Chapter X. Sir Lucien's Study Window




Old Bond Street presented a gloomy and deserted prospect to Chief Inspector Kerry as he turned out of Picadilly and swung along toward the premises of Kazmah. He glanced at the names on some of the shop windows as he passed, and wondered if the furriers, jewelers and other merchants dealing in costly wares properly appreciated the services of the Metropolitan Police Force. He thought of the peacefully slumbering tradesmen in their suburban homes, the safety of their stocks wholly dependent upon the vigilance of that Unsleeping Eye--for to an unsleeping eye he mentally compared the service of which he was a member.

A constable stood on duty before the door of the block. Red Kerry was known by sight and reputation to every member of the force, and the constable saluted as the celebrated Chief Inspector appeared.

"Anything to report, constable?"

"Yes, sir."

"What?"

"The ambulance has been for the body, and another gentleman has been."

Kerry stared at the man.

"Another gentleman? Who the devil's the other gentleman?"

"I don't know, sir. He came with Inspector Whiteleaf, and was inside for nearly an hour."

"Inspector Whiteleaf is off duty. What time was this?"

"Twelve-thirty, sir."

Kerry chewed reflectively ere nodding to the man and passing on.

"Another gentleman!" he muttered, entering the hallway. "Why didn't Inspector Warley report this? Who the devil--" Deep in thought he walked upstairs, finding his way by the light of the pocket torch which he carried. A second constable was on duty at Kazmah's door. He saluted.

"Anything to report?" rapped Kerry.

"Yes, sir. The body has been removed, and the gentleman with Inspector--"

"Damn that for a tale! Describe this gentleman."

"Rather tall, pale, dark, clean-shaven. Wore a fur-collared overcoat, collar turned up. He was accompanied by Inspector Whiteleaf."

"H'm. Anything else?"

"Yes. About an hour ago I heard a noise on the next floor--"

"Eh!" snapped Kerry, and shone the light suddenly into the man's face so that he blinked furiously.

"Eh? What kind of noise?"

"Very slight. Like something moving."

"Like something! Like what thing? A cat or an elephant?"

"More like, say, a box or a piece of furniture."

"And you did--what?"

"I went up to the top landing and listened."

"What did you hear?"

"Nothing at all."

Chief Inspector Kerry chewed audibly.

"All quiet?" he snapped.

"Absolutely. But I'm certain I heard something all the same."

"How long had Inspector Whiteleaf and this dark horse in the fur coat been gone at the time you heard the noise?"

"About half an hour, sir."

"Do you think the noise came from the landing or from one of the offices above?"

"An office I should say. It was very dim."

Chief Inspector Kerry pushed upon the broken door, and walked into the rooms of Kazmah. Flashing the ray of his torch on the wall, he found the switch and snapped up the lights. He removed his overall and tossed it on a divan with his cane. Then, tilting his bowler further forward, he thrust his hands into his reefer pockets, and stood staring toward the door, beyond which lay the room of the murder, in darkness.

"Who is he?" he muttered. "What's it mean?"

Taking up the torch, he walked through and turned on the lights in the inner rooms. For a long time he stood staring at the little square window low down behind the ebony chair, striving to imagine uses for it as his wife had urged him to do. The globular green lamp in the second apartment was worked by three switches situated in the inside room, and he had discovered that in this way the visitor who came to consult Kazmah was treated to the illusion of a gradually falling darkness. Then, the door in the first partition being opened, whoever sat in the ebony chair would become visible by the gradual uncovering of a light situated above the chair. On this light being covered again the figure would apparently fade away.

It was ingenious, and, so far, quite clear. But two things badly puzzled the inquirer; the little window down behind the chair, and the fact that all the arrangements for raising and lowering the lights were situated not in the narrow chamber in which Kazmah's chair stood, and in which Sir Lucien had been found, but in the room behind it--the room with which the little window communicated.

The table upon which the telephone rested was set immediately under this mysterious window, the window was provided with a green blind, and the switchboard controlling the complicated lighting scheme was also within reach of anyone seated at the table.

Kerry rolled mint gum from side to side of his mouth, and absently tried the handle of the door opening out from this interior room-- evidently the office of the establishment--into the corridor. He knew it to be locked. Turning, he walked through the suite and out on to the landing, passing the constable and going upstairs to the top floor, torch in hand.

From the main landing he walked along the narrow corridor until he stood at the head of the back stairs. The door nearest to him bore the name: "Cubanis Cigarette Company." He tried the handle. The door was locked, as he had anticipated. Kneeling down, he peered into the keyhole, holding the electric torch close beside his face and chewing industriously.

Ere long he stood up, descended again, but by the back stair, and stood staring reflectively at the door communicating with Kazmah's inner room. Then walking along the corridor to where the man stood on, the landing, he went in again to the mysterious apartments, but only to get his cane and his overall and to turn out the lights.

Five minutes later he was ringing the late Sir Lucien's door-bell.

A constable admitted him, and he walked straight through into the study where Coombes, looking very tired but smiling undauntedly, sat at a littered table studying piles of documents.

"Anything to report?" rapped Kerry.

"The man, Mareno, has gone to bed, and the expert from the Home office has been--"

Inspector Kerry brought his cane down with a crash upon the table, whereat Coombes started nervously.

"So that's it!" he shouted furiously, "an 'expert from the Home office'! So that's the dark horse in the fur coat. Coombes! I'm fed up to the back teeth with this gun from the Home office! If I'm not to have entire charge of the case I'll throw it up. I'll stand for no blasted overseer checking my work! Wait till I see the Assistant Commissioner! What the devil has the job to do with the Home office!"

"Can't say," murmured Coombes. "But he's evidently a big bug from the way Whiteleaf treated him. He instructed me to stay in the kitchen and keep an eye on Mareno while he prowled about in here."

"Instructed you!" cried Kerry, his teeth gleaming and his steel-blue eyes creating upon Coombes' mind an impression that they were emitting sparks. "Instructed you! I'll ask you a question, Detective-Sergeant Coombes: Who is in charge of this case?"

"Well, I thought you were."

"You thought I was?"

"Well, you are."

"I am? Very well--you were saying--?"

"I was saying that I went into the kitchen--"

"Before that! Something about 'instructed.'"

Poor Coombes smiled pathetically.

"Look here," he said, bravely meeting the ferocious glare of his superior, "as man to man. What could I do?"

"You could stop smiling!" snapped Kerry. "Hell!" He paced several times up and down the room. "Go ahead, Coombes."

"Well, there's nothing much to report. I stayed in the kitchen, and the man from the Home office was in here alone for about half an hour."

"Alone?"

"Inspector Whiteleaf stayed in the dining-room."

"Had he been 'instructed' too?"

"I expect so. I think he just came along as a sort of guide."

"Ah!" muttered Kerry savagely, "a sort of guide! Any idea what the bogey man did in here?"

"He opened the window. I heard him."

"That's funny. It's exactly what I'm going to do! This smart from Whitehall hasn't got a corner in notions yet, Coombes."

The room was a large and lofty one, and had been used by a former tenant as a studio. The toplights had been roofed over by Sir Lucien, however, but the raised platform, approached by two steps, which had probably been used as a model's throne, was a permanent fixture of the apartment. It was backed now by bookcases, except where a blue plush curtain was draped before a French window.

Kerry drew the curtain back, and threw open the folding leaves of the window. He found himself looking out upon the leads of Albemarle Street. No stars and no moon showed through the grey clouds draping the wintry sky, but a dim and ghostly half-light nevertheless rendered the ugly expanse visible from where he stood.

On one side loomed a huge tank, to the brink of which a rickety wooden ladder invited the explorer to ascend. Beyond it were a series of iron gangways and ladders forming part of the fire emergency arrangements of the neighboring institution. Straight ahead a section of building jutted up and revealed two small windows, which seemed to regard him like watching eyes.

He walked out on to the roof, looking all about him. Beyond the tank opened a frowning gully--the Arcade connecting Albemarle Street with old Bond Street; on the other hand, the scheme of fire gangways was continued. He began to cross the leads, going in the direction of Bond Street. Coombes watched him from the study. When he came to the more northerly of the two windows which had attracted his attention, he knelt down and flashed the ray of his torch through the glass.

A kind of small warehouse was revealed, containing stacks of packages. Immediately inside the window was a rough wooden table, and on this table lay a number of smaller packages, apparently containing cigarettes.

Kerry turned his attention to the fastening of the window. A glance showed him that it was unlocked. Resting the torch on the leads, he grasped the sash and gently raised the window, noting that it opened almost noiselessly. Then, taking up the torch again, he stooped and stepped in on to the table below.

It moved slightly beneath his weight. One of the legs was shorter than its fellows. But he reached the floor as quietly as possible, and instantly snapped off the light of the torch.

A heavy step sounded from outside--someone was mounting the stairs-- and a disk of light suddenly appeared upon the ground-glass panel of the door.

Kerry stood quite still, chewing steadily.

"Who's there?" came the voice of the constable posted on Kazmah's landing.

The inspector made no reply.

"Is there anyone here?" cried the man.

The disk of light disappeared, and the alert constable could be heard moving along the corridor to inspect the other offices. But the ray had shone upon the frosted glass long enough to enable Kerry to read the words painted there in square black letters. They had appeared reversed, of course, and had read thus:

.OC ETTERAGIC SINABUC



Art of Worldly Wisdom Daily
In the 1600s, Balthasar Gracian, a jesuit priest wrote 300 aphorisms on living life called "The Art of Worldly Wisdom." Join our newsletter below and read them all, one at a time.
Email:
Sonnet-a-Day Newsletter
Shakespeare wrote over 150 sonnets! Join our Sonnet-A-Day Newsletter and read them all, one at a time.
Email: