Thursday, 28 January 2016
The Stalking Death - Part 3 of 9
The Stalking Death - Part 3 of 9
Lacey Amy’s Newest and Most Dramatic Story (Luke Allan)
A serialized novel starting from The Canadian Magazine, September, 1932. Illustrated by Carl Shreve
Digitized by Doug Frizzle, January, 2016. (To Part 2)
THE STORY SO FAR
THE sudden shrill note of a police whistle brought Phyliss Aulinloch quickly to her feet, but her husband sat unmoved, curiously alert. As she raised the blind he came and stood beside her. On the step of the house opposite, Fergus Stirling, one of a group of jewellers, had been found, murdered.
“Two of them dead—two in as many weeks,” Phyliss whispered, remembering Austin Larned, who had been found dead only two weeks before. 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 last 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.
When he had gone the Inspector remarked to his assistant, Platt, "The mutual hatred between Kalmberg and Aulinloch is something fresh to go on.”
“And yet,” his assistant urged, “a man doesn’t leave his own car as evidence against him, and then, why shoot a man when the marks on his throat show that he was strangled?”
“Stirling wasn’t shot,” the Inspector retorted, laying a package of nails on the desk. “Those bullet holes are nail marks, made by a man who wanted to leave the impression that
In a small house in the suburbs Brander Charlesworth talked bitterly with his mother of the way he believed a group of jewellers had swindled her out of her precious jade carvings. As they talked, one of the jewellers, McElheren, arrives. In hiding, Brander hears him urge Mrs. Charlesworth to try to frighten Aulinloch, the purchaser, into relinquishing the gems, and hinting darkly that Brander’s outspoken threats have placed him under suspicion. Brander determines to visit Aulinloch’s house, but as he nears it he sees Inspector Broughton climb the steps.
Phyliss Aulinloch stood at the living room window staring vacantly into the street. Her eyes were fixed on the steps of the deserted house opposite, but what she saw was a limp form outstretched there, a band of police about it, the roadway packed with curious spectators.
In appearance Phyliss had changed noticeably from the evening before. She wore no jewelry, and her dress was frigidly plain. It was a dress she had worn but once before, and then to shock the new, showy friends she had made since her marriage—Adolph’s friends. On that occasion to her surprise she found she shocked herself more, for, dressed thus, she became, in spite of herself, the Phyliss she had tried ever since her marriage to forget.
Now, without the jewels with which Adolph loaded her, she felt freer, cleaner, less the bought woman of an unloved husband. She was conscious, too, that never before had she so frankly faced her future. It had never looked rosy since Brander, hurt and angry, had left without even a word of farewell. Now she marvelled that she had ever thought life with Adolph Aulinloch, despite his wealth, promised to ease the pain at her heart.
She had not seen her husband since the night before when, flinging into his still, down-turned face the lies he had told Inspector Broughton, she had shut herself from him with the closing of the living room door. Locked in her own suite of rooms, she had been dazed with the possible significance of those lies, and with her own reckless recognition of them. How could either of them ever forget? How could they even gloss it over in the unemotional meetings of their day? Could she face Adolph across the table without challenging him again with the questions as yet unanswered?
She had not gone down to breakfast, the first time since their marriage, and Adolph had left without a word. That in itself was a crisis, for Adolph was so punctilious in his attentions, so scrupulously exact in the routine of greeting and farewell. He had always treated her better than she deserved, never once failing in unselfishness, in respect and adoration, the qualities that had tipped the scale in the days of his swift courtship when she was sore at heart.
The picture of his unfailing devotion troubled her now. She owed him so much, and the part she had to play, difficult as it was, could never be denied. Standing before the window, with the night before flaming in her memory, she wondered where she had been wrong. Had she satisfied her husband that she felt no remorse at their hasty, ill-mated marriage? Was her long, grateful acceptance of his goodness enough to sooth her suffering?
However well she had acted before, she knew her lapse of last night must have betrayed her, had been rash, foolish. In her heart she was convinced Adolph’s falsehoods covered no real crime. He had to have a reason for them. His business was made from reticences, of secretiveness, but never before had she thought of them as reaching beyond his office.
An old car came up the street, traveling fast. Otherwise the street was empty, as she watched the car with a certain amount of interest, it swerved toward the curb something seemed to move over inside her and she was grateful for the cotton sash curtain. Breathlessly she watched, one hand smoothing the heavy silk inner curtains while the other was to her heart. The car was going to stop! At the house! And Adolph away!
Then—as if to taunt her—it wheeled about, dashed down the street. She pressed her face to the glass to catch the last glimpse of it—ashamed—convicted!
Slowly her vacant stare returned to the road below. Someone—a man—a familiar form was climbing the front steps of the house. Before she had time to draw back she found herself looking squarely into the eyes of Inspector Broughton!
The Inspector lifted his hat to her and disappeared beneath the porch. Phyliss heard the jangle of the bell and suddenly her limbs felt like water. But by the time the maid announced her visitor she had almost recovered herself.
“Bring him up here, Bertha,” she ordered, without hesitation. The very seriousness of the trial before her lent her strength and decision.
But when the Inspector was ushered in her defences almost tumbled to ruins. He was not in uniform, and he had left his hat downstairs. He smiled disarmingly. His immaculate suit, well pressed and faultlessly fitting, was that of a formal caller. His manner bore out the illusion.
“Good afternoon, Mrs. Aulinloch. I’m surprised to find anyone in on a day like this.”
His manner was so friendly, so expectant, that she extended her hand before she realized what she was doing. He took it briefly, bowing formally over it, so that she found it difficult to remember he was the detective in charge of the
Stirling murder—and at that moment, without doubt, acting
in the course of duty. As she waited for him to appear she had picked up
absent-mindedly the fashion magazine she had been reading the night before when
the police whistle sounded.
Inspector Broughton nodded toward it apologetically. “It must be hard to forgive anyone who interrupts a rite like that.”
“There may be other interests for a woman,” she returned, with an effort at lightness, “but the popular belief is well founded that they are secondary. Won’t you sit down?”
He thanked her and waited for her to take a chair. He made no mention of seeing her at the window, and she was grateful—until she realized that there was something suggestively deliberate in the omission.
“An affair like last night, Inspector, must be—attractive to you. I don’t mean that in a cruel sense, but it’s events like that that justify your profession— and test your capacity. My excuse for even hinting that I would like to know what you have discovered is that the affair happened right before our house—almost before our eyes.”
Inspector Broughton ignored the veiled request “Naturally you’d be interested. It was a great disappointment to me that your husband and you had so little to tell.”
“Yes,” she agreed, “if it hadn’t been for Mr. Callaghan the neighborhood would have been barren, wouldn’t it?”
“Not quite . . . Your husband has been a great help.”
She knew she had started, and that the Inspector had seen it. All in a flash the desire to ask questions, and the fear that they would betray her, confused her.
“I—I heard all he had to say,” she murmured. “I don’t see—” She did not finish the sentence.
“Not by any means all, Mrs. Aulinloch. At least, not last night. Your husband called at my office this morning.”
Phyliss gripped herself to some semblance of calm. “I haven’t seen my husband since a few minutes after you left last night,” she said. “I went to bed almost immediately. The excitement tired me, I suppose. I didn’t get up for breakfast . . . We have separate rooms.” Would he never take those prying eyes from her? “I overslept. Adolph didn’t waken me.” She felt that she was giving this keen-eyed man, a man whom she had never heard of before last night, her complete story.
The Inspector nodded. “Then he couldn't have told you—not this morning.”
“He hasn’t been home to lunch,” she said.
“It was Mr. Callaghan gave us our first clue—the first information of value, I mean,” Inspector Broughton said.
“I’m afraid I can’t qualify for a detective.” she puzzled. “I heard Mr. Callaghan’s story—just about some unknown man hanging about—and a car—” She stopped, and her eyes widened.
“Yes,” the Inspector smiled, “that’s it—the car. It was your husband’s car!” He paused, and Phyliss felt suddenly faint. “I see,” the Inspector continued, “you remember the part of the license number Mr. Callaghan saw—and you recognize it. You see now what I meant last night when I spoke of memory that returns like a flash days afterwards. Funny thing, memory.”
“It must be—a mistake,” she said weakly. “It couldn't be Adolph’s car. It was in the garage.”
“You think it was in the garage because your husband was here in the house and no one else ever uses his car. But he was good enough to come and explain this morning. That’s the valuable information we got from him—that I spoke of just now.”
The Inspector continued: “As a matter of fact, it was your husband’s car that brought the body of Fergus Stirling to where we found it—there opposite your own door!”
“I don’t—understand,” she stammered.
“Quite so. There’s much, we, too, fail to understand. All this is a shock to you, because you know your husband couldn’t have been in the car. But imagine your husband’s shock when he went to the garage this morning and found that someone had taken the car out during the night and brought it back again.”
“But—the garage—is locked!” she heard herself say.
The Inspector explained how indifferently it was locked.
“Of course it was easy enough.”
“But if it was back in the garage—how did he know it was out?” Phyliss faced the peril of these questions—but far more important than Adolph’s safety was the truth of his guilt or innocence.
That, too, Inspector Broughton explained in detail. “The car had gone six and a half miles after he garaged it when he came home to dinner . . . We know where the car went. It went to Fergus Stirling’s house and back!”
Phyliss’s hands were gripped over her elbows and she rocked gently in her chair. There was nothing she could say—not even another question she dare ask.
“Mrs. Aulinloch, do you know of anyone who would try to injure your husband?”
She gasped with relief. Then the police did not suspect Adolph! But, like a blinding flash, she had a vision of an old car swerving in to the curb and away again at top speed—of a dim figure crouched over the wheel. She knew now what had frightened Brander Charlesworth away!
“Adolph may have enemies, many of them.” she said. “It seems to be part of the business. There’s something about precious stones, something—” Her voice petered out, for she saw where she was blindly leading.
“I know something of the crimes committed for them,” the Inspector said.
“I can’t imagine Adolph making an enemy, except from jealousy,” she said. “Perhaps professional jealousy . . . You see, the finest gems are picked up—gems that are offered by the owners because they cannot afford to keep them—”
“And sometimes by thieves,” the Inspector put in.
“Few reputable dealers buy from strangers.” she retorted coldly. “I have often heard Adolph say that he gets his most valuable stones from private sources. And that implies competition—acute competition—rivalry among the dealers . . . And then there is—the business end of it. Naturally the dealers buy as cheaply as they can—and a customer may discover that he has been paid too little. To him it would be robbery. You know better than I what might result. Knowledge of gems is peculiarly expert; and the expert, like any other business man, uses his knowledge for his own profit . . . But I’m quite certain my husband abuses that advantage less than most. He has a conscience.”
Inspector brouchton listened attentively, almost embarrassingly so. “We’re examining that phase,” he said. “But the vital point that brought me here today is the danger hanging over your husband.”
“Very real danger, Mrs. Aulinloch. Someone—someone ruthless and unscrupulous—has tried to attach a hideous crime to him. If certain fortunate things had not happened we would have no alternative but to—well, to arrest him. Let me ask you if you have noticed anything more, anything puzzling. About the house, for instance. Knowing what I’ve told you, can you think of anything that has happened, anything you have seen, that points the same way—danger to your husband?”
To Phyliss it seemed a little extravagant, fantastic. “No-o, Inspector. I can’t think of anything. What could there be?”
He talked about the servants—the length of time they had been with her, their origin, their character and habits.
“I’ll have a look at them later. There’s a possibility that they, knowing how carelessly the garage is locked, may have taken the car out. In the meantime,” rising, “I’d better lake a look about the house—with your permission. If anything is planted here to further this scheme of fastening the murder on your husband, we should uncover it right away.”
She dare not refuse. She knew she had failed at every point of the interview, that behind the detective’s visit was more than he divulged.
“By the way,” he said, as he followed her along the hall, “you didn’t have your husband’s car out last night? I ask because I know wives in these days don’t tell everything. Of course we would treat it confidentially—”
“I’m sorry to disappoint you, Inspector,” Phyliss laughed. “At any rate, I have my own car when I wish one.”
“I had to ask.” he apologized.
They passed from room to room. At the door of her suite she stood aside and let him go through the three rooms alone. A certain constraint had fallen over them. She could make nothing of his maneuvers; it was all so casual, so pointless. He seemed, indeed, concerned only with the carpets and the furniture.
In Adolph’s library downstairs he spent more time, interested from the first in the door that opened into the back garden. With her permission he peered into every drawer of the great mahogany desk. He opened the door to the clothes closet and went through it with more care than he had shown elsewhere in the house.
It was not until he stood in the open back door that she understood. It struck her like a blow, driving the blood from her checks; so that, cold and grim, she stared past him. Vaguely she heard him say he would take a look at the garage, and she walked quickly to the door as he stepped outside.
“By all means,” she said, in a high-pitched voice. “Go anywhere you like. But you’re wasting your time.”
“I should think that would delight you,” he said, frowning at her.
“It does—and it doesn’t surprise me. The bloodstains you thought to find, Inspector Broughton, have been washed up. What a disappointment! I’m not a detective but—Mr. Stirling was not shot in this house. And he wasn’t shot in the street or we’d have heard the shot. Isn’t it maddening? I don’t suppose you need me at the garage. Goodbye.”
Just inside the garden door to the garage he found the ten-gallon oil can. He found the tell-tale tracks made by the constant passage of the car. He found the stove and its metal shield.
Across the garage, which was large enough for three cars, stood a coupe, but be only glanced at it. For several minutes he wandered about the cement floor. In the corner before the coupe was a pile of wood, and this he pulled aside, returning it as he had found it. He examined the inside of the stove, the fastenings of the doors. He was about to let himself out when a small cardboard box on a wall support beyond the coupe caught his eye and he crossed to it.
With an exclamation he lifted from it a handful of wire nails. Several of them he thrust in his pocket.
Adolph Aulinloch was hungry, but he knew only that he was unhappy. The uncomfortable morning Phyliss had spent was pleasure compared with his. Phyliss had always meant much to him, even long before he had dared to hope that he could be more than a distant and unrecognized admirer of her beauty. Now, as his wife, she had become infinitely more—almost as much as the sum of his other possessions.
Success had met him more than half way; everything he touched turned to gold. Yet, in spite of that, he had never been permitted to forget that he was a “foreigner”. He read it in the eyes of those he met on the street, in the voices of those who condescended to talk with him, in the treatment of his friends. Often he had contemplated changing his name, but, in spite of his painful experiences, there remained too much pride for that.
And so, gradually, there had grown up in him a secret bitterness, a resentment at fate, that forced him into a retirement for which he was temperamentally unfitted; he had wrapped himself in his business until his name had become synonymous with precious stones.
In this way he had acquired a reputation for keenness, and, though he had always kept scrupulously within the law, that reputation had been accepted by too many as synonymous with dishonesty.
His grudge against society he screened by an air of utter calm, almost of superciliousness, and it had not endeared him to his few friends.
Then came Phyliss Brander. And hope.
They belonged to the same golf club, but so far as he knew she had never even seen him. But to him she represented all he had failed to attain.
Then surprisingly, one day they met. It was a stifling summer day, but Phyliss had come to the club for her daily round, only to find it almost deserted. Aulinloch had filled in to make a foursome. He had played his best, acted his best, unobtrusive and dignified, and had gone home with his head buzzing Phyliss’s commendation. She had even suggested an other game some time. The suggestion, innocent and casual though it was, had done so much to raise his self-respect that she had become to him a goddess.
Steadfastly, loyally, he refused to believe that attaining her was not the triumph he had imagined. Since their marriage his love had grown but the training of a lifetime smothered that love in a cloud of respect. He was not reluctant to credit her with what she had done for him. At her heels he bad followed into houses previously closed to him, had fraternized—moderately—with men who had hitherto ignored him. That for a time—and then Phyliss had withdrawn. And he had been forced to withdraw with her. He understood, but never once had he permitted himself to put the reason in words; and his consideration, his admiration, his unselfish thoughtfulness for her, had never diminished.
And so, when for the first time since their marriage he had left the house without her morning smile, the flashing vision of her beauty, the visual reassurance of possession, life seemed to have tumbled him back to the old days of hopeless longing—the old questioning, the old uncertainty.
But there was more to it than that. By leaving for the office as he did he had thoughtlessly given weight to the unpleasant scene of the night before. Had they started the new day as the years of days that went before, she might have forgotten. Probably it was less serious to her at any time than to him. Now its seriousness was established. “I only hope we can make our stories agree,” she had said. Was it a threat or a real hope? Was it the sudden opening of her eyes to the life she had contracted for herself with him? Or was it the expression of her desire for accord?
For a long time, as he sat in his office on the eleventh floor of the
, he struggled to blot her from
his mind—and could think of nothing else. Commerce Building
Slumped deep in his swivel chair, Adolph Aulinloch let his chin rest on his chest. Complete silence surrounded him, save for the muffled sound of a motor horn deadened by the height and the tightness of the window he never opened. Not a sound reached him from the outer office, cut off by double doors and a solid wall.
The office was large and plainly, but not inexpensively, furnished. The desk at which he sat stood on a low platform, the pulpit of one determined to dictate, to look down on those who got to him. The end of the room was an enormous vault, the outer door of which stood open; but beyond it a second steel door was closed.
But always he dropped back into himself, his chin on his chest. Once, with an air of sudden decision, he rose and trotted to the vault and, with a small key from his purse, opened the inner door. He reached out and took from it an old leather suitcase when a thought seemed to strike him and he thrust the suitcase back and locked the door again.
Seated at his desk, he pressed a bell with his knee, a trick he had fallen on and maintained because it meant the minimum of movement. He listened. Always he listened for the ringing of the summons bell, and always the silence satisfied him that he was completely cut off from the outer office.
A double knock sounded on the further of the double doors. He pressed another button with his knee, and a moment later the knock was repeated, but this time on the nearer door. Another press and the door opened.
An ebony-haired girl entered.
For several moments he wrote on a slip of paper. “Call up these men, Miss Stromberg,” he ordered, passing the slip across the desk to her. “Call them in the order they are there. Don’t forget—in that order! If any one of them is out let me know before calling the next. Put each through to me and close off your own phone. I can tell when the line’s open, you know.”
Miss Stromberg did know—and she knew he knew she knew. Without a word she took the list and turned stiffly toward the door.
Two doors clicked behind her.
A minute later the telephone on Aulinloch’s desk tinkled.
“Mr. McElheren, sir.”
“Thank you, Miss Stromberg. Now hang up.” A curious smile tilted one corner of his mouth as, having heard the familiar sound of his secretary hanging up, Aulinloch spoke into the receiver:
“Hello, Harry! Jones speaking.” (One could never be too careful.) . . . “There’s to be a meeting, same time, same place . . . Yes, I thought you’d think so. Door one for you. Goodbye!”
He rang off and asked Miss Stromberg for the next on the list—Simon Kalmberg. His teeth bared as he got the number, but his voice was sweetness itself:
“That you, Jack?” (They had all been careful to choose good Anglo-Saxon names.) “This is Jones. I—You did, eh? Probably I hadn’t come down yet. I was late leaving the house this morning. The more maids, the worse the service. Besides—that affair last night . . . Yes, right opposite my door Poor Stirling! Sad affair, very sad . . . Yes, that’s what I thought, so I’m calling a meeting for tonight, same time, same place. We’ve got to do some thinking. I don’t know how it looks to the rest of you but to me—well, we’ll talk about it tonight. Use door two—ninth . . . No, ninth, I said. Goodbye!”
He asked for the third on the list and was presently informed by Miss Stromberg that Jenifred Freyseng was not at the store or his house. Would she call up Mr. Zaharoff?
“No,” snapped her employer—and chided himself for his impatience. “I’ll wait a while,” he said, in his lowest voice.
Ten minutes later the telephone rang again and he picked it up hopefully. But it was only someone in the outer office to see him.
“I can’t see him, Miss Stromberg—I can’t see anyone. Tell him I’m busy—I have a visitor—anything you like. I won’t see anyone until you have all those names for me . . . All right, if he won’t wait let him go.”
He sat back with a scowl. One of his hands fumbled nervously with a pencil on the desk. His attention was riveted on the telephone . . . It was an hour before he got Freyseng.
“That you, Thomas? This is Jones. Yes, certainly. I’d be sure to want to see you today . . . Yes, doesn’t it look as if we need to talk things over? . . . Why, man, haven’t you read the papers? . . . Certainly I mean about Bill. Isn’t that enough to make us think? We’re meeting here tonight. Yours will be door two-tenth. Sure I said tenth . . . Oh, a flight of stairs will do you good. Good bye!
He spoke to Miss Stromberg: “Is Wallington gone? . . . Good. I don’t want to be bothered today at all. Now get me Zaharoff.”
But Zaharoff was not to be found, and Aulinloch took out on his humble secretary some of his annoyance.
“Then leave this message at both the store and the house: ‘Tonight, to make up a table at Jones’s. Same time.’ Got that down exactly? Thank you.”
Aulinloch did not go home for dinner—and for a time he even forgot to telephone. Toward evening he busied himself with his letters, and when the staff was gone he took from a locked drawer a small bundle of letters and opened them. They all bore foreign postage—
France, England, .
To a letter from Holland London was attached another
Aulinloch read them both through and smiled in his supercilious way. New York
“They’re all like that, these New Yorkers,” he jeered. “Coming from
they’ll be worth twice as much . . .
And,” returning to the pile of letters, “in another couple of weeks that one
will be worth several times more.” London
Before the staff left he had brought to him a lunch from a nearby restaurant, and this he ate automatically. At half past seven, he remembered to call up Phyliss and explain that unexpected business was keeping him at the office. It would be ten o’clock before he could get away. Phyliss seemed satisfied.
Her calm acceptance of the breach in an unbroken record worried him, for he could not think that the domestic waters were as untroubled as that.
At a quarter to eight he passed into a small office to the right of his desk and, silently unlocking a door in another wall of the room, looked furtively out on the stairs of the main hall. A moving elevator clicked its way down toward the ground floor, and he stood listening to its descent. Some late office worker, he decided.
Returning to his own office, he opened the double doors to the outer office and propped them open with a chair. Then he sat down to wait . . .
A knock on the hall door of the outer office sent him tiptoeing to it. The knock was repeated, a peculiar double knock, and he repeated it from the inside. When the reply came he opened the door.
Gideon McElheren slid through and closed the door swiftly behind him. He was wet with perspiration and gasping for breath. For a moment or two he stood leaning against the wall, his bald head glistening in the electric light, his thin hands rubbing together. He looked malignantly at Aulinloch.
“Lord, I hate this.” He dabbed at his forehead with a huge silk handkerchief that threatened to smother him.
Aulinloch regarded him contemptuously. “You surely got into the wrong job, McElheren. But,” leading through to the inner office, “you’ve done far too well in it to give it up now, eh?”
A low rap echoed through the small office to the right. It brought them both to their feet, to stare at each other in unmistakable but unconscious exposure of the condition of their nerves. Aulinloch crept softly away through the open door. The usual process was followed—and Simon Kalmberg puffed through to the inner office.
“You made me climb from the ninth to kill me. Aulinloch, by Heaven, you did. Two whole stories of thirty-two steps—stone steps—damned steep and—”
“Think of your waist-line, Kalmberg” Aulinloch laughed, “and be grateful. You know we have to meet under cover: it was your turn to do some climbing tonight. Freyseng leaves the elevator at the tenth. Meet anyone on the way up?”
“Nobody else would be ass enough to use those stairs, with elevators whirring about all the time,” Kalmberg wheezed.
“Unless they had business as delicate as ours—and were equally canny,” Aulinloch replied.
“Nobody else would need to be so canny,” McElheren wailed.
Kalmberg asked, “where are the others?”
“They’ll be here.” Aulinloch consulted his watch. “At least, I got in touch with Freyseng, and I left word at ZaharofFs house and the store. He’ll be sure to get it. It’s just eight o’clock now.” He had taken his place behind the desk and settled himself comfortably in the swivel chair. “Don’t worry. Kalmberg, after what happened last night none of us is apt to miss this conference.”
The three men sat wrapped in a gloomy silence for several minutes. McElheren’s big silk handkerchief was getting wet through as he mopped and mopped, sighed and sighed.
Kalmberg turned on him angrily. “Oh, cut that out. Then to Aulinloch. “Why should this gathering be so important? What did you mean?”
Aulinloch regarded him with curling lip. “Don’t try to pull that. Kalmberg. You’re just as disturbed over
Stirling’s death as the rest
of us. But why waste words on it till the others come?”
“Why don’t you call them up and see what’s the matter?” McElheren fretted. “They’re—they’re ten minutes late now. Nobody’s ever been late before—even when there were seven of us. Do you think—do you think—something—has happened—to them, too?” he whispered, staring at Aulinloch with frightened eyes.
“Don’t be silly!” Aulinloch rapped. But his hand reached toward the telephone. He noticed it, however, in time, and made as if he was interested only in a glass paper-weight that lay in that direction.
Neither Aulinloch nor Kalmberg spoke. And presently Aulinloch pulled the telephone to him and called up Freyseng’s house. He was told Freyseng had gone out more than half an hour ago. Zaharoff’s number brought no reply, though, in growing anxiety, he called again and again. Central, on being appealed to, gave the information that it had been impossible to get a reply for two hours, the conclusion being that the receiver had been left off the hook.
Aulinloch passed the explanation thoughtfully to his companions.
“Something has happened,” McElheren wailed, “something more! I knew it wasn’t the end! They won’t be here! You have the carvings safe, haven’t you, Aulinloch?” he questioned in an eager, hushed voice.
The others laughed, sneering and contemptuous.
“As long as they’re safe,” Aulinloch mocked, “all’s well with the world.” But the bantering mood did not last long. Soberly he added: “They’re both on their way, that’s what it is.”
At a knock on the outer door of the side room they sighed audibly. With all his customary calmness Aulinloch rose and strolled through the connecting doorway. But the moment he was out of sight he flitted across the room and, without waiting to give the return signal, threw the door open.
A great hulk of a man, not stout but of massive frame, six feet three in height, with tremendous shoulders and the flat, heavy face of mental as well as physical insensibility, pushed Aulinloch aside and entered.
“Vat the hell, Aulinloch!” he rumbled. “Vy don’t you give the signal like alvays?”
Aulinloch did not answer—indeed, he scarcely heard. Something about Jenifred Freyseng’s manner weighed him to silence. Freyseng did not wait for a reply but ploughed through to the inner office. A huge cigar, unlit, with the band still on, rolled from side to side of his enormous mouth.
Inside the room he pulled up and glared about him. Aulinloch crowded past and, without taking his eyes from the new arrival, found his place in the desk chair. No one spoke. They knew that something tremendously important was as yet locked behind that massive forehead, something they had to, but hated to, hear.
He lifted a big hand and pointed to them in turn. “Four of us,” he boomed, “shoost four of us!”
Aulinloch’s lean hands gripped the arms of the chair. “Have you seen Zaharoff?” he demanded, in a voice of deadly calm.
Freyseng’s right hand lifted. His fingers snapped. Something final in the gesture brought them all to their feet.
“I have seen Zachary Zaharoff. He is dead!”
The rasp of McElheren’s thin hands filled the room. Kalmberg’s pudgy fingers had closed over his trouser legs. Aulinloch sat still as a statue. They were all a little pale, wide-eyed, silently questioning, incredulous.
It was Aulinloch found his tongue first. “Dead? Zaharoff dead? . . . I hope you’re not joking, Freyseng?”
“Vould I shoke about that—now—after what happened
Stirling last night? I said dead, sure I said dead.”
Angrily he repeated it, the bubbling of the excitement underneath.
The lump in McElheren’s throat flickered up and down as he tried to speak. “He isn’t—murdered, too, is he?” he gasped.
Freyseng shook his head. “Motor accident. Ran into a ditch. All burned up, he vas.”
The cold brutality of Freyseng’s manner made them shudder.
“You saw him—the body?” Aulinloch enquired aimlessly.
“Sure! That’s vat kept me late. I heard of the accident and I want to Zaharoff’s house. They—they vouldn’t let me in!” he complained. “A policeman shoost told me to go—”
McElheren’s breathing was audible. “A policeman? What for—what would a policeman be there for?”
“They’re be an inquest, of course,” Aulinloch explained thoughtfully. “The police will have charge of the body. Then you didn’t see the body, after all,” he said to Freyseng.
“Sure I saw the body. Didn’t I say so? I saw the body—only I didn’t know it then. Funny, that, too.” A stiff grin lined his flat face. “I vas out for a drive—a bit of fresh air— and I saw a crowd going up a side-road vere there vas a lot of smoke, so I vent, too. It was Zaharoff’s car, all burned out. I shoost took vun look. It vas—nasty. Ven I heard of Zaharoff’s death I knew. Funny, vasn’t it?”
Aulinloch rapped on the desk. “This thing was serious before . . . but now!” He eyed them in turn. “Don’t you see? No use closing our eyes to it—there are only four left of the seven who went into this deal! . . . At the best it’s curious—disturbing. We must look things in the face.
was murdered. Larned is dead . . . and now Zaharoff!”
“But—but,” McElheren whimpered, “they died—they died—Larned and Zaharoff. Larned died in his bed. And Zaharoff—a motor accident.”
“Do we know anything about their deaths—except that
was murdered?” Aulinloch asked, in a hushed voice. “Larned? Heart disease, the
doctors said, because he was known to have heart trouble.” He shrugged “All
right, admit we know nothing more about Larned. Zaharoff—burned in a car wreck.
Freyseng says. Are there any witnesses? . . . Burning a body is an old device
to conceal murder—”
“But I saw the body, I saw the body,” Freyseng bellowed. “I vas there—I saw the wreck—”
“Yes, yes.” Aulinloch smiled. “Another natural death . . . But these natural deaths happen, curiously enough, to our little crowd.”
McElheren half rose from his chair, his face drawn and white. “But—but it just happens—it can’t have anything to do with the jade. We ain’t the only ones that dies—or are killed.”
“Then it’s a chance too threatening to ignore,” Aulinloch declared. “At least, I don’t propose to be the next—chance.”
Freyseng glared at him. “You? You don’t take no chances. You don’t stand to lose, no matter vat happens the rest of us. You have the jade.”
“Someone must have it,” Aulinloch replied quickly.
“Anyway, I wish we hadn’t done it,” McElheren whined.
“It was within the law,” Aulinloch went on. “That’s all that concerns us. Mrs. Charlesworth was paid the amount she was willing to take. She was not forced to sell.”
“If you hadn’t,” Freyseng said, “any of us would have paid her more. Good beezness man, Aulinloch . . .”
“Let me ask you a question. Who alone has lost out on the deal we made?”
“Why—why—Mrs. Charlesworth,” McElheren answered.
“Exactly . . . And Mrs. Charlesworth has a son. I believe we’ve all met that son.”
Freyseng bared his teeth. “I should have kicked him out the day he came to my office and called me a crook. He—he threatened me!”
“It’s good you did nothing violent,” said Aulinloch. “That would have brought the whole deal out . . . We don’t want that—at any cost. Certainly not till we get rid of the jade.”
McElheren whispered: “Do you think he—he murdered
Aulinloch shrugged. “Wouldn't you think him capable of it?”
“I believe he was in the city last night, too,” McElheren said excitedly.
Aulinloch whirled on him. “How do you know that?”
“I just—just feel he was. He frightened me so when he came and called me names—said such unjust things about me. We should make sure if he was here,” he suggested eagerly.
“And if we found he was—what? It would prove nothing.”
“But we must do something,” McElheren persisted. “We can’t let things drift—seeing ourselves drop off one by one and not know who’ll be next. I always thought jade was unlucky. Oh, you can sneer,” as they tried to laugh, “but you’re just as frightened as I am. Almost half of us murdered—or dead, anyway, in just two weeks! . . . You don’t remember it’s jade—and jade is sacred to the Chinese.”
“What the devil has that to do with it?” Aulinloch demanded.
“Didn’t the jade come from
A great mandarin gave it to Mr. Charlesworth—a mandarin who thought it sacred.
Those little carvings—they’re Chinese gods—at least, things the Chinese
worship. I’ve thought and thought of that since I read China Stirling
was murdered. I always was afraid of the Chinese. That jade was bound to get us
into trouble.” They were impressed, but they strove to conceal it. Until
“To tell you the truth, I’ve thought of that myself. I’ve always kept clear of Chinese things before. One never knows what they consider sacred. I’ve had jewels offered me that were eyes taken from gods in
, and 1 would not touch them.” China
Kalmberg declared with more decision than he felt that no one but the Charlesworths knew where the jade was.
“Tosh! All ve know is
Stirling vas murdered,” Freyseng
interrupted swaggeringly. “The other two—”
“The other two we know nothing about,” Aulinloch said. “But it doesn’t matter to me what the rest of you do, only I’m going to look after myself till the jade is sold . . . I happen to know Brander Charlesworth was in the city last night!”
(To be continued) (link to Part 4)
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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.