Sunday, 31 January 2016
The Stalking Death - Part 5 of 9
The Stalking Death - Part 5 of 9
Lacey Amy’s Newest and Most Dramatic Story (Luke Allan)
A serialized novel from The Canadian Magazine, November, 1932. Illustrated by Carl Shreve
Digitized by Doug Frizzle, January, 2016.
The Story So Far
A group of six jewellers have banded together to defraud an elderly widow, Mrs. Charlesworth, by purchasing from her some almost prieeless jade carvings, after one and another of them had declared these carvings virtually worthless.
Phyliss Aulinloch, wife of Adolph Aulinloch, one of the jewellers, whom she has married in a fit of pique when her engagement with Brander Charlesworth, son of the widow, was broken, is startled by the sudden blast of a police whistle. She looks out of the window to see a crumpled form on the steps of the house opposite. It turns out to be Fergus Stirling, one of the conspiring jewellers. and Aulinloch remembers that only a week before another of the group had been found dead in bed, victim of a sudden seizure.
Inspector Broughton questions Aulinloch closely. Next day Kalmberg, another of the jewellers visits the inspector and tells of seeing Aulinloch’s car in a suspicious place at the time of the murder. The inspector discovers that Stirling had been strangled, and by a clever ruse discovers that Kalmbcrg was powerful enough to have committed the deed easily.
Brander Charlesworth enters the scene endeavoring to force the jewellers, whose duplicity he suspects, to disgorge.
Adolph Aulinloch calls his confederates in conference to decide on the disposal of the jade, and while there they learn of the motor accident that is fatal to Zaharoff, another of their number. under suspicious circumstances.
Terrified by this news, the group is still more terrified that one of their number will take advantage of them. They are fearful that the violent deaths that have followed the group may be the work of some native of China, to whom the jade is sacred, but they are fearful also that they may not profit by the deal, Aulinloch suggests the possibility that Brander Charlesworth may be the murderer, to avenge the trick they have played on his mother, and Inspector Broughton in his office entertains somewhat the same idea, remembering Brander’s former relationship with Aulinloch's wife, and how much it would benefit the young man if suspicion of murder could be thrown around Aulinloch.
And the Story Continues
The Inspector had several minutes to wait, and he was none too patient about it. Presently Gideon McElheren was shown in. At sight of Platt he pulled up with indignant reproof. Then he coughed behind his hand and shifted from one foot to the other.
With the fear that the third party might close his visitor’s lips the Inspector broke the silence.
“This is Mr. Platt, Mr. McElheren, one of my assistants . . . one of my most trusted men.” His tone was frankly genial. “We were discussing a case when you telephoned. By the way, you’ll be interested in it—the Stirling murder. Same line of business, wasn’t he? A very puzzling one, too, I may as well admit.”
McElheren was slowly recovering himself, his uneasiness allayed by the Inspector’s friendly manner and by the mention of a subject that led so naturally to the purpose of his visit.
Ves—yes,” he stammered, his voice shriller than was its wont, “the same line of business—almost, though we all have our special trend. Naturally, I’m interested. Our business—precious stones, you know—It’s so dangerous; it offers such an attraction for rogues—and murderers.”
The Inspector nodded. “Well, it does look as if what you say may be true. Three of you gone—all in a couple of weeks! One can’t blame you, Mr. McElheren, in the same business, I mean, for taking it seriously.”
McElheren clutched at the opening. “It’s about that I came to see you, Inspector. May I sit down? Thank you. This last—death—Zaharoff’s, I mean—it has quite unnerved me.”
“It was only a car accident, Mr. McElheren. Anyone is apt—”
“Yes, yes.” McElheren, in his present mood, had not time for generalities. He looked significantly at Platt. “I suppose—I suppose it’s all right? I mean, that we’re—that we’re quite alone? Because what I have to speak about is so—so peculiar. I know you’ll think so. You may laugh at me.”
“It takes more absurd stories than you’re apt to bring us,” the Inspector assured him amiably, “to make us scoff. We see too many peculiar incidents, too many funny twists in life. We’ve learned that so little should be laughed at . . .”
McElheren succumbed to the sympathy in the Inspector’s tone and manner.
“I—I wanted to speak to you, Inspector—to ask you—some questions. It’s about—Chinamen.”
Not a muscle of the Inspector’s face moved—no surprise, only a sustained attention and sympathy.
“Yes?” he queried. “I’ve had some experience of Chinamen.”
“I wanted to ask, Inspector, are they as—as vindictive, as brutal and—and untiring as the stories say? I’ve a reason for asking.”
The Inspector thought quickly. Could he frighten this cringing fellow into revealing what lay behind his questions?
“That’s a difficult question to answer, Mr. McElheren. I don’t know what stories you’ve been reading. As accomplished criminals they may be no worse than some of our own. But they have attainments in that line peculiarly their own, and we Occidentals are never quite competent to deal with them. This I can say: for cold-blooded persistence, for cruelty, for ruthlessness, we’ve found them quite up to the stories I’ve read. Our inability to understand them is a factor that adds to our helplessness in dealing with them. Ordinarily—as a mob, I mean—they’re even more excitable and emotional than our own crowds, but in crime they’re as stolid and unimpressionably, as impenetrable, as a stone wall. And a Chinaman never tells. In short, when they go wrong they’re a pretty tough lot.”
Beads of perspiration had gathered on McElheren’s bald head, and he mopped them away feverishly.
“The way they’re written about,” he whined, “if they’re wronged—if they fancy they’re wronged—say, they think they’re cheated, or if they think you’ve insulted one of their gods—then they never give up till they get their revenge. Is that so?”
Inspector Broughton flung out his hands. “I never had time to dig deep enough to get any idea what is sacred to them and what is not . . . I do know they’ve a strong sense of personal justice and honesty and when they think they’ve been victims of injustice or dishonesty they’re apt to go pretty far in revenge. They never forgive an enemy or forget a friend. Their gods? that’s beyond me. I’ve seen little figures in shops right here in the city that, I’m assured, are gods to them.”
McElheren broke in eagerly: “Little figures—yes, that’s it. I might even buy some of those figures, innocent as anything, and be getting a Chinaman on my heels, mightn’t I?” He sat forward in the chair, his gaunt hands fumbling with hat and handkerchief.
“I’m afraid that’s too general for me. Still, I fancy they wouldn’t be apt to make allowances for Occidental ignorance.”
“Have you ever known,” McElheren asked, “any cases where they’ve tried to recover those gods—right in our homes—by force—crime, I mean? Would they go that far?”
“I can’t say. Between ourselves, I wouldn’t care to incur the pious animosity of a Chinaman. Revenge? We’ve had a number of cases right here in the city. Usually it’s impossible to trace the real motive—in detail, I mean. That’s because the crime is seldom committed by the wronged man himself but by some other member of the same tong.”
He waited for McElheren to speak, but the man was too agitated to do more than wring his hands and mop his head.
With rising impatience Inspector Broughton asked; “Now, what’s all this about, Mr. McElheren?”
McElheren’s bulging eyes dropped to the floor. “It—it isn’t for myself I’m asking. It’s a friend of mine. He bought some valuable Chinese—gems once. He lived in
I don’t know how he got them. I mean I don’t know what the Chinese would think
of it. But it isn’t any of my business—how he got them. What I was going to
say—he sold them to another friend. No Chinaman had a thing to do with it, so
they shouldn’t be interested, should they? Of course this second friend got
them cheaply, but that’s only business, isn’t it? But my friend feels now tliat
the gems are worth so much more than he paid for them that the man he bought
them from must have got them—well, dishonestly. He begins to wonder if the
seller was afraid to keep them. Now my friend is wondering if it’s safe to keep
them, the carvings, I mean—the gems. I mean, some of the pieces are carved in a
peculiar way; they may be sacred to the Chinese?” China
“Could I see them?” the Inspector asked. “I know something about Chinese carvings.”
McElheren gasped. “Oh, dear, no. No, indeed. I wouldn’t for worlds have my friend know I spoke to you about them. That’s why”—he glanced at Platt—“I thought we should have been alone.”
“Platt can hold his tongue,” Inspector Broughton replied shortly. “Why doesn’t your friend get rid of the things if he’s so frightened?”
“He—he—well, there’s another friend in the deal with him. But the one who has the carvings is trying to sell them.”
“And of course he can’t be expected to sell them too cheaply, to sacrifice them. . . . Well, the only place we figure as far as I can see, will be if the Chinaman gets after him and—does something that brings him up against the law.”
“You think he’ll do that?” McElheren whined. “You think it’s dangerous to keep the carvings?”
“I think if I were as frightened as that I’d throw the things away.”
“But,” McElheren pleaded, “it wasn’t a Chinaman he underpaid but one of his own people.”
“I can’t see how that improves it—ethically or otherwise, It wouldn’t hold the hand of any vengeful Chinaman.”
“But in this country—surely in this country no Chinaman would dare—”
“Don't expect me to foresee what a Chinaman may do . . . And let me tell you. Mr. McElheren, you may thank your stars it’s a friend of yours and not yourself that’s in danger. If I had those carvings I’d get rid of them and take a year’s holiday in
He rose to end the interview. McElheren stood up, trembling.
“It’s awful,” he moaned, “awful! I’ll see—what I can do—if I can get him to sell—even if he just clears himself. Tell me, Inspector, would the one who is in on the deal with him—though he had nothing to do with the negotiations—would he be in danger, too?”
“To a Chinaman,” said the Inspector recklessly, “a dozen murders are as one . . . I believe the word ‘amok’ is of Chinese derivation.”
“I hope I scared you dizzy,” Inspector Broughton muttered, when the door had closed. “Now what the devil mischief is McElheren up to, Platt?”
Platt shook his head. “Talk of the cruel Chinese. If that fellow had the guts he’d out-Chincse them. And it wouldn’t take a very valuable gem to get him started.”
“A frightened, man,” mused the Inspector, “is the most dangerous man in the world. And when he’s a sweating hyprocrite; besides—Lord protect me!”
The telephone at Adolph Aulinloch’s elbow rang sharply, and with a swift movement he extended his arms over the desk and looked nervously about the office. Under those outstretched arms was spread an array of small pieces of jade—scores of them, hundreds of them. There were weird carvings of weird gods, of dancing girls, of dragons and other monsters; pi discs, tiny vases with scenes carved on their bulging sides, two fish pendants in jade frames, a couple of long necklaces, a dozen solid jade rings.
The blinds were drawn, and the electric light flashed back unevenly from a thousand surfaces and lines, metallic from some, oily from others.
After a moment’s panic Aulinloch lifted off the receiver and spoke through to Miss Stromberg. Then, with an added gleam to his eyes, he settled back once more to gloat over the collection. An emerald-hued necklace he picked up and fondled, an ugly monster he held against the light to catch the gleam of the disarranged crystals. Over six small tablets he bent almost reverently—a round one in dark green, an octagonal one in yellow, a semi-circular black one, a red, a white, and a second green, the six precious tablets of Chinese worship denoting heaven and earth and the four points of the compass.
Suddenly he jerked himself from his absorption and, wrapping each piece in a soft cotton shield, packed them all in an old leather suitcase that stood beside the chair. This he carried to the vault and thrust into an inner compartment. The door of the compartment he locked with a key from his purse; the outer door he closed but did not lock.
With a pressure of his knee on a knob beneath the desk he notified his secretary that he was prepared for the caller she had announced. Pressing another knob twice opened the double doors, and Gideon McElheren walked in.
“Good morning, Aulinloch. I hoped you’d be able to sec me. I didn’t telephone—I thought I’d take a chance on finding you in.”
Aulinloch nodded approval. “That’s right. Better not use the telephone more than we have to.”
Something about Aulinloch’s manner mystified and embarrassed McElheren. Always so unobtrusively calm, the man across the desk was too elaborately at his ease. Behind the sparkle in his eyes was something that boded no good. McElheren felt certain.
His bulging eyes were fixed on the edge of the platform on which the desk stood. “I’ve been thinking of our talk last night—all those deaths among us I wonder what the police are making of them?”
“I don’t suppose the police connect them at all. Not yet.”
“But—but you yourself were afraid they might get suspicious.”
Aulinloch hesitated. He was in two minds about what stand to take with McElheren. His inclination was to frighten him still more—McElheren’s cowardice called for it—and there was a chance that he might be induced to sell his share. But second thoughts warned him that terror might drive McElheren to do something foolish; and it was certain he would never sacrifice his share of the profit that offered.
“To be frank with you, McElheren,” he said gravely, “if the police don’t suspect something, then we need a new force. . . . What I’d like is to dig deeper into Larned’s death. . . . But it really doesn’t matter. With two of our group known to be murdered—”
“But we haven’t a thing to prove Zaharoff was murdered,” McElheren whined.
Aulinloch dismissed it with a wave of his hand. “See how clever the murderer was in the
affair.” He told of the attempt to place the blame on him.
McElheren’s eyes bulged with consternation. “Any of us may be the next,” he piped. “If the murderer doesn’t kill us he may try to fasten some awful crime on us. It’s worse than I thought . . . But Zaharoff,“ he went on, trying to revive what little assurance he ever had, “he was a bad driver—he had accidents before. And we know how easy it is—”
He turned the subject suddenly. “You should get half a million for the jade, Freyseng says so. Those necklaces, and those brooches and thumb rings—the women will fight for them. If you work things right—”
“What do you figure the whole collection is worth?” Aulinloch asked. The chill tone frightened McElheren.
“Of course—of course, I can’t say . . . But I thought—I thought we might get well up to a million . . . if the sale is handled right.”
Aulinloch’s jaw set. “Do you think I’ll foozle the jade away?”
“Not at all, certainly not. You know the business too well for that—perhaps better than any of us. We must get rid of that jade as quickly as we can. That’s what I came about. After last night— I told you there was danger—from the Chinese, I mean. And there one walked in on us—and now he knows us all!’ Aulinloch studied his visitor critically. “I’m wondering how much you knew about that danger beforehand, McElheren. Just because we happen to have some Chinese jade hardly seems enough to warrant your terror . . . I think you’d better come across.”
“I—I don’t know what you mean,” McElheren stammered. “I’ve always been afraid of them—and this wasn’t a—a nice transaction—”
Aulinloch was troubled. To allay his own fears, as well as McElheren’s, he said: “No one can get in that vault between six at night and nine in the morning. After that hour—through the day, I mean—no one gets to me without first passing my secretary and being announced to me by telephone . . . There isn’t the slightest risk.”
“Unless it was a Chinaman,” McElheren put in. “They’re so tricky. I’vc been making enquiries about them, and what I learn alarms me. That’s why I want—I want—”
“You want me to sell, yet you want to get the best price possible.” Aulinloch looked him over contemptuously. “What a life, McElheren! What a turmoil! When terror and greed and conscience get into a three-cornered fight it must be shattering to the nerves. But to get back to brass tacks: Are you in favor of sacrificing the jade, or of depositing it in a safety deposit vault? Or do you prefer having the jade kept right here where it’s available at any time and prevents publicity? If the jade is moved we must take others into part of our secret . . .We have to consider our reputations . . . and blackmail. Are you prepared to face—”
“No, no. Not that. We can’t stand any publicity, it’s not only our business reputation, but there’s Zaharoff’s death so soon after
Stirling’s and Larned’s.
Why—why, I wouldn’t be surprised if the police—if the police suspected one of
us! With that agreement we made, I mean—about the survivors taking everything,
“Perhaps—it wouldn’t be—dangerous. The deposit vault, I mean,” Aulinloch reflected. He had no intention of letting the jade leave his hands, but to show that to McElheren was the surest way to make him suspicious.
McElheren protested vigorously. “Of course,” he said cunningly, “you’ll have to give us some sort of writing to show they’re ours. That is, if—if anything happens you.”
“You mean in case I share the fate of
Stirling and Zaharoff, and perhaps of Larned?”
McElheren shuddered. “It’s no more likely to come to you than to the rest of us . . . But you have the jade. You see, it isn’t fair to us—”
Aulinloch made up his mind quickly. Picking up a pen, he commenced to write, while McElheren watched.
With a flourish Aulinloch signed his name and passed the slip of paper across the desk. McElheren took it and read aloud:
“ ‘This is to certify that, in case of my death, the suitcase of jade carvings, if found in my vault, is the property of Gideon McElheren.’ ”
Into McElheren’s face came a look of cunning triumph. He glanced at Aulinloch. They smiled. “It’s two against two,” Aulinloch said softly. “You and I can keep the jade here as long as we like—we can do what we like with it.”
It was typical of the man, of the roguery in which both dealt, that McElheren instantly became suspicious. He examined the slip again.
“‘If found in my vault’?” he questioned.
“Certainly. I must qualify it that way. As soon as the jade leaves the vault I cease to be responsible,” Aulinloch explained.
“Of course,” Aulinloch continued, reading his suspicions, “I might make out a paper for all of you instead of you alone. Or we might share the profits with the estates of the three who have died.”
“The agreement,” McElheren opposed, “that’s all we have to think of. They weren’t to get a thing. We won’t, if anything happens to us.”
“Or,” Aulinloch continued, as if McElheren had not spoken, “we might return the jade, get the money back, and call the deal off.”
And having satisfactorily frightened McElheren, he knew he had won the fight. McElheren folded the slip of paper and thrust it into an inside pocket of his wallet.
When he was gone Aulinloch leaned back in his chair and smiled at the closed vault door.
“ ‘If found in my vault!’ Oh, yes—if . . . But, as you said, you snake, I must get rid of that jade right away.”
It was within a few minutes of nine o’clock. A tall, stoop-shouldered man in a wide-brimmed Quakerish hat squeezed unobtrusively into an elevator in the
and asked for the seventh floor. There were two others in the solitary car
running at that hour, one of whom got out at the third floor. Commerce Building
The man in the Quakerish hat asked of the elevator attendant: “Has Mr. Brock, of Clarendon, Brock and Matthews, come in tonight? I have an appointment with him.”
The attendant didn’t know. “Unless he took one of the other elevators. Two more run to half past eight.”
The other passenger volunteered that he had heard Mr. Brock had gone to
the night before. Detroit
“Dear me, I hope not,” murmured the man in the Quakerish hat. “It’s very important. But,” more cheerfully, “someone is sure to be there. This is the floor? Thanks.”
Gideon McElheren got out and started briskly around the corner into the main hall into which opened the offices of the lawyers for whom he had enquired. But the moment the elevator reached the floor above he scurried back to the stairs and commenced noiselessly to climb.
At the ninth storey he stopped to rest. His face was wet with perspiration, and his breath came brokenly. “I might have ridden a floor or two more,” he groaned. But at the sound of the returning elevator he commended himself for his caution.
At the landing half way between the tenth and eleventh storey he sat down on the step to wait. His heart beat painfully, his legs shook, his bulging eyes roved wildly about. A glance at the watch on his wrist added to his uneasiness, and he scowled at the wall below him. Finally he clambered to his feet, crept to the lower floor, and peeped into the corridor. For a time he stood listening, one hand on the rail, a foot on the step, ready to sprint in either direction at a suspicious sound. But only the elevator creaked up and down, with now and then a frank hurried step on one of the other floors.
With a sigh he returned to the landing. He had scarcely seated himself when a low voice muttered almost in his ear:
“A bit stewed up, ain’t you, boss?”
McElheren whirled about. A man with a round, cherubic face on a round body stood over him, a man like an overgrown boy. But a second glance belied the early impression. The face was cherubic only in shape; a hard life and a distorted mind told their tale only too plainly.
“How—did you—get there?” McElheren whispered.
The fat man chuckled fatly. “Say, I been watchin’ you for ten minutes. I can see you ain’t goin’ to be any help to me. You’d just give the whole works away. Such a sweat! How’d you keep it up?” He chuckled again. “I guess that’s what they call a heart of water, eh?”
He dropped to the step beside McElheren and hugged his knees. McElheren shuddered away from him.
The man grinned. “Don’t like rubbin’ shoulders with the likes o’ me, eh?” A hard look flashed into his eyes. “Well, I can’t afford to be squeamish, or I’d do the shrinkin’ act.”
McElheren looked at his watch and frowned. “You’re late,” he said, struggling to attain some semblance of dignity.
“Late yourself. Wasn’t I here half an hour before you? Didn’t you find me higher up? How’d you think I got there?”
“You didn’t use the elevator, did you?” McElheren asked anxiously. “I told you—”
“Say, boss, don’t try to teach me my business—not at this time o’ day. I been lookin’ things over. When Tubby Peters gets a job he does it thorough. I can’t take no chances. . .
“It gave me time to take a look at you, too, and, gosh, you take it hard, boss. Must be purty set on this little job, eh?”
He leaned forward on his knees and stared down the stairs with unfocused eyes.
“See here, boss, I don’t dare take no risks. If they got me, it would take something to get the best lawyers. That’s all I’d need—a good lawyer or two—and a stand-in with the judge, maybe.” He sighed comfortably. “But then, you’d have to look after me for your own sake, wouldn’t you? But you don’t know the chances I’ve took already, and not a cent to—”
“I gave you five dollars,” McElheren broke in indignantly.
Tubby Peters flung out a contemptuous hand—a fairly clean hand, too. “What’s five dollars on a job like this?” He turned and frankly stared toward McElheren’s pocket.
With an irrepressible shiver McElheren put his hand in his pocket and, after some feeling about, drew out a bill. “If you do this job right,” he said, “there’s a couple of hundred like that for you.”
“Don’t say ‘if’, boss. Say ‘when’. Tubby Peters never fails. . . But only a couple of hundred fives? Say, a thousand ain’t much for a job like this—’’
“But you said you would—”
The man winked. “If you hand out a thousand it’s worth fifty thousand to you.”
McElheren turned his face away. “I don’t mind adding five hundred. But you’re all wrong about fifty thousand. That’s foolish.”
“All right, it’s to be fifteen hundred. That goes with me.” He held out a chubby hand and McElheren was forced to take it with his bony one. “Now let’s get goin’, boss. These dark nights I’m a busy man. Lead me to it.”
McElheren tiptoed to the floor above and stopped before a door at the head of the stairs.
“You’ll have to get in by this one,” he whispered. “There’s another door, but it opens into an outer office, and there are double doors beyond that.”
Tubby Peters stooped to examine the keyhole. “Anyone in now?” he asked.
“I—I don’t know.”
The man regarded him with disgust. “How the devil d’you think I can work till I know if anyone’s in. The lock ain’t nothin’—I’ll get through that in three minutes . . . Say, we got to put this off till tomorrow night. Then I can hang around and see they’re all out of the office before I get to work.”
“Yes, yes,” McElheren agreed. “Do it tomorrow,” he agreed eagerly. “That’ll be better—safer. You won’t need me any more, will you?”
“Sure I won’t need you. You’d only be a nuisance. You’d be so anxious to save your own skin—”
“I’m paying you to do the job,” McElheren told him stiffly.
Tubby Peters grunted. “Now let’s get back somewhere where we can talk things over. This don’t seem safe to me. I got to know the lay o’ the land.”
They returned to the landing and for a time they talked in low but not inaudible voices. Save for the rising and falling elevator the building was very silent.
“Is this safe a big one?” Peters asked presently.
“A very big one.”
“Then I got to bring a whole outfit. Know anything about the lock? You seen it?”
McElheren said timidly that he knew nothing about it.
Peters noticed his hesitation. “Say, it ain’t a timelock, is it?”
“I—I’m afraid it is.”
The man’s teeth clicked together. “Then that ends it. What the blazes can I do with one o’ them time-locks? For a couple of thousand, anyway? . . . No, sir-ee, boss, not for just two thousand. But, say, make it three thousand and I’ll run it through slicker than honey.”
“If you’ll get me that old leather suitcase it’ll be three thousand,’’ McElheren agreed reluctantly. “And I don’t want you to think I’m stealing it. It belongs to a poor woman. She sold it without knowing its value. I’m getting it back for her.”
Tubby Peters grinned. “But you know its value, don’t you? Never mind, if it’s worth half a million I’ll get it for you. You’re dealin’ with an honest man now. I guess you don’t understand my kind, do you—in your line o’ business? What d’you say this fellow’s name is?”
“Aulinloch—Adolph Aulinloch. But what does it matter?”
Tubby Peters winked. “You bet it matters—matters like the devil. A fellow with brains—you can depend on them havin’ sense enough to put ’em up quick, with a gun in their ribs, but these foreigners—you never know what kind of a fit they’ll throw.”
“You’ll have your gun, of course,” McElheren said grimly.
“Gosh! D’you hate the guy that much? D’you want me to drill him anyway?”
“No, oh, no! Certainly not.” McElheren rose. “But I must have that old suitcase.”
After a few more questions they descended to the tenth floor.
As they disappeared around the turn a Chinaman tiptoed back from the head of the stairs on the eleventh floor and, climbing to the floor above, opened the door of an empty office and went inside.
Aaron Goldstein, well known in certain business and professional circles, sat in the small, untidy office at the rear of his shop making up his daily statement.
It was ten minutes to closing time—Aaron’s closing time, which was eight o’clock. Up to that hour there was always a chance that a costume might be needed for theatre or masquerade. Today had been a disappointment, and Goldstein was unhappy; not a cent had come in since four o’clock. Goldstein brooded over the day’s record.
In the midst of it the outer door opened and a tall, solemn-faced man in a broad-brimmed hat slid through and closed the door behind him.
Goldstein placed his pencil carefully between two piles of paper lest it fall to the floor and perhaps break the lead, and trotted to the front of the shop with the smile reserved for business.
The man who had entered looked through him and about the shop with its glass cupboards and hanging racks. He had taken his stand in the shadow of a rack of clothes. Goldstein understandingly pulled down the front window blinds.
“That’s right, sir. Costumes of all kinds, make-ups, masks—almost anything you don’t want for everyday wear.” He waved a pudgy hand about the walls.
For an uncomfortable minute the stranger continued to stare about the breathless little room.
Goldstein had read him at a glance. Old dog that he was, he had seen them, men and women, in all walks of life, coming and going, through that narrow door, bringing and taking away costumes for every purpose for which a disguise might be useful. Lawful or unlawful mattered not to him, his business was to supply what was wanted. The man before him was an unusual type of customer, to be sure, but even that did not worry Goldstein. Such a customer would purchase, not rent. He would purchase, for one reason, because he would not wish to leave name and address.
“I was wanting something—something for a frolic at the lodge,” the stranger said, in a high, hesitating voice. “A foolish affair we’re having—you know the kind.”
“Yes—certainly—of course,” Goldstein agreed. “We do much business for those little affairs. We have so much here—”
“What do you think would suit me?”
Goldstein sized his customer up with flattering solemnity. “A tall, fine-looking figure like you—let’s see—a Viking, perhaps, or a sheik.” He trotted toward a glass cabinet across the shop. “Here’s one—a sheik—direct from
Without even a glance, the stranger had passed on. Goldstein did not persist. He knew that nothing he could suggest would alter this man’s mind: one definite costume he wanted, nothing else.
They crossed the rear and started along the other wall. Suddenly the man stopped and slid back a glass door. Inside, packed tight to the wall, was a rack of Chinese trousers and jackets.
At his back Goldstein winked. “Ah, there’s just the thing, sir—Chinese! I was going to suggest it. Over here we have a wrong idea of the Chinese—we get only one kind, the smaller felows. The coolie type, and the better class, now, they’re fine big fellows, like yourself.” He pulled aside fold after fold of silk. “Real silk, these, some of them special—the real stuff, but all nicely cleaned and disinfected. I always get the real goods. You’ll find these unusual.”
He had picked out a costume. “Just the thing. . . And I can make you up so your own son wouldn’t know you.”
“Certainly, oh, certainly. Where can I fit it on?”
In a tiny cubicle beside the office Goldstein prodded sufficient space among the boxes and garments for the fitting. Arrayed in the costume, the stranger eyed himself in the narrow mirror with satisfaction. A little round Chinese hat perched on his bald dome gave such a good effect that for the first time he smiled—faintly.
“I’ll leave it with you now,” he said, “then tomorrow night I’ll come around at eight o’clock and get you to make me up. I want a good job of it.”
He paid the price and hurried away, mopping his face.
To the musical clangor of an electric clock beside his bed Adolph Aulinloch’s eyes opened on a dull world. It was a dull day, too. Raising himself on his elbow he looked through the nearest window and, though the awnings were loo low to admit a view of the sky, he decided that life was scarcely worth the trouble it brought.
With a quick movement he slipped from the bedding and seated himself on the edge of the bed.
The sky was dull, yes, but it was not the clouds outside that depressed him, but those of his own home. A vague mental ache that seemed to have lasted for years made him miserable—a sense of futility, of loss.
His ear was turned to the door. How long it was since, rising, he had heard the running of water in his wife’s suite across the hall! For three mornings he had sat like that, listening, scarcely breathing—hoping that at last all was well. Every moment of that first half hour until, shaved and dressed, he came out into the common hall was tense with listening. And he had heard nothing, for Phyliss had not come down to breakfast.
He had grown uncomfortably conscious of Phyliss since the
Stirling murder, and
breakfasting alone had weighed on him. At lunch and dinner she sat across the
table as usual, but nothing counted except breakfast. It irritated him that his
uneasiness with her could not be ignored. He had always been thoughtful of her,
considerate, but now he shivered at the thought of an opportunity missed. Yet,
when the opportunity came, his pride would not permit him to take advantage of
As he sat there, feeling for his bedroom slippers with his feet, he wondered if he wasn’t getting to hate her.
And shouldn’t he hate her—for her coldness, for her mastery of his emotions, for her stubborn resistance to his silent appeal that their old relations be resumed, distant as they were?
All his old fear of her returned, his distant, hopeless worship; and he found it not inconsistent with what he regarded as hatred. Before the tragedy of
murder he had settled comfortably into the belief that it was no more than
calf-love. Devotion such as hers—he knew no other kind—gave the lie to such
stories as that. But now they swept back on him in a flood that drowned his
content. For this the prods of his associates in the jade deal were partly
responsible; he had no idea others knew so much. But the real origin was the
conduct of Phyliss herself.
Everywhere in the house he felt her presence, started to every sound she made, was aware of her slightest move. It was unfair. Hadn’t he introduced her to a life of luxury beyond anything she had known before—worlds beyond what Brander Charlesworth could ever hope to give her? Hadn’t he allowed her a free hand, not only in the life she led but in their relationship? Hadn’t he observed her every wish, bent his habits to hers?
And what had she given him in return?
He heard her door open, and hastily completing his toilet, he hurried downstairs. Beyond the door of his own suite he become outwardly his old cool self. He had hoped that when again she came to breakfast with him he might receive her at the table—welcome her casually, hold her chair to her. But now she would be seated in her place, awaiting him, accusing him by waiting, accusing him by her very patience.
He greeted her in the old way. “Good morning, dear.” Nothing must alter that. It was safe, neutral, meaningless. He had no idea that the unbroken formality of it had never failed to startle and accuse her, for she recognized its inadequacy, its expression of their unusual relationship. There were times when she had tried to force herself to something more intimate, but before she could make up her mind he had forestalled her and re-established the character of their association. In moments of self- examination she convinced herself that should he come to her and kiss her, as a husband should, her task would be less difficult. What could one do with a husband who opened the day so impersonally?
She returned the greeting in kind, and bent over the percolator.
He dropped into his own chair at the opposite end of the table and picked up the morning paper. But, after fumbling with it a moment, he set it down again and slowly unfolded his napkin. Catching himself in that exhibition of embarrassment, he returned to the paper and bent over it with unseeing eyes.
Suddenly he said: “I may have to run across to
business trip one of these days. I don’t suppose you’d like to come along?” Paris
That wasn’t the way he intended to put it. He knew she would see that he hadn’t intended her to go with him, and he hurried to explain:
“I’ll be very busy—very hurried.”
“Would you be away long?” Phyliss enquired, trying to get at his meaning.
“I don’t know.” Suddenly he wanted her to say she would go, wanted it as he had wanted nothing in his life before. But he dare not reveal his longing to her. “It wouldn’t be very long—not more than a month probably. I may have to run about a lot—
I won’t know till I get to London .” Paris
Phyliss slowly poured his first cup of coffee. “I don’t think I’d care to go on a trip like that.”
It stung him deeply. “You’d be able to get along here—comfortably?”
“I’ll be all right,” she replied. “It wouldn't be much pleasure, scurrying about like that—and after an ocean voyage. I’m always miserable for a few days afterwards.”
“You could go to—to some of your people,” he suggested.
“I’ll remain here,” she told him.
“There were relatives of yours—Charlesworths, weren’t there, Phyliss?” he went blundering on.
She flushed angrily and tried to hide it in her cup.
“Yes,” she said. “My father’s cousin was Mrs. Charlesworth. . . . I haven’t seen her for years.” Inside she was furiously angry; she thought she understood, and it enraged her that he, above all, should touch the old wound with his heavy hand.
Blindly Aulinloch stumbled on:
“She had a son, didn’t she? I seem to remember—a lad who went into newspaper work. What happened to him?”
“I said I haven’t seen the Charlesworths for years.”
“Someone mentioned him yesterday,” he explained, “and I seemed to remember you were related. Wasn’t there some trouble he got into—a dishonest report of an important meeting, or something like that?”
“He was accused of it,” Phyliss returned stiffly. “He had no difficulty clearing himself. It was dishonesty on the part of those who laid the charge.” Color rushed to her face as she saw how she had given herself away. “I recall seeing something about it in the papers,” she explained lamely. But she knew her husband had got what he sought—proof that Brandcr Charlesworth and his memory had not dropped from her life. “That’s all I know about it. If it’s important I can give you Mrs. Charlesworth’s address—or where she lived when I knew her last.”
It closed his lips, and he squirmed at the ease with which she had done it, particularly since a moment before, he semed to have her at his mercy. It emphasized her superiority.
He finished his coffee hurriedly and she watched him leave after a goodbye more abrupt than he had ever used to her.
The drive to the office reflected the fever burning him up. Once he passed through a yellow light and from the corner of his eye saw the traffic policeman reach for his whistle. But he did not blow it. He said no word to the attendant who relieved him of the car at the top of the slope as he strode away to his office.
The elevator man, too, he ignored, though the attendant’s obsequiousness had always been a comforting and reassuring opening for his business day. A glance satisfied him that his staff was in their places and, picking up his letters, let himself into his private office.
The heavy doors clicked shut behind him. Except by the electric button beneath his desk they could not be opened again.
His massive gold watch, gift of a philanthropy he had befriended, told him he had still ten minutes to wait before the time-lock would permit him to enter the vault, and he pulled a chair before it and sat down to wait. Something more than depression made him miserable this morning. He was uneasy and did not know why. Impatiently he waited to reassure himself that the jade was there—somehow he felt that this feeling of his was connected with the jade, though his eyes told him the vault was as he left it the night before. But he wanted to be sure—to fondle the cold surfaces of the little carvings, to hear the sweet tinkle of the fish bells, to pay his tribute of worship to the six precious tablets.
A nice stroke of business it was! What was to prevent him running across to
Paris and , as he had
mentioned to Phyliss? . . . If they wouldn’t trust him with the jade—well,
wasn’t it there in his own safe, and only he could get at it? Why ask
permission? They had nothing to show that the jade was not his—they would not
dare take action against him. So many profitable schemes—. London
“Just sit where you are, boss,” murmured a threatening voice at his back, “and stick ’em up quick. I have you covered!”
(To be continued)
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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.