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Early the following morning Margaret Halley called upon Mollie Gretna.
Mollie's personality did not attract Margaret. The two had nothing in common, but Margaret was well aware of the nature of the tie which had bound Rita Irvin to this empty and decadent representative of English aristocracy. Mollie Gretna was entitled to append the words "The Honorable" to her name, but not only did she refrain from doing so but she even preferred to be known as "Gretna"--the style of one of the family estates.
This pseudonym she had adopted shortly after her divorce, when she had attempted to take up a stage career. But although the experience had proved disastrous, she had retained the nom de guerre, and during the past four years had several times appeared at war charity garden- parties as a classical dancer--to the great delight of the guests and greater disgust of her family. Her maternal uncle, head of her house, said to be the most blase member of the British peerage and known as "the noble tortoise," was generally considered to have pronounced the final verdict upon his golden-haired niece when he declared "she is almost amusing."
Mollie received her visitor with extravagant expressions of welcome.
"My dear Miss Halley," she cried, "how perfectly sweet of you to come to see me! of course, I can guess what you have called about. Look! I have every paper published this morning in London! Every one! Oh! poor, darling little Rita! What can have become of her!"
Tears glistened upon her carefully made-up lashes, and so deep did her grief seem to be that one would never have suspected that she had spent the greater part of the night playing bridge at a "mixed" club in Dover Street, and from thence had proceeded to a military "breakfast-dance."
"It is indeed a ghastly tragedy," said Margaret. "It seems incredible that she cannot be traced."
"Absolutely incredible!" declared Mollie, opening a large box of cigarettes. "Will you have one, dear?"
"No, thanks. By the way, they are not from Buenos Ayres, I suppose?"
Mollie, cigarette in hand, stared, round-eyed, and:
"Oh, my dear Miss Halley!" she cried, "what an idea! Such a funny thing to suggest."
Margaret smiled coolly.
"Poor Sir Lucien used to smoke cigarettes of that kind," she explained, "and I thought perhaps you smoked them, too."
Mollie shook her head and lighted the cigarette.
"He gave me one once, and it made me feel quite sick," she declared.
Margaret glanced at the speaker, and knew immediately that Mollie had determined to deny all knowledge of the drug coterie. Because there is no problem of psychology harder than that offered by a perverted mind, Margaret was misled in ascribing this secrecy to a desire to avoid becoming involved in a scandal. Therefore:
"Do you quite realize, Miss Gretna," she said quietly, "that every hour wasted now in tracing Rita may mean, must mean, an hour of agony for her?"
"Oh, don't! please don't!" cried Mollie, clasping her hands. "I cannot bear to think of it."
"God knows in whose hands she is. Then there is poor Mr. Irvin. He is utterly prostrated. One shudders to contemplate his torture as the hours and the days go by and no news comes of Rita."
"Oh, my dear! you are making me cry!" exclaimed Mollie. "If only I could do something to help. . . ."
Margaret was studying her closely, and now for the first time she detected sincere emotion in Mollie's voice--and unforced tears in her eyes. Hope was reborn.
"Perhaps you can," she continued, speaking gently. "You knew all Rita's friends and all Sir Lucien's. You must have met the woman called Mrs. Sin?"
"Mrs. Sin," whispered Mollie, staring in a frightened way so that the pupils of her eyes slowly enlarged. "What about Mrs. Sin?"
"Well, you see, they seem to think that through Mrs. Sin they will be able to trace Kazmah; and wherever Kazmah is one would expect to find poor Rita."
Mollie lowered her head for a moment, then glanced quickly at the speaker, and quickly away again.
"Please let me explain just what I mean," continued Margaret. "It seems to be impossible to find anybody in London who will admit having known Mrs. Sin or Kazmah. They are all afraid of being involved in the case, of course. Now, if you can help, don't hesitate for that reason. A special commission has been appointed by Lord Wrexborough to deal with the case, and their agent is working quite independently of the police. Anything which you care to tell him will be treated as strictly confidential; but think what it may mean to Rita."
Mollie clasped her hands about her right knee and rocked to and fro in her chair.
"No one knows who Kazmah is," she said.
"But a number of people seem to know Mrs. Sin. I am sure you must have met her?"
"If I say that I know her, shall I be called as a witness?"
"Certainly not. I can assure you of that."
Mollie continued to rock to and fro.
"But if I were to tell the police I should have to go to court, I suppose?"
"I suppose so," replied Margaret. "I am afraid I am dreadfully ignorant of such matters. It might depend upon whether you spoke to a high official or to a subordinate one; an ordinary policeman for instance. But the Home office agent has nothing whatever to do with Scotland Yard."
Mollie stood up in order to reach an ash-tray, and:
"I really don't think I have anything to say, Miss Halley," she declared. "I have certainly met Mrs. Sin, but I know nothing whatever about her, except that I believe she is a Jewess."
Margaret sighed, looking up wistfully into Mollie's face. "Are you quite sure?" she pleaded. "Oh, Miss Gretna, if you know anything-- anything--don't hide it now. It may mean so much."
"Oh, I quite understand that," cried Mollie. "My heart simply aches and aches when I think of poor, sweet little Rita. But--really I don't think I can be of the least tiny bit of use."
Their glances met, and Margaret read hostility in the shallow eyes. Mollie, who had been wavering, now for some reason had become confirmed in her original determination to remain silent. Margaret stood up.
"It is no good, then," she said. "We must hope that Rita will be traced by the police. Good-bye, Miss Gretna. I am so sorry you cannot help."
"And so am I!" declared Mollie. "It is perfectly sweet of you to take such an interest, and I feel a positive worm. But what can I do?"
As Margaret was stepping into her little runabout car, which awaited her at the door, a theory presented itself to account for Mollie's sudden hostility. It had developed, apparently, as a result of Margaret's reference to the Home office inquiry. Of course! Mollie would naturally be antagonistic to a commission appointed to suppress the drug traffic.
Convinced that this was the correct explanation, Margaret drove away, reflecting bitterly that she had been guilty of a strategical error which it was now too late to rectify.
In common with others, Kerry among them, who had come in contact with that perverted intelligence, she misjudged Mollie's motives. In the first place, the latter had no wish to avoid publicity, and in the second place--although she sometimes wondered vaguely what she should do when her stock of drugs became exhausted--Mollie was prompted by no particular animosity toward the Home office inquiry. She had merely perceived a suitable opportunity to make the acquaintance of the fierce red Chief Inspector, and at the same time to secure notoriety for herself.
Ere Margaret's car had progressed a hundred yards from the door, Mollie was at the telephone.
"City 400, please," she said.
An interval elapsed, then:
"Is that the Commissioner's office, New Scotland Yard?" she asked.
A voice replied that it was.
"Could you put me through to Chief Inspector Kerry?"
"What name?" inquired the voice.
Mollie hesitated for three seconds, and then gave her family name.
"Very well, madam," said the voice respectfully. "Please hold on, and I will enquire if the Chief Inspector is here."
Mollie's heart was beating rapidly with pleasurable excitement, and she was as confused as a maiden at her first rendezvous. Then:
"Hello," said the voice.
"I am sorry, madam. But Chief Inspector Kerry is off duty."
"Oh, dear!" sighed Mollie, "what a pity. Can you tell me where I could find him?"
"I am afraid not, madam. It is against the rules to give private addresses of members of any department."
"Oh, very well." She sighed again. "Thank you."
She replaced the receiver and stood biting her finger thoughtfully. She was making a mental inventory of her many admirers and wondering which of them could help her. Suddenly she came to a decision on the point. Taking up the receiver:
"Victoria 8440, please," she said.
Still biting one finger she waited, until:
"Foreign office," announced a voice.
"Please put me through to Mr. Archie Boden-Shaw," she said.
Ere long that official's secretary was inquiring her name, and a moment later:
"Is that you, Archie?" said Mollie. "Yes! Mollie speaking. No, please listen, Archie! You can get to know everything at the Foreign office, and I want you to find out for me the private address of Chief Inspector Kerry, who is in charge of the Bond Street murder case. Don't be silly! I've asked Scotland Yard, but they won't tell me. You can find out. . . . It doesn't matter why I want to know. . . . Just ring me up and tell me. I must know in half an hour. Yes, I shall be seeing you tonight. Good-bye. . . ."
Less than half an hour later, the obedient Archie rang up, and Mollie, all excitement, wrote the following address in a dainty scented notebook which she carried in her handbag.
CHIEF INSPECTOR KERRY, 67 Spenser Road, Brixton.
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