Tuesday, 26 January 2016
The Stalking Death - Part 2 of 9
The Stalking Death - Part 2 of 9
Lacey Amy’s Newest and Most Dramatic Story (Luke Allan)
Digitized by Doug Frizzle, January, 2016.Link to Part 1
THE STORY SO FAR
Adolph Aulinlock sat quietly moving the cards of his game of “patience”. Across from him Phyliss, his pretty young wife, glanced indifferently through a fashion-magazine.
The sudden shrill note of a police whistle broke the stillness, bringing her quickly to her feet. Aulinloch sat unmoved, but, curiously alert. As she raised the blind her husband came and stood beside her. On the step of the house opposite a policeman stood and, as he moved aside, the two standing in the window saw the sprawled figure of a man, motionless, twisted. Among the police a young man of evident authority suddenly turned and looked up at them, and Aulinloch stepped quickly aside.
The official turned his flash on the sprawled figure and Aulinloch gasped “My God! Did you see? It’s Fergus Stirling!” Phyliss remembered Stirling as one of a group of jewellers, Freyseng, Kalmberg, McElheren, Zaharoff and Austin Larned—yes, Austin Larned, who only two weeks ago had been found dead.
“Two of them dead—two in as many weeks,” she whispered” Her husband touched her arm and she shrank away wondering how in her sudden, bewildered reaction from a quarrel with Brander Charlesworth she had become this man’s wife.
Aulinloch, who had gone out, returned with Callaghan, a neighbor, and Inspector Broughton, protesting that no unusual sound had occurred in the hour and a half, while Phyliss remembered that he had come in only shortly before the whistle.
Inspector Broughton is visited by the mammoth Kalmberg. who tells of seeing Aulinloch’s car in a suspicious place at the time of the murder, while the inspector by a clever ruse proves that Kalmberg’s powerful hands were capable of strangling a man. Just then Aulinloch is announced.
PLAINLY uneasy, yet as plainly determined to carry through an unpleasant task, Adolph Aulinloch walked into Inspector Broughton’s office. From beneath lowered brows, a way he had of concentrating, he peered at the Inspector, who found it difficult to conceal his surprise.
Mingled with the surprise was chagrin. Aulinloch had chosen his own time—he had come prepared, had got ahead of him, had carried the battle, if there was to be one, to the enemy's country.
The advantage, however, failed to put him at his ease, and in that lay cause for the detective’s surprise. From his short acquaintance he knew Aulinloch as a man not easily disturbed, a man of resource and self-control. This was another Aulinloch.
“Good day, Mr. Aulinloch. So glad you came.” The greeting was amiability itself. “I was going to drop around and have another talk with you.”
He had started to hold out his band, but Aulinloch seemed not to see it. A significant smile curled his lips.
“After Simon Kalmberg I must look unpromising,” he said. “I hope he didn’t disappoint you, Inspector.”
The detective’s face was blank. In a way it disorganized his plan that Aulinloch knew of Kalmberg’s visit. “Disappoint me? I’m afraid I don’t know what you mean.”
“He’s so constitutionally helpful, Kalmberg is. Having no other friends, he’d like to stand in with the police.”
“I can only think you refer to the
affair,” said the Inspector . . . “If it were worth while I’d ask why you bring
Kalmberg into it? How is he concerned with the Stirling
“It’s I should ask that, Inspector. But I know I’d get no reply.”
“Just as,” the Inspector returned coldly, “no one will learn anything from me about your visit, Mr. Aulinloch. Please don’t waste our time trying to startle me into talking.” Suddenly he smiled in a friendly way. “Oh, these secretive police! But, Mr. Aulinloch, leave us something to hide behind.”
The teasing note accomplished more than he had hoped for. Aulinloch’s uneasiness, that had vanished so quickly, returned. In failing to upset the detective he upset himself.
“But,” the Inspector continued, “I can’t dismiss it as lightly as that. I’m curious to know the reason for connecting Mr. Kalmberg with the case at all. As a dealer in precious stones, like yourself, he may have a hundred reasons for coming here. The tricks of a vast world of crooks who envy you often bring us together . . . I seem to recall in the records—that was before my time—that you yourself had reason to call on us.”
Aulinloch had recovered. “It really doesn’t matter why Kalmberg was here . . . But he must have needed you badly. Frankly,” with a smile, “I did hope to worm something from you. May I sit down? I won’t waste our time any longer. I want to tell you of a curious thing that has happened me.”
He settled back, tipping his fingers together. The Inspector had seen that attitude before and he understood it.
“This morning,” Aulinloch said, “I went to my garage as usual to drive myself to the office.” He paused, surprised at the tenseness that filled the room. “I found that during the night someone had been using my car.”
A SWIFT glance passed between the two detectives. Inspector Broughton closed his teeth. The disturbance of Aulinloch’s unexpected visit deepened to a sense of defeat. Aulinloch had doubly beaten him; the man across the desk was much deeper than he had thought. The one clue of value in the
case was vanishing into thin air.
Aulinloch gave no sign that he noticed. “You see, I always run the car into the garage a certain way—you can see where the wheels have almost worn a groove in the cement. There’s a ten-gallon can—an oil can—against the wall on that side, and I have to avoid it. Also the stove stands in that corner, and I’m careful to stop not less than three feet from the metal shield.
“But this morning I found the front mudguard almost touching the shield, and the rear mudguard had actually brushed the oil can.”
He waited for the Inspector to speak, but only a deep silence filled the interval. He hastened on:
“It may sound unconvincing, because sometimes we all break our habits. I believe I can say, however, I never do. Certainly not without knowing it. That is easy to prove—the regularity of my habits, I mean. But there’s something else: I have a foolish habit of watching my speedometer. I have a real affection for my car, and I’m always watching its performance. Mileage to the gallon is a fad of mine. And so I knew the mileage registered when I put it in the garage last night.”
The Inspector interrupted. “One moment, Mr. Aulinloch. How many are in your house?”
“Only my wife and myself. And the three servants, of course. But no one else uses my car. My wife has her own coupe—which she seldom uses, by the way. Anyway, she was not out of the house last night.”
The Inspector drummed on the desk. “This may seem a foolish, even an insulting, question, Mr. Aulinloch, but how are you so sure your wife was not out of the house last night? Do you share the same bedroom? You see, to be able to assure me—”
Aulinloch had sat very still, his fingers pressed tight together. “I can give you no assurance then,” he broke in stiffly. “My wife has her own suite, of course.”
“You understand, Mr. Aulinloch, in my business we have to be cold-blooded. If your wife tells me she was not out of the house, that’s enough for me. Please go on.”
But Aulinloch’s story flowed less freely thereafter. “I’ll give you the figures—”
Aulinloch regarded his fingertips for several seconds without replying. “It would be about my usual time . . . No, ten minutes later. I remember I drove about the park; it was such a lovely evening. But we dine at seven. I’ve never been late since we were married. I dined last night at seven . . . Do you wish the mileage?”
The sarcasm nettled the Inspector, but he managed to hide it. “I like the story complete as it goes along,” be said. “It gives a truer picture.”
“I left the car in the garage registering nine thousand two hundred and thirty-six miles and two-tenths. I bought the car last November and ran it to
and back. This morning the
mileage was nine thousand two hundred and forty-two and
seven-tenths. Whoever used it didn’t take it out of the city.” California
Inspector Broughton reached for a map of the city. “Don’t you lock your garage?”
Aulinloch looked a little foolish. “I thought I did. But I only locked the lane door on the inside, leaving the garden door unlocked until I went to bed. Unfortunately, too, I always leave the key in the car until I lock up for the night. Before I did it that way I never seemed to have the key when I wanted it. . . . Of course, I see now all anyone had to do was climb the fence and enter the garage by the garden door.”
The Inspector pushed the map across the desk. “Mark on that, please, exactly where you live.”
Aulinloch, after a moment’s examination, made a dot with the pencil the Inspector handed him. The latter studied the map for some time, and at the end be sat back, staring at a point above Aulinloch’s head.
“That’s very interesting,” he murmured, “very interesting, indeed. Your car travelled six miles and a half last night . . . and that happens to be exactly double the distance from your house to Fergus Stirling’s!”
Aulinloch bounced forward in his chair. “What—what made you think of that? What can my car have to do with—with Fergus Stirling’s murder?”
“I didn’t mention Fergus Stirling’s murder, Mr.Aulinloch.”
“That’s all you could mean.” Aulinloch’s face was red with anger.
“It’s quite unnecessary to adopt that tone, Mr. Aulinloch, and the sooner you grasp that the better—for you. . . . Perhaps it won’t seem so strange when I tell you your car was in front of Fergus Stirling’s house last night . . . about the time he was murdered! Wait—one moment till I’m through. It was your car your neighbor Callaghan saw before the steps where
body was found. In fact, your car brought him there!”
Aulinloch had dropped back in his chair, his lean hands grasping the arms until the fingers were white. “You have more to say,” he said, in a strained voice.
“That’s all we’re certain of yet . . . But there is something more.”
He looked straight into Aulinloch’s eyes, and the latter returned the stare unflinchingly.
“It’s plain, Mr. Aulinloch, that someone is after you.”
Aulinloch’s grip of the chair arms relaxed suddenly. “Is that all?” he murmured. Then, straightening his shoulders: “I should think you and I would find no difficulty deciding who it is, Inspector . . . Yes . . . I see my good friend Simon Kalmberg interested you.”
But Inspector Broughton would not be drawn. “Stick to the point, if you please. Nothing so interesting has come to this office this morning as the story you bring. . . . And not the least interesting part of it is your persistent suspicion of Kalmberg.
“May I ask why you think Kalmberg hates you, why he should try to injure you?”
“Because—because there’s something about the gem business—something that gets hold of us—a sort of jealousy, I suppose . . . dealing with things of such value.”
“And such profit,” the Inspector added innocently. “So that you suggest that I look for the murderer of Fergus Stirling among his rival dealers?”
Aulinloch frowned. “I suggest nothing. In hatred you must consider the character of the hater to judge what he might do, Inspector. If that’s worth anything to you—”
“Mr. Aulinloch, one of the first things a detective learns is the possibilities of what is called character. . . . And the next thing is that what is called character is nothing more than reputation, the side the owner chooses to expose to the world. It isn’t long after that that we discover that jealousy may well lead to murder even in the most proper of men.”
AULINLOCH made an indifferent gesture with one thin hand. “Kalmberg, I happen to know, was in trouble in
“We’re not discussing Kalmberg,” said the Inspector severely. “Perhaps you suggest I should find how he spent his evening last night”
“You might do less profitable things. . . . Simon Kalmberg, I happen to know, wasn’t far from
Stirling’s home last night at about
the time of the murder.”
“How do you know?”
“I telephoned him at his house about a quarter to nine, and they directed me to the store. When I got the store I was told he had started to walk home a few minutes before. If he walked—well,
Street isn’t far out of his way, is it?”
“Then,” declared the Inspector, “Kalmberg could not have used your car.”
Aulinloch was amused. “I said ‘if he walked’.”
“And if he didn’t you only guess he was near
house at the time of the murder.”
Aulinloch’s face lost its smile. “I don’t charge Kalmberg with using my car. That’s for you to establish—or ignore; it makes little difference to me. I brought you the story; I thought you might be interested. What you ask of Kalmberg is your business. Well, that’s all.”
Inspector Broughton, rather exuberantly friendly at the last, thanked him for calling. As the door closed he turned to his assistant.
“Platt, what the deuce is it all about?”
Platt shook his head. “All I see is that for some reason Aulinloch and Kalmberg are watching each other.”
“And therein lies a task for us . . . Aulinloch could not have shadowed Kalmberg last night. But, yes, he could—in his car.” He flung out his hands. “It’s a devil of a muddle, and our two visitors have muddled it more. . . . Fact is, we have only Kalmberg’s word that he saw that car at all—and I wouldn’t take his word on oath. But right on his heels comes Aulinloch to inform us that his car was there—or practically that. . . . But the significant part of his story is that it lets him off, no matter what we discover now. His car was out—he volunteers it, with the addition that the distance it went is exactly what we know it went. . . . And what that seems to prove is that
was murdered in his own house and the body carried directly to where it was
found. . . . The cleverness of Aulinloch! That man’s going to give us trouble.”
“THERE are two points. Inspector, that puzzle me. If Aulinloch was the murderer he would never use his own car, never stop it where it would he connected with the murder if it was recognized—certainly never stop it at such a dubious point as half way between two houses where it was bound to attract attention. Also, he would never have dumped the body in front of his own house.”
“Wouldn't he?” The Inspector winked. “Just wouldn’t he? We don’t give Aulinloch credit for half his cleverness. You see how everything works together to absolve him—the use of the car, its significant mileage, the place where the body was found. It convinces even you of his innocence. At this moment, Aulinloch, guilty or innocent, feels supremely safe.”
“You gave him some anxious moments. Inspector.”
“Deliberately. Aulinloch is too clever to think we would not suspect him, considering all the evidence. My little play of gentle suspicion would seem to him merely professional. . . . The mutual hatred between Kalmberg and Aulinloch is something fresh to go on.”
“We still have nothing to explain those marks on
throat,” Platt puzzled. “Why strangle him to death and shoot him as well?”
“He was strangled to unconsciousness and then—But that’s what I brought you here for.” He lifted the newspaper from the nails. “
Stirling was not shot.”
“But the bullet hole—right through his head!”
“Have we found the bullet?” the Inspector asked dryly.
“We don’t know where to look—”
THE Inspector had picked up two nails. He held them point to point. “Did you examine that bullet hole, Platt? Closely, I mean. We thought it was fired from the front because of the trace of indentation in the forehead. We didn’t bother about the hole where it came out. . . . But one thing I did notice, and it puzzled me even then: the hole in the back of the head was no larger than the one in front. Indeed, it was slightly smaller. Now, a bullet fired into a hard substance leaves a larger hole where it emerges, due to mushrooming. It flattens a little, distorts. Besides, the loss of velocity results in a smashing progress rather than a piercing one.”
Platt stared at the two nails. “By Jove, that’s it—a nail driven in from both sides!”
Inspector Broughton lifted a warning hand. “Not so fast. Platt, not so fast. That’s my guess. Now I’m off to test it. If I’m right it was a clever dodge. The murderer of Fergus Stirling was afraid to shoot where
Stirling was murdered. But if the police thought it was a
bullet they’d think it took place elsewhere than where it did take place. And
that would lead to other mistakes, every one of which would help to protect the
murderer. Interesting case, Platt. It means there’s more to it than appears at
first glance. This is what we have: dealers in gems who hate one another, one
dead, two somehow mixed up in it.”
He stopped abruptly and his eyes widened.
“One. did I say? Platt. I’m too modest. Two are dead! Austin Larned—who died of heart failure in his bed, we thought—was a dealer in gems! . . . That was two weeks ago. I wonder if it’s too late to have a post mortem?"
BESIDE the living room window of a small roughcast house on the outskirts of the city an elderly woman sat darning a gaily colored sock. Beyond the window, where she sat was a mere dot of a garden, but it was laid out with the formality and perfection of one with time and love for the work.
Under Mrs. Charlesworth’s care flowers bloomed in grateful profusion, and the few beds of vegetables for which she had room crowded over their borders as if jealous of their rivals the flowers.
The woman's eyes fixed themselves on a bed of onions, and with a gasp she rose, tucked the sock into a table drawer, and started for the kitchen. As she passed the stair door, she stood listening for a moment with a rapt look on her gentle old face.
“Brander,” she called, “there’ll be something for dinner you like.”
A strong young voice shouted down to her that there always was. “That’s why I come home.”
Footsteps along the hall upstairs, and then a young man, his chin lathered with soap, grinned down at her.
The young man at the head of the stairs turned sharply away. In the bathroom mirror he frowned at his image. “Easiest thing in the world to deceive a love-blind old mother . . . and the nastiest. But . . . there it is.”
The living room was empty when he descended, but he could hear his mother bustling about the kitchen and he went out to her. As she turned to greet him, a sudden look of surprise and alarm in her face made him stop and frown at her questioningly.
“What’s the matter, mother? Are my ears dirty?”
A stew was simmering on the stove and she turned back to it. “I—I never quite get used to it—that Chinese cast to your eyes—until you’ve been home for days.”
“One of my beauty marks,” he laughed. “But you or dad must take the blame—or credit—for it.”
“We had to have a Chinese nurse,” she said. “I was never well in
. . . .
I’ve seen so many white children born in China who look that way. It makes
you look—quite distinguished.” China
“And yet it always shocks you, mother.”
“That's because I had such unpleasant experiences there, my dear.” she explained, bending over the pot. “Your father and I. You were too young to remember much about it.”
He had come to her side, with a teasing laugh he kissed her ear and started toward the kitchen, but his mother blocked the way.
“No. Brander, this is your holiday. I like doing it—everything. There’s really so little to do.
“If you must do something,” she said, “you can run around to the grocer’s—”
“That’s just what I can’t do. You know that. I’m not supposed to be within seventy-five miles of here, and if the boss knew it I’d get the bounce. D’you know, I believe that would suit you, just to have me home.
“Say, that stew smells bully. I can never get stew like yours anywhere else.”
“You said that was why you came home,” she teased.
“No,” he replied, half playful, half serious, “I really come home to keep you from being robbed.”
SHE lifted a reproving linger. “Now Brander, you know no one robs me.”
“I’d like to know what you call the way they did you out of those jade carvings.”
“But they weren’t jade. We always thought so your father and I, but that was because we got them in
and the mandarin said they were. But when all those experts decided that they
“All those crooks,” he exploded. At the pain in her eyes he changed the subject. “If you don’t hurry with that stew, and those onions, I’m going to eat them as they are. See here, mother, I haven’t had a decent meal, not a real home meal, since I was here last.”
“That was only two weeks ago,” she said.
He got to his feet and busied himself setting the table. Comparative poverty had taught him to share the housework. His father had died four years after their return from
where he had held a position in an English factory. One of the incessant
revolutions had wiped out the factory, and in the strenuous and dangerous
period that followed he had contracted tuberculosis and been forced to return
home. During the years in China
they had saved only enough to keep them with strictest economy, an affliction
Brander had learned to resent at an early age. China
As they ate he watched his mother soberly. She looked up at him with frightened eyes. “No use, mother, I must get it off my chest now and then. Of course in a year or two—earlier, if the stock market takes a turn—I’ll be able to give you the comforts you deserve. Why, oh, why was I such an ass about getting rich quick? Doing so well, too. Why, in another year you’d have been in clover. And now even the small dividends petering out—and all I can make poured in to hold my stocks!”
“But we owe nobody, Brander,” his mother reminded him gently. “You’ll own your stocks in a few months.”
“Yeah,” he agreed bitterly, “but at such a sacrifice! All that jade we’d counted on!”
“But, Brander, every one of the experts said they weren’t jade. I was so careful to have them appraised by so many—seven of them, all of them experts.”
“All of them crooks,” he repeated. “Dad thought they were jade. The mandarin who gave them to dad thought they were jade—and he’d know. And he was paying dad for saving his life—and his family’s. Why, he’d been all his life collecting them.”
“He had nothing else left to give your father, Brander.”
“And he was much too grateful to deceive dad,” the young man insisted. “I wish you hadn’t done anything about it until you saw me, mother. Yes, yes, I know,” as his mother looked at him reprovingly, “it was all for me—and I’d have lost those stocks without that thirty-five hundred, but . . . Well, it might have been just as well. At any rate it would have served me right.”
THEY had threshed the affair out so many times and arrived nowhere. It was part and parcel of Brander’s bitterness that the carvings were sold to save him from the penalty of foolish speculation. He had known nothing of the sale until the draft reached him, and then it was too late to do anything about it. He had, to be sure, hurried back home and gone to see Aulinloch, to whom the carvings had been sold, only to be met with frigid surprise and indulgent scorn. It had cost something to make that visit. Since Phyliss had married Adolph Aulinloch Brander had kept out of their way, and to be forced to ask a favor of the man who had won the prize of which he had once been so sure was a bitter dose.
He had left Aulinloch in a blind fury, uttering threats of which he was scarcely conscious. One after another he had visited the other six dealers in gems to whom his mother had taken the carvings for appraisal, and had been met with the same cold contempt or frowning silence! and he had cursed them to their faces as rogues and crooks.
“At any rate,” he muttered, biting the top from an onion with a vicious snap of his strong young teeth, “there’s another of them gone.”
His mother stared at him. “My dear! Mr. Stirling was murdered—murdered, the papers say! . . . And ‘another of them’—what do you mean, Brander? Mr. Larned died in his bed—of heart failure. What has all this to do with the carvings? It pains me to hear you—”
“Anyway, mother, with your faith you should see in it the hand of
“I’ll see the hand of
when they catch Mr. Stirling’s murderer,” she returned firmly. Providence
He scowled across the table. “Perhaps
tried his dirty tricks once too often. . . . There’s crime, mother, that’s
within the law—like cheating you out of that jade—and if there’s no other way
to punish it. . . I can find it in me to sympathize with—revenge.”
Mrs. Charlesworth shivered involuntarily. “Don’t talk like that, my dear. . . . And we’ve no proof they were dishonest.”
“Listen mother. You went to Aulinloch first, and when you weren’t satisfied he sent you to one of the others—and that one to another—and so on. I know—you didn’t know who to see. But the whole affair looks like a plot from beginning to end, a plot to rob a trusting woman with nothing else to sell. They deserve any fate that comes to them,” he ended savagely.
Tears had gathered in his mothers eyes, but before she could answer, the doorbell rang. Brander made for the stairs. As he opened the door he turned nervously to his mother.
“Remember, mother, whatever happens I’m out of the city No one must know I was here last night. Be careful—at all costs!”
He disappeared into the stairway and closed the door. And his mother, after standing for a moment with wide, frightened eyes, tried to wipe from her face the signs of recent emotion before opening the front door.
ON the doorstep a tall, gaunt-faced man smiled at her. His hat, a broad-rimmed black affair, was in his hand, and a gleaming bald dome bent toward her.
“Good afternoon, Mrs. Charlesworth. May I come in—just for a few minutes?” One foot already rested on the threshhold and involuntarily she retreated, He entered and, reaching back a bony hand, closed the door behind him. Instantly his cringing humility passed. “You don’t recognize me, Mrs. Charlesworth?” The gaunt face creased to something faintly resembling a smile. “We had—business once, you may remember.”
Mrs. Charlesworth, though the man’s face was familiar, could not for the moment place him. But she knew she disliked him. At the mention of business, a new word in her vocabulary of personal experience, she recalled a tiny, untidy office behind an untidy store, where she had sat uneasily while this gloomy, repulsive man lifted each little carving from the old suitcase and, with an utterly still face, informed her that the stone she had thought was jade was nothing but—she couldn’t remember the word he had used. Of course he had no use for them—he told her so contemptuously. And when she had fearfully asked where she could go—some other merchant who might be willing to buy—he had mentioned Simon Kalmberg. And, glad to escape the haunting presence, she and the boy she had hired to carry the suitcase, had departed for Kalmberg’s with less hope than ever.
“Oh, yes, Mr. McElheren, I remember you now. Won’t you—sit down?” She hadn’t intended to say that, but hospitality was instinctive in her. Her ear, too, was toward the stairway.
McELHEREN seated himself primly on the front three inches of a chair, placed his Quakerish hat primly on a convenient table, and commenced to rub his bony hands between bony knees. Mrs. Charlesworth thought of “the valley of dry bones”.
“I’ve been think of our little business, Mrs. Charlesworth,” McElheren began; and coughed. “Those little carvings, you know. The—unfortunate affair of last night brought it all back to me. It was Mr. Stirling, I believe, who sent you to me.”
“I didn’t tell you so,” Mrs. Charlesworth said sharply.
“No—ah—no. In fact, it was
Stirling himself. He called
me up the day after to see what I made of the carvings. And now he’s gone, poor
man, and such a violent death! Well, it got me to thinking. At times like that
sorrow and death, you know—we are all inclined to be—to be a little
more—indulgent, shall we say? I remember how badly you took the news that the
stone wasn’t jade, and I realized for the first time how much you must need
the money. I’ve been poor myself, and I understand the tragedy of it. Ahem—I do
hope you were able to find a generous purchaser, Mrs. Charlesworth, one who
appreciated your need as I did not at the time.”
“I sold them.” Mrs. Charlesworth told him shortly. She wished to end the visit as quickly as possible. An undercurrent she but dimly felt troubled her.
“Ah—yes. To Mr. Aulinloch, I understand. I hope the price he paid was commensurate with your need.”
“Perhaps the price you all put on the carvings got around through the trade.” she surmised contemptuously. “But there’s nothing more to say, Mr. McElheren.” She rose.
HE made a motion for her to sit down again. “But, yes, Mrs. Charlesworth, there is something else—if you’ll permit me. Please let me finish. Yes, I know you sold to Aulinloch, and the price. After reading of this—horrible murder I got to wondering if you were disappointed in the price. By your manner when you came to me I believe you thought the carvings worth a small fortune, and you were counting on them for some urgent purpose.”
“I was, Mr. McElheren, but that’s all over with now.”
He saw the look of bewildered impatience in the woman’s face and hastened on:
“I thought that maybe I could offer you more—could let you have more for the jade—I mean, the carvings.”
“But they’re sold, Mr. McElheren.”
“Yes—yes, of course. . . . But I thought perhaps if you went to Mr. Aulinloch and begged to have them back—if you appealed to him as a poor woman in want. If, as a last resort, you threatened to tell how he’d robbed you—”
“But you yourself scoffed at them—you refused even to offer a price. If the price was fair, as all of you seemed to think—”
McElheren stopped her with uplifted hand. “Mr. Aulinloch is the greatest expert in the city. He would not pay you thirty-five hundred dollars unless he expected to make a tremendous profit—a large profit, let us say—a thousand dollars, maybe, or perhaps a little more.”
MRS. Charlesworth sat quietly watching and thinking. “Go on, Mr. McElheren. What do you propose?”
“That you go and get them back, as I said. . . . If he refuses, you might—threaten him with exposure. That would show if the deal was honest. . . . Or you might appeal to his wife. I understand you’re related. I believe you were—intimate with her before her marriage.”
“Would you,” she asked, stiffly, “consider Mr. Aulinloch a man who would give me back the carvings? I haven’t the money to return it.”
“That’s all right, that’s all right, Mrs. Charlesworth,” McElheren offered grandly. “Count on me for that. I’ll give you the thirty-five hundred.”
When she made no reply, he gulped once or twice, then: “I’ll do better than that—and this should win him over if the deal was honest. I’ll add five hundred to that—say four thousand. Then you let me have them and I’ll give you five hundred more for yourself. Is that generous or isn’t it, I ask you? I simply can’t bear to think of a poor woman like you in need. I take a chance, of course, because as mere carvings—”
“Then you admit that seven of you, seven business men of this city, were—dishonest?” she said, with curling lip.
“Dishonest, Mrs. Charlesworth? Impossible. Mistaken—that’s just possible, though that remains to be proven. But dishonest to an old woman with no one to protect her—”
“You forget I have a son, Mr. McElheren, a son quite able to protect me.”
“Did he protect you in this case?” he snarled.
“I gave him no chance. . . . Mr. McElheren, your visit today has almost convinced me that my son is right: I was robbed. And you were one of the robbers. Wait a moment. You’ve talked a lot, now I’ll take my turn. Seven of you agreed—to the same thing. That alone should have made me suspicious—especially after I saw you. Stranger still, you all agreed on a price so uniform that I should have suspected you right away. If it wasn’t jade, then how could you set such a common price? Because you were combined against me.”
McElheren regarded her with wide, pained eyes. “Is that—fair, Mrs. Charlesworth?”
“My son said right away you’d cheated me. I never thought—”
“Your son!" McElheren made a face. “What does he know about gems?"
“Then they were gems!”
“Certainly not. Of course not, but counterfeits come within the business of the expert—not of callow young chaps like your son.”
In the silence that followed Mrs. Charlesworth distinctly heard a noise from the stairway. She rose and began to talk:
“That’s all, Mr. McElheren. There’s nothing more to say. The carvings are sold, and I certainly will take no such step as you suggest to get them back. For you or anyone else. Honesty is more general than you suspect. I’m not so poor as you suppose. I’ve a son able to look after me.”
McElheren had come to his feet. “Is he able to look after himself?” he asked, in a loud voice. “Mrs. Charlesworth, your son came to me and threatened me—threatened me with violence. I understand he did the same to others. Since
Stirling’s death I’ve wondered
if he didn’t do the same to him . . . and if the police shouldn’t know.”
Mrs. Charlesworth’s face was deadly white. “The police?” she gasped.
“Exactly. I’ve no doubt the police would thank me for—”
“What foolishness!” Mrs. Charlesworth “My son was never an enemy of Mr. Stirling’s. He never threatened anyone—that way.”
McElheren paid no attention. His eyes were on the passageway from which opened the door into the stairway. “We could trust the police to get at the truth. . . . Of course, if they discover this affair—the carvings, I mean—these threats of your son’s will all come out. I’m not sure it wouldn’t be safer for your son to tell the police all about it himself—and produce his alibi for last night before they suspect him. Of course if he can prove he wasn’t in the city—”
BY a supreme effort Mrs. Charlesworth fought back the weakness that came over her. “Don’t talk alibis to me, Mr. McElheren.”
“Then you don’t mind if I tell the police?” he grinned. He saw her small fists clench, and continued: “Of course if you prefer that I say nothing.”
She found her voice then and wondered at its smallness: “Naturally it would be a nuisance to bring my son into it at all.”
He nodded. “As you say, Mrs. Charlesworth. . . . And do you still persist in letting Aulinloch have those carvings?”
The flagrant threat of it sent a wave of anger over her. “I not only persist,” she told him, “but I refuse to discuss it further. But I know now what a rogue you are. Talk of ‘dark spots’—you’re the darkest one I know in this city. You’re in with Mr. Aulinloch—the lot of you are—and that isn’t dishonest enough for you but you must try to double-cross him, a fellow-conspirator. . . . And if I get the carvings back you’d delight in double-crossing me. Now go—and the quicker the better.”
She stalked to the door and opened it. And McElheren, his cheeks white as chalk except for a point of red in each, grabbed his Quakerish hat, crammed it on his head where he stood, and walked out.
As the door closed behind him he sputtered back:
“Your son will need his alibi. These police are inquisitive.”
BRANDER threw open the stair door and ran to his mother’s side.
“He heard me, the old scoundrel. I’d like to have come out and twisted his scrawny neck.”
She did not look at him, her thin fingers fumbling at the leaves of a magazine on the table, displaced when McElheren grabbed his hat. Suddenly she turned and threw her arms about her son’s neck. Brander felt a tear run hot above his collar and, teeth set, he took her by the shoulders.
“Stop it, mother. Why do you let him upset you like that?” He linked his arm in hers. “Come along and let’s clean up the dinner things. We won’t let that old crook spoil our day.”
He tried to laugh, but still she would not let him see her face. Working about the kitchen, Brander saw the far-off, frightened look in her eyes and, as he passed behind her, a wrinkle of pain crossed his forehead. After a time he could stand it no longer.
“Mother, what are you worrying about? If that scoundrel shows up here again.” he burst out in a blaze of anger, “I’ll forget I’m supposed to be three hours away and kick him out.”
“If only you could!” she whispered.
He stared at her. “You see how it is don’t you. mother? I couldn’t give an alibi; and I’d lose my job if I were brought into this at all.”
“You didn’t get to the city till eleven last night. Brander,” she sobbed. “If he tried to make trouble—”
“But, mother, that doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter—nothing matters but that no one must know I was here. My boss isn’t one to take an excuse—and, really, the only excuse I have is that I wanted to see you. . . . And that’s no good, because I was here only two weeks ago. Besides, it would get Sim Carlson into trouble for doing my work for me as well as his own for these few days.”
She seized it eagerly. “Then you’re staying a few days, my dear?”
“No—no, mother, I must get back this afternoon. Sim offered to take my place for two days, but I can’t ask it of him. You see how it is, mother? No one must know I was—”
“But if Mr. McElheren heard you?”
“Trust McElheren to say nothing about that visit of his.” He touched her hand. Is it necessary to clear myself in the eyes of my own mother?”
“Mrs. Charlesworth could hold back the tears no longer. “It isn’t that, Brander, you know it isn’t that. You never need clear yourself before me. I know my own son. But—but it hurts terribly that others can think—can think you capable of anything wrong.”
SHE did not see the look of pain that came to his face again. He tried to laugh. “Sure I’m capable of wrong. You don’t know this violent son of yours. Right now I’d like to wring that sneak’s neck. . . . But, mother, if my visits are going to bring you trouble—”
“Don’t, Brander,” she pleaded, “don’t.” She peered into his face. “Is it only to see me you come, my dear?”
He knew she had wanted to ask that question for months—for years, and his face went crimson. “You know Phyliss is less than nothing to me now,” he assured her.
“Phyliss was foolish, so very, very foolish, my dear,” she murmured. “I’m sure she regrets it every day of her life.”
His eyes gleamed. “You think so, mother?” He turned quickly away. “We’ve no reason to think so. . . . And if she does, she made her own bed. . . . Women are usually content with money. She got that with her old man.” His tone was bitter.
“Do you—never see her now, my dear?”
“Is it likely—after the way she turned me down?”
“She thought you were turning her down—in a way; you refused to wait until you could afford to marry—and you wouldn’t take the job her father offered you.”
“I’m not living on my wife’s people,” he replied shortly. “With economy we could have married.”
His mother sighed. “Economy—no one knows better than you how dull it is at times.”
“Perhaps,” Brander mused, “if I—hadn’t been alone I’d never have gambled on those stocks. If someone had been with me to hold me down—”
“Could anyone do that, Brander? You were always—well, a little headstrong. . . . I often worry for fear you’ll do something reckless. But Phyliss couldn’t—”
He folded his napkin with grim finality. “I must be getting along now, mother.”
She looked at him appealingly, and he knew what she meant.
“No, I can’t ask any more of Carlson, mother. I’ll start right away, then I’ll be in time to run over his report of today’s play before he wires it in.”
He turned his back on the pain in her eyes and hurried upstairs. That was the worst of it with her—she loved him so much that she felt when he was not frank with her.
In a few minutes he was back with his bag and, after a long kiss, he made sure that the way was clear and climbed the fence into the lane. From a garage half a dozen blocks away he ran out his old roadster.
For a time he drove aimlessly about, his hat dragged over his eyes. Then he headed for the city and a street of fine residences pulled sharply in to the curb. Further along the street a man came in sight, and, with a quick, nervous glance, Brander swung the car away in a sharp circle and raced back the way he had come.
Over his shoulder, as he whirled around the corner, he saw Inspector Broughton climb the steps of the house before which he had almost stopped.
(To be continued) (Link to Next Part)
Lacey Amy, author of this exciting story is a prolific producer of mystery fiction, so much so that his work appears under several names. This story will ultimately appear in book form as from the pen of Luke Allan—a name that he has made familiar to all who love a thrilling tale and under the title “The Dark Spot”.
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- As an armed forces brat, we lived in Rockcliff (Ottawa), Namao (Edmonton), Southport (Portage La Prairie), Manitoba, and Dad retired to St. Margaret's Bay, NS.
Working with the Federal Govenment for 25 years, Canadian Hydrographic Service, mostly. Now married to Gail Kelly, with two grown children, Luke and Denyse. Retired to my woodlot at Stillwater Lake, NS, on the rainy days I study the life and work of A. Hyatt Verrill 1871-1954.