The black "F"
Tailor-detective Treadgold wrestles with the case of the man in the suit that didn’t fit
CHIEF INSPECTOR MANDERTON of Scotland Yard had sent for Horace Bowl Treadgold and, as my old friend H.B. likes nothing better than an audience when indulging his bent for crime investigation, he had invited me to go along. Looking more like an ambassador than a tailor, tall and silver-haired, in the sober black of his business hours and with neatly rolled umbrella, he was waiting for me under the Georgian portico of Bowl, Treadgold & Flack when I reached Savile Row.
“Westminster Mortuary,” he told the taxi driver. “It’s only a suicide, George,” he informed me, “but it presents one or two puzzling features, Manderton says. At dawn this morning a platelayer discovered the dead body of a man beside the permanent way under a roadbridge over the Great Western main line outside Willesden Junction. They’re checking up at Paddington to see if all passengers last night are accounted for, in case he fell from one of the expresses; but it seems there are marks on the brickwork of the bridge and on the embankment indicating that he scrambled down from the road and flung himself deliberately in front of a train. His face is mangled beyond recognition; but papers found on the body show him to be a man called Axel Roth.”
I yawned. “It sounds pretty banal to me. Where does the master sleuth come in?”
Mr. Treadgold frowned at my levity. “Manderton’s sufficiently interested in the case to desire my expert opinion on the clothes the fellow’s wearing,” he answered loftily. “You see, while the Yard has traced him to the address on an envelope in one of the pockets—it’s a single room in a block of offices called Lymeton House off Golden Square, which he rented about four months ago—-they’ve picked up very little else about him. One curious point is that the home address he gave the renting agent proves to be nonexistent.”
“A mystery man, eh? What did he do for a living?”
“He called himself an importer, but what he imported nobody knows. He had no office staff, no telephone and no callers, and visited his office at odd times—sometimes not for a week on end.”
“What was his nationality?”
“Definitely English, notwithstanding his name, the agent says. Both the agent and caretaker of Lymeton House have viewed the body and, not surprisingly, had some difficulty in identifying it. But Roth had written his name in a notebook in one of the pockets, and the agent produced the lease and showed that the signature’s identical. The dead man also had the key of the office on him. Another odd feature is that he went to the trouble of removing every mark of identification from his clothing, but apparently overlooked the notebook and the envelope.” Heavy-jowled as any mastiff and plethoric, Chief Inspector Manderton received us in a barely furnished office at the mortuary. A grey suit, shirt, underwear, socks and shoes were ranged on a table.
“Well, it seems to be suicide all right,” he greeted Mr.
Treadgold. “At any rate, Paddington reports that all passengers are accounted for. You don’t have to see him if you don’t want—he’s not a nice sight.” He jerked his head in the direction of the table. “There’s his clobber. Let’s see what you make of it, H.B.”
With great deliberation Mr. Treadgold stripped off his jacket and rolled up his shirt sleeves.. The dead man’s coat was torn and stained with blood and earth. With a testing air, H.B. turned it over, glanced inside the inner pocket, grunted, then directed his attention to the waistcoat and trousers.
“Nary a maker’s tab,” volunteered the inspector, straddling a chair, pipe in mouth, “nor yet a laundry mark, even.”
“Picked out,” commented Mr. Treadgold, fingering the undervest. “Why didn’t he destroy his papers, do you suppose?”
Manderton blew a cloud of smoke. “We all of us make mistakes. That’s why they have mats under spittoons.”
Our companion grunted again and, producing a tape from his pocket, proceeded with expert deftness to measure the suit. There was a line of hooks on the wall on which he hung coat, waistcoat and trousers, and set about a leisurely examination of the pockets.
“I’ve been through them already,” said the detective. “Beyond the notebook and that envelope, he’d next to nothing on him—a little change, a packet of fags, a box of matches.”
But. undeterred. Mr. Treadgold persisted w’ith his search. It did not appear to be very fruitful. From a side
pocket of the jacket he clawed up with his nails a little heap of that fluffy grey substance that forms in pockets, and dumped it on the table. From the outside breast pocket he detached something so minute as to be unidentifiable from where I stood, and, with a jeweller’s glass screwed into his eye, submitted it to a rapid scrutiny. Then it was the turn of the waistcoat and trousers, and after that of the shirt, underwear, socks and shoes. He even examined the turn-ups of the trousers, and spent quite some time on the shoes.
At last he looked up. “This suit, a grey pin pattern worsted, was made in America,” he told Manderton. “The cut, the workmanship, are characteristically American— the trousers, for example, are cut close over the hips for wearing with a belt, after the American manner. It’s a ready-to-wear article, for the buttonholes are machined and not hand-sewn, but of the better description such as the more fashionable men’s stores on Fifth Avenue retail at sixty or seventy-five dollars: The shirt, with pleated front and button cuffs, is, by contrast, distinctly Continental. Not French. I should say by the cut. By the cheapness of the material, German, I should judge; or, from the fact that he’s wearing Bata shoes, more likely Czechoslovakian —they turn out a lot of cheap cotton goods in Czechoslovakia.” He paused. “Incidentally, the quality of all his other things is much inferior to that of the suit. Did you find a pipe or pouch on him?” he asked suddenly.
The inspector shook his head. “Not likely. He was a cigarette smoker. His fingers are yellow up to there.” His hand struck the base of his index finger.
“Nevertheless, the dust in the right-hand side pocket of his jacket is mixed with fragments of tobacco.” Mr. Treadgold’s finger poked the little heap on the table. “He’s had a manicure recently, too.”
Manderton guffawed ribaldly. “You don’t say !”
TUT.B. HELD UP something between thumb and fore-*-*finger. “I found this nail paring in his outside breast pocket, and there was another sticking inside the waistcoat opening. When you cut your nails yourself, the chips fly down or forward; but a manicurist, using spring clippers, holds the fingers tilted and the parings fly up—I’ve frequently noticed it.”
The inspector chortled. “You haven’t seen him, so why not go ahead and tell us what he looks like—it’d be a good test.”
“Well,” said Mr. Treadgold placidly, “for what it’s worth—he’s of athletic build, though probably not very well proportioned, about five foot ten in height and of energetic disposition, the nervous, as opposed to the lymphatic, type. And, by the way, he’s recently been at the seaside.” Again Manderton’s harsh laugh resounded. “If you aren’t a caution, the things you string together! Where do you get all this, H.B.? Or aren’t I allowed to know?”
Mr. Treadgold’s smile was bland. “Merely by reasoning, my dear fellow. ‘Reason is, half of it, sense,’ we are told in ‘Tristram Shandy,’ a work which by the way, is itself the very quintessence of common sense—that’s why I quote from it, I fear much too often. The measurements you saw me take of this suit gave me the dead man’s approximate height and build. If you’ll examine his shoes you’ll perceive that they’re worn down at the heel, always a sign of a quickmoving, active person. By the same token I infer that he’s not particularly well proportioned for the reason that, to judge by the size of his shoes, his feet are smaller than they should be for a man of his shoulder span.”
“And what about his trip to the sea—Southend or
wherever it was?” demanded the detective sarcastically.
“I said nothing about Southend, I believe,” retorted Mr. Treadgold with some asperity, “but if you’ll examine the turn-ups of his trousers—the trouser cuffs, as they are sometimes called in the trade—^you’ll find there not only a small quantity of sand but also a wisp of seaweed which has not yet lost its pristine greenness and is therefore comparatively fresh. Let me commend to you the study of trouser cuffs, inspector. I’ve read in The Times of a gentleman who’s raised several hundred different varieties of plants from seeds accumulated by friends of his in their trouser ends in the course of a country walk. This rather senseless fashion is a potential source of the most illuminating indices in the investigation of crime. I’m thinking of writing a monograph on the subject.”
Without speaking Manderton strode to the line of hooks and inspected the turn-ups of the dead man’s trousers.
“You’re right,” he said and tugged at his heavy mustache. “And yet in other respects you’re all wrong. I think you’d better see him after all.”
TN THE sombre morgue, the dead man lay unclothed -*under a sheet. The inspector drew the sheet back but left the face covered. It was a narrow-chested individual, flabby of body, with a tendency to paunch.
“Not much of the athlete about him,” said the inspector, “though five foot ten’s about the height, I’d say.” He lifted one of the hands. They were short and stubby and ill-kept. “Look here! If this guy’s ever had a manicure in his life, I’m a Dutchman.” He twisted the hand to show the nicotine-stained forefinger. “Cigarette smoker, see?”
“I’d like to look at his teeth,” Mr. Treadgold announced. “His teeth?”
“That’s what I said !”
The detective shrugged his shoulders. “Okay.”
I hate horrors: I turned away. I heard them talking in low tones as they pored over the shattered head. When I looked again, the face was once more mercifully covered and Mr. Treadgold was saying, “The habitual pipe smoker has definite grooves on either side of the grinding surface. I have them, and I bet you have too. But this fellow hasn’t; so why those grains of pipe tobacco in his pocket?”
The inspector had no answer ready, and Mr. Treadgold waited for none. He was staring at the corpse. Now he whipped out his tape again and fell to measuring the body
in professional style—chest, waist, outside of the leg, inside of the thigh. Then he took a pace backward. “There’s something wrong here,” he exclaimed tensely. “I told you the quality of the underthings was much below that of the suit. Well, let me tell you. as an experienced West End tailor, that this man here was never fitted for that suit.” He stepped forward once more and laid his tape to the leg. “The trousers aren’t too bad, but the jacket and waistcoat are miles too big for him.”
Manderton, all professional gravity now, nodded. “Maybe he bought it secondhand?”
“He stole it, more likely. A dealer would at least have brushed the pockets out.”
“What do you make of this?” said the detective. He had an envelope in his hand, the seal broken. He showed us the typewritten address: “Mr. Axel Roth. Lymeton House, Lymeton Street, London, W.l.” The envelope bore a Dutch stamp and the postmark was “Rotterdam,” dated three days before.
“He received this yesterday,” Manderton explained,(and displayed the London postmark on the back. From the envelope he shook a scrap of black cloth into Mr. Treadgold’s palm. It was no more than two inches square.
“Why, it’s shaped like the letter F !” I exclaimed.
THE INSPECTOR nodded. “It seems to have come in that envelope. There was no letter with it. I asked myself if it wasn’t a warning or something. What I mean, we’ve ascertained that this Rotterdam letter was delivered at his office by the morning mail, and the same evening he jumps in front of a train.”
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The F was roughly scissored out of cheap black cloth. Mr. Treadgold fingered it, held it up to the light. “There’s nothing in his office to throw any light on this, I suppose?” he questioned.
Manderton made a disgusted face. “The place is just a blind, I reckon. A desk, a chair and a table which the caretaker bought for him, a railway guide and some old newspapers.”
“What about that notebook of his?” “It’s a blank except for some odd jottings that don’t make sense. But we found a visiting card on him.” From a bulging letter-case he took a card and handed it over. It was one of those cheap cards which are printed while you wait. It was inscribed simply with a name, Manoel Preto. Underneath was scrawled in pencil, “Old Compton Street.”
“You’re following this up?” said Mr. Treadgold.
The detective nodded. “Two men have been on the job since this morning. But you know what Soho is—a mass of cheap cafés and lodging houses. It’ll take time.” “Can I see that notebook?”
Manderton produced a small clothbound diary. On the fly leaf was written in a bold hand, “Axel Roth, Lymeton House, W.l.”
“It’s an English hand,” Mr. Treadgold commented “and a businessman at that.” Methodically he went through the diary, page by page. It seemed to be blank until presently we lit upon an entry. It was not very illuminating. “Red yellow brown black blue,” it ran—that was all. A few pages on, there was this brief note, “Wire Violet;” and again, a month or so later, “Regenb. Sunday until 10 p.m.” Thereafter there were only empty pages. The entries appeared to have no reference to the date; they were scrawled anyhow athwart the page.
Mr. Treadgold knit his brow. “Red yellow brown black blue,” he repeated, turning back to the first entry. “I’ll be bothered if I can make anything of this. And who or what is ‘Regenb?’ ”
He was interrupted by the appearance of the mortuary attendant. Scotland Yard was asking for Inspector Manderton on the phone. Like a big dog Manderton lumbered out, and Mr. Treadgold, lighting his pipe, fell to studying the notebook once more in a brooding silence. In five minutes the inspector was back, his red face glowing with satisfaction.
“Well,” he announced, rubbing his hands, "we’re on to Manoel Preto. He arrived in London yesterday evening by the Ostend boat and went to the Café Reggio in Old Compton Street. It’s one of those anarchist hang-outs, the Special Branch tell me—quiet enough, but frequented by all sorts of long-haired revolutionaries in the way of Italian exiles and Spanish Communists. Our man enquired whether anyone called Roth had been asking for him—”
“Ah!” said Mr. Treadgold sharply. “About an hour later a fellow in a grey suit turned up, and the waiter heard Preto address him as Roth. Moreover, his description tallies with this poor devil here. He and Preto dined at the café, and left together on foot about ten o’clock. Preto has not been seen since.”
“Quite!” remarked Mr. Treadgold. “More than this,” declared the inspector triumphantly, “our people who’ve been at Willesden trying to trace Roth’s movements last night, have got hold of an important statement by a tram driver. This chap lives in a turiilng off Old Orchard Lane which crosses the Great Western railway by the bridge beneath which Roth’s body was found. He went off duty at midnight and, at about twenty minutes to one, as he was turning off Old Orchard Lane to go to his house, he noticed a motor car stationary on the bridge about a
hundred yards away. He watched it for a moment, then, seeing no sign of life about it, started to walk toward it. But it was late and he was tired, so, thinking better of it, he went off to bed.”
'\>f R. TREADGOLD groaned. “With-*•*-*out taking the number, I bet.” Manderton chuckled. “That’s where you’re wrong. He’s a tram driver, remember; he has that kind of mind. He instinctively noted the number.”
“And you’ve traced the car?”
“We have. It belongs to a man called Harrison Nickall who lives down in Kent. It was stolen where he’d parked it in Jermyn Street during the theatre hour last night, and he reported the loss to the police at Vine Street. The car has since been found abandoned on a plot of waste land near Kansal Green cemetery.”
“That’s close to where the body was discovered, isn’t it?”
“Within a mile. You see what this means, H.B.? It’s not suicide, it’s murder. It’s my belief that the poor devil was knocked on the head or doited and thrown in front of a train. The autopsy should tell us how it was done.”
“A process of inductive reasoning had already led me to the same conclusion,” was Mr. Treadgold’s dry rejoinder as he tapped out his pipe. “But I wonder why the murderer removed evety identification mark, yet left that diary.”
“If criminals didn’t blunder, the Yard could shut up shop.”
Our companion nodded. “I must say I’d like to know a little more about Mr. Axel Roth; this Englishman with the German name who wears an American suit that doesn’t fit him and Continental underwear, and who has tobacco flakes in his pocket yet doesn’t smoke a pipe.”
“Mr. Manoel Preto’s going to tell us all about it, don’t fear,” the inspector assured him darkly. “We have a pretty fair description of him from the waiter at the Reggio. He’s tallish and dark and speaks English badly. He had no luggage, and when last seen was wearing a blue suit with a black tie and a black felt hat and carried a raincoat over his arm. The café proprietor told our chaps he’d never seen him or Roth before, but I wouldn’t put too much faith in that.”
“Let’s hope that our friend Preto will be able to elucidate that entry in the diary, the black F as well,” was Mr. Treadgold’s mild observation. “If there’s one thing I hate, it’s loose ends.”
“So do I,” said Manderton. “The only loose end about this case when I’m through with it will be a rope dangling from a crossbar waiting for M. Preto, Esquire, to push his neck in it.” He held out his hand. “I’ve got to leave you gentlemen; I’m going to be busy. Thanks for the trouble, H.B.; your tip about that American suit may help a lot. Our man won’t run far. Within the next twentyfour hours we’ll have everything straightened out, you see !”
A FTER DINNER next evening, having had no word from Mr. Treadgold, I dropped in on him at Bury Street. My versatile friend numbers philately among his hobbies, and I found him at the desk in his sitting room, cigar in mouth, pince-nez on nose, surrounded by an impressive array of stamp catalogues. But I perceived that the volume before him no longer claimed his attention. He was staring at a sheet of foolscap that lay on the open page. I peeped over his shoulder and read, set down in his neat and flowing hand :
“Red yellow brown black blue.
Regenb. Sunday until 10 p.m.” "Still puzzling it out?” I chaffed him.
He raised his head abstractedly. “Hullo, George.”
“What’s the good news from Manderton? Have they nabbed Preto yet?”
“I haven’t heard from Manderton since we left him yesterday. Mix yourself a drink and shut up.”
“Well,” I remarked, “there’s this to be said for stamp collecting—it teaches one geography, and languages too. What does ‘azul’ mean, for instance?”
“It seems to be the color of a stamp.” “It’s the Spanish for ‘blue.’ ”
“This isn’t Spanish. It’s Portuguese.” “The word’s the same in both—”
He never finished the sentence but, snatching up the sheet of foolscap again, stared at it like a man possessed. For a full minute he remained thus, then sprang to his feet and began pacing up and down the room, shaking his clenched fists above his head. “I’m a dolt, an ass, an idiot!” he declaimed plaintively. "Oh, ye gods and little fishes, was ever a man so obtuse !” With that he ran to the bookcase and dragged forth a large tome.
It was a German dictionary. He opened it at the F’s and frantically ran his finger down the column. Then it was the turn of the R’s.
He held out his sheet of foolscap. ■‘What’s the German for ‘red?’ ”
“ 'Rot,’ isn’t it?”
“Right. Sometimes spelt R-O-T-H.”
“What’s the Portuguese for ‘black?’ ”
“I haven’t an idea.”
“It’s 'preto!' ”
He beckoned me nearer, holding out the foolscap sheet. His thumbnail underscored the “red” in the first line.
“Here’s ‘red,’ or ‘Roth,’ isn’t it?” he demanded tensely. “And here, the second last word, is ‘black,’ that’s to say, ‘Preto.’ Your question about the word for ‘blue’ in
Portuguese started a train of thought in my mind, and in a flash I perceived a certain co-ordination in this list of colors seemingly set down at random.”
HE TAPPED the paper and I saw that he was pointing to the entry, “Regenb. Sunday until 10 p.m.”
“What’s that first word a contraction for? 'Regenbogen,' .surely !”
“It’s the German for ‘rainbow’—the color motif again !”
“It might be a man’s name.”
“I don’t think so. Do you remember the F in black cloth they found in that envelope in Roth’s pocket? I’ve been racking my brains to discover what it might stand for.” He broke off. “Do you know the German word for ‘color?’ ” he asked solemnly. I shook my head. “It’s 'Farbe!' ” he said. “And the black F was a token of identification or something of the kind which Black, that’s to say, Preto, was bringing to Red—Roth.”
“And Regenbogen, the rainbow, where does that come in, H.B.?”
“I believe it’s a telegraphic address. In that case the entry would mean that the party could be reached telegraphically on Sunday evenings up to ten o’clock.”
“The telegraphic address of whom or what?”
Mr. Treadgold’s healthy pink face clouded over. “I can’t say—yet. Maybe a dope or smuggling ring—anyway, something criminal, I expect. But isn’t that Manderton’s voice in the hall? Not a word to him of this for the present.”
Inspector Manderton’s cheerful confidence of the previous day had evaporated ; his air was jaded and despondent. The wanted man, he told us, seemed to have vanished into thin air. His description had been broadcast all over Great Britain and the Continent without result.
Manderton refused a drink but accepted
a cigar after giving it a critical look.
“You didn’t pick up any clues from the stolen motor car, did you?” Mr. Treadgold asked as he pierced the cigar for the visitor.
Sulkily the detective shook his head. “Not a thing.”
“No fingerprints on the driving wheel?” “No fingerprints except the thickheaded cop’s who drove it to the Yard.”
“Where’s the car now?”
“At the Yard. It’s being returned to Broadstairs tomorrow.”
“The owner, Harrison Nickall, has a bungalow on the cliff at St. Peter’s.”
Mr. Treadgold was silent for a minute. With a thoughtful air, he was filling his pipe. “Have you interviewed him?” he said at length.
“Not personally. They took a statement from him at Vine Street.”
“Who is he?”
The inspector shrugged his shoulders. “He’s with Britannic Chemicals, or rather he was. He resigned recently to get married. He’s marrying a wealthy American widow at the end of the month and going back with her to the States to live.”
“Why don’t you drive that car down to Broadstairs tomorrow—and take us with you?”
“I was wondering whether Nickall could suggest why Preto should have picked on that particular car. There are a lot of cars standing about Jermyn Street during the theatre hour, you know.”
“It’s a fresh line of enquiry, anyway,” Manderton admitted grudgingly. He said he would pick us up at ten o’clock the next morning.
WHEN HE HAD gone, Treadgold brought me my hat and collected his. “We’re going calling on a friend of mine at
a club across the way,” he explained. At a club in St. James’s Street he asked for Major Okewood.
Mr. Treadgold did not wait to introduce me to the lean, grizzled man who presently appeared. “I won’t keep you from your bridge, Francis,” H.B. said. “I just want you to answer one question. Does the name Farbe convey anything to you in your particular line of business?”
“Farbe?” echoed the major.
“That’s it. Of Rotterdam.”
“Would it be indiscreet to tell me more?”
“Yes,” said Okewood dryly, “but I can tell you this much: The name is Farb.
Jacob Farb is a Pole who runs a spy bureau at Rotterdam with branches all over the Continent, for the buying and selling of military information. He’s also one of the greatest ruffians unhanged. And now, if you don’t mind, I’ll go back to my game.”
“That’s the famous Francis Okewood, one of the greatest secret service men this country has ever had,” Mr. Treadgold explained as we regained the street.
But I scarcely listened to him. “Do you mean to tell me that this fellow Roth was a spy—Preto, too, for the matter of that?”
My companion smiled. “My dear George,” he murmured, “you remind me of Tristram Shandy’s father who, if you remember, was ‘a great motive-monger and consequently a very dangerous person to sit by.’ You’re free to form your own conclusions; but I’ve told you nothing.”
Quoting from “Tristram Shandy,” which he appears to know almost by heart, is one of H.B.’s favorite forms of evasion, so, perceiving that I should get no more out of him, I went home to bed. Next morning Manderton called for us in a nicelooking car and we set off for Kent. We lunched at a hotel at Broadstairs. After lunch Mr. Treadgold disappeared but.
crossing the lounge soon after, I saw him in earnest confabulation with the hotel porter. To good purpose, for thanks no doubt to the directions he had gleaned, he •raided us unfalteringly out of the little seaside town to where, on the edge of the cliff overlooking the Channel, sparkling in the July sun, Sea Nest, as the Nickall bungalow was called, thrust a red roof above its enclosing fence.
AN ELDERLY housekeeper took our 4*names and showed us through the house into the garden, where a tall, presentable man in flannels was smoking his pipe under a tree.
“Chief Inspector Manderton of Scotland Yard, Mr. Nickall,” the detective introduced himself and added, “We’ve brought your car back.”
The tall man sprang up with alacrity. “Thank the lord for that ! Sit down, gentlemen ! The coffee has only just come —or would you prefer some nice cold beer?”
We had a cup of coffee with him and talked about the case. Our host could throw little light on the circumstances in which his car was stolen. He had driven up from Broadstairs in the morning, he told us, lunched with his fiancée at the Ritz, and put her on the afternoon plane for Paris where she was going to buy her trousseau. After that he had done some shopping, visited the barber and, around 7 p.m. had called on a man friend at a block of flats in Jermyn Street. As his friend was out, he had left the car outside the flats and gone across to the Trocadero Grill for dinner. He had intended to drive back to Broadstairs after, but, noticing that there was a film he wanted to see at the Carlton, he had gone in there. When he went to pick up his car in Jermyn Street after the show, the car was gone.
My attention was suddenly directed to Mr. Treadgold. His eyes were closed and
he kept mopping his forehead with his handkerchief.
“Is anything wrong, H.B.?” I said.
Mr. Treadgold’s head dropped on his hand. “It’s a touch of the sun. I’m afraid. It was pretty hot on the road.”
Nickall jumped up. “Perhaps you’d like to come into the house and lie down?”
“If I might—for five minutes. I’m sorry to be such a nuisance.”
They disappeared into the house together. Our host was soon back. “I left him on my bed,” he told us. “He’ll be all right presently, he says.”
It was drowsy in the garden. The bees droned, the roses smelt delicious. My head nodded.
I stirred myself to find the housekeeper there with a letter. “A boy brought it, sir; he said there’s no answer,” she explained to our host.
“Excuse me,” said Nickall. The envelope appeared to be empty, then he shook it and something black fell out upon his hand. I was astonished by the change that came over his face. His eyes dilated, he paled under his tan. My glance dropped to his open palm. An F cut out of black cloth lay there.
The envelope had fluttered to the ground; it bore the name of the Broadstairs hotel where we had lunched. Instinctively, I looked for Mr. Treadgold; and as my eyes turned toward the house I saw him approaching along the path.
His expression was grim, his mouth under the grey mustache set in a hard line. Manderton had snatched the black F from Nickall’s hand. I glanced at Nickall. He seemed to have crumpled up in his chair, gazing in terror at the portly figure bearing down on him.
Mr. Treadgold stopped in front of him. “Why did you kill Manoel Preto?” he demanded sternly.
The inspector bounced from his chair. “Are you still suffering from the sun or
what?”he barked sharply at Mr. Treadgold.
“I've measured his suits upstairs.” was the implacable reply, "and the measurements tally exactly with that grey worsted the dead man was wearing. He lives here beside the sea, he's a pipe-smoker and he’s just told us he was at the barber’s—for a manicure, no doubt, as well as a haircut— the afternoon before the murder."
“But Roth ...” Manderton spluttered.
Mr. Treadgold pointed an accusing finger. “He’s sitting there before usMr. Harrison Nickall who, under the pseudonym of Axel Roth, was supplying the Farb espionage bureau of Rotterdam with information about gas warfare, derived from his employers, Britannic Chemicals, the largest manufacturers of poison gas in this country."
NICKALL shook himself from his lethargy. “I never meant to act as a spy,” he said stolidly. “They told me a Dutch firm would pay £400 for a certain secret formula, and I had to have the money—I’d lost a packet on the Stock Exchange. When I found out the truth, it was too late. They threatened to denounce me to the British authorities if I didn’t keep on supplying them with information.” “Then you became engaged to be married, and determined to make an end of it?” Mr. Treadgold suggested. “If you could be found dead in the guise of Roth incircumstances suggesting suicide, that would do the trick, eh? What was the meaning of that black F?”
“Each capital had a color and the resident agent might call himself by the name of that color in any language. It was a safe cover, and anybody in the Farb organization would immediately identify him. Thus, I’ve been Lerouge and Rosso as well as Roth, while Preto has been Schwarz and also Negro and Lenoir. In reality he’s a Czech called Topek.”
“How did the colors run?”
“For the chief capitals, red for London, yellow for Paris, brown for Berlin, black for Rome, blue for Leningrad. There was a given rendezvous in each capital, and if one agent had to meet another, he simply sent an F in his own color to the agent in question and went to the rendezvous.” He paused and. with a slight shudder, went on: “Preto, who was the Rome man, was Farb’s executioner. I’d been trying to break away from Farb as I wanted to get married, and when that black F reached me through the post, I knew it was a question of either Preto or me.”
But now Manderton intervened irascibly with the customary police warning.
"I don’t mind telling you the truth,” said Nickall simply. “This man was a killer and. though I acted deliberately, I acted in self-defense. 1 told Preto that it was quite wrong to suspect me of wanting to break away, and that if he’d come to my office I’d prove it. When we left the Reggio that night, we fetched the car from Jermyn Street and went to my office—the building’s deserted after dark. There I made him drunk by doctoring his drink, dressed him in a suit of mine I bought in New York last summer, and drove him out to Old Orchard Lane. I’d planned everything in advance down to the very express that was to finish him. It was a tough job carrying him down the embankment, but I managed it all right with five minutes to spare.” He felt in his pockets, then glanced around the circle. “I las one of you a cigarette?”
The inspector produced a packet, then with a cry hurled himself at Nickall. But he was too late. Nickall’s fingers had flashed to his lips and without a sound he fell flat on his face, a great convulsion shook him and he lay still.
“Cyanide!” said Manderton grimly, rising from his knees.
Mr. Treadgold sighed. “No loose ends, inspector !”
“Not even a rope !” the detective replied.