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Title: The Flirting Fool Author: Aidan de Brune * A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook * eBook No.: 1701151h.html Language: English Date first posted: Oct 2017 Most recent update: June 2019 This eBook was produced by Terry Walker, Colin Choat and Roy Glashan. Project Gutenberg of Australia eBooks are created from printed editions which are in the public domain in Australia, unless a copyright notice is included. We do NOT keep any eBooks in compliance with a particular paper edition. Copyright laws are changing all over the world. Be sure to check the copyright laws for your country before downloading or redistributing this file. This eBook is made available at no cost and with almost no restrictions whatsoever. You may copy it, give it away or re-use it under the terms of the Project Gutenberg of Australia License which may be viewed online at http://gutenberg.net.au/licence.html To contact Project Gutenberg of Australia go to http://gutenberg.net.au
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THIS book is a product of a collaborative effort undertaken by Project Gutenberg Australia, Roy Glashan's Library and the bibliophile Terry Walker to collect, edit and publish the works of Aidan de Brune, a colourful and prolific Australian writer whose opus is well worth saving from oblivion.
DETECTIVE-INSPECTOR Saul Murmer approved of Australia. He had come to the island-continent under an agreement between Scotland Yard, London, and the New South Wales Police Department for the exchange of officers, for mutual experience. He had had a certain reluctance in leaving London for a city that was merely a name—for a country of which he had read little and had only vague impressions.
During the war he had mixed with a number of Australians on "Blighty" leave to record the impression that Australians were unmitigated liars, when discussing their native land. He had listened to yarns that he knew were "tall"; stories well told but causing broad grins on the faces of the countrymen of the narrator. From his reading he had to believe that Australia was a convict settlement—even in the Year of Grace 1932.
He knew that the Australians had no literature for, after his appointment to the detective branch of the New South Wales police he had searched London bookshops for Australian books. He had found books that purported to be Australian, but they had been published in England, and the tone of the writing showed him that the authors had lived long enough in his country to assimilate an atmosphere decidedly English.
Against that he had learned from the records of New Scotland Yard that Australia had long ceased to be a convict settlement—that if any convicts remained on that country's soil they must be very old men. Someone had advised him to go to Fleet street and gather in Australian newspapers. He had done so; his reading of them had caused him to wonder still more. Either the newspapers from the capital cities of the Commonwealth were drier reading than the Times of 30 years before, or they rivalled the famous "Yellow Press" of the United States of America.
A friend had introduced him to certain books professing to describe the bushranging era of the pre-Commonwealth days. They had been interesting, but he desired to know the Australia of today, not the Australia of fifty years ago.
On the voyage out to Sydney he had placed his perplexities before a fellow-voyager—an Australian returning home after a world tour.
Frank Mardyke, a Sydney journalist-author, had laughed heartily. In the resultant conversation he had explained, with a note of bitterness in his voice, that London publishers were, for some reason, unwilling to even consider an Australian novel of the present day. To Murmer's amazement, Mardyke had seriously stated that in his country were quite a number of first-class authors who could not obtain a public hearing. Though their books were equal to the English average, the importations of fiction books kept them off the Australian market.
Saul Murmer landed in Sydney to be impressed with the size and importance of the city. On the voyage round the coast from Perth he had had opportunities to visit other cities, of smaller size but well equipped and entirely modern. He had reported to the detective branch at police head-quarters, in Central Lane, to find that the men he would associated and work with for the next twelve months were as alert, intelligent, and as well grounded in modern criminology as his former associates at New Scotland Yard. He was attracted to Inspector John Pater, with whom he would work.
After a couple of small investigations he came to the conclusion that crooks in Australia were as clever as any in those parts of the world he had visited. Superintendent Dixon, head of the detective branch, had welcomed him warmly, yet with a certain surprise he barely concealed. Murmer had grinned secretly. He knew his physical appearance was against him. He was short, barely passing the height standard of New Scotland Yard; his tendency to embonpoint accentuated his lack of stature. His face was round and almost hairless and his light-blue, wide eyes gave him an innocent baby-stare that had often caused him embarrassment. What little hair still adorned the top of his head was light and curly. Even a conscientious use of the remedies recommended by various hairdressers and newspaper advertisements had failed to compel it to grow thick, and to lie smooth and slick.
He did not look-like a detective. His Chief Constable had once referred to him as "the baby in long pants." Murmer had realised the phrase had been used good-humouredly, but it stung. His great secret ambition was to be able to wear hard-crowned bowler hats and the ability to roll rank-perfumed black cigars from side to side of his mouth with a flick of his lips, scowling meanwhile on evil-doers from hard, compelling eyes. In effect, he could only smoke the mildest of cigarettes, and his lips were a Cupid-bow of scarlet that he knew many girls secretly envied him.
Gradually Sydney absorbed him. He acquired the habit of strolling the streets of the city and suburbs, while off duty, scanning the people with whom he came in contact; watching the faces of the houses and the traffic in the streets—streets that seemed never to pursue a straight course. They twisted and turned at almost impossible hills, winding over hills and valleys that forced him to the conclusion that, in regard to fat men, Sydney was only fitted to those who possessed cars. It contained far too many hills.
Yet, as the days passed, he became more and more fascinated with the city that claimed to be the Queen City of the Southern Hemisphere. He liked it; he was beginning to love it. Almost he was coming to view with regret the end of his term of exchange—to the day when he would mount the ship's gangway for the journey back to England.
Sir Gregory Eascham, Chief Commissioner of Metropolitan Police, had told him he was going to Australia to gain experience. In the Chief Commissioner's office he had met Detective-Inspector Arnold, the New South Welshman who was taking his place at New Scotland Yard. A fine, tall, soldierly man, much more detective than himself. He had sighed. Why had not Nature given him a presence like that? Arnold would have no trouble in subduing the crooks he arrested for himself, all he could do was to use some trick to throw them, and then sit on their chests until help arrived. One gentleman of fortune had bitterly complained, after arrest by Inspector Murmer, that the torture-press of the Middle Ages must have been but a child's plaything.
Inspector John Pater, a bachelor, had taken him from Central Lane to his flat at King's Cross. The apartment was comfortable and not too expensive. In answer to his questions, Murmer had found that a similar flat in the building was to let. He had immediately booked it, moving at once from the hotel where he had located on arriving in the city. The hotel-manager had found him a woman who did his cleaning after a fashion; he had developed unexpected gifts as a cook, when he did not choose to go to one of the nearby restaurants for his meals.
All in all, he was comfortable and happy. Walking eastwards from his new home he found pleasant and unexpectedly beautiful, if somewhat hilly, strolls along the harbour banks and amid houses and people that intrigued. He felt that all he now required to make matters Australian perfect was a big, intricate case that would prove to his new associates that he was worthy of his salt. So far they had, comradely, taken him on trust.
Inspector Saul Murmer was thinking lightly on inconsequent matters as he strolled through Edgecliff one summer's evening. He had been two months in Sydney and had acquired a good, working knowledge of New South Wales police procedure. He thought of his former mates at New Scotland Yard, then glanced down at his light calico suit and unbuttoned waistcoat and grinned. Sure it was hot; damned hot—and those fellows at the Yard would be gathering around any little bit of heat that offered, cursing their luck when they had to venture into the streets, huddling in great-coats and stamping their feet on the pavements as a they went along. It was hot!
He turned the corner of Wonthaggi Avenue—what queer names they gave their streets! Rather a decent road. Good class houses. People living here must have a bit of money. Not much in the matter of front-gardens, considering all the waste lands there were in Australia. Suppose they had a good bit of land behind the houses. Of course, so much nicer to have a big garden than—
"Oh—good evening!" He nodded to the constable who had just saluted. Didn't know the man; but quite a number of them knew him. He had met them about police headquarters and the courts. Of course, those he had a met had pointed him out to their mates. The Pommy detective! 'That's the fat Inspector from England!' Sure, that's how they'd describe him. Still, it was useful—one never knew when one might chance on anything—to know the pointsman. Queer, that door being open! Murmer glanced down at the illuminated face of his wrist-watch. Just on midnight! People, even in Australia, didn't leave their front doors open at midnight. Perhaps someone had gone down to the pillar box.
No, there it was on the other side of the road, and there wasn't a person on the road now. He searched the shadows for the patrolman, but he had a evidently turned some corner on his beat.
Detective Inspector Murmer glanced up at the face of the house. Not a light showed. The street-door was half open and there was no light in the hall. He dragged a cigarette from the packet in his jacket pocket and thoughtfully lit it. Again he glanced up at the face of the house.
He had the impression that someone was watching him. Waiting for him to move on. Something was wrong in that house. Again he looked back down the street, in the direction in which the constable had passed. There was no one in sight. Yet again he glanced up at the face of the house. He believed that within that house was something requiring investigation.
The path between the gate and the hall-door was a bare ten yards. Three steps led up into a porch over-shadowing the door. The house was of two storeys, with a high-peak roof that might contain a third storey—an attic. Murmer pushed back the door and glanced into the hall. It was dark and still. People didn't go to bed and leave their hall doors open, even in Sydney. They didn't go to bed without a preliminary survey of doors and windows, to see that they were properly secured.
Then he descended the steps and walked down to the gate. Still I there was not a soul in sight. He returned to the hall door and pushed it fully open.
Within the house was only dense darkness. Taking his torch from his pocket he flashed the light on the door-frame. A moment, and he had located the bell-push and thrust his thumb on it firmly. He could hear the bell ringing within the house. No one answered.
For a moment he hesitated, undecided what to do, then laughed shortly. Someone had gone out and left the door open. Possibly they had thought they had pulled it shut, but the latch had caught and the door blown open. Perhaps he was imagining things. Should he shut the door and go on home? It was getting late.
Almost with the door-latch connecting the socket he hesitated, thrusting the door open again. That would not do. Again that queer sense, that things were not right in that house, possessed him. Well, after all, he was a police officer and carried full credentials. He would look through the house before he left it.
Still he hesitated. He had met the patrolman about twenty yards before the gate of this house. Why had not the man noticed the open door? It was his duty to see that everything was secure on his beat. If the door had been open then. But, if anyone had come out of that house, on to the road after the constable had passed it, he could not have failed to see them.
Murmer strode into the hall, his torch blazing a path before him. A moment and he had located the light-switch. The light flashed on, almost blinding him. The hall was well-furnished. Four doors around him opened into rooms. Beyond the staircase was another door, possibly opening into the offices of the house.
Methodically he opened door after door, switching on the lights and surveying the rooms. They were handsomely furnished, and unoccupied. In the dining room he found a table set for two persons. On it were the remains of a supper. One of the wine-glasses had been upset and a dark stain straggled across the white linen. A thin trickle of liquid had run over the edge of the table and dripped to the ground. He returned to the hall and called aloud; then listened. There was no answer. Again he called, with no result.
He went to the stairs and mounted them. As he came to the landing a light flashed on in one of the rooms. He strode to the door of that room and thrust it back—to exclaim in astonishment.
On a couch, pulled well forward into the room, sat a young girl, about twenty years of age. For a moment Murmer stood and stared at her. Beside her, on the couch, lay her outdoor garments, and in her hand she held a close-fitting hat. Murmer thought there was alarm in the eyes raised to his.
"Excuse me, miss. Are you the owner of this house?"
"Who are you?"
"Don't be frightened." The Inspector came a step into the room. "I'm a police-officer, and I found your front door open. I called out in the hall but I couldn't make anyone hear."
"Sure thing. Called more than once. Didn't you hear me? Say, are you the occupier of this house?"
"Mr. Stanley Griffiths, Mr.—er—"
"Inspector Saul Murmer, miss." The police officer stared about the room inquisitively.
"What are you doing here?"
"I came here to see Mr. Griffiths."
"At this hour of the night?"
The girl flushed. "We'd been to the theatre—Mr. Griffiths and I. I—I am his personal secretary, and he asked me to come here to get some papers wanted at the office tomorr—this morning. Mr. Griffiths said he wouldn't be at the office until very late." The girl spoke glibly.
"Where's Mr. Griffiths?" asked Murmer.
"Did he leave you here?" The Inspector paused. "How long ago?"
"About ten minutes ago—it may be a quarter of an hour."
"He went to get the—the papers."
"Then he's gone out of the house?"
"I don't think so!"
Murmer looked at the girl in perplexity. She was nervous—very nervous. He disliked the little trick she had of halting before the last word of her sentence. Somehow it gave him the impression that she was not telling the truth.
"Well, where do you think the papers are? I've searched the ground floor, and there's no one there."
"Have you looked in his bedroom?"
"Where's that?" Instinctively the detective turned to the corridor.
"The room opposite."
"That's in darkness."
"He went in there." The girl paused for a long minute. "I heard him."
In the doorway, Murmer looked back at the girl. Why had she sat there, her hat in her hand, throughout his inquisition? Her voice had been flat, expressionless, throughout his questioning. He believed she had lied. For what reason? Had she a right to be in the house? Had she found the street door open, and had come in to thieve? He shrugged. The place was not normal. As he, went to the door opposite the room where the girl sat he glanced back over his shoulder.
"You'd better come with me."
"All right." Slowly the girl rose to her feet and turned to pick up her wraps. Murmer noticed that she wore a long, white, floating evening gown that came to her ankles. Impatient at her slow movements he went to the opposite door and flung it open. He felt for the light-switch and pressed it. A globe over the bed came to light. He glanced round the room, then back at the girl now standing in the doorway.
"Mr. Griffiths is not here?"
"He must be." A hint of alarm came in the girl's voice. "He came in here; I'll swear to that. I heard the door close. Perhaps—perhaps he's fainted—on the opposite side of the bed. He has a safe somewhere there. Please—please—look!"
With a shrug of disbelief Murmer strode round the bed. There was no one on the floor there. He looked back to the girl—to see the door closing; to hear the sound of the key turned in the lock. With speed remarkable for a man of his build, he ran to the door, to find it locked. Through the wood he could hear light feet speeding down the stairs.
INSPECTOR Saul Murmer's first impulse was to throw his weight against the door and burst it open. A moment and he recognised the futility of such action. He was on the wrong side of the door to exert any leverage on the lock. He bent down and peered into the keyhole. The key was still in the lock. He felt in his pockets; there was nothing in them that could help him. He shrugged. After all he was only a detective in real life; not one of those super men from a novel, who carried habitually a collection of burglar tools, without a thousand to one chance against using them in a life-time.
"Slick!" He straightened, and scratched his head. Then he remembered and went to the mirror, trying to flatten his hair from the rebellious curls.
"Well, what's to be done now. Sure that girl's got the wind up. Wonder why? Perhaps she thought I'd ask her name and address, and broadcast it to New South Wales scandal-mongers that I'd found her in a man's house at midnight. Umph. Maybe that!"
He glanced about the handsomely furnished room, then went to the window and threw up the sash. The window overlooked the gardens at the back of the house. They lay, dark and drear, under the faint night light. The next house was some distance away and not a light gleamed in any one of its many windows. From the window the wall dropped sheer to the ground more than thirty feet below—too far for a man to jump.
He turned back into the room and switched on all the lights. On the table by the bed stood a telephone. Here was a chance! But, was the telephone connected direct with the exchange or working on a house switch? If the latter, then the girl had no doubt disconnected the instrument. He had to chance that. Yet—what a let down. Detective-inspector Murmer, of New Scotland Yard, to have to call the police to free him from a room in which a slip of a girl had locked him!
With his hand on the telephone Murmer thought quickly then lifted the receiver and dialled a number. A long wait, and then a voice sounded on the wire. "Get me Mr. Pater—Flat 5, please. Important!"
An indistinct murmur and then silence. Nearly five minutes passed before the Inspector recognised a voice speaking through the instrument.
"That you, John? Saul speaking. I'm in a house up Edgecliff way. Something queer here. Where? Wonthaggi avenue—but I'm damned if I know the number. You'll find the front door open—about fifty yards from the harbour corner of the road. A two-storey place. Yes, I'll wait for you."
He hung up the receiver and turned again to examine the room. Damn that girl! He'd never hear the last of it! The joke would be too good for Pater to keep to himself. The London 'tec locked in a bedroom by a girl! They'd swear he was burglarising the house and want to charge him—more than likely there'd be some foolery—holding a mock trial on a house-breaking charge and sentence him to death or some such rot!
Again he returned to the door, examining the lock. A short search of the room followed and he found a pair of scissors and a newspaper. He opened the newspaper widely and slipped it under the door, out into the passage. Then with the scissors, he juggled the key in the lock until the wards were vertical. Still more careful work and the key fell on to the newspaper in the passage. Drawing the newspaper into the room he was able to get the key.
So far good. Now he could tell Peter just what he wished of what had happened. There would be no ragging, or nonsense. Taking the key from the lock, after he had released the bolt, he placed it in a drawer. It was nothing for locks in a house to be without keys.
Instinctively his feet led him to the room where he had found the girl on first entering the house. He switched on the light and, as he moved into the room, stopped suddenly-immobile—His eyes had gone to the couch on which the girl had been seated. It was still far from the wall into the room—a strange place for a couch to be. The article was chintz-covered with a deep valance hanging down the front, almost touching the floor. Something projected from under the chintz.
He looked again, his eyes staring with a dawning of fixed horror. The tips of the fingers of a man's hand. Only the top joints, unnaturally white and still, and he recognised that it was the left hand of a man.
For a moment he hesitated, then advanced cautiously, his quick eyes searching suspiciously about the room. He came to the couch and stopped, staring down at the fingers. A moment, and he lifted the valance, exposing a man's hand and forearm. On the little finger of the hand shone light from a big diamond ring.
Murmer stepped back a pace and scanned the couch. The girl had been seated here when he had entered the room. Her long wide skirts had spread out and hidden the jutting hand. She had talked to him, Inspector Murmer, while she had sat quietly over the body of a dead man.
Dead? Yes, he had reason to believe that. The hand was unnaturally still and bloodless. Advancing a step, the detective dropped to his knees and touched the flesh: it was still warm, but there was something in the feel of the skin that indicated death.
Murmer gained his feet and with his eyes measured the space between the back of the couch and the wall. He went round the couch and looked down. One of the man's legs stuck out into the room, exposed almost to the knee. Then, the man had been standing before the couch when he had been killed—and the couch had then stood against the wall. He had fallen directly before the couch—and the girl hearing his shouts in the hall, and his footsteps on the stairs, had pulled the couch forward to cover him. And the girl had sat on the couch, calmly talking to him, while the man lay beneath, dying or dead!
Careful not to disturb the body, Murmer moved the couch back to its proper position against the wall, placing the castors in the old marks on the carpet. He went to the bedroom and found the newspaper. With some scraps of the paper and pins, he marked where the couch legs had been, when the article had stood over the dead man. Now he turned to the dead man.
From his position Murmer deduced that he had been standing before the couch when he had been killed. He had fallen against the edge of the couch and rolled to his present position. Murmer bent over the man, puzzled. Against the white of the neck was a glint of metal. He moved the head and found a small ornamental dagger, presumably of silver, driven right up to the hilt in the thick neck.
For a moment the detective was puzzled. What sort of dagger was this? when realisation came. It was one of those trinkets girls had adopted to decorate their coats and hats. Surely a small, frail thing to ensure death.
On his knees Murmer examined the wound and the dagger carefully, trying to reconstruct the death-scene. The girl and the man had been alone in the house, in that room together. He remembered that the girl had said that she and the man—Arthur Griffiths, she had called him—had been to the theatre together. He had told her to come to his house to get some papers required at his office early the next morning. At the house the man had given the girl supper. Then in some manner he had induced her to come to this upstairs room. What then?
Murmer directed the light of his torch on the dead man's face There could be no doubt as to what had then occurred. Death had not obliterated the signs of the man's character from his face. When he had got the girl up to this room he had tried to entice her into his bedroom—tried to take advantage of her position in the vacant, silent house at that hour of the night. She had resisted and—Now Murmer remembered the nervous, fidgety manner in which she had played with her hat while she had talked with him. The dagger was one of those ornaments girls decorated their hats with—or stuck on the lapels of their coats. Hat or coat! Either; what did that matter? There was the use to which it had been finally put.
A frail, slight thing for a weapon to cause a man's death. So frail and slight that but for its position, and the corpse, he could hardly have believed it could have caused death. Chance had held the girl's hand to drive it straight and true. The man's flesh, puffed and bloated with evil living, had offered little resistance. Chance had decided that in its progress to death it should avoid bone and muscle! Death by misadventure!
The detective shrugged. He slipped his hand beneath the man's dress shirt, feeling the flesh. The skin was still warm. So far as he could judge the man had been killed a few minutes before he, Murmer, had entered the house. Certainly not after, for he would have heard the man exclaim when the silver had pierced his neck, and he had heard no sound in the house before he had found the girl.
But—why had the street door been open? Who had gone out of the house? Leaving the dead man and the room undisturbed, Murmer went down to the street door. There was no one in sight. He went on to the street gate. As he reached the pavement a furiously-driven taxi swung into the road. At his sharply upraised hand it slid to a stop with a shrieking of brakes and John Pater sprang out.
"What the matter, Saul—pulling a man out of his bed at this hour of the night?"
"Murder!" Murmer turned, to the taxi-driver. "Take a sprint round this block and try and find the patrolman on this beat. Bring him back with you and wait here. Not a word to anyone, or we'll have you down at police headquarters and grill you. Understand?"
"With a beckoning gesture he led the way to the house. In the hall, with the door shut, he turned to his companion.
"A hell of a mess, John," he said with a slight laugh. "I saw the door of this house standing open as I was strolling up the road. As it was after midnight I thought it worth investigating. Came in and found the house apparently empty. Found signs of a supper-party for two, in the dining room. Then went upstairs. Found a room with a light, and in it a girl sitting on a couch—"
"A girl? Where is she?"
"Just what I'd like to know?" Murmer became embarrassed. "She fooled me absolutely. Told me she was waiting for a Mr. Stanley Griffiths." Pater nodded, understandingly, as his comrade paused. "She seemed nervous; but I put that down to my walking in on her unexpectedly. She told me that Griffiths had gone to his bedroom—the room opposite where I had found her—to fetch some papers. I went in search of him and—and—damn it, you've got to know, John, sooner or later—she locked me in the room!"
"Gee!" For a moment Pater looked at his friend, startled, then burst into a loud guffaw. "Caught you, old man! Well?"
"I got out and went to the room where I had found the girl. The couch on which she had been sitting had been pulled well forward into the room. Something was sticking from under the flounce arrangement in front. It was a man's hand. The couch had been pulled out to conceal him and—" the detective's voice changed strangely. "Man, she was sitting over a dead man, her long skirts concealing him, while she talked to me."
"What's the matter here?"
A form came out of the dusk of the passage into the room. The two inspectors turned to face the patrolman. "Why, it's Mr. Pater and Mr. Murmer. The taxi-driver told me that—"
"Find the telephone, Preston." Pater spoke abruptly. "Ring up headquarters and tell them there's murder here. I want the doctor, the finger prints expert, and others of the gang. They'll understand."
He turned to Murmer. "We'll have a look at that dining room first. If that girl had supper there she's left her finger prints all over the place. Said she was Griffiths' secretary, did she? Well, she won't be difficult to pick up."
"You'd better come upstairs and see him first." Murmer interposed. "I'd like to get his identity straight. We'll have that constable, too—Preston, you called him. Being on this beat he should know Griffiths. That girl told me so many lies that I'd like to get one point of truth as soon as possible."
Pater nodded. He went to the dining-room door and turned the key in the lock, drawing it out and dropping it into the side pocket of his jacket. They waited at the foot of the stairs until the constable joined them. "Headquarters is sending out the squad, Mr. Pater," he reported.
"Know this house?" Murmer spoke.
"Mr. Griffiths' house, sir—Mr. Stanley Griffiths." The man answered promptly. "Rather a rackety customer. Keeps late hours and entertains quite a lot of friends—" he hesitated and concluded. "Ladies mostly."
"Umph! Got a family?"
"No, a bachelor, sir. Servants sleep out."
In spite of discipline, Preston's eye decidedly winked. "They might be shocked at the goings on here sometimes."
"Then you know him? You've spoken to him?"
"Well, yes, sir. Good for a tip or so, at the right times of the year. Pleasant spoken man, but—" The constable shrugged.
"Place ever reported?"
"One or two of the neighbours complained of the noise when he's had parties. I got orders once to tip him off. Took it good-naturedly, and said there wouldn't be any more complaints."
"Should say he was. Seemed to always have plenty of money. Usually there's a taxi hanging about until long after this time. Didn't seem to mind keeping 'em waiting with the meter ticking over."
Murmer nodded abruptly and led the way upstairs. He came to the door of the room where the body lay and flung it open. For moments the three men in the doorway surveyed the still body before the couch. Suddenly Murmer turned to the constable.
"That's Mr. Griffiths, sir." The man answered emphatically. "Lord, he's been stabbed."
"Seen a girl about here tonight?"
Preston shook his head. "You saw me turn into this road to-night?" Murmer waited for the man's nod of assent. "You didn't see a girl come out of this house ten minutes later?"
"Couldn't have, sir. I recognised you, Mr. Murmer, and after I passed you I turned the corner and went up the road behind here. At the top I came into the main road and went to point to meet the sergeant. It was there that the taxi-driver found me waiting for him—my sergeant, I mean."
"You remember passing me in this street, then." Murmer turned to the man quickly. "I passed you about thirty yards from the gate of this house. Why didn't you notice that this house-door was open, and investigate?"
"The house-door open?" The man stuttered his surprise. "Why, it wasn't open when I passed; I'll swear to that. I noticed that there wasn't a light showing and flashed my light on the door, same as I do with all houses. I wait for the houses to settle down for the night and then put the light on them to see they're all safe."
"You'll swear the hall-door was closed when you passed?" Murmer tried to conceal his amazement. "S'pose you'll be surprised when I tell you that it was half open when I came to it—quite enough open for anyone to notice it. Now, how long would it take me to walk from where I met you to the gate of this house?"
"Half a minute, sir," Preston replied promptly.
"Then, if we're both right that door opened during the minute after you passed it and I came to the gate. But I'll swear no one came out of the house to the pavement during that minute. I saw you coming down the road and I watched you. I watched up the street after I passed you. No one came out of this house. Now, what do you make of that?"
The constable did not answer. He shrugged, almost imperceptibly. For a moment Murmer stared at the man. He believed he was telling the truth. Yet, how could someone come out of the house and get away, with the gate under his observation all the time?
Abruptly, he spoke again: "Ever seen Mr. Griffiths' secretary—the girl from his office?"
"Not to know her as such, Mr. Murmer." Now the Englishman's eyes turned on Pater. The Inspector nodded and Murmer spoke again.
"Get to the gate, Preston, and watch out for the headquarters' car. Mr. Pater and I are going to have a look at the remains of the supper-party, in the dining room."
Downstairs in the hall again, Pater pulled the key from his pocket and unlocked the door. As they entered the dining room the Englishman halted with an exclamation of amazement. The disorder of the supper table had disappeared. The crockery, glass and silver had been piled neatly in the centre of the table and the cloth thrown up all round to cover it. On the floor, close to one of the legs of the table, lay a soiled and crumpled napkin.
"That's broke it!" Murmer spoke with chagrin in his voice. "That damned girl's been here. Remembered finger prints. She's wiped every article on the table, and I guess the rest of the room as well. Gosh! She's got brains, that girl; even if she is a crook—a murderess!"
"What about upstairs?" Pater turned to the door. "I'm betting she didn't forget that."
Murmer made a gesture of despair. "She was wearing gloves when I saw her. I may be mistaken, of course, but I'll bet you a weeks pay she's wiped every fingerprint from where she's been in this house."
"WELL, I'm—" Inspector John Pater chuckled thickly. "Seems that girl, whoever she is, is more than a match for one of Scotland Yard's star men! Glory; Locks him in a bedroom and then waits to clean up her finger-prints before making her get-away. Some I nerve that!"
Murmer nodded, absently. He was staring about the room; a long, narrow room, with French a windows opening out on to the gardens at the rear of the house. Moving lightly, as so many men of weight seem to be able to do, he quartered the room. He came to the windows and, using his elbows, pressed heavily on the frames. One of the windows swung open.
"Suppose she went out that way," observed Pater.
"Don't think so—No!" Murmer was staring out into the darkness. "There's gardens of houses on either side and the gardens of another house backs on to these. No, she'd be a fool to go out this way; she'd leave footprints. Besides, she'd have to go round the house to get to the street. What's the matter with her walking out of the front door and down the street? Preston was well out of the way, and at that time of night Edgecliff's not crowded."
Pater nodded. His tall, lean, rather lanky frame propped one of the door posts. With his hands thrust deep into his pocket, his keen, dark-brown eyes watched his companion carefully.
Murmer turned from contemplating the gardens to the room again. For a moment his innocent blue eyes scanned the room, then he went forward quickly to a dark corner beside a massive sideboard. For nearly a minute he stooped, examining something on the ground, then turned and beckoned to the Australian detective.
"Lord!" Pater took a torch from his pocket and flashed the light into the corner.
"A revolver!" The stout man had dropped to his knees beside the weapon, bending closer and sniffing audibly. When he looked up at Pater, standing watching him, there was a humorous twinkle lightening the perplexity that had previously been on his face.
"Interesting!" The Englishman sat back on his haunches, absently ruffling his carefully flattened curls. "Tell me, John. If the lady stabbed the gent upstairs in the neck, why is there a recently fired revolver in this dining room?"
"What's the answer?" Pater drawled. "A lemon? You're sure it's been recently fired?"
"Sure, yes. There's a distinct odour about a recently fired gun; you should know that. I'm willing to bet this revolver was fired within the last hour."
He dropped his handkerchief over the revolver, then lifted it carefully and deposited it on the table. "Time those fellows were here," he said. "No, don't touch it, John! I'll swear there's fingerprints on it."
Again his fingers ruffled his light curls. "Tell me, why didn't the girl clean that gun off-like she did the plate? Suppose—wonder if she knew it was there?"
Pater shook his head. He was about to speak when sounds in the hall drew his attention. A moment, and three men strode into the room.
"'Lo, sir!" The leading man of the newcomers saluted the Inspectors. "What's the trouble, Mr. Pater?"
"Murder, Ben—Upstairs—the room almost facing the head of the stairs. Goodnight, Dr. Angus! Will you go up with Sergeant Russell. Scotty—"The third man, who had turned to follow the doctor and sergeant hesitated. "Got your box of tricks here? Good! Well, tell us what's on that gun?"
"Brought it down here?" The fingerprints man raised his eyebrows.
"No; found it down there. Get a move on! I'm guessing this is going to be a strange case!"
Ted Scott lifted his attaché case to the table and opened it. For some minutes he bent over the gun, first treating it with powder from a sufflator then examining it through a powerful magnifying glass. Presently he looked up, beckoning the Inspectors to him.
"Fingerprints?" asked Murmer softly.
"'Lots of 'em. Funny thing, they're all the wrong way round."
"What do you, mean by that?" asked Inspector Pater. "Well, he held the gun so—" Scott picked up the magnifying glass, pointing the handle to his breast, yet with the hand holding it, pointing away from him.
"What the devil did he do that for? He'd have had to trigger it with his thumb, and even that 'ud be awkward."
"Whose finger prints?" asked Murmer. "You said 'he.' Aren't they a girl's prints?"
"No; a man's. Have a look." Scott handed his glass to the Inspector.
"A man's?" Pater showed astonishment. "You're certain, Scotty?"
"Couldn't mistake 'em. No girl could make a fingerprint like that."
Presently Murmer stood back, fingering his lower lip thoughtfully. He watched Pater take the glass and examine the prints, which now stood out in lines of powder. A little twinkle of amusement came in his eyes at the puzzled expression of his comrade's face.
"Got you puzzled, John? Thought so. Oh, you're not the only one. So, there's been a man here, too. Fired a gun, but did it as awkwardly as an old maid committing suicide trying to frighten the family ghost. Now, if he shot at the girl he missed, for there wasn't a mark on her—I should have seen it if there had been. Who'd he fire at? Give me that and—"
He turned suddenly to Scott. "Got a photographer here?"
"Sure," Scott answered. Sitting with his kit in the hall, awaiting orders. "Want this photographed now?"
"I might as well." Murmer turned to the door. "Leave it to you, Scott. When you've got your pictures of the exterior, here or at headquarters, have a look at the interior. I'd like to recognise that bullet when I see it—and I'm guessing it's not far away. Coming upstairs, John?"
The two detectives left the room. Very thoughtfully they climbed the stairs to the murder room. Just within the door they glanced interrogatively at the doctor, who had just risen from his examination.
"Dead," Dr. Angus said, turning to his bag and replacing instruments, "about an hour to an hour and a half."
"Stabbed in the neck, doctor?" Murmer strolled to the table and bent to examine the little dagger ornament. "Strange how a little bit of metal like this can let out a man's life."
"Bit of metal?" Dr. Angus looked surprised. "Yes, it's strange how that came to be driven into his flesh without buckling. In ninety-nine cases out of a hundred it would have touched some muscle or bone and twisted up. Just a fluke it missed—" He checked, staring into Murmer's astonished face. "What are you thinking of, Inspector?" He turned and went to the body, examining the neck wound. "But that didn't kill him—exactly."
"What exactly do you mean by 'exactly?'" asked Pater quickly.
"You don't know?" For a moment Dr. Angus stared. "Oh, I suppose you didn't disturb him—left him for medical examination, eh? Well, if you'd turned him over—"
He beckoned to Sergeant Russell, standing by. Together they lifted the dead man. The two Inspectors followed the line of the doctor's pointing finger. "Shot in the back." Dr. Angus' voice was abruptly professional. "Bullet went right through the heart—killing him instantly."
Pater turned to the floor where the man had lain. He noted that there was little blood there. Only a couple of patches in a rough outline of a human figure which Sergeant Russell had traced on the carpet before he and Dr. Angus had lifted the corpse on to the couch. One patch of blood was where the man's neck would have been, the other under where the bullet had pierced the back.
"Not a great amount of blood, doctor!" observed Pater curiously.
"Dead men don't bleed." A quaint smile came on the doctor's lips. "If you men at Central Lane gave up reading those tripe detective novels and studied a few medical works I'd recommend, you'd learn something of your profession. It's only in mystery novels you find dead men streaming gore."
"There's something in that," Murmer said reflectively. "So our friend was shot in the back?"
"As I've told you." Dr. Angus turned at the door. "Bathroom somewhere along this corridor, I suppose." He went out of the room, leaving the door open. Saul Murmer caught Pater's eyes, and shrugged. For a moment he stood looking, at the dead man then turned to the wall behind the couch.
"Bullet?" Pater moved forward, switching on the light from his torch and focussing it on the wall. "Should be about here."
The Englishman searched in silence for some minutes. Then:
"Give me a hand to move this couch, John."
For a long time the two men, assisted by Sergeant Russell, examined the wall closely. At length Inspector Murmer made a gesture of despair and moved into the room. The two men watched him. For a time the Englishman was thoughtful, then went to the corpse, lifting it until the bullet wound was exposed. Sergeant Russell went to his aid and held the body while Murmer examined the man's breast.
"Bullet went right through him." Inspector Murmer looked up at his companions. "More than probably his coat spread open at the time he was killed and then fell into place when he struck the ground. Anyway, the bullet didn't touch it and it was concealing the wound-exit when I first saw him. Then, that dagger-thing caught my eyes—and the bullet-wound is right to the side, too—"
He stared round the room, perplexedly; then suddenly laughed.
"Help me shift this furniture, John." He waited until the couch was again against the wall.
"Now we'll do a bit of reconstruction. The girl was sitting here when I saw her. More than likely she took the same side of the couch as when he—Yes, that's it. Russell, you're the girl. Sit here. Now John, you're about Griffiths' height. Stand in front of Russell. Like that. Good." Murmer went to the door and turned. "Stoop a little more, John—the girl was shorter than Russell—That's it. Now think—Russell's a girl—one with a gaudy moustache—and you're trying to kiss him—her—against hi—Oh, damn, her—will. That's good. Bend a little more. Just so—" The Inspector walked another step into the room. "Now—Hold it, John—"
Slowly the Englishman's forefinger came up, pointing at John's back, as a muzzle of a pistol. He moved slightly to one side; then moved a step forward. For a moment he waited squinting along the line of his finger, then moved again. He nodded, and let his hand drop to his side. As if walking a chalk, line, he went forward until he stood just beyond Pater.
"That's got it, John. Get out of the road."
When Pater moved to one side the Englishman advanced to the couch. A short search and a little whistle of satisfaction escaped him. He pointed to an almost invisible hole in the covering.
"There's the bullet!"
"Good!" A moment and Pater in had his penknife to work, digging at the couch.
"So the girl didn't kill him!" Murmer stood back from the couch, watching his comrade. "Poor devil of a kid. Enticed here by that damned rake and—Got her up here and tried to put the acid on her—She resisted—A damned flirting fool, of course—but not a fool of that kind. Put up a fight against him—of course! Perhaps her hat came off and that dagger thing got between her fingers—Things happen like that—they do. Struck at him with it—and it went home. Someone comes up here after them—Opens the door and sees that Griffiths is overpowering her and shoots—" For a moment Murmer's voice, drifted into indistinctness; then strengthened again. "Damned nervy thing—shooting at a man with a girl in his arms. Bullet must have a passed within inches of her—Yes—That's so, but—"
He swung round on his heels as Dr. Angus entered the room.
"Say, doctor! You state he was killed by the bullet?"
"Of course!" The medical man looked surprised. "Why the doubt, Inspector?"
Dr. Angus looked at the detective, inquisitively.
"I heard you found a girl up here, Inspector." The doctor spoke slowly. "Sergeant Russell has told me something of this man's—er—reputation. I tell you he was killed by a bullet piercing his heart. Death was practically instantaneous. I know my work—Are you doubting me?"
A little smile curved the cupid's bow of the detective's mouth. He shook his head.
"Not doubting you doctor; just a matter of curiosity. I'll agree, if you like, that Griffiths got just what he deserved and that it's a pity that someone hadn't done it before. I'm willing to admit that the girl I saw wasn't the first to meet trouble here through that man. But John and I ain't allowed sentiment—we have to leave that to the medical profession—You tell me that man was killed by a bullet through his heart. That's so, then. But, will you tell me this. If he hadn't had a bullet through his heart, would that stab with that dagger-ornament have killed him?"
For a moment a puzzled frown darkened the medical man's face. Almost reluctantly he crossed the room and stood again by the dead man, looking down On the grey face. For a moment he did not speak. "You've asked me a question I'm not going to reply to, Inspector." The words came reluctantly from Dr. Angus' lips. "I'm not going to state theories. There'll be a post-mortem. I'll see that there is one, if you want questions of that sort answered. At present I'll say that dagger might have buckled."
"It's straight, doctor." Murmer's voice was low, yet with a note of insistence. Dr. Angus did not answer. Inspector Pater and Sergeant Russell were watching the two men curiously. To the Australian detective his comrade's face appeared longer and strained.
"I'm asking you now, doctor." Saul Murmer's voice had dropped to little more than a whisper. "Could that dagger thrust in the neck, just where that wound is, have caused death?"
"It might." The words came reluctantly from the medical map's lips. "It might. I can't—I won't say any more now." He turned to face the Scotland Yard man. "All I will say now is that from the exterior appearance of the wounds—both dagger wound and bullet wound—either of them appear fatal. Wait—" he raised his hand as Murmer opened his lips. "I may alter that opinion after the autopsy."
"But, you will not alter that opinion, doctor—" the Englishman's voice was very grave—"that Stanley Griffiths would have died from that stab in the neck if he had not been shot a second or so later."
"FAUGH! What a hell of mess!" Inspector John Pater swung round in his chair from the desk in Stanley Griffiths' study—a small room on the ground floor. The desk at which he had been working was covered with papers. Drawers of the desk stood wide open; and a tall steel filing cabinet in the corner showed signs of thorough search. Outside the open windows overlooking the long, wide well-tended gardens, the dawn was breaking, dimming the light from the electric globes in the room. The two Inspectors had waited until the dead man had been taken from the house in the ambulance and the house was quiet again, before commencing their search for evidence.
Now a constable sat in the kitchen; another sat in the hall outside the study door, and a plain-clothes man walked the pavement before the house. So far as Pater and Murmer know, the neighbours were in ignorance of the tragedy that had taken place in their midst.
Now they were engaged in a close examination of the dead man's papers and correspondence. As their quest proceeded one or the other gave some exclamation of disgust at the depths of sensual depravity revealed. Stanley Griffiths had made a business of seduction. Letters they had read showed that the man had sought to contaminate not only the bodies but the very souls of the girls he had drawn into his web.
John Pater was almost inclined to rejoice at the man's sudden death. It had led to the uncovering of a brutal and lascivious sensuality among a class of men the police had long had under suspicion, but against whom they had so far failed to gather any material evidence. Now they had evidence in plenty. The letters they had found in that room would make it possible to trace many of these girls. In the privacy of police headquarters they could be examined and statements taken from them. Those statements would result in many men of high standing in the social and business world standing in the dock.
But, as the detectives proceeded with their work they began to have serious doubts of any open action resulting from the disclosures they were making. Many of the men and women uncovered during the search were of high standing in the community. Big influences would be brought to bear to stifle court action. That might be true. The public might never know of the depraved cliques in the city and suburbs, but even without open action, the police could disperse these men and women. Under the threat of exposure these moral satyrs would scatter in frantic fear.
Inspector Murmer, seated in the most comfortable lounge chair he could discover, drawn beside the big desk, looked up at his comrade's remark, and nodded. He dropped the letter he had been reading on the pile on the floor beside the chair.
"What of this man, Skields, John?" he asked, levering himself to a more comfortable position in the chair. "Looks as if he'd be interesting to question."
"Sure!" John Pater consulted a list of names and addresses scribbled on a pad. "Arthur Skields, Altona Flats, Pattybourne road! That's not far from here. What's the time, Saul?"
"Rising six. Wonder what time the servants come to work?"
"Not too early, you bet," Pater grinned wryly. "Men of Griffiths' kidney don't want servants round their places too early in the morning. Lord! I'd just hate to hunt down that girl!"
"There isn't much doubt." The desk chair creaked as the Inspector swung it round, from before the desk. "Griffiths gets his girl here. Gives her supper, and possibly plenty of drink. You'll have noticed there are three empty bottles of wine one the dining-room table. That's a generous allowance for two people. Then he entices her upstairs. Tries to force her into his bedroom, and she resists; in desperation, she seizes the only weapon in her hand, the silver dagger ornament and strikes him blindly with it. By accident, I firmly believe, she hits him in the throat and inflicts a mortal wound."
"Dr. Angus states he died from a bullet wound," Murmer interposed.
"Dr. Angus is a sentimental old fool!" Inspector Pater shifted uneasily in his chair. "We—you and I—have got to put sentiment aside—that sort of thing's for the jury, and the more sentiment her counsel piles on them the better I'll be pleased. I don't mind saying that to you—and here."
Murmer nodded. "Well, what then?"
"Miss—what's-her-name—stabs Griffiths while he has her in his arms. The shock causes him to release her and she falls on the couch. Almost at the same moment the man in the doorway fires. Then he runs downstairs.
"Why did he go into the dining room?" asked Murmer. "If he rushed away in such a panic after firing the shot, why come into this dining room and fling his gun into that corner—why not have run straight out of the front door?" Inspector Pater shrugged. He turned to the desk and picked up a small box in which lay a bullet.
"You've seen this, Saul. We dug it out of the couch padding. There's a trace of blood on it—Griffiths' blood—and on it two threads of cloth."
"Well?" For the moment the Australian detective looked at his companion half angrily. Then he smiled.
"I hate to admit it as much as you do, Saul." His voice had taken a softer note. "But what I've said are facts, and you and I have only to deal in facts. A man shot Griffiths; that I'll admit. And I'll admit his bullet killed the brute. But the girl had stabbed him before the bullet was fired. We can't get over that. Think, man—" His voice rose a tone note, "—think man; if the girl had been in Griffiths' arms at the moment the bullet was fired we'd have found two corpses up there. That's a fact we can't deny. The girl stabbed Griffiths, causing him to release his hold on her. She fell back on the couch a fraction of a second before the bullet was fired—" He paused, and when he spoke again distress showed in his voice.
"You obtained from Dr. Angus an admission that the throat-stab might have been mortal. That means that even if there was sufficient life in his body to retain him upright for a second or two after the dagger-thrust, and, while the bullet was piercing him, he still was legally dead. You understand what that means.
"If two persons kill a man almost simultaneously—that is both a wounds are mortal—then the person who inflicted the first wound is accounted guilty a of murder."
"And the second person—the second murderer?" Murmer smiled grimly.
Inspector Pater shrugged.
"The Lord knows how the law will look upon that. I've never had such a case. But I do know that the Public Prosecutor will look to us for that girl—and we've got to find her."
"Dr Angus states that the bullet killed Griffiths—killed him instantly. That can only mean that he considers that there was life in him when the bullet struck home."
"I'll admit that." The Australian spoke quickly. He paused, then continued, impatiently: "Damn it, man! Don't make it too difficult for us. The prosecution will show that the wound in the throat was mortal. We know that was caused by the girl. If the bullet had been fired before the dagger-thrust, then the girl must have been wounded," and in all probability unable to inflict the dagger-wound."
Again he paused, to continue in a quieter tone. "Look at it how you will, Saul, the onus of murder is on the girl—and it's our job to find her."
"Dr. Angus states the man was alive when the bullet was fired." Inspector Murmer had risen to his feet and was pacing the room. "We have to acknowledge that the girl probably stabbed Griffiths and inflicted a mortal wound—but, all the same, the stab did not kill him. He was alive when the bullet pierced his heart—we can't get over that—and the bullet killed him instantly. That's shown by the absence of blood—what was on the door was probably drained from his veins by the stab during the few seconds before the bullet killed him. If the stab alone had killed him there'd have been oceans of blood on him and around him. I'll swear there was no blood on the girl."
The detective swung round angrily. "Damn it, John. Do you want to hang that girl—a girl, possibly a born fool—a flirting fool? But we can't forget that she was defending her honour against a carnal, sexual beast!"
Inspector Pater did not reply for some seconds, he was engaged with a letter he had taken from an open drawer.
"You're a good pleader, Saul," he said at length. "I feel like you feel. I'd go down to hell to keep that girl from what, after all, must be punishment for entirely natural acts. But, you know, we were sworn to defend and uphold the law—and the law will say that it was she who struck the first—the mortal blow—"
Again he paused, drawing the pad towards him and scribbling a few lines. He remained intent for some seconds on what he had written. Suddenly he pressed the desk-bell savagely, keeping his finger on the little knob until the a constable from the kitchen came on the run.
"Any of the servants turned up yet, Morton?"
"Not yet, sir. Shouldn't say they'd be here much before eight."
Inspector Pater stared at the man interrogatively, but the constable's face did not change.
"So you believe the servants will not be here much before eight o'clock?" he asked. "Is that a guess, or knowledge?"
"A guess, sir!"
Again Inspector Pater was silent. Suddenly he asked: "Any signs of life in the surrounding houses?"
"There's smoke from the chimney of next door, sir."
"Then there's someone about there. One of the servants, I suppose. Just slip across and ask the lady—it's a lady I presume—to favour me with her presence here for a few minutes. No need to tell her why. Perhaps you'd better infer there's been a bit of trouble here, though—but not murder. Understand?"
The man saluted and left the room. A quarter of an hour later he re-entered, ushering before him a startled, distressed girl.
"Come in Miss—er—" Murmer, stout and innocent-looking, faced the door, his portly form concealing the more severe, official-looking Inspector Pater.
"There's no need to be afraid of us, my girl. I don't look too frightful, do I?" A fat chuckle brought a smile to the girl's white lips "There's been a bit of trouble here and Mr. Griffiths—is absent. We're police inspectors and we want to get in touch with someone in the neighbourhood. Seeing you were up and about, by the smoke from your chimney, we got Mr. Morton to bring you here. See? Now, can you tell us where the maids here live? So far, there's no one but the police in this house."
The girl did not reply. Her eyes went past Inspector Murmer, taking in the long, official form of Inspector Pater seated at the desk.
"You're detectives!" she breathed.
"Clever guess that, miss. You should be a detective yourself." Again the fat chuckle, the broad, round face creasing with guileless mirth. "I knew you were a girl of sense directly you came in at that door. Of course you know the young ladies who work—"
"You wouldn't call Mrs. Gordon a young lady," the girl smiled. "Why, she's over fifty!"
"And I'm guessing you're not twenty, yet." Murmer patted the girl's shoulder in fatherly fashion while he urged her gently to the chair before the desk. "Sit there, my dear, and take your time. Of course you got a shock to find a brace of detectives here. But he ain't dangerous—" He indicated Pater with a nod, "—why, he's a bachelor with quite a fancy for the fair sex and the girl who hooks him—What did you say? Mrs. Gordon? Oh, she's housekeeper and she lives—"
"Mrs. Gordon lives at 1496A New South Head Road," the girl answered with some return of confidence.
"Number one, four, nine, six, A? That's good. Suppose there's three or four maids to a house of this size?"
"There's only Mrs. Gordon and Nellie Blythe." The girl hesitated, then continued with a rush. "Y'see Mr. Griffiths isn't often home in the daytime, and there's only him lives here—So the two of them—"
"And—Nellie Blythe?" Murmer interrupted gently.
"You haven't told us your name, miss?" interrupted Pater.
"I—I'm Alice Warren." The girl stared at the tall detective, her cheeks paling: "I—I don't know anything about this house."
"You haven't told me Nellie Blythe's address," suggested Murmer. "I—I don't know it." The girl jumped to her feet abruptly. "I don't know it. Mr. Browne says I'm not to have anything to do with Griffiths or—or anyone in this house. He'd be cross if he knew I was here now—"
"And Mr Brown is?"
"He's the gentleman I'm engaged to." Alice Warren flung back her head defiantly. "He saw Mr Griffiths speak to me one evening, when I went to the gate waiting for him, and he said he would break his head in if he saw me speaking to him again and that I wasn't to have anything to do with anyone in this house although Mrs. Gordon's a dear, and I've known her all my life since I was a little toddler, and—"
"Thanks awfully." Murmer's gentle voice broke on the girl's hysterical speech. "Now—"
"But I don't know nothing and I'm not going to be drawn into anything so there and if you want to know anything you'll have to ask Mrs Gordon when she comes and I'm going home at once and you can't detain me, or I'll tell Mr Browne and he'll—"
Incontinently the girl turned and rushed to the door, speeding through the hall and the front garden down to the street gate. Murmer looked after her, a grin on his well-turned lips. He turned to Inspector Pater.
"Afraid that's broken it, John. The young lady don't like the inhabitants of this house any more than you and I do—and we've yet to meet the living ones. Think we'd better send Morton to find this Mrs. Gordon. Don't Suppose she'll be able to tell us anything, though."
Inspector Pater nodded. He pressed the bell again and when Constable Morton came to the room ordered him to find Mrs. Gordon and take her to police headquarters.
He looked up at the Englishman, inquiringly.
"What about Skields?"
"Police headquarters," Murmer suggested after a moment's thought. "Who's left in the house, now? Saunders, eh? Well, he can stand guard here. Dawson's on the road? He can go and fetch Skields to headquarters. We'll question him there. That's right? Good! Just collect what we'll want and we'll get along home. I can do with a bath, if I can't have a sleep. Suppose we'll have to see Superintendent Dixon at once—" He stretched and yawned. "No good these all night affairs—and I guess we've got a stiff day before us."
Inspector Pater nodded and commenced to collect the papers scattered over the desk. Murmer went upstairs and after a little search found a couple of big portmanteaux. He lugged them in to the study and helped his companion pack the various exhibits they had decided to remove from the house.
"All set John?"
The desk telephone rang. At a nod from Pater Murmer went to the instrument and lifted the receiver.
"Who's that?" A surprised voice came over the wire.
"Dr Bastion." Inspector Murmer spoke without a moment's hesitation.
"Is Mr Griffiths there?"
The detective's voice was smooth and cultured. "Mr. Griffiths has met with a slight accident: I am attending him. Can I give him any message?"
"Is Mrs. Gordon there?"
"Who is speaking?"
"I want to speak to Mrs. Gordon."
"Mrs. Gordon has not arrived yet. There is no one in the house but myself."
"What's happened to Griffiths?" There was anxiety in the voice.
"You did not let me finish my sentence," Murmer reproved. "I was stating that only myself and Mr. Griffiths were in the house. Can I give him any message?"
"Yes!" A tense hardness came into the voice at the other end of the wire. "Tell him I've got to have those letters before midday—or there will be hell to pay."
"Letters? What letters? Mr. Griffiths will hardly understand a message so ambiguous. He will want to know who requires the letters?"
"Stanley Griffiths will understand. I don't suppose there's anyone else who wants letters from him at present. Later, perhaps—" A short hard laugh cut on the words. "Just tell him I want those letters immediately, if he wants to keep life in his rotten carcase!" A click announced to Inspector Murmer that the line had been disconnected.
SUPERINTENDANT DIXON, in charge of the detective branch of the New South Wales Police Department, leaned back in his chair and stared at Inspectors Pater and Murmer, seated on the opposite side of the desk. A bigly-made man, with a round, red face and fierce blue eyes, lips very thin and set in a straight, compressed line. In spite of a bulk that almost rivalled Inspector Murmer's, the Supt. carried not an ounce of superfluous flesh on his big body and, despite that he was close on the retiring age, could give an excellent account of himself in a rough and tumble fight. He was one of the old school of detectives, trained in the days when fingerprints were an interesting theory, and scientific deduction was laughed at. Still openly deriding what he termed new-fangled theories he had secretly kept himself well abreast of the times.
For minutes after Inspector Murmer had finished his account of the finding of the girl and the dead man in the house in Wonthaggi-avenue he sat silent. He waited while Inspector Pater took up the thread of the story and carried it to a conclusion.
A small, thin smile broke the line of his lips, growing to the subdued chuckle that passed with him for a laugh.
"Called a bluff on you, Murmer," he said, in a curiously small voice for so big a man.
"I was not looking for a case, sir," Murmer protested. "I thought the hall-door had been left open by accident—" he paused, "—the girl was quite natural, except for a slight hesitation in her speech at the end of sentences."
"A hesitation on the last word of her—sentences?" queried Dixon. "Like—that?"
"Exactly, sir." Murmer looked uncomfortable.
"I don't think anyone would expect to find a young girl sitting quietly on a couch over a dead man," protested Pater warmly. "One doesn't expect to find girls with that sort of nerve, sir."
"The modern miss would sit over the dead body of the devil, himself!" Dixon stated emphatically. "I don't put anything past 'em." He waited a moment, then added: "Looks like you two have made yourselves pretty conversant with the affair. Want to keep on with it?"
"Think it'll take long? What have you two got on hand? That cheque case? How does it stand?"
"Nearly complete, sir." Pater spoke eagerly. "We were going to frame a report for you this morning. There's evidence for a warrant against Montague Frazer."
"Think he suspects?"
"Confident he's bluffing us, sir." Murmer said, smiling at thoughts of the man mentioned. "I fell for all his stuff and confided quite a lot in him. He tried to fasten suspicion on one of his fellow clerks. Made out a surprisingly good case—but the facts fitted on him, himself when you put in what we know."
"All right. Let me have that report today, then get on to the Griffith affair. Shouldn't give you much trouble. A girl like that should be picked up quite easily."
"You think a case rests against her, sir?" asked Murmer.
"You tell me Dr. Angus said the stab was a fatal wound?" Dixon lifted his heavy eyebrows questioningly.
"There's the bullet wound, sir—also fatal," the Englishman retorted. "And there wasn't much blood about. The bullet stopped the heart action immediately—and the stab would have caused him to bleed to death!"
Dixon turned to Inspector Pater. "You say you got fingerprints on the gun? Any good?"
"With the telephone message, yes, sir," answered Pater. "If the fingerprints are Skields' there's a clear motive."
"And if they ain't you'll have to fit them to somebody," the Superintendent spoke emphatically.
"Then you'll charge the girl and the man with the murder, sir?" asked Murmer. "There'll be quite a battle between the defence counsel in court—trying to shift the blame from one to the other. Might make it difficult to get a conviction."
"That's your business—yours and Pater's. Well, finish the Frazer case and then get on with the Griffiths matter. You're seeing that housekeeper and Skields here?"
Murmer nodded. "Mrs. Gordon should be waiting for us now. We told Dawson to have Skields here by 10 o'clock."
"All right. It's up to you fellows now. Let me know how you progress." The abrupt nod was a dismissal.
Outside the door, Murmer halted to mop his brow. "An interview with the chief makes me think my next stopping place will be the dock," he murmured.
"So long as you don't stay there—"
Murmer ambled down the corridor with the peculiar rolling gait of the stout man, Pater following. In the room they shared he went to the window and' stared down at the court below. Presently he turned to face Pater, seated at the desk.
"I don't like it, John," he said. "Leave the girl out of it and we've got an open and shut case against the man who telephoned, if his fingerprints fit that gun. Then—we've got a good case against the girl, if we cut out the bullet-wound, the gun and the fingerprints. If Dr. Angus would say the man was living after the stab and had a chance for recovery—"
"Perhaps Dr. Angus will oblige you," Pater smiled wryly.
"Not a chance." Murmer's head rolled on his fat neck. "He's too damned honest for a police surgeon—or he likes setting us problems. He can't—or won't—keep the girl out of it. The Crown Prosecutor will look at it as he does: The girl stabbed Griffiths and inflicted a fatal wound. Therefore she killed him. There's no doubt of it. That's the case that'll go into court. Even if we tip the defence that the man lived until he was shot—"
"Depends on the girl," Pater laughed. "If she's a good-looker and her counsel pleads that she was defending her honour—"
The door opened and a constable entered. "Mrs. Gordon is outside, sir."
"Push her in." Pater turned to his companion as the door closed. "Who'll tackle her, Saul?"
"Your fish." The Englishman seated himself in a deep lounge chair close to the window. "I want Skields."
As Pater nodded the door opened again and Constable Morton ushered in a short, stout, comfortable-looking woman, with the character "capable cook" written all over her.
There was little new that Mrs. Gordon could tell them, although she found many words in which to tell that little. She had been housekeeper-cook to Mr. Stanley Griffiths for two years, at the house in Wonthaggi avenue. Griffiths had been a good master, so far as pay and consideration had gone. She had one assistant, a young girl, named Nellie Blythe. Nellie was outside, in the common room, with Constable Morton, and she trusted that no harm would come to her amid the crowd of men there. Nellie Blythe was young—and young girls will be flighty and take no notice of the advice of their elders.
At this point Inspector Murmer suggested softly that Mrs. Gordon would be in perfect agreement with Superintendent Dixon. The lady turned abruptly and stared at the stout detective in the lounge chair, as if observing him for the first time. Then, turning her shoulder on him, she addressed Inspector Pater in an overwhelming flow of words.
She had had occasion to speak to Nellie regarding her conduct with her employer. Mr. Griffiths was usually up and in the sitting room upstairs, in a dressing gown, when she and Nellie came to work. He waited in his sitting room until Nellie brought him his early morning cup of tea and his shaving water. Very frequently he would be lying down on the big couch there—though Mrs. Gordon expressed her amazement that a man who had just got out of bed should want to lie down on a couch—that was something she didn't understand, and never would. She had observed something—no, she wasn't one to take any girl's character away. But after what she had seen she had always taken Mr. Griffiths' morning tea and shaving water to him, herself—although the stairs were dreadful for a woman who suffered as she did with her rheumatics. Still, there was no one who could say as she didn't know her duty and do it. Yes, she took Mr. Griffiths' tea to him every morning and kept Nellie working downstairs until he left the house, after Nellie Blythe had been in the house a week—and she'd still take it if the poor man wasn't dead with all his sins on his head and no time for repentance. Yes, she knew Alice Warren. So far as she knew, and she had known Alice since she had almost worried her mother into an early grave by—
Inspector Pater interrupted hastily, reminding the lady that Inspector Murmer was a single man and an Englishman. Again the lady turned to the detective seated in the window. There was an expression, of entire compassion on her broad, good-humoured face and she exclaimed: "English! Good Lord—the poor, poor man!"
Yes, she knew Charlie Browne and she'd heard that he was engaged to Alice, and she was sure that she couldn't do better, for Charlie Browne was a respectable, steady workman making good money—she wished to goodness Nellie Blythe could find another like Charlie Browne. Perhaps, then she'd stop her flighty tricks—but it wasn't any good saying anything to her, for girls will be girls even though the heavens rocked and—
"I beg your pardon, sir?"
Charlie Browne—oh, yes, he was a motor mechanic and made good money. Any failings, well, he had one, but she didn't like to take any man's character away, not that any of them had much. No, he didn't drink nor gamble nor anything like that—thank goodness, and if Edward Gordon had left the gee-gees and the drink alone he might have a been alive to-day to be a comfort to a lone body—if he hadn't had the chance to go to Heaven, but she'd heard they wouldn't have racehorses or hotels there—and no wonder with all the trouble they caused to the men's poor wives and—
Oh, yes! Charlie Browne mixed up with quite a rough class of men. She'd spoken to Alice about it but the girl wouldn't do anything more than laugh. Oh, just roughness, sir, but she didn't hold with knocking each other about even if they did it in a ring that wasn't a ring but a square, and there couldn't be much magic about it if you saw Charlie's poor face sometimes. Why, Mr. Griffiths, sir? Why, she—knew he was a stock and share-broker—whatever that might be. No, he hadn't told her but she'd seen his name on a visiting card lying on his study desk—though she hadn't looked for she wasn't one to pry into anyone's business, but the words on the card caught her eyes as she was helping Nellie clean up one day. Chalmers and Griffiths was the name on the card—but she hadn't noticed the address for she wasn't one to read anything that didn't concern her, and she'd been a widow for nigh twenty years, but by the Lord's favour she hadn't any young children to worry a body and—
Inspector Pater looked exhausted when he returned from escorting Mrs. Gordon through the dangers of police headquarters, to the street. He brought back with him Nellie Blythe, a pert-faced blonde of about twenty years of age. Her rather elaborate make-up showed signs of recent, rather copious, tears.
Nellie had little to tell the detectives. She appeared to answer questions readily, and a little breathlessly, smiling alluringly all the time.
Murmer frowned when he caught Pater's eyes, believing the girl was talking to conceal something. Pater nodded assent, yet he forbore pressing the girl on any point.
She giggled when Pater spoke of Mrs. Gordon's statement that she had been "carrying on" with her employer. Quite openly she acknowledged that Stanley Griffiths had kissed her once or twice—but what did that matter? Men were given that way, and if a girl was to have a chance in this world at all she wouldn't take much notice of incidents like that and—
Mrs. Gordon, oh, she was a dear, but terribly old-fashioned. Nellie supposed, with a fresh attack of giggling, that Mrs. Gordon had been kissed at some time, especially as she had been married, but how she had managed to get a—Oh, men were easy to handle if a girl knew her beans!
Inspector Pater rang for Constable Morton to escort Nellie from police precincts; he considered that he had done his duty in escorting Mrs. Gordon to safety from the many constables, sergeants, inspectors and others who infested Central Lane.
When the door closed he dropped into a chair, his arms hanging limply over the wings. Murmer ambled over to a corner and unlocked a cupboard. From it he brought two glasses and a bottle. He poured out generous portions and, without a word, handed one glass to Pater. There was silence until the glass hit the desk with a little thud.
"Lord! I wanted that. Do you I think, Saul, we could put that down to expenses?"
Inspector Murmer laughed and drew to the desk the chair on which Nellie Blythe had sat. For half-an-hour the two Inspectors devoted themselves to the report on the cheque case.
They had barely finished it when a constable knocked at the door and entered. He announced that Mr. Arthur Skields was in the building, impatiently awaiting their pleasure. The two inspectors looked up curiously as the man entered. They saw a tall, fair man, remarkably well dressed. His face was long, with high cheekbones. The skin was very closely shaven, except for the upper lip decorated with a very thin, hair-line moustache. Heavy lines showed about the mouth and eyes and he stooped forward in his walk, as if his loins were too weak to carry the weight of his long body. His fair hair lay sleek and smooth, brushed straight back from his forehead, and Murmer noted that along the line of his hair stood little beads of perspiration.
As he came forward to the desk where the two detectives awaited him, he drew a handkerchief from his pocket and mopped his face, muttering that it was a very warm day. As Arthur Skields' eyes met his, Murmer felt a little thrill run through his body. The man's eyes were big, in spite of the narrowed lids, and remarkably brilliant. One of them was grey and the other hazel. The combination gave the man an appearance of continued hostility.
Recovering quickly, Inspector Murmer muttered a greeting, then went to the window and apparently, turned his attention to the court below.
"Mr. Arthur Skields?" asked Inspector Pater, conventionally.
"Yes." The man spoke in quick, determined tones. "May I ask if it was necessary to send a uniformed constable to my flat to escort me to this place?"
Inspector Pater took no notice of the complaint. He was looking very straightly at the man.
"I should like an answer to my question," demanded Skields.
"I have asked you to come here to answer my questions," retorted the Inspector. "If you wish, I will regret that time did not permit that a higher placed official was sent to request your presence here."
For a brief moment, Murmer turned towards the room, and smiled. Skields was in for a bad time if he tried to ride the high horse over Inspector Pater.
"Am I under arrest?" demanded Skields, more civilly.
"Mr. Arthur Skields." Inspector Pater leaned forward, speaking impressively. "Mr. Stanley Griffiths was shot last night. The evidence I found in his house made it imperative that I should interview you immediately."
"Shot? Why, I thought—"
"Yes!" The Inspector spoke quickly, the keen determination of the experienced sleuth-hound in his voice. "What did you think Mr. Skields?"
The man did not answer. For long seconds there was silence; broken by Murmer levering himself from his chair and waddling from the room.
"You knew Mr. Stanley Griffiths, Mr. Skields?" continued Pater, when the man showed no signs of speaking.
"We were acquainted."
Inspector Pater hesitated. After a moment he continued. "I don't think we shall get very a far if you are going to adopt an air of hostility to the police, Mr. Skields. Were you very intimate with Mr. Stanley Griffiths?"
Before the man could reply the telephone on the desk shrilled. Pater shifted impatiently and lifted the receiver. For a moment he listened, then shoved the instrument across the desk.
"Someone wants to speak to you, Mr. Skields."
"Speak to me?" The man stared. "Who knows I'm here?"
"Perhaps if you will condescend to answer the call you will find out."
The Inspector was fast losing his patience. Skields reluctantly drew the instrument towards him and spoke his name. He listened, with astonishment growing on his face. At length he spoke:
"I don't know a Dr. Bastion. I've never spoke to you in my life, and I don't know what you're talking about. I suppose it's one of your damned police tricks. I've finished with you. If I'm not under arrest, I'm getting along." He snatched his hat from the desk, where he had placed it on taking the chair before Inspector Pater, and, turned to the door. As he opened it and swung out he collided with Inspector Murmer.
ARTHUR SKIELDS staggered back from the impact with Inspector Murmer's solid form. The stout detective did not appear the slightest bit incommoded by the collision. He moved lumberingly into the room, driving the slighter built man before him.
"Leaving us so soon, Mr. Skields?" The full, round face was creased with smiles. "Now, that's too bad—and I wanted to have a little talk with you."
"I've got nothing to do with either of you men." Skields looked as if he would like to force an exit. A glance at the bulky form between him and the door showed him that Murmer held something more than fat on his big body. He backed slowly into the room until he came to the chair on which he had been seated, then sat down suddenly.
Inspector Pater had remained in his seat behind the desk, watching the little scene interestedly. During the past months he had learned that his English confrère had many little peculiarities—quaint methods of obtaining the information he required, without much unpleasantness. At the same time, he knew that Murmer would not hesitate to go straight to the point, when necessary.
"Now, that's good of you, Mr. Skields." The stout detective ambled across the room to his favourite seat before the window. "Don't mind me sitting here, do you? I carry a bit of weight, you know, and this sort of chair's more comfortable for me than the one John's sitting on. He's the build of man who can sit at a desk. Now, me—" He finished his sentence with a shrug of personal disparagement.
For a moment he lay back in his chair, his eyes closed. Skields surveyed him with lowering brows. He had not come to a conclusion regarding Inspector Murmer.
"What do you want?" he growled at length.
"Smoke?" Murmer opened his eyes, drowsily. He drew from his pocket an oilskin case and caught back the cover, showing a silver cigarette case. He placed it on the desk before Skields. "Excuse me." A fresh wriggling of the stout form and the detective released one of the side pockets of his jacket. A moment fumbling and he produced a crumpled packet of cheap cigarettes.
"Those," he indicated the case on the desk, "I keep for my friends. Can't smoke 'em myself. Can't smoke decent tobacco—Pater says mine smell like a damp-straw fire. But he says those are good—and I'll take his word—"
"They are." Inspector Pater had noticed the man's reluctance to touch the silver case. He, leaned across the desk and took it in his hands, touching only the oilskin cover. He slipped the cover nearly off and held the case out to Skields. A moment and the Inspector pressed the spring and let the case fly open. As Skields went to take a cigarette the case slipped from Pater's hands on to his hand. Without a sign the man closed the case and placed it on the table.
"Now we're comfortable." Murmer rested his head back in the chair and blew a perfect smoke ring towards the ceiling. He watched it until it broke, then sent another in the same direction, following it with a third. "Surprising how friendly tobacco seems to make men towards one another." The Englishman spoke apparently to himself. "No—I can't smoke anything but the cheapest of cigarettes—and then only on occasions. Good tobacco upsets me. Know Mr. Griffiths well, Mr. Skields?"
"No? Didn't like him?"
"Now, that's funny. Quite a lot of people didn't like Stanley Griffiths—at first. Especially women. See much of him, Mr. Skields? Didn't belong to the same clubs? Didn't run together? What kind of a bridge game did he play, Mr. Skields?"
"Have the same bookmaker and the same bootlegger? Oh, I forgot, we're in Australia, not America."
"Say—" Skields turned irritatedly on the stout detective, "What are you getting at?"
"Know a Dr. Bastion, Mr. Skields?"
"Neither do I." Murmer stated the fact as if it constituted a bond between himself and the man he was questioning. "All the same, you know more of him than I do. You've spoken with him twice on the same day."
Skields did not answer. Not a muscle of his face showed interest.
Inspector Murmer continued: "No, I don't know Dr. Bastion; and Dr. Bastion doesn't know you, so he's not interested. What letters of yours did Mr. Griffiths have, Mr. Skields?"
The man started to his feet. "Now, look here, what game are you playing, inspector—"
"Murmer." The Englishman gave his name with closed eyes, an expression of weariness on his face. "Saul Murmer. Sit down, Mr. Skields—or before you do, let me introduce Inspector Pater—John Pater."
"You haven't answered my question."
"How great minds think alike." Murmer's right eye unclosed slightly, betraying a little twinkle. "If I'm not mistaken, you were asked many questions the answers to which are still unrecorded."
"I'm not bound to answer your questions."
"Yet I've answered yours. I even took the liberty of answering questions you asked of Dr. Bastion, when you were anxious to have news of your friend, Stanley Griffiths—"
"He's no friend of mine," growled Skields. "And I'm not going to sit here wasting my time with you. I'll—"
"Ever possessed a revolver, Mr. Skields?"
"I'm not answering questions. If you've got—"
"Very comfortable cells downstairs, Mr. Skields. Mayn't have all the comfort of a modern flat. But there are no distractions—like neighbours' gramophones and cocktail parties. Plenty of time for meditation."
"Then you are arresting me?" Skields' eyes opened wider. "You forget; in that case you should warn me."
"Dear me—and I forgot." There was a hint of sarcasm in the bland voice. "Do you think you've been indiscreet in your answers to the questions you've already answered? Would you like to amend those answers? Remember—I've not arrested you—yet!"
"We're dealing with murder." Murmer's tones were mild. "Last night a man was killed. This morning a man telephoned inquiries concerning the murdered man—and John and I thought we'd like a little friendly chat with the—inquirer."
"I'm not interested in Stanley Griffiths."
"Yet interested in the well-being of Arthur Skields?" Awkwardly Murmer wriggled out of the tight-fitting chair. "What are the nature of the letters you required Mr. Griffiths to return to you—immediately?"
"You're not interested in Stanley Griffiths—yet you write him a letter that contained threats. You telephoned a demand for letters to be returned to you to—and you stated you'd—"
Skields shrugged again. He reached for his hat and turned to the door.
"There's a nice, big, hefty sergeant of police at the foot of the stairs, Mr. Skields." Murmer seated himself again in his chair. "Behind him, in the common room, are a number of strong lads, all eager for a bit of—er—trouble. They just love it. Sergeant Nicholls is peculiar. He doesn't like people roaming about police headquarters unattended."
"Then I am under arrest?"
"Did you know Mr. Stanley Griffiths well, Mr. Skields?"
"I refuse to answer."
"Were you in Wonthaggi-Avenue last night, Mr. Skields?" Murmer continued.
"No." A spark of satisfaction lit the ill-matched eyes. "At no time last night—or early this morning?"
"An alibi!" Murmer shrugged. "Everybody has them!"
"You can't shift mine." There was triumph in the man's voice. "I dined with two men—my brother, Ernest Skields, and a friend, George Martin. After dinner we went to Ernest's house and played poker until three o'clock this morning. Then George Martin took a taxi to his hotel—the Splendide—and dropped me at my home on his way into the city."
"Beautiful!" Murmer closed his eyes with a sigh. "John, it would be interesting to meet two gentlemen who can amuse themselves for six consecutive hours at a poker game. Believe you consider yourself a bit of an expert at poker; perhaps Mr. Skields will put you in the way of meeting these—enthusiasts!"
Arthur Skields turned, glaring at the stout man lounging in the chair before the window, his head back, his eyes closed, the small well-kept fingers clasped over a well-rounded corpulence. For half a minute he hesitated, then shrugged and turned to Inspector Pater, supplying the addresses required.
He took a step towards the door, then looked again at the Englishman: "Well!"
"And—the letters, Mr. Skields?" Although his eyes were closed Murmer seemed to know the man was looking at him.
"I refuse to discuss any letters."
"So sorry." Apparently Murmer subsided into profound slumber. Skields looked at Inspector Pater, who nodded. With another half-questioning, half-scornful glance at the stout man in the chair, Skields left the room.
Immediately the door closed Murmer opened his eyes.
"Difficult," he muttered. His eyes travelled to the cigarette case lying where Skields had left it on the corner of the desk.
"Scotty in his office, John?"
"Rather obvious, wasn't it, Saul?" Pater smiled slightly. "He must have known that case was produced for his fingerprints."
"I meant it to be obvious." A fat, lazy smile crept on to the well-formed lips. The baby-blue eyes twinkled. "Y'see John, he couldn't very well refuse to take hold of that case, although you had to force it on him a bit. But if he'd refused to take it—" Murmer relapsed into seeming unconsciousness.
Inspector Pater turned to the telephone and rang up the fingerprints department. In a few minutes Ted Scott entered the room. Murmer indicated the cigarette case.
"Inspector Pater's fingerprints, and mine. Also, I trust, the fingerprints of the man who shot Stanley Griffiths. You'll take care of the case for me, Scotty. The cigarettes I don't hope to see again. Petty larceny is not unknown within these walls, I believe."
Immediately the finger-prints man had left the room Murmer came to his feet, all signs of lethargy gone.
"Coming for a ride, John?"
Inspector Pater nodded, and followed his comrade out of the room.
In George-street they mounted a quay-bound tram. Alighting at King-street they walked up to Pitt-street, and entered Mallington House. At the third floor they left the elevator.
"Here it is," said Murmer after an inspection of the corridor. He led the way to a glass door on which was painted the words: "Griffiths and Chalmers, Stock and Share Brokers."
A girl seated at a switchboard behind a counter looked up as the two detectives entered the office.
"Mr. Stanley Griffiths, if you please," Murmer said gently.
"Mr. Griffiths has not come to the office yet," the girl replied, barely glancing up. "Mr. Chalmers is in."
"Sorry, I wished to see Mr. Griffiths."
The stout inspector appeared worried. "Rather important, too!"
"Perhaps Mr. Chalmers—" suggested the girl, helpfully.
"Don't think so." The worried frown deepened on the full face. Then a light of understanding appeared to dawn. "Sure, I never thought of that. Mr. Griffiths has a personal secretary—a young lady—hasn't he? Perhaps she could attend to me?"
"Miss Anstey!" The inquiry clerk looked doubtful. She hesitated, glancing up at the detectives, then plugged a connection. She spoke into the instrument in an undertone, then looked up:
"Miss Anstey will be out in a moment. Will you please take a seat." A buzz at the instrument and the girl turned to it, making a connection. Murmer stood watching her, a little puzzled pucker between his eyes. He glanced round as a young girl came out of one of the doors and approached the counter.
"I understand you are asking for Mr. Griffiths."
The girl spoke to Murmer. "I am sorry, he is not in at the moment."
"This young lady says he's not come to the office yet?"
Miss Anstey nodded, speculation in her eyes.
"And you, young lady; you're his personal secretary?"
The girl nodded again.
"Been with him long, miss?"
"I don't think I'm called on to answer questions like that." The girl spoke shortly, a flush on her cheeks.
"I think you might—this once, miss." Murmer slid a card on the counter under the girl's eyes.
"A detective!" Miss Anstey looked up, startled. "Why—"
"Been with Mr. Griffiths long, miss?"
"Two years—" she paused. "Has—has anything happened to—to—"
"I'm afraid Mr. Griffiths will not be at the office this morning, Miss Anstey." Murmer hesitated. "You see—"
"He's—" The girl looked up, startled; her face growing deathly white. "Then that letter—You're—you're telling me he's—"
Inspector Murmer reached hastily across the counter, catching the girl under her arms and holding her erect, while Inspector Pater went around the counter and took her from him, carrying her to a chair.
SAUBER'S restaurant occupies the whole of the ground floor of Wenn's House, situated at the apex of Wenn's Court, a narrow alley opening out of Pitt-street. Wenn's House had once been a warehouse in the days before the great stores of the city were pushed back from the three big main arteries into the long, narrow space between George-street and Darling Harbour. A tall, stone built erection, it had been remodelled for offices, and quickly found tenants.
Max Sauber, a short, stout German, with a red, beaming face and a genius for cooking, had rented the ground floor, catering for a rather elaborate businessmen's lunch. His venture had proved successful from the outset and very quickly Sauber's restaurant became the mid-day centre of commercial life in that quarter of the city. Again the hand of time ordered the City of Sydney.
The younger, more frivolous generation of superior clerks and business secretaries discovered Sauber's and approved. With the passionate intensity of their generation they undertook the proprietor's education in the matter of modern meals. Sauber abandoned the silver grill, with its inevitable chop and steak, in favour of strange and bizarre-named dishes. His trade extended from the two-hour lunch interval to morning and afternoon teas.
An expensive radio-set with discreet loud-speakers added to the din of many voices. Then came the dinner hour menu. Many of his patrons were hopeful that with a little more persuasion Sauber might a venture towards a jazz-band and a supper-dance.
Rather unexpectedly, his old-fashioned luncheon patrons accepted the alterations with little demur. They gazed, with mild astonishment through round spectacles, on the weird decorations that appear inseparable from three-decker sandwiches and sundaes. They rubbed shoulders with their chief clerks and personal secretaries without a blush. A few of the more advanced and bolder ones acquired the habit of accompanying their personal secretaries to the mid-day meal.
Then, ever advancing in the absorption of the city for public services, a paternal Government moved one of its larger departments to the vicinity of Wenn's Court. Thereafter, a discreet assortment of civil servants blended into the commercial life of the restaurant and definitely advanced Sauber's ever-growing trade.
On leaving the offices of Griffiths and Chalmers, after Miss Anstey had recovered from her fainting fit and they had undergone a purposeless interview with Mr. Rupert Chalmers, Inspectors Murmer and Pater sought sustenance at Sauber's restaurant.
Murmer, comparatively fresh from London, where the line of social caste is drawn more closely than in any other city of the world except Berlin, found the mixed gathering of great interest. He ate slowly gazing about him openly with the baby-like eyes that concealed the keen, swift working brain. He noted the slim dressed girls and their escorts, the casual mingling and salutations of those who pay salaries and those who honour by acceptance, during the mid-day respite.
Pater leaned back in his seat and beckoned to the daintily uniformed girl carrying the overgrown coffee-pot, hovering near. His cup replenished he pulled out pipe and pouch and prepared the after-meal smoke.
"Well?" he said at length, catching his companion's eyes. "Are you satisfied?"
Murmer's head turned slowly in a quarter-circle. He noted that the two adjacent compartments were empty. His fingers fumbled in the side-pocket of his jacket and brought out a crushed paper packet containing a few cigarettes. Placing one of the rolls between his lips, he flicked a lighter into action.
"She wasn't the girl," he said.
"Your face showed that." Pater laughed gently. "I haven't seen you so set back before, Saul."
"When a young lady misses on all cylinders on hearing that her beloved employer has gone the way of all flesh—" The stout detective's eyes twinkled. "And such an employer!"
"Then you think Griffiths—"
"Have you a doubt?" The lightly-lined eyebrows in the broad, round face raised, wrinkling the smooth forehead "—considering what we know of Griffiths."
"Then Miss Anstey is—was—"
"Just another one," the big man sighed. "And the modern newspapers assure us that the girl of this era—"
"Is just as sickly sentimental, just as much governed by her emotion as her grandmother. You're forgetting Gretna Green, Saul; and you tell me you were born within a few miles of it."
"Gretna Green doesn't exist to day," Murmer carefully explained. "Does that matter particularly—to the modern girl? She's dispensed with the chaperone, quite a lot of clothing—and a few morals—then why not the blacksmith as well?"
"That doesn't explain—"
"Doesn't it?" The Australian detective spoke in an undertone. "Reckon up what we've discovered, Saul. Just this! You investigate a house whose street-door you find open at midnight. You find a young lady sitting in an upstairs room and she, apparently resenting your inquisitiveness lures you into a bedroom and turns the key on you. When you release yourself you find that the girl has been sitting on a couch drawn forward to cover the corpse of a man. You discover that the man, in life, hadn't much of a reputation—or too much of one—which ever way you choose to look at things. The young lady, has disappeared."
"And Arthur Skields comes on the scene," Murmer added. "Wonder if this place has a telephone?"
Inspector Pater pointed to the instrument on the wall, close by. Struggling awkwardly out of the confined space into which he had wedged himself for his lunch, Murmer ambled over to the instrument. A few sentences exchanged with some person at the other end of the wire, and he rejoined Inspector Pater.
"Thought Scotty might have some news," he explained.
"And has he?"
"If you can call it news. The fingerprints on the revolver are not those of Arthur Skields?" Murmer shrugged. "Our crooks and murderers have graduated beyond the elementary classes. Or I shouldn't be enjoying the company of an eminent detective from a department many thousands of miles away!"
"Yet a bullet from that revolver killed Griffiths," stated Murmer, taking no notice of his companion's remark.
"That's so!" Inspector Pater looked up sharply. "Did Scotty tell you that?"
The Englishman nodded. "Then we're still at the beginning," Pater mused. "Wonder why Skields was so antagonistic?"
"Perhaps he has something to conceal." Inspector Pater gazed at his companion in mock admiration.
"I'm learning something, Saul. Now, tell me how detectives from London know that the crooks of Sydney, when faced with a police inquisition, behave as if they had something to conceal?"
Inspector Murmer passed the slight sarcasm with a shrug. He Was staring, open-eyed, towards the entrance. Inspector Pater turned hastily. A man and girl were entering the restaurant. He turned to watch Murmer again. The detective was watching the progress of the couple with eager eyes. When they came to a vacant compartment and seated themselves, he turned to Pater.
"You mean the girl in the room?" Inspector Pater spoke with a trace of excitement in his voice. His companion's expression had been easy to interpret. He turned again to watch the couple. "Sure you're not mistaken, Saul? She doesn't look disturbed."
"She may later." A grimness underlay the Englishman's tones.
Pater was not attending to him. He was watching the girl and the man. They were looking up the room, and he had caught a glimpse of their faces. Inspector Pater showed his surprise on his face.
"What's got you, John?" The stout man had deliberately turned his shoulder to the couple. "Know her?"
"So?" Murmer leaned forward across the table. "Well?"
"That's young Dizzy Laine, of the Post-Advertiser."
"Don't think I've met him. I've always left the gentlemen of the Press to you—they bore me with their everlasting questionings." Murmer had shifted round on his seat until his broad back was to the pair. He was staring into the palm of his hand, on which rested a small circular mirror. "Dizzy?"
"Poor devil!" John Pater laughed. "His parents had the nerve to name him 'Paul Disraeli.' He signed himself 'Paul D.' but the newsboys fathomed the 'D.' and the inevitable Dizzy resulted."
"What's he to the girl?" asked Murmer.
"Don't know, but should think quite a lot—or she to him. I've never seen them together before. Dizzy only comes to headquarters when there's anything really big on. He's the newspaper's star man. Gets the front page, and all that."
"He's got one with him now if he only knew it." The Englishman's cupid-bow lips were set in a straight line. "Know him well, John?"
"Well enough for him to worry the life out of me when I'm on anything in which he's interested."
"Then come on." Murmer struggled out of the box-like space. "You can introduce me."
The stout detective stopped one of the waitresses and engaged her in conversation. John Pater strolled down the restaurant. When Murmer went to follow him he was standing before the compartment in which the girl and Dizzy Laine sat.
The newspaper man rose and held out his hand when Murmer halted beside Inspector Pater and the latter performed the usual introductions. The Englishman examined the young man carefully. He saw a tall, wholesome-looking youngster of about 25 years of age, with an ugly freckled face lightened by a good-humoured expression and ready smile that attracted. The rather small grey eyes were keen, yet held no uncharitableness.
"Glad to meet you, Mr. Murmer. I've heard a lot about you, but haven't managed to run up against you since you've been in Sydney. What do you think of our harbour and city?"
"Do you ask everyone from overseas that?" said Murmer gravely.
"Everyone," said Dizzy firmly. "It's our stock question. Your standing in the community hereafter depends on your answer to that question. If you reply suitably, and with sufficient enthusiasm, there will be a column spread, with photographs and a detailed record of your career from the age of seven days—"
"If I don't reply suitably, or with sufficient enthusiasm?" inquired Murmer.
"Then the news-editor will bury your biography deep in the morgue and we shall be inquisitive why they keep you under cover in Central Lane."
"They'd have some work to do that!" grinned Murmer, looking down at his ample form. "No, they couldn't do that without giving the Australian crooks too free a hand."
Dizzy Laine laughed, a pleasant, ringing laugh that brought smiles to the faces of his companions.
"And, as a cover I'm afraid Inspector Pater would be of little use to you. I hear you're working with him."
Dizzy turned to the girl. "Addie, may I introduce our two most famous detectives—Inspectors Murmer and Pater. Inspector Murmer is a very famous English detective, at present visiting Australia to learn the ways of our crooks and to instruct our no-account detective branch." He looked up at the two men standing beside the table. "Miss Poulton. Say, won't you join us?"
"You two might sit on one side of this table," remarked Murmer consideringly, "but John would have to stand—and he wouldn't like that. Sydney's not considerate to—to gentlemen of girth."
For the first time since he had come to that compartment, Murmer allowed his eyes to meet the girl's. He saw no signs of recognition in them—yet she could not mistake him. She held out her hand, and her fingers closed on his with a comradely grip. Murmer sighed; sure this girl had nerve!
"Pleased to meet you, Miss Poulton." Murmer managed to retain her hand for a moment longer than formal. "Say, haven't we met before? I seem to remember you well?"
The girl's eyes widened. She looked up innocently into the baby-blue eyes staring intently down on her, and a smile came on her well-formed lips. "I don't think so, Mr. Murmer. If we have met before, I've been rude enough to forget it."
"Ever been in Edgecliff, Miss Poulton?"
"Occasionally. I do not live there."
"Ever met the late Mr. Stanley Griffiths, Miss Poulton?" The Englishman spoke with seeming carelessness. "The late—" She drew her fingers from the detective's grip abruptly. "I—I don't think I have ever met Mr. Griffiths—I—"
"What's the trouble, Pater?" Dizzy Laine interrupted, with a hint of anger in his tones. "Miss Poulton—"
"I met a Mr. Stanley Griffiths last night," Murmer took on himself the reply. "With him was a young lady."
"Miss Poulton was with me last night," Dizzy interrupted shortly. "We were at His Majesty's Theatre for the show and then went to Dalmano's for supper. I took her home about two o'clock this morning."
"Sorry." Murmer did not look discomposed. "I must have made a—"
"What's the game, Pater?" Dizzy ignored the English detective. "Stanley Griffiths was murdered last night—shot in his home. I've been at the office this morning; and I saw the report turned in by the night roundsman." He turned to Murmer. "You're not trying to link Miss Poulton up with that man?"
"Keep your hair on, Dizzy." Pater spoke soothingly. "Saul's not suggesting anything. He's had a few adventures during the past twenty-four hours and they've disturbed his outlook on life. These Londoners are not used to Australian speed."
With a nod to the man and the girl, he caught Murmer's arm and led him from the restaurant. In Pitt-street, Murmer released himself with a jerk; he turned and stared back at the restaurant.
"What of that fellow—Dizzy Laine, you call him?" he asked abruptly. "Crook?"
"Not on your life! As straight as they make 'em," Inspector Pater replied immediately. "Lord, Saul, you put a raw one over there. We'll never hear the last of it."
"We won't—'I don't intend we shall." There was an inflexible tone in the Englishman's voice. "Neither will they, that I'll promise them. John, I'll swear that girl was the one I saw in Griffiths' room. I'll swear it now, and by God I'll swear in another place."
"—AND that you should make a break like that, Saul! Well, I wouldn't have thought it of you."
The two detectives were in the room they shared at police headquarters. Inspector Murmer, as usual, was ensconced in the big lounge chair by the window, puffing steadily at the inevitable cheap cigarette. John Pater was striding up and down the room, obviously perturbed. Saul Murmer was not entirely at ease. He recognised that his surprise on meeting the girl in Sauber's restaurant had caused him to make a serious break. True he still believed that his suspicions were well-founded—that Addie Poulton was the girl he had talked to in Stanley Griffiths' room—yet he admitted; even to himself, that his recognition was entirely unsupported; that, opposed to the alibi Dizzy Laine had given, he had no grounds on which he could act.
Two fine vertical lines between his eyebrows alone denoted that he was worried. To the Australian detective he appeared as unruffled as usual.
"And to Dizzy Laine, of all people." Pater ran his fingers through his hair, in perplexity. "Lord, man! We're going to have an earful of this. You got him right up on his hind legs in that restaurant, and with the alibi he gave the girl—why, you haven't a leg to stand on—"
"Alibis have been broken before now, John," Murmer threw the stub of his cigarette through the window and wriggled himself into a position where he could fish for another in his jacket side-pocket.
"Alibi, be damned!" Inspector Patel groaned. "As if an alibi was all. Don't you recognise, man, he's got us cold-served up on a platter and carefully garnished with the best fish-sauce! Gosh! John the Baptist has nothing on us."
"Dizzy Laine, journalist!" Murmer spoke in an undertone.
"Yes, a journalist!" Inspector Pater turned suddenly. "A journalist who does things. We don't say much about it, but there's been times when Dizzy Laine helped us quite a lot. He's got a flair for getting information—information that the police find difficult to get—Lord! I'm betting he's with the Commissioner now, demanding our heads on chargers—"
"And—if he don't get 'em?" A slow smile curved the full, red lips. "Then he'll take it out of us in that damned rag of his—and let me tell you the Post-Advertiser is nothing to smile at. Dizzy Laine—"
"Gentleman to see you and Inspector Murmer, sir." A constable spoke from the doorway.
"Damn the gentleman!" Inspector Pater strode round his desk and threw himself into his chair. "Tell him to go to—"
Murmer caught the constable's eyes and nodded. The man left the room quickly.
"Suppose we'd better see him," grumbled Pater, aroused by the closing of the door. "Some damned fool who's lost his back teeth and has a friend who has a friend who has nodded to me in the streets—"
"We're going to see him," said Saul Murmer, tranquilly. "It'll stave off Dizzy, anyway."
Pater squared himself to his desk and smoothed his hair. "Lord, Saul, you've let us in for something."
"A drift of smoke sometimes located a fire." The Englishman was staring at the door. "Now, I have an idea—"
The door opened, and for a moment the tall form of the constable showed. He stepped aside, and Arthur Skields walked into the room.
"—that Mr Arthur Skields has re-considered his position and has come to the decision that it is impolitic to quarrel with two noted member of the Detective Branch of the New South Wales Police Department." Murmer completed his sentence, ignoring the fact that the man he mentioned was in the room.
"I don't know how, you came to guess that, Inspector Murmer." A broad smile parted Skields' lips. "You're right. I did a bit of considering and came to the conclusion that I was a bit of a—"
"So, the Psalmist has stated," interrupted Murmer.
"That all men are liars; you'll find that statement in one of his prose poems."
"Then you weren't at a poker party last night?' asked Inspector Pater.
"I was." Skields came further into the room and seated himself before the desk. "I was playing poker with my brother and Martin; and Martin drove me home. Really, I came to apologise for my show of bad temper."
"Then you didn't shoot Stanley Griffiths?" Almost disappointment showed on Murmer's face.
"Sorry not to be able to oblige you," Skields grinned. "I'm not going to say I regret he's dead. I'll admit, if you like, that I'm damned sorry I didn't pump a magazine of bullets into his rotten carcass. I'll say that, if I had thought of it, I might pro—"
"But you didn't." Inspector Murmer wriggled himself into a more comfortable attitude in the lounge chair. "Now, as you say, if he deserved it—"
"That's your opinion." The Englishman at last attained the position he aimed at. "Unpleasant sort of fellow, Mr. Skields? Smoke?"
The man took the cigarette case with a loud laugh. "Want any more fingerprints, Inspector Murmer?"
"I always told Sir Gregory I was too obvious for a detective." There was chagrin in Murmer's voice. "So you saw through the trick?"
"Not until I'd thought things over. Then my fingerprints were not on that gun?"
"Did you expect them to be?"
"I wasn't sure. With Stanley Griffiths one isn't sure of anything."
"Then you expected his murder?" snapped Pater.
Skields glanced at the stout detective before the window. Murmer had, apparently, lost all interest in the visitor; he was staring out of the window, his lips pursed in a low whistle.
"You expected that Stanley Griffiths would be murdered?" asked Pater again.
"I did!" Skields turned his attention to the Australian. "With a man of Griffiths' habits a natural death could not be anticipated."
"Mr. Skields means that Mr. Griffiths had the faculty of stirring to anger sex elements in men and women—in women to suit his purposes, in man the primitive instinct for revenge for injuries done to women they possess or covet." For a brief moment the Englishman faced the room.
Skields nodded. "Mr. Murmer has stated the position fairly," he said.
"Then—" concluded Inspector Pater "—to take Inspector Murmer's definition, you were a male seeking revenge?"
"If you like." A shrug accompanied the admission.
"Yet you had not thought of shooting him?"
"I don't think I had advanced I so far at the time somebody anticipated my sub-conscious desire." A strange, primitive light shone behind the man's eyes. "I believe that up to—well, say yesterday—I had only wished and anticipated something supremely uncomfortable for him in the future—"
Skields was interrupted by a little chuckling laugh from the man seated at the window.
Inspector Pater took no notice of Murmer's merriment. He was devoting all his attention to the man on the other side of the desk.
"You think there were others who held thoughts regarding Stanley Griffiths, on similar lines to those you have described for yourself?"
"People don't talk of such things—except in general exclamatory terms," said Skields angrily. "If you're asking for an opinion, not evidence, I'll say I believe there were many who would have a been relieved to see Stanley Griffiths as—" He turned to a the man in the window, "—as you saw him last."
"Are you willing to give me their names?" asked Pater.
"No." The negative was very final. "All I have is conjecture—If you like, the talk of the clubs—There were plenty Stan Griffiths had put the dirty on, but—"
"How well did you know Griffiths?"
"At one time, very well."
"You were intimate friends?"
"And, you quarrelled?"
"For what reason, or reasons?" Pater waited on the question, but Skields did not reply. His eyes had become blanks.
"For what reasons?" repeated the detective.
"Perhaps I can suggest one." With an effort Murmer turned in the close-fitting chair to face the desk. "Messrs. Skields and Griffiths were firm friends. They were both fond of good times and—and the ladies—" He broke off to glance at Skields and ask: "I am right, Mr. Skields; am I not?"
The man nodded. "Yes—"
Murmer showed his satisfaction. "Well, about six months ago Mr. Skields met a lady named—"
"I should prefer to keep her name out of it," said Skields quickly.
"Why?" The light eyebrows of the man in the window seat moved up in interrogation. "The lady's name has already been mentioned in connection with Griffiths' death; Miss Poulton."
"I am afraid I cannot follow you, Inspector Murmer." Skields' tones were cold.
"You know Miss Poulton?" asked Pater.
"I have that honour."
"Mr Griffiths knew Miss Poulton?"
"Yes, damn him!" The man's control gave way suddenly.
"I told him to keep away from her.
"You threatened him?"
For a moment there was silence. Skields had risen to his feet and was staring across the desk into the coldly questioning eyes of the detective.
"You threatened him?" Pater asked again.
"Yes, blast you!" The man's nerve had now given under the keen questioning. "Blast you! Blast him—he thought he could drive her along the road he had driven others—other women. He thought that because she liked a good time—because some fool had called her the 'Flirting Fool'—blast—"
"'The Flirting Fool?' What do you mean by that, Mr. Skields?"
"Find out, damn you! Am I responsible for all the blasted talk that goes on in this town. If you think that, you're wrong. I—
"Let's get this straight." Inspector Murmer's cool tones broke on the man's heated words. "I take it, Mr. Skields, that you and Mr. Griffiths became acquainted with Miss Poulton about the same time. She attracted both of you. You—you found a serious interest in life—in her. Mr. Griffiths believed he had discovered yet another—er—butterfly—that would give the spice you and he looked for to your little—parties."
"I told him to keep away from her—that if he spoke to her again I'd—" Skields shouted, in the heat of blind passion.
"You'd shoot him." The cool tones from the window seat supplied the rest of the sentence. "And, did you?"
"I told him I'd thrash him within an inch of his life." Skields shouted. "And I'd have done it. And, I'll thrash you, too, if you dare to bring her into—" For second he hesitated, trying to control the passion that had mastered him. He turned to face Inspector Murmer, before his heat of turned to a cold concentrated fury.
"I've been a rotter, I know. There's no one more sorry for it now than I am. I'd give ten years of what remains of my life to be able to retrace my steps. But I can't do that. I didn't shoot Griffiths. I swear to that. I can prove where I was when—when someone with more spunk than I've got did shoot him. I honour and admire that man—and if I can do anything to help him keep him from the so-called justice that demands his life for the life of that rotter—keep him out of the clutches of you damned man-hunters—I'll do it, even if I have to go to gaol for the rest of my life. I'd do anything for him. Hear that? Anything! He can have all I've got—every penny. I'll serve him—protect him—grovel to him for his pluck. That's me, Arthur Skields. Get that into your thick heads, damn you! I'm for him, every second, in this world and through what those snivelling parsons call eternity. I envy him. He's a—a man—a man—damn you!"
Snatching up his hat he plunged blindly through the door, slamming it after him.
IMMEDIATELY the door closed, with a shattering bang shaking police headquarters, the two Inspectors became aware of a commotion in the corridor without. Inspector Pater, with a deep frown gathering on his brow, strode to the door and pulled it open.
"What the hell's the row out here?" he demanded. Then in quieter tones: "Oh, it's you, Dizzy?"
"What's left of what used to be me," stated the newspaper man, limping into the room. "Say, John Pater, has headquarters set up an official menagerie at last? I've often advised them to wonderful specimens here, and all that. Who the—"
"I gather that Mr. Arthur Skields was just a little brusque," suggested Inspector Murmer quietly.
"A little brusque!" Dizzy stared. "If you call rushing out of a room without looking where he's going; slamming doors and walking over a noted, well-advertised journalist coming innocently up the stairs; and then cursing him violently for getting in the way 'a little brusque'—"
"The idiosyncrasies of an undisciplined, disposition," mused the Englishman. "Physiologically, should we blame the individuals? The complexities—"
"I'm blaming the individual. It or rather the individuals," said Dizzy firmly. "In spite of any undisciplined idiosyncrasies that police headquarters choose to let loose upon what are, after all, is public thoroughfares—"
"You refer to the private staircases and corridors of police headquarters?" asked Murmer, opening wide his baby-blue eyes.
"I do." Dizzy sank into a chair and rubbed the calf of his left leg. "In spite of the mad men you choose to keep here, I've come to know what the hell—"
"A particularly favourite word in the office today," Inspector Murmer interjected. "Mr. Skields gave it a fair airing. John has frequently mentioned it during the past hour or so—"
"Then John Pater has been attempting, to correct the crazy idiosyncrasies of Saul Murmer?" Dizzy stared at the stout detective comfortably ensconced in the big chair. "Good for him! Now you're going to listen to a few words from me, and if I offend your delicate Pommy ears with the word you so eloquently complain about—or have a particular affection for—"
"John thought you'd gone to the Commissioner," said Murmer, inconsequently.
"I might have, if I'd thought of it," acknowledged the newspaper man with a broad grin. "Or—".
"You might have written a column or so on the pernicious third degree methods of the New South Wales Detective Branch, adducing many awful examples. Why didn't you?" The wide baby blue eyes opened in an innocent stare. "No doubt, if you had, your noted periodical would have signified its approval in the—er—usual manner."
For a moment Dizzy stared, then laughed aloud.
"I understand. You're trying to side-track the issue. Well, you don't. I've come to find out why you're trying to mix Miss Poulton up in this Griffiths' murder—and I'm going to find out."
"Then Miss Poulton did know Stanley Griffiths?" asked Murmer.
"She remembers being introduced to him—or speaking to him once."
Dizzy started to speak, then hesitated. He stared at the Englishman with quiet amusement on his ugly, honest face.
"Going to put me through it, Inspector?"
"Have you objections?"
Again the journalist was silent for some moments. He turned to Inspector Pater.
"What's he up to, John? I thought he came out here for experience."
"He sure needs it," interposed Murmer, softly.
"Whereas he's taking the lead teaching you New South Welshmen how to do it."
"Do what?" asked Murmer in the same small voice.
Dizzy leaned back in his chair, lighting a cigarette and surveying the stout man with, amusement.
"I'm going to be vulgar," he said at length, "and quote an old song? 'Are there any more at home like you?' No!" he continued as Murmer went to reply, "don't answer. I know there are. It's a peculiar London trait and, unfortunately, in this country we mistake Londoners for typical Englishmen."
"Even my neglected education informs me that London is the capital of England," murmured the stout detective.
"It isn't." The newspaper man was emphatic. "Modern London is an entrenched invader in the heart of a conquered country. No one but a—a foreigner or a very uneducated person would accept Londoners as typically English. They're as unlike the real, article as—as chalk and cheese."
"Libellous—but almost true." From behind the mask of his innocent stare Murmer was studying the journalist interestedly. Dizzy Laine, he told himself, was an antagonist worthy of any man.
"Hardly libellous—and very true."
Dizzy stretched his long legs before him, smiling. But behind the wide smile lurked an iron purpose. In some ways he liked this London detective. He thought that when he knew him better he would like him greatly. For the moment he knew him for an antagonist it would take all his wit and nerve to combat. He was determined that Addie Poulton should not be drawn into the sordid business that made the days of police headquarters.
"I'm guessing that you have questioned Miss Poulton?" said Murmer.
"I have, and I'm satisfied," Dizzy answered shortly. "Is that sufficient for you?" His eyes went from the stout detective seated at the window to John Pater, tall and soldierly, behind the desk.
Inspector Pater nodded. "Divided opinions!" Dizzy laughed again. "Miss Poulton is still under Inspector Murmer's suspicions."
"Look here, Dizzy." Inspector Pater spoke suddenly. "You've read the story. 'Sleepy' Andrews came round last night—or I should say this morning—and got it from the desk sergeant. I've seen your rag. What's published is substantially true—"
"Substantially true!" The journalist's quick eyes went from one to the other of the men before him. He noticed that Inspector Murmer was moving restlessly in his chair.
"Hold up, Saul." Pater spoke to his comrade. "Sorry, but you've got to go through with it. Dizzy is safe, and I'm going to show him you've good reasons for your suspicions. It's this way, Dizzy." he turned to the newspaper man. "Saul found Griffiths' house open, and as it was after midnight became curious. He entered and in an upstairs room found a young lady seated on a couch. By a trick she lured him to one of the bedrooms, and locked him in it. There she made her mistake. When Saul got out he found, under the couch on which the girl had been seated, the body of Stanley Griffiths, stabbed and shot."
While Inspector Pater had been speaking the smile had left Dizzy's face. Now his lips were tensed and his eyes worried. "And, you identify Add—Miss Poulton as the girl you saw in Stanley Griffiths' house?" he swung to Murmer with the question.
Murmer nodded. "There's no doubt in my mind," he said.
"You'll swear to the resemblance?"
The Englishman smiled. He recognised the trick question.
"There is no resemblance," he asserted. "Miss Poulton is the girl I saw in the Wonthaggi-Avenue house." There was no indifference in Murmer's eyes now. His voice was crisp and assertive. Yet, underlying look and voice was a thread of regrets for the man before him.
Dizzy glanced at Inspector Pater.
The Australian detective nodded.
"I'll guarantee Saul' Murmer's honesty," he said.
"Then—" The journalist paused suddenly. He was staring thoughtfully at the floor. The room was silent, save for the loud ticking of the nickel clock on the cabinet in the corner. The two Inspectors watched him curiously.
"You can't get over my alibi." Dizzy spoke slowly, after a lengthy pause. He turned to Murmer. "Inspector Pater assures me of your honesty. He will tell you that my word is my bond. Again and again, over several years, he has trusted me with information that if I had used indiscreetly would have brought much trouble on him. I've never betrayed him. At all times information I've come across has been at the disposal of the authorities."
He paused to crush out his cigarettes on the ashtray on the desk using rather unnecessary violence for the simple act. He groped in his pocket and brought out pouch and papers, and deftly rolled a new cigarette.
"I'm telling you the truth," he continued. "I took Miss Poulton to the theatre last night. After the theatre we went to Dalmano's for supper and stayed dancing until after half-past one in the morning. From the doors of the restaurant we took a taxi to her home. I left her at her door and drove in the same taxi back to town, to my rooms. Not for five consecutive minutes was she out of my sight between half-past seven that evening and two o'clock the next morning.
"I was tired when I got back to town and didn't call in at the office, as I usually do. Therefore I did not see the account of Stanley Griffiths' murder until it was published in the newspaper just before lunch to-day—" He hesitated. "Peculiarly, I know the taxi-driver well and can get hold of him within an hour. He'll tell you—just what I've said—"
"The murder was committed just before midnight," commented Murmer.
"From eleven o'clock until after midnight Miss Poulton and I were together. I'll say, from ten o'clock or a little after, when the curtain went up for the final act until we finished supper about midnight and took to dancing with friends who happened to be in the restaurant, Miss Poulton was never out of my sight long enough to get to the street and find a taxi. How then are you going to account for her taking a twenty minutes' fast drive, kill a man, interview you, and drive back to the restaurant?
"You're mad," the newspaper man's voice strengthened. "Absolutely mad. Before you can charge Miss Poulton you'll have to send me on the road Stanley Griffith's has trod. I'm between her and you. You can't get over my alibi—and only death will close my mouth—" He stepped to the desk and caught at a scribbling pad. "Here's a list of some of the people we were with at the restaurant. Here's the name of the manager of the theatre who knows Miss Poulton well and spoke to both of us when we were leaving the theatre. Here's the name of the taxi-driver, and the name of his company—"
He laughed shortly. "Try and break that alibi. You can't." A silence fell on the room. In spite of the confident tones in which he had spoken Dizzy Laine looked worried. Inspector Pater caught the look, and wondered. The newspaper man had put up a wonderful alibi—if he had spoken the truth—but what would it serve him to lie?
He turned and looked at the Englishman. A strange little smile curved the man's full red lips. "You haven't told us the name of the theatre you patronised, the numbers of your seats, and the title of the play you saw," Murmer suggested.
With a half-laugh of mingled amusement and impatience the journalist drew the pad to him again and scribbled the required information. He tossed the pad to the stout detective.
"Will that satisfy you?" His tones showed that Dizzy was holding himself in check. "You'll find the management can give you quite a lot of information, Miss Poulton and I were there on newspaper passes. The seat-attendant knows us both well."
"Yet I saw Miss Poulton in Stanley Griffiths' house a few minutes after midnight?" Inspector Murmer made the statement softly. "I recognised her immediately she entered the restaurant today."
"Don't be an ass, Saul," exclaimed Pater, now thoroughly convinced that his comrade was mistaken. "No doubt you saw someone very like Miss Poulton—possibly sufficiently alike to cause you to make the mistake. You can't get over Dizzy's alibi. It's an easy one to test, if you want to. I'm prepared to take his word. You've made a mistake."
"Miss Poulton—or her twin sister," murmured the stout man.
"Miss Poulton has not a—a twin," stated Dizzy. In a moment the atmosphere in the room had changed. Dizzy was sitting well forward on his chair, staring at the big man by the window with wide eyes, a frown on his keen, ugly face. Very slowly he voiced the suspicion that had grown in his mind.
"What do you know of Stanley Griffiths, Saul Murmer?"
"What the hell are you driving at, Dizzy?" interposed Inspector Pater.
"I've cleared Miss Poulton from suspicion." For a brief moment the newspaper man glanced at the Australian detective. "You'll clear her, too, when you've investigated the notes I've given you. I've answered quite a lot of questions from this man—now I'm asking him a few." He turned again to face the Englishman. "You still stick to your statement that you found Miss Poulton in Stanley Griffiths' house—and that in spite of the evidence I've tendered. Well, I'm asking you again. What do you know of Stanley Griffiths?"
For a few seconds, startled, Saul Murmer gazed into the keen, light-lit eyes before him. He did not reply. Half-a-minute and Dizzy Laine continued. "You, alone, found the house door open; although the patrolman swears it was closed when he passed the house thirty seconds before. You alone, entered, yet you state the constable was within hearing of a shout. You, alone, found her seated on the couch—if there, was a girl in that house. You, unaided, released yourself from a locked room—"
The newspaper man paused, apparently marshalling his facts in his keen mind.
"—You, alone, formulated a theory, based on the presence of a girl—a girl you failed to produce. To back your story, you pick on a girl you meet in a city restaurant twelve hours, or more, later. When that girl produces an unassailable alibi you still stick, pig-headedly, to your statements. You haven't the wit to get from under when your house of cards collapses about your ears. Again I ask you, Saul Murmer: What do you know of Stanley Griffiths? Think it over carefully, Inspector Murmer—and remember you're not in London you're with Australians—people who are entirely free, and unaccustomed to police bullying."
The newspaper man turned and picked up his hat. "And, while you're studying the changed conditions under which you're working, remember, I'm taking cards in this game—and I'm not entirely a fool, or helpless."
Dizzy Laine turned to face Inspector Pater. "No, John," he continued. "I'm not going to the Commissioner. I'm not going to anyone at police headquarters. The Post-Advertiser is taking up the trail of Stanley Griffiths' murderer, and I believe I have enough influence to see that I'm assigned to the job. Understand?"
In the doorway, he turned to face the men again. "The sort of thing you're putting up now may go down in London, for all I know or care, Inspector Murmer."
Dizzy's words were cold and steady. "In this country the police take the trouble to catch the right person, man, woman or child. We don't frame people—and we don't sit in easy chairs and formulate theories that we know we can't put over with perjury or trickery. Get me here, put out one word against Miss Poulton and I'll drive you back to your mud-heap on the banks of the Thames with your dirty, dingy tail well tucked between your legs."
With slow, deliberate movements he turned and opened the door. In the passage, he closed the door carefully and silently.
Within the room, Inspector Murmer sat staring out of the window, a slight flush on his full cheeks. Inspector Pater had slumped down in his chair, his arms folded across his chest. For long minutes not a word was uttered in the room, then the Australian turned to his companion: "Saul, you ass. You've broken things, now!"
DIZZY LAINE left police headquarters with the nearest approach to bad temper that had ever troubled his very equable disposition. He was not worrying over Addie's alibi. That was sound—absolutely unbreakable. His own record was clean and he knew that his newspaper would back him to the limit. At the restaurant the previous evening Addie and he had met quite a number of reputable people who knew them well—people who would come forward and swear that it was impossible for the girl to have been at Edgecliff at the time Stanley Griffiths passed from life. The English detective had worried him. The man was a mountain of egotism and conceit, he told himself. He had possibly seen some girl who bore some resemblance to Addie Poulton, and had taken the opportunity to identify her in the first person he had chanced to come across. That the person was Addie Poulton badly riled Dizzy.
He smiled grimly.
Inspector Murmer had made a big mistake, and he had not been quick-witted enough to retrieve his error. Again the newspaper man grinned. There would be wigs on the green if Murmer proceeded further with his impossible theory.
He thought of the time, a couple of years previous, when the Post Advertiser had taken the police department to task, in no measured terms. The dispute had assumed large proportions. For a period there had been open war between the editorial staff of the newspaper and the police. In the end it had been the police who had made the first advances towards a reconciliation. They could not withstand the newspaper's continued attacks.
Dizzy Laine did not conceal from himself that in this case he had a powerful opponent. Inspector Murmer had a big reputation in England—a reputation for deductive reasoning that had followed him to Australia. He recognised that the detective was a man with a large and peculiar ability for concealing his thoughts—a man who never lost his temper, proceeding calmly and secretly on the course he had set for himself.
He doubted if Inspector Pater, working closely with the man, knew his reasonings and deductions. The Englishman would only speak when he had finalised his investigations and had completed his case. Then—what case had he against Addie Poulton? He had declared that he had seen the girl in Stanley Griffiths' house—and had continued to affirm that in the face of an unbreakable alibi. Would he go further—attempt to break that alibi; try to obtain further evidence of identification?
Dizzy Laine had been pacing Central Lane while he cogitated his problems. Suddenly he threw up his head and squared his shoulders. He had to make good his words to the English detective—that he would get the "Post-Advertiser" to send him on the trail of Stanley Griffiths' murderer. Only with the full facts of the crime in his possession—facts that he had to discover and examine for himself could he meet and counter any moves to destroy Addie's alibi that the man might make—if he still determined to fasten the crime on the girl's shoulders.
He turned westwards and, in George-street, caught a northbound tram, alighting at King-street. He walked up to Castlereagh-street and turned into the Post-Advertiser buildings. On the editorial floor he paused and asked the girl at the switch desk to inquire if Lloyd Sampson, the managing-editor, would see him immediately. Then he passed on to his desk. On it lay one of the familiar buff-coloured envelopes used for containing office messages. Tearing it open, he found within a message asking him to go to the managing-editor directly he reported for duty.
A few steps brought him to the door of the managing-editor's room. He knocked and opened the door. As he entered, a stout, comfortable-looking man with an entirely bald head and ruddy, cheerful countenance, looked up. He nodded and pointed with the handle of his pen to a chair. "Thought you'd have been here earlier, Dizzy." Lloyd Sampson spoke in deep, rumbling tones, a note of impatience showing for the moment.
"Had a bit of business down town."
Dizzy seated himself and drew out pouch and papers. He rolled a cigarette and leaned back, staring at Lloyd Sampson. "As it concerned the Griffiths' murder I thought I'd look into it at once."
He found a match and struck a light.
"The Griffiths murder?" Lloyd Sampson lifted heavy brows. "There's nothing in that. Cut and dried."
"The English detective thinks to fasten the crime on a lady who was enjoying an after-theatre supper with friends in the city."
"So? Who's the friends?"
"Paul Disraeli Laine—for one."
"Dalmano's is rather a difficult restaurant to get a table in after the theatre."
"Miss Adelaide Poulton."
"Umph!" Lloyd Sampson put down his pen and leaned back in his chair. "What's the story, Dizzy?"
The newspaper man related concisely the episodes relating to Inspector Murmer finding Griffiths' dead body and the girl in the room; concluding with a vivid description of the late scene in the Inspectors' room, at police headquarters.
"Good for the Englishman." A deep, rumbling noise showed that the managing editor was amused. "Sticks to it?"
"And Miss Poulton is a—a particular friend of yours?"
Dizzy stared straight at his editor. "Anything of a story?"
"A big one, I think. The Skields brothers are mixed in it."
"Arthur, principally. Ernest provides the alibi."
For long minutes the editor sat back, staring at the journalist. A thoughtful look had come into the jet-black eyes, so strangely out of place in the big, florid face. "If the Skields are in it—" Lloyd Sampson spoke at length.
"Then—I take the story?" For the first time Dizzy betrayed eagerness.
"You know more about the Skields than anyone in this office," the managing-director acknowledged. "Ernest Skields, company promoter, financier, man-about-town—"
"And Arthur Skields, agent, apparently at desperate war with his brother, yet relying on him and his friend for an alibi." Dizzy laughed. "Rather farcical, isn't it?"
"Two-handed poker?" The stern lips pursed.
"Three-perhaps four-handed. A man named George Martin was there."
"George Martin. I don't know of him."
"Neither do I. Yet I'm guessing he's mixed up in the affair. I'm going out after Martin."
For a long moment there was silence. Dizzy was leaning forward, resting his arms on the desk-top. Suddenly he spoke:
"You know the Skields, sir? There isn't much they wouldn't put their hands to—and I'm not excepting murder. Ernest Skields is the head of the gang, and we've never probed the bottom yet. Oh, I know you think I'm prejudiced, but I've got a lot of information, though some of it's not yet provable. I've been watching the Skields—and I've been beaten so far. There's a story with them somewhere—a story that will set the city of Sydney by the ears when it's told. The Skields are at the bottom of most of the crook work in this city.
"I'm not talking of the crook work of Woolloomooloo, Darlinghurst and Surry Hills, but of the crook work that takes place in the swell offices in the heart of Sydney. For instance, there was the Adlington Development Syndicate—"
"A commercial matter," Lloyd Sampson interrupted. "It was proved in the bankruptcy court that the syndicate would have made a handsome profit if the Islington-Wagga railway had gone through—"
'"And the powers that be decreed that the railway should pass through Ashton and Wabberi."
"I haven't evidence," he said, "but I've got something more than a suspicion that Arthur Skields was mixed up in the Ashton Improvements Company, which made quite a killing out of the unexpected direction the railway took."
"And Ernest Skields was the moving spirit of the Adlington crowd?" Lloyd Sampson nodded. "That would work."
"One angle of the cross," said Dizzy sombrely.
"Ernest Skields hinted that during the bankruptcy proceedings," the managing editor laughed. "He put up quite a squeal!"
"Yet, for a concern he founded and managed he had a surprisingly small holding," Dizzy mused. "I think that is what put me on the trail—if you can call it a trail."
"Then you've not dropped the matter?"
"I keep my eyes open."
"How do you link up Stanley Griffiths with the Skields?"
"Griffiths and Chalmers, stock-brokers."
Lloyd-Sampson sat back again. "If I remember rightly they had only a small interest," he smiled wryly. "I may add, I had money in the company. Skields sold me a block of shares."
"Whew!" Dizzy stared, open-eyed. "So you bit—and in spite of what you knew?"
"Of what you had told me," corrected the managing-editor. "Lucky for you, young man, you've no money. If you had I believe Ernest Skields could sell stock to the devil!"
"He sold stock to a newspaper editor," commented Dizzy dryly.
"Then he's progressing," Lloyd-Sampson grinned. "But a small block of shares wouldn't bankrupt Chalmers and Griffiths!"
"By the shout Griffiths put up, you'd have thought it had."
Lloyd Sampson whistled gently.
"Griffiths and Ernest Skields had a hell of a row at the Community Club," continued the journalist. "The matter was brought up before the managing committee—and hushed up."
"You won't make that a motive for murder?" The managing-editor was silent for some moments. "Well, I'll leave it to you, Dizzy. Don't forget. You're a journalist, not a detective. I want a story: front page, big streamers and—"
"And I, the return of Detective-Inspector Saul Murmer to the backblocks of the Thames Embankment," completed Dizzy, with a broad smile.
He went to the door, and, holding it partly open, turned to face the man at the desk. Lloyd-Sampson looked up, speculatively.
"I may, not get a story, sir." Dizzy spoke reluctantly.
"Then you get the sack." Lloyd-Sampson's tones were uncompromising. "I can promise you that."
"A sop to the vanity of a fat English detective," commented Dizzy, meditatively.
"A sacrifice on the altar of the god of failure—to get the Skields Brothers just where you want them."
Dizzy nodded, and closed the door.
For a moment he stool against it, a wide smile on his lips, then strolled across the big room to his desk. For some time he occupied himself with the various drawers, destroying papers and re-arranging others. He typed a short note and threw in the post basket, then took his hat and strolled to the elevators.
On the pavement, before the Post-Advertiser doors, he paused again, then turned southwards. A sudden shout from a man crossing the road startled him. He stopped and turned quickly. Then the swung round again, still moving quickly. A brick from far up the building before which he stood had smashed on the pavement at his feet. He looked up. The building was old and undergoing repairs. So far as he could see, there was no one on the staging before the fifth storey. If that man across, the street had not called out! Another step forward—and that brick would have struck him on the head. He turned sharply at the sounds of a voice behind him.
"You had a lucky escape, young man!" A stout, lethargic-looking man, with wide, blue eyes and full red lips, stood at the edge of the pavement, grinning at him.
"Hullo! Inspector Murmer, I believe!" Dizzy tried to speak nonchalantly. "Seems I've got to thank you for saving my life. But for your sudden shout that brick would have scattered my brains."
"Impossible!" For a moment the full, red lips parted, and the small smile on the round face faded. "Mr. Dizzy Lane, a—a journalist, isn't it?"
The emphasis on the word was unmistakable. Dizzy flushed.
BEFORE Dizzy Laine, for once at a loss for a retort, could speak, the stout English detective had turned and was ambling down the street. The newspaper man looked after him, a mixture of anger and perplexity showing on his face.
The man was an enigma. He had saved his life—there could be no doubt of that. At the same time he had deliberately irritated him—tried to insult him. A big question-mark formed against the mental image of the Londoner in the newspaper man's mind.
With a shrug Dizzy moved slowly along the street, automatically turning in the opposite direction to that which the detective had taken. He did not want to appear to be following the man, yet he had a great curiosity regarding the Englishman. He wondered—why was the man alone? He knew that Inspector John Pater, as well as Inspector Saul Murmer, had been assigned to the Griffiths' case. Then where was Pater? The newspaper man would have liked to run into the Australian at that moment. A few discreet questions might uncover quite a lot; and he badly wanted to know what trail Inspector Murmer was following. Not that he was afraid for Addie Poulton. She was safe, however far the Englishman's obstinate adherence to his theory might take him.
Full of thought, he wandered along the crowded pavement, walking southwards. He crossed King-street and made a way through the crowd of men who appear to consider the space outside the big stores the best spot in the city to stand for a gossip with friends. As he stepped from the pavement to cross Market-street a firm hand caught his arm, dragging him back to the pavement.
"News scarce, Dizzy?"
With a start the journalist looked up. "Hullo, John Pater! What's the game?"
"Doing my good deed for the day, boy—saving the life of a prominent journalist—or, perhaps news is scarce and he is sacrificing himself on the altar of the newspaper-god."
"Well—on second thought, one might just as well live," Dizzy grinned. "I was thinking of you."
"Is that cause for suicide? Or did you expect to find me under the four wheels of a wool-wagon?"
"Speaking disrespectfully of a member of the police force is a criminal offence—or should be." Pater's grey eyes twinkled. "Why the sudden agitation of grey matter?"
"Why is Inspector Pater allowing his little English lamb to wander through the wilds of Sydney unattended. Have you never heard of the wolves of Pitt street?"
Dizzy was surprised at the sudden frown that darkened the Inspector's face. For a moment he showed surprise; then enlightenment came.
"So Inspector Murmer has decided not to remain in leading-strings?" he continued, with a broad grin. "Kicked over the traces?"
"Your metaphors are mixed, Dizzy." The smile returned to the detective's eyes. "Lambs don't kick over traces. Inspector Murmer had some important business to attend to personally."
"Personally?" The newspaperman glanced around him. On the opposite side of the road was a coffee-shop. He seized the Inspector by the arm and steered him across the road, into the shop.
"Who said I was thirsty?" laughed Pater.
"Loitering on the pavement is punishable by a fine of ten pounds, under the new police regulations," announced Dizzy. "A new regulation, issued solely for the benefit of the tea-shops monopoly of the city of Sydney. Therefore, when a consultation is desirable, even with a prominent member of the police force, a coffee shop, at least, is indicated. You know, you can't break your immediate superior's regulations, Pater."
"Business in which Inspector Murmer is alone interested indicates consultation by his—friends."
"So!" Inspector Pater's eyebrows arched. "You did not seem very friendly towards Inspector Murmer when you left police headquarters a little over an hour ago."
"I may be clever at disguising my real feelings," mused Dizzy, a far-away look in his eyes. "You forget, we are told to forgive our enemies—"
"Look here, Dizzy." Pater became suddenly serious. "I know you're wild with Murmer, because he dared to cast suspicion on your lady-friend— But, don't forget, he has a big reputation in London."
"In breaking genuine alibis?"
"The better the alibi, the more suspicion should be cast on it." Inspector Pater voiced the platitude gravely. "You know that, Dizzy. You've fractured enough alibis in your time."
"You won't break Miss Poulton's alibi." Dizzy laughed. "Now what I want to know is: What did you and Inspector Murmer quarrel about?"
Dizzy was not quite certain of his ground, yet he spoke firmly. He noted the sudden light that came in the Inspector's eyes. "Look here, Pater, honest, you don't believe Saul Murmer's theory?"
"Inspector Murmer is working on definite facts."
"Theories that he can't prove and will eventually have to abandon. I stand in his way; I and half a score other reputable people. That's a fence even Inspector Murmer can't jump. I'm good enough for him in the witness box and at the Post-Advertiser office, and if he tries to prove that I'm not, he'll wade through a sea of trouble."
"So, the Post-Advertiser is in this?"
"I'm not committing myself. Possibly so. I'm tipping you to keep your lamb off the grass. There's quite a number of people in Sydney alone who'd have been glad to take a shot at Griffiths—"
Dizzy hesitated. He knew that Inspector Pater had certain suspicions in his mind—suspicions that he would not yet voice. He believed that the Inspector's suspicions coincided with his own. But he knew that Inspector Pater was too alert to be led into any verbal trap he might set for him. In the Inspectors' room at police headquarters he had formed the opinion that the Australian detective had a big doubt concerning the theory his English confrère had erected. Since he had met John Pater that doubt was evolving into a certainty.
"You've had Skields under examination," he said, quietly. "Skields had a big reason to dislike Stanley Griffiths. They were at daggers-drawn—"
"For one thing, the Islington-Wagga railway deal—"
"Maybe, old stuff. But the loss of a fat wad hurts—and hurts that Pitt-street crowd far more than a blow. Don't forget that. Then—"
For a moment the journalist hesitated; then came to a quick decision. "Look here, Pater," he said. "I don't know what you think, but I do know that you and Murmer had words about his absurd theory regarding Miss Poulton. He's off on his own—trying to break the alibi I put up for her. I'm willing to bet you told him he was mad—that I wouldn't be so confident unless I had the facts to stand in support of my alibi. I'm guessing that then Murmer went off on his own to get the evidence to prove he's right. Well, I'm sorry for him, he's due for a rough awakening."
"Unless Inspector Murmer proves his theory is right."
"You don't believe, that," Dizzy laughed. "Now, what line are you following? I know you're not trailing after Murmer and his theory. Are you on the trail of Arthur Skields?"
"The rule of the detective office is only to give newspaper men proved facts," announced Inspector Pater sententiously.
"When they're too damned stale to be of any use!" Dizzy grinned. "Can it! Now, if you'll talk sense I may be able to give you a lead."
"You know something of the Islington-Wagga railway affair. Well, Ernest Skields formed the Adlington Development Company, to rake off a field of gold from the lands the railway would pass through. He got quite a lot of moneyed men into it—and the damned thing crashed. Arthur Skields formed the Ashton Improvements Company—and made the pile his brother estimated to make. There's people who say that Ernest, as well as Arthur, held a wad in the Wabberi. If so, then the Skields Brothers made a killing, while the fool public were watching the dud company. I'll tell you more. Griffiths was well bitten in the affray. Ernest Skields let him in on the ground floor of the Adlington Company—and locked the door on him. In some manner Stanley Griffiths fund out that he was one of the lambs, when he thought to be one of the tigers. In consequence, one day there were high words at the Community Club. If you want it in strict Australian—there was—a hell of a row. Oh, you needn't look; I've got the straight goods. A man tried to interfere between them, and got knocked silly. He told me the tale. No; I didn't use it for the rag—wasn't worth a cent for publicity unless I could link it with other things, so I held it in reserve. Now, tell me. What interest had Arthur Skields in Stanley Griffiths' life?"
"Enough to shoot him?"
"Who can say?" Dizzy shrugged. "Just at present I'm theorising—and I've got as much right to theorise as your friend Murmer—that Stanley Griffiths found out how the joke had been worked. I'd have given a week's pay envelope to have been in the club and hear exactly what was said. Somehow, no one seems' to have heard the beginning of the dispute—before they got to hard names. Sure they heard enough t of those when the row got definitely under weigh. Griffiths told Skields he was a thief and a swindler—and that he'd have him in jail—Don't know how you look at things, John, but I opinion that jail would just about settle the Skields Brothers little games—"
Inspector Pater nodded thoughtfully.
"You've given something of a reason. But do you think it's a reason strong enough, for murder?"
"Depends on what Stan Griffiths had on the Skields Brothers, and he can't talk now."
"Mr. Laine?" One of the waitresses stood by the table. "You're wanted on the telephone, please."
"Me?" Dizzy looked up in surprise. "You're sure?"
"A gentleman phoned that he wanted to speak to Mr. Disraeli Laine. The manageress took the message and said she didn't know you. The gentleman described you and she told me to come and to see if you were him," The girl finished confusedly.
"I'd have given something to have overheard that description, Dizzy," Inspector Pater grinned. He looked at the waitress. "Did he say the best looking fellow in the shop? If so, you're on the wrong side of the table."
The girl laughed as she went up the shop to attend to a customer.
Dizzy rose to his feet.
"Damned strange," he muttered. "No one knows I'm here. I haven't been in this place before, to my remembrance. I wondered—"
"The 'phone will tell you," to Inspector Pater reminded him.
He watched the newspaper man stroll up the shop. As he came to the counter two men brushed past him, to take seats at the table behind John Pater. The Inspector hardly noticed them; he was watching Dizzy. A moment at the telephone and the newspaper man came back to the his table, his brows creased in thought. He sat down without speaking.
"Some damned idiot!" Dizzy spoke angrily. "Got me to the 'phone and there wasn't anyone there. What the—"
He lifted his coffee-cup to his lips and sipped, making a wry face. "Damned stuff's cold!" He beckoned to one of the waitresses. "Get me some more coffee, please, Miss White."
"Hold on!" Inspector Pater reached for the cup and saucer. For a moment he examined it inquisitively, then turned to the girl, "Get a fresh cup, please; I want this one."
The girl looked surprised and departed on her errand.
Dizzy stared at the Inspector.
"What's the joke?"
"You don't take sugar in coffee, Dizzy?"
The detective pointed to some white grains that sparkled on the saucer.
"Sugar?" The newspaper man stared inquisitively; yet his face paled slightly.
Inspector Pater placed the cup and saucer on the table.
"I don't think so. Don't touch it, man!"
"Why—?" A look of suspicion came on the journalist's ugly face. He glanced from the cup to the to Inspector.
"Now, don't accuse me." Inspector Pater grinned, as he interpreted the glance. He stared about the shop, doubt in his eyes.
"Of course, I may be wrong, but—"
"There's a crowd here. I was watching you go to the 'phone." Inspector Pater spoke as if meditating aloud. "I don't like it, Dizzy. I—" He stopped speaking abruptly as the girl returned with the fresh cup of coffee. When she made to take the half-empty cup, he placed an authoritative hand on it. "Leave that there, miss I want it."
When the girl retired, amazement showing on her face at the actions of her two customers, the detective turned to his companion. "Drink that coffee, Dizzy, I'm in a hurry."
Hardly allowing the newspaper man time to swallow the hot drink, Inspector Pater led to the door, carrying the cup and saucer carefully. A few words to the manageress, supported by the production of his official card, and he left the shop, followed by a much perplexed journalist.
A few doors from the coffee shop was a large chemist's shop. Pater entered, followed by Dizzy, and placed the cup and saucer on the counter. "What's in there, Mr. Sassoon?" he asked, nodding recognition of the man who came to attend to him.
"Those white crystals in the saucer, first."
"The chemist dipped, his finger in the crystals and touched the tip of his tongue. Then he lifted cup and sauce and carried them behind a screen. Almost immediately he returned.
"Not much doubt, Inspector," he stated. "Of course, I shall have to make a proper analysis before I can take oath on it, but if you're in a hurry, I'll guess—arsenic."
"But how—?" Dizzy Laine stared from the detective to the chemist. "How—?"
"You left your coffee and went to the telephone. I was watching you, turning from the table to do so. Recognise anyone in the shop, Dizzy?"
"Not a soul!" The newspaper man spoke sincerely.
"Those two men who entered the shop as you went to the telephone." Inspector Pater spoke meditatively. "Where did they sit? Did you notice, Dizzy?"
"Behind you, I think—Yes, behind you." The journalist appeared bewildered "But why should—I don't know them from—"
He hesitated and looked blankly at the Inspector. He did not know the men who had entered the shop as he went to the 'phone. But he had not known the man who had tossed the brick from the scaffolding but half an hour before. Twice within an hour. A sudden excitement lit his face as he turned to the detective again.
"Good Lord, man! We're on the right track! The Skields—or someone wants to get rid of me."
A PENCILLED note on Dizzy Laine's desk when he returned to the Post-Advertiser reporters' room that afternoon informed him that the coroner's inquest on Stanley Griffiths' death would take place at the Wonthaggi-Avenue house the next afternoon. This came from the chief sub-editor, who had received the information from the day roundsman. Knowing that Dizzy Laine had been assigned to the story, he had passed the information on.
The information puzzled Dizzy. After leaving Inspector Pater, who had taken the poisoned coffee-cup to headquarters, he had spent some time wandering about the streets, pondering over his two recent escapes from death. He had no reason to believe that the brick had fallen from the Castlereagh-street building by accident. Coupled with the incident of the coffee-cup, it was more than probable that it had been deliberately a thrown down on him.
The two attempts to obliterate him from things mundane showed that someone had learned that he had been assigned by his newspaper to investigate the death of the stockbroker, Stanley Griffiths. But who, of the people probably mixed up in the affair, could have known that? His thoughts went to the English detective. At their only meeting an antagonism had come between them. Dizzy put the thought from him with a shrug. Inspector Murmer was a fine man with a wonderful record at New Scotland Yard. He could have no interest in Stanley Griffiths' death, other than professional. The antagonism, and Dizzy had to acknowledge there was one, was due solely to differences of opinion regarding the identity of the murderer. Inspector Murmer was unwilling to admit the alibi the newspaper man had given for the girl. Dizzy believed that when the detective had made proper inquiries he would acknowledge that the girl was innocent.
But, in that case came the question: who had twice within an hour attempted to murder him? He tried to re-call the faces of the men who had pushed past him when he was on his way to the telephone. He was certain he did not know them. So far as he could remember, with the exception of Inspector Pater, there was no one in the shop he recognised. Yet, the place was well-filled, nearly all the tables having one or two occupants. Who had called him to the telephone? It was that telephone call that had given the would-be murderer his opportunity.
Inspector Pater had, naturally, been intrigued at the strange call. The detective had acknowledged that he had turned from the table to watch him go to the telephone. Then, someone, during those few minutes had reached across the table and dropped the arsenic in the coffee. But, who?
Dizzy shrugged the thoughts from him. Inspector Pater had taken up the matter. He had the poisoned cup and saucer, and would have a proper examination of the circumstances made. Possibly, in time, he would get the names of all the people in the shop. That was quite possible.
For himself, well, he had escaped unharmed. He believed in his luck. Yet the affair was strange. Why was he to be got rid of? Was it on account of the alibi he had established for the girl? No, not that! There were a dozen people who could give similar evidence to his. He turned his thoughts to the coming inquest. Here was further cause for speculation. Why had the usual procedure been abandoned in this case? It was not usual to hold inquests in private houses. In the natural course of events the inquest would be held in the Coroner's Court. Then, why the change? The only conclusion he could arrive at was that for some unknown or unpublished reason, the police officers in charge of the case required the inquest to be held on the spot. What reason could they have for that?
Dizzy felt disinclined for work. Quickly writing up the latest news regarding the Griffiths' murder—information he had managed to extract from the reluctant Inspector Pater—he threw the copy in the news-editor's basket, and left the building.
He had no engagements for that evening, and would have cheerfully broken them if he had. He wanted to think and the best place for concentrated thought was his silent rooms.
Like most journalists, Dizzy had formed the habit of having his correspondence addressed to his newspaper office so his rooms were bare. This evening, when he opened the outer door of his apartment he saw a bulky envelope lying on the mat. He tore it open carelessly—to stare at the contents in surprise. In his hand he held a number of bank notes, of small denominations, topped with a piece of writing paper cut to the size of a bank note. The whole was secured by a rubber band. On the writing paper was typed a single line:
"To provide for the expenses of Mr. Dizzy Laine's illness during the ensuing months."
There was no signature. Bewildered, the journalist examined the notes. They were a mixed lot—one-pound notes and five-pound notes well mixed together—and most of them well-handled. The total value was one hundred pounds.
"Looks as if I'm going to have a serious illness," Dizzy laughed as he, muttered the words. "Now, who's my generous friend?"
He picked up the envelope he had allowed to drop to the floor. There was no writing on it. The envelope was of cheap quality, foolscap in size. The package had been delivered by hand. The delivery would not be difficult. The building in which Dizzy had his abode was open to the public during the daylight hours. Anyone could walk into the building and climb the stairs, unnoticed. If anyone had observed a stranger in the building they would not have been inquisitive, believing him or her, to be a visitor to one of the many apartments.
There was no opportunity for the newspaper-man to return the notes to the sender, with his thanks and assurances that he would continue in perfect health. Idly Dizzy searched for, and found, the sufflator-set he had, in a moment of youthful enthusiasm engendered by his first murder case, purchased.
He dusted the powder on the envelope. A few fingerprints showed up. He shrugged. Most of them he believed to be his own. He made imprints on the polished table-top, and examined them. With only his naked eye it was impossible to discriminate between the imprints. He put the envelope carefully aside. On the morrow he would take it to the detective offices. Perhaps Ted Scott, the fingerprints expert, could give him some information regarding the envelope and the marks on it.
The next morning he took the envelope, carefully packed in a cardboard box, to police headquarters. After half-an-hour's study, the fingerprint expert picked out two marks that he declared differed from Dizzy's fingerprints. Ted Scott stated that the envelope had been carried by a woman who had worn gloves. The tip of the third-finger of the left hand glove had been darned. He told Dizzy that he was in luck. Had not the previous day been very warm the prints would not have shown at all.
"People have the opinion that gloves are safe," lectured the expert. "They're not. A good warm day, or plenty of emotion, in the nerves of the wearer, and a glove leaks perspiration. It mayn't show to the human eye, but there's moisture on the face of the gloves. Now, if you want to go further in this inquiry, I'd advise you to search for a strange woman in your building yesterday between two and three. The weather records show that the heat wave was at its height then."
Dizzy nodded his thanks. The clue was very slight. A woman in the building between two and three o'clock in the afternoon. Probably earlier or later, for the afternoon had been very hot. He determined to make a few cautious inquiries yet might there not have been half-a-dozen strange women in the building on perfectly legitimate business?
A brief lunch at his favourite restaurant, and the newspaper man made his way to Edgecliff, for the inquest. The inquiry was to take place in the dead man's study. When he arrived he found the coroner, Mr. Alexander March, seated behind the big desk. A few journalists occupied a side table. Two or three people Dizzy could not place occupied seats against the far wall. The rest of the room was devoted to police officers and the court officials.
Dizzy found a seat in a distant corner, from where he could see the faces of the witnesses while they were under examination. He nodded to Inspectors Pater and Murmer, and to several of the police and court officers with whom he was acquainted, then leaned back in his chair, content to watch proceedings.
A sudden rapping on the desk brought the room to attention. Inspector Murmer, after a few words with John Pater, went to the desk and sat down heavily in the witness chair.
Very carefully and exactly, the English detective described how his attention had been drawn to the house. He told how he had entered and had found the girl in the upstairs room. His face or tones never varied in expression when he told how the girl had lured him to the empty room and locked him in, although a titter of laughter ran round the room.
"You would recognise the girl again, Inspector?" asked Coroner March.
"Have you any clue to her identity?"
"I have certain information, sir." Inspector Murmer spoke slowly. "I do not think it is in the interests of justice to mention what are only at present suspicions."
"Suspicions?" The coroner looked up sharply.
"Yes, sir. Suspicions only." Inspector Murmer stared bleakly across the desk. Dizzy flushed. Inspector Murmer had not yet succeeded in destroying the alibi he had set up.
Without change of inflection, the Englishman went on to recount how he had freed himself from the locked bedroom and found the corpse under the couch. At the conclusion of his evidence Coroner March dismissed him without examination. Dr. Angus was the next witness. He described the dead man's wounds and estimated that he had been dead about an hour when he saw him. Of the doctor the coroner asked only one question. "In your belief, either of the wounds-the dagger-wound, or the bullet-wound-would have caused death?"
"The man was killed by a bullet piercing his heart." Dr. Angus spoke emphatically. Dizzy waited impatiently for the next, question, but the coroner merely nodded dismissal of the witness The third witness was a cousin of the deceased, Austin Griffiths, by name. His evidence was only of identification. A short, thin, nervous-looking man, with greying hair and sunken eyes. He stated that Stanley Griffiths was without financial troubles. He had really very little knowledge of his cousin. They had not met during the past two years, due to a family dispute. He was the deceased man's nearest relative. He did not know the contents of the dead man's will, if there was one.
Much to Dizzy's surprise, Alice Warren, the maid from the next door house was the next witness to take the chair. In the main her evidence extracted by questions from the police sergeant assisting the coroner, was unimportant. She told a little of the life of the Griffiths' household, from the viewpoint of a next-door neighbour. She was nervous and flurried. When the police sergeant sat down she gave an audible sigh of relief.
"Miss Warren." Coroner March looked up from the notes he had been writing. "You have stated that Mrs. Gordon, the housekeeper to the late Mr. Stanley Griffiths, and Miss Nellie Blythe, employed by the deceased as general maid, are well known to you. Am I to take it that you were in the habit of visiting them here?"
"No!" The girl spoke almost under her breath.
"You did not visit them here?"
"How often have you been in this house?"
"Only once before today—when a constable asked me to come here when the detectives wanted to speak to me—the day that—that—"
"The day that Mr. Stanley Griffiths was found dead," supplemented the Coroner.
"You knew Mr. Stanley Griffiths?"
"I had spoken to him."
"Once or twice." The girl's reply was almost inaudible.
"You were on friendly terms with him?"
"What time did Mrs. Gordon and Miss Blythe come to work in the mornings?"
"About six." The Coroner had to repeat the question before the answer could be heard. "How many maids are there in, the house where you are employed?"
"Miss Amy James."
"What time does she get up in the mornings?"
"The same time as I do—or perhaps a little later—She's a heavy sleeper."
"A bit later? I am going to suggest to you that she never rises before seven o'clock."
Alice Warren did not answer.
"I am informed that you invariably get up early in the morning—sometimes as early as five o'clock."
"I—I—can't sleep well—I—I—wake early and—I won't be questioned like this—I won't—I won't—" The girl's voice rose in rapid crescendo to almost a shriek. She jumped to her feet and faced the door—to look into the sleepy eyes of Inspector Murmer, barring her path.
"Sit down, Miss Warren." The Coroner spoke quietly.
"Sit down." Coroner March's voice was low and firm.
"I—" With a convulsive sob the girl collapsed into the chair.
"Miss Warren?" The Coroner's voice became lower and graver. "I am sorry to suggest that you have not told the truth. I am going to give you the opportunity to correct your evidence—"
"What the hell!" A burly young man sprang to his feet from a chair against the wall. "I don't know what you've got against Alice, but I'm not going to sit here and see her bullied like that! If you think—"
"Who are you?" The Coroner looked up quickly.
"My name's Charlie Browne. I'm going to marry Alice and I'm not going to have her told she's a liar, and that sort of thing. I don't know much about law, but I do know you've got no business to speak to her like that."
Inspector Pater went across the room and spoke a few words to the young man, in an undertone. With an angry rumbling in his throat, Charlie Browne subsided into his chair.
"Now, Miss Warren." Coroner March's voice was cold and grave. "I am going to ask you again: Were you often at this house? Shall I suggest that you frequently visited here before Mrs. Gordon and her helper arrived—between the hours of five and seven in the morning?"
The girl stared blankly before her. She grasped the edge of the desk, and strove to lift herself to her feet. Then her muscles suddenly relaxed and she fell, a crumpled heap, to the floor.
DIZZY LAINE watched the scene in the Coroner's court with quickening pulse. Here was sensation—but sensation cleverly covered and subdued by the authorities. He was beginning to understand much that up to that time had been a mystery. He believed that with this girl, Alice Warren, lay the clue to the mystery. But the police were on the same trail.
Once, while the girl was in the witness chair, he had glanced at Inspector Murmer. The Englishman was staring before him—at the back of the girl's head. The bland, baby-like stare of the innocent-looking blue eyes had disappeared. Now those eyes were hard and keen—the typical eyes of the man-hunter.
For a moment, Dizzy forgot everything but those relentless eyes. He gasped in astonishment. The man was clever. He had reversed the usual practice. Men can assume a mask for a time, for a definite purpose. Murmer carried his mask into his everyday life. Only at odd moments, when the hunt was up and keen, did he allow it to slip from him.
Alice Warren used to rise early in the morning, long before her fellow-servant was astir, and secretly visit Stanley Griffiths in his home! For what purpose. He shrugged away the natural idea that sprang to his mind through his knowledge of the man's character.
Alice Warren was not the secret mistress of the man. Of that he was certain. Then, for what reason did she visit the house secretly, at those early hours? Again his eyes sought the eyes of the bulky detective. Murmer was staring thoughtfully at the little group about the unconscious girl. The old, innocent mask had slipped down again before those blue eyes. He appeared bored with his surroundings.
From the detective, Dizzy glanced at the man seated against the wall of the room, staring at the group about the girl with angry eyes and flushed face. Charlie Brown was putting the common reason—the reason that would be almost universal—on the girl's actions. That was to be expected. The girl would suffer the loss of her lover, as well as of her reputation, by the admission wrung from her that afternoon. A look of pity came in the journalist's eyes. He believed—no, he knew—that the girl was innocent of sex wrong. But then, for what reason had she made those secret visits?
Someone lifted the girl to her feet, and the little group about the couch split to allow the girl to pass to the door with her escort. Now Dizzy saw that the girl was supported by Mrs. Gordon, Stanley Griffiths' former housekeeper. As the two women passed to the door they came close to where Charlie Browne sat by the wall. He swung suddenly sideways, so that even their dresses should not sweep his knees. He kept his eyes downcast. Alice Warren held back, as if to speak to the man, but Mrs. Gordon urged her forward. At the door, the girl paused again, glancing back. The man would not meet her eyes, and she burst into loud sobs.
Still Dizzy waited. He was watching Charlie Browne. The man was now staring straight before him—at the Coroner and the little group of officials about the desk. The newspaper-man wondered what he was waiting for: he believed that a conversation with the young man would prove interesting.
Suddenly Inspector Pater turned from the group about the desk and beckoned Charlie Browne to him. The young man rose sullenly, thrust his hands deep in his trousers pockets, and lounged over to the desk. Dizzy followed, unobtrusively. Coroner March, Inspector Pater and Charlie Browne were talking in low tones. Lounging carelessly, Dizzy drew nearer the group. He was almost within hearing when a bulky form interposed between him and the men.
"So Mr. Dizzy Laine does work—occasionally?" The old note of scarcely suppressed hostility that the newspaper-man had noticed in Castlereagh-street the previous afternoon, still remained in the smooth voice.
"Have to do something for a crust, Inspector." Dizzy's face broadened to a wide grin. "All the cushy jobs have been snapped up."
The Englishman spoke thoughtfully. "Oh, another of your strange Australian expressions."
"Slang, I believe you term them in London—the home town." The newspaper-man accepted the subtle challenge. "You know, we, of Australia, have really no native slang. What we use is mainly imported."
"Sure." Dizzy's grin broadened. "I read in an American magazine the other day a glossary of Australian slang. Nearly every word in the list came from the Barbary Coast or England. And what we haven't borrowed from overseas was—"
"Was invented by a Mr.—er—Dennis?"
"Adapted, inspector." The newspaper man corrected. "We haven't a Whitechapel—or even the beginnings of an east end—"
"I've noticed that." A quick smile came on the full, red lips. "Australians lack quite a lot of things."
"Except a sense of humour, Inspector. Regarding other things, dear old home-town London does its best to import more than we can possibly need. They're awfully good to us. Charitably they take our wool and our wheat—at the prices they consider suitable for us. They manufacture from our primary products and sell back to us, at prices they think we should pay. Why, they even export to us titled advisers who, in the 'best interests of a country so young' as Australia, tell us that so long as we are content to be primary producers they, the benevolent Englishmen will do the rest—at a price. They even export to us their crooks, and their detectives to catch them."
"You don't like the English, young man?"
"Sure I do!" Dizzy's voice suddenly became serious. "The English are a great folk, but—you surely don't call the hotchpotch of Eastern-European nationals settled on the banks of the Thames English—That crowd of emigrants who flow in through the port of London, to sweat and starve in the slums of Limehouse and—"
"They become good Englishmen," Murmer challenged.
"Not on your life! They're the curse of England and the English. They flood the labour markets and lower the price of labour; they keep good Englishmen out of employment. They're not English, although they learn to accumulate money through starving bodies. English! Say, we had a Prime Minister once who tried to persuade us that a Chinaman born in Australia was a good Australian. As a nation we weren't old enough to absorb so subtle a fact. Why, even a poor devil of a journalist beat him to it."
The newspaper-man paused.
"Ever heard the tale, Inspector?" The stout man shook his head. "Here it is, then." Dizzy lounged sideways, trying to catch the purports of the conference about the desk. "In his newspaper the journalist told a little story, thus: one day a very fine Persian cat walked into his rooms. It was a valuable and affectionate cat and apparently without an owner, so he let it remain. In the course of time, Nature called, and our journalist friend provided a well-padded box for the maternity case. One morning he woke up to the fact that his family had been increased by six—" Dizzy paused, looking down innocently into the Englishman's face. "Say, Inspector, what the devil was he to call them? Of course, ordinarily, the offspring of a Persian cat would be called 'kittens'—but by the negligence of our journalist friend they had been born in a kippered herring box so of course, they had become—kippered herrings! Eh?"
"Then you consider the child of a German couple born on English soil must still be German?" chuckled Murmer, his voice more friendly.
"Sure. If that child isn't German—then our friend's kittens are kippered herrings. Can't get over that, can you?"
With a short nod the journalist turned and lounged to the door. Signs had tokened to his quick eyes that the conference about the desk was breaking up. On the side-walk he turned to survey the face of the house. A moment, and he knew that he had guessed right.
Charlie Browne came out of the front door and stood on the porch-step, and Dizzy swore under his breath. Inspector Pater followed him, showing signs that he intended to accompany the motor mechanic from the house. Dizzy was wondering how he could dispose of the Inspector and secure a few words with the young man; when someone called the Inspector, from the interior of the house. Inspector Pater turned back, and Charlie Browne came down to the gate.
He passed Dizzy without a glance and went down the road. At the next-door gate he paused, and turned. As his hand found the latch, Dizzy clapped his hand on his shoulder.
"I wouldn't, Digger!"
"What—Who the hell are you?" Charlie Browne swung round quickly. "Just Dizzy Laine, journalist. If you take a mate's advice, you'll keep away from that house for a day or two."
"Go to hell!"
"If you go through that gate you'll be there, awaiting me." Dizzy managed to get between the young man and the gate. "Now, look here! Keep your hair on. You're not playing the police game, are you?"
Charlie Browne hesitated. He stared intently at the newspaper man.
"Say, what do you know?"
"Perhaps I'll tell you, when you're open to reason." Dizzy's grin was disarming.
"Look here; all that went on at that inquiry wasn't okay; get me? You can't trust all you hear and see, in those kind of places. There's quite a number of concealed strings being pulled—and you re not the sort of fellow to dance to any police-tune. I'm used to them and can pick out the meat from the nut; you can't. Ever heard of 'things ain't what they seem?' Well, the fellow who wrote that knew something. One never knows, y'know."
"You're Dizzy Laine." The motor mechanic pondered. "Seems I've heard of you."
"Well known to the police!" Dizzy murmured pathetically.
Charlie Browne laughed. "What's the game?" he asked.
"Just walking," answered Dizzy simply. He was keeping a wary eye on the door of the house next door. He wanted a talk with this man, Charlie Browne, but there, was another man, still in Stanley Griffiths' house more important, at that moment. His present difficulty lay in that he did not want to arouse Inspector Murmer's suspicions, and have him warn either of the men not to talk to him.
"Why walking?" asked Charlie Browne.
"Just a little stroll—on your own, Digger." The newspaper man was persuasive. "Stroll on, mate, and don't worry about the little girl in there. I'm guessing at present. I don't mind telling you that. Look here, if you happen to be at the end of this road this evening I may have something interesting tell you. I can't promise, but it looks like it. That a bet?"
Dizzy won. A big, somewhat grimy hand shot out and met his in a hard grip.
"It's a bet, son." Charlie Browne's face broke into smiles. "But—her—knowing friend Griffiths was a bit of a shock, wasn't it?"
Dizzy smiled sympathetically. "Well, take what I told you about 'things ain't what they seem' for a bit of a walk—and chew it over. Now, shoot! Here's my man. S'long!"
With a final grip of hands the men parted. Browne strolled down the road, his shoulders more square, his bearing more erect.
"Boy Scout Dizzy's good deed for the day!" The newspaper man muttered, almost ruefully. "Well, here's hoping I can keep it up—" He sauntered back to the Griffiths' gate, to almost collide with a solidly-built man coming out.
"Constable Jack Preston, I presume?" Dizzy tilted his hat in his best Stanley manner. "Though I saw you at the inquiry."
"Why—Mr. Dizzy Laine, of the Post-Advertiser. Constable Preston held out a large sized hand. He was ambitious, and knew the power of the Press on a police-officer's advancement. He had only met Dizzy once, and at that time only to answer a couple of questions, amplifying evidence he had just given in a minor court.
"Confession for the second time within an hour—well-known to the police!" Dizzy grinned. "Interested in the Griffiths' murder, constable?"
"I found him." Preston swelled out his broad chest importantly. "Well—not to say exactly, I found him—but I was with Inspector Murmer, almost, when he found him."
"Bit of luck—that!" Dizzy stared at the imposing form of the patrolman, allowing admiration to shine in his eyes. "They didn't call you in evidence?"
"Inspector Murmer thought—" commenced the constable, slightly defeated.
"Giving too much away to the public, eh? Besides, might lessen the importance of his own evidence. I get you!"
The admiration had extended from Dizzy's eyes to his tones. "Suppose you'll have quite an earful for the judge, when you catch him?"
"Her," corrected Preston.
"Her?" Dizzy's heart beat angrily. With an effort he kept all signs of resentment from his voice. "Oh, the girl next door. Nice looking bit, too. Didn't look to me like a murderess, though."
"No, that ain't her." Preston frowned majestically. "Another girl. We'll catch her. What with me and Inspector Murmer and what we knows—"
"Ah!" Dizzy's ejaculation was fervent. "Lucky you were about."
"I was on the beat."
They were now almost out of be sight of the house. Dizzy breathed more freely. If he could steer this gump round the next corner he would have him safe from interruptions.
"This beat?" Dizzy expressed remarked surprise. "Rather a slow beat for a man like you, eh?"
"Just temp'rary, Mr. Laine; just temp'rary." Preston was beginning to believe in himself. "We, of the police, have to take in all h'aspects of the service."
"Sure!" Dizzy played up. "Suppose things do happen, even on a lonely beat like this, at nights?"
"Never nothing much." The constable spoke gloomily. "Now, that murder—"
"I suppose nothing else happened that night," suggested the newspaper man. "Can't expect more than one thing at a time."
"Only a couple of drunks," replied Preston. "As it 'appens, I found 'em also in Wonthaggi-Avenue, an' 'ad to give 'em a word to shut up. Told 'em to move on and make less noise, or I'd run 'em in—Just a word of warning like—Can't 'ave folk disturbed when they've gone to bed."
"Of course. Drunks, like the poor, we have with us always. They're a nuisance on the beat, aren't they? Can't hold their liquor. By Jove, is that an hotel? Wonderful! Now, a man like you, constable—"
Very cleverly Dizzy urged his prey into the empty bar-parlour and set an enticing, foaming pewter-pot before him. Constable Preston loosened his belt and took a deep draught.
"Here's luck, sir."
"You've got it." The admiration in Dizzy's voice tickled the constable gently. "This case'll make you—"
"Hope so, sir. Well—I could do with another. Thank you, sir."
"Same to you, sir—many of 'em!"
"Let me see," Dizzy mused. "What time was it you said you met those drunks?"
Constable Preston thought for a moment.
"Funny that," he observed thoughtfully. "You've just reminded me, Mr. Laine. Just as it 'appens I met 'em as I was turning into Wonthaggi-Avenue. I stood a moment watching 'em as they went up th' road an' turned outer sight."
"Then you went down Wonthaggi-Avenue, and met Inspector Murmer," suggested Dizzy.
"As you says, sir." Constable Preston buried his nose in a new brimming pot. Dizzy noticed that his eyes were glazing and his speech thickened. "As you says, sir. Yes, it's a thirsty day. Thank you, sir, I will 'ave another. Yes, I watched those drunks outer th' street and then went down an' met Inspector Murmer—"
"Ah!" breathed Dizzy Laine, crime investigator for the Post-Advertiser.
"AH!" Dizzy Laine repeated.
Constable Preston sat at the table in the bar-parlour, staring vacantly at the newspaper-man pacing the small room deep in thought. His eyes wandered to the table—to the fine pot of nut-brown ale slowly losing its beautiful head of foam. It was Dizzy's drink, and the thought crossed the constable's mind that the newspaper-man had not too fine an appreciation of the good things of this life. In a few seconds the fire and sparkle of the beer would be lost. The patrolman sighed. His eyes wandered to the empty pot before him. Through the fine film at the bottom the pewter sparkled. Again he sighed and looked towards the journalist. Almost, without thought his hands changed the relative positions of the two pewters. With another sigh—of relief and enjoyment—the constable buried his nose in a new drink.
"Ah!" said Dizzy, for the third time. He glanced at his companion and turned to the bar.
"Have another, Preston?"
The constable sighed. "'Oped you'd shay that shur." The brisk speech had become slurred. "A—a 'ot day—shurtingerly—"
"So two men were in Wonthaggi Avenue a few minutes before you met Inspector Murmer?" suggested the journalist.
"S'chorse! I—I shaw 'em—tol' 'em t' get—get me? Or I'd runnem in—"
"Two men?" Dizzy stared thoughtfully at the constable. "And they were coming from the direction of Mr. Griffiths' house?"
"Shurtingerly—I's tol' em—"
"You didn't recognise them?"
"What a pity! If you had stopped them—if you knew them, you might be wearing Sergeant's stripes tomorrow," suggested Dizzy.
"For run-n-ning in two drunks?" Constable Preston cocked a much weathered eye.
"For beating Inspector Murmer to the murderer of Stanley Griffiths," corrected the newspaper-man, slowly and distinctly.
"Shen I—ic—runnem in," The constable announced gravely.
He swallowed the remaining contents of Dizzy's third pot of beer and rose, majestically, to his feet. He turned to face the door. "I—runnem in."
"You don't know them." jeered Dizzy.
"Sheen 'em befur—Livsh round 'ere shumwher'."
Dizzy pondered. He had urged the constable to drink, believing that the liquor would unloosen his tongue. Now he was afraid he had overdone matters the man was too drunk to think and speak intelligently.
"So they live round this way," he said, after a long pause. "Shouldn't be difficult to find them, then?"
"Shurtingenly nosh." Constable Preston stood in the doorway, staring into the street, wavering with drunken gravity. "Sh'lon—Diz-zy—"
"Where are you going?" The newspaper-man caught hold of the constable's arm.
"Shurrest 'em 'scourse—"
"They'll be sober now;" warned Dizzy. "You'll fall in, if you don't look out."
"Don' share—" The constable lurched forward. "Shurres 'em asshultin' Shinpector Murmers—"
"Oh, go to hell!" Dizzy was exasperated. His plans had badly miscarried.
He had thought the man to be more drink proof, and had too quickly made him drunk to talk intelligently. He cursed himself for a fool. What was he to do now? He could not let the man go out on the streets in that condition. He was in uniform, and aggressive. He would get himself locked up, and dismissed from the force in disgrace.
"You've got to have evidence, constable, before you can act." The newspaper-man tried persuasion. "You've—"
"Where's your report?" Dizzy jumped at the bright idea that had flashed through his mind. "What's the use of making an arrest before you have put in your report? Why, your sergeant will kick up hell if you go against the regulations that way—"
"That's just what you haven't got. You've got to write out that report first." Dizzy laboured the question. "Get matters straight, man. You know it's an intricate case and you have to have it all clear and written down on paper. Of course you understand it, but they won't at the station-house. You've got to write out all your evidence clearly before you arrest those men, and charge them."
"In schorse! Writter reporsh—Cummon!"
Drunkenly, he seized Dizzy's arm and dragged him towards a door on the opposite side of the room. With a shrug, the newspaper-man relaxed. The door opened to show a small parlour, furnished with a few chairs, an old-fashioned sofa and a centre table. On the walls were lithographs and glass advertisements extolling the virtues of various drinks. Dragging a chair to the table the constable slumped into it and looked at the gaudy covering; puzzled.
"Wanna paper—Wanna pensh—Wanna shink—"
In answer to Dizzy's call, the barmaid came to the room, a frown on her face. The newspaper-man interposed quickly.
"Leave him alone, miss. Can I have a writing-pad, and pen and ink?" He lowered his voice and nodded his head towards the constable. "He thinks he has to write a report. That'll quiet him, and then we can get him home. We don't want to get his coat taken from him, do we?"
The girl smiled. Dizzy's cheerful good-humour always reacted pleasantly on the female of the species. She nodded, and left the room; to return in a few minutes with the writing materials.
"You'll look after him, won't you," she said to Dizzy; then frowned at the constable. "I'm ashamed of you, Preston. Getting drunk and behaving like this!"
The man was too much engrossed with the writing pad to take any notice of the girl's remark. He was mumbling to himself, squaring his elbows to the task of writing, and frowning thoughtfully.
Dizzy stared, wonder dawning in his mind. A few minutes before the constable had been too drunk to write. Now, while still drunk, he was going about the job in workmanlike fashion. What had happened to the man? Dizzy tip-toed across the room and peered over the man's shoulder. Across the top of the page, in big, school-boyish letters was the word: "Report."
But the man's head was nodding, bending slowly towards the table. The momentarily flickering hope that had dawned in the newspaperman's mind faded. Had the man been about to write some report? On what subject?
The man's head dipped lower. Now his nose was almost on the paper, yet his fingers held the pen firmly. He made a motion forward with his right hand, as if dipping pen in ink-well.
Perplexedly, Dizzy paced the room, occasionally glancing at the somnolent man. But, he was not sleeping. No drunken man, in that position, could sleep without snoring—and Constable Preston was entirely quiet.
"Damn you!" In sudden frenzy of anger Dizzy turned on the man. "Write, damn you, write."
For the moment the nodding head came up with a jerk; then fell again to the paper.
Write. Write! The word buzzed through Dizzy's brain. Could the man write—and write sense? If he could write, what would he record on the paper?
He had wanted to write a report; a report on the two men he had seen turning out of Wonthaggi-Avenue a few minutes before he had walked down the road, to pass Stanley Griffiths' house and meet Inspector Murmer. What of those two men?
Constable Preston had said that he knew the men; that they lived in the neighbourhood. What did he know of them? In his drunken speech he had boasted that he could arrest them. What would they know? What had they seen when they had come up Wonthaggi-Avenue, at the very moment some person had fired a bullet into Stanley Griffiths' back? Again he turned, in an agony of impatience, to the man at the table.
"For God's sake, write. Write! Write! Damn you, write!"
Constable Preston raised his head, staring at Dizzy vacantly. He lifted his hand and dabbed forward towards the ink-well.
"Gotta wrish reporsh! Arresh sho mensh. Drunsh an' dish'orly. Asshalt-t-erin' Inshpector Murmush—Murdersh Griff—f-f—"
"God, if that could be true! Impatiently the newspaper-man bent over the constable.
"Preston! Jack Preston! Write! Write! You have to put in your report and have those two men arrested. Write, man; write!"
The constable's head raised with a jerk. Slowly and with difficulty the big shoulders balanced. The neck stiffened and, waveringly, the man's hand moved forward, dipping the pen heavily in the ink-well.
"God! If he would only write—sense!"
The constable's hand wavered, then came to the paper. The pen lowered and a word formed on the whiteness. Dizzy stepped back from the table, staring at the man. He was writing—but would those words form sense? He hardly dared look.
Almost on tip-toe he crossed the room and dropped into one of the broken-springed easy chairs, staring all the while at the constable. What had happened to the man? He was writing; slowly at first and then more fluently. Even at the distance the newspaperman could see that letters were forming slowly and regularly. Yet Constable Preston was not looking down at the pad over which his hand was passing. He was staring straight before him at some point on the floor, on the opposite side of the table. His face never moved; his eyes were fixed, unseeing. The man was unconscious. No, not quite that. For the moment his sub-conscious mind dominated his conscious mind, dulled by the fumes of the beer. He was writing—writing—
Something was growing in Dizzy's mind. He remembered reading of a man who rose from his bed in sleep and set down on paper the secret thoughts of his mind-matters that he had no knowledge of during his waking hours. He had read of men who had accomplished incredible things while asleep. But could a drunken man perform anything of value? There he had to doubt! Now Constable Preston was writing quickly. Dizzy leaned back in his chair and watched. Would those words be of value to help to elucidate the mystery surrounding Stanley Griffiths' death? Constable Preston had been in the avenue at the time the shot was fired. He had seen two men coming from the direction of the house. Had either, or both, of these men anything to do with the murder?
The rip of a sheet torn from a pad brought him alert for the moment. He sat back in the chair again when he saw that the constable had started to write a second sheet. There was time to read when the man finished. Then he would know if some mysterious power, guiding humans but beyond their knowledge, had intervened to place him on the trail of the man who had shot Stanley Griffiths.
Body inflexible, head set square on the shoulders, eyes staring across the table into vacancy, Constable Preston continued to write. Dizzy held himself in check. He must wait, wait, he told himself. One unguarded movement and he might break the spell on the man at the table and the secret he longed for—the secret he could not even guess at—would be lost.
Sheet after sheet, scrawled over in the loose boyish handwriting was torn from the pad and placed aside. At length, the man's body stiffened. The hand widened its curves in a large-sized flourish. For a moment the stiffly poised body remained upright, then slumped. Again the loosely held head lolled forward on the table until the forehead and nose blurred on the still wet ink.
Moving cautiously, Dizzy went to the table and picked up the sheets of paper. He sorted them into order; then lifted, the man bodily back and drew from under him the writing-pad. Tearing off the last page of writing he placed it with the other sheets of paper and returned to his arm-chair. His breath caught in a sharp gasp as he read the first words under the official heading:
"Report of Constable John Preston, No. 4973P, attached to Edgecliff Division, New South Wales Police."
The words were terse and made sense. The style of expression was untutored, but the descriptions were vivid and minute. The report started with the beginning of Constable Preston's patrol that night. Rapidly Dizzy skimmed the first sheets, gathering in the sense of the report without too careful reading of the words. He was not interested in the minutiae of the routine. He wanted to get to the point where the constable was approaching Wonthaggi Avenue, from Pantheon-street. Ah!—
There had been a noisy party at a house in Pantheon-street. Constable Preston had halted against the railings, listening. He had thought to go to the door and warn the occupier that his guests were making too much noise. He had looked at his watch and reconsidered. It was barely midnight. He had decided that if they were still noisy when he came that way again, he would have a word to say to them. Then a taxi had come up Wonthaggi-avenue, from Edgecliff road, to a house almost at the corner of Pantheon-street. A man and a girl had alighted. The taxi had waited, the engine running, while the couple took a long farewell in the shadows of the doorway. Preston had seen the man return to the taxi and drive away.
It was after the taxi had driven off that Constable Preston had heard singing in Wonthaggi-avenue. The constable had been puzzled for the men were close to the head of the avenue. He should have heard them first far in the distance. Constable Preston had quickened his pace. The men were on the opposite side of the avenue. There were two of them, and they appeared to be very drunk. They were in evening clothes, with white mufflers and black overcoats. Preston had crossed the road and warned them to make less noise. One of them had drawn himself up in military mock salute. Both of them were of good class and had evidently been enjoying a night out. A half-note had passed from fumbling fingers to a broad, firm palm. Then Constable Preston had passed on, down Wonthaggi-avenue.
Dizzy let the report fall to his knees and lay back considering it. Two points stood out in the lengthy report. First, Preston had not heard a sound, except the throbbing of the taxi in Pantheon street, until the burst of song just round the corner in Wonthaggi-avenue. The second point—one most interesting to the newspaper man—was that this was the first mention of any persons, other than Constable Preston and Inspector Murmer in Wonthaggi-avenue. Had not Inspector Murmer heard the singing men? If so why had he not mentioned it to Inspector Pater, or in evidence at the coroner's inquest?
The next paragraphs of the report related to the meeting of Inspector Murmer and Constable Preston. The record was almost exactly word for word the account Inspector Pater had given him of Saul Murmer's movements. Then Inspector Murmer had not been in Wonthaggi-avenue until he walked up it from Edgecliff-road and found the Griffiths' house door open.
Constable Preston's report definitely stated that the avenue had been empty when he left the drunks and walked down it. He had seen Inspector Murmer turn into the avenue and walk up to meet him. Again Dizzy let the report drop to his knees, and lay back lost in thought. If only Preston had taken a description of the two men. Who were they? So far, he had only Constable Preston's statement that one of them appeared familiar. They had been in Wonthaggi-avenue at the time Griffiths was shot by a revolver not carrying a silencer. They must have heard the shot, unless—
The constable's report was of extreme value. It showed that two men had been in Wonthaggi-avenue at the time of the murder. Constable Preston had been around the corner, in Pantheon-street. The men the constable had met had come up the avenue in silence until almost at the junction of the two streets. Then they had burst into loud song. Why? Had they heard the engine of the waiting taxi-car and then assumed an appearance of drunkenness? In that case, those men had something to conceal. Again, in his report Preston stated that he had been examining the doors and windows of the darkened houses by the light of his torch. Had the torch-light reflected from some window around the junction of the streets, warning the men that a police-officer was close at hand?
Take the suppositions which way he would, Dizzy came a to the conclusion that the men were not drunk; that they had assumed the appearance of drunks to deceive anyone who saw them in the avenue.
Dizzy lifted the sheets of the report, and read on. He might as well go to the end. There might be something of value yet to be discovered. Meticulously the writings recorded Preston turning and looking back immediately he had passed, recognising Inspector Murmer. Then followed detailed records of movements on the patrol. He had arrived at his point and was standing in the shadows awaiting his sergeant when the taxi-driver came up and took him back to Wonthaggi-avenue.
Much of the later parts of the report had been recorded in the newspapers, and spoken at the inquest that day. The proceedings in the Griffiths house had been recorded, as Constable Preston had witnessed them.
Dizzy came to the end of a page, and found only one sheet remaining. It was filled with writings. A slight curiosity came over the journalist as he lifted it. Logically, the report ended on the previous page. What further had the constable to record? His heart thumped with excitement as he read the first words on the last sheet. Constable Preston's sub-conscious mind had turned back to the two men he had met at the head of Wonthaggi-avenue. The men's individualities had impressed on the constable's sub-conscious mind. Perhaps it had stirred to the surface at Dizzy's keen questioning; perhaps the reflex of the desire, while drunk, to find and arrest him.
On that last page Constable Preston had set down, with meticulous care, detailed descriptions of both men. Peculiarly distinctive was the description of the man who had made the mock military salute. Thrice Dizzy read the descriptions. He knew the man who had saluted. He knew his companion. The details were too numerous for him to be mistaken. Every detail of the man, his dress and appearance, even the inflections of his voice stood out from the page.
"Sub-conscious memory! God!" Dizzy stared at the man lolling across the table, in amazement.
"God!" he whispered again. "If you're right, man—if you're right—drunk or sober, you'll wear those sergeant's stripes!"
Almost dazed with the wave of emotion that swept him, Dizzy went to the door and called the barmaid. When she entered, she glanced at the man at the table, and her lips curved disdainfully.
"Drunken brute! So he's gone to sleep?"
"Know him?" asked Dizzy, suppressing his voice to casualness.
"Constable Preston, of course," the girl laughed. "'Tisn't often he gets on the drink trail."
"Got a barman here, miss?"
"George will be just great," Dizzy stated. "May I have the loan of him?"
"I think Constable Preston will be more comfortable on the couch."
"You don't want George for that." The girl went to the constable's side. "Come on! You and I can manage him." Dizzy was too wise to raise objections. Between them they half-dragged the sleeping man to the couch and made him comfortable. The man grumbled an unintelligible remonstrance at being disturbed, then relapsed into snoring slumber.
"In about a couple of hours, sister, and he'll wake up," said Dizzy, looking down on the constable. He took some silver from his pocket. "When he wakes, I'll be glad if you'll get George to help him into a taxi and send him home. He'll have time for a good sleep before he's due for duty again."
"Sure thing!" The girl looked curiously at Dizzy. "Say, who are you—and what's he to you?"
"I'm a newspaper man," the Post-Advertiser crime expert smiled shortly. "As for him; well, I asked him to have a drink, not knowing that he couldn't carry his liquor. So—" he smiled disarmingly down at the girl, "—so you see, it's up to me to save him his jacket."
The girl nodded understandingly. "You're a good sort!" She picked up the money from the table. "I'll look after him. As you say, we've got to save his jacket."
Collecting the sheets of paper inscribed with the sub-conscious report of Constable Preston, Dizzy thrust them in his pocket. In the street he walked some distance, deep in thought. Then he stopped and thrust his hand in his pocket, pulling out the report. Again he read the last sheet in which was written the descriptions of the two drunken men. Drunken men! He came to the last line above the sprawled signature, and whistled softly.
He knew one of those "drunks." He believed he would recognise the other. That man had two small moles and a scar on his face—marks that made him distinctive. The man he knew was Ernest Skields. There could be no doubt. Ernest Skields had been in Wonthaggi-avenue at the time Stanley Griffiths was shot. And Arthur Skields, one of the suspects of the crime, had given Ernest Skields, his brother, as witness to his alibi. He had said that he, Ernest Skields, and a friend, had played poker until three o'clock in the morning. Who had been the man with Ernest Skields, in Wonthaggi-avenue?
Dizzy was certain that this second man was the third man of the supposed poker-party. What was his name? The journalist thought for a moment. Ah, Martin—George Martin! Arthur Skields had given an alibi that depended on his brother and Martin for its support.
But Ernest Skields and Martin had be been in Wonthaggi-avenue at the time Stanley Griffiths was murdered. Had Arthur Skields been there also? That was possible. But Arthur Skields, had not fired the bullet into Stanley Griffiths' back. Inspector Murmer had taken his finger-prints, and on that evidence had ruled him out of the case. Had he?
Was not Arthur Skields still subject to suspicion? Was it not possible that the two Skields and Martin had been in Wonthaggi-avenue at the time Stanley Griffiths was murdered. Was it not natural to assume that the loud burst of song that had saluted Constable Preston's turning the corner from Pantheon-street had been a warning signal. That would coincide with the differences between Inspector Murmer and Constable Preston. The constable had sworn that Griffiths' door was closed when he passed. Inspector Murmer swore that it was open thirty seconds later, when he came to the house. In that thirty seconds had not Arthur Skields escaped from the house, to hide beside one of the side walls until the path to the street was clear for his escape?
A broad smile lit Dizzy's good-humoured, ugly face. Now he had in his hands threads of the mystery, he had sought. With them he could pursue a straight course to the solution. He had to discover who had shot Stanley Griffiths. He had reduced the suspects to three men. Which of the three?—Arthur Skields, Ernest Skields or George Martin?
WHEN Inspector Pater had left Charlie Browne on the porch steps of Stanley Griffiths' house he had done so at the imperative call of Coroner March. The Inspector had sworn under his breath at the summon. He did not want to leave the motor-mechanic at the moment. He had the impression that between that man and Alice Warren he could get information of value to the inquiry. Yet he could not disregard the Coroner. He turned back into the house with a smile on his lips.
"Went off very well, Inspector?" Coroner March held out a short, fat white hand. "I hope you understand that on this occasion I have stretched a big official point to accommodate the police. You must not take today's happenings as a precedent."
"I quite understand, sir." Inspector Pater answered mechanically; he was quite at a loss to understand the man's meaning.
"Inspector Murmer put the case very fairly to me," continued the Coroner. "I immediately understood the peculiar circumstances and, of course, agreed to do all I could to further the interests of justice." He paused, then continued: "Justice, as from the viewpoint of the police department concerned only with the arrest and conviction of the criminal."
"You have been very good." The Inspector spoke blankly. He had not the faintest idea of what Coroner March was referring to, except that he could trace in the matter Inspector Murmer's subtle influence. He promised himself a full and complete understanding with his fellow-detective. Saul Murmer was not going to use his name in this fashion, unchecked.
"I am glad you understand, Inspector," Coroner March nodded. "I am glad I was able to arrange matters to meet your wishes, and that without any hampering of justice—in reference to my department, I mean. Inspector Murmer tells me you expect to make an arrest at any moment?"
"I believe so, sir."
"Very sad!" The Coroner shook his head. "A young girl, of good family, handsome, I understand, and on the threshold of a long and perhaps happy life—to be caught in this maelstrom of death and sin—By the way, Inspector Murmer did not give me her name?"
Inspector Pater cursed Saul Murmer beneath his breath. What was the man trying to let him into? Coroner March was inquisitive, and would not be put aside with any ordinary evasion.
"I beg your pardon, sir?"
"I was saying that Inspector Murmer did not give me the name of the suspect." A cloud of suspicion momentarily darkened Coroner March's eyes. "He told me that you would probably ask me for a warrant immediately the inquest closed."
So that was it. Inspector Murmer had played on the man's inquisitiveness to secure the inquest arrangements he needed. Again Inspector Pater cursed the Englishman. Did the fat fool think he would ask this man for a warrant for Miss Poulton's arrest, when he had not one iota of evidence against her—only Saul Murmer's absurd belief that she was the girl he had seen in the room with the dead man?
"What is your opinion, sir?" Inspector Pater turned to the Coroner. "You have all the evidence, sworn to at the inquest and told you privately by Inspector Murmer. Griffiths was stabbed and shot. Dr. Angus states that either wound would have caused death—although he also declares that the man was killed by the bullet wound. What is your opinion?"
Coroner Marsh pursed his lips, judicially. "The man was shot and stabbed. Either wound would have caused death. A moot point, Inspector; a very moot point. Inspector Murmer inclines to the belief that the girl stabbed Griffiths and that the wound was fatal. He was shot a few seconds later."
"Very interesting! Very interesting!" Coroner March assumed a judicial expression. "An interesting point of law, Inspector. And—about that warrant, Inspector?"
"You will be at your office this afternoon, sir?"
"Up to five o'clock, Inspector. I have a large quantity of work on hand. Then—I shall see you this afternoon?"
"Very probably, sir. There are a few minor points on which we should like to be satisfied before we ask for a warrant—but I do not anticipate they will take us long to solve. Either Inspector Murmer or I will be seeing you shortly."
He glanced about the hall, and into the study, noting that Inspector Murmer had disappeared.
"Excuse me, sir. I have to see Inspector Murmer immediately." He left the house quickly, breathing a sigh of relief at having escaped from the awkward predicament into which the Englishman had landed him. He vowed that when he again faced Inspector Murmer there would be a full and complete understanding.
He had seen little of Inspector Murmer since the scene in their room at headquarters with Dizzy Laine. After the newspaper-man had left them, with the declared challenge to Saul Murmer that he would break him and send him back to England if he took steps to have the girl arrested, the Scotland Yard man had evaded him, meeting him only when others were present and explanations impossible, without open rupture.
He knew that Saul Murmer was still in the belief that Miss Poulton was the girl he had seen in Griffiths' house: that he was working to break the alibi that Dizzy had set up. Inspector Pater was puzzled. Why was the man so set on this one aspect of the case?
Personally, he was well satisfied with the alibi Dizzy Laine had set up. He had interviewed several of the persons who the journalist had claimed he and the girl had met that night. Unhesitatingly they had told a similar story to that of the newspaper-man. There could be no doubt that Miss Poulton had been to the theatre and the restaurant. It was impossible that she could have gone to Edgecliff.
Casually, Inspector Pater had placed the question of the alibi before Superintendent Dixon, to have his opinion of the newspaper man's truth and honesty confirmed by his superior-officer. Both he and the superintendent had known Dizzy Laine before attaining their present ranks in the department. They knew him to be very keen in his peculiar line of the journalistic profession. They had, again and again, tested a his reliability. They had trusted him with information at times which might have considerably hampered their work, if published. They had found that Dizzy kept faith, scrupulously.
Yet, in this case there was one factor they had not had to count on in their previous dealings with the journalist. Dizzy was in love with this girl. Love did incomprehensible things to people.
Inspector Pater, a bachelor from choice, did not understand love. He didn't want to understand it. So far, his work had always been sufficient for him. He was ambitious. Already a superintendency loomed on his work-day horizon. He knew that he was young for his Inspectorship, but he had made good in that post. He knew that if he attained the superintendency that would shortly be vacant he could make good in it—and he would be the youngest superintendent on record.
One of the headquarters men was strolling with apparent carelessness in the road before the Griffiths' house. Inspector Pater questioned him—to learn that immediately the inquest had closed. Inspector Murmer had left the premises, hurrying down the road to the tram-stop. The incident had impressed itself on the man's mind, for it was very unusual to see Inspector Murmer hurrying.
So, thought Inspector Pater, Saul Murmer had left the house immediately the inquest ended to avoid any explanations with him. The inference could not be avoided.
John Pater's lips set in a straight line. He set off down the road, bound for the city. Possibly he would find Murmer in their room at headquarters. He liked Saul Murmer—he had a warm admiration for the man's outstanding abilities—but he would not drag along blindly at any man's heels.
Inspector Murmer was not at police headquarters. For some time John Pater lingered in their office, hoping the man would return. Then he went on a tour of the building. So far as he could gather, Inspector Murmer had not been seen there that afternoon. He was recalled to his room by a message that he was wanted on the telephone.
"Inspector Pater speaking."
"That you, John?" It was Dizzy Laine's voice.
"Yes." Then, instinctively, he asked the question in his mind.
"Seen anything of Inspector Murmer?"
"No; is he missing?"
"I haven't seen him since the inquest adjourned. Have you?"
"He was talking to Coroner March when I left the house. What's he doing? Getting his ticket for London-town?"
"He'd better." A low laugh came on the wire. "Look here, John; between ourselves, do you think Murmer's on the right track?"
"Regarding the alibi you brought forward?"
"I can't shift your alibi."
"I'll give you my word it's exact. Then you're at a loose end? Take a tip from a pal?"
"Then corral that police constable—Preston's his name. No, it'll be no good questioning him. He doesn't know that he knows anything—but he does. Just collar him and put him in safety."
"What the devil are you talking about?"
"Inhibitions of the sub-conscious mind." Again over the wire came the newspaper-man's breezy laugh. "Oh, I know you think I'm mad, so don't take the trouble to say it. You've thought so before—and have apologised handsomely. Get this. I've had a talk with Preston and got something from him he had forgotten. He won't remember, even now, for I didn't let him know the effect of what he stated on the case. Leave him alone and keep him safe, if you have to use one of your cells. Take this seriously. He's damned precious, if you want the murderer of Stanley Griffiths."
"What's the game, Dizzy?"
"Will you do as I ask?"
"I'll want a reason."
"Well, then, Constable Preston saw the murderer of Stanley Griffiths—No, don't ask questions over the telephone. You've got your reason. Just get hold of Preston and keep him safe—and keep what I've said under your hat, I've got one or two more inquiries to make—and then I'll have a quiet talk with you. But—remember what happened to me yesterday. Preston may not be as lucky as I was. Get me? And for the sake of little Mike keep what I've told you right, away from that conceited ass, Saul Murmer!"
The click of the receiver on the hook at the other end of the line told Inspector Pater that the newspaper-man had disconnected. He replaced the receiver at his end, thoughtfully. What had Dizzy on his mind? Constable Preston! He was the patrolman who had passed the house a minute before Inspector Murmer had found the door open. The man had sworn he had flashed his light on the house when he passed and that then the door and windows were properly secured. Now Dizzy stated that the constable had seen the murderer: that he did not understand what he had seen. But Pater remembered that he had had the man down to headquarters and had questioned him closely. He was certain that he had all the information the man possessed. Yet, the newspaper-man was not in the habit of making wild guesses. Usually, when he spoke, he had exact details to support his assertions.
Inhibitions of the sub-conscious mind! Rat-tails!
Inspector Pater started to laugh, then suddenly sobered. In this game he could not afford to miss a single point. Dizzy had called to his remembrance the two attempts that had been made on his life; he had asserted that an attempt would probably be made on Preston's life, if the fact that he was in possession of information regarding the murder became known. That was possible, if those connected with Stanley Griffiths' death thought the man dangerous. Constable Preston was patrolling a lonely part of Edgecliff; it would be easy for a bold man to place him beyond questioning.
He caught at the telephone, giving instructions that Constable Preston was to report to headquarters and stay there, until after the inquiries concerning the murder were finalised. When he replaced the telephone on the desk he glanced at the clock in the corner. It was a quarter to six. There was nothing to retain him at his office. He smiled quietly. Coroner March had probably left his office for the night, his curiosity unsatisfied. In some manner he would have to make his peace with the man. March was too useful to deliberately offend. Ah, he had it.
He would telephone the man the next morning and tell him that Inspector Murmer had not returned to headquarters that night, or up to that time, and that he could not act until he had examined the information the detective was gathering. Again he cursed Saul Murmer—this time not under his breath.
Rapidly clearing up the few matters that still needed his attention, Inspector Pater closed his desk and went down to the street. He strolled leisurely eastwards, across Hyde Park to the corner of William-street. There he mounted a tram and rose up the hill to King's Cross. For the moment the thought of his lonely rooms did not appeal.
He glanced about the six-way square, then went to a restaurant he had patronised on several former occasions. Ordering a big meal, he enjoyed it leisurely, then lit his pipe. He sauntered slowly homewards.
A letter was in the hall-rack, awaiting him. It had been delivered by hand. He noted that point as he tore the envelope open but did not pay attention to the writing of the address. Inside, the envelope was a single sheet of paper: On it were only a couple of lines, scrawled in pencil:
"Get into your glad-rags, John.
I'm taking you out to dinner. Saul."
FOR almost a minute Inspector Pater stood, staring at the note in his hand. He thought, regretfully, of the big meal he had just eaten. Two dinners in one evening, and the first a satisfying repast! And that on a hot day! Yet, never for one moment did he think of declining the invitation. He knew that behind the few scrawled words lay a large meaning. What that meaning was, he could not guess. The note was not, in any way an apology for the differences and incidents of the past hours—it was not an attempt at reconciliation. That was not in Saul Murmer's character.
Back of John Pater's mind lay the thought that the Englishman was about to make one of his characteristic surprise moves; some move, or moves, that would prove his theories concerning the death of Stanley Griffiths correct. But, what move would he make? Saul Murmer would have to produce very strong and exact evidence to over-ride the alibi Dizzy had set up for the girl. And then there was the information the newspaper-man had conveyed to him that evening. Whatever that evidence might be, Dizzy would not be chuckling over it—hinting that it would send Saul Murmer back to London, defeated—if it in any way affected Miss Poulton.
What information had Saul Murmer? Had he come across evidence that broke the alibi and would convict the girl of the crime? In that case the mystery surrounding Stanley Griffiths' death had come down to a fight for credibility between the English detective and the Australian newspaper-man. Dizzy would go into the box, to swear to the alibi he had erected. He would produce the further information he had gathered.
Inspector Pater shook his head, sadly. He liked Saul Murmer; he liked Dizzy Laine. In the forthcoming battle of wits and evidence one or the other must suffer. If Murmer proved his case, then Dizzy would certainly stand in the dock on a charge of perjury. A conviction could not be avoided. The detective frowned. He would have given much to have a heart to heart talk with the newspaper-man at that moment.
Half-unconsciously, he moved in the direction of the telephone, then shrugged, and put the thought from him. Dizzy would hold to his set line of action, in spite of anything he might say; in disregard of any reasons he might adduce that the pressing of a fake alibi might hurt the girl's chances of acquittal. Dizzy was mad—love-mad. Even if Saul Murmer proved his case against her, destroyed the alibi Dizzy was intent on establishing, the girl was in little danger. She would not be convicted of the murder of Stanley Griffiths. No jury would convict her of that. A clever lawyer would make much of the positions the various parties in the drama occupied at the moment of the man's death. He would plead—and prove—that Stanley Griffiths was a sex-fiend; that the girl had struck him while defending her honour. She might be convicted of manslaughter. A term of imprisonment might be imposed—a few months, at least. She might even go free from the charge: for her lawyer would make much of the fact that the man who had fired the shot into Stanley Griffiths' back had not been caught by the police. In dealing with that aspect of the affair the defence would have Dr. Angus on their side.
The medical examiner had been insistent that the man had been alive after the dagger-thrust and before the bullet pierced his heart. And while the girl had walked free from the charge, Dizzy would be in the cells to answer an undefendable charge of perjury. What a mess the love-factor had made of a quite ordinary case!
Inspector Pater shrugged, finishing his dressing. Two of the main characters in the business were enveloping it in a fog of mystery. Why had Inspector Murmer held so insistently to the trail of the girl? Reason as he might, John Pater could not understand it. If the Englishman had only been reasonable, consulted with him and held to the trail of the man who had fired the shot. They could have kept quiet observation on the girl, holding the case against her in reserve. In that manner they would go into court with a complete case. Now Murmer was acting on his own theories—and those theories would certainly bring trouble.
Almost he felt inclined to betray Dizzy's confidences of that afternoon. Saul Murmer was a reasonable man! He would take the newspaper-man's statements regarding Constable Preston into serious consideration. The constable would be at police headquarters. It would not be difficult to get hold of the newspaperman. He would talk straight to Saul Murmer, show him that in the past Dizzy Laine had helped the police, often obtaining valuable information for them. He would insist that a peace be patched up between the two men. Then they could hold a conference at their office, with Constable Preston and Dizzy in attendance. Dizzy could bring forward his new evidence—bring back to the constable's mind the subconscious impressions he claimed him to have. Murmer could go ahead on that evidence, if he considered, it worthwhile and scoop up all the credit he desired. That would be logical and make for pleasanter surroundings.
He glanced in the glass again, settling his tie. As he turned to reach his jacket the door-bell rang. Still struggling with the close-fitting coat, he went to the door and loosened the latch.
Saul Murmer, at his call, pushed open the door and ambled into the small hall.
"Just one moment." There was no difference in the Englishman's tones and manner. For all his voice showed they might have parted but a couple of hours before in terms of amity, with the understanding that during the evening they were to seek the bright lights of the city for recreation and amusement.
John Pater went into his bedroom with overcoat and hat. On the pavement, outside the building, Saul Murmer held up his stick to a touring taxi. When the man came to the curb the stout detective motioned for his companion to enter the vehicle.
"Well?" asked Inspector Pater, as the car shot forward.
"Curious?" A little chuckle came out of the semi-darkness where the Englishman sat.
The dim light of an illuminated watch showed in the darkness.
"Nine o'clock. John. 'Fraid you'll have to wait a bit."
"Where are we going?"
"To where the golden youth of Sydney hold high revels."
"To find Miss Poulton," interposed John Pater aloud. "What for? You haven't got a warrant. I didn't get one, although Coroner March tried to draw one on your instigation, I believe."
"So he took the bait?" Again the sly chuckle out of the darkness of the car. "Poor John!"
"I don't work in the dark, Saul."
"You'll have plenty of light presently, John." The Australian could feel laughter shaking the big bulk beside him. "Plenty of light!"
"You're damned mysterious." Inspector Pater could not keep the growl from his tones. Inspector Murmer took no notice of the remark.
"You've not said where we are going?" John Pater asked at length. The taxi was in the city now, bowling smoothly over the well-made roads. Even now he could not place their destination.
"The 'Sixty-Forty' Club!" exclaimed Pater. "Oh, well, they do put on a good meal there."
"And the dinner's up to me." Again came the sly chuckle. "You'll enjoy it all the more, eh?"
"Suppose you'll put it down to expenses?" Inspector Pater turned exasperatedly on his companion. "Look here, Saul, in this country we hunt in couples—"
"London-town sometimes plays a lone-hand," interjected the stout detective. "The inference is—"
"Damn the inference!" John Pater exploded, "—that the Australian crooks are a lot more dangerous than their English confrères. That so, John?"
Inspector Pater did not answer. The taxi swung into a side street and slowed to stop at a brilliantly illuminated doorway. They had arrived at Patolini's night-club. Inspector Pater stepped to the pavement and waited while his companion paid off the taxi-driver. Side by side they entered the establishment and, without speaking, went to the cloakroom. When they left it a waiter escorted them to a well-placed table beside the dancing-floor, yet screened from too free observation.
When the man, at a nod from Inspector Murmer, moved away. John Pater decided that the affair had been planned by his companion in advance. The dancing room was half-empty, yet at intervals people entered, in couples and in groups. They were early, and John Pater guessed that his companion, who levelled in the luxuries of life, had chosen to arrive early and enjoy his dinner before the time for action arrived. John Pater, who enjoyed a high-class meal as well as any man, devoted himself to the dishes placed before him: yet with an inward groan at thoughts of the dinner he had already eaten.
Patolini's! And the girl, Poulton, was known through the city as "The Flirting Fool." Probably she would be there, in that room, that night. But, how would that serve Saul Murmer? He had no warrant, and in the circumstances a warrant was necessary. Of course, in cases of necessity, they could act without a warrant, detaining on suspicion. There was no evidence that the girl knew of Inspector Murmer's suspicions, unless Dizzy Laine had told her, and in that case the journalist would have assured her that she had nothing to fear; that her alibi was unassailable.
John Pater looked up the room with a fervent hope in his heart that she would not visit the night-club while he and Saul Murmer were there. If Inspector Murmer took any deliberate action, then there would be trouble with Superintendent Dixon on the morrow. Dixon liked to be consulted on the evidence in a case before a warrant was applied for and the arrest made.
Inspector Pater shrugged again. Saul Murmer had taken his own line and would have to bear the brunt of any explanations regarding actions he took that evening. One thing he resolved. Unless he had indisputable evidence given him that his comrade was not mistaken—that he had a hole-proof case against the girl—he would take no active part in the matter. His presence, though he remained silent, would have to suffice. Yes, he would remain silent, adapting himself to what might happen.
Slowly the dinner dragged to an end. Signs were unmistakable that Saul Murmer was enjoying himself. So far as Inspector Pater was concerned, he appreciated the excellent meal—although he did not want it.
Saul Murmer leaned back in his chair, fingering his wine-glass.
"All set John?"
"The arrest of Miss Poulton."
"So that's what you dragged me here tonight for." Inspector Pater flushed quickly. "You're hitting rocks, big boy. What about Dizzy Laine's alibi?"
Inspector Murmer snapped his fingers in the air; his eyes twinkling. "Busted wide open."
"I don't believe you," Inspector Pater spoke flatly. "Dizzy's a good boy. I don't believe he'd lie, even for a girl he was fond of."
"And—he's fond of this Poulton girl?"
"Even a man as blind as you can see that." Again Saul Murmer chuckled.
"'Fraid my eyes are open, John—" he broke off, abruptly. "Here she comes!"
A party of four persons, two men and two girls, had entered the hall. A few steps in the lead walked a tall slim girl, exquisitely dressed, her well-groomed mop of dark hair finely setting her small oval face, lit by quick-moving, sparkling eyes. John Pater recognised her on the instant. It was the girl he had seen in Sauber's Restaurant with Dizzy Laine—yet there was a subtle difference. Not in the girl's physical appearance; there the likeness was exact, except for the extraneous differences between day and evening dresses. Yes; it was the same girl.
He searched the group of three people following her. Dizzy Laine was not in attendance. For some reason the police officer felt glad. The party came to a table close by where the two Inspectors sat, the girl still walking a couple of paces before her companions, talking to them over her swinging shoulders. Now the Australian recognised that Saul Murmer had not come there by chance. He had set the stage for the play he proposed to make. The two tables were in strategic positions. If he contemplated an arrest it could be made without any too great publicity. But—an arrest! On what grounds—when they were without a warrant?
John Pater leaned forward, speaking in low tones. "You're going to arrest her tonight, Saul?"
"No!" The baby-blue eyes were entirely guileless. "You are, John."
"I'll see you in hell first." John Pater flushed angrily. "You know we haven't evidence to ask for a warrant on."
A paper slid forward on the table, to rest beside John Pater's hand. "The warrant, John."
Interestedly, the tall man opened the document. The warrant was in proper form; the information contained therein being sworn to by Inspector Saul Murmer. "I'm damned if I will. You swore out that warrant; why don't you execute it?"
Saul Murmer looked insignificantly down at his pronounced roundity. "You know I'm not built for rough and tumble work, John."
"With a slip of a girl, eh?" In spite of his anger John Pater could not help grinning. "So I'm to be the goat? What on? Think again, Saul!"
A bulky foolscap envelope slid on to the table almost magically. Curiously the senior Inspector opened it. A dozen or more letters, secured by a metal fastener, slid out on his hand. He turned to the end of the first letter. It was signed "Aggie" in large, sprawling, girlish characters. John Pater glanced through the correspondence. The letters were from a foolish girl madly in love with a practised woman-hunter; letters that breathed passion, yet with a curious restraint. Letters that revealed the innate purity of a woman's soul, the lure of marriage, the reluctant repugnance to the illicit relations the letters they answered must have hinted at.
The letters were addressed to "Dearest Stan." Behind each letter he found its envelope. So, Stanley Griffiths preserved even the envelopes of his love correspondence. They had been carefully cut open, not ripped in the manner of an earnest lover. John Pater remembered now. When he had searched the man's desk at the house in Wonthaggi-avenue he had found many letters from women. In every instance the letter had been slipped into its original envelope; and the envelopes held together with elastic bands.
He wondered at the mentality of the man. Many of the letters he had found were from women with whom the dead man had long ceased relations. Why had he kept them?
Almost reluctant at having to thus peer into the revelations of a woman's soul, John Pater skimmed through the letters, and came to the last. He looked up quickly at Saul Murmer. The Englishman was staring idly about the night club, the inevitable cheap cigarette dangling from his lower lip.
John Pater read the letter again. It was dated six days before the day before the man's death. The letter referred to an appointment for that evening. Stanley Griffiths and the girl were going to have supper and dance at this very night-club—Patolini's.
Yet, Dizzy Laine had sworn that the girl spent the evening with him at the theatre, and they had afterwards gone to Dalmano's Restaurant. He had stated that they stayed at the restaurant dancing with friends until after one o'clock. Had Dizzy persuaded the girl to break her appointment with Stanley Griffiths, and accompany him to the theatre? That was possible. Yet, if the girl had stabbed Griffiths had been in the house at Edgecliff at midnight, Dizzy Laine had lied to save the girl! If the girl had told him of the happenings in the house in Wonthaggi-avenue. Only in one manner could those questions be answered. Almost reluctantly Inspector Pater rose to his feet, picking up the warrant. He glanced down the room. The girl was returning to her table, after dancing with one of her companions. She glanced, inquisitively at the tall man slowly approaching the table where she and her companions sat—a glance blank in itself, yet filled with the native woman's appreciation to the well-conditioned male.
"Miss Poulton—Miss Agatha Poulton?" queried Inspector Pater, halting beside the table and looking down on the girl.
"Yes?" Agatha Poulton looked up startled. Inspector Pater thought he detected a trace of fear behind the inquisitiveness in her eyes.
"I am Inspector John Pater, of the New South Wales Police Department, investigating the death of Stanley Griffiths." The detective spoke quietly in low tones. "It is necessary for me to ask you a few questions."
Now the detective recognised fear in the girl's eyes. With a big effort she retained her customary indifferent manner. She nodded to a chair which one of her companions had vacated at the Inspector's approach.
"Won't you sit down, Inspector Pater? This is rather an original time for a police inquisition, isn't it?"
"I am afraid in these cases we cannot pick times to suit occasions." The Inspector's tones hardened. "I believe you were acquainted with the late Stanley Griffiths?"
For a moment the girl hesitated, then nodded. "It is my duty to warn you that I hold a warrant for your arrest and that any statement you may make may be used against you. Do you understand? There is no need for you to answer questions or make any statement, and I believe your friends would advise you not to say anything. I—"
"What are you driving at?" One of the men with the girl turned on Inspector Pater angrily. "We've only your word you're a police officer. I object to you intruding at this table and speaking to this lady. If—" Inspector Pater silenced him with a look. He turned again to the girl, and hesitated. A short, rotund form had appeared beside him, staring down on the girl. "Good evening, Miss Poulton. Do you remember the last time we met—in the house at Wonthaggi-avenue, when you locked me in a bedroom?"
The sleek, quiet tones of the English detective made the girl start and turn quickly. For a long moment she stared up into the seemingly innocent baby-blue eyes looking down on her. Her breath caught sharply, and she bent forward until her dark head suddenly touched the table-cloth, brushing aside a glass filled with wine. The glass overturned, close to her face and a stream of crimson spread across the cloth, as if blood from the girl's head. "God! She's fainted."
A tall, fair girl, seated opposite Agatha, Poulton sprang to her feet and moved quickly round the table. But Inspector Pater was before her. Carefully he gathered the insensible girl in his arms and strode to the door, beckoning with his head for the fair girl to follow him. One of the men at the table made to rise, but Inspector Murmer stayed him with an imperative gesture.
"Keep your seats, gentlemen." The light, lazy voice held a note of command. "If you wish to do Miss Poulton a service you will continue your evening's amusement—and keep silent tongues."
"Look here." A slender, rather effeminate-looking man faced the English detective, anger glowering in his eyes. "I want to know what this is all about?"
"If you must know—" Inspector Murmer's words came reluctantly. "Miss Poulton is under arrest for the murder of Stanley Griffiths. For her sake and your own, I advise you not to interfere or draw undue attention to this table."
Leisurely, and without another glance at the two dumbfounded men, Inspector Murmer turned on his heels and ambled from the room.
WHEN Inspector Pater awoke next morning, from a troubled night's slumber, he was not at all happy and contented. Through the long night hours the scene in the night-club recurred intermittently to his memory. Somewhere in his brain lurked the thought that Saul Murmer had, in some way, taken a deliberate advantage of him; rushing him into a position that was neither entirely logical or defensible—a position he would not have assumed had he taken time to think.
He had arrested Agatha Poulton for the murder of Stanley Griffiths—and on evidence that the English detective had thrust upon him suddenly; evidence that completely destroyed the alibi that Dizzy Laine had set up, and which he had been prepared to believe. But, did it? All that the letters Saul Murmer had produced made out that the girl had been intimate with the dead man when he had heard her declare that she did not know him.
That she had apparently been with him on the night of his death—when Dizzy Laine had sworn that she was with him at the theatre. What had the girl really done? Had she kept the written appointment with Stanley Griffiths? In that lay the crux of the case. If she had kept it, then there was little doubt that she was the girl Saul Murmer had seen in the dead man's house. But, if she could prove that she had broken that appointment, made in the last letter she had written to him; if she could prove that she had spent the evening in the company of the journalist then—Inspector Pater grinned wryly. Then there would be wigs on the green, with a vengeance. Dizzy's alibi would stand, and he and Saul Murmer would pass many uncomfortable half-hours with Superintendent Dixon and, possibly, the Commissioner.
Yet he doubted. He had seen the knowledge and terror growing in the girl's eyes when she had looked up into his face. He had read in her eyes the realisation of the secret fears that lay deep in her mind. That glance, if he had read it aright, betokened guilt and the fear of punishment. Slowly, almost with reluctance, he dressed and prepared for the work of the day. His breakfast tasted insipid; the coffee lacked sting; the bacon and eggs, to his eyes done to a turn, felt like grit in his mouth. He left most of it untouched and went out into the streets.
He mounted a city-bound tram, to find that it fled down the steep incline of William-street with incredible speed. The walk across Hyde Park had never seemed so short. From Elizabeth street to Central-lane appeared to occupy but a few seconds of time. With weighted feet he mounted the stairs to the office he shared with Inspector Murmer. He almost prayed that the Englishman had not yet arrived; he wanted some moments alone to collect his thoughts, to drive from him the memories that crowded his brain.
Yet, as he set foot on the top stair he knew that time for mental collection would not be granted him. He could hear Inspector Murmer's voice, the smooth silky voice rising and falling in level cadences. Another voice sounded within his room: a deep, powerful voice charged with the owner's realisation of self-importance. The opening door showed Saul Murmer comfortably ensconced in the big chair before the window.
In the centre of the room stood Constable Preston, big, and important-looking, but with a bewildered expression on his large round face. A second glance at the English detective showed that he, for one, was entirely happy.
"Oversleep yourself, John?" The quick, lazy-looking baby-blue eyes met John Pater's with a look in which the Australian, believed he could read derision. "Remember what you told me last night of that theory your journalistic friend—what's-his-name—held? Well, Constable Preston's been amusing me with an account of his adventures on the night that Stanley Griffiths was bumped off. He doesn't seem to have seen much."
"No?" John Pater, turned and hung his hat on the stand in the corner. Almost reluctantly he went to the big desk and slipped into his chair. "Just how much?"
"Just—nothing." Saul Murmer's hand went down between his large person and the seat arm, fishing for his inevitable packet of cigarettes. "'Fraid our friend the journalist, is—er romancing. Constable Preston is—he'll forgive me saying it, I know—a frost."
"Yet Dizzy appears to think that he knows quite a lot." John Pater busied himself with some reports on his desk, under cover of which movement he covertly watched his brother inspector.
"Oh, Dizzy Laine." Saul Murmer blew a ring of smoke towards the ceiling. "I've told you before, John, the principal asset of a newspaper man is the ability to make a good story out of nothing."
The Australian detective ignored the sneer underlying the words. He turned sharply on the constable. "Well, Preston; just what do you know?"
"Nothing, sir." Preston looked bewildered.
Inspector Pater studied the man silently. He appeared flurried and distressed. John Pater had a suspicion that before he had arrived on the scene Murmer had hazed the man unmercifully. He was about to speak when Saul Murmer interposed.
"Just one thing, John. There were a couple of drunks in Wonthaggi-Avenue that night."
"And you saw nothing of them?" Pater turned in his chair to face Inspector Murmer.
"From what Constable Preston tells me, they turned out of the Avenue before I entered it. Preston says he met them at the Pantheon Road corner. I came into the Avenue from Edgecliff Road. You will remember, I was only a few yards along Wonthaggi Avenue when I met Constable Preston."
"Recognise them, Preston?"
"Then you really know nothing?" Saul Murmer stared blankly at the big man. "Really John, I don't think he is any use here, and should be back on duty."
Inspector Pater did not reply. He was puzzling nebulous thoughts in his mind. Murmer was not usually early at the office; yet he had arrived before him that day—and he was well in advance of his usual time! Again, Dizzy Laine had told him that Constable Preston held the solution of the Griffiths murder case—yet did not know it. The man freely stated that he knew nothing. Was that because of the sub-conscious memory the newspaper-man had spoken of lying dormant—because—Well, he might just as well admit it to himself, although he would not utter the words because of his late interview with Inspector Murmer.
The Australian detective shrugged impatiently. On the telephone Dizzy had referred to two attempts on his life—of those attempts he had witnessed one himself, the other had been witnessed by Inspector Murmer. Dizzy had declared that Miss Poulton had only spoken to Stanley Griffiths once in her life; yet in his desk lay a number of letters showing that the girl was either madly in love with the dead man or in some manner had been under his subjection. Was the journalist mistaken on all counts of theory? He wondered.
"You had better report back to your division, Preston," Murmur's soft voice broke the silence that had descended on the little room. He glanced at the Australian seated behind the big desk. "You think that, John?"
Reluctantly, John Pater nodded. Constable Preston saluted and walked from the room.
When the door closed again there was again a long silence. Saul Murmer lay back in his comfortable chair, blowing ring after ring of smoke towards the dirty ceiling. John Pater had his arms folded on his writing-pad, staring before him blankly, his brows creased in troubled thought.
"What's worrying you, John?" The stout detective spoke at length.
"The whole damned business!" Pater answered shortly. "I've never known Dizzy Laine to be so far wrong before."
"No good sneering, Saul. That boy knows his oats. If he said—"
"He said the the girl had an alibi—""—and you arrested her."
The Australian checked the words that rose to his lips. He gained his feet and strode up and down the small room. Not for first time in their association he felt resentment of the methods used by the English detective. Saul Murmer had subtle methods of shifting the onus of deeds from his own shoulders onto other men's. That was not fair.
John Pater blamed himself greatly. The previous evening he had been lazy, well-fed and contented, completely off his guard. He had been intrigued by the story Saul Murmer had presented to him by the subtle interlocking of story and evidence. While he had listened he had had the girl before his eyes. He had watched her; her attitude towards her companions; the sex mastery she had exhibited. Even as he had watched the phrase had come into his mind: "The Flirting Fool!" Yes, she was that—and more!
And while his sub-conscious brain had been resenting her attitude towards her small world, Saul Murmer had placed under his eyes convincing proof of her duplicity and irresponsibleness. Sudden resentment at the girl, of her dragging a decent fellow like Dizzy Laine at her chariot wheels, had seized him. At the very moment he had felt that he must act, Saul Murmer had placed in his grasp the warrant of arrest. He had acted—arresting her and now—
"Why didn't you make the arrest yourself, Saul?" He swung suddenly on the man.
"You did, it ever so much more kindly, John."
Pater shrugged at the blandness of the voice; of the innocence of the eyes watching him. "Besides—"
"You were the senior officer present. That was the arrangement under which I came to Australia."
John Pater shrugged impatiently. It was impossible to corner this man; to obtain from him a plain answer to a pertinent question. He had to confess there was truth in what Saul Murmer said—and that very truth angered him. "Suppose so! And I've got to defend that arrest to the Superintendent."
"He's a reasonable man, John."
"Perhaps more reasonable and logical than his two star detectives."
The two Inspectors, intent on the battle of words between them, had not noticed the door open. They looked up, to see Dizzy Laine leaning against the door-post. For a moment Johns Pater looked at the newspaper-man, his anger suddenly rising.
A shadow moved in the gloom of the passage beyond the door. A streak of light from the window fell on it, and he recognised that it was the Edgecliff constable.
"Constable Preston!" Inspector Pater spoke sharply.
"Inspector Murmer instructed you to report to Edgecliff, for duty."
"So—Inspector Murmer gave that order." Dizzy lounged into the room, allowing the constable to come to the door. "Inspector Murmer was willing to risk a man's life to prove his inflexible theory?"
"He—we decided that Constable Preston saw nothing," said Inspector Pater angrily. He turned again to the constable. "Why have you disobeyed orders?"
"I met him in the street and told him to come back with me." Dizzy spoke calmly.
For a moment the Australian detective stared; then laughed shortly.
"Getting a bit above yourself, Dizzy? When did you start giving orders in the police department?"
Dizzy stared down at his wristwatch.
"Nine and a half-minutes ago." His right hand, stuffed into his trousers-pocket, came out slowly. Something rattled from his closed hand on to the desk-top.
"Just after someone tried to pot either Constable Preston or me in Central Lane. I haven't quite made up my mind which. Still, you might know. There's the bullet."
"You—" Mechanically John Pater picked up the flattened bullet: "Where did this come from?"
"Took a half and half course between Preston's and my heads, as we stood talking at the top of the lane. Of course, it might have been intended as a present for me—they've tried to give me two before—but—Well, I've got a suspicion that just recently someone has learned that Constable Preston might be a menace to a life—or a comforting theory."
"You're telling me that you were shot at in Central Lane? Who by?"
"The gent's visiting card does not bear a name." Dizzy indicated the bullet in Pater's hand. "Fired from a silenced gun. As there were plenty of people about, probably fired from the hip—and damned good shooting! I'll say that for the marksman!"
"Is this all the evidence?" Murmer asked lazily.
"What do you mean?" Dizzy turned coolly to the man in the window-seat.
"We have only your word for the—er—alleged shooting."
"Constable' Preston, was there," reminded the newspaper-man.
"Oh! Constable Preston! An—er—important witness."
"You forget, my life has been twice attempted." Dizzy spoke with forced calmness.
A second smoke-ring caught up to its predecessor and passed through it, flawlessly. Inspector Murmer stared towards the ceiling, as if greatly intrigued.
"I believe you were a witness of the first attempt to put me out of this inquiry." Dizzy's clenched hands showed that he was holding himself in check, strongly.
"Witness of a brick accidentally dropping from a builder's scaffolding," Inspector Murmer corrected. "I believe similar accidents have happened before—even in this city of Sydney."
"Inspector Pater—" Dizzy spoke impulsively, then checked himself. "So that is the attitude you are taking, Inspector Murmer?"
"Constable Preston, I think you had better report back to your local sergeant." Inspector Murmer took no notice of the newspaper-man's question.
"And I say that he will remain at police headquarters, in safety." Dizzy spoke firmly.
"The new Commissioner—Dizzy Laine!" Saul Murmer jeered. "I will put the question to the Commissioner, with pleasure."
The newspaper-man laughed slightly; he had his nerves well under control now.
"Look here, Dizzy—" commenced John Pater.
"You asked me to bring Preston to headquarters, said that he had important information for us. I've questioned him this morning. He knows nothing new, I'm satisfied of that. Damn it!" Inspector Pater jumped to his feet and strode across the room to face the journalist. "If you know anything, why don't you speak?"
"I assure you, I know quite a lot. I'll talk when—"
"Well, when?" Pater asked curiously when the newspaper-man paused.
"When Miss Poulton is released from custody, and satisfactory apologies are tendered by the police department."
John Pater stared at the journalist in blank astonishment. He turned on his heels and went back to his desk.
"Is that all you require?"
He tugged open one of the drawers of his desk and took out some papers. "Look at these, young man—letters from that girl to Griffiths. Love letters; letters speaking of an assignation that night—the night he was murdered; the night Inspector Murmer saw—"
"Said he saw—" corrected Dizzy.
"Oh, damn it." Inspector Pater snorted angrily. He turned to where the English detective sat. "Saul, I've taken your statement that you saw the girl in Griffiths' house, so far—No, you swore yesterday at the inquest that there was a girl there. Will you swear now that the girl we arrested last night was the girl you saw the night Griffiths was murdered?"
"Within the past week Mr. Dizzy Laine—journalist—has asked that question of me—No," Inspector Murmer corrected himself. "Mr. Laine asked me if there was any resemblance between the girl in his company and the girl I saw in Wonthaggi Avenue. I stated then that they were the same girl—and I still affirm that!" Inspector Murmer spoke with more energy than he usually employed.
For a moment Inspector Pater stared at him, then swung to face the journalist.
"So, Inspector Murmer swears that the girl he saw with me in the restaurant is the girl he saw sitting on the couch above the dead man." A small smile flecked Dizzy's lips. "I'll remind him of that oath one day." He turned to Inspector Pater. "And—he got you to arrest her last night! Well—"
The newspaper-man's hand went to his breast-pocket. It came away with a long, legal-looking document between the fingers. He held it out, as if reluctant to part with it. The two Inspectors and the constable watched him curiously.
"Inspector Murmer has sworn that the girl he saw with me stabbed Stanley Griffiths in the neck. Note my words, Inspector Pater—stabbed him in the neck. She did not murder him in spite of Inspector Murmer's sworn warrant, for Dr. Angus is prepared to take expert oath that the man was killed by a bullet. I put forward an alibi—a true alibi—against that statement by Inspector Murmer. To you, John Pater, I gave a list of people who would support that alibi—people who had seen the girl with me that night in places where she could not possibly have been within a couple of the dead man. I gave you my word of honour that my statement was entirely true. I know you investigated the evidence I gave you, satisfying yourself by independent questioning of many people that they were in Miss Poulton's company at the moment Stanley Griffiths was murdered. Now—"
Dizzy Laine paused, and held the folded paper towards Inspector Pater.
"You've accepted Inspector Murmer's single statement against the evidence of myself and my friends. I'm challenging you to prove his words. To that end, I have to-day made a sworn statement of the facts as I know them. Here it is, drawn and attested by one of the leading attorneys of this city. If I have sworn falsely—if Inspector Murmer can prove that I have sworn falsely—then I shall go to prison. But, mark me, if I am free and alive, I appear at Miss Poulton's trial and shall verbally confirm what is here recorded. Then—"
"Be careful, Dizzy!" Inspector Pater spoke impulsively.
"I have nothing to fear." The newspaper-man drew himself up proudly. "What Inspector Murmer has to fear I neither know nor care. If he is correct, then proceed against me on that sworn statement and indict me for perjury. If that statement stands—"
"Then—" The word, almost an exclamation, came from the stout man in the window seat.
"Then Inspector Saul Murmer takes the journey I prophesied for him a few days ago—a journey back to his mudheap on the banks of the Thames, his sticky tail well tricked between his legs in whipped, cowed curl!"
For a moment Inspector Murmer flushed angrily. John Pater noted that the fingers lying on the padded arms of the chair clutched convulsively at the fabric.
"I'm sorry, John." With a shrug Dizzy turned to the door. "I was coming here this morning to place before you certain evidence—evidence that would lead to the arrest of Stanley Griffiths' murderer. In spite of your action last night—your strange arrest of Miss Poulton—I came in friendly feeling and—" he paused. "And I find my principal witness roaming the streets unguarded, when I had warned you there was an armed killer in the track of anyone who tried to destroy Inspector Murmer's famous theory. Now I'll see that he is protected. I'm going to Superintendent Dixon, and if he is too hide-bound to take proper precautions then—then the Post Advertiser will ask the public this afternoon why Inspector Murmer, star detective of New Scotland Yard, London, England, is interested in the death of the one man who can identify the slayer of Stanley Griffiths—Constable John Preston."
With a short nod, and beckoning to the constable to accompany him, Dizzy Laine left the room.
FROM the moment Dizzy Laine closed the door of the Inspectors' room after Constable Preston and himself, he disappeared from the detectives' vision.
Half an hour later, Inspectors Murmer and Pater were summoned to Superintendent Dixon's office. Dixon had little to say, though he smiled quietly and secretly while they answered his questions. He heard their explanations regarding the arrest of Miss Poulton without comment, instructing them to prepare the case for the Public Prosecutor's Office.
Just before the detectives left him, he gave implicit instructions that Constable Preston was to be retained at police headquarters, making the two Inspectors surety for his well-being. Finally, he instructed that Constable Preston was to attend the trial, suitably guarded.
"Understand me?" Dixon spoke in his queer little voice, carrying small inflection. "I hold you two officers responsible for Constable Preston's welfare. I have excellent reasons to believe that his life has been attempted and that it will be attempted again. Understand, Constable Preston is to be produced at the court-house for Miss Poulton's trial, and I will accept no excuses."
Dizzy Laine's name was not mentioned throughout the interview; yet his personality was certainly in all three men's minds. Again in their room upstairs, John Pater took up the whole question of the Stanley Griffiths murder with Saul Murmer, freely admitting, that in the conduct of the case he had made mistakes. In the very plainest language he could command he informed the Englishman that he had allowed prejudice to sway his thoughts and actions. He insisted that personal animosity should be immediately set aside and that some sort of peace should be established with Dizzy Laine, with a view to discovering what evidence he held towards a solution of what appeared to be an impenetrable mystery.
Inspector Murmer met John Pater's direct attack With bland imperturbability. He said little, sitting with his head against the padded back of his window chair, blowing innumerable smoke rings into the air. The Australian became almost excited with his rising passions, striding angrily up and down the room. Finally he declared that unless Saul Murmer fell in with his wishes he would see Superintendent Dixon and insist on being relieved of his share of the case.
For the first time Saul Murmer showed signs of discomfort—it could not be called more. He admitted, somewhat reluctantly, that the newspaper man might know something of importance, qualifying the admission by the statement that the amateur criminologist could not possibly succeed against the trained detective, backed by the culminative power and information of a well-organised police department.
John Pater was prepared to accept this admission without the qualification, and without comment. He realised that he had scored an important point by obtaining Murmer's expressed willingness to meet the newspaperman in conference, and without provoking him to a slanging match. He believed he had sufficient influence with Dizzy to get him to agree to the meeting, and to discuss the case in an amiable spirit.
He went to the telephone and rang up the Post-Advertiser offices—to be told that Dizzy Laine was away on leave and would not be at the newspaper offices for at least another month.
"Thought so." Saul Murmer spoke in soft, contemplative tones. "So Dizzy got the wind up when he found he couldn't bluff us. 'Fraid to stay in Sydney and witness his sweetheart in the dock, facing certain conviction!"
John Pater checked the angry reply that rose to his lips. Now he realised that a reconciliation between the two men was impossible, until they had fought their native animosity to a standstill. If Dizzy had gone away then it was better to allow events to order themselves Yet some thought at the back of his mind told him that when the girl came to trial Dizzy Laine would be there with a defence that would scatter the prosecution like chaff before a high wind.
During the next few days Inspector John Pater took occasion to come in touch with several members of the Post-Advertiser literary staff. Not one of them could amplify the information he had previously received from the switch-girl. He learned that Dizzy, immediately he left Superintendent Dixon's office had returned to the Post-Advertiser.
For nearly an hour he had been in conference with Lloyd Sampson, the managing editor. When he had come out to the reporters' room he had locked his desk. To several of his friends he had stated that he required a rest—and was taking his annual leave immediately; that he'd be absent for a month, possible longer.
While Inspector John Pater was endeavouring to get some news of Dizzy Laine and his probable activities, Inspector Murmer was busy with the Crown Prosecutor's officials perfecting the case that he had built up against the accused girl.
In due course, she was brought before the magistrate and, reserving her defence on the advice of her counsel, Mark Runnell, K.C., was committed for trial. This was set for an early date, at the insistence of her legal advisers, although Inspector Murmer fought hard for delay.
The defence counsel obtained from the magistrate severe censure on Inspector Murmer for visiting the girl while in custody and attempting to question her. Inspector Pater was in the magistrate's court when Miss Poulton was charged. He listened to the magistrate's comments on Inspector Murmer's actions with some bewilderment. What had a been in the Englishman's mind? Inspector Murmer knew well that a prisoner, charged with a serious offence, should not be questioned in private by the prosecution.
In England, however, where Saul Murmer had received his police training, this regulation is far more strictly enforced than in Australia. After an arrest no question on the case likely to incriminate the accused could be asked.
Yet Murmer, in defiance of training and regulation had gone to see the girl. What had he meant by this action? Confining his work at police headquarters to the bare necessities of his position, Inspector Pater devoted himself to an attempt it to trace Dizzy Laine. He believed it that if he could get in touch with the newspaper-man he could persuade him to a better understanding of his own and Inspector Murmer's position. Possibly he might obtain from him some clue that would make for new evidence in the girl's favour. In that event, he determined to go to the Commissioner and ask that the case against her be dropped.
Something of this he spoke of to Inspector Murmer in the privacy of their room at police headquarters a few days before the case against the girl was listed for hearing.
"Quite so! Quite so!" Inspector Murmer delayed his eternal blowing of smoke rings to stare at the soldierly detective behind the big desk. "John, I'm coming to have great hopes of you!"
"Then—you don't think the Poulton girl will be convicted?"
Pater stuttered his astonishment "I hope not."
"Then why go on with the case?" asked John Pater.
"I want the murderer of Stanley Griffiths."
"And you don't think Miss Poulton murdered him?"
"Dr. Angus said that he was shot to death. The evidence shows that Miss Poulton was standing before him—in his arms, in fact—when he was killed."
"Dr. Angus stated that if he had not been shot he might have bled to death from the dagger wound in his neck."
"So he did." Inspector Murmer's eyes wandered upwards, following an enticing looking smoke-ring. "So he did."
Exasperated, Inspector Pater left the room and did not return to police headquarters again that day. The next day he was careful to remain out of his office as much as possible.
The night before the trial he lay awake hour after hour, pondering and wondering. He believed that during the next few days he would learn much that was at present a mystery—much that would be new and startling, possibly explaining many sides of Saul Murmer's and Dizzy Laine's strange antagonism. He wondered how much that was at present incomprehensible to him was plain to Inspector Murmer.
Trials at the Central Criminal Court of any city of the world are drear, drab-affairs, unrelieved of any wit and ingenuity, invested with a pomposity that is shabbily tawdry and unimpressive—except it when recorded in the daily Press through the eyes of the reporters assigned to court-duty. Possibly they invest the pageantry of justice with a fictitious impressiveness to relieve their own utter boredom with the proceedings. Mankind has to invest the actualities of workaday life with illusive values, to withstand the boredom of civilisation.
In some such spirit Inspector Pater approached the Criminal Court at Darlinghurst on the day Aggie Poulton was to answer for the death of Stanley Griffiths. He knew the evidence by heart and I had to admit that he did not entirely believe it.
Inspector Pater received his first shock of that day when he approached the door of the court and saw Dizzy and the famous K.C., Mark Runnell, in deep conference. He recovered quickly from his surprise and tried to slip into the court unobserved by the journalist; but Dizzy turned quickly and nodded with apparent friendliness.
The newspaper man had taken a seat immediately behind counsel for the defence. John Pater noted that next to the journalist sat a tall girl with a mass of flaxen hair. The newspaper-man appeared to be on the friendliest terms with her.
With the usual attempt at impressiveness, which is more often than not farcical, His Honour Judge Bonnithorne entered the court and took his seat on the Bench. Immediately, the prisoner was brought into the dock, accompanied by a motherly-looking wardress, who appeared to take great interest in her charge. Then followed the long, and largely witless, selection of a jury. To the Inspector's astonishment, the defence made no attempt to challenge any of the men called. Apparently Mark Runnell was content with any jury pleasing to the Crown. Following came the reading of the indictment, and her reply "Not Guilty," uttered in a quiet, firm voice.
Terence McCrae, K.C., one of the finest prosecuting counsel at the New South Wales bar, led for the Crown, assisted by James Tynon, a very successful junior counsel, appearing often in Crown cases. With a final hitch to his gown and a searching hand uplifted, feeling that his wig was still perched on his head, McCrae, a short, round, chubby-faced, clean-shaven man of about sixty years of age, opened his case. In brief, pointed sentences he set out the main facts on which he relied for a conviction.
Speaking unemotionally, and without stress on any point, he spoke for little less than half an hour. When he sat down Inspector Pater felt that he had been listening to a man dealing with facts in which he had little faith. A minute's silence followed, and then Inspector Murmer entered the witness box.
Very little that the English detective had to recount was new. He told the of the finding of the deceased and the girl in the house in Wonthaggi-avenue. He definitely identified the girl in the dock as the girl who had locked him in the upstairs bedroom. Then he went on to describe the various facts that pointed to the girl's guilt that he had discovered during his investigations. He identified the letters from Aggie Poulton to Stanley Griffiths, stating that he had found them among the man's private correspondence at his office, in Pitt-street.
In answer to Terence McCrae's questions, he described the points of the alibi set up by the girl's friends, and the means he had taken to investigate and disprove them. Immediately Terence McCrae sat down, with a little nod to the defending counsel, Mark Runnell, tall and gaunt, with hooked nose and fierce eyes, reminiscent of a hawk, rose quickly. Disregarding most of the evidence the Inspector had given, he said:
"Inspector Murmer—during your inquiries you came in touch with a girl named Alice Warren. I believe you caused her to be examined at the Coroner's inquiry. May I ask for what reason?"
"I received information that Miss Warren was in the habit of visiting Stanley Griffiths at early hours of the mornings."
"Just so. Her evidence, in the Coroner's court did not shed any light on the identity of the murderer of Stanley Griffiths?"
"Have you definitely established the relations between the dead man and Miss Warren?"
"I am to understand that after Miss Warren's evidence in the Coroner's court you did not pursue inquiries in her direction any further?"
"I came to the conclusion that Miss Warren was unwilling to give any information she held. I found that my inquiries were leading me in a different direction."
Mark Runnell nodded understandingly. For a moment he bent over some papers on the desk before him, then looked up sharply.
"I believe, at one time your attention was directed to another person—a Mr. Arthur Skields. Is that not so?"
"Yes. I questioned Mr. Arthur Skields and he established a perfect alibi."
"A perfect alibi?" The thin lips compressed slightly and the keen eyes narrowed, accentuating the hawk-like appearance of the barrister's face. "I have always understood that the police look with suspicion on the perfect alibi?"
"Not always, sir." Inspector Murmer's bland, innocent-looking eyes met the K.C.'s with apparent frankness.
"Yet certain happenings tended to direct suspicion very strongly in Mr. Skields' direction?"
"I presume your refer to the telephone message to the house in Wonthaggi-avenue, during the morning after I discovered the murdered man?"
"Exactly. I am given to understand that you posed as a certain Dr. Bastion, in answering the call. You have, I believe; information that Mr. Skields was—was at the other end of that telephone connection?"
"Mr. Skields admitted that."
"You found correspondence from Mr. Skields to Mr. Griffiths, in the latter's desk?"
"One letter, sir."
"And that of a threatening letter?"
"The letter contained a threat. On the face of the alibi that Mr. Skields established, Inspector Pater and I had to come to the conclusion that the letter was only a threat."
"Only a threat? What do you mean by that?"
"Mr. Skields threatened the deceased. The evidence we obtained showed that Mr. Skields was not in a position to carry out his threat. When he threatened the man again, over the telephone line to the supposed Dr. Bastion, he was not aware that Mr. Griffiths was dead."
Mark Runnell nodded. "You found letters from other people threatening Mr. Griffiths?"
"Many of them."
"I believe a—" Mark Runnell referred briefly to a paper on the table—"a Miss Anstey drew your attention to a threatening letter when you searched Mr. Griffiths' offices in the city?"
"Yes." Inspector Murmer looked slightly astonished.
"From whom was that letter?"
"A Mr. George Martin."
"Did you investigate Mr. Martin's alibi?"
"Mr. Martin was with Mr. Arthur Skields at the time of the murder." Inspector Murmer spoke carefully. "Messrs. Arthur and Ernest Skields, and George Martin were playing cards in Mr. Ernest Skields' flat at the time the murder was committed."
"All three of those gentlemen with 'perfect alibis,' Inspector? I am correct in stating that Mr. Griffiths had a serious disagreement with Mr. Ernest Skields in a city club."
"I have heard so, sir." Inspector Murmer was blandly innocent.
"Then we have 'perfect alibis' for three men, all of whom held grievances against the murdered man. Three 'perfect alibis' which you have not troubled to investigate?"
"I investigated the alibi put forward by Mr. Arthur Skields."
"Did you investigate the possibility of collusion between these three men for the purpose of establishing these 'perfect alibis' and killing Stanley Griffiths?"
Inspector Murmer did not answer.
DIZZY LAINE, seated behind counsel for the defence, watched rather than listened to the evidence given by the English detective. Now and again he glanced towards the woman in the dock, leaning forward on the bare wooden bench and following the rapid exchange of question and answer with eyes that were painful in their intensity. At times he leaned towards the fair-headed girl beside him, to exchange a few words in a hurried undertone. He had no fears for the result of the trial. It might drag on for days—probably it would—a torture to the pale-faced girl in the dock; but the result was inevitable.
A verdict of "not guilty" would be returned by a jury already restless at the deliberate exposures revealed by the cross-examination of Inspector Murmer.
Dizzy wondered. Why had the man forced this weak case against the girl to trial? Even admitting that she had been in Stanley Griffiths' house and with him, at the time of his death; admitting that she had stabbed him with the dagger-ornament she had worn either on coat or hat; admitting that such a wound had caused his death, what had she to fear? She had struck, defending herself from a licentious brute. No jury would convict in that case.
Again the question hammered in his brain: Why had Saul Murmer forced to an issue in court the slight case against the girl? Why had the noted man-hunter, of the famous New Scotland Yard Criminal Investigation Department, not followed the trail of the man who had fired the bullet into Stanley Griffiths' back? There he had an excellent opportunity for a murder charge. He had neglected it. Why? Surely there he had the opportunity for making in Australia a reputation equal to the one he had won in a London.
Dizzy wondered. Could he place personal animosity against himself by the English detective as the cause for the persecution of the girl? Again he had to admit the fact. Perhaps he had acted unwisely in deliberately antagonising the man. Dizzy, however, could not convince himself that such reasoning was correct. He believed that Saul Murmer was playing some deeper, more subtle, game.
He was mentally jerked back to his immediate surroundings by the last question and answer of the cross-examination. He smiled as the stout detective left the witness box. Yet Inspector Murmer did not appear to mind the verbal chastisement the noted K.C. had given him. A smile was creasing the round, full, bland face as he ambled across the well of the court and took a seat on the bench beside Inspector Pater. Yet Dizzy exulted.
The first point in the game for a life had been won; and it had been won on the evidence of Inspector Murmer, the most dangerous witness against the girl. Mark Runnell had diverted suspicion from the girl, directing it against three men who were not charged. If the K.C. could work in like manner on the other witnesses for the prosecution the jury would return a verdict without leaving their box: probably adding some rider that would effectually take the conceit out of the Englishman.
Inspector John Pater followed his brother-Inspector in the witness box. Dizzy leaned forward, whispering to Mark Runnell. The K.C. noddled and smiled. Dizzy turned his attention to the witness. John Pater appeared uncomfortable. He answered Terence McCrae's questions in low, hesitating tones, entirely unlike his usual brisk manner when under examination.
Mark Runnell refused to cross examine, asking leave to recall the witness, if advisable, later in the proceedings.
The judge looked up in mild surprise and nodded. The surprise deepened on the judicial countenance when Mark Runnell repeated his request, after the examination in chief of Dr. Theodore Angus. The medical man had done the defence no harm while under examination by the Crown. He insisted that Stanley Griffiths had been killed by a bullet wound. He admitted, under pressure, that the wound in the neck might have caused death, if the blood stream had not been checked within a short time, but insisted that the man was alive when the bullet pierced his heart. The Crown leader, much annoyed at the witness insistence rather laboured the point, until reminded by the judge that he was treating his own witness as hostile.
Constable John Preston followed the medical man in the witness box; Again Mark Runnell asked that cross-examination be deferred until later in the trial. The Crown counsel objected, insisting that the Crown witnesses be cross-examined at the conclusion of the evidence in chief. After lengthy argument Judge Bonnithorne decided in favour of the defence.
It was evident that he was viewing the Crown case with some suspicion. Dizzy sighed with relief. Another point had been scored—how great a point the prosecution did not yet realise.
Slowly, and with apparent effort, the case for the Crown was built up by a number of witnesses each adding some minute quota of evidence, most of it only indirectly against the girl in the dock. Yet, to his dismay, Dizzy had to acknowledge that there was a case to answer.
Inspector Murmer had been busy. Much of the evidence produced was well-known to the newspaper man, but it was evidence that he had discounted—although he had taken occasion to fully advise Mark Runnell of it, when the defence was being framed. A few moments' reflection, and the cloud cleared from his brows. Already he saw his prophecy being fulfilled—and Inspector Saul Murmer, picking up his return ticket to London, ridiculed and disgraced.
When the evidence of Austin Griffiths, cousin of the deceased, concluded, the real fight commenced. Mark Runnell proffered his usual request for the witness to stand aside for later cross examination. Judge Bonnithorne demurred. He saw no reason why this witness should not be finally disposed of. He was of little consequence to the defence. Did Mr. Runnell wish to hear the whole of the Crown evidence before he decided which witnesses he wished to cross-examine?
"I am glad your Honour has raised this point." Mark Runnell shrugged his falling gown well on to his shoulders, and almost with the same gesture tilted his wig to a rakish angle on his head. "I confidently assert that the Crown is only calling a number of these witnesses with the object of placing obstacles in the way of the defence. Your Honour will readily understand that if the defence had called many of these witnesses and then submitted them to my learned friend's cross-examination their evidence would assume an entirely different aspect to the jury."
Again the K.C. shrugged, this time setting his wig almost mathematically straight on his head while allowing his gown to slide more than half way down his back. "I submit, with all deference that the only real witnesses for the Crown are Inspectors Murmer and Pater, and Dr. Angus. If you agree with me on that point you will realise that the jury is being asked to convict this girl for manslaughter on the sole evidence of Inspector Murmer, supported by a bundle of letters, some of them undated, but entirely uncorroborated by other evidence." Mark Runnell paused and looked down at the counsel for the Crown. "I am going to ask you, sir, to direct that the Crown calls evidence to show that the wound in the neck caused the man's death. That, I submit, has not yet been established."
The grave face of Judge Bonnithorne broke into a light smile.
"Is that all, Mr. Runnell? I am afraid I cannot interfere with the Crown case to that extent."
"I admit that," Mark Runnell commenced, "but—"
"Is my learned friend inferring that I am conducting the case for the Crown incorrectly," asked Terence McCrae, rising to his feet with an injured expression on his round, cheerful face.
"Perfectly incorrectly," asserted Mark Runnell smiling sweetly.
"I submit that my learned friend should cross-examine the Crown witnesses, if he wishes to do so, immediately after they I have been examined-in-chief," continued Terence McCrae. "Of course, if he has no questions to ask them—"
"I have quite a number of questions I desire to ask them," said Mark Runnell, tartly. "As my learned friend has raised the point that I do not know how to conduct the defence—"
"Mr. McCrae did not say that," Mr. Runnell, corrected Judge Bonnithorne.
"I bow to your ruling, sir." Mark Runnell did so, sweepingly. "I will cross-examine my learned friend's witnesses immediately."
A puzzled expression shadowed the judge's face for a moment. Terence McCrae turned and looked at his junior counsel bewilderedly. Before judge or counsel could interfere, Mark Runnell spoke again, this time addressing the court usher.
"Recall Mrs. Mary Gordon for cross-examination, please."
Terence McCrae lumbered to his feet, bending to finish some remark he was making to his junior. Immediately Mark Runnell interposed.
"I really wish I knew what my learned friend wanted. He objected to me asking that Crown witnesses be set back for cross examination later. When I fall in with his wishes and commence their immediate examination he starts to interfere again. Would he like my brief as well as his own? Really, I should have some say in my own case."
Counsel for the Crown sat down suddenly. Before he could recover from this last onslaught Mark Runnel had turned to the witness.
"Now, Mrs. Gordon, In your examination by my learned friend you told of the daily life in Mr. Stanley Griffiths' household, where you held the post of housekeeper. My learned friend questioned you regarding certain visits paid to your late employer by Miss Alice Warren, at very early hours of the morning. Did you know of these visits?"
"Oh, you did. I understood you to say that Miss Warren did not visit the house during your hours of work."
"Alice told me of them."
"Then your knowledge is only what you were told by Miss Warren. I suppose Mr. Griffiths did not inform you on the subject?"
"Very well. Now, tell me, what did Miss Warren tell you regarding these visits?"
"I object." Terence McCrae came to his feet. "My learned friend should have obtained that information when Miss Warren was in the witness box."
"What! Again?" Mark Runnell raised heavy brows. "Oh, well, as you've evidently taken over the defence, as well as the prosecution, I suppose I shall have to bow to your superior knowledge." He turned to the witness. "Now, Mrs. Gordon, perhaps you will tell my learned friend what relation you are to Miss Alice Warren?"
"Her aunt, sir. Her mother was my sister."
"Her aunt! And—please be discreet, in answering this question. Did my learned friend, or the detectives in charge of the case, ever question you regarding your relationship to Miss Warren?"
"Ah!" Mark Runnell turned and looked down on Terence McCrae. "So that is how the Crown authorities prepare a serious case; they don't ask for real information, only for what suits their purposes. Ah, well! Now, Mrs. Gordon, do you know a Mr. Disraeli Laine, of the Post-Advertiser staff?"
"Mr. Laine, is it, sir? Yes, sir, as nice a gentleman as I've ever met."
"Thank you, Mrs. Gordon. You haven't said that regarding the police officers who called on you for information, eh? Well, you know Mr. Laine. Has he ever called on you?"
"And at one of his calls he asked you to bring to the court today certain letters and documents that you showed him and which you informed him belonged to the late Mrs. Warren?"
"Have you brought them?"
"Yes, sir." Mrs. Gordon indicated a fat parcel under her arm, she had been hugging throughout the morning.
"Thank you. Please hand them to the court orderly."
"You are putting, these documents in as evidence?" asked Terence McCrae, eagerly.
"I may, presently." Mark Runnell raised his heavy brows. "At present, I want them in the court's charge—safe from police inquisition."
He turned to the witness.
"Of course, you have read those documents. Will you tell me who they are from?"
"Mr. Stanley Griffiths, sir."
"Letters from Mr. Stanley Griffiths to the lady who lived under the name of Mrs. Warren. I believe you informed Mr. Laine that your sister handed those documents to you just before she died, to keep in charge for her daughter?"
"Thank you." Mark Runnell turned and bowed profoundly to the Crown counsel. "Your witness, Mr. McCrae."
"I should like to know what your intended to establish by your cross-examination, Mr. Runnell?" asked Judge Bonnithorne, mildly.
"A mere matter of completing evidence for my learned friend, sir," Mark Runnell replied airily. "Your Honour will doubtless remember that Mrs. Gordon's evidence was not directed towards proving either the prisoner's guilt or innocence. She was merely asked questions relating to Mr. Griffiths' household and regarding Miss Alice Warren's visits to the dead man between the hours of five and seven in the mornings."
Mark Runnell paused and folded his arms impressively.
"My learned friend has shown that he has no regard for the characters of his witnesses. Had I cross-examined Miss Warren immediately my learned friend concluded his examination in chief I should have been perfectly correct in regarding her as a loose woman—one of the many mistresses the dead man indulged in. But, sir—" Mark Runnell's voice raised a tone. "My client will be no party to the tactics displayed by the Crown. She will have no scavenging of the gutters on her behalf. Miss Warren has been deliberately defamed, her reputation besmirched, by the very people who called her to their aid in their attack on my client."
Again the K.C. paused, to turn and gaze with high indignation on the Crown counsel seated close by. "I am instructed, sir, that Miss Warren's character is to be cleared from the slurs cast upon it by the Crown counsel. It was to that end I questioned Mrs. Gordon. With your permission I now propose to call Miss Warren for cross-examination."
The barrister turned towards the witness box: "Call Miss Alice Warren."
For the short interval while the girl was escorted to the witness box the crowded court sat expectant. Mark Runnell lengthened the interval, knowing that he was raising expectations of some sensation to come.
"Now, Miss Warren," the barrister assumed a brisk, businesslike air. "Mrs. Gordon has admitted that you are her niece. She admitted that she possessed a number of letters and documents from Stanley Griffiths to your mother. I ask you to tell the court what relationship existed between you and the deceased man, Stanley Griffiths?"
The girl did not answer.
"Shall I put the question in another form?" The K.C. spoke gently. "I have been informed that you are Stanley Griffiths daughter. Is that correct?"
"He made me swear not to tell anyone," the girl answered, almost sullenly.
"And you have obeyed him—in spite of the damage to your good name your silence has occasioned?"
"I haven't told anyone." The girl looked distressed.
"Why did you visit, him frequently between the hours of five, and seven in the mornings?"
"He made me." For a moment the girl hesitated; then burst out, "I didn't want to—I hated him—He was a beast—a beast—Oh, I hated him—"
"But you didn't kill him." There was a note of sadness in the barrister's voice. "You visited him at those peculiar hours because he commanded you to and you thought you had to obey your father." Mark Runnell paused. "I am afraid my next question is going to cause you some distress, but I have to ask it. Are you the legitimate, or illegitimate daughter of the late Stanley Griffiths?"
"If you mean, was he married to my mother, yes." The girl's voice rose shrilly. "He was, and he deserted her, and ill-used her—and me—and—"
"Have you your mother's marriage certificate?" interrupted Mark Runnell, gently.
"Is this it?" The barrister handed, a document to the usher to take to the witness box.
"Yes." Alice Warren looked bewildered. "Where—where did you get it? I—we thought Mr. Griffiths had it. We searched everywhere and—"
Mark Runnell bent, whispering to Dizzy Laine. After a moment's hesitation Dizzy nodded. The barrister straightened and turned to the judge.
"I am instructed, sir, that this marriage certificate was in Mr. Griffiths' possession. He had hidden it in a secret compartment of his desk which was overlooked in the police search. It was discovered—and the discovery, I understand, places Miss Warren in very comfortable financial circumstances—by a member of the Post Advertiser staff who has taken a great interest in this case."
"GENTLEMEN of the jury!" Mark Runnell turned with great impressiveness to the jury box. "That is the kind of evidence the Crown—assisted by the so-called famous detectives engaged on this case—present to you as evidence against the accused. Have you noted that not one word of Mrs. Gordon's evidence—not one word of Miss Warren's—I should say, Miss Griffiths'—evidence bears in any possible way toward throwing light on the death of the murdered man or the identity of his slayer. In no manner can it be regarded as evidence against the accused, my client. Is it necessary for me to indicate what sort of evidence this is? If so, then I have no hesitation in naming it mere mud-slinging, in the hope that by examining witnesses under oath—by the raking of legal gutters, something might eventuate that can be fastened on the accused to her detriment.
"Yet, gentlemen, what has the Crown established? Apparently, much against the prosecution's will, it has given me the privilege of righting a great wrong. Stanley Griffiths married a girl—and deserted her, in his inordinate sex lusts. He deserted his daughter, left her to take a position as maid in a neighbour's household, although he has been proved to be a wealthy man. He forced her to visit him, in circumstances that besmirched her public honour."
"Are you making the speech for the defence?" asked Terence McCrae, sarcastically, half-rising from his seat. "If so—"
"No sir," thundered Mark Runnell. "I am trying to defend the honour of a young girl foully slurred by the Crown and this wonderful English detective from New Scotland Yard—who presumes to come here and teach good Australians a business in which he is proved to be a mere amateur. And you, sir; you complain because I did not cross-examine your witnesses immediately and to suit your under-handed purposes. You put a young and innocent girl in the witness box, attempting to prove her—heaven knows for what purposes of the prosecution—the mistress of the dead man. Possibly you thought I should follow the example you set and tear from her any remnants of respectability you had left her—"
"Are you not rather over-stating the-position Mr. Runnell?" asked Judge Bonnithorne, mildly.
"If I have I humbly ask pardon." Mark Runnell bowed eloquently. "I fear my indignation at the indignity to which Miss Warren was submitted by my learned friend. But there! From evil has come good! Allow me to again return to my learned friend's—No, no, I cannot call it a case! Shall I say, a procession of witnesses with nothing pertinent to the case to recount. The next? Constable John Preston. Please call Constable John Preston!"
Dizzy smiled as the constable, much bewildered and with a distinct uneasiness that his beloved police department was to be unjustly attacked, entered the witness box.
Mark Runnell treated him benevolently. With the constable's report written in the Edgecliff hotel in his hand, he led the man through the incidents of his patrol on the night of the murder. Again and again Terence McCrae tried to interfere, pleading that the witness was being led in the questioning; but, by this time, judge and jury were thoroughly intrigued and determined that the defence should have every possible liberty.
Dizzy followed the questioning closely for some time, then allowed his eyes to wander about the court. He noted that the persons required for the final exposure of Inspector Saul Murmer were in the court room, then glanced at the man, and almost gasped his astonishment. Instead of scowls and uneasy shiftings on his hard seat, Saul Murmer was lounging at ease—smiling. Dizzy stared. Yes, the Englishman was thoroughly at ease. It was Inspector John Pater, seated beside his confrère, who wore the worried look, who looked in his expression that out of the mouths of the Crown witnesses the case which the police had laboriously built up was being ruthlessly shattered!
Why? For once in his life the newspaper-man was hopelessly puzzled. He knew that he had worked out a fool-proof case for the defence, that in a few hours Aggie Poulton would be free, and that without even the indignity of a verdict of any sort being returned by the jury. He knew that, long before Mark Runnell had finished with the Crown witnesses, without calling one witness for the defence—either judge or jury would stop the proceedings. Aggie would be released with many apologies; to go out, into her world a declared victim of misplaced police zeal. Then, there would be only one question to answer. Who had killed Stanley Griffiths—and he was prepared to answer that question fully.
"Think again, Constable Preston." Mark Runnell's voice was soft and persuasive. "Let me give you a guide. You have stated that when you came to the corner of Pantheon-street and Wonthaggi-avenue you heard loud singing. You turned the corner and saw two drunken men. They were in evening dress. I suppose they wore hats? Yes. Not too straight on their heads? No, I thought not. Oh, their hats were worn at opposite sides of their heads. So, you noticed that. It was funny, yes! The crowns of the hats inclined one to the other. Good, constable, you have a marvellous memory! Now, tell me of the man who saluted you mockingly. Oh, the mole was farther down, towards the jaw-bone. Good, constable, we're getting along famously. You're one of the best witnesses I've ever had under cross-examination. Looked like an old cut. Good. Very good. Did you notice his hair? Look about the court, constable. Hair is awkward to describe, but here we have quite a representative collection. Glance at the judge—no, that won't do, his wig covers all his hair. What about mine? Perhaps my learned friend will remove his wig for your examination of his hair—but to my memory he hasn't much left; he scratched it all away trying to make cases out of impossible police evidence. Well, we'll take the jury now. Any head of hair among them like that of the man in Wonthaggi-avenue. No? Well, try the general public. Ah!"
Constable Preston's eyes had rested on a man in the public potions of the court. Dizzy swung round, quickly, trying to identify the person the constable was gazing at. Almost involuntarily, he noticed that Inspector Murmer was not in his seat. He was ambling quickly into the space reserved for the public. John Pater was seated alone, lost in his troubled thoughts.
"Why!" The constable's powerful voice rang through the courtroom. "That's one of the men hisself—and there's his pal alongside him. Eh, stop him!"
There was a sudden commotion at the back of the court. Inspector Pater was now on his feet, running to the back of the court pushing his way through the excited spectators. Suddenly a space cleared and Dizzy, standing on his seat, could see Inspector Murmer kneeling on the back of a man and with his arms locked about another. A moment later John Pater arrived to his assistance. Constables gathered round them.
The brief, quiet orders of the judge, directing the actions of the court orderlies, quickly restored order, and the two men seized by Inspectors Murmer and Pater were brought into the well of the court. With surprise Dizzy noted that they were both handcuffed.
"These proceedings are most disgraceful," commenced, Judge Bonnithorne in his gentle, low voice. "I am afraid I shall have to deal with these men most severely."
"If you will allow me to explain—or rather permit the witness to go on with his evidence," suggested Mark Runnell, looking very pleased. He turned to Constable Preston. "You know these men?"
"Sure! They're two drunks, I saw in Wonthaggi-Avenue that night," said the constable explosively. "I'd know them anywhere."
"I should like you to be a little more explicit," suggested the Judge.
"Perhaps if I mention the names of the two—er—disturbers," said Mark Runnell urbanely. "Messrs. Ernest Skields and George Martin. You will remember Mr. Arthur Skields, a witness for the Crown and the owner of the 'perfect alibi.' These are the gentlemen he referred Inspector Murmer to for his 'perfect alibi.'"
Judge Bonnithorne looked round the court for Arthur Skields. He was standing behind the two men, and by him stood Inspector Pater.
"I ask that these three men be held in court," said Mark Runnell, after a short pause.
"Certainly," Judge Bonnithorne nodded. "I instruct that they be detained within the precincts of the court. I shall certainly deal with them when I have time to give the matter thought."
"Perhaps Mr. Arthur Skields would like to go into the witness box for his cross-examination," suggested the K.C. For a moment the man hesitated, then caught Dizzy's eyes. The newspaper-man nodded emphatically.
"I've nothing to fear," he announced. "My story is straight. You can't get over it."
"Perhaps there are a few details you have forgotten to mention," said counsel for the defence blandly.
Under Mark Runnell's gentle handling, Arthur Skields re-told the story of his alibi. He, his brother and George Martin had dined together that evening. Then they had gone to Ernest' Skields' flat, to play cards. He had not been out of the flat that night until he left it with George Martin to go home.
"You had a few drinks during the evening?" suggested the barrister.
"Three or four?"
"I daresay more than that. In fact—" Skields spoke in a sudden burst of frankness. "Fact, I got a bit blotto. Had to lie down for a time."
"Do you remember the house porter coming to the room with a message?"
"Why? How do you know that?" Arthur Skields started, in astonishment.
"Perhaps I have seen the house porter," said Mark Runnell, smiling.
"Well he did, anyway. I was almost out then; just on the edge of sleep."
"And you did go to sleep?"
"Yes. Ern told me I slept for half an hour."
"Your brother and your friend remained in the room while you slept?"
Sudden suspicion came in the man's eyes. He hesitated, then answered confidently. "They were playing cards when I awoke. I looked at the clock, when they chaffed me about falling asleep, and knew that I had slept for half an hour."
"Then you took a hand at cards?"
"We played for some time. I wasn't feeling any too fit, but I didn't like to break up the party."
"You went to sleep about a quarter to eleven?"
"About that time."
"And it was about a quarter past eleven when you looked at the clock?"
"It was twenty minutes past eleven."
"Then the three of you played on until nearly two o'clock? Mr. George Martin drove you home. Did you notice the time when you got to your rooms?"
"It was just after three o'clock."
"And you thought that your clock was fast?"
"Say, you know a lot." Again suspicion flashed in the man's eyes. "But you can't get over my alibi. I was awake and playing cards with my brother and Martin at midnight—and it was at midnight that Stanley Griffiths was killed."
"I am not attacking your alibi." Mark Runnell spoke, shortly. "You will acknowledge that your brother and George Martin could have left the room while you slept?"
"I suppose so. But I was awake at twenty minutes past eleven; and they were there then. They might have gone out while I was asleep, but they had nothing to do with the killing of Stanley Griffiths. We three were together, and I was awake, from twenty minutes past eleven until Martin and I left Ern's place. That's a fact!"
Mark Runnell paused a moment, then looked up. "What happened when you got back to your rooms?"
"What do you mean?"
"Didn't you find that it was much later than you expected—say an hour later?"
Arthur Skields frowned. "I did think it was much later than I expected, and I pulled out my watch to check the clock time."
"And you found that your watch had stopped?"
"You then set your watch by the clock, presuming it to be correct?"
"And the next day found that your watch and clock were right?"
"Did you visit your brother's flat that day?"
"Yes. They hauled me off to the police station for a lot of fool questioning. After they let me go I went to my brother's flat."
"And there you found that your brother's clock was right—then?"
"I suppose so—yes." Skields continued more firmly. "I happened to tell my brother that my watch had stopped the previous night, and pulled it out to see if it was still going. He compared his watch with mine, and we both looked at the clock in the room, All three agreed as to the time."
"Glad you are satisfied—now." Skields' oddly-matched eyes gleamed coldly on the barrister. "But I'm hanged if I know what you're trying to get at."
"I'll tell you presently," Mark Runnell smiled. "I will now cross examine Dr. Theodore Angus."
Terence McCrae and his junior were deep in conference. For a moment the defence counsel watched them, then turned to the medical man in the witness box.
"Dr. Angus, you have stated that you accompanied the police to. Mr. Griffiths' house in Wonthaggi-avenue, and viewed the body. Will you state at what time, in your opinion, the deceased was killed?"
"Between half-past eleven and half-past twelve at night."
"You cannot define it closer?"
"I can, if, you will accept a statement of what Inspector Murmer told me. He said that he entered the house at midnight, and found the men dead. I am confident Mr. Griffiths was not killed before half-past eleven therefore in that manner I can state that the man was killed between half past eleven and midnight."
"If you please," Terence McCrae rose slowly to his feet. "I ask that this case be adjourned to permit me to obtain further instructions from the Public Prosecutor's office."
"I object." Mark Runnell faced the judge, angrily. "I can provide my learned friend with all the information and instruction he requires in this case. I am prepared to continue and to prove that my client is entirely innocent. More, I am prepared to indicate in no uncertain terms who killed Stanley Griffiths."
WITHOUT waiting for the judge's assent, Mark Runnell spoke again. "Please call Sergeant Benjamin Russell."
As the burly Sergeant entered the witness box the barrister faced the judge. "I am asking your indulgence, sir." Mark Runnell tried to suppress all trace of excitement from his voice. "I am aware that this witness has not been examined by the Crown. If you wish, I will give place and allow my learned friend to question him."
Terence McCrae made a quick gesture of negation.
"I haven't the slightest idea of what evidence Sergeant Russell can offer," he admitted.
"I think you had better continue, Mr. Runnell," remarked Judge Bonnithorne. "You appear to have an excellent knowledge of the details of this case."
"I thank you." Mark Runnell bowed. "Now, Sergeant, you went to the house in Wonthaggi-avenue with Dr. Angus on the night that Stanley Griffiths was killed?"
"I was in charge of the details from police headquarters, sir. Dr. Angus accompanied me."
"You were attending Dr. Angus when he examined the dead man?"
"You were with him until he completed his examination, and left the house?"
"I was, sir; all the time."
"You saw Dr. Angus extract this—" Mark Runnell picked up the dagger-ornament from the table and held it out to the witness, "—from the dead man's neck?"
"I did, sir."
"Have you examined it since then?"
"Have a look at it now."
The K.C. took the article to the witness and gave it to the Sergeant.
"Do you notice anything strange about that article?"
"Not particular, sir. It's stained with blood."
"Look at the blood stains. Do you see a fingerprint there?"
"Yes, sir." The Sergeant spoke doubtfully.
"Look closely. Turn the article over. There is a fingerprint on the other side, is there not?"
"Are they not the marks of your first finger and thumb, Sergeant?" The man stared at the barrister, startled.
"I don't know, sir."
"Then, look at these." Mark Runnell handed the witness a card. "You recognise that card and the conditions under which you made those prints?"
"Yes, sir. I gave that to Mr. Dizzy Laine some little while ago."
"Very good. Now take that card and compare the prints with those on the dagger-ornament."
"They look alike, sir." The Sergeant spoke after a prolonged examination.
"They are yours." The barrister spoke emphatically. "Now, tell me, how did those fingerprints get on that article?"
"I'm sure I don't know."
"Think, man." The barrister spoke quietly. "That dagger was in Stanley Griffiths' neck. Dr. Angus took it out, covered with blood. There could be no fingermarks on it then. How did those marks come there?"
Sudden enlightenment dawned on the Sergeant's face. He coloured redly.
"'Fraid they're mine, sir. Now I remember. When Dr. Angus gave it to me it was bent. I think—I think I straightened it before I placed it on the table beside his instruments."
"You think so!" Mark Runnell laughed. "I am sure you did; the ornament tells me that. Thank you Sergeant. I have finished with you. Perhaps my learned friend has some questions he would like to ask."
Terence McCrae shook his head, emphatically.
"Then I will ask Dr. Angus to again enter the witness box." The K.C. waited until the medical man had taken his place.
"Dr. Angus, do you remember removing this ornament from Stanley Griffiths' neck?"
"Did you then note, whether it was bent or not?"
"I really couldn't say."
"You notice now that it has been bent and straightened. Did you bend it while withdrawing it from the wound?"
"No, I am certain I did not. It came out quite easily."
"Then, it is possible to presume that when it was thrust into the man's neck it struck some bone or muscle that bent it?"
"That is quite possible. I took little notice of the wound in the man's neck. No autopsy was performed on the dead man, so I cannot say in what position the dagger rested in the wound. I gave a certificate that the man died from a gun-shot wound."
"You did not take the dagger wound into any account?" Mark Runnell paused. "You know that the police did so? Do you understand why?"
"No, I do not. I insisted that the man was shot, and that the shot alone killed him. I have stated that in this court, I stated it at the inquest, and to the police and others who have questioned me on the matter. The stab in the neck was not, in my opinion dangerous. Still, if neglected and an artery had been severed, the man might have bled to death. But there was little blood in the room. That indicated to me that he was killed instantly when the bullet pierced his heart."
"Then you are prepared to swear that Stanley Griffiths was not killed by a stroke from this dagger-ornament?"
"Emphatically so. I have certified that the man was killed by a bullet wound. I swear to that!"
Judge Bonnithorne dropped his pen on his desk. "I really cannot see how this case can go on," he said, tiredly. "We have listened to a lot of evidence that is entirely irrelevant and which has no possible bearing on Miss Poulton's position in the court. I think, gentleman of the jury—"
The foreman of the jury rose quickly to his feet. "We don't see the use of going on, sir," he said. "I don't know whether you want us to bring in a verdict."
"I don't." For the first time there was a sharpness in the judge's tones. "I am going to discharge the prisoner. I am going to tell her to walk out of that dock and that she should never have been placed there; and for my part in this farce—yes, farce—I tender her my fullest apologies."
He paused, then continued. "I am not going to comment here on the police actions in this case, though I shall certainly have something to say on the matter at another time and another place. Regarding the two men—" He bent and referred to his notes "—the two men, Ernest Skields and George Martin, I order that they be detained in custody while proper inquiries are made into their actions on the night that Stanley Griffiths was killed. I have certain suspicions—"
"Perhaps I can help the police in that direction." Mark Runnell, triumphant and extremely hawk-like in appearance, spoke quickly. "If the police will take their fingerprints and compare them with the fingerprints on the revolver Inspectors Murmer and Pater found in the Wonthaggi-avenue house, they will likely get evidence of value."
The barrister paused, cleared his throat, and continued.
"May I briefly recount the crime, as the defence has pieced it together. Ernest Skields and George Martin determined to call Stanley Griffiths to account over some shady business transactions in which all three were concerned and in which the dead man had deliberately defrauded his associates. They decided to take certain actions which were—shall we say—outside the law. I do not for one moment believe they went out that night with the intent to commit murder.
"It happened that on that night Stanley Griffiths spent the evening with Miss Poulton. After supper he persuaded her to return with him to the Wonthaggi-avenue house—she tells me that he promised to return to her there certain letters of hers which she had written him and which she desired to have back.
"While Miss Poulton was there Stanley Griffiths tried to take advantage of her. It was at the moment when she was struggling in his arms, half-mad with terror and fighting blindly with any weapon that came to her, that Skields and Martin entered the house through the dining-room window, which they had found open. They heard the struggling upstairs and went to investigate. They arrived at the moment when Miss Poulton had struck blindly at Griffiths with the only article in the shape of a weapon to her hand."
Again Mark Runnell paused, to continue.
"It may appear strange, in view of George Martin's reputed shady business dealings, to know that he is considered a strictly moral man. He became enraged at the sight of the girl fighting for her honour against this man of evil repute. He had brought with him a revolver, with some idea in his mind of forcing Griffiths to part with his ill-gotten gains. He was wearing gloves, so his fingerprints did not show on the weapon. In his disgust and rage, he fired wildly at the ravisher, to see him drop dead at the girl's feet. Panic-stricken at his deed, he turned and fled down the stairs followed by his companion, Ernest Skields. Automatically, they turned to leave the house, by the means they had entered it—through the dining-room windows. In the dining-room Skields realised that his companion was still carrying the revolver. He wrenched it from him and threw it away. They then escaped to the road. For some reason they turned up towards Pantheon-street, instead of turning down to Edgecliff-road. Almost at the corner they realised they were approaching the patrolman on his beat, and assumed to be drunk. Constable Preston, with no knowledge of the tragedy, allowed them to proceed, first warning them to make less noise."
The barrister sat down abruptly. Dizzy Laine leaned forward and whispered a few words.
"There is one other point, sir." Mark Runnell rose, staying the judge who was making his way to his private door leading from the court. "It may help police investigations if I mention briefly Miss Poulton's part in the tragedy. She had struck at Stanley Griffiths blindly. She wounded him and he suddenly released her. She fell, half-fainting, on the couch. Dimly she heard the shot and saw the man lurch towards her. She thrust him from her and he fell to the floor. Then she saw the blood on the floor by him. Frantic with terror, she rushed out of the room, speeding down the stairs to the front door. As she opened it she heard steps on the pavement. For a moment she hid behind the half-opened door, and saw Inspector Murmer push open the gate and enter the garden. Afraid to close the door, she turned and fled upstairs. She heard the detective enter the house and, fearful of discovery and being accused of the crime, pulled the couch forward to conceal the dead man. There Inspector Murmer discovered her. In desperation she lured him to one of the bedrooms and turned the key on him. We know the rest."
With a slight bow, completely exhausted, Mark Runnell sank into his chair.
In excited confusion, the court slowly cleared, voices rising in loud comment over the dramatic events of the trial. Dizzy and the tall, fair girl stood together behind the counsel's table, talking in low tones. Suddenly Inspector Murmer left the little group of police and ambled to where the newspaper man was standing.
"Well, Mr. Dizzy Laine, journalist!" A little twinkle was shining in his baby-blue eyes.
"Well, Inspector Saul Murmer, of New Scotland Yard, London!" retorted the newspaper man.
"Please!" A soft voice spoke from beside the two men. "Please won't you two men be friendly. You've had your fight and—" Saul Murmer glanced at the girl, to stare in open-mouthed wonderment.
"Why—" He turned to stared towards the dock. "What's this!"
The dark-haired girl beside Dizzy Laine swung aloft a mass of fair curls.
"Oh, Dizzy made me put this on to-day—and it was fearfully hot. But we didn't want you to—to get confused." She laughed gaily. "Oh, yes, I understand! My cousin, Agatha and I are considered very much alike. I told you the truth when I said I didn't know Mr. Stanley Griffiths, in Sauber's Restaurant. I didn't, but my cousin Agatha did."
"Why, you girls are exactly alike!" Saul Murmer stuttered in his astonishment. "I never—"
"Oh, no we're not!" Adelaide Poulton spoke quickly. "There are really quite a number of differences—but men don't, or can't, see them. A girl would, of course. Dizzy says he can't see them, even when I point them out to him—and he says that he hopes we—that is Aggie and I—won't get mixed up on our wedding day—But, you see—" She looked towards a couple, one of them a girl strangely like herself, standing nearer the dock. Inspector Saul Murmer glanced in the direction in which Adelaide Poulton was looking. He recognised the couple—Agatha Poulton and Arthur Skields.
"So?" Inspector Murmer's broad face widened into a grin. "So, that's it!"'
"Yes." Adelaide Poulton nodded. "They're going to get married tomorrow and—and they're going to England and—and I don't think they'll ever come back here to Australia."
"Well, well!" Saul Murmer turned to the newspaper man. "Suppose I'll have to see about that return ticket to London, as you prophesied some days ago. You did put it all over me, as you said you would, Mr. Dizzy Laine; but I ain't bearing malice."
"Of course not!" Dizzy's ugly face broke into a grin. "You see, you're not a Londoner. Pater told me that. He said you were born near Gretna Green—Unfortunately, there isn't one in Australia—"
"Tut! Tut!" The stout detective shook with suppressed mirth. "Sure you find your marriage laws here accommodating enough—you should, from what I've heard in the divorce courts. Besides, you fought hard for your little lady. Oh, damn. Excuse 'me, miss. If I stay here I'll get all mixed up over you two girls again."
With a hard hand-grip he left Dizzy and Adelaide and ambled to the door, where Inspector Pater was awaiting him. As they left the court-room the Australian detective spoke: "You're a damned ass, Saul! I've never seen such a mess! How we'll get out of it—"
"Don't worry, John," Saul Murmer's hand was groping in his jacket pocket for the inevitable cigarette. "Dizzy Laine, and his Post-Advertiser will see us through. Anyway, you can't get over one fact, we've got our men!"
"Or, rather Dizzy got them for us," added Inspector Pater, determined for once to have the last word with his English companion.
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