and mischievous.
'First of all,' she said as he sat down in the armchair opposite her, 'you are wrong when you say that you do not know me. You mean you do not recognise me. Do you remember a night, some four years ago in Zagreb, when the timely intervention of your foot in the way of a more than usually intelligent plainclothesman allowed a young woman to get out of the Zukloc Club with somebody's pearl necklace in her handbag?'
Alonzo whistled. 'So that was you, was it?' he murmured. 'I remember very well. It took me an hour to convince that detective that I hadn't tripped him deliberately. Now tell me—'
'Please,' she interrupted. 'I said that I haven't a great deal of time.
'A year ago,' she continued, 'I found myself in a similar predicament. Once again I was helped, but this time my saviour was not quite so charming. His name was Dr. Theodor Klaat—your most bitter enemy. I need not tell you that when Dr. Klaat renders a woman a service he exacts the full payment.'
She looked down at her gloved hands. Alonzo nodded, his face serious.
'I have worked with Klaat since then,' she said, 'not because I wanted to, but because I had to. And always I have sought a means of escape. Well, I think I have found it.'
Alonzo smiled. 'Go on,' he said. 'I am definitely interested. Anything to do with Dr. Klaat—' He shrugged his shoulders expressively.
'The two most polished and practised jewel thieves in Europe,' she went on calmly, 'are Theodor Klaat and yourself. But Klaat has been out of actual business for a year, and his present scheme—of which I, and I hope you, will take advantage—is entirely legal and essentially moral.
'We were in Paris last month,' she said. 'Klaat had opened a jewellery business there as a front for operations. No one was more surprised than he was when the Villiato Syndicate, the people who had bought the Silm pearl, placed it in his hands for sale.
'He has brought it to England to offer it to a firm which is interested. He proposes to do the business quite honestly, so that it will serve as a "build-up" for future illegal operations.'
Alonzo nodded. 'Very clearly put,' he said. 'And so?'
She rose from her chair. As Alonzo got to his feet a suggestion of a delicate perfume came to his appreciative nostrils. 'Dr. Klaat is living at 367 Queen's Gate,' she said quietly. 'The Silm pearl is in the wall safe in the library, awaiting the inspection of the pearl merchants, who are to view it on Thursday morning. It is now Monday night, I am going to suggest that Mr. MacTavish removes the pearl from the safe on Wednesday night at about 10.30 o'clock.
'The house should be empty at that time. I shall make it my business to give Klaat's servant an evening off. I shall also arrange that he and I go to the theatre and on to supper afterwards.
'And,' she continued, moving a little closer to Alonzo, 'if Mr. MacTavish is interested I will even give him the combination that opens the safe!'
He grinned. She noted his white teeth, approvingly.
'It sounds very good to me,' he said. 'But may I ask you why you are taking all this trouble?'
'Certainly,' she said. 'I couldn't dispose of that pearl. You could. If you agree to see this thing through I shall leave Klaat on Thursday. But before I go I expect you to pay me the sum of £7,000 for my share of the pearl. Do you agree?'
He looked at her, his eyes twinkling.
'Definitely,' he said. 'We are now partners. Don't you think we ought to dine together tomorrow on the strength of it?'
She shook her head. 'I will give you dinner next week,' she said demurely. 'At the end of next week, in my flat in the Rue Henri Martin—after our little business is completed. Here is the combination of the safe. And now, I must go.'
They shook hands. Looking into her eyes Alonzo thought they were much softer—much less enigmatical.
'Au revoir, partner,' she said. 'Till next week.'
WHEN he heard the apartment door close behind her, Alonzo rang the bell.
Wakers, his eyes gleaming with excitement, his black butler's bow almost under one ear, slid into the room.
'I suppose you were listening at the door?' Alonzo queried.
'You bet I was, guv'nor,' grinned Wakers. 'What a chance for you to get back on Klaat. Blimey! All you got to do is to get into Klaat's place next Wednesday night, open the safe, an' grab that pearl. It's money from home. It's easy!'
'Precisely,' said MacTavish. 'That's just it. It's too easy. Wakers, you are an excellent accomplice, a very good imitation butler—when you wear your tie straight—but as a psychologist you are definitely no good at all.' He blew a smoke ring into the air. 'Tomorrow morning,' he went on, 'I want you to ring Tony Belazzo in Paris. Ask him to find out what he can about this Villiato Syndicate, the people who have commissioned Klaat to sell the Silm pearl, and then telephone me here tomorrow evening without fail.'
AT 10.30 o'clock on Wednesday evening Mr. MacTavish, immaculate in evening clothes, drove his car into Senton's Mews in Queen's Gate, got out, walked quietly round to No. 367 and, taking a bunch of skeleton keys from his pocket, opened the door.
The house was still and in darkness. He switched on his flashlight and investigated. Three minutes afterwards he was in the library. Two minutes after that he had found the wall safe, and, using the combination given him by the girl, opened it. At 10.45, smoking a cigarette, he closed the front door of the house behind him and walked to the telephone call box on the corner of Queen's Gate and Harrington Crescent. He opened the door slightly and stood, leaning against the outside of the booth, whistling quietly to himself. At 11 o'clock the phone bell in the booth rang. Alonzo stepped in and took off the receiver. Waker's voice came over the line.
'They've just left the show at the Palace, guv'nor,' he said. 'They took a cab outside, an' I heard Klaat tell the driver to go along to the Diadem Club. I s'pose they'll have supper there. What's the next move?'
'This is the next move, Jimmy,' said Alonzo. 'I'm going to the Diadem now. I shall be there in 15 minutes—that is, at about 11.30. You hang about on the other side of the road opposite the club entrance.
'About a quarter of an hour after I go in,' he went on, 'I think you'll find that the girl will come out. Follow her, and take care you don't lose her. Find out where she's going to stay, and telephone through to the flat. Have you got all that?'
'I got it, guv'nor,' said Wakers. 'So long!'
Alonzo came out of the booth, strolled back to the mews, and started up the car. Then, his silk hat at its usual angle, his green eyeglass screwed tightly into his left eye, he drove through the theatre traffic towards the Diadem Club.
At a quiet corner table in the club Dr. Theodor Klaat, his tiny black beard and well-kept moustache adding a touch of distinction to his saturnine countenance, regarded his charming companion over the top of a glass of champagne.
'Really, my dear Janet,' he said, 'I feel fearfully sorry for MacTavish. Imagine his excitement. He has actually got the Silm pearl by now, worth at least, £40,000, and, having got it, he will find that it is practically impossible to dispose of it.
'He will find by the time he attempts to get rid of it that every fence in Paris and London has been warned off by the police, that every pawn-broking institution in the two countries has received a photograph of the pearl—just in case of a robbery.
'In six months' time he will be glad to sell the pearl back to me, at my price!'
He sipped his champagne. 'And if he does get reckless and tries to do a quick deal in the open market with it,' he continued, 'the police will be on to him in a flash.'
She nodded. 'It was a clever scheme,' she said. 'And I suppose you're a clever man, Theodor. Still. I'm rather sorry for MacTavish.'
He smiled at her. 'He's charming,' he said, 'isn't he? All the women like him. I suppose you do—just as much as you hate me?' Klaat's smile broadened at the thought, then disappeared as he saw the look of amazement that came across her face.
He turned. Towards them an urbane smile on his face, came Alonzo.
'Ah, my dear Klaat,' said he, smiling, 'and my dear Miss Larne, this is indeed a pleasure.'
He pulled up a chair and sat down. Klaat, always cool, poured out a glass of champagne. Alonzo took it and sipped it appreciatively.
'You will probably wonder, my dear doctor,' said Alonzo, 'why I have taken it upon myself to intrude in your little supper party, but the fact is I think—and I am sure you will agree—that people who follow our rather dangerous profession ought to be able to trust their accomplices. Don't you think?'
Klaat's face darkened for a moment, then, recovering his usual urbanity, he smiled and shrugged his shoulders.
'You've been badly let down, Klaat,' said Alonzo, still smiling happily. 'This young woman, Janet—this delightful creature whom you have trusted with a very clever plot, has sold you out. Allow me to explain. You instructed her to come and see me on Monday night last and tell me that she wanted to escape from you—which is probably true—and that the means by which she could do it was by my stealing from you the Silm pearl.
'I was to dispose of it and split the proceeds with her. She, on her part, was to see that the Queen's Gate house was empty at 10.30 tonight and to give me the combination of the wall safe in the library.'
He lit a cigarette and looked at the scowling face of Dr. Theodor Klaat. 'Well,' went on Alonzo, lying glibly, 'she did nothing of the sort. She told me the whole truth. She told me that this Villiato Syndicate in Paris, the people who were supposed to have commissioned you to sell the Silm pearl, were none other than my old enemies Sargue and Mantassi—two old-time friends of yours.
'She told me how they had bought the pearl at a bargain price, insured it for three times its value, handed it over to you to sell in England, on the understanding that I should be lured by this charming young lady into stealing it.
'The fact that I was in London at the time of the robbery would throw suspicion on me and you, assisted by Sargue and Mantassi, would close every underworld avenue through which I could dispose of the pearl.
'What an awful position for me!' said Alonzo with a shrug. 'I should be forced to come to you and sell you back the pearl at your price, and you would have had the pleasure of getting the insurance on the pearl, the pearl itself, and the added happiness of putting me under suspicion once again.' He looked sternly at the girl.
'She's unworthy of you, Klaat,' he said. 'What a fearful double-cross to pull on you—to tell me all that!'
Klaat struggled for breath. He could hardly control himself. He looked across at the girl with blazing eyes.
'Get out!' he hissed. 'Get out—you little double-crossing jade, before I throw you out!'
The girl rose to her feet. Amazement was in her eyes. She looked from Klaat to Alonzo and back again.
'Run along, my dear,' said Alonzo pleasantly. 'And let this be a lesson to you. You really mustn't try to double-cross your dear friend Theodor Klaat like that!'
She pulled her evening cloak about her shoulders. Then, without a word, she walked out of the club. Alonzo smiled after her.
'A charming girl,' he said. 'Very beautiful, but I think rather silly. Let's have another bottle, Klaat—on me this time!'
Klaat said nothing. He was unable to speak.
AT 10 o'clock next morning Mr. MacTavish walked across the lounge of the Vane Hotel in Knightsbridge and met Miss Larne as she came out of the lift.
'Good morning, Janet,' said Alonzo, cheerfully. 'I think a little explanation is indicated. Come and drink some coffee, and, if you want to know how I knew that you were here, I will immediately satisfy your curiosity. I had you followed last night, when you left the Diadem Club so indignantly.
'It was all very simple,' said Alonzo, when the waiter had brought the coffee and gone. 'It all sounded too easy, and so I made up my mind to work things my way.
'First of all, I got the low-down on the Villiato Syndicate from a friend in Paris on Tuesday evening—the night after you came to see me. Then I guessed what the scheme was. So, instead of waiting until Wednesday night to effect the burglary, I did it on Tuesday night.
'After all, I had the combination, and you were all so sure I wouldn't come until Wednesday as arranged. On Wednesday morning I handed in the Silm pearl at the local police station, saying I'd found it ten minutes before on the pavement in Queen's Gate. I also claimed the ten per cent reward payable under French law by the insurance company, which I shall get in due course, and of which I propose to give you one-half.
'Then all I had to do was to pay a little visit to the house last night and then come on and see you and Klaat and tell him that funny story about you. I thought it time that you two separated. Don't you think so?'
She looked at him across the little table. 'You are very clever and very charming,' she said. 'But tell me one thing. If you took the pearl on Tuesday night, why did you go to the house last night?'
Alonzo smiled. 'I wanted to leave something in the safe for my good friend Dr. Theodor Klaat,' he said. He offered her his cigarette case. 'A small basket of carefully selected lemons.'
AT six o'clock on a summer's evening, Mr. Alonzo MacTavish, quietly distinguished in a superior-cut grey suit, a smile illuminating his pleasantly saturnine countenance, sat at a little marble-topped table outside the Café de la Paix. Through his green eyeglass he regarded the cream of Paris pass on its way there and back. Presently, the tables outside the Café began to fill, and, at about twenty minutes past six, a short, well-dressed individual with a small imperial attached to a bespectacled visage, sat down on the other side of Alonzo's table and ordered a vermouth cassis.
MacTavish glanced casually at his companion and then resumed the important business of the moment, which consisted of absorbing, with an open admiration, the lines of an exquisitely dressed woman who, standing with one charmingly turned ankle on the step of her car, talked to an acquaintance.
The short gentleman watched MacTavish for a moment. Then he looked across at the lady whose shape found such favour in Alonzo's eyes. Then he leaned across the table and said, very quietly: 'I agree with you, Monsieur MacTavish—a most beautiful, enchanting woman, filled with—what is the word, m'sieu?—ah, allure, yes, that is the word. Don't you think?'
Alonzo smiled his most charming smile. 'I agree with you about the lady, m'sieu,' he said. 'But that is all. I am not Monsieur MacTavish. My name is Verneuilton—Alphonse Verneuilton, of Nantes, at your service.'
The short individual smiled.
'I am sure that you will permit me to disagree with you,' he said pleasantly. 'But, m'sieu, you are not Alphonse Verneuilton, you are Alonzo MacTavish—once seen never forgotten.'
He offered a thin, gold cigarette case. 'I was present when the enterprising Chief Inspector Garroche nearly arrested you in Nice in '32—you remember? Also, please note, I said "nearly."'
Alonzo took the cigarette and shrugged his shoulders.
'Yes?' he murmured.
The short gentleman leaned a little nearer. 'My name is Jacques Falbaron,' he said, 'of Jacques Falbaron et Cie, jewellers of rue Henri Martin. Like you I am interested in precious stones—even if from a different and, shall we say, more legal angle.
'It is an extraordinary world, m'sieu,' he continued, 'is it not? Just now, when I saw you looking at the lady across the street—Madame la Comtesse de Lirac, is her name—the thought came to me—'
'Just what was the thought that came to you, m'sieu?' queried Alonzo, pleasantly.
'Madame la Comtesse de Lirac is a lady with whom I have done a great deal of business,' said the jeweller. 'She is the wife of an extremely rich man who, I should point out, is some thirty years her senior. Madame la Comtesse used to be on the stage before she married.'
'How interesting,' said Alonzo.
'Quite,' said Falbaron. 'Well, monsieur, as I was saying, I have bought and sold a great deal of jewellery and precious stones for Madame la Comtesse. Sometimes I have bought it from her and sometimes from some of her young gentleman friends to whom she has either given it, or who have just helped themselves to it in one of her more generous moments.'
He grinned pleasantly. 'I should point out,' he went on, 'that she is extremely attracted to slim and handsome types—your own type, in fact, m'sieu.
'Really?' said Alonzo, blowing a little smoke out of one nostril.
'Only this morning,' continued Falbaron, musingly, 'Madame la Comtesse telephoned me and asked me to advance her fifty-thousand francs, and I found I could not agree. Yet, with a little co-operation from you, m'sieu, I think I could see a way in which I might manage to make her the advance, and at the same time both you and I might also make a considerable sum of money.'
He leaned a little closer to Alonzo. 'Have you heard of the Plaque Lirac, m'sieu?' he inquired innocently. 'And are you interested?'
Alonzo looked at him. His eyes were twinkling.
'Falbaron,' he said, 'it seems that times are not so good with you French jewellers either! Yes, m'sieu, I have heard of the Plaque Lirac, and I am interested.'
Monsieur Falbaron smiled winsomely. 'This casual meeting, Monsieur MacTavish,' he murmured, 'this coincidence, is obviously inspired by a kindly Fate.' He got up. 'Shall we eat a little dinner together?'
Alonzo nodded assent. He was not a great believer in coincidences.
'LET us consider Madame la Comtesse Valerie de Lirac,' said Falbaron. 'She is a beautiful woman, still young and inclined towards adventure. Her husband keeps her very short of money, but gives her a great deal of jewellery. He is an old fool and dotes on her. He is busy and leaves her a great deal to herself.' He grinned. 'What is the result?' he went on. 'Why, from time to time she sells the jewellery. I have bought a great deal of it from her at bargain rates.'
'And what does the count say to that?' asked Alonzo.
'He doesn't say anything,' replied Falbaron. 'He doesn't know. She tells him that she has lost it, and he, knowing that she is very careless, believes her and produces more.
'Do you know,' said Falbaron, with a chuckle, 'that old idiot has, on occasion, bought the same piece of jewellery from me no less than four times, madame having sold it back to me at cut rates on no fewer than three different occasions!
'The Plaque Lirac is a large and distinctive plaque of diamonds set in platinum,' he continued. 'It is uninsured because no company will take the risk of insuring the comtesse's jewellery. It is worth 250,000 francs. She keeps it in a Chinese cabinet on the dressing table in her bedroom, and the house is in the rue St. Honoré. The back of it abuts that of a friend of mine—a gentleman named Paudache.'
'And the scheme?' Alonzo asked.
'She desired an advance of 50,000 francs from me,' said Falbaron. 'Very well, when I ask her to let me have the plaque as security, she refused. She wants to eat her cake and have it, too.
'Now, m'sieu,' he said with a smile, 'I suggest that tonight you call upon my friend Paudache, who will be waiting for you. You have a reputation as a very quiet, skilful, and successful burglar.
'Very well. You go through Paudache's second-floor window, along the balcony at the back of the house, and you can jump—it would be quite easy for you—on to the balcony of madame's bedroom. She always sleeps with the window open.'
Again Alonzo smiled. 'It would be child's play for you to get that plaque,' said Falbaron. 'You would not even wake her. She sleeps very soundly. Then tomorrow you bring it or send it to me, and in return I hand you the sum of 100,000 francs.'
'I will then telephone madame and agree to make the advance she desires of 50,000 francs, and the balance will constitute my own profit in the matter. Well, m'sieu?'
'And the Count?' asked Alonzo. 'What will he do when he hears of the robbery?'
'He won't,' said Falbaron, with a grin. 'First of all he has instructed madame to keep the plaque at the bank, which she has not done; and, secondly, I know the reason why she has not sent it to the bank.
'The reason being?' queried Alonzo.
Falbaron looked serious.
'She is in love with a young fellow,' he said. 'A maquereau of the worst description. Two or three days ago she telephoned me and asked casually whether it would be possible for me to make a colourable imitation of the plaque. She gave some futile reason for desiring to have this information. Do you not see, m'sieu!'
'You mean,' said Alonzo, 'that she intends to give the real one to her lover to dispose of, and to replace it with an imitation, and you suggest that if we get the real plaque first, we shan't be doing anyone any harm—except madame's lover—who doesn't matter, anyway?'
'Precisely,' said Falbaron. 'Well, m'sieu?'
'It sounds very nice and easy, Falbaron,' Alonzo said. All right I'll do it. Now a few details.
'By tomorrow morning I shall have the plaque. When and where do you want me to hand it over to you, and when and where do I collect my money? Because I am leaving Paris from the Gare du Nord at eleven o'clock. Platform seven.'
Falbaron thought for a moment. 'It is all quite simple,' he said: 'At ten o'clock tomorrow morning, I shall send round to your apartment an envelope containing the 100,000 francs. I shall send this by a trusted messenger. You will please hand him the Plaque Lirac done up in an ordinary package, and he can bring it to me. Does that satisfy you?'
'Perfectly,' said Alonzo. He raised his glass. 'To your clever little scheme, m'sieu,' he said.
A CLOCK struck three as Alonzo, standing on the top rail of the balcony of the Paudache house, jumped across the intervening space and landed silently on the second floor balcony at the back of the Lirac house. He waited long enough to draw on a pair of rubber gloves, and then worked silently along the balcony until he came to the open window. Two minutes later he was in the bedroom. A gleam of moonlight, stealing between a crack in the curtains at the front windows, fell across the beautiful and peaceful face of Madame la Comtesse as she dreamed sweetly of whatever it was she was dreaming about. Silently as a cat, Alonzo crossed the bedroom to the dressing table. On one end stood the lacquer box.
He took from his pocket the key Falbaron had given him, and opened it. Inside the box, on a bed of white velvet, glittered the Plaque Lirac. Alonzo took it out, dropped it into his pocket. Then with a glance at the sleeping beauty, he tiptoed back to the window and slid quickly and quietly over the edge. He moved silently away from the window, and waited for a few moments, then, almost as an afterthought, he crept back to the window and looked through into the bedroom.
Then he moved away to the end of the balcony.
But he did not attempt to jump back to the Paudache second floor. Instead, he sat down, his back against the balcony railings, and waited until he heard the clock strike four.
AT ten o'clock precisely the messenger arrived from Falbaron. Alonzo took from him the envelope addressed to himself, and handed him a neat, brown paper package in return. The man said good-morning, and went.
Alonzo wasted no time. He put on a hat, went downstairs, and crossed the road. He went into the little café and opened the envelope. Inside, as arranged, were ten ten-thousand franc notes. He put them into his breast-pocket and smiled. Then he looked across the road towards the door of his apartment—just in time to see the police car arrive. He smiled again, paid his bill and went out whistling.
At approximately the same moment, M. Falbaron, in his office at the back of his jewellery shop, opened his brown paper package. He found it to contain two or three fresh cabbage leaves—and nothing else! His language was extremely fluent. Eventually, having exhausted his vocabulary, M. Falbaron placed his head between his hands, and proceeded to do some very heavy thinking.
AT eleven o'clock Alonzo, standing in the doorway of a house immediately opposite the Lirac mansion in the Rue St. Honoré, saw the police car arrive. Garroche, Chief Inspector of Burglary Detail of the Sûreté Génerale, and a junior officer, got out of the car and entered the house. Alonzo waited for five minutes. Then, lighting a cigarette, he sauntered across the street and rang the bell.
'I am Alonzo MacTavish,' he informed the butler, 'and I believe M. Garroche is here. I would like to see him. Possibly I have some information which he wants.'
Two minutes later he entered the drawing-room, and smiled a 'Good-morning' to the assembled company.
Round the room were seated the Comte de Lirac, the comtesse, Garroche, and his assistant, Duval.
Garroche looked at Alonzo in amazement.
'Madame la Comtesse,' he said, 'is this the man?'
Her eyes were wide.
'Of course,' she said. 'That is the man. That is the man who entered my bedroom and stole the plaque!'
'Madame,' he said, 'I think you are mistaken.'
He turned to Garroche. 'Is it possible,' he asked, 'that I am suspected of something?'
Garroche sighed. He knew MacTavish.
'Last night,' he said, 'the Plaque Lirac was stolen from the bedroom of Madame la Comtesse. This morning an information was laid by M. Jacques Falbaron, a jeweller, that you telephoned him and asked him to purchase a plaque, which he immediately recognised by your description as being the missing Plaque Lirac. He informed you that he wanted nothing to do with it, and telephoned to the police at once.'
Alonzo nodded. He was still smiling.
'What are you going to do, Garroche?' he asked.
Garroche looked worried. As I have said, he knew Alonzo.
'I'm going to arrest you on suspicion,' he said. 'By the way, what are you doing here if you know nothing about this business?'
'I know a great deal about it,' said Alonzo.
He selected a cigarette from his case, and lit it with care.
'I think that someone is making a very grave mistake,' he announced, smilingly. 'Possibly, it is M. Falbaron, or possibly Madame la Comtesse. Would it be possible for me to telephone Monsieur Falbaron? I think that he is under a misapprehension as to who telephoned him this morning.'
'There is a telephone booth in the hall,' he said. 'You can use that. Duval will keep an eye on you.'
MacTavish went out into the telephone booth. Duval stood in the hall, watching him.
After a minute Falbaron came on the line.
'Falbaron,' said Alonzo very quietly, 'you listen to me carefully, otherwise you and your friend, the comtesse, are going to find yourself in a rather tough situation.
'Yesterday,' he went on, 'you told me a lovely fairy story which you thought I believed. I didn't. I suppose the only reason that the comtesse had already sold you the plaque was because even her old fool of a husband wouldn't have been silly enough to buy that for her again without recognising it. It was too distinctive and too big.
'So the scheme was that I was to steal it, and send it round to you in exchange for 100,000 francs. You would get the plaque all right, but nobody would know that. Your story to the police was going to be that I had telephoned you and tried to sell you the plaque, and that you had recognised my voice.
'A few minutes afterwards the police would have arrested me at my apartment. They would have found on me the 100,000 francs, which eventually would have been handed over to Madame la Comtesse as the proceeds of the illegal sale of her jewellery, which I had somehow got rid of—no one else having come forward to claim the money.
'She in turn, would have handed it back to you. So you and she would have had the plaque and the money, and I should have been accused of all the other Lirac jewel burglaries which have happened, out of which you and the comtesse have been doing nicely for months.'
'Look here, MacTavish,' said Falbaron, 'where are you speaking from? What's up your sleeve?'
'Enough to fix both you and the comtesse quite nicely,' said Alonzo. 'The position at the moment is just this. I'm speaking from the booth in the hall of the Lirac house. I've just told Garroche that I think you've made a mistake, and you're coming here to back me up.'
'Rubbish,' said Falbaron. 'You've got that plaque, and nobody knows that the money on you is mine. They'll think you've already disposed of the plaque. You'll get ten years for this, and a damned good job, too.'
'Really?' said MacTavish. 'Listen Falbaron, if you don't do what I tell you, both you and the comtesse will be round at the Sûreté Generale facing a charge inside half an hour, because I'll tell Garroche the whole story.'
'And he'll believe you, won't he?' sneered Falbaron.
'He'll have to,' said Alonzo. 'Because the Plaque Lirac was never stolen. It's still in the comtesse's room!'
'What the devil do you mean?' spluttered Falbaron.
'I'll tell you,' said Alonzo. 'I suspected you from the start. I didn't like your face! I realised that I was to be the innocent, led to the slaughter. So I watched points. I got into the comtesse's bedroom last night, as arranged, and removed the plaque.
'While I was getting out of the window I saw her eyelids move. She wasn't asleep! So I pretended to go off, and then came back and watched her. She got out of bed and went over to the lacquer box, and looked into it. Then she smiled and went back to bed. Are you listening, Falbaron?'
'Yes,' muttered Falbaron.
'Well, my dear idiot,' said Alonzo, 'I sat down on the balcony, and then I went back into the bedroom and put the plaque back in the lacquer box. It's there now!'
'Oh, mon Dieu!' said Falbaron.
'Quite!' said Alonzo. 'Quite! Now, either you're going to speak to the comtesse on the telephone and arrange with her to make an apology to me, and come round yourself and do the same thing, or I'm going to tell Garroche that you two have tried to frame me.
'He'll believe it soon enough when he goes upstairs and finds the plaque is still in its proper place, with the comtesse's freshly made fingerprints all over the box. You see, I wore gloves!'
'Very well,' said Falbaron. 'I'm licked, and I know it. I'll come round. But what about my 100,000 francs?'
'I'm sticking to that,' said Alonzo cheerfully. 'You can't tell Garroche you sent it round to me without admitting your complicity in the burglary. Well, au revoir, Falbaron. Come round and do your stuff like a good boy, now!'
AT six o'clock that evening Alonzo MacTavish, sitting under the awning of the Café de la Paix, sipping a very dry Martini, watched the car of Madame la Comtesse de Lirac drive slowly by.
Mr. MacTavish took off his hat with a gallant smile, but for some reason the comtesse looked the other way.
And, believe it or not, had any one been in the car with her, they would have heard her use an expression about Mr. MacTavish which, I am sure, is not used, except by very angry comtesses.
SUCH people as are aware of the rather peculiar mentality of Mr. Alonzo MacTavish would know—without any further information from me—that he believed that the time, the place, the opportunity, and the woman, seldom occurred simultaneously. They would also know that however many times Mr. MacTavish had, during his brilliant and illegal career, come up against Dr. Theodor Klaat, it was always the latter who got the headache. The moral attached to this story is that it doesn't matter how well you know women—and believe me, Mr. MacTavish knew women—there is always the chance that one day you'll be wrong....
ALONZO, dressed in a very nice dinner jacket, a carnation, and a charming smile, with hope in his heart and exactly 32 francs and a 10 centime piece in his pocket, sat smoking an expensive cigarette in the lounge of the Hotel Imperial at Nice, wondering if fortune would consent to smile. Fifteen minutes before, he had witnessed the somewhat grandiose arrival of Dr. Theodor Klaat and, for once, the sight of his old-time enemy brought a certain satisfaction to the heart of Alonzo.
Klaat was a jewel thief—a remover of expensive baubles—second only to Alonzo himself. His technique was nearly as successful. Blowing a smoke ring and watching it sail across the lounge, Alonzo asked himself whether the arrival of Klaat did not prophesy a little activity with a financial ending. That Klaat had arrived in Nice for his health was not possible. It was a certainty that he had a scheme.
MacTavish considered that if he could muscle in on that scheme—as he had done on sundry previous occasions—his cash balance might be multiplied—a process most necessary at the moment—and Klaat once again confounded.
The page boy, tipped with a 20 franc note a quarter of an hour ago to report on the room number, baggage, and general atmospherics of Dr. Klaat, approached Alonzo. He informed him that the doctor had checked into suite 42b on the second floor, that he was accompanied by a secretary, and that a young lady who had been anxiously awaiting his arrival was now in close conference with him.
The boy went off giving place to another page boy who handed MacTavish a sealed envelope.
Alonzo opened it and grinned. It was from Klaat.
Dear MacTavish, (said the note)
I saw you when I arrived. I'm not here on business. I'm taking a rest after a heavy season in Buda. A proposition has just been put up to me that looks good and of which you, with your amazing dexterity for sticking your nose into other people's business, might take full advantage. It's not the sort of thing I care to handle, but it's in your line all right.
You will agree that I am, at least temporarily, burying the hatchet.
P.S.—The lady is in sitting room 31 on the first floor. Drop in and get acquainted with her and the business.—T.K.
Alonzo smiled. This opening gambit had all the clumsy earmarks of the Klaat technique. MacTavish had not the slightest doubt that some sharp scheme was afoot, something in which he was to be the unconscious assistant who was left holding the bag while Klaat got away with the shekels. He got up, lit another cigarette, and strolled over to the lift. Arrived on the first floor, he wandered down the corridor until he found No. 31. He knocked, listened for the reply, and went in.
She was sitting in an armchair in front of the window, looking out over the bay, and holding a slender cocktail glass in one hand. She was of middle height, with a charmingly rounded figure, big blue eyes, and amazingly blonde hair. Very attractive in a quiet sort of way, he thought. Nice and quiet and undistinguished—just the sort of girl that Klaat would use as a 'come-on.' He gave her one of his most radiant smiles. She smiled back a little wearily.
'Mr. MacTavish,' she began with a touch of American accent, 'I expect that you are rather surprised at hearing from Dr. Klaat that I wanted to see you. I can only hope that you are not going to be at all shocked at my request!'
Alonzo allowed his smile to become whimsical.
'Nothing you could do would shock me, madame,' he said. 'On the contrary. Now shall we talk over this little business?'
'Please sit down and help yourself to a cocktail,' she said. 'I won't waste much of your time. I will tell you my story, and then you can say just whether you are prepared to collect the $5,000 that I have in my handbag waiting to be earned.'
Alonzo, a cocktail in one hand, the whimsical smile on his face, waited. Everything about this job had the hallmarks of the double-cross. The arrival of Klaat, the note, the lady, the businesslike air, and the five thousand dollars waiting to be earned.
'I would like to collect five thousand dollars,' he murmured.
'Very well,' she said. 'Then I must tell you that I am desperate. I am Princess Cheruinoff—I was Maple C. Hardaway of the Oklahoma Hardaways until I married that punk Cheruinoff last year, and I'm going to be Maple C. Hardaway in six months from now, after I've divorced that lousy Russian false-alarm that somebody persuaded me to marry. You got that?'
'Princess,' said Alonzo, 'I have got it.'
'O.K.' she continued, helping herself to another cocktail. 'Well, if you'll take a look out of the window across the bay, you'll see my yacht. I said my yacht, although the way I've been treated aboard that lugger is just nobody's business. Cheruinoff has been on a jag for the last six weeks. The only time he was sober he was so surprised he fell overboard. I wish they had sharks in these waters,' she concluded wistfully. She took a large gulp of cocktail.
'All yesterday that Barbary ape was chasing me round the boat with a .38 automatic,' she went on. 'He was so cock-eyed that he didn't even know I was me. He doesn't really mean anything, he just gets that way, but I'm getting rather tired of it.'
Alonzo nodded sympathetically.
'It must be an exhausting process,' he said.
'You're telling me!' said the princess. 'Well, the trouble is that he knows I've been planning to get away from him, and tonight I managed to do it. Some fisherman was passing under the stern in a rowboat and I shinned down the stern cable and got a free ride to shore. Then I went to see the chief of police here.'
Alonzo pricked up his ears. This was good. This was very good!
'You wanted protection?' he queried.
'Protection nothing!' said the princess with a smile. 'Now I'm ashore, I don't give two hoots for Serge Cheruinoff or any other alcoholic Cossack. But I want my diamond necklace.'
Alonzo drew on his cigarette. Now she was coming to it!
'My diamond necklace must be got off that boat,' said the princess with spirit. 'When Serge finds I'm gone—which will probably be tomorrow morning—he'll feel as pleased as a cat with two tails. He got a nice settlement from my pa when we were married and he'll pull up the anchor and make a quick getaway once he finds that necklace is still in the ship's safe.
'He could get enough money on that to keep him in vodka for four generations, and he's wise enough to know that I don't like publicity and wouldn't be able to do anything about it.' She took a bite at the cocktail cherry. 'You've got to get aboard that boat tonight and grab that necklace,' she said. 'And that little job is going to win you five thousand dollars.'
'Did the chief of police here advise that, too?' queried Alonzo smilingly.
'He surely did!' she said. 'I told him the story—you see I know him well, and he said that he couldn't do anything officially. He said the thing to do was to get somebody to get aboard the boat while Serge is still having this jag, grab the necklace, and bring it back to me.
'And he told me the man who would do it. He put me on to a Dr. Theodor Klaat—a jewel crook who pulled in here this afternoon. He said if Klaat would do the job it would be all right with him and that I could rely on him to see that Klaat didn't make any funny business about it.'
'And Klaat didn't like it?' said Alonzo.
'He didn't like any part of it,' she replied. 'Anyway, he's the wrong type to go crawling up stern cables at midnight. But I saw him, and he said right away that he'd spotted you in the lounge and that you were a pushover for the job. He said you loved jobs like that.'
She smiled at Alonzo and brought him another cocktail. He smiled back at her. He watched her as she went back to her chair. Then he lit a cigarette. But behind the flame of his lighter his eyes were carefully looking her over. Her cream serge suit was immaculate, her little hat, gloves and bag were absolutely right. Her stockings were sheer, but he was certain that she was not Maple C. Hardaway, the Princess Cheruinoff.
Well, who was she? Who would Klaat use for an obvious plant like this?
He got it. She was the princess's maid! He grinned to himself.
So Klaat was at his old games. It was his invariable process to work with lady's maids—or even to 'put one in' when necessary. They supplied him with the information, the layout of the job, and the value of the jewels, and he carried on from there. But this was a bit too risky for Klaat. He wasn't going to chance being caught on that yacht, so he'd thought up the little fairy story as a result of seeing Alonzo in the lounge. If MacTavish succeeded in getting the diamond necklace off the yacht it would be worth Klaat's while to pay him five thousand dollars. If he got caught on the job, well, that would be just too bad!
'What do I do with the necklace when I've got it?' he asked. 'That is, supposing I do get it, that everything goes well? Do I bring it back to you here?'
'No,' she said. 'I'm leaving in a quarter of an hour. I'm going over to Monaco to stay with some friends. But I'll tell you what you can do. When you've got the necklace, bring it back and deposit it with the hotel people here. Ask them to put it in the safe. I'll arrange for the bankers to send you round four thousand dollars tomorrow morning. I'll give you a thousand on account now. I'll pick up the necklace later.'
Alonzo nodded. 'Princess,' he said, 'do you think five thousand dollars is enough? Supposing Serge caught me on the boat and took a pot-shot at me with that hand gun of his. I think you ought to pay a bit more, don't you?'
'All right,' she said. 'I suppose I've got to pay you what you want. I'll give you a thousand now and send round another six thousand dollars tomorrow morning—that's seven in all. But no funny business, Mr. MacTavish. Remember the chief of police here is a friend of mine!'
Alonzo looked hurt. 'Princess,' he said, 'How could you suspect me?' He lit another cigarette.
'When do you suggest I do this big burglary act on your behalf?' he asked the girl.
'As soon as you like,' she said. 'Serge is practically a total loss at the moment, and in an hour's time he'll be so cockeyed that he won't know if it's Thursday or raining. Three-quarters of the crew are ashore, and if you're quiet and do what I say, you'll have no trouble at all.'
Alonzo grinned. 'Princess,' he said, 'I'm your man. I'd do anything for you. Now, a little information about the situation of the safe and one or two other things, and then I'll go to work.'
Fifteen minutes and four cocktails later they shook hands. It seemed to Alonzo that there was a little gleam of admiration in her eyes.
'You've got your nerve all right,' she said. 'I'm glad I ran into you. You're a nice change after Serge, even if you don't always keep to the straight and narrow.
'Maybe,' she continued demurely, 'maybe, when I get back here in three or four days' time we'll be able to see a little of each other. Well, so long—here's the thousand.' Alonzo took the ten hundred-dollar notes.
'It's a pleasure to work for you, princess,' he said.
AT ten o'clock that night Alonzo, dark overcoat over his dinner clothes, wandered along the beach until he found a dinghy pulled up on the shingle. He pushed it down into the sea, getting his feet wet in the process, got into it and pulled out towards the Cheruinoff yacht. He had dismissed the idea of hiring a boatman as suggested by the princess. He was taking no chances.
TWENTY minutes later, having approached the yacht by a circuitous route, he pulled in under the stern and sat, oars out, listening. There was no sound to be heard. He made the boat fast to the stern buoy cable and then proceeded to shin up the cable. Three minutes later he was on the deck. Keeping in the shadow of the deck house, he reached the forward companion-way and descended. One of the deck hands, oblivious to everything but the beauty of the night, was singing a love song in the bows. In five minutes Alonzo had found the Cheruinoff cabin. He tried the door carefully, found it open, and went in. The electric light was on, and on the ornate bed of the other side of the cabin Prince Serge Cheruinoff slept the sleep of the very drunk with an accompaniment of the best Cossack snores.
Let into the cabin wall on his right, behind the picture, Alonzo found the safe. He took the slip of paper with the combination written on it, supplied by Klaat's lady friend, and opened the safe. On the top shelf Alonzo saw the dark blue leather case, picked up with gloved hands and opened it. Inside, flashing with a half-million dollar radiance, was the Cheruinoff diamond necklace.
He dropped the necklace into one pocket, the leather case into another, and quietly made for the deck.
AT eleven o'clock Alonzo walked into the Hotel Imperial. Arrived on the main floor, he looked into the restaurant. The cabaret was about to begin, and Alonzo could see, sitting on the other side of the dance floor, at a table against the wall, Dr. Theodor Klaat.
He smiled to himself. He waited until the main turn in the cabaret had begun, and when the restaurant lights were turned down and only a spotlight on the chief performer remained, he worked his way round the room until he was near Klaat's table. He signaled a nearby waiter.
'I'm having a little joke,' he said. 'I want you to take this case over to Dr. Klaat and ask him if it belongs to him. Don't touch it with your fingers. Put it on your tray. There's twenty francs for you.'
He handed the necklace case, with his gloved hand, to the waiter, who with a grin took it, went over to Klaat and whispered in his ear. Klaat examined the case, shook his head and handed it back to the waiter, who brought it back to Alonzo on the tray.
Alonzo went straight up to his room, took the leather necklace case from his pocket with his gloved hand and placed the diamond necklace inside it. He placed the case in a neat cardboard box, put it into a stout envelope, and addressed the envelope in hand-printed letters to 'The Princess Serge Cheruinoff. Hotel Imperial. To be called for.'
Then he put on his hat and went out.
He took a cab to the rue la Pérouse, and dismissing it, walked to the Caf´é Velouté. He ordered a bottle of wine and asked for a page boy. When the boy arrived Alonzo handed him the package.
'Take this round to the Hotel Imperial,' he ordered. 'Hand it in at the reception desk and ask for it to be placed in the hotel safe until Princess Serge Cheruinoff calls for it. Inform them that it is from Dr. Theodor Klaat.'
Immediately the boy had gone, Alonzo paid his bill with one of his new dollar notes and returned to the Imperial. He waited in the lounge until he saw the boy deliver the package at the reception desk. Then, with a sigh, he drank another whisky and soda and went to bed. He had fixed Klaat all right.
AT twelve o'clock next morning Monsieur Edouard Birache, Commissar of Police for Nice, called at the Hotel Imperial and asked to see Mr. Alonzo MacTavish. Mr. MacTavish was at home.
'Monsieur MacTavish,' said Birache, 'you are, of course, well known to us, because it is our business to know who is staying in Nice, and in your case your reputation is, shall we say, international.' He smiled sweetly. 'This morning,' he continued, 'there is a complaint that a very valuable diamond necklace has been stolen from Prince Cheruinoff's yacht Cigale. I have already interviewed Dr. Klaat, who we knew arrived yesterday, and he has suggested that you might like to make some sort of statement to us.'
'Monsieur Birache,' he said. 'I think I can help you. Last night, somewhere about ten o'clock, I observed Dr. Klaat pulling out to a yacht in a row-boat. I was very interested. As you know, he and I are not very good friends.
'He returned to the hotel,' continued Alonzo, 'and a few minutes afterwards a package was delivered and placed in the hotel safe. I imagine that it will be addressed to Princess Serge Cheruinoff. I imagine also that if you examine the case you will be able to ascertain who handled it.'
Birache nodded. 'I see,' he said. 'And you definitely inform me, monsieur, that you know nothing at all about this necklace, that you have had nothing to do with its removal?'
Alonzo smiled. 'Not a thing,' he said firmly.
Birache picked up his hat.
'Poor old Klaat,' murmured Alonzo, 'I suppose this means about ten years for him?'
The police officer smiled. 'Not at all, monsieur,' he said. 'It means $6,000 for him. In removing the necklace from the yacht last night, he was merely carrying out my own idea, the idea I suggested to the princess when she came to see me yesterday. I promised her I would keep my eye on the job.
'This morning, the hotel people informed me that a package had been delivered for her. I have opened it and it is the necklace all right. I telephoned through to Dr. Klaat and he informed me that I was to see you about it.
'But, as you so definitely inform me that he was responsible for saving the princess's necklace, then, of course, I must see that the money is paid to him. Good morning, monsieur.'
JUST in case anyone should still be wondering just how that arch-crook Dr. Theodor Klaat came to be an inmate of Maidstone Prison, let me explain at once that he did not arrive there—as was supposed—through the extreme intelligence and amazing abilities in detection of Detective-Inspector Gringall, of Scotland Yard. Klaat went to prison because Alonzo sent him there, and if Theodor were able to think straight—which is an impossibility—he would know that he deserved it.
The bitter war of brains that had gone on for seven years between Dr. Theodor Klaat, sinister highlight of the European underworld, and Alonzo MacTavish, who once described himself as an 'airy remover of unwanted trifles,' is too well known to those who had cause to be interested to need further description here. But the interesting point in the unwilling exit of Dr. Klaat is the fact that he only became acquainted with the inside of a prison cell because he so ardently desired to put Mr. MacTavish there. A definite case of 'the biter bit.'
THE newly-lit street lamps were casting shadows on the pavements of Knightsbridge as Mr. MacTavish, enjoying a walk in the September evening air, sporting a late rosebud in the lapel of his dinner coat, and whistling softly to himself, was disturbed in his ruminations by the strident voice of a newsboy.
'Cardona ruby stolen!' roared the boy. 'World's biggest jewel disappears!' He favoured Alonzo with a Cockney grin when he received a whole sixpence for the newspaper. Standing under a street lamp, Alonzo scanned the story of the Cardona loss. The day before, the ruby—valued at £20,000—had been stolen in transit from the residence of its owner to the safe deposit in the Rue de Courcelles, Paris.
'The thieves who organised this well-planned robbery will have taken a risk in vain,' concluded the newspaper report. 'Experts state that it is impossible to dispose of the ruby as its size would immediately identify it as the stolen gem. Also, its shape precludes any possibility of it being cut into smaller stones. No expert would attempt to cut the stone, the risk of cracking being too great.'
Underneath was a photograph of the ruby. It was a superb stone, and Alonzo—very interested in precious stones—regarded the picture with approval. And he looked up from the newspaper just in time to see her pass.
She was the kind of girl that Alonzo carried in his mind as being the type that he went for in a very big way indeed. His quick glance showed him a charming complexion, twinkling eyes, an excellent figure, a very well-cut suit, expensive furs, and one of those charming and tiny provocative hats which seem to remain on the head of the wearer in direct contradiction to the force of gravity. Also, the head was blonde—ash-blonde—and had been dressed by an expert who certainly knew his job. Swinging from the left wrist of the hurrying lady was a small gold bag.
ALONZO sighed and looked after her. Just along the street a roadster was parked. As the girl got into it the bag fell from her wrist and into the gutter at the side of the car. The owner, however, had not noticed her loss, for the car drove off and accelerated rapidly in the direction of the Park. Alonzo barely had time to note the number of the car.
MacTavish wandered along and picked up the bag. Here, he thought, was the hand of Fate. Possibly there would be a card inside the bag which would enable him to return it to its fair owner and to claim a reward which he already visualised as a quiet luncheon for two. He put the bag in his pocket, and walked slowly along to the Hyde Park Hotel.
There, in the cocktail bar, he opened the bag in search of a card. There was no card, but there was a letter, and Alonzo's eyes popped when he saw it, as well they might, for it was written in the handwriting of none other than Dr. Theodor Klaat—a handwriting that Alonzo knew very well indeed. He read the letter. It bore the day's date and the address of an exclusive South Kensington hotel. It read:—
I am having this delivered to you by hand. You will be glad to know that the job is done, and we have the Cardona ruby. Velasso will be bringing it from France tomorrow. He will arrive at Victoria on the 4.30. He has an excellent scheme for getting it through the Customs.
Tonight at 9.30 you will please ring Frobisher 72694. An individual will answer you. You will tell him that you are speaking for 'T.K.' He will then ask for instructions. You will inform him that he is to meet Velasso at Victoria tomorrow afternoon at the end of the Continental platform. He is to wear a white carnation in the right lapel of his coat.
Velasso will also be wearing a red carnation in the right lapel of his coat. Velasso will hand him the Cardona, and he will immediately take it to the address he knows of. That is all. Destroy this immediately you have read it.
Alonzo whistled to himself. So it was Klaat who stole the Cardona ruby! And, with a bit of luck Alonzo saw that he might easily get it for himself.
He ordered another cocktail, and looked at his watch. It was 8.30. He ruminated for a long time and read the newspaper report once more; then, with a grin, he went into the telephone box. He called a number in Clerkenwell.
'Listen, Blooey,' he said, after a gruff voice had answered, 'I've got a big job for you to do. You'll have to be prepared to work all night! I'm coming over now to tell you about it!'
At 9.30 exactly, Alonzo, back in the West-End, entered a telephone box and telephoned Frobisher 72694. He was answered by a man's voice. Alonzo dropped his own voice a couple of tones when he spoke.
'I am speaking for T.K.,' he said.
'O.K.,' said the voice. 'What are the instructions?'
'You are to cancel everything,' said Alonzo. 'The cops are wise. Lay off.'
'O.K. by me,' said the voice. 'Good-night.'
Alonzo hung up. Then, with a pleased smile he went back to Camberwell to supervise the job that Blooey Stevens was working on. At 4.25 next afternoon, Alonzo, garbed in an immaculate grey-blue suit, with a black homburg and a white carnation carefully pinned in the right lapel of his coat, parked his car in a quiet spot along the Wilton Road, and entered Victoria Station through the Wilton Road entrance. But he did not go anywhere near the Continental platform. Instead, he wandered up to the car park and, after a quick look round, which showed him that there were no occupants in any of the cars, he walked along, inspecting the registration numbers on the rear number plates.
After a minute he found it. The car which the girl of the night before—who had so kindly dropped the Klaat letter—had driven. MacTavish grinned, walked quietly away, and stood in an obvious position at the barrier of the Continental platform.
TEN minutes afterwards the train arrived, and five minutes after that a slim and swarthy individual, wearing a red carnation pinned in the right lapel of his coat, passed through the barrier. Alonzo sidled up to him. 'I'm from T. K.,' he said. 'You will notice the carnation.'
'Right,' said the swarthy individual. 'I'm Velasso. I've got it in my hat. Where can I slip it to you?'
'We'll walk quietly down the platform to the car park end,' answered Alonzo. 'There are very few people about there.'
'O.K.' said Velasso. 'I tell you I shall be damned glad to get rid of this thing.'
They walked down the platform together, and at the car park behind the rank of cars, Velasso slipped a small square package into Alonzo's hand.
'Thanks,' said Alonzo. 'That's fine. Now you get off, and I'll follow in a minute or two. It won't do for us to be seen together.' Velasso nodded and walked quickly away.
Alonzo waited until he had disappeared in the crowd at the end of the platform, then he walked quietly past the row of parked cars until he came abreast the back of the pretty girl's car. He paused for a moment, and appeared to stoop and tie up his shoelace. Then he sauntered down the platform, out of the station, and wandered round to Wilton Road.
He walked quickly down the street until he found a telephone booth, went in, looked up the directory, and found the telephone number of the hotel from which Theodor Klaat's note to the girl had been addressed. When the switchboard answered, he asked to be put through to the garage. After a moment the garage attendant came on the telephone.
'Good afternoon,' said Alonzo pleasantly. 'I believe that a young lady drove a car out of your garage this afternoon—the car belongs to Dr. Theodor Klaat, I believe.'
He gave the number of the car. 'I have a most important message for her—a very urgent message, and I have reason to believe that she will probably drive the car into your garage in a few minutes. I propose to hold on and I'd be obliged if you would ask her to come and speak to me on the telephone immediately she arrives.'
'Certainly, sir,' said the man. 'That's Dr. Klaat's car all right. Will you hold on and I'll tell you when it comes in?'
Three minutes later a feminine voice, very clear, but somewhat mystified, came on the line.
'Good afternoon,' said Alonzo. 'I am Alonzo MacTavish, and I believe I am speaking to the very charming young woman who dropped her handbag in Knightsbridge last night. Well. I'd like to return it.'
'Oh, thank you.' said the voice.
'Another thing,' said Alonzo, 'it might be a very good thing for you if you left at once without bothering to see Dr. Klaat before you go. The situation is like that. Do you understand?'
'I see,' said the voice, a little grimly.
'Quite,' said Alonzo. 'I should hate to feel anything not very nice should happen to such a charming girl as yourself—even if you did try a very fast one on me!'
'Oh...so it's like that, is it?' said the voice. 'Thank you very much. I'll get out while the going's good. Thank you, sir!'
'Not at all.' said Alonzo. 'Perhaps you'd like to meet me at the 'Splendide' for dinner. You will notice that I am of a forgiving nature!'
'Thank you once again,' she said. 'I'll be there at nine o'clock.'
'Thank you,' said Alonzo blithely. 'And take another tip from me and come in a taxi. Don't use that car. It's dangerous!'
'I certainly will not,' she said. 'And I think you're very nice. Till nine o'clock!'
WHEN Alonzo arrived back at his flat and opened his sitting-room door his eyebrows went up in surprise. Sitting in his best armchairs were Detective-Inspector Gringall of Scotland Yard and his assistant, Sgt. Vales.
Gringall got up. 'I'm afraid we've got you this time, MacTavish,' he said pleasantly. 'Your long run of luck is over. And I'll trouble you to hand over the Cardona ruby. You got it from Velasso this afternoon at Victoria. We'd been tipped off by an anonymous telephone call that you were taking it off him. You've been followed since then by a squad car. It's tough luck, but the game's up!'
Alonzo looked surprised. 'I'm sorry, Gringall,' he said, 'but you're making a fearful mistake. I don't know anything about the Cardona ruby.'
'Of course,' he went on pleasantly, 'if you mean the imitation that Velasso brought over this afternoon—why I've got that. You see, when I read that the ruby had been stolen last night. I telephoned Velasso to try and get me one of the many copies of the stone that the Parisian jewellers show in their windows—merely as a curio, of course. Here it is!' He put his hand in his pocket, and brought out a square package.
Gringall took it, opened it and examined it. 'This is an imitation all right,' he said. 'I'm afraid we shall have to search you, MacTavish.'
'Go ahead.' said Alonzo, 'and when you've satisfied yourself that I haven't got it, I'll tell you who has, and where it is!'
Five minutes afterwards Gringall scratched his head. 'Well, you haven't got it,' he said. He looked ruefully at Vales.
'Listen, Gringall,' said Alonzo. 'You've been had on a piece of string. Klaat was the anonymous telephone caller who said I had it. Very clever of him to steal the Cardona ruby and then get me arrested for it—if he could!' He lit a cigarette.
'Klaat is staying at the Hotel Superb in South Kensington,' said Alonzo. 'The Cardona ruby is in the petrol tank of his car. No. XCT56784, in the garage at the hotel, and if you're quick you'll get him and it!'
Gringall leapt for the telephone.
ALONZO smiled at his companion across the dinner table.
'You ought to consider yourself lucky not to be where Klaat is now,' he said. 'But I hadn't the heart to let them get you, too.' He ate an olive.
'That letter business was much too obvious,' he went on. 'I knew that Klaat realised that he couldn't get rid of that stone or even have it cut up, so he planned to plant it on me. He knew I'd read that letter, meet Velasso, and take the ruby from him.
'However,' he continued, 'last night I got an expert friend of mine to make me an imitation. I took the real stone from Velasso, and dropped it in the petrol tank of your car. I guessed that it was Klaat's car and that you were down there on the station to see that his plan worked.
'Then I went back to my flat with the imitation, and told that fairy story to Gringall.'
She looked at him and smiled. 'I'm not a very clever crook, I'm afraid,' she said. 'I'm only an imitation one!'
He laughed. 'That being so,' he said, 'you'd better have the imitation ruby.' And he handed it to her—on a plate!
THERE are few men who are not affected by feminine beauty, and Mr. Alonzo MacTavish was not one of these few. No matter how hard-hearted a man may be, no matter how tough his constitution, it will be admitted, I'm sure, that he is something less than a man if he can stand by and see an extremely beautiful woman continue to lose her money at a roulette table without feeling a pang of something or other.
Also, when with each play and its accompanying loss, the face of the beautiful loser becomes more white, more drawn, her hands tremble more obviously, and the light of despair shines more strongly in her eyes, then it would be a poor fish of a man who would not feel it incumbent upon himself to do something about it—more especially when the lady is obviously alone. So it was with Alonzo.
MR. ALONZO MACTAVISH found the air of Monte Carlo most agreeable, and his contentment was, no doubt, due to the fact that for three days he had been winning steadily. His original capital of 25,000 francs—the result of the sale of some less important plans which he had skilfully extracted from the portfolio of a member of the Andarian Embassy during a railway journey—had now increased to somewhere in the region of 200,000 francs and, as he would himself have said, it is a poor heart that never rejoices. One thing had marred his pleasure on this particular night, and that was the appalling luck of the charming girl who was playing on the other side of the table. She was sufficiently striking to merit description. She was tall, supple, and willowy. Her hair, of an exquisite Titian red, lent additional whiteness to her superb skin, and—previous to her bad luck—there had shone in her turquoise eyes a light of contentment and happiness. But the happy light had disappeared. Alonzo, doing a quick mental calculation, had come to the conclusion that she must have dropped, during the evening, somewhere in the region of 20,000 francs. It was also quite obvious to him that she could not afford to lose the money. Each time she played and lost, her despair became more obvious. 'Faîtes vos jeux, mesdames, messieurs,' intoned the croupier, and Alonzo backed rouge, manque, and impair. He was interested to note that the lady staked her remaining plaques on noire and impair. The wheel spun, a number came up, and Alonzo saw that he had won and that she had lost once again.
She gave a little despairing shrug and turned from the table. As she moved, it seemed to MacTavish that her eyes rested on his for a moment: that there was in them a pathetic appeal. As she moved away from the table, he swept his winnings into his pocket and went after her. She walked slowly from the room. Walking disinterestedly and discreetly a few yards behind her, Alonzo had ample opportunity of studying a walk which could only be described as patrician. There was a story here, he thought, and one which might even interest him.
By now she had reached the steps and walked slowly down to the casino gardens. Alonzo, standing on the top step, lighting a cigarette, suddenly saw the svelte figure crumple and fall by the side of a clump of rhododendrons. He threw away his cigarette, descended the steps in three jumps, and in a moment was beside her. A few yards away was a pergola and, inside, a garden seat. He stooped over the recumbent figure of the girl, picked her up and, carrying her into the pergola, placed her gently on the seat.
After which he proceeded to do those things which are supposed to revive fainting womanhood. He pinched her nostrils gently, fanned her vigorously with his handkerchief and, in a minute, was rewarded by the fluttering of an eyelid and a little gasp which betokened a return to this life. He dashed off and returned with a brandy and soda. She was still there, looking listlessly before her.
'I suggest a spot of this won't hurt,' he said, holding it out. 'Try it.'
She drank a little of the brandy.
'I'm fearfully sorry.' she murmured. 'It was awfully silly of me, but suddenly I felt so ill—life seemed so awful.'
Alonzo smiled in the half darkness.
'It can get that way,' he said, 'especially when one is losing a great deal more money than one can afford. I've been watching you. Supposing you tell me about it.'
She looked at him. Then she smiled an unhappy little smile.
'I suppose these gardens have heard the tale so often,' she said. 'But in my case, there isn't even an excuse. I'm afraid that I'm just a dyed-in-the-wool gambler, that I'm too fond of the tables, and that I've never had to think sufficiently about money to care. Well—I'm afraid I've learned my lesson this time.'
He nodded sympathetically. 'Perhaps I can help,' he said. 'Really, I'm rather a nice type of man—especially on occasions such as this. My name's MacTavish—Alonzo MacTavish.'
'I think you're very sweet, Mr. MacTavish,' she said. 'But I'm afraid that nobody can help me. I've been a fool. And more than that I'm rather inclined to think that I've been a criminal fool.'
'That,' said Alonzo, 'sounds very interesting. Tell me some more.'
She shrugged her shoulders. 'My name is Carnaway—Helen T. Carnaway, and my father is Cyrus Carnaway, who owns Consolidated Steel Manufactures in Pittsburgh—you may have heard of him?' Alonzo nodded. He had. Carnaway was a millionaire. 'I came over here in order not to marry a man I disliked,' she went on. 'I felt rather desperate, spent a great deal of money, and gambled heavily. Two or three days ago I wired my father for some more money.
'I imagined it would come like it always has in the past and, in the meantime, I needed some money to play at the tables.
'Well, I did a very silly thing. I have excellent credit here in Monte Carlo and I went along to Raymondes the jewellers, and selected half a dozen diamond bracelets. I had them sent to my hotel on approval. They were to be returned tomorrow morning.
'I was so certain that my father would wire the money that I did a stupid thing. I felt sure that if I could play tonight I would win back all my losses. I took the diamond bracelets from Raymondes and pawned them. I felt certain that I should be able to redeem them tomorrow morning and all would be well.
'Instead of which—' she shrugged her shoulders, 'you saw what happened,' she said miserably. 'And tonight I received a cable from home saying that my father was away and that the money could not be despatched to me until next week.'
Alonzo nodded. He gave her a cigarette and lit one for himself. As he lit her cigarette he could see her lips trembling.
'Well, why worry?' he said. 'Explain to the jewellers that you wish to keep the bracelets for a few days longer and wait until your father's draft comes; redeem them, and return them to Raymondes.'
'I wish it was as easy as that,' she murmured. 'Earlier this evening, when I saw that luck was against me, I telephoned the man with whom I pawned the bracelets. His name is Sidonay. He is not a nice man. He told me that he had discovered where the bracelets had come from, that they had been lent to me on approval, and that I had committed a criminal act in pawning them. He said that tomorrow he was going to the police—unless—unless—'
'Quite,' murmured Alonzo. 'I quite understand. He's legally right, too! Some of these pawnbrokers can be very annoying, can't they?'
He blew a smoke ring across the pergola. 'Tell me, little Helen,' he said softly. 'How much did Sidonay advance you on the bracelets?'
'Twenty thousand francs,' she replied. 'All six of them were worth about 120,000 francs.'
'All right, my dear,' he said. 'Well, I'm going to be Father Christmas. I'm going round to see your friend Mr. Sidonay, pay him his 20,000 francs, get back those bracelets, and then meet you at your hotel for a late night cocktail.'
She caught her breath. 'I can't believe it,' she said. 'It's too generous of you. I don't know how I can ever thank you.'
'Now where can I find Sidonay?' asked Alonzo. 'And where do I find you?'
'His house is on the rue Vergalles,' she said. 'And I am staying at Les Palmiers. I don't know what to say to you. I think you are wonderful.'
'Say no more.' said Alonzo. 'Just return to Les Palmiers and wait until you hear from me. All will be well!'
MONSIEUR SIDONAY, who was, Alonzo thought, a remarkably unpleasant-looking gentleman, regarded his caller with an ironic smile.
'Monsieur MacTavish.' he said. 'I have no doubt that you consider this business of being a knight errant to ladies in distress will eventually show you a profit—more especially when the lady happens to be the daughter of an American steel king. But I have other plans!'
Alonzo flipped the ash off his cigarette. 'I take it then that you refuse to allow me to redeem the bracelets?' he demanded.
Sidonay nodded vigorously.
'Exactly,' he said. 'These bracelets were obtained on approval from Raymondes. They are returnable tomorrow morning. If Mademoiselle Carnaway likes to visit me tonight and discuss the matter I might consent to let her have the bracelets back in return for the amount I advanced. Otherwise. I shall esteem it my business to go to the police.'
MacTavish got up. He learned across the table and placed his hand flat against the face of Monsieur Sidonay. Then he pushed very hard. Sidonay did a perfect back-fall over the back of his chair and landed in the fireplace. Alonzo followed him there, picked him up with one hand, and threw him on to a settee.
'I shall come and see you tomorrow morning at ten o'clock,' he said. 'I shall have your 20,000 francs and you will hand those bracelets over to me. Otherwise—'
He put on his hat and made a graceful exit.
A PERFECT moon shone on the terrace at Les Palmiers Hotel, creating an effective halo about the head of charming Miss Carnaway as she walked with MacTavish.
'But, Alonzo,' she said, 'there is nothing you can do now. If Sidonay refuses to allow you to redeem the bracelets and goes to the police tomorrow, they will arrest me. They must arrest me. Heaven only knows what my father will say and do when he hears about this. And whatever are you smiling at?'
'Listen, Helen.' said MacTavish. 'All is not yet lost. Here is my new plan. Tomorrow at nine o'clock—immediately they open, I am going round to Raymondes. I am going to buy all those bracelets. You see, I've been pretty lucky during the last few days and it's a labour of love, anyway!' He felt the pressure of her hand on his arm. 'Then,' he continued, 'I'm going round to see Sidonay again. I'm going to ask him to allow me to redeem those bracelets. If he refuses, I'm going to send for the police. Now don't argue. You can easily repay me when your draft arrives, and I'd go out of my way to score off that Sidonay bird. So that's settled.'
She gave a sigh of relief. 'You're rather wonderful—Alonzo,' she said. And if that moment her lips were rather close to his and he took advantage of the fact, well—what would you have done?
AT ten o'clock on the following morning Mr. MacTavish, immaculately garbed, presented himself at the residence of Mr. Sidonay. He informed the maid that he desired to see the moneylender immediately, and that if Sidonay attempted any delay, he, MacTavish, would enter and take him along to the police station by the nose! Within two minutes he was standing in the study regarding the pawnbroker with an expression of extreme contempt.
"Sidonay," he said, "you remind me of a noxious odour and I shall be glad to get away from you. Here is your 20,000 francs. Now hand over those bracelets and give me a receipt for the money or I'll take you along to the police station!"
Sidonay sneered. "Very clever," he muttered. "Very clever and heroic. Well—I've been through to Raymondes on the telephone and they tell me that you have bought the six bracelets on behalf of Miss Carnaway." He shrugged his shoulders. "I suppose you're entitled to feel pleased with yourself," he concluded. He unlocked a drawer in his desk and took out the bracelets.
MR. MACTAVISH, walking on air, made his way towards Les Palmiers Hotel. He felt very pleased with himself. Fortune was being more than kind. He had rescued a very attractive young woman who also happened to be the daughter of a millionaire, and whom it seemed, did not find his company undesirable. Within a few days the money that he had expended would be repaid. He had also had the pleasure of pulling Sidonay's nose.
Helen was waiting for him in the lounge at the hotel. He dropped the bracelets into her lap.
"And that's that," he said. She gave him a charming smile.
"I do think you're marvellous," she said. "And I've got some good news, too. Father's been through on the telephone from Pittsburgh and my draft will be here tomorrow. Then I can repay all that money you've spent for me, although I shall always owe you a great deal for saving me from that horrible Sidonay."
"Think nothing of it," murmured Alonzo.
"Please wait here for a moment," she said. "I want to put these bracelets in the hotel safe."
He waited. After 10 minutes he wandered out on to the balcony. Women always did take a long time to powder their noses, he ruminated. And then he saw something—something that made him grin very ruefully.
Driving down the promenade in a large touring car with a boot full of luggage, were two people. One was Mr. Sidonay and the other was Miss Helen Carnaway. And with them went Alonzo's 20,000 francs and six diamond bracelets.
All of which goes to show that no matter now clever a man may be, there will always be somebody who is just a little bit more clever. Standing there, Alonzo almost found it in his heart to admire the clever scheme for which he had fallen so heavily. He turned back into the hotel.
"There's one born every minute," murmured MacTavish.
WHETHER you like to call it 'sex-appeal,' 'biological urge,' or merely 'a way with women,' is your own affair. Whatever it is, Mr. Alonzo MacTavish had it.
Perhaps it was the whimsical smile that played about his finely carved mouth. Possibly it was the suavity indicated by his green eyes-glass. Probably it was the sinister huskiness of his quiet voice. I don't know and I really don't care. I merely wish to indicate that he had this quality, plus, and knew how to use said quality. Also, he had a sweet nerve.
Having established that, let us now proceed to business. At four-thirty on a nice spring afternoon, Mr. Alonzo MacTavish, looking like all the flowers in May, in a well-cut suit of very small grey-brown check, a brown homburg hat, and yellow gloves, wandered into a famous teashop in St James's Street, and, having secured a quiet table in the little recess by the window, proceeded to order tea and to ruminate.
The rumination—which concerned a little matter of burglary that he was contemplating for the near future—was suddenly interrupted by a feminine but nevertheless incisively spoken sentence which emanated from the opposite side of the room. The sentence being. 'We girls must hang together!'
Alonzo looked up and saw, with amazement and surprise, a very handsome trio of ladies drinking tea at a table on the other side of the café and conversing in the most serious manner, on a topic which had brought their superbly coiffured heads very close together.
Permit me to introduce these ladies. They were:—Mrs. Enrico d'Aldardo, a chic and slim woman of amazing beauty. Mrs. d'Aldardo—whose name was Dolores—wore a perpetual smile and a flock of excellent diamond bracelets. Her husband was, I regret to say, serving a sentence of 15 years in Alcatraz after a one-sided argument with some G-men.
The second lady was Mrs. Looley Ferbes, a well-rounded blonde with taking ways. Mrs. Ferbes's husband was engaged just then in doing a five-year stretch in Maidstone over a matter of £5,000 worth of jewellery, which Scotland Yard suggested had been removed by him from its rightful owner.
Lastly, but not leastly, the third lady was none other than Mrs. Vic Felpins, whose husband—one of the most successful confidence men in Europe—had, I am sorry to say, suffered from a lapse of over-confidence and got himself knocked off by some rough French policeman, after having separated a hard-headed American business man from everything, except his sock suspenders.
Here, then, were three grass widows on whom no grass had ever grown.
Sipping his tea and thanking his stars that he was adequately concealed in the recess. Alonzo permitted himself to wonder what the conference was about. He also wondered, with a whimsical grin, what the three ladies would have said if they had known that he was watching them. For let us admit it, Mr. MacTavish had not been at all popular with any of the ladies' husbands when they had been in circulation. All three gentlemen had agreed to dislike Mr. MacTavish, owing to a little matter of a £10,000 haul which he had got away with and they hadn't.
But if the sight of the beauteous trio had surprised Alonzo, a still greater surprise was in store, for as he looked at them they were joined by a fourth lady who, he noted with a lifted eyebrow, was none other than the good-looking young woman who worked on the telephone switchboard at his Jermyn Street apartment.
Here was a plot afoot, and MacTavish thought with a smile, that he was prepared to bet all the tea in China to a bad egg, that he was the subject of it. He waited patiently until they had gone, then adjusting his eyeglass carefully he wandered back to Jermyn Street.
At 7.30 Alonzo, having got himself into a dinner suit, telephoned downstairs for two double Martinis and also requested the young lady on the switchboard to step up to his apartment on a matter of importance.
When she arrived he presented her with a Martini and a sweet smile, locked the door, and ordered her to sit down. 'All is discovered, my child,' he said. 'It was too bad that this afternoon I should be in that tea place just at the wrong time. I saw you come in and join the trio of youth and beauty.
'I am also prepared to lay a slight shade of odds that those three good-looking honey-pots have been paying you plenty to keep an eye on me, listen to my telephone conversations, report as to my arrangements for going away next Thursday, etcetera, etcetera. Am I right?'
She grinned. 'Dead right,' she said. 'They got me the job here for the express purpose and paid me £50 to do it.'
'Spoken like a true soldier,' said Alonzo with a smile. 'Do you think you'd like to confide in me?'
He walked over to a desk in the corner of the room, unlocked a drawer, and took out some banknotes. 'Here's one hundred pounds for you if you talk.'
She smiled mischievously. 'I've had their fifty,' she said. 'So I'll take your £100, talk, and get out while the going's good. I wouldn't like to be round when d'Aldardo finds out that I've been doing a squealing act.'
'Nice, sensible girl,' murmured Alonzo. He handed over the notes.
'Talk please,' he commanded.
'Those three have got it in for you,' she said. 'At least that's what they tell each other.' She smiled. 'They all seem to hate you so much generally that I shouldn't be surprised if they weren't a bit stuck on you individually. Well... they know what you're at. They know you're after that Rembrandt picture at the Hall at Mallows.
'I've told them that you're going from here on Thursday night, that you'd taken a room at the inn at Southing—near Mallows. They know you'll do the job that night because they know the family go away from Mallows Hall in the evening and that, except for the deaf caretaker, there'll be no one there. They know you're going down in your car, because I've told 'em you've got the garage checking it for return here that day.
'They know that you'll do the job about one o'clock in the morning, leave your car at the back of the spinney, drive back to Southing, pick up your bag, and come back here, that you'll park the Rembrandt in a safe place and get it over to France when the excitement's all over. They know all that.'
'Knowledgeable women,' murmured Alonzo. 'And what are they planning to do with me?'
She smiled at him wickedly. 'They're going to hijack you,' she said. 'They think you'll arrive at Mallows Hall for the job at 12.30. You've got to leave your car off the main road and the obvious place is the spinney. They're going to park their own car across the exit from the spinney, and when you try to drive out they're going to stick you up with a gun and grab the picture.
'And they tell me that Looley Ferbes is very good with a .38 automatic!'
'Thank you, sweetheart,' said Alonzo with a grin. 'Now, if I were you I'd pack my little bag and get out before Looley Ferbes gets at you. She might feel like doing a little target practice.
'Another thing,' he continued. 'I think you're rather nice. You never sounded to me like a telephone girl, and I think you should know that if you were the sort of girl who went about the place being kissed promiscuously. I'd kiss you promiscuously.'
'Thank you, sir,' she said. 'Well I am that sort of girl.'
'Excellent.' said Alonzo. 'That being so I shall kiss you promiscuously.' Which he did.
AT 9.30, Mr. MacTavish, who had got all the ladies' telephone numbers from his informant, telephoned through to Mrs. Looley Ferbes. 'Looley, darling,' he said, when she came on the line. 'This is Alonzo MacTavish speaking. Listen to me, honey. That girl you put in here lost her head and blew the works. She's told me the whole story about your little plan to hijack that Rembrandt.
'Well, Looley, in spite of the fact that your husband doesn't like me, I've always been crazy about you. You know that, don't you, Looley? There's something about you, sweet, that hits me for six. I'm absolutely insane every time I think of you.
'Now, then, honey, I want to prove to you that I'm for you. I want you to come in on this job and ditch the other two girls, see? I'm going to change my plans. Instead of going after that Rembrandt at midnight on Thursday, I'm going to do the job at 11 o'clock. You wait for me at Southing Station and I'll pick you up on my way back at 11.30. I'll split 50-50 with you. Will you, Looley...dear Looley?'
He said a lot of other things, too! After a bit, Looley said she would. Mr. MacTavish then got his breath and proceeded to telephone first to Dolores d'Aldardo and afterwards to Viola Felpins. He told them both the same story, although he varied the terms of endearment. He called Dolores a 'sweet little snowball' and he told Viola in his most winning way that she was 'a cherub from the skies, with everything it takes.'
Dolores took three minutes to think about it before she said she would. Viola didn't think at all. She just said, 'Oke,' and blew kisses through the telephone.
Alonzo hung up and got himself a whisky and soda. He thought it was just too cute the way these girls hung together!
After which he did some more telephoning. He rang through to an old friend of his who was in the antique picture business, and they had a long talk together. Then Alonzo heaved a great sigh and went to bed.
ON Thursday night at eleven o'clock, Mr. MacTavish, who had carefully parked his car behind a five-barred gate on the east side of Mallows Hall, made a well-chosen entrance through the half-window in the butler's pantry, went up the main staircase, picked the lock on the library door, removed the Rembrandt—a not too large picture—from the wall, carefully wrapped it—frame and all—in an oiled silk cover, and then departed the way he had come. He reached his car, put the picture in the luggage boot, and drove straight back to London via Linley, carefully avoiding Southing Station. He drove fast and was back in Jermyn Street at 12.15.
At 12.30 there was a knock on the outer door of his apartment. He went through the hall and opened the door. Outside, a nasty-looking automatic in her hand, stood Looley; behind her were Dolores and Viola. They looked very angry.
'We didn't think we'd worry the night porter,' said Looley. 'We just came straight up the stairs. Just back in quietly, will you?'
'Certainly, Looley,' said Alonzo. 'I'm sorry you're taking it this way. I'm sure I can explain.'
A gasp of amazement, mingled with rage and feminine spleen, issued from three charming mouths. 'You can explain, can you?' hissed Looley. 'You can explain! My God! Have you got your nerve! First of all you get that double-crossing little cat we put in here to blow the works on our scheme.
'Then you telephone each one of us and pull a big Clark Gable on us so that we don't know which way we're pointing, and can only say 'yes' like a lot of hypnotised high school kids, after which you proceed to ditch the lot of us, do the job, get back here, and then you have the nerve to say that "you can explain."'
She sank into a chair still holding the gun pointing ominously at Alonzo's stomach. 'I've a damn good mind to shoot you now,' she said. 'Just to see you wriggle.'
'Me too!' hissed Viola, who looked radiant in a striking evening frock under a Persian lamb coat. 'Here I am all dressed up to kill, sticking round Southing Station when these two girls arrive suddenly, one at each end of the platform, and I suddenly get it that you've pulled the same tale on the whole three of us. I could have torn you apart.'
'What's the use?' said Dolores, in her husky voice. 'I can't even get annoyed with him. But I could murder him with a knife and like it.'
'Pipe down, Dolores,' said Looley. She got up. 'Now, listen, Alonzo,' she said. 'We've all had enough of you. But we've made up our minds about one thing. We're going to have that Rembrandt. I've got the car outside and we're taking it away with us right now.
'Either you hand over that picture or I'm going to put a bullet into you where it'll keep you quiet for three or four weeks, and we'll take it. Well—what about it?' Alonzo shrugged his shoulders.
'Look, girls,' he said. 'Did you ever hear the story of the fellow who thought he was awfully clever, and he was such a mug that he even double-crossed himself? Well, you're looking at him. I'm him.'
He flopped into a chair. 'If you want revenge on me,' he said, 'you just listen to this one. I got my original information about this Rembrandt from Duboray in Paris. I paid him £100 to check on all details so that I was absolutely certain that this was the small Rembrandt—the one he painted four years before he died. Then I came ever here. I paid Jimmy Detingle £75 to go down to Mallows and case the job, to inspect the way in, photograph the windows, plan the exact location of the picture, and all the rest of it. Then I paid that girl you put in here as telephone girl £100 to tell me what you were at. That's £275, isn't it?' He looked at them. His face was a picture of abject misery.
'Listen. Dolores,' he continued. 'You know something about pictures. Well, take a look at that Rembrandt!'
Dolores went over and tore the covering from the picture. She held it up underneath the electric lamp.
'It's a fake,' she said. 'A damn good fake, that's all!'
She put the picture down and looked at Alonzo. They all looked at him. Then they began to laugh. They laughed and laughed. Looley put the automatic back into her handbag.
'Good-night, sweetheart,' she said. 'So the laugh was on you this time. And it cost you £275 for a fake. Hear me laugh!'
'Me, too!' said Viola.
'And me,' said Dolores.
They walked out of the flat—still laughing. Five minutes later the telephone rang.
'Hello,' said a feminine voice. 'Is that Alonzo?'
'Correct,' said MacTavish. 'This is he. Who are you?'
'I'm the girl who was the telephone operator,' said the voice. 'I've been standing in the doorway on the other side of the street watching your flat. I thought it might be interesting tonight. It has been. I saw the girls arrive looking very angry and I've just watched them leave. They were laughing themselves sick. I feel they've pulled a fast one on you. Are you still in one piece?'
'Luckily, yes!' said Alonzo. 'You see, they came up here with a gun, to get the picture. But Dolores has just discovered it's a fake.'
'Too bad,' said the girl. 'I fell for you. Do you think you could do with a little walk and some sympathy?'
'Could I?' replied Alonzo in his most sinister voice. 'I'll be down in five minutes—or perhaps you'd like to come up and help?'
'Doing what, sir?' she asked.
'Well,' said Alonzo, 'you see this Rembrandt ain't a fake after all. I got a friend of mine to get me a copy of the picture, and when I arrived back here tonight I took the picture out of the frame and stuck the copy over it and put the frame back again.
'You see, I felt when the girls met each other on Southing Station they'd feel annoyed and might come along here, so I had a little set ready for them.'
'Well—good-night,' said the girl.
'Oh, I say.' said Alonzo. 'You can't go out of my life like this.'
She laughed. 'I'll come to lunch tomorrow,' she said. 'But before I go I ought to tell you that I feel rather proud of being the only woman in the quartet who actually made £100 out of Mr. MacTavish.'
'Well,' he said. 'Talking about that, please don't try to spend any of it, will you? You see, those banknotes aren't very good. A friend of mine made them specially for me. Good-night, sweet!'
Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
An RGL First Edition
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