Chapter VIII. Kerry Consults the Oracle




The clock of Brixton Town Hall was striking the hour of 1 a.m. as Chief Inspector Kerry inserted his key in the lock of the door of his house in Spenser Road.

A light was burning in the hallway, and from the little dining-room on the left the reflection of a cheerful fire danced upon the white paint of the half-open door. Kerry deposited his hat, cane, and overall upon the rack, and moving very quietly entered the room and turned on the light. A modestly furnished and scrupulously neat apartment was revealed. On the sheepskin rug before the fire a Manx cat was dozing beside a pair of carpet slippers. On the table some kind of cold repast was laid, the viands concealed under china covers. At a large bottle of Guiness's Extra Stout Kerry looked with particular appreciation.

He heaved a long sigh of contentment, and opened the bottle of stout. Having poured out a glass of the black and foaming liquid and satisfied an evidently urgent thirst, he explored beneath the covers, and presently was seated before a spread of ham and tongue, tomatoes, and bread and butter.

A door opened somewhere upstairs, and:

"Is that yoursel', Dan?" inquired a deep but musical female voice.

"Sure it is," replied Kerry; and no one who had heard the high official tones of the imperious Chief Inspector would have supposed that they could be so softened and modulated. "You should have been asleep hours ago, Mary."

"Have ye to go out again?"

"I have, bad luck; but don't trouble to come down. I've all I want and more."

"If 'tis a new case I'll come down."

"It's the devil's own case; but you'll get your death of cold."

Sounds of movement in the room above followed, and presently footsteps on the stairs. Mrs. Kerry, enveloped in a woollen dressing-gown, which obviously belonged to the Inspector, came into the room. Upon her Kerry directed a look from which all fierceness had been effaced, and which expressed only an undying admiration. And, indeed, Mary Kerry was in many respects a remarkable character. Half an inch taller than Kerry, she fully merited the compliment designed by that trite apothegm, "a fine woman." Large-boned but shapely, as she came in with her long dark hair neatly plaited, it seemed to her husband--who had regained her lover--that he saw before him the rosy-cheeked lass whom ten years before he had met and claimed on the chilly shores of Loch Broom. By all her neighbors Mrs. Kerry was looked upon as a proud, reserved person, who had held herself much aloof since her husband had become Chief Inspector; and the reputation enjoyed by Red Kerry was that of an aggressive and uncompanionable man. Now here was a lover's meeting, not lacking the shy, downward glance of dark eyes as steel- blue eyes flashed frank admiration.

Kerry, who quarrelled with everybody except the Assistant Commissioner, had only found one cause of quarrel with Mary. He was a devout Roman Catholic, and for five years he had clung with the bull-dog tenacity which was his to the belief that he could convert his wife to the faith of Rome. She remained true to the Scottish Free Church, in whose precepts she had been reared, and at the end of the five years Kerry gave it up and admired her all the more for her Caledonian strength of mind. Many and heated were the debates he had held with worthy Father O'Callaghan respecting the validity of a marriage not solemnized by a priest, but of late years he had grown reconciled to the parting of the ways on Sunday morning; and as the early mass was over before the Scottish service he was regularly to be seen outside a certain Presbyterian chapel waiting for his heretical spouse.

He pulled her down on to his knee and kissed her.

"It's twelve hours since I saw you," he said.

She rested her arm on the back of the saddle-back chair, and her dark head close beside Kerry's fiery red one.

"I kenned ye had a new case on," she said, "when it grew so late. How long can ye stay?"

"An hour. No more. There's a lot to do before the papers come out in the morning. By breakfast time all England, including the murderer, will know I'm in charge of the case. I wish I could muzzle the Press."

"'Tis a murder, then? The Lord gi'e us grace. Ye'll be wishin' to tell me?"

"Yes. I'm stumped!"

"Ye've time for a rest an' a smoke. Put ye're slippers on."

"I've no time for that, Mary."

She stood up and took the slippers from the hearth.

"Put ye're slippers on," she repeated firmly.

Kerry stooped without another word and began to unlace his brogues. Meanwhile from a side-table his wife brought a silver tobacco-box and a stumpy Irish clay. The slippers substituted for his shoes, Kerry lovingly filled the cracked and blackened bowl with strong Irish twist, which he first teased carefully in his palm. The bowl rested almost under his nostrils when he put the pipe in his mouth, and how he contrived to light it without burning his moustache was not readily apparent. He succeeded, however, and soon was puffing clouds of pungent smoke into the air with the utmost contentment.

"Now," said his wife, seating herself upon the arm of the chair, "tell me, Dan."

Thereupon began a procedure identical to that which had characterized the outset of every successful case of the Chief Inspector. He rapidly outlined the complexities of the affair in old Bond Street, and Mary Kerry surveyed the problem with a curious and almost fey detachment of mind, which enabled her to see light where all was darkness to the man on the spot. With the clarity of a trained observer Kerry described the apartments of Kazmah, the exact place where the murdered man had been found, and the construction of the rooms. He gave the essential points from the evidence of the several witnesses, quoting the exact times at which various episodes had taken place. Mary Kerry, looking straightly before her with unseeing eyes, listened in silence until he ceased speaking; then:

"There are really but twa rooms," she said, in a faraway voice, "but the second o' these is parteetioned into three parts?"

"That's it."

"A door free the landing opens upon the fairst room, a door free a passage opens upon the second. Where does yon passage lead?"

"From the main stair along beside Kazmah's rooms to a small back stair. This back stair goes from top to bottom of the building, from the end of the same hallway as the main stair."

"There is na either way out but by the front door?"

"No."

"Then if the evidence o' the Spinker man is above suspeecion, Mrs. Irvin and this Kazmah were still on the premises when ye arrived?"

"Exactly. I gathered that much at Vine Street before I went on to Bond Street. The whole block was surrounded five minutes after my arrival, and it still is."

"What ither offices are in this passage?"

"None. It's a blank wall on the left, and one door on the right--the one opening into the Kazmah office. There are other premises on the same floor, but they are across the landing."

"What premises?"

"A solicitor and a commission agent."

"The floor below?"

"It's all occupied by a modiste, Renan."

"The top floor?"

"Cubanis Cigarette Company, a servants' and an electrician."

"Nae more?"

"No more."

"Where does yon back stair open on the topmaist floor?"

"In a corridor similar to that alongside Kazmah's. It has two windows on the right overlooking a narrow roof and the top of the arcade, and on the left is the Cubanis Cigarette Company. The other offices are across the landing."

Mary Kerry stared into space awhile.

"Kazmah and Mrs. Irvin could ha' come down to the fairst floor, or gene up to the thaird floor unseen by the Spinker man," she said dreamily.

"But they couldn't have reached the street, my dear!" cried Kerry.

"No--they couldn'a ha' gained the street."

She became silent again, her husband watching her expectantly. Then:

"If puir Sir Lucien Pyne was killed at a quarter after seven--the time his watch was broken--the native sairvent did no' kill him. Frae the Spinker's evidence the black man went awe' before then," she said. "Mrs. Irvin?"

Kerry shook his head.

"From all accounts a slip of a woman," he replied. "It was a strong hand that struck the blow."

"Kazmah?"

"Probably."

"Mr. Quentin Gray came back wi' a cab and went upstairs, free the Spinker's evidence, at aboot a quarter after seven, and came doon five meenites later sair pale an' fretful."

Kerry surrounded himself and the speaker with wreaths of stifling smoke.

"We have only the bare word of Mr. Gray that he didn't go in again, Mary; but I believe him. He's a hot-headed fool, but square."

"Then 'twas yon Kazmah," announced Mrs. Kerry. "Who is Kazmah?"

Her husband laughed shortly.

"That's the point at which I got stumped," he replied. "We've heard of him at the Yard, of course, and we know that under the cloak of a dealer in Eastern perfumes he carried on a fortune-telling business. He managed to avoid prosecution, though. It took me over an hour tonight to explore the thought-reading mechanism; it's a sort of Maskelyne's Mysteries worked from the inside room. But who Kazmah is or what's his nationality I know no more than the man in the moon."

"Pairfume?" queried the far-away voice.

"Yes, Mary. The first room is a sort of miniature scent bazaar. There are funny little imitation antique flasks of Kazmah preparations, creams, perfumes and incense, also small square wooden boxes of a kind of Turkish delight, and a stock of Egyptian mummy-beads, statuettes, and the like, which may be genuine for all I know."

"Nae books or letters?"

"Not a thing, except his own advertisements, a telephone directory, and so on."

"The inside office bureau?"

"Empty as Mother Hubbard's cupboard!"

"The place was ransacked by the same folk that emptied the dead man's pockets so as tee leave nae clue," pronounced the sibyl-like voice. "Mr. Gray said he had choc'lates wi' him. Where did he leave them?"

"Mary, you're a wonder!" exclaimed the admiring Kerry. "The box was lying on the divan in the first room where he said he had left it on going out for a cab."

"Does nane o' the evidence show if Mrs. Irvin had been to Kazmah's before?"

"Yes. She went there fairly regularly to buy perfume."

"No' for the fortune-tellin'?"

"No. According to Mr. Gray, to buy perfume."

"Had Mr. Gray been there wi' her before?"

"No. Sir Lucien Pyne seems to have been her pretty constant companion."

"Do ye suspect she was his lady-love?"

"I believe Mr. Gray suspects something of the kind."

"And Mr. Gray?"

"He is not such an old friend as Sir Lucien was. But I fancy nevertheless it was Mr. Gray that her husband doubted."

"Do ye suspect the puir soul had cause, Dan?"

"No," replied Kerry promptly; "I don't. The boy is mad about her, but I fancy she just liked his company. He's the heir of Lord Wrexborough, and Mrs. Irvin used to be a stage beauty. It's a usual state of affairs, and more often than not means nothing."

"I dinna ken sich folk," declared Mary Kerry. "They a'most desairve all they get. They are bound tee come tee nae guid end. Where did ye say Sir Lucien lived?"

"Albemarle Street; just round the corner."

"Ye told me that he only kepit twa sairvents: a cook, hoosekeper, who lived awe', an' a man--a foreigner?"

"A kind of half-baked Dago, named Juan Mareno. A citizen of the United States according to his own account."

"Ye dinna like Juan Mareno?"

"He's a hateful swine!" flashed Kerry, with sudden venom. "I'm watching Mareno very closely. Coombes is at work upon Sir Lucien's papers. His life was a bit of a mystery. He seems to have had no relations living, and I can't find that he even employed a solicitor."

"Ye'll be sairchin' for yon Egyptian?"

"The servant? Yes. We'll have him by the morning, and then we shall know who Kazmah is. Meanwhile, in which of the offices is Kazmah hiding?"

Mary Kerry was silent for so long that her husband repeated the question:

"In which of the offices is Kazmah hiding?"

"In nane," she said dreamily. "Ye surrounded the buildings too late, I ken."

"Eh!" cried Kerry, turning his head excitedly. "But the man Brisley was at the door all night!"

"It doesna' matter. They have escapit."

Kerry scratched his close-cropped head in angry perplexity.

"You're always right, Mary," he said. "But hang me if--Never mind! When we get the servant we'll soon get Kazmah."

"Aye," murmured his wife. "If ye hae na' got Kazmah the now."

"But--Mary! This isn't helping me! It's mystifying me deeper than ever!"

"It's no' clear eno', Dan. But for sure behind this mystery o' the death o' Sir Lucien there's a darker mystery still; sair dark. 'Tis the biggest case ye ever had. Dinna look for Kazmah. Look tee find why the woman went tee him; and try tee find the meanin' o' the sma' window behind the big chair. . . . Yes"--she seemed to be staring at some distant visible object--"watch the man Mareno--"

"But--Mrs. Irvin--"

"Is in God's guid keepin'--"

"You don't think she's dead!"

"She is wairse than dead. Her sins have found her out." The fey light suddenly left her eyes, and they became filled with tears. She turned impulsively to her husband. "Oh, Dan! Ye must find her! Ye must find her! Puir weak hairt--dinna ye ken how she is suffering!"

"My dear," he said, putting his arms around her, "What is it? What is it?"

She brushed the tears from her eyes and tried to smile. "'Tis something like the second sight, Dan," she answered simply. "And it's escapit me again. I a'most had the clue to it a' oh, there's some horrible wickedness in it, an' cruelty an' shame."

The clock on the mantel shelf began to peal. Kerry was watching his wife's rosy face with a mixture of loving admiration and wonder. She looked so very bonny and placid and capable that he was puzzled anew at the strange gift which she seemingly inherited from her mother, who had been equally shrewd, equally comely and similarly endowed.

"God bless us all!" he said, kissed her heartily, and stood up. "Back to bed you go, my dear. I must be off. There's Mr. Irvin to see in the morning, too."

A few minutes later he was swinging through the deserted streets, his mind wholly occupied with lover-like reflections to the exclusion of those professional matters which properly should have been engaging his attention. As he passed the end of a narrow court near the railway station, the gleam of his silver mounted malacca attracted the attention of a couple of loafers who were leaning one on either side of an iron pillar in the shadow of the unsavory alley. Not another pedestrian was in sight, and only the remote night-sounds of London broke the silence.

Twenty paces beyond, the footpads silently closed in upon their prey. The taller of the pair reached him first, only to receive a back- handed blow full in his face which sent him reeling a couple of yards.

Round leapt the assaulted man to face his second assailant.

"If you two smarts really want handling," he rapped ferociously, "say the word, and I'll bash you flat."

As he turned, the light of a neighboring lamp shone down upon the savage face, and a smothered yell came from the shorter ruffian:

"Blimey, Bill! It's Red Kerry!"

Whereupon, as men pursued by devils, the pair made off like the wind!

Kerry glared after the retreating figures for a moment, and a grin of fierce satisfaction revealed his gleaming teeth. He turned again and swung on his way toward the main road. The incident had done him good. It had banished domestic matters from his mind, and he was become again the highly trained champion of justice, standing, an unseen buckler, between society and the criminal.



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