The story: While motoring from London to Scotland at night, Jimmy Harrison is halted at a lonely house by a scream. He enters by a window and finds a recently murdered man; also a girl, her face curiously covered with paint, lying unconscious. Recovering, she states that she is Myra Livingstone, a London shop girl; that she was drugged and kidnapped for an unknown reason.
Jimmy is slightly wounded by a dagger thrown through the window. Leaving the room to search the house, he returns to find Myra gone. A pseudo constable. “Sergeant Grimes," enters and knocks Jimmy unconscious for a few minutes: then a real constable, Fothergill, arrives and states that the dead man is Gregory Walker, who was supposed to have been recently buried. Walker's grave is found empty.
Myra Livingstone, frightened out of the house when Jimmy left her, hides in his car and is driven to the village of Soyland, where Jimmy is detained by the police. She hides in a barn loft there, fires at a midnight intruder who escapes, then discovers a body in the loft.
Inspector Gloom from Scotland Yard finds that the body in the loft is that of Black Ferguson, which was buried, because the face was burned away, as Gregory Walker's. Walker, who really was killed in the big house, was a mysterious local resident. His body is stolen from a mortuary. Gloom thinks that both Ferguson and Walker were members of a lawless gang headed by “The Tiger." Why they were killed, and why Myra Livingstone was kidnapped, remains a mystery.
Myra is kidnapped again! A local visitor, posing as an antiquarian named Topp, spirits her away in a car. Topp is really the dreaded Tiger.
Gloom learns that the Tiger has recently been at a place called Pelworth. He informs Jimmy to that effect. Jimmy goes there, in disguise, finds a house with barred windows, and is scrutinizing it when he is assaulted from behind. Overcoming and binding his assailant, Jimmy creeps into the house that night, to find Myra and the Tiger both there. He is captured by Slick Stevens and Scrag Rawson, members of the Tiger's gang, and Stevens threatens him with death.
JIMMY stared into the tiny black circle of the barrel of Stevens’ automatic as though fascinated. He saw Stevens' finger crook round the trigger, saw the skin whiten as pressure was applied. He held his breath, petrified, waiting helplessly for the end.
Then, with startling suddenness, light vanished from the room, leaving impenetrable darkness behind. The automatic roared. But Jimmy had made an instinctive tremendous effort and overturned the chair. He lay sprawled on the floor. And the bullet had whizzed past his cheek to bury itself in the wall.
Again and again a streak of flame from the automatic cut through the darkness. Bullets ploughed into the polished floor, missing him by inches. He found that the fall of the chair had loosened the ropes, and he began to wriggle free.
Stevens was cursing violently. He had stopped firing now. evidently under the impression that his shots had taken effect, and was moving about in the darkness. Jimmy managed to free himself completely, and silently crept on hands and knees toward the spot where he judged the crook to be standing. When he reached it his groping fingers touched nothing but empty space.
He rose to his feet and cautiously extended his search. In a few moments he satisfied himself that he was alone in the room. He groped round until he found the switch. Whichever way he turned it made no difference. And then he realized what had happened.
Someone had climbed the wall round the estate, giving an alarm by cutting off the current. Stevens, thinking his job well done, had wasted no time in fleeing from the new danger that threatened.
And this new danger -what could it be but the police? Jimmy groaned aloud. If only they had come a little earlier !
Both electric torch and gun had been taken from him. and he was helpless in the dark. Still, he groped his way to the door and into the hall. There might be a chance of getting his hands on Slick Stevens. And if he did . . .
Out in the hall the blackness was not so intense. He could see that the door of the house stood open, and moved toward it.
The night had cleared a little. The wind had blown heavy clouds from the sky and a few stars now peered through. By their dim light Jimmy made out the outlines of a powerful open two-seater car standing in front of the door. Evidently it was there so that Stevens could follow his confederates as soon as his job was done. And he had not gone yet.
Jimmy hurried out to the car. Here was an unexpected bit of luck. Stevens had delayed for some reason or other. It was only necessary to wait by the car until he appeared.
He must still be in the house. Jimmy crept round to the far side of the car his face set and grim. There’d be a surprise for Mr. Slick Stevens when he came out !
What was the best thing to do? Crouch down so as to remain unseen, of course. Let the unsuspecting crook get into the car. Then spring out, catch him round the neck with both hands, and hang on.
Jimmy chuckled. But the grim smile faded from his lips as a flurried movement sounded behind him. Before he had time to turn, strong arms caught him and held him helpless.
At the same moment, from beyond the lawn came a flash of flame and the sharp report of an automatic. A loud voice yelled close to his ear:
"Quick ! I’ve got one of ’em here. Come and hold him.”
Jimmy knew the voice.
‘‘Inspector Gloom!” he gasped.
The encircling arms fell from him.
‘‘Good Lord.” sighed the voice. “It’s only Mr. Harrison. No luck at all. I say, how many of these crooks are there? Do you know?”
“Only one. The others left half an hour ago.”
“Only one. And he's breaking through the cordon over there. Come on.”
Running across the lawn with a vaguely seen shadow by his side. Jimmy found breath to explain.
“I was waiting by the car to catch him as he left.”
“Evidently he daren't risk the car," panted Gloom. “He must have known we were coming and tried to get away on foot. I've got men all round the house. But it's a dark night. And we closed in quickly when we heard the shots.”
He was flashing his electric torch as they ran. Soon the circle of light disclosed a dark figure huddled on the grass.
Gloom dropped on his knees to examine the man.
“Bullet grazed his head.” he announced. “Don’t think he’s much hurt. But your friend’s got through here.”
He sprang to his feet and blew two shrill blasts on a whistle, waving his torch in the air. From the darkness around came the sound of pounding feet, and several ghostly shadows appeared as though by magic.
“One of you take charge of this poor beggar,” snapped Gloom. "The rest of you scatter and find the man who’s shot him. Don’t bother about the house. There’s no one left in it."
As the men hurried away, he turned back to Jimmy.
“And now, Mr. Harrison, we’ll hear what you are doing in this salubrious locality.”
IT WAS a bad moment for Jimmy.
“I’ve been an utter fool, inspector,” he confessed miserably. “I’ve spoiled everything.”
"That seems pretty evident.” Gloom flashed the light on him and stopped short. “It was you.” he exclaimed.
“What was me?”
For reply the inspector turned the light on himself. Jimmy smothered a groan as he saw the dirty, ragged old tramp whom he had fastened up and left in the hut on the hillside.
“Oh, what an ass I’ve been,’’ he muttered. “I thought you were a spy.”
“And I thought the same about you. Don't see that you can blame yourself too much for that. As much my fault as yours. I was watching the house. It seemed the likeliest place round here to be used by the Tiger. And when I caught you watching it. too, I thought you were some kind of guard. So as soon as I managed to get loose—you made a proper job of fastening me up—I gathered some men together and came along.”
"If I hadn’t blundered in,” said Jimmy, “you’d have caught the lot of them—and rescued Miss Livingstone.”
“She was here, then? Too bad. Tell me all about it."
Jimmy gave a brief account of his decision to come to Pelworth, of his glimpse of the closed car on the road and the suspicions it aroused, of his entry into the house, his interview with Myra and his capture. As soon as he mentioned tire telephone Gloom started back for the house.
“May be a clue there, Mr. Harrison,” he said. "Let’s see if we can trace it.”
Groping their way to the telephone, they rang up the exchange. Gloom galvanized the sleepy operator into life with a few well-chosen words, and stated what he wanted. In a surprisingly short time he was informed that the call from the house had been put through to London—Wapping 0745.
“The Tiger won’t overlook a thing like this,” he murmured. “He’ll realize that the call can be traced. But he’ll not expect us to turn up so quickly. We may catch him before he gets away. There’s a chance anyhow.”
He rang up Scotland Yard and asked for Chief Inspector Dransfield.
"That you, Jim? Gloom speaking. Just missed the Tiger again. Yes, rotten. But we re on his track. Listen. I’ve reason to believe that he’s lying low at some place with the telephone number Wapping 0745. Some crooks left here about half an hour ago to join him. I want you to trace the place and send a squad of men there. Yes, put Atkinson in charge; he’s just the man. I want the place surrounded without the knowledge of the occupants. No, don’t stop these crooks from going in, or the Tiger may suspect something is wrong. Let 'em go in, but keep out of sight. And don’t let anyone leave, even if it’s the Prime Minister. It would be a good idea to tap the phone, too, and intercept any messages. I’ll be there soon.”
“Well, that’s that,"Gloom continued, putting down the receiver. "If the Tiger has not already cleared off, we’ve got him. Perhaps things won’t turn out so badly after all.
Mr. Harrison. I want to have a look round here before I go. What the deuce is wrong with the lights?"
"There’s a kind of burglar alarm,” explained Jimmy. “If anyone climbs the wall out there, it cuts off the current in the house.”
“I see. And the lights went out just in time to prevent Slick Stevens shooting you. A lucky escape, son.”
JIMMY nodded. He was beginning to realize how exceedingly lucky his escape had been. But he was still too annoyed about the way he had spoiled Gloom’s raid to appreciate his own good fortune.
“You’d have caught them in their beds,” he growled. “Miss Livingstone would have been safe. And you’d have got the Tiger, too. when he came back.”
"Maybe,” agreed Gloom doubtfully. “I’m not the luckiest man in the world, as you know. Don’t take it too much to heart, Mr. Harrison. You oughtn’t to have come, of course. But things might have turned out very differently. Your— er—intrusion might have been a huge success. Anyhow, we’ve got a line on another of the Tiger’s hangouts.”
"You think they’ve taken Miss Livingstone to this place in Wapping? That we’ll be able to rescue her?”
“That’s perhaps rather a lot to expect. But the Tiger must have been there. And even if he’s seen the red light, a hurried flight may have left some clue behind.”
After some searching they found the control switch where a wire brought in current from an electric plant in one of the outhouses. Another circuit, evidently the alarm, had put the swatch out of action by blowing a fuse. As soon as the second circuit was disconnected and the fuse replaced the house lights came on. Gloom and one or two of his men who were not hunting Stevens commenced a thorough search.
Jimmy showed them the shuttered room in which Myra had been imprisoned, and the room next to it which had been occupied by the bedridden woman. Gloom paid special attention to this, turning out every drawer, poking into every nook and cranny. Its contents were essentially feminine; the search produced no tangible result.
Nor was a rapid investigation of the rest of the house any more successful. Slick Stevens had done his work well.
Not a paper or clue of any description could be found.
“Good job we have that telephone number,” muttered Gloom, "or we’d be done entirely.”
He was on his knees in front of the fire where Stevens had burned the papers when one of the men outside came in to report.
"He’s got clean away, sir. We’ve never even caught a glimpse of him.”
“I expected that. I know the lad; he’s not called ‘Slick’ for nothing. But he can’t have got far away. You'd better send out a call and have the roads watched. Carry on with your search as well as you can. How’s Robins?”
"Better now, sir. He’s helping us. It was only a graze; just stunned him.”
“Good. Well, there’s nothing to be picked up here, I'm afraid. Have another good look round by daylight, and send word to me at the Yard if anything turns up. I’ll get off and see what’s happening at Wapping.”
The inspector walked to the door, followed by the others.
“This bus looks as though it should move," he said, glancing at the machine which stood at the door. “I think I’ll borrow it.” He turned to Jimmy and noted his doleful features. “I’ll want to make myself presentable on the journey, Mr. Harrison. Do you think you could drive this car?”
“I'm sure,” replied Jimmy promptly, his face reflecting his eagerness.
“All right. Jump in.”
JIMMY did not give the inspector time to change his mind. He was into the car like a flash. As soon as Gloom had dropped into the seat beside him they were off.
Bright headlights picked out the way down the winding, gravelled drive. The big iron gates at the bottom were closed, and Jimmy jumped out to open them. He noticed that the little lodge was deserted, its door swinging loose on the hinges.
Everyone in the place had made a clean getaway. With nearly an hour’s start. But the game was not up yet. He thrilled with excitement at the thought that Myra might be found at the telephone in Wapping.
The night was clear and the car throbbed swiftly through it, eating up the miles. Gloom was busy removing his disguise and changing his clothes. Jimmy glanced at him occasionally. In the dim light from the dashboard lamp he caught glimpses of the familiar tonsured head and the mournful, cadaverous face. His heart warmed toward his companion. It was jolly decent of the inspector not to slang him for having made such a mess of things; still more decent to let him come along like this.
“I'm eternally grateful to you, inspector,” he said, breaking a long silence. "I’ve had my lesson. You can rely on me doing as I’m told in future.”
“That’s all right, son.” Gloom wriggled into a fresh pair of trousers. “I’m not blaming you. Everyone’s doing his best, but in such a darned queer mixup it’s often impossible to know what is best. Curious about that bedridden woman, isn’t it? What do you make of her?”
“I don’t know. I noticed that you were very interested in her room.”
"Naturally. I'm interested in the room of anyone who tries to kill the Tiger. But I'd another reason. Just wait until I get these confounded buttons fastened and I'll tell you.”
There was a pause while the inspector finished dressing. Soon he sat back in his seat and lit a cigarette.
“That’s better,” he sighed. “Now we can talk. About that woman - you remember the impression there was up in Yorkshire that Gregory Walker used to spend a good deal of his time abroad?”
"Yes, everyone seemed to think so."
"Well, in the hope that we might pick up some information about him, I had his photograph wirelessed to every Continental police headquarters and also to America. Yesterday we got some interesting news from the chief of police in Chicago.
"It seems that Gregory Walker spent about three months in Chicago last winter. He got mixed up with one of the liquor and racketeering gangs there, a criminal organization headed by an Italian named Fredoni. He was accidentally shot during one of their numerous intergang battles ”
"The bullet wound in the arm Sir Basil Thwaite told us about?”
"I expect so. Anyhow, these gangsters looked after him and treated him well. There was a girl mixed up in it, the daughter of Al Fredoni. She nursed him, and apparently fell in love with him. He joined the gang and it seemed that he had settled definitely in Chicago. Then, quite suddenly, both he and the girl disappeared. No one knew where they’d gone.”
“He brought her back to England with him?"
“That’s just what I’m wondering. I’m wondering if the bedridden woman who shot at the Tiger is Irma Fredoni.”
"Irma!” cried Jimmy excited. "That's her name, anyhow! I heard them speak of her.”
“No doubt about it, then. And if she loved Gregory Walker she'd naturally hate his murderer. That explains why she tried to kill the Tiger.”
"But surely he wouldn’t write from Yorkshire and tell her that he’d murdered Walker. How could she know before he’d returned to Colley Grange?”
"The power of the press." Gloom emitted something that sounded like a chuckle. "Don’t you remember that the Sunday papers carried the news, with a photograph of Walker? Seeing that, she'd be able to put two and two together."
"It's more than I can do.” muttered Jimmy disconsolately. "I still can’t see any reason why Walker's body should be stolen; or why Miss Livingstone should be kidnapped.”
"Neither can I. Mr. Harrison. It’s funny, too, that the girl should be bedridden, isn’t it? Makes you wonder if the Tiger’s been carrying out another of his drugging stunts. Still, it’s something to know that he has an enemy in his camp. Before long we may pick up more facts which will help us to understand what we have already learned.”
THEY were approaching London now. There was a good deal of early morning traffic, and Jimmy had to reduce speed. He skilfully threaded his way through the huge lorries bringing in the city’s daily supply of milk, meat and farm produce. For the time being, he had little chance to think over what Gloom had told him.
The first signs of dawn were dimming the stars when they drew up outside Scotland Yard. Gloom hurried into the building without a word. Relaxing in his seat. Jimmy lit a cigarette.
He did not ask if he should wait. He had every intention of accompanying the inspector to Wapping. He felt sure that this would not be forbidden when there was a chance that Myra might be rescued.
Barely a couple of minutes elapsed before Gloom reappeared from the Yard.
"No news came through yet. so everything’s okay,” he announced. "There’s a guide waiting for us at Wapping police station. Know where it is?”
"Afraid I don’t.”
"Better let me drive, then.”
Jimmy thankfully relinquished the wheel. He was all eagerness to get to their destination as quickly as possible.
"It’s good of you to let me come with you. inspector.” he said.
Gloom’s thin lips parted over his prominent teeth. "You’re too dangerous to let out of my sight just now. Mr. Harrison,” he grunted. "I don’t want to find you waiting for me inside this place when we get in.”
The car streaked along the Embankment and sped into the city. Jimmy held his breath as they Hashed round corners and dodged through the traffic. At every moment a crash seemed imminent. He would not have believed it possible to drive through London at this rate.
He glanced occasionally at his companion. The man appeared quite unconcerned. No trace of excitement was discernible in his mournful face. He kept his foot stubbornly pressed down on the accelerator pedal, and only rarely jammed on the brakes.
"It’s not my car,” he muttered once as a skid round a sharp bend took a week's wear off the tires. "No need to use it gently.”
Past the Tower, just visible in the breaking dawn, and into dockland, with its smoky lights Haring over the riverside. A thick morning mist was hovering above the water and spreading damp grey lingers inland. Gloom paid little attention to these dangerous patches. Through street after mean street the car bumped and rattled, until, in a remarkably short time, it pulled up beneath the blue lamp of the police station.
Leaving the engine running, Gloom jumped out and entered the station. He was back again in a moment with the plainclothes man who was to guide them. Their route turned and twisted through innumerable squalid streets, ending on a piece of waste ground near the riverside.
"I think we’d better leave the car here, sir, and walk the rest." advised the guide. "It’s only a couple of hundred yards or so.”
In this dismal, mist-shrouded locality, the grey light of dawn had hardly penetrated through the murky gloom. The three men walked along a dark street flanked by huge warehouses, dimly illumined by infrequent gas lamps. As they reached the end of it, a shadow detached itself from the blackness of a doorway and joined them.
"Morning, sergeant.” said Gloom. “How’s things?”
Sergeant Atkinson, in charge of the raiding party, was a capable looking man with a small, tight-lipped mouth and keen, weather-beaten features.
"Okay, sir, I think," he replied. “A car drove up just after we arrived and before I got my men properly placed. Since then there's not been a sign of movement, and no one’s tried to get either in or out.”
“Car still here?”
"Yes. In the yard.”
"Telephone been used?”
“Not at all.”
“I thought perhaps Stevens might have tried to communicate with the Tiger. Or some message have come through to the crooks in the car. Well, let’s have a look at the place. A house, is it?” .
"Yes, sir. I’ve managed to get into an empty warehouse opposite. If you’ll come this way, you'll see what there is to see.”
KEEPING close to the wall, the sergeant led the way along another street at right angles to the first, and into the doorway of a ramshackle old warehouse. He pushed open the dilapidated door, and stood aside to allow the others to pass through.
They trod cautiously over the rotten, creaking floor. Atkinson used his torch occasionally to give warning of an obstruction. Eventually they reached a grimy window and gazed through it into the mist-laden obscurity outside.
Directly opposite, on the other side of the street, was a small two-storied house with shuttered windows that gave it the appearance of being empty and deserted. It looked in good repair, but sadly in need of painting.
At one side it huddled close to the towering wall of a huge warehouse. At the other side was a small yard, separating it from another warehouse. The yard was closed by two wooden gates bearing an indecipherable inscription. Beyond it. in the gap between the two higher buildings, could be made out the misty blurred outlines of shipping on the river.
"Dead and decayed," muttered Gloom doubtfully. "Doesn’t look as though there’s any life inside there.”
"We haven’t seen or heard a thing since the car came,” agreed Atkinson. "Of course, the shutters fit tightly; and I haven’t let anyone go near enough to peep in because you told us to keep out of sight.” *
"Quite right, sergeant. Did you see who was in the car?”
“No, sir. It drove straight into the yard and someone shut the gates after it. But I saw the door of the house open and figures going in. I'm quite certain, too, that no one has left the house since.”
“That’s good. There’s no doubt we’ve got the right place. Where are your men?”
"One in each floor of those two warehouses, just in case there’s any communication, though we’ve found no trace of one. On the other side of the house there's a kind of garden stretching down to the river. We had to reach it by going through the wharves on either side, though it joins up with that yard by a passage. I’ve half a dozen men at various points there. And another half dozen here ready to be rushed to any place they may be required.”
"Very satisfactory, sergeant. No reason why we shouldn’t break in straight away.”
“Wouldn’t it be better to wait for daylight, sir? We’d be able to see what we were doing and —”
The sergeant broke off as a sound came to their ears, the distant but unmistakable sound of a revolver shot.
"Something’s happening.” he exclaimed. "We’d better go now.”
"Yes.” agreed Gloom. “Sounds as though someone's trying to escape from the other side of the house.”
They hurried out of the warehouse. In the street, six shadowy figures appeared from nowhere and joined them. Not troubling to take cover, they all ran across to the wooden gates.
These were unlocked and offered no obstacle. Passing through into the yard beyond, they halted for a moment to get their bearings.
A large car stood in the yard. There was still no sign of life about the house, no glimmer of light through the shutters.
“See if anything's doing at the back,” ordered Gloom.
Sergeant Atkinson ran down the passage at the side of the house. He returned almost immediately.
“Everything’s quiet, sir,” he announced. “No one been seen. The men think the shot was fired inside the house.”
“We'd better get in at once, then.” Gloom strode toward the door. “I want 'em alive, not dead.”
He knocked on the door. After waiting a while he tried it and ascertained that it was locked. He knocked again more loudly. There was no response.
"Come on, some of you." he said. “Get your shoulders to it.” He turned to Jimmy. “Oblige me by keeping out of the way, Mr. Harrison. If there's any shooting and you happened to get hurt, there’d be trouble at the Yard. I’ll let you know as soon as you can come in.”
“All right,” Jimmy promised. "I’ll wait here.”
BURNING with impatience, he watched the police breaking down the door. He had no fear that any mistake had been made. Somewhere inside this silent house Myra was imprisoned. In all probability the Tiger was there, too. The next few minutes should see the end of all this mystery and confusion.
The door went down without any difficulty. Gloom went in with his men. leaving one of them to guard the door. Jimmy stood breathless, expecting at any moment to hear a fusillade of shots from the cornered crooks.
Slow minutes dragged past. Nothing happened. No sound could be heard but an occasional indistinct shout from the house.
Then, suddenly. Gloom reappeared at the door.
"Tell the men behind to watch the river,” he snapped to the officer on guard. “Collar anyone, male or female, who attempts to land from an open boat.”
He dashed back into the house. Forgetting his promise in the swift dread that had come to him, Jimmy followed. He found Gloom at the telephone in the little hall.
“Urgent police call," the inspector was saying. “Hurry, please! Ah, that the Thames Division? Chief Inspector Gloom of the C. I. D. Fast launches opposite Grundy’s Wharf as quickly as possible. As many as you can. Crooks escaped by water. Yes, I’ll be here. Thanks.”
He hung up and swung round to face Jimmy.
“They’ve beaten us again, Mr. Harrison. Got clear away!”
“But how on earth—”
“Not on earth. On water. Come on, I’ll show you.”
Gloom led the way down stone stairs into a cellar. Here a trapdoor in the floo
“One of the many underground streams that flow into the Thames,” he said. "If you put your head down, you can see the tunnel which runs under the back garden to the river. They had a boat here, ready for an emergency. When we broke the door open, they dropped down into the boat and floated out into the river. They’ve every chance of getting away in this darned mist.”
They walked up the stone stairs again in silence. Jimmy was dazed with disappointment. He had been so sure that Myra would be rescued.
Up in the hall the plainclothes men were huddled together, dejected and angry at the failure of the raid. One of them stepped forward to meet Gloom.
"There’s a girl in a room upstairs, sir,” he said. “I think she's—”
Gloom took the stairs two at a time, with Jimmy close at his heels. They entered the room together.
“Myra!” gasped Jimmy. “Oh, Myra!”
The girl was lying on an old sofa immediately beneath the light. She was dressed in a flowing white garment, and her face was painted just as he had first seen her at Withens. “Myra !” he cried again. “Thank God we’ve found you !” He ran forward and caught her hand. She did not move. And suddenly he started back with a cry of horror.
A deep crimson stain marred the whiteness of her breast. The red blood was still flowing. And from the soft flesh protruded the handle of a dagger, a dagger precisely similar to that with which Gregory Walker had been slain at Withens.
JIMMY stared until his knees gave way beneath him and he collapsed by the side of the girl. He touched her hands and face. They were warm, natural. He shook her. She lay quiet and motionless, smiling a little.
His self-control broke down. He flung his arms round the silent figure.
“They’ve killed her. Gloom!” he cried shrilly. “They’ve killed her!”
The inspector advanced quickly. One glance at the dagger was sufficient to tell him that the girl must be dead. It had penetrated her heart.
“The devil!” he muttered under his breath. “When I get my hands on him—” He broke off, dropping on his knees beside Jimmy. With hands tender as any woman’s he gently unclasped the straining fingers which were clutching at the inanimate flesh.
“Don't give way, son,” he soothed. “It’s horrible, damnable! But don’t give way.”
“It's my fault,” said Jimmy dully. “My fault that she’s dead. If I hadn't interfered at Pelworth this wouldn’t have happened.”
“That’s nonsense, Mr. Harrison!” Gloom’s voice was purposely sharp. “Downright nonsense. The Tiger would have killed her there just as readily as here.”
“You’d have rescued her. You’d have saved her. And now she’s—”
“Come, son. Pull yourself together. There’s nothing we can do here. And there’s work waiting us elsewhere.”
After a while Jimmy allowed himself to be helped to his feet. He was dazed and bewildered, quite incapable of initiating any movement. The shock of the discovery had numbed his brain so that it temporarily refused to function.
Gloom gently led him out of the room and down the stairs. As they reached the little hall, Sergeant Atkinson hurried in.
“Launch at the back, sir,” he reported. “Inspector Perkins in charge.
“Very good,” replied Gloom. “I’ll be with you in a moment.” He turned to one of the waiting plainclothes men. “Get a taxi, Halstead. See Mr. Harrison home, then come back here.” He took Jimmy’s hand. “I want you to go straight home, son. Wait there until I come. Will you?”
“Yes,” agreed Jimmy mechanically. “I’ll go home.”
“Thanks. I don’t suppose I’ll be long.”
The inspector hurried off, followed by the other men. Detective Halstead telephoned for a taxi, then walked out into the street with Jimmy to wait for it.
Knowing about the dead girl upstairs and suspecting the relationship between her and his charge, he preserved a sympathetic silence until the taxi arrived.
“What’s the address, sir?” he asked.
Jimmy told him, then sat staring out of the window with unseeing eyes. Not a word was spoken during the journey. When they reached the flat Halstead accompanied him up the stairs, took his keys and opened the door.
“Anything more I can do for you, Mr. Harrison?” he asked after switching on the radiator.
“No, thank you.”
There was nothing the police could do. There was nothing anyone could do. Myra was gone—dead ! No one could change that.
Alone in the flat, Jimmy sat staring at the glowing radiator as he had stared out of the window of the taxi. Less than forty-eight hours had elapsed since he set out from here with such high hopes. If only he had curbed his impatience. If only he had never gone to Pelworth !
He glanced vacantly round the room. Forty-eight hours—so short a time. Yet the place looked strange, different somehow. Yes, it was different. The curtains were disarranged. A rug was askew. The drawers of his bureau were not closed properly.
Someone had been into the flat during his absence. Someone had been making an exhaustive search of his belongings. Who could have—? Oh, well, what did it matter?
He would have to go and tell Lily Fortune that Myra had been killed, that it was his fault she was dead. Lily Fortune? The name recalled something to his numbed brain. Rising, he searched the mantelshelf for Lily’s gift, the photograph of Myra. It was not where he had left it. It was not in the room at all. Someone had stolen it.
Oh, well, what difference did it make? What difference if someone stole everything he had, his very life? They had taken Myra. Nothing else mattered.
Yet, self pity was soon replaced by a fierce, burning anger. Life might have some value, after all. Later on, when he could think clearly, someone would pay for this. Every penny he had, every ounce of strength and energy, should be devoted to finding the man responsible for this atrocity. Deliberate, reasonless murder of a helpless girl! Whatever difficulties had to be overcome, such a crime should not go unpunished.
That is, if ever he could think clearly again, if ever this numbing horror relaxed its pressure on his brain. With his face buried in his hands, he slowly rocked himself from side to side. And eventually exhausted Nature had her way with him . . .
HE AWOKE with a start, incredulous that he had been asleep. How could anyone sleep with such sorrow in his heart? Yet daylight had broadened. Sunlight was streaming through those disarranged curtains.
The short respite had cleared his brain. His senses were keen and alert again. He knew that he had not awakened naturally. He had been disturbed by some noise, a grinding metallic noise which was still ringing faintly in his ears.
There it was again ! A key in the lock of the outer door. Someone was coming in. It would be Gloom, coming to tell him whether the Tiger had been caught.
He rose wearily to his feet, stretching his cramped limbs, and walked toward the door. As he reached the tiny hall, the outer door opened to admit two people who passed quickly through.
A man and a woman, both perfect strangers. As Jimmy stared at them, the man whipped out a revolver, while the woman closed the door behind them.
“Back in there, ’bo!” snarled the man. “If you make a sound I’ll drill you. And keep your mitts in sight.”
He was a huge fellow, with an unhealthily white, clean-shaven face, in which his small, oddly colored eyes were almost lost. Jimmy, obediently backing into the room, guessed that he knew the identity of his uninvited guests. A big man in company with a woman, both crooks. Surely the two who had stolen the body of Gregory Walker.
He glanced at the woman. She was about thirty years of age, hard featured, with blonde, peroxided hair. There was a cruel twist to her thin-lipped mouth. He thought that, in all probability, she was more dangerous than her companion.
What did these two people want with him? Jimmy felt that he didn’t much care.
“You’ve been here before, I think,” he said at a venture.
The man motioned him to a chair.
“Yeah, we’ve been here before.” He grinned significantly. “We don’t aim to come again. You’ve been away two days, eh?”
“Quite correct. Sorry I wasn’t here to receive you.”
“No harm done, buddy. We had a look round. Found nothin’ but the moll’s picture.”
“You mean the photograph on the mantelshelf? You’re from across the water, I take it?”
“You’ve said it. Chicago. A swell place where all the chickens—”
“Quit foolin’, Tiny!” snapped the woman. “We can’t stop all day in this dump.”
“Okay, Lena.” The man sat down facing Jimmy, the revolver well in evidence. “Now, lissen, Harrison. We don’t know what your racket is, and we don’t care. We’re ready to treat you white if you’re square with us. We don’t want to muscle in on anythin’. Get that?”
"I’ve got that,” agreed Jimmy.
“Fine! Now I’m Tiny Bancroft, and this is my lady friend, Miss Lena Cadorno. We traced you by the index numbers of your car. I’m giving you the right dope, you see.”
“Precisely. And what do you want of me now you’ve found me?”
“We want you to come across with some info.”
Jimmy smiled wearily. “Do you usually take a revolver with you when you’re searching for information?”
“Quite reg’lar.” The man’s oddly colored eyes glittered dangerously. “A gat’s worth a lot of conversation sometimes.”
“It’s worth a lot new,” interrupted the | woman. “Stir him up. Tiny. Can’t you see ! He’s playin’ with you.”
“No, he’s not playin’ with me. He’s just bein’ polite, aren't you, buddy?” Tiny Bancroft shifted the revolver to his other hand. “You’ll come across, won’t you?”
“I’ll tell you anything I can, within reason,” said Jimmy.
“That’s fine. I knew you were a swell feller. Where’s Irma?”
Jimmy started. “You mean Irma Fredoni?”
“Yeah, I mean Irma Fredoni.”
“I don’t know.”
“Now, isn’t that just too bad.” The revolver was raised until its muzzle pointed between Jimmy’s eyes. “This gat’s a new one to me. I’m not used to it. It may go off any time. Don’t commit suicide. When did you see her last?”
“I’ve never seen her.”
Tiny Bancroft’s eyes narrowed to gleaming pin-points.
“You’ve never seen her, eh? You don’t even know her, do you? Now, lissen, buddy—”
“Don’t waste time on him,” snapped his companion impatiently. “He won’t come clean. Better bump him off and—"
“Steady, Lena. You haven’t a bit of tact. Forever wanting to bump folks off. Mr. Harrison doesn’t want to be bumped, do you, buddy? Now, lissen. Irma’s a friend of ours. We want to find her, and we’re goin’ to. She’s not here, we know that; and ; maybe you don’t know where she is. But tell us when you saw her last and we’ll—”
“I tell you I’ve never seen her.”
“It’s no good talkin’ that way, buddy.” The big man was still trying to be conciliatory. “I’ve seen you with her myself. At that place in Yorkshire. Soy land. You both stayed in the same hotel with that Scotland Yard dick.”
Jimmy stared at him, bewildered.
“Are you referring to the young lady who was kidnapped by the Tiger?”
“I don’t know anythin’ about that. I’m talkin’ about Irma. We found her asleep in that hide-out where we’d taken the guy with the burned face, thinkin’ he was Gregory Walker. We couldn’t get her away in daylight, and when we came back at night you’d found her and taken her into the hotel. We saw you walkin’ on the moor with her next day. Then we had to clear out. But I got the number of your car so I’d be able to trace you. And I want to know what you’ve done with Irma.”
A wonderful new hope had suddenly sprung up in Jimmy Harrison, a tremulous, impossible hope that held him spellbound.
“That wasn’t Irma Fredoni,” he said breathlessly.
“Baloney. Don’t try to fool us.”
“I’m not. It’s gospel truth. That young lady’s name was Myra Livingstone, a London shop girl kidnapped by the Tiger.”
TINY BANCROFT pulled a photograph from his pocket, the one Lily Fortune had given to Jimmy.
“That’s Irma Fredoni,” he snarled, pushing the pasteboard under Jimmy’s nose.
“That’s Myra Livingstone.”
Lena Cadorno was about to interfere again, but the man stopped her with an angry gesture.
“Let’s get this cleared up, Harrison,” he said. “I guess you’re speakin’ the truth. I feel like believin’ you. Perhaps Irma’s been playin’ some sort of game with you and passin’ herself off under another name.”
“No, that’s not it,” cried Jimmy, his excitement increasing as hope grew stronger and clearer. “They’re two quite different people.”
Carried away by his enthusiasm, he told of the bedridden woman at Colley Grange who had shot at the Tiger and had been referred to as Irma.
“Darned funny,” muttered Bancroft, staring at the photograph. “This frail’s a dead ringer for Irma. But the other sounds more like her. She was goofy on Gregory Walker. And always a bit too ready with her gat. Wonder why she couldn’t use her legs? She used to kick ’em around good and plenty. Sure you don’t know what’s happened to her?”
Jimmy told of the raid on the house near Grundy’s Wharf and the finding of the dead girl with the painted face.
Bancroft sprang to his feet, thrusting the revolver into his pocket.
“You thought this dead moll was your own girl?”
“And it may just as well have been Irma?”
“Yes. I didn’t know there was another—”
“Course, you didn’t. You’d never seen her, had you? Didn’t know the two dames were ringers? This Tiger guy’s killed one and carried the other off with him. Perhaps he’s got Irma. Perhaps he’s got your girl. Lena, we’ve gotta find out which.”
“Darned easy,” sneered the woman, “now the bulls have got the corpse.”
“Not too easy,” agreed Bancroft. “But we’d better try. Where’s this house, Harrison?”
Jimmy gave him the address. He hardly I knew what he was doing. His brain was afire with the one unanswerable question: which girl had the Tiger stabbed?
“Thanks.” Tiny Bancroft pulled a coil of wire from his pocket. “Now, you’re a swell feller, Harrison. We’re not goin’ to hurt you, but we’ve gotta fasten you up so that you can’t interfere for a while. Cut the ’phone, Lena. And the doorbell wire.”
His big fleshy hands were surprisingly capable, and in a very short time Jimmy was securely bound. Then Bancroft lifted him as though he were a child, and carried him into the hall.
“There’s a cupboard here, buddy,” he said, “where you’ll be okay until we’ve tried our luck. We won’t leave you too long. If someone doesn’t find you before night, we’ll come back and let you out.”
He deposited his burden in the cupboard and locked the door. A moment later Jimmy heard the click of the latch as his queer visitors left the flat.
IT WAS pitch dark inside the cupboard, and soon the atmosphere became close and stuffy. But Jimmy Harrison hardly noticed his discomfort. His black despair had been ousted by this wonderful new hope: perhaps Myra was alive, after all!
He tugged and struggled with his bonds in a vain effort to loosen them. There was only one way of answering the all important question. Surely if he saw the dead girl again, if the paint was washed from her face and he looked at her more closely, surely he could be certain whether she was Myra or not. The two girls might be exact doubles, but he would know. It was heartrending to ’ be fastened up here, fearing the worst and hoping the best, unable to make the slightest effort to discover the truth.
But soon he curbed his impatience and lay still. The wire cut deeper into his wrists and ankles with every movement he made. It was clearly impossible to free himself unaided. And it shouldn’t be long before help arrived. Gloom had said that he would come to the flat as soon as he could.
Time dragged very slowly. It seemed to Jimmy that the afternoon must have been well advanced before he heard someone fumbling at the lock of the flat. Good old ! Gloom ! Then he remembered that the wire of the bell had been cut and grew anxious. Perhaps the inspector, finding the door locked and receiving no response to his rings, would go away.
He tried to shout, but the gag in his mouth muffled his voice to a low murmur. He managed to raise his feet and kick the cupboard door. Then he lay still, listening.
The fumbling at the lock continued. He heard the outer door open and someone enter the hall. He kicked the cupboard door again. A moment later a flood of light dazzled him, and he saw Gloom staring down at him in surprise.
“Well, this is a nice how d’you do,” muttered the inspector, pulling at the gag. "What’s been happening here?”
As the wire was untwisted from his feet and ankles Jimmy told the details of the recent interview.
Gloom was obviously delighted at the news though his face remained mournful as ever.
"Fancy the two girls being so much alike. It’s possible the one we saw wasn’t Miss Livingstone.”
"That’s right.” Jimmy stretched his cramped limbs hastily. "Come on. Let's go. I’m sure I shall be able to tell if we wash the paint from her face and—”
Gloom shook his head sorrowfully.
"You can’t do that, Mr. Harrison. She’s gone.”
“Yes. Stolen from us. Lord knows why.”
“Those two crooks have got her?”
"No. They’d nothing to do with it. They must have been here with you when it happened.”
“But how can you know that--"
“I’ll tell you just what's occurred this morning, Mr. Harrison, then you-- By the bye, have you got anything to eat in the place?”
"I could dig up some biscuits and cheese, I expect. Now you mention it, I'm about famished myself.”
They hunted round in the little larder and found what they wanted.
"This’ll do fine,” said Gloom, pouring out some whisky. "It’s over twenty-four hours since I fed. I’m like a vacuum inside.
"Deuced queer business this morning,” he went on thoughtfully. "I can’t make head or tail of it. The Tiger’s got away, of course. That mist on the river gave him every opportunity. We had the whole Thames Division out, but they’d a hopeless job. There are dozens of places on either bank where he may have landed.”
"There must have been several people in the boat with him,” said Jimmy. "A helpless girl—either Myra, drugged, or Irma Fredoni, unable to walk—and the men who had come up from Pelworth.”
“Quite so. Of course he may have dropped the men one by one at different parts of the river bank, but it’s difficult to imagine what he could do with the girl. Anyhow, no one’s had a glimpse of him. The search is still going on. Every shady place we know of on both sides of the river is being investigated. Something may turn up, but it looks to me as though the Tiger has beaten us again.”
"He can’t have many more hiding places with emergency exits.”
"That’s the only grain of comfort. We’re smoking him out of ’em one by one. He must be getting near the end. The trouble is that we're not likely to find any clue leading us to his present hide-out. There wasn’t a thing at the house on Grundy’s Wharf to give us the slightest information. I searched it thoroughly as soon as I’d got Perkins and his launches busy on the river. Not a scrap of paper. Not even a fingerprint to tell us who had murdered that poor girl.
“I got the ambulance to take her to the mortuary. As you know, it’s only a few hundred yards to the station, and the thought of sending a guard with it never occurred to me. Not that it would have made any difference. In one of those narrow streets flanked by warehouses a big car swung round the comer, forcing the ambulance into the curb. Two men jumped out, held up the driver and his companion with revolvers, transferred the body to their own car, and were off before anyone could realize what was happening.”
"It must have been Tiny Bancroft and—”
"It wasn’t, Mr. Harrison. That’s the puzzling part about it.”
"But how do you know?”
"Well, when I’d done everything that I could, I came along here. There was a car parked outside; and just as I arrived a man and a woman left this building, entered the car and drove off. The man’s size attracted my attention, and I thought at once of those two whose footprints we found in the hut on the moors. I didn’t know what business they could have with you, but it seemed a good idea to keep an eye on them. So I followed their car. and managed to trail them to a flat in Fitzgerald Square, Bloomsbury. I got hold of one of our men and left him there to watch while I came back to see what had happened to you. It’s obvious, isn’t it, that they’d nothing to do with the attack on the ambulance?”
‘‘Quite. Who the dickens did steal the body?”
‘‘Heaven knows. It looks like the Tiger’s work. But why should he abandon it in the first place, then run such risks to recover it?”
‘It’s certainly very strange,” said Jimmy wearily. “And now we’re left in the rotten position of not knowing which girl is dead. It’s enough to drive a fellow crazy. There’s no way we can find out whether Myra is alive or not.”
“It is a rotten position for you, son.” Gloom was sympathetic. “All the same, I think there’s room for hope. Remember that shot we heard just before we broke into the house? It seems very probable to me that Irma Fredoni was having another pot at the Tiger, and that he killed her more or less in self-defense. That’s a reasonable assumption, anyway; and I can’t see any reason why he should kill Miss Livingstone after taking so much trouble to kidnap her.”
“That’s true enough.” Jimmy cheered up a little. “But I’ll not be able to rest until we can be sure. What are you going to do next?”
“I think we’d better interview our friends, Tiny Bancroft and Lena Cadomo.”
THEY finished their hurried meal and went out. Gloom had brought Slick Stevens’ car along, and in this they soon reached Fitzgerald Square. As they drew up by the curb, a man reading a newspaper in the tiny enclosure rose from his seat and strolled across to them. He begged a match to light his pipe.
“They’ve gone out, sir,” he reported, as Gloom fumbled in his pocket.
“Detective Bond had just come along, so I sent him after them, and told him I’d wait here until he reported.”
“Good man. Picked up anything about them?”
“Not much, sir. They rented flat number five about a month ago, but very seldom occupy it. The caretaker’s pretty close. I imagine he’s been tipped liberally.”
“Any difficulty getting into the flat?”
“I didn’t go in myself. But it’s just an ordinary lock.”
“We’ll have a look round while they’re away. Give us the office if they come back. Whistle Annie Laurie."
“Very good, sir.”
Keeping up the little comedy, Gloom handed the detective a few matches and was thanked profusely. Then he led Jimmy straight into the open hallway of the old house opposite, and up the creaking stairs to flat number five.
No one was about. A skeleton key made short work of the old-fashioned lock. In a very few moments they stood looking curiously round the apartment occupied by the two American crooks.
It was a very ordinary nondescript flat, obviously rented furnished. There were no personal belongings or knick-knacks about, and it seemed very unlikely that the searchers would pick up any clue left by the occupants.
Gloom led the way from room to room, examining each with his usual thoroughness.
“We’re drawing a blank again,’’ he observed mournfully, turning up the bedroom carpet. “These folks are pretty cute. They know better than to leave any incriminating evidence about.”
His cadaverous face grew longer as the search proceeded. At last only the tiny kitchen remained to be investigated. But at the door of this he stopped short with an eager intake of his breath. On the table, almost filling the room, stood a large, oblong packing case.
“I think we’d better have a look at this, Mr. Harrison,” he muttered. “Suspiciously like a coffin, isn’t it?”
The case, besides the usual painted notices, Stow Away From Boilers, This Side Up, etc., bore a large stencilled inscription: Handle With Greatest Care, Valuable Museum Specimen. It was addressed to the Broderick Museum, New York, and a customs declaration attached to it stated that the sender was Sir Harry Weathered, of London.
“Curious,” said Gloom. “Weathered’s a well-known Egyptologist. Can you guess what is in this case, Mr. Harrison?”
“I—I think so.”
“We’ll make sure.”
The case had been fastened up quite recently, and the tools were still lying about. It did not take long to remove the lid and disclose the carefully packed contents—a queerly painted box, its shape horribly suggestive of the human figure.
“A mummy case,” exclaimed the inspector. “Gosh, what an idea! We’re getting hot, son.”
He removed the front of the mummy case. Inside was an unquestionably human figure, carefully wrapped in dingy brown bandaging so that not the slightest portion of it was visible.
“It looks just like a genuine mummy,” he muttered. “Seen lots of ’em in the museum at Cairo. Maybe it is one. But I’m going to see.”
With a knife he slit through some of the bandaging and drew it aside. Jimmy watched in strained silence. He felt sure there was no mummy inside those faded wrappings. And when the knife at last disclosed the livid features of the man he had found stabbed at Withens—Gregory Walker—he was not surprised.
Further investigation showed that the body had been preserved by the injection of some preserving fluid such as is used in schools of anatomy.
“It’s ghoulish,” said Jimmy, feeling more than a trifle sick. “Whatever can—”
“Heaven knows. It’s evident, of course, that the body was to be sent to America. And can you think of a better way of smuggling it in? A great idea. A mummy consigned from a prominent London Egyptologist to a museum in New York. The Customs wouldn’t dream of interfering with it. Someone’s had a brain wave. But why anyone should want to smuggle it into America, why they should take such risks to—”
The inspector stopped abruptly at the sound of a key being inserted into the lock of the outer door.
To be Continued