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- The Clue of the Twisted Candle - 6/41 -


"A policeman!" exclaimed the exasperated T. X. "You're worse than a pie, you're a slud! I'm afraid I shall never make a detective of you," he shook his head sorrowfully at the smiling Mansus who had been in the police force when T. X. was a small boy at school, "you are neither Wise nor Wily; you combine the innocence of a Baby with the grubbiness of a County Parson - you ought to be in the choir."

At this outrageous insult Mr. Mansus was silent; what he might have said, or what further provocation he might have received may be never known, for at that moment, the Chief himself walked in.

The Chief of the Police in these days was a grey man, rather tired, with a hawk nose and deep eyes that glared under shaggy eyebrows and he was a terror to all men of his department save to T. X. who respected nothing on earth and very little elsewhere. He nodded curtly to Mansus.

"Well, T. X.," he said, "what have you discovered about our friend Kara?"

He turned from T. X. to the discomforted inspector.

"Very little," said T. X. "I've had Mansus on the job."

"And you've found nothing, eh?" growled the Chief.

"He has found all that it is possible to find," said T. X. "We do not perform miracles in this department, Sir George, nor can we pick up the threads of a case at five minutes' notice."

Sir George Haley grunted.

"Mansus has done his best," the other went on easily, "but it is rather absurd to talk about one's best when you know so little of what you want."

Sir George dropped heavily into the arm-chair, and stretched out his long thin legs.

"What I want," he said, looking up at the ceiling and putting his hands together, "is to discover something about one Remington Kara, a wealthy Greek who has taken a house in Cadogan Square, who has no particular position in London society and therefore has no reason for coming here, who openly expresses his detestation of the climate, who has a magnificent estate in some wild place in the Balkans, who is an excellent horseman, a magnificent shot and a passable aviator."

T. X. nodded to Mansus and with something of gratitude in his eyes the inspector took his leave.

"Now Mansus has departed," said T. X., sitting himself on the edge of his desk and selecting with great care a cigarette from the case he took from his pocket, "let me know something of the reason for this sudden interest in the great ones of the earth."

Sir George smiled grimly.

"I have the interest which is the interest of my department," he said. "That is to say I want to know a great deal about abnormal people. We have had an application from him," he went on, "which is rather unusual. Apparently he is in fear of his life from some cause or other and wants to know if he can have a private telephone connection between his house and the central office. We told him that he could always get the nearest Police Station on the 'phone, but that doesn't satisfy him. He has made bad friends with some gentleman of his own country who sooner or later, he thinks, will cut his throat."

T. X. nodded.

"All this I know," he said patiently, "if you will further unfold the secret dossier, Sir George, I am prepared to be thrilled."

"There is nothing thrilling about it," growled the older man, rising, "but I remember the Macedonian shooting case in South London and I don't want a repetition of that sort of thing. If people want to have blood feuds, let them take them outside the metropolitan area."

"By all means," said T. X., "let them. Personally, I don't care where they go. But if that is the extent of your information I can supplement it. He has had extensive alterations made to the house he bought in Cadogan Square; the room in which he lives is practically a safe."

Sir George raised his eyebrows.

"A safe," he repeated.

T. X. nodded.

"A safe," he said; "its walls are burglar proof, floor and roof are reinforced concrete, there is one door which in addition to its ordinary lock is closed by a sort of steel latch which he lets fall when he retires for the night and which he opens himself personally in the morning. The window is unreachable, there are no communicating doors, and altogether the room is planned to stand a siege."

The Chief Commissioner was interested.

"Any more?" he asked.

"Let me think," said T. X., looking up at the ceiling. "Yes, the interior of his room is plainly furnished, there is a big fireplace, rather an ornate bed, a steel safe built into the wall and visible from its outer side to the policeman whose beat is in that neighborhood."

"How do you know all this?" asked the Chief Commissioner.

"Because I've been in the room," said T. X. simply, "having by an underhand trick succeeded in gaining the misplaced confidence of Kara's housekeeper, who by the way" - he turned round to his desk and scribbled a name on the blotting-pad - "will be discharged to-morrow and must be found a place."

"Is there any -er -?" began the Chief.

"Funny business?" interrupted T. X., "not a bit. House and man are quite normal save for these eccentricities. He has announced his intention of spending three months of the year in England and nine months abroad. He is very rich, has no relations, and has a passion for power."

"Then he'll be hung," said the Chief, rising.

"I doubt it," said the other, "people with lots of money seldom get hung. You only get hung for wanting money."

"Then you're in some danger, T. X.," smiled the Chief, "for according to my account you're always more or less broke."

"A genial libel," said T. X., "but talking about people being broke, I saw John Lexman to-day - you know him!"

The Chief Commissioner nodded.

"I've an idea he's rather hit for money. He was in that Roumanian gold swindle, and by his general gloom, which only comes to a man when he's in love (and he can't possibly be in love since he's married) or when he's in debt, I fear that he is still feeling the effect of that rosy adventure."

A telephone bell in the corner of the room rang sharply, and T. X. picked up the receiver. He listened intently.

"A trunk call," he said over his shoulder to the departing commissioner, "it may be something interesting."

A little pause; then a hoarse voice spoke to him. "Is that you, T. X.?"

"That's me," said the Assistant Commissioner, commonly.

"It's John Lexman speaking."

"I shouldn't have recognized your voice," said T. X., "what is wrong with you, John, can't you get your plot to went?"

"I want you to come down here at once," said the voice urgently, and even over the telephone T. X. recognized the distress. "I have shot a man, killed him!"

T. X. gasped.

"Good Lord," he said, "you are a silly ass!"

CHAPTER III

In the early hours of the morning a tragic little party was assembled in the study at Beston Priory. John Lexman, white and haggard, sat on the sofa with his wife by his side. Immediate authority as represented by a village constable was on duty in the passage outside, whilst T. X. sitting at the table with a writing pad and a pencil was briefly noting the evidence.

The author had sketched the events of the day. He had described his interview with the money-lender the day before and the arrival of the letter.

"You have the letter!" asked T. X.

John Lexman nodded.

"I am glad of that," said the other with a sigh of relief, "that will save you from a great deal of unpleasantness, my poor old chap. Tell me what happened afterward."

"I reached the village," said John Lexman, "and passed through it. There was nobody about, the rain was still falling very heavily and indeed I didn't meet a single soul all the evening. I reached the place appointed about five minutes before time. It was the


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