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III. — Angel Esquire
Nobody quite knows how Angel Esquire came to occupy the position he does at Scotland Yard. On his appointment, "An Officer of Twenty Years' Standing" wrote to the Police Review and characterized the whole thing as "a job." Probably it was. For Angel Esquire had been many things in his short but useful career, but never a policeman. He had been a big game shot, a special correspondent, a "scratch" magistrate, and his nearest approach to occupying a responsible position in any police force in the world was when he was appointed a J.P. of Rhodesia, and, serving on the Tuli Commission, he hanged M'Linchwe and six of that black desperado's companions.
His circle of acquaintances extended to the suburbs of London, and the suburbanites, who love you to make their flesh creep, would sit in shivering but pleasurable horror whilst Angel Esquire elaborated the story of the execution.
In Mayfair Angel Esquire was best known as a successful mediator.
"Who is that old-looking young man with the wicked eye?" asked the Dowager Duchess of Hoeburn; and her vis-à-vis at the Honorable Mrs. Carter-Walker's "sit-down tea" — it was in the days when Mayfair was aping suburbia — put up his altogether unnecessary eyeglass.
"Oh, that's Angel Esquire!" he said carelessly.
"What is he?" asked the Duchess.
"Oh, no, Scotland Yard."
"Good Heavens!" said Her Grace in a shocked voice. "How very dreadful! What is he doing? Watching the guests, or keeping a friendly eye on the Carter woman's spoons?"
The young man guffawed.
"Don't despise old Angel, Duchess," he said. "He's a man to know. Great fellow for putting things right. If you have a row with your governor, or get into the hands of — er — undesirables, or generally, if you're in a mess of any kind, Angel's the chap to pull you out"
Her Grace surveyed the admirable man with a new interest.
Angel Esquire, with a cup of tea in one hand und a thin grass sandwich in the other, was the centre of a group of men, including the husband of the hostess. He was talking with some animation.
"I held three aces pat, and opened the pot light to let 'em in. Young Saville raised the opening a tenner, and the dealer went ten better. George Manfred, who had passed, came in for a pony, and took one card. I took two, and drew another ace. Saville took one, and the dealer stood pat. I thought it was my money, and bet a pony. Saville raised it to fifty, the dealer made it a hundred, and George Manfred doubled the bet. It was up to me. I had four aces; I put Saville with a 'full,' and the dealer with a "flush." I had the beating of that lot; but what about Manfred? Manfred is a feller with all the sense going. He knew what the others had. If he bet, he had the goods, so I chucked my four aces into the discard. George had a straight flush."
A chorus of approval came from the group.
If "An Officer of Twenty Years' Standing" had been a listener, he might well have been further strengthened in his opinion that of all persons Mr. Angel was least fitted to fill the responsible position he did.
If the truth be told, nobody quite knew exactly what position Angel did hold. If you turn into New Scotland Yard and ask the janitor at the door for Mr. Christopher Angel — Angel Esquire by the way was a nickname affixed by a pert little girl — the constable, having satisfied himself as to your bona-fides, would take you up a flight of stairs and hand you over to yet another officer, who would conduct you through innumerable swing doors, and along uncounted corridors till he stopped before a portal inscribed "647." Within, you would find Angel Esquire sitting at his desk, doing nothing, with the aid of a Sporting Life and a small weekly guide to the Turf.
Once Mr. Commissioner himself walked into the room unannounced, and found Angel so immersed in an elaborate calculation, with big sheets of paper closely filled with figures, and open books on either hand, that he did not hear his visitor.
"What is the problem?" asked Mr. Commissioner, and Angel looked up with his sweetest smile, and recognizing his visitor, rose.
"What's the problem?" asked Mr. Commissioner again.
"A serious flaw, sir," said Angel, with all gravity. "Here's Mimosa handicapped at seven stone nine in the Friary Nursery, when, according to my calculations, she can give the field a stone, and beat any one of 'em."
The Commissioner gasped.
"My dear fellow," he expostulated, "I thought you were working on the Lagos Bank business."
Angel had a far-away look in his eyes when he answered —
"Oh, that is all finished. Old Carby was poisoned by a man named — forget his name now, but he was a Monrovian. I wired the Lagos police, and we caught the chap this morning at Liverpool — took him off an Elder, Dempster boat."
The Police Commissioner beamed.
"My congratulations, Angel. By Jove, I thought we shouldn't have a chance of helping the people in Africa. Is there a white man in it?"
"We don't know," said Angel absently his eye was wandering up and down a column of figures on the paper before him.
"I am inclined to fancy there is — man named Connor, who used to be a croupier or something to old Reale."
He frowned at the paper, and picking up a pencil from the desk, made a rapid little calculation. "Seven stone thirteen," he muttered.
The Commissioner tapped the table impatiently. He had sunk into a seat opposite Angel.
"My dear man, who is old Reale? You forget that you are our tame foreign specialist. Lord, Angel, if you heard half the horrid things that people say about your appointment you would die of shame!"
Angel pushed aside the papers with a little laugh.
"I'm beyond shame," he said light-heartedly; "and, besides, I've heard. you were asking about Reale. Reale is a character. For twenty years proprietor of one of the most delightful gambling plants in Egypt, Rome — goodness knows where. Education — none. Hobbies — invention. That's the 'bee in his bonnet' — invention. If he's got another, it is the common or garden puzzle. Pigs in clover, missing words, all the fake competitions that cheap little papers run — he goes in for them all. Lives at 43 Terrington Square."
"Where?" The Commissioner's eyebrows rose. "Reale? 43 Terrington Square? Why, of course." He looked at Angel queerly. "You know all about Reale?"
Angel shrugged his shoulders:
"As much as anybody knows," he said.
The Commissioner nodded.
"Well, take a cab and get down at once to 43 Terrington Square: Your old Reale was murdered last night."
It was peculiar of Angel Esquire that nothing surprised him. He received the most tremendous tidings with polite interest, and now he merely said, "Dear me!" Later, as a swift hansom carried him along Whitehall he permitted himself to be "blessed."
Outside No. 43 Terrington Square a small crowd of morbid sightseers stood in gloomy anticipation of some gruesome experience or other. A policeman admitted him, and the local inspector stopped in his interrogation of a white-faced butler bid him a curt "Good morning."
Angel's preliminary inspection did not take any time. He saw the bodies, which had not yet been removed. He examined the pockets of both men, und ran his eye through the scattered papers on the floor of the room in which the tragedy had occurred. Then he came back to the big drawing-room and saw the inspector, who was sitting at a table writing his report.
"The chap on the top floor committed the murder, of course," said Angel.
"I know that," said Inspector Boyden brusquely.
"And was electrocuted by a current passing through the handle of the safe."
"I gathered that," the inspector replied as before, and went on with his work.
"The murderer's name is Massey," continued Angel patiently, "George Charles Massey."
The inspector turned in his seat with a sarcastic smile.
"I also," he said pointedly, "have seen the envelopes addressed in that name, which were found in his pocket."
Angel's face was preternaturally solemn as he continued —
"The third man I am not so sure about."
The inspector looked up suspiciously.
"Third man — which third man?"
Well-simulated astonishment sent Angel's eye-brows to the shape of inverted V's.
"There was another man in it. Didn't you know that, Mr. Inspector?"
"I have found no evidence of the presence of a third party," he said stiffly; "but I have not yet concluded my investigations."
"Good!" said Angel cheerfully. "When you have, you will find the ends of three cigarettes — two in the room where the old man was killed, and one in the safe room. They are marked 'Al Kam,' and are a fairly expensive variety of Egyptian cigarettes. Massey smoked cigars; old Reale did not smoke at all. The question is" — he went on speaking aloud to himself, and ignoring the perplexed police official — "was it Connor or was it Jimmy?"
The inspector struggled with a desire to satisfy his curiosity at the expense of his dignity, and resolved to maintain an attitude of superior incredulity. He turned back to his work.
"It would be jolly difficult to implicate either of them," Angel went on reflectively, addressing the back of the inspector. "They would produce fifty unimpeachable alibis, and bring an action for wrongful arrest in addition," he added artfully.
"They can't do that," said the inspector gruffly.
"Can't they?" asked the innocent Angel. "Well, at any rate, it's not advisable to arrest them. Jimmy would — "
Inspector Boyden swung round in his chair.
"I don't know whether you're 'pulling my leg,' Mr. Angel. You are perhaps unused to the procedure in criminal cases in London, and I must now inform you that at present I am in charge of the ease, and must request that if you have any information bearing upon this crime to give it to me at once."
"With all the pleasure in life," said Angel heartily. "In the first place, Jimmy — "
"Full name, please." The inspector dipped his pen in ink.
"Haven't the slightest idea," said the other carelessly. "Everybody knows Jimmy. He was old Reale's most successful decoy duck. Had the presence and the plumage and looked alive, so that all the other little ducks used to come flying down and settle about him, and long before they could discover that the beautiful bird that attracted them was only painted wood and feathers, 'Bang! bang!' went old Reale's double-barrel, and roast duck was on the menu for days on end."
Inspector Boyden threw down his pen with a grunt.
"I'm afraid," he said in despair, "that I cannot include your parable in my report. When you have any definite information to give, I shall be pleased to receive it."
Later, at Scotland Yard, Angel interviewed the Commissioner. "What sort of a man is Boyden to work with?" asked Mr. Commissioner.
"A most excellent chap — good-natured, obliging, and as zealous as the best of 'em," said Angel, which was his way.
"I shall leave him in charge of the case," said the Chief.
"You couldn't do better," said Angel decisively.
Then he went home to his flat in Jermyn Street to dress for dinner.
It was an immaculate Angel Esquire who pushed through the plate-glass, turn-table door of the Heinz, and, walking into the magnificent old rose dining-room, selected a table near a window looking out on to Piccadilly.
The other occupant of the table looked up and nodded.
"Hullo, Angel!" he said easily.
"Hullo, Jimmy!" greeted the unconventional detective.
He took up the card and chose his dishes with elaborate care. A half-bottle of Beaujolais completed his order.
"The ridiculous thing is that one has got to pay 7s. 6d. for a small bottle of wine that any respectable grocer will sell you for tenpence ha'penny net."
"You must pay for the magnificence," said the other, quietly amused. Then, after the briefest pause, "What do you want?"
"Not you, Jimmy," said the amiable Angel, "though my young friend, Boyden, Inspector of Police, and a Past Chief Templar to boot, will be looking for you shortly."
Jimmy carefully chose a toothpick and stripped it of its tissue covering.
"Of course," he said quietly, "I wasn't in it — the killing, I mean. I was there."
"I know all about that," said Angel; "saw your foolish cigarettes. I didn't think you had any hand in the killing. You are a I property criminal, not a personal criminal."
"By which I gather you convey the nice distinction as between crimes against property and crimes against the person," said the other.
"Well?" said Jimmy.
"What I want to see you about is the verse," said Angel, stirring his soup.
Jimmy laughed aloud. "What a clever little devil you are, Angel," he said admiringly; "and not so little either, in inches or devilishness."
He relapsed into silence, and the wrinkled forehead was eloquent.
"Think hard," taunted Angel.
"I'm thinking," said Jimmy slowly. "I used a pencil, as there was no blotting paper. I only made one copy, just as the old man dictated it, and — "
"You used a block," said Angel obligingly, "and only tore off the top sheet. And you pressed rather heavily on that, so that the next sheet bore a legible impression."
Jimmy looked annoyed.
"What an ass I am!" he said, and was again silent.
"The verse?" said Angel. "Can you make head or tail of it?"
"No" — Jimmy shook his head — "can you?"
"Not a blessed thing," Angel frankly confessed.
Through the next three courses neither man spoke. When coffee had been placed on the table, Jimmy broke the silence —
"You need not worry about the verse. I have only stolen a march of a few days. Then Connor will have it; and some girl or other will have it. Massey would have had it too." He smiled grimly.
"What is it all about?"
Jimmy looked at his questioner with some suspicion.
"Don't you know?" he demanded.
"Haven't got the slightest notion. That is why I came to see you."
"Curious!" mused Jimmy. "I thought of looking you up for the very same purpose. We'll all know in a day or two," he went on, beckoning the waiter. "The old man said it was all in the will. He just told me the verse before he died. The ruling passion, don't you know. 'Learn it by heart, Jimmy,' he croaked; 'it's two millions for you if you guess it' '-and that's how he died. My bill, waiter. Which way do you go?" he asked as they turned into Piccadilly.
"To the 'Plait' for an hour," said Angel.
"Partly; I'm looking for a man who might be there."
They crossed Piccadilly, and entered a side turning. The second on the left and the first on the right brought them opposite a brightly-lit hotel. From within came the sound of violins. At the little tables with which the spacious bar-room was set about sat laughing women and young men in evening dress. A haze of cigarette smoke clouded the atmosphere, and the music made itself heard above a babel of laughter and talk. They found a corner, and seated themselves.
"You seem to be fairly well known here," said Jimmy.
"Yes," replied Angel ruefully, "a jolly sight too well known. You're not quite a stranger, Jimmy," he added.
"No," said the other a little bitterly; "but we're on different sides of the House, Angel. You're in the Cabinet, and I'm in the everlasting Opposition."
"Muffled sobs!" said Angel flippantly. "Pity poor Ishmael who 'ishes' for his own pleasure! Pathos for a fallen brother! A silent tear for this magnificent wreck who'd rather be on the rocks than floating any day of the week. Don't humbug yourself, Jimmy, or I shall be falling on your neck and appealing to your better nature. You're a thief just as another man is a stamp collector or a hunter. It's your blooming forte. Hi, Charles, do you ever intend serving me?"
"Yessir; d'reckly, sir"
Charles bustled up.
"What is it to be, gentlemen? Good evening, Mr. Angel!"
"I'll take what my friend Dooley calls a keg of obscenth; and you?"
Jimmy's face struggled to preserve its gravity.
"Lemonade," he said soberly.
The waiter brought him a whisky.
If you do not know the "Plait" you do not know your London. It is one of the queer hostels which in a Continental city would be noted as a place to which the "young person" might not be taken. Being in London, neither Baedeker nor any of the infallible guides to the metropolis so much as mention its name. For there is a law of libel.
"There's 'Snatch' Walker," said Angel idly. "Snatch isn't wanted just now — in this country. There's 'Frisco Kate,' who'll get a lifer one of these days. D'ye know the boy in the mustard suit, Jimmy?"
Jimmy took a sidelong glance at the young man.
"No; he's new."
"Not so new either," said Angel. "Budapest in the racing season, Jerusalem in the tourist season; a wealthy Hungarian nobleman travelling for his health all the time — that's him."
"Ambiguous, ungrammatical, but convincing," murmured Jimmy.
"I want him, by the way!" Angel had suddenly become alert.
"If you're going to have a row, I'm off," said Jimmy, finishing his drink.
Angel caught his arm. A man had entered the saloon, and was looking round as though in search of somebody. He caught Jimmy's eye and started. Then he threaded his way through the crowded room.
"Hullo, Jim — '" He stopped dead as he saw Jimmy's companion, and his hand went into his pocket.
"Hullo, Connor!" — Angel's smile was particularly disarming — "You're the man I want to see."
"What's the game?" the other snarled. He was a big, heavily-built man, with a drooping moustache.
"Nothing, nothing," smiled Angel. "I want you for the Lagos job, but there's not enough evidence to convict you. Make your mind easy."
The man went white under his tan; his hand caught the edge of the table before him.
"Lagos!" he stammered. "What — what — "
"Oh, never mind about that." Angel airily waved the matter aside. "Sit down here."
The man hesitated, then obeyed, and dropped into a seat between the two.
Angel looked round. So far as any danger of being overheard went, they were as much alone as though they sat in the centre of a desert.
"Jimmy" — Angel held him by the arm — "you said just now you'd got a march when you admitted you'd seen old Reale's puzzle verse. It wasn't the march you thought it was, for I had seen the will — and so has Connor here."
He looked the heavy man straight in the eye. "There is somebody else that benefits under that will besides you two. It is a girl." He did not take his eyes from Connor. "I was curious to see that young lady," Angel went on, "and this afternoon I drove to CIapham to interview her."
He stopped again. Connor made no reply, but kept his eyes fixed on the floor.
"I went to interview her, and found that she had mysteriously disappeared this very afternoon."
Again he stopped.
"A gentleman called to see her, with a message from — who do you think, Connor?" he asked.
The easy, flippant manner was gone, and Connor looking up, caught the steady stare of two wild blue eyes, and shivered.
"Why," Angel went on slowly, "it was a message from Inspector Angel — which is a damned piece of impudence, Connor, for I'm not an inspector — and the young lady drove away to Scotland Yard. And now, Connor, I want to ask you, What have you done with old Reale's heiress?"
Connor licked his lips and said nothing.
Angel beckoned to a waiter and paid his score, then rose to go.
"You will go at once and drive Miss Kathleen Kent back to the place you took her from. I shall call tomorrow and see her, and if one hair of her head is harmed, Connor — "
"Well?" said Connor defiantly.
"I'll chance your alibis, and take you for the Lagos business," and with a curt nod to Jimmy, he left the saloon.
Connor turned in a fret of fury to the man at his side.
"D'ye hear him, Jimmy? D'ye hear the dog — "
"My advice to you," interrupted the other, "is — do as Angel tells you."
"D'ye think I'm frightened by — "
"Oh, no," was the quiet response, "you are not frightened at what Angel may do. What he does won't matter very much. What I will do is the trouble."