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- The Clue of the Twisted Candle - 5/41 -


helped him on with his coat. He stood for some time irresolutely.

"Is there anything you have forgotten?" she asked.

He asked himself whether he should follow Kara's advice. In any circumstance it was not a pleasant thing to meet a ferocious little man who had threatened his life, and to meet him unarmed was tempting Providence. The whole thing was of course ridiculous, but it was ridiculous that he should have borrowed, and it was ridiculous that the borrowing should have been necessary, and yet he had speculated on the best of advice - it was Kara's advice.

The connection suddenly occurred to him, and yet Kara had not directly suggested that he should buy Roumanian gold shares, but had merely spoken glowingly of their prospects. He thought a moment, and then walked back slowly into the study, pulled open the drawer of his desk, took out the sinister little Browning, and slipped it into his pocket.

"I shan't be long, dear," he said, and kissing the girl he strode out into the darkness.

Kara sat back in the luxurious depths of his car, humming a little tune, as the driver picked his way cautiously over the uncertain road. The rain was still falling, and Kara had to rub the windows free of the mist which had gathered on them to discover where he was. From time to time he looked out as though he expected to see somebody, and then with a little smile he remembered that he had changed his original plan, and that he had fixed the waiting room of Lewes junction as his rendezvous.

Here it was that he found a little man muffled up to the ears in a big top coat, standing before the dying fire. He started as Kara entered and at a signal followed him from the room.

The stranger was obviously not English. His face was sallow and peaked, his cheeks were hollow, and the beard he wore was irregular-almost unkempt.

Kara led the way to the end of the dark platform, before he spoke.

"You have carried out my instructions?" he asked brusquely.

The language he spoke was Arabic, and the other answered him in that language.

"Everything that you have ordered has been done, Effendi," he said humbly.

"You have a revolver?"

The man nodded and patted his pocket.

"Loaded?"

"Excellency," asked the other, in surprise, "what is the use of a revolver, if it is not loaded?"

"You understand, you are not to shoot this man," said Kara. "You are merely to present the pistol. To make sure, you had better unload it now."

Wonderingly the man obeyed, and clicked back the ejector.

"I will take the cartridges," said Kara, holding out his hand.

He slipped the little cylinders into his pocket, and after examining the weapon returned it to its owner.

"You will threaten him," he went on. "Present the revolver straight at his heart. You need do nothing else."

The man shuffled uneasily.

"I will do as you say, Effendi," he said. "But - "

"There are no 'buts,' " replied the other harshly. "You are to carry out my instructions without any question. What will happen then you shall see. I shall be at hand. That I have a reason for this play be assured."

"But suppose he shoots?" persisted the other uneasily.

"He will not shoot," said Kara easily. "Besides, his revolver is not loaded. Now you may go. You have a long walk before you. You know the way?"

The man nodded.

"I have been over it before," he said confidently.

Kara returned to the big limousine which had drawn up some distance from the station. He spoke a word or two to the chauffeur in Greek, and the man touched his hat.

CHAPTER II

Assistant Commissioner of Police T. X. Meredith did not occupy offices in New Scotland Yard. It is the peculiarity of public offices that they are planned with the idea of supplying the margin of space above all requirements and that on their completion they are found wholly inadequate to house the various departments which mysteriously come into progress coincident with the building operations.

"T. X.," as he was known by the police forces of the world, had a big suite of offices in Whitehall. The house was an old one facing the Board of Trade and the inscription on the ancient door told passers-by that this was the "Public Prosecutor, Special Branch."

The duties of T. X. were multifarious. People said of him - and like most public gossip, this was probably untrue - that he was the head of the "illegal" department of Scotland Yard. If by chance you lost the keys of your safe, T. X. could supply you (so popular rumour ran) with a burglar who would open that safe in half an hour.

If there dwelt in England a notorious individual against whom the police could collect no scintilla of evidence to justify a prosecution, and if it was necessary for the good of the community that that person should be deported, it was T. X. who arrested the obnoxious person, hustled him into a cab and did not loose his hold upon his victim until he had landed him on the indignant shores of an otherwise friendly power.

It is very certain that when the minister of a tiny power which shall be nameless was suddenly recalled by his government and brought to trial in his native land for putting into circulation spurious bonds, it was somebody from the department which T. X. controlled, who burgled His Excellency's house, burnt the locks from his safe and secured the necessary incriminating evidence.

I say it is fairly certain and here I am merely voicing the opinion of very knowledgeable people indeed, heads of public departments who speak behind their hands, mysterious under-secretaries of state who discuss things in whispers in the remote corners of their clubrooms and the more frank views of American correspondents who had no hesitation in putting those views into print for the benefit of their readers.

That T. X. had a more legitimate occupation we know, for it was that flippant man whose outrageous comment on the Home Office Administration is popularly supposed to have sent one Home Secretary to his grave, who traced the Deptford murderers through a labyrinth of perjury and who brought to book Sir Julius Waglite though he had covered his trail of defalcation through the balance sheets of thirty-four companies.

On the night of March 3rd, T. X. sat in his inner office interviewing a disconsolate inspector of metropolitan police, named Mansus.

In appearance T. X. conveyed the impression of extreme youth, for his face was almost boyish and it was only when you looked at him closely and saw the little creases about his eyes, the setting of his straight mouth, that you guessed he was on the way to forty. In his early days he had been something of a poet, and had written a slight volume of "Woodland Lyrics," the mention of which at this later stage was sufficient to make him feel violently unhappy.

In manner he was tactful but persistent, his language was at times marked by a violent extravagance and he had had the distinction of having provoked, by certain correspondence which had seen the light, the comment of a former Home Secretary that "it was unfortunate that Mr. Meredith did not take his position with the seriousness which was expected from a public official."

His language was, as I say, under great provocation, violent and unusual. He had a trick of using words which never were on land or sea, and illustrating his instruction or his admonition with the quaintest phraseology.

Now he was tilted back in his office chair at an alarming angle, scowling at his distressed subordinate who sat on the edge of a chair at the other side of his desk.

"But, T. X.," protested the Inspector, "there was nothing to be found."

It was the outrageous practice of Mr. Meredith to insist upon his associates calling him by his initials, a practice which had earnt disapproval in the highest quarters.

"Nothing is to be found!" he repeated wrathfully. "Curious Mike!"

He sat up with a suddenness which caused the police officer to start back in alarm.

"Listen," said T. X., grasping an ivory paperknife savagely in his hand and tapping his blotting-pad to emphasize his words, "you're a pie!"

"I'm a policeman," said the other patiently.


The Clue of the Twisted Candle - 5/41

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