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XIV. — Opening the
THE four men stood in silence before the body. Jimmy bent and touched the hand.
"Dead!" he said.
Angel made no reply, but switched on every slight in the room. Then he passed his hands rapidly through the dead man's pockets; the things he found he passed to one of the other detectives, who laid them on the table.
"A chisel, a jemmy, a centre-bit, lamp, pistol," enumerated Angel. "It is not difficult to understand why Connor came here; but who killed him?"
He made a close inspection of the apartment. The windows were intact and fastened, there were no signs of a struggle. In the sitting-room there were muddy footmarks, which might have been made by Connor or his murderer. In the centre of the room was a small table. During Angel's frequent absences from his lodgings he was in the habit of locking his two rooms against his servants, who did their cleaning under his eye. In consequence, the polished surface of the little table was covered with a fine layer of dust, save in one place where there was a curious circular clearing about eight inches in diameter. Angel examined this with scrupulous care, gingerly pulling the table to where the light would fall on it with greater brilliance. The little circle from whence the dust had disappeared interested him more than anything else in the room.
"You will see that this is not touched," he said to one of the men; and then to the other, "You had better go round to Vine Street and report this — stay, I will go myself."
As Jimmy and he stepped briskly in the direction of the historic police station, Angel expressed himself tersely.
"Connor came on his own to burgle; he was surprised by a third party, who, thinking Connor was myself, shot him."
"That is how I read it," said Jimmy. "But why did Connor come?"
"I have been expecting Connor," said Angel quietly. "He was not the sort of man to be cowed by the fear of arrest. He had got it into his head that I had got the secret of the safe, and I he came to find out."
Inside the station the inspector on duty saluted him.
"We have one of your men inside," he said pleasantly, referring to the Frenchman; then, noticing the grave faces of the two, he added, "Is anything wrong, sir?"
Briefly enough the detective gave an account of what had happened in Jermyn Street. He added his instructions concerning the table, and left as I the inspector was summoning the divisional surgeon.
"I wonder where we could find Spedding?" asked Angel.
"I wonder where Spedding will find us?" added Jimmy grimly.
Angel looked round in surprise. "Losing your nerve?" he asked rudely.
"No," said the cool young man by his side slowly; "but somehow life seems more precious than it was a week ago."
"Fiddlesticks!" said. Angel. "You're in love."
"Perhaps I am," admitted Jimmy in a surprised tone, as if the idea had never occurred to him before. Angel looked at his watch.
"Ten o'clock," he said; "time for all good people to be in bed. Being myself of a vicious disposition, and, moreover, desirous of washing the taste of tragedy out of my mouth, I suggest we walk steadily to a place of refreshment."
"Angel," said Jimmy, "I cannot help thinking that you like to hear yourself talk."
"I love it," said Angel frankly.
In a little underground bar in Leicester Square they sat at a table listening to a little string band worry through the overture to Lohengrin.
The crowded room suited their moods. Jimmy, in his preoccupation, found the noise, the babble of voices in many tongues, and the wail of the struggling orchestra, soothing after the exciting events of the past few hours. To Angel the human element in the crowd formed relaxation. The loud-speaking men with their flashy jewellery, the painted women with their automatic smiles, the sprinkling of keen-faced sharps he recognized, they formed part of the pageant of life — the life — as Angel saw it.
They sat sipping their wine until there came a man who, glancing carelessly round the room, made an imperceptible sign to Angel, and then, as if having satisfied himself that the man he was looking for was not present, left the room again. Angel and his companion followed.
"Well?" asked Angel.
"Spedding goes to the safe to-night," said the stranger.
"Good," said Angel.
"The guard at the safe is permanently withdrawn by Spedding's order."
"That I know," said Angel. "It was withdrawn the very night the 'Borough Lot' came. On whose behalf is Spedding acting?"
"On behalf of Connor, who I understand is one of the legatees."
"Whew! Jimmy, this is to be the Grand Finale."
He appeared deep in thought for a moment.
"It will be necessary for Miss Kent to be present," he said after a while.
From a neighbouring district messenger office he got on by the telephone to a garage, and within half an hour they were ringing the bell at Kathleen's modest little house.
The girl rose to greet them as they entered. All sign of the last night's fatigue had vanished.
"Yes," she replied, "I have slept the greater part of the day."
Angel observed that she studiously kept her eyes from Jimmy, and that that worthy was preternaturally interested in a large seascape that hung over the fireplace.
"This is the last occasion we shall be troubling you at so late an hour," said Angel, "but I am afraid we shall want you with us tonight."
"I will do whatever you wish," she answered simply. "You have been, both of you, most kind."
She flashed a glance at Jimmy, and saw for the first time the surgical dressing on his head.
"You — you are not hurt?" she cried in alarm, then checked herself.
"Not at all," said Jimmy loudly, "nothing, I assure you."
He was in an unusual panic, and wished he had not come.
"He tripped over a hearthrug and fell against a marble mantelpiece," lied Angel elaborately. "The marble has been in the possession of my family for centuries, and is now badly, and I fear irretrievably, damaged."
Jimmy smiled, and his smile was infectious.
"A gross libel, Miss Kent," he said, recovering his nerve. "As a matter of fact — "
"As a matter of fact," interrupted Angel impressively, "Jimmy was walking in his sleep — "
"Be serious, Mr. Angel," implored the girl, who was now very concerned as she saw the extent of Jimmy's injury, and noticed the dark shadows under his eyes. "Was it Spedding?"
"It was," said Angel promptly. "A little attempt which proved a failure."
Jimmy saw the concern in the girl's eyes, and, manlike, it cheered him.
"It is hardly worth talking about," he said hastily, "and I think we ought not to delay our departure a second."
"I will not keep you a moment longer than I can help," she said, and left the room to dress herself for the journey.
"Jimmy," said Angel, as soon as she had gone, "cross my hand with silver, pretty gentleman, and I will tell your fortune."
"Don't talk rot," replied Jimmy.
"I can see a bright future, a dark lady with big gray eyes, who — "
"For Heaven's sake, shut up!" growled Jimmy, very red; "she's coming."
They reached the Safe Deposit when the bells of the city were chiming the half-hour after eleven.
"Shall we go in?" asked Jimmy.
"Better not," advised Angel. "If Spedding knows we have a key it might spoil the whole show."
So the car slowly patrolled the narrow length of Lombard Street, an object of professional interest to the half-dozen plain-clothes policemen who were on duty there.
They had three quarters of an hour to wait, for midnight had rung out from the belfries long before a big car came gliding into the thorough-fare from its western end. It stopped with a jerk before the Safe Deposit, and a top-hatted figure alighted. As he did so, Angel's car drew up behind, and the three got down.
Spedding, professionally attired in a frock-coat and silk hat, stood with one foot on the steps of the building and his hand upon the key he had fitted.
He evinced no surprise when he saw Angel, and bowed slightly to the girl. Then he opened the door and stepped inside, and Angel and his party followed. He lit the vestibule, opened the inner door, and walked into the darkened hall.
Again came the click of switches, and every light in the great hall blazed.
The girl shivered a little as she looked up at the safe, dominating and sinister, a monument of ruin, a materialization of the dead regrets of a thousand bygone gamblers. Solitary, alone, aloof it rose, distinct from the magnificent building in which it stood — a granite mass set in fine gold. Old Reale had possessed a good eye for contrasts, and had truly foreseen how well would the surrounding beauty of the noble hall emphasize the grim reality of the ugly pedestal.
Spedding closed the door behind them, and surveyed the party with a triumphant smile.
"I am afraid," he said in his smoothest tones, "you have come too late."
"I am afraid we have," agreed Angel, and the lawyer looked at him suspiciously.
"I wrote you a letter," he said. "Did you get it?"
"I have not been home since this afternoon," said Angel, and he heard the lawyer's little sigh of relief.
"I am sorry," Spedding went on, "that I have to disappoint you all; but as you know, by the terms of the will the fortunate person who discovers the word which opens the safe must notify me, claiming the right to apply the word on the combination lock."
"That is so," said Angel.
"I have received such a notification from one of the legatees — Mr. Connor," the lawyer went on, and drew from his pocket a paper, "and I have his written authority to open the safe on his behalf."
He handed the paper to Angel, who examined it and handed it back.
"It was signed today," was all that he said.
"At two o'clock this afternoon," said the lawyer. "I now — "
"Before you go any further, Mr. Spedding," said Angel, "I might remind you that there is a lady present, and that you have your hat on."
"A thousand pardons," said the lawyer with a sarcastic smile, and removed his hat. Angel reached out his hand for it, and mechanically the lawyer relinquished it.
Angel looked at the crown. The nap was rubbed the wrong way, and was covered with fine dust.
"If you desire to valet me," said the lawyer, "I have no objection."
Angel made no reply, but placed the hat carefully on the mosaic floor of the hall.
"If," said the lawyer, "before I open the safe, there is any question you would like to ask, or any legitimate objection you would wish to raise, I shall be happy to consider it."
"I have nothing to say," said Angel.
"Or you?" addressing Jimmy.
"Nothing," was the laconic answer.
"Or Miss Kent perhaps — ?"
Kathleen looked him straight in the face as she answered coldly —
"I am prepared to abide by the action of my friends."
"There is nothing left for me to do," said the lawyer after the slightest pause, "but to carry out Mr. Connor's instructions."
He walked to the foot of the steel stairway and mounted. He stopped for breath halfway up. He was on a little landing, and facing him was the polished block of granite that marked where the ashes of old Reale reposed.
said the inscription. "'Dust, cinders and nothing,'" muttered the lawyer, "an apt rebuke to one seeking the shadows of vanity."
They watched him climb till he reached the broad platform that fronted the safe door. Then they saw him pull a paper from his pocket and examine it. He looked at it carefully, then twisted the dials cautiously till one by one the desired letters came opposite the pointer. Then he twisted the huge handle of the safe. He twisted and pulled, but the steel door did not move. They saw him stoop and examine the dial again, and again he seized the handle with the same result. A dozen times he went through the same process, and a dozen times the unyielding door resisted his efforts. Then he came clattering down the steps, and almost reeled across the floor of the hall to the little group. His eyes burnt with an unearthly light, his face was pallid, and the perspiration lay thick upon his forehead.
"The word!" he gasped. "It's the wrong word."
Angel did not answer him.
"I have tested it a dozen times," cried the lawyer, almost beside himself, "and it has failed."
"Shall I try?" asked Angel.
"No, no!" the man hissed. "By Heaven, no! I will try again. One of the letters is wrong; there are two meanings to some of the symbols." He turned and remounted the stairs.
"The man is suffering," said Jimmy in an undertone.
"Let him suffer," said Angel, a hard look in his eyes. "He will suffer more before he atones for his villainy. Look, he's up again. Let the men in, Jimmy, he will find the word this time — and take Miss Kent away as soon as the trouble starts."
The girl saw the sudden mask of hardness that had come over Angel's face, saw him slip off his overcoat, and heard the creaking of boots in the hall outside. The pleasant, flippant man of the world was gone, and the remorseless police officer, inscrutable as doom, had taken his place. It was a new Angel she saw, and she drew closer to Jimmy.
An exultant shout from the man at the safe made her raise her eyes. With a flutter at her heart, she saw the ponderous steel door swing slowly open.
Then from the man came a cry that was like the snarl of some wild beast.
"Empty!" he roared.
He stood stunned and dumb; then he flung himself into the great steel room, and they heard his voice reverberating hollowly. Again he came to the platform holding in his hand a white envelope. Blindly he blundered down the stairs again, and they could hear his heavy breathing.
"Empty!" His grating voice rose to a scream. "Nothing but this!" He held the envelope out, then tore it open.
It contained only a few words —
"Received on behalf of Miss Kathleen Kent the contents of this safe."
"(Signed) JAMES CAVENDISH STANNARD, Bart.
Dazed and bewildered, the lawyer read the paper, then looked from one to the other.
"So it was you," he said.
Angel nodded curtly.
"You!" said Spedding again. "Yes."
"You have robbed the safe — you — a police officer."
"Yes," said Angel, not removing his eyes from the man. He motioned to Jimmy, and Jimmy, with a whispered word to the girl, led her to the door. Behind him, as he returned to Angel's side, came six plain-clothes officers.
"So you think you've got me, do you?" breathed Spedding.
"I don't think," said Angel, "I know."
"If you know so much, do you know how near to death you are?"
"That also I know," said Angel's even voice. "I'm all the more certain of my danger since I have seen your hat."
The lawyer did not speak.
"I mean," Angel went on calmly, "since I saw the hat that you put down on a dusty table in my chambers — when you murdered Connor."
"Oh, you found him, did you — I wondered," said Spedding without emotion. Then he heard a faint metallic click, and leapt back with his hand in his pocket.
But Jimmy's pistol covered him.
He paused irresolutely for one moment; then six men flung themselves upon him, and he went to the ground fighting. Handcuffed, he rose, his nonchalant self, with the full measure of his failure apparent. He was once again the suave, smooth man of old. Indeed, he laughed as he faced Angel.
"A good end," he said. "You are a much smarter man than I thought you were. What is the charge?"
"Murder," said Angel.
"You will find a difficulty in proving it," Spedding answered coolly, "and as it is customary at this stage of the proceedings for the accused to make a conventional statement, I formally declare that I have not seen Connor for two days."
Closely guarded, he walked to the door. He passed Kathleen standing in the vestibule, and t she shrank on one side, which amused him. He clambered into the car that had brought him, followed by the policemen, and hummed a little tune.
He leaned over to say a final word to Angel.
"You think I am indecently cheerful," he said, "but I feel as a man wearied with folly, who has the knowledge that before him lies the sound sleep that will bring forgetfulness."
Then, as the car was moving off, he spoke again —
"Of course I killed Connor — it was inevitable."
And then the car carried him away.
Angel locked the door of the deposit, and handed the key to Kathleen.
"I will ask Jimmy to take you home," he said.
"What do you think of him?" said Jimmy.
"Spedding? Oh, he's acted as I thought he would. He represents the very worst type of criminal in the world; you cannot condemn, any more than you can explain, such men as that. They are in a class by themselves — Nature's perversities. There is a side to Spedding that is particularly pleasant."
He saw the two off, then walked slowly to the City Police Station. The inspector on duty nodded to him as he entered.
"We have put him in a special cell," he said. "Has he been well searched?"
"Yes, sir. The usual kit, and a revolver loaded in five chambers."
"Let me see it," said Angel.
He took the pistol under the gaslight. One chamber contained an empty shell, and the barrel was foul. That will hang him without his confession, he thought.
"He asked for a pencil and paper," said the inspector, "but he surely does not expect bail."
Angel shook his head. "No, I should imagine he wants to write to me."
A door burst open, and a bareheaded jailer rushed in.
"There's something wrong in No. 4," he said, and Angel followed the inspector as he ran down the narrow corridor, studded with iron doors on either side.
The inspector took one glance through the spy-hole.
"Open the door!" he said quickly.
With a jangle and rattle of bolts, the door was opened. Spedding lay on his back, with a faint smile on his lips; his eyes were closed, and Angel, thrusting his hand into the breast of the stricken man, felt no beat of the heart.
"Run for a doctor!" said the inspector.
"It's no use," said Angel quietly, "the man's dead."
On the rough bed lay a piece of paper. It was addressed in the lawyer's bold hand to Angel Esquire.
The detective picked it up and read it.
"Excellent Angel," the letter ran, "the time has come when I must prove for myself the vexed question of immortality. I would say that I bear you no ill will, nor your companion, nor the charming Miss Kent. I would have killed you all, or either, of course, but happily my intentions have not coincided with my opportunities. For some time past I have foreseen the possibility of my present act, and have worn on every suit one button, which, coloured to resemble its fellows, is in reality a skilfully moulded pellet of cyanide. Farewell."
Angel looked down at the dead man at his feet. The top cloth-covered button on the right breast had been torn away.