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At six-thirty that morning Margaret Halley was aroused by her maid-- the latter but half awake--and sitting up in bed and switching on the lamp, she looked at the card which the servant had brought to her, and read the following:
CHIEF INSPECTOR KERRY, C.I.D. New Scotland Yard, S.W.I.
"Oh, dear," she said sleepily, "what an appallingly early visitor. Is the bath ready yet, Janet?"
"I'm afraid not," replied the maid, a plain, elderly woman of the old-fashioned useful servant type. "Shall I take a kettle into the bathroom?"
"Yes--that will have to do. Tell Inspector Kerry that I shall not be long."
Five minutes later Margaret entered her little consulting-room, where Kerry, having adjusted his tie, was standing before the mirror in the overmantle, staring at a large photograph of the charming lady doctor in military uniform. Kerry's fierce eyes sparkled appreciatively as his glance rested on the tall figure arrayed in a woollen dressing- gown, the masculine style of which by no means disguised the beauty of Margaret's athletic figure. She had hastily arranged her bright hair with deliberate neglect of all affectation. She belonged to that ultra-modern school which scorns to sue masculine admiration, but which cannot dispense with it nevertheless. She aspired to be assessed upon an intellectual basis, an ambition which her unfortunate good looks rendered difficult of achievement.
"Good morning, Inspector," she said composedly. "I was expecting you."
"Really, miss?" Kerry stared curiously. "Then you know what I've come about?"
"I think so. Won't you sit down? I am afraid the room is rather cold. Is it about--Sir Lucien Pyne?"
"Well," replied Kerry, "it concerns him certainly. I've been in communication by telephone with Hinkes, Mr. Monte Irvin's butler, and from him I learned that you were professionally attending Mrs. Irvin."
"I was not her regular medical adviser, but--"
Margaret hesitated, glancing rapidly at the Inspector, and then down at the writing-table before which she was seated. She began to tap the blotting-pad with an ivory paper-knife. Kerry was watching her intently.
"Upon your evidence, Miss Halley," he said rapidly, "may depend the life of the missing woman."
"Oh!" cried Margaret, "whatever can have happened to her? I rang up as late as two o'clock this morning; after that I abandoned hope."
"There's something underlying the case that I don't understand, miss. I look to you to put me wise."
She turned to him impulsively.
"I will tell you all I know, Inspector," she said. "I will be perfectly frank with you."
"Good!" rapped Kerry. "Now--you have known Mrs. Monte Irvin for some time?"
"For about two years."
"You didn't know her when she was on the stage?"
"No. I met her at a Red Cross concert at which she sang."
"Do you think she loved her husband?"
"I know she did."
"Was there any--prior attachment?"
"Not that I know of."
"Mr. Quentin Gray?"
Margaret smiled, rather mirthlessly.
"He is my cousin, Inspector, and it was I who introduced him to Rita Irvin. I sincerely wish I had never done so. He lost his head completely."
"There was nothing in Mrs. Irvin's attitude towards him to justify her husband's jealousy?"
"She was always frightfully indiscreet, Inspector, but nothing more. You see, she is greatly admired, and is used to the company of silly, adoring men. Her husband doesn't really understand the ways of these Bohemian folks. I knew it would lead to trouble sooner or later."
Chief Inspector Kerry thrust his hands into the pockets of his jacket.
Margaret tapped more rapidly with the paper-knife.
"Sir Lucien belonged to a set of which Rita had been a member during her stage career. I think--he admired her; in fact, I believe he had offered her marriage. But she did not care for him in the least--in that way."
"Then in what way did she care for him?" rapped Kerry.
"Well--now we are coming to the point." Momentarily she hesitated, then: "They were both addicted--"
"Eh?" Kerry's eyes grew hard and fierce in a moment. "What drugs?"
"All sorts of drugs. Shortly after I became acquainted with Rita Irvin I learned that she was a victim of the drug habit, and I tried to cure her. I regret to say that I failed. At that time she had acquired a taste for opium."
Kerry said not a word, and Margaret raised her head and looked at him pathetically.
"I can see that you have no pity for the victims of this ghastly vice, Inspector Kerry," she said.
"I haven't!" he snapped fiercely. "I admit I haven't, miss. It's bad enough in the heathens, but for an Englishwoman to dope herself is downright unchristian and beastly."
"Yet I have come across so many of these cases, during the war and since, that I have begun to understand how easy, how dreadfully easy it is, for a woman especially, to fall into the fatal habit. Bereavement or that most frightful of all mental agonies, suspense, will too often lead the poor victim into the path that promises forgetfulness. Rita Irvin's case is less excusable. I think she must have begun drug-taking because of the mental and nervous exhaustion resulting from late hours and over-much gaiety. The demands of her profession proved too great for her impaired nervous energy, and she sought some stimulant which would enable her to appear bright on the stage when actually she should have been recuperating, in sleep, that loss of vital force which can be recuperated in no other way."
"But opium!" snapped Kerry.
"I am afraid her other drug habits had impaired her will, and shaken her self-control. She was tempted to try opium by its promise of a new and novel excitement."
"Her husband, I take it, was ignorant of all this?"
"I believe he was. Quentin--Mr. Gray--had no idea of it either."
"Then it was Sir Lucien Pyne who was in her confidence in the matter?"
Margaret nodded slowly, still tapping the blotting-pad.
"He used to accompany her to places where drugs could be obtained, and on several occasions--I cannot say how many--I believe he went with her to some den in Chinatown. It may have been due to Mr. Irvin's discovery that his wife could not satisfactorily account for some of these absences from home which led him to suspect her fidelity."
"Ah!" said Kerry hardly, "I shouldn't wonder. And now"--he thrust out a pointing finger--"where did she get these drugs?"
Margaret met the fierce stare composedly.
"I have said that I shall be quite frank," she replied. "In my opinion she obtained them from Kazmah."
"Kazmah!" shouted Kerry. "Excuse me, miss, but I see I've been wearing blinkers without knowing it! Kazmah's was a dope-shop?"
"That has been my belief for a long time, Inspector. I may add that I have never been able to obtain a shred of evidence to prove it. I am so keenly interested in seeing the people who pander to this horrible vice unmasked and dealt with as they merit, that I have tried many times to find out if my suspicion was correct."
Inspector Kerry was writhing his shoulders excitedly. "Did you ever visit Kazmah?" he asked.
"Yes. I asked Rita Irvin to take me, but she refused, and I could see that the request embarrassed her. So I went alone."
"Describe exactly what took place."
Margaret Halley stared reflectively at the blotting-pad for a moment, and then described a typical seance at Kazmah's. In conclusion:
"As I came away," she said, "I bought a bottle of every kind of perfume on sale, some of the incense, and also a box of sweetmeat; but they all proved to be perfectly harmless. I analyzed them."
Kerry's eyes glistened with admiration.
"We could do with you at the Yard, miss," he said. "Excuse me for saying so."
Margaret smiled rather wanly.
"Now--this man Kazmah," resumed the Chief Inspector. "Did you ever see him again?"
"Never. I have been trying for months and months to find out who he is."
Kerry's face became very grim.
"About ten trained men are trying to find that out at the present moment!" he rapped. "Do you think he wore a make-up?"
"He may have done so," Margaret admitted. "But his features were obviously undisguised, and his eyes one would recognize anywhere. They were larger than any human eyes I have ever seen."
"He couldn't have been the Egyptian who looked after the shop, for instance?"
"Impossible! He did not remotely resemble him. Besides, the man to whom you refer remained outside to receive other visitors. Oh, that's out of the question, Inspector."
"The light was very dim?"
"Very dim indeed, and Kazmah never once raised his head. Indeed, except for a dignified gesture of greeting and one of dismissal, he never moved. His immobility was rather uncanny."
Kerry began to pace up and down the narrow room, and:
"He bore no resemblance to the late Sir Lucien Pyne, for instance?" he rapped.
Margaret laughed outright and her laughter was so inoffensive and so musical that the Chief Inspector laughed also.
"That's more hopeless than ever!" she said. "Poor Sir Lucien had strong, harsh features and rather small eyes. He wore a moustache, too. But Sir Lucien, I feel sure, was one of Kazmah's clients."
"Ah!" said Kerry. "And what leads you to suppose Miss Halley, that this Kazmah dealt in drugs?"
"Well, you see, Rita Irvin was always going there to buy perfumes, and she frequently sent her maid as well."
"But"--Kerry stared--"you say that the perfume was harmless."
"That which was sold to casual visitors was harmless, Inspector. But I strongly suspect that regular clients were supplied with something quite different. You see, I know no fewer than thirty unfortunate women in the West End of London alone who are simply helpless slaves to various drugs, and I think it more than a coincidence that upon their dressing-tables I have almost invariably found one or more of Kazmah's peculiar antique flasks."
Chief Inspector Kerry's jaw muscles protruded conspicuously.
"You speak of patients?" he asked.
Margaret nodded her head.
"When a woman becomes addicted to the drug habit," she explained, "she sometimes shuns her regular medical adviser. I have many patients who came to me originally simply because they dared not face their family doctor. In fact, since I gave up Army work, my little practice has threatened to develop into that of a drug-habit specialist."
"Have you taxed any of these people with obtaining drugs from Kazmah?"
"Not directly. It would have been undiplomatic. But I have tried to surprise them into telling me. Unfortunately, these poor people are as cunning as any other kind of maniac, for, of course, it becomes a form of mania. They recognize that confession might lead to a stoppage of supplies--the eventuality they most dread."
"Did you examine the contents of any of these flasks found on dressing-tables?"
"I rarely had an opportunity; but when I did they proved to contain perfume when they contained anything."
"H'm," mused Kerry, and although in deference to Margaret, he had denied himself chewing-gum, his jaws worked automatically. "I gather that Mrs. Monte Irvin had expressed a wish to see you last night?"
"Yes. Apparently she was threatened with a shortage of cocaine."
"Cocaine was her drug?"
"One of them. She had tried them all, poor, silly girl! You must understand that for a habitual drug-taker suddenly to be deprived of drugs would lead to complete collapse, perhaps death. And during the last few days I had noticed a peculiar nervous symptom in Rita Irvin which had interested me. Finally, the day before yesterday, she confessed that her usual source of supply had been closed to her. Her words were very vague, but I gathered that some form of coercion was being employed."
"With what object?"
"I have no idea. But she used the words, 'They will drive me mad,' and seemed to be in a dangerously nervous condition. She said that she was going to make a final attempt to obtain a supply of the poison which had become indispensable to her. 'I cannot do without it!' she said. 'But if they refuse, will you give me some?'"
"What did you say?"
"I begged of her, as I had done on many previous occasions, to place herself in my hands. But she evaded a direct answer, as is the way of one addicted to this vice. 'If I cannot get some by tomorrow,' she said, 'I shall go mad, or dead. Can I rely on you?'"
"I told her that I would prescribe cocaine for her on the distinct understanding that from the first dose she was to place herself under my care for a cure."
"She agreed. Yesterday afternoon, while I was away at an important case, she came here. Poor Rita!" Margaret's soft voice trembled. "Look --she left this note."
From a letter-rack she took a square sheet of paper and handed it to the Chief Inspector. He bent his fierce eyes upon the writing--large, irregular and shaky.
"'Dear Margaret,'" he read aloud. "'Why aren't you at home? I am wild with pain, and feel I am going mad. Come to me directly you return, and bring enough to keep me alive. I--', Hullo! there's no finish!"
He glanced up from the page. Margaret Halley's eyes were dim.
"She despaired of my coming and went to Kazmah," she said. "Can you doubt that that was what she went for?"
"No!" snapped Kerry savagely, "I can't. But do you mean to tell me, Miss Halley, that Mrs. Irvin couldn't get cocaine anywhere else? I know for a fact that it's smuggled in regularly, and there's more than one receiver."
Margaret looked at him strangely.
"I know it, too, Inspector," she said quietly. "owing to the lack of enterprise on the part of our British drug-houses, even reputable chemists are sometimes dependent upon illicit stock from Japan and America. But do you know that the price of these smuggled drugs has latterly become so high as to be prohibitive in many cases?"
"I don't. What are you driving at, miss?"
"At this: Somebody had made a corner in contraband drugs. The most wicked syndicate that ever was formed has got control of the lives of, it may be, thousands of drug-slaves!"
Kerry's teeth closed with a sharp snap.
"At last," he said, "I see where the smart from the Home office comes in."
"The Secretary of State has appointed a special independent commissioner to inquire into this hellish traffic," replied Margaret quietly. "I am glad to say that I have helped in getting this done by the representations which I have made to my uncle, Lord Wrexborough. But I give you my word, Inspector Kerry, that I have withheld nothing from you any more than from him."
"Him!" snapped Kerry, eyes fiercely ablaze.
"From the Home Office representative--before whom I have already given evidence."
Chief Inspector Kerry took up his hat, cane and overall from the chair upon which he had placed them and, his face a savage red mask, bowed with a fine courtesy. He burned to learn particulars; he disdained to obtain them from a woman.
"Good morning, Miss Halley," he said. "I am greatly indebted to you."
He walked stiffly from the room and out of the flat without waiting for a servant to open the door.
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