The examination of Quentin Gray was three times interrupted by telephone messages from Vine Street; and to the unsatisfactory character of these the growing irascibility of Chief Inspector Kerry bore testimony. Then the divisional surgeon arrived, and Burton incurred the wrath of the Chief Inspector by deserting his post to show the doctor upstairs.
"If inspired idiocy can help the law," shouted Kerry, "the man who did this job is as good as dead!" He turned his fierce gaze in Gray's direction. "Thank you, sir. I need trouble you no further."
"Do you wish me to remain?"
"No. Inspector Whiteleaf, see these two gentlemen past the Sergeant on duty."
"But damn it all!" cried Gray, his pent-up emotions at last demanding an outlet, "I won't submit to your infernal dragooning! Do you realize that while you're standing here, doing nothing--absolutely nothing--an unhappy woman is--"
"I realize," snapped Kerry, showing his teeth in canine fashion, "that if you're not outside in ten seconds there's going to be a cloud of dust on the stairs!"
White with passion, Gray was on the point of uttering other angry and provocative words when Seton took his arm in a firm grip. "Gray!" he said sharply. "You leave with me now or I leave alone."
The two walked from the room, followed by Whiteleaf. As they disappeared:
"Read out all the times mentioned in the last witness's evidence," directed Kerry, undisturbed by the rencontre.
Sergeant Coombes smiled rather uneasily, consulting his notebook.
"'At about half-past six I drove to Bond Street,'" he began.
"I said the times," rapped Kerry. "I know to what they refer. Just give me the times as mentioned."
"Oh," murmured Coombes, "Yes. 'About half-past six.'" He ran his finger down the page. "'A quarter to seven.' 'Seven o'clock.' 'Twenty-five minutes past seven.' 'Eight o'clock.' "
"Stop!" said Kerry. "That's enough." He fixed a baleful glance upon Gunn, who from a point of the room discreetly distant from the terrible red man was watching with watery eyes. "Who's the smart in all the overcoats?" he demanded.
"My name is James Gunn," replied this greatly insulted man in a husky voice.
"Who are you? What are you? What are you doing here?"
"I'm employed by Spinker's Agency, and--"
"Oh!" shouted Kerry, moving his shoulders. He approached the speaker and glared menacingly into his purple face. "Ho, ho! So you're one of the queer birds out of that roost, are you? Spinker's Agency! Ah, yes!" He fixed his gaze now upon the pale features of Brisley. "I've seen you before, haven't I?"
"Yes, Chief Inspector," said Brisley, licking his lips. "Hayward's Heath. We have been retained by--"
"You have been retained!" shouted Kerry. "You have!"
He twisted round upon his heel, facing Monte Irvin. Angry words trembled on his tongue. But at sight of the broken man who sat there alone, haggard, a subtle change of expression crept into his fierce eyes, and when he spoke again the high-pitched voice was almost gentle. "You had employed these men, sir, to watch--"
He paused, glancing towards Whiteleaf, who had just entered again, and then in the direction of the inner room where the divisional surgeon was at work.
"To watch my wife, Inspector. Thank you, but all the world will know tomorrow. I might as well get used to it."
Monte Irvin's pallor grew positively alarming. He swayed suddenly and extended his hands in a significant groping fashion. Kerry sprang forward and supported him.
"All right, Inspector--all right," muttered Irvin. "Thank you. It has been a great shock. At first I feared--"
"You thought your wife had been attacked, I understand? Well--it's not so bad as that, sir. I am going to walk downstairs to the car with you."
"But there is so much you will want to know--"
"It can keep until tomorrow. I've enough work in this peep-show here to have me busy all night. Come along. Lean on my arm."
Monte Irvin rose unsteadily. He knew that there was cardiac trouble in his family, but he had never realized before the meaning of his heritage. He felt physically ill.
"Inspector"--his voice was a mere whisper--"have you any theory to explain--"
"Mrs. Irvin's disappearance ? Don't worry, sir. Without exactly having a theory I think I may say that in my opinion she will turn up presently."
"God bless you," murmured Irvin, as Kerry assisted him out on to the landing.
Inspector Whiteleaf held back the sliding door, the mechanism of which had been broken so that the door now automatically remained half closed.
"Funny, isn't it," said Gunn, as the two disappeared and Inspector Whiteleaf re-entered, "that a man should be so upset about the disappearance of a woman he was going to divorce?"
"Damn funny!" said Whiteleaf, whose temper was badly frayed by contact with Kerry. "I should have a good laugh if I were you."
He crossed the room, going in to where the surgeon was examining the victim of this mysterious crime. Gunn stared after him dismally.
"A person doesn't get much sympathy from the police, Brisley," he declared. "That one's almost as bad as him," jerking his thumb in the direction of the landing.
Brisley smiled in a somewhat sickly manner.
"Red Kerry is a holy terror," he agreed, sotto voce, glancing aside to where Coombes was checking his notes. "Look out! Here he comes."
"Now," cried Kerry, swinging into the room, "what's the game? Plotting to defeat the ends of justice?"
He stood with hands thrust in reefer pockets, feet wide apart, glancing fiercely from Brisley to Gunn, and from Gunn back again to Brisley. Neither of the representatives of Spinker's Agency ventured any remark, and:
"How long have you been watching Mrs. Monte Irvin?" demanded Kerry.
"Nearly a fortnight," replied Brisley.
"Got your evidence in writing?"
"Up to tonight?"
"Dictate to Sergeant Coombes."
He turned on his heel and crossed to the divan upon which his oilskin overall was lying. Rapidly he removed his reefer and his waistcoat, folded them, and placed them neatly beside his overall. He retained his bowler at its jaunty angle.
A cud of presumably flavorless chewing-gum he deposited in a brass bowl, and from a little packet which he had taken out of his jacket pocket he drew a fresh piece, redolent of mint. This he put into his mouth, and returned the packet to its resting-place. A slim, trim figure, he stood looking round him reflectively.
"Now," he muttered, "what about it?"
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