Again The Ringer/V
|IV|| Again The Ringer
written by Edgar Wallace
"It is not for me, sir, ever to say anything which suggests criticism," said Chief Inspector Mander with great diffidence: "the only thing I say is that possibly The Ringer has become too specialised a problem with you. You are, as it were, living too near to the subject."
Superintendent Bliss chewed on a quill toothpick thoughtfully. He disliked Mander extremely—but he was not singular in that.
Mander had very nice manners, spoke the King's English with a certain refinement of tone, looked well in evening dress, had fine company manners, and was suspected of employing his superiority in these respects to secure the rapid promotion which had come to him.
You searched his records without finding any great accomplishment. He had figured in a few unimportant cases, and had had charge of a murder—but the murderer had given himself up to justice, and had made a full confession to the local divisional inspector before Mander came on the scene; so there was no merit in that.
But he had, however, a wonderful knack of appearing clever to the right people. Bliss was not the right person. He never thought Mander was clever: invariably he referred to Inspector Mander in terms that were neither complimentary to the inspector nor commendable in himself.
Bliss was going to the south of France, partly on business, partly on holiday. He had not the slightest doubt in his mind what Mander was after; he had a malignant pleasure in the thought that, if there was one man at Scotland Yard to whom he would like to hand over The Ringer case it was Mr. Mander, he of the aristocratic nose and the fair moustache.
"All right—take control while I am away. I'll arrange for my clerk to turn over anything that comes. It isn't going to be an easy job for you."
"So you have found," said Mander, with a smile.
"So you will find, Inspector," replied Bliss emphatically.
He had not left London before he saw in the columns of a daily newspaper that "Chief Inspector Mander had assumed control of The Ringer case during the absence of Superintendent Bliss."
Mander was strong on publicity.
On the following day a letter arrived at Scotland Yard. It was addressed to Superintendent Bliss, and those who were in the habit of handling his correspondence had no doubt as to who was the writer.
"The Ringer? Rubbish! Why does he write? Does he write to Bliss?"
The man took the letter with a contemptuous smile and tore open the envelope. The letter was written on just that coloured paper which The Ringer invariably used.
"Who is Paul Lumière?" demanded Mander. His immediate subordinate went forth to make enquiries. There was, he discovered, no Paul Lumière in any of the available directories.
"Sheer braggadocio!" said Mander, who had a line of classy words. "I suppose this is the sort of thing that impresses Bliss."
"Whenever The Ringer sends that kind of letter he follows it up with a coup." warned the sergeant.
Mr. Mander made derisive noises.
He was working in his office that night when the sergeant, who had gone off duty hours before, walked into his room.
"I've found Paul Lumière," he said; and, producing an evening newspaper from his pocket, he pointed to a paragraph which he had marked:
- Mr. Paul Lumière, the American millionaire, who arrived from New York last week, is buying Old Masters for his private gallery, and yesterday bought a lovely example of the early Flemish school for a thousand guineas from Messrs. Theimer, of Grafton Street.
Mander was instantly alert.
"Get on to the principal hotels, and find out where he is staying."
It was not difficult to locate Mr. Lumière. He had a suite in London's most crowded hotel. When Mander put through a call he found that the millionaire, who went early to bed, had retired to his room, and was not to be disturbed. Nor, when Mander made a personal call, did he have any greater success.
He decided to call the next morning, but before he made his visit he dropped in at the Bond Street jeweller's whose name had been mentioned in the letter.
The head of the firm was in the south of France, and he saw the managing director.
"Mr. Paul Lumière? Oh, yes. We have had some negotiations with him. He is buying some jewellery from us—the Alexandria necklace, to be exact." And then, suspiciously: "Is there anything wrong about him?"
"Oh, nothing, nothing!" said Mander, impatiently. Like all men of his peculiar mentality, he resented being asked questions. "He is all right—a millionaire or something. I am merely looking after his interests, I don't mind telling you—I shall probably have to tell you later, in any case—that an attempt is being made to rob him; and I want you, when the time comes, to afford me all the assistance you possibly can."
The managing director was naturally curious, but Inspector Mander was not in the mood to satisfy that curiosity.
He called in at Scotland Yard to look through his letters before going on to the Revoy Hotel, and found that Mr. Paul Lumière had made matters very easy.
There was a note from him, enclosing a letter of introduction. It bore the printed letter-head of Police Headquarters in New York City.
The covering note was a formal invitation asking Bliss to call, and a few minutes after reading these epistles Inspector Mander was shown into the millionaire's suite.
Mr. Lumière was a tall, not ill-looking man, with a short, grey moustache and a mop of iron-grey hair. He had a nervous little trick of screwing up his mouth every few seconds, but apparently this was no evidence of any apprehension so far as The Ringer was concerned.
"Sit right down, Captain—I'm glad to know you. Say, who is this bird, The Ringer? Milton, eh? Never met him, but I'm not scared—no, sir …" He talked rapidly, continuously. Mander, who was not averse from hearing himself talk, waited impatiently for the opportunity.
He received the impression that The Ringer and the cause of his vendetta was not unknown to Mr. Lumière. Once or twice the millionaire referred vaguely to "this girl Fleitcher," but who "this girl Fleitcher" was he did not explain.
"The only thing I know," said Mander, "is that he has threatened to rob you. He says that you are buying jewellery to the value of thirty thousand pounds—"
Lumière's jaw dropped. "Well, I'll be——, the Alexandriff necklace! A hundred and fifty thousand dollars. Now, how in hell did he know that?"
Mr. Mander was not in a position to answer the inquiry.
"I want you to do me this favour: Whenever you go to Randwell and Coles ring me up and I will go with you. If you take money——"
"Am I crazy?" demanded the other, contemptuously. "I'll pay with a banker's draft if I pay at all. But I'll certainly tip you on when the negotiations reach that point. What do you think of that picture——?"
For the next ten minutes he talked of his recent purchases—the sitting-room was littered with works of art that he had been offered or had bought.
Mr. Mander returned to his office with a fixed smile. For once in his life The Ringer had made a mistake. He had a different type of man to deal with from Bliss.
Bliss was tired, lived too near the problem of The Ringer to adjust himself instantly to every new development. A fresh brain, a fresh outlook, and methods which, Mr. Mander flattered himself, were a little out of the ordinary, would produce results for which Superintendent Bliss had groped in vain.
In his exhilaration, he sat down and wrote a long letter to the absent superintendent, telling him just how the case was developing, and giving him a bare outline of the measures he was taking to meet and defeat the machinations of Henry Arthur Milton.
- Naturally, I shall take no chances (he wrote). Lumière has promised that in no circumstances will he make the purchase without notifying me.
He made a second call upon Randwell and Coles, and had a long conference with the manager.
"You understand that when Mr. Lumière buys this necklace it is to be taken by two trustworthy assistants to him at the hotel. In no circumstances must he buy it here and take it away with him. I will arrange that you have four of the best men from Scotland Yard to escort your salesmen. It would be better perhaps, if you came yourself to take the banker's draft. You can have the detectives to guard you back to Bond Street."
The manager laughed.
"A banker's draft wouldn't be of much use to The Ringer," he said; and then: "Perhaps you would like to see the article which Mr. Lumière is trying to buy. We're asking thirty-five thousand, but I think the purchase price will be nearer thirty; naturally, we're after the best price we can get, but he's a very shrewd man and knows more about precious stones than most people I have met."
He unlocked a safe in his private office and took out a tray on which lay a long and dazzling chain of diamonds and emeralds.
"Some of these stones weigh eight carats. Those three emeralds"—he pointed with his little finger—"are worth something like £5,000 in the open market. As a matter of fact, we get very little profit, because the value of this chain, which came to us from Russia, is in the stones and not in the setting."
Mander interviewed the Assistant Commissioner and gave him particulars of the steps he had taken to safeguard the chain.
"It comes down to a question of system," he graciously explained. "I am a great admirer of the work of Superintendent Bliss, but it has always struck me as being a little haphazard, and left open all sorts of avenues of escape.
"In this case, I purpose, if you have no objection, utilising the full strength of the Yard. I shall have the hotel surrounded by detectives; I shall have men in every corridor; and if The Ringer can get in or out he will be a much cleverer man than I gave him credit for."
The Assistant Commissioner, who had a very high regard for the genius of Bliss, listened coldly.
"One thing you must be careful about, Inspector, is a possible confederate—probably a woman," he said. "The Ringer is a quick and efficient worker."
Mr. Mander smiled.
"I also have some sort of reputation, sir," he said; and the Assistant Commissioner was too polite to ask for particulars.
Mander, in his way, was very thorough. He took a census of every room occupied at the hotel and paid particular attention to the guests whose rooms were adjacent to Mr. Lumière's suite. The room adjoining Lumière's own bedroom was occupied by a Miss Gwerth Stacey, who had arrived at the hotel on the same day as Lumière. She was an American and a physical culture expert. Lumière, who confessed that he had had several chats with her, said she was a fanatic on the question of hotel fires.
She told him that she never went into an hotel without making a survey of her position and discovering the quickest way of leaving the building—a quite unnecessary precaution so far as the Revoy Hotel was concerned, for in every room there was a fire alarm.
"Trail her up," said Mander to one of his subordinates. "She's the most suspicious-looking individual in the hotel."
All the trailing, however, revealed no more than that she attended lectures on hygiene and physical culture which were being delivered at that period by a Swedish authority. She had apparently one or two professional friends in London with whom she occasionally went to supper and a dance.
But Mander was taking no risks: he instructed a woman detective to make this athletic lady her especial care. He chose the five best detectives at the Yard and gave them detailed instructions as to what they were to do in certain emergencies, and, in addition, earmarked four reliable men to accompany the jeweller to the hotel.
That pilgrimage of commerce came on the very day he completed his arrangements. A telephone message brought him to the jewellers' and he interviewed the managing director in his private office.
"We have agreed to a price, and Mr. Lumière is taking possession of the chain this afternoon at half-past four."
That was all Mander wanted to know.
He put into movement the machinery he had created to circumvent Scotland Yard's cleverest and chiefest enemy. Plain-clothes officers were detailed to watch every railway terminus: a corps of watchers was distributed about the hotel; and at four o'clock, when the jewellers' manager stepped into a car that waited in Bond Street, four stalwart detectives closed in on him and entered the machine with him.
At the entrance to the hotel were two police officers in uniform. In the corridor on Mr. Lumière's floor two detectives, Mander's most reliable officers, were awaiting them.
The inspector was with Mr. Lumière when the treasure arrived, and the millionaire chuckled as he saw this unusually large party crowd into the room.
"Lock the door," said Mander, authoritatively, and his order was carried out.
The jeweller took a case from his inside pocket, laid it on the table, and opened the cover. Under the overhead light of the glass chandelier the beautiful rope flashed into a thousand hues.
"You've got a bargain, Mr. Lumière," said the manager.
The purchaser shrugged his shoulders.
"I'm not so sure that it's a great bargain," he said, good-humouredly. "At any rate, you have your money."
He took a banker's draft from his pocket and handed it to the jeweller, who examined it carefully and slipped it into his pocket-case.
"What do you intend doing with this piece of jewellery?" asked Mander. "I presume you're going to put it into the hotel safe?"
Mr. Lumière smiled and shook his head.
"I've something more secure than any hotel safe in my room," he said. "Nobody knows about it but myself, and I can only assure you that I will put it in a place that not even you and your detectives could find."
Mander frowned at this.
"Why not——" he began.
"My friend," said Mr. Lumière, quietly, "I trust nobody! If you do not know where I have placed it, and none of your intelligent officers—one of whom may be The Ringer for all I know—sees where it goes, I have only myself to blame if it is lost."
He took up the case, walked quickly into his bedroom, and closed the door.
The jeweller looked at the detective and chuckled.
"I shouldn't be surprised it he's right," he said. "These people who are in the habit of carrying stones are very seldom robbed."
Mander was in something of a quandary; he had no authority to demand that he should be shown where the jewels were hidden, and the suggestion which was thrown out by Lumière that one of his men might possibly be The Ringer gave him a moment's uneasiness. He was so impressed that he had them lined up and looked closely at one after the other. They were clean-shaven, and none of them bore the slightest resemblance to the description he had had of this notable individual.
"I suppose it's all right——" he began.
And then he heard a cry in the corridor outside, and a quick scamper of feet. Instantly he was outside the door, in time to see a woman flying along the corridor, pursued by the two detectives. She turned an angle of the wall, and fled to the stairs.
Mander dashed back into the room and tried the door of Lumière's bedroom; it was locked.
"Are you there … Mr. Lumière?"
He tapped on the panel, but there was no answer. He shouted again, and then flung all his weight against the door. The lock was a stout one, and did not budge.
"Come here, two of you fellows!" he shouted, savagely; and two of the heaviest detectives applied their shoulders to the door. There was a crack, and a crash, and the door flew open.
The room was empty. It was a large bedroom, from which led two other doors, one apparently into the bathroom and the other to the corridor. This, they found, was unlocked. There was no sign of Lumière, nor of the diamond rope.
The windows were fastened, and exit from here would have been almost impossible, for the suite was on the fourth floor, and there was a sheer drop; and there was no means by which even a cat could have climbed down.
Mander's face was very pale. He realised that something had happened, something that might be very unpleasant to himself. He rushed into the corridor in time to see the two detectives bringing back a protesting and dishevelled young lady, whom he recognised as Miss Stacey.
She was incoherent with wrath. It was a long time before she could make any understandable statement.
"Now come across, my girl—you were working with The Ringer," said Mander, when he had taken the girl into the sitting-room. "He handed you the stuff and you bolted with it—where is Mr. Lumière?"
"Are you crazy?" she demanded, shrilly. "Who is The Ringer, anyway? The fire-bell went, and I ran downstairs. Just as I had got to the hall, these two..."
Mander looked at her incredulously.
"Fire-bell?" he said. "There's been no fire alarm."
"The fire-bell went, I tell you," she insisted, "and the indicator dropped, and the red light burnt."
He followed her into her room and discovered that she had spoken only the truth. The bell was still ringing; a red light glowed at the side, and the indicator which dropped at the ringing of the bell showed plainly.
He returned to Lumière's room, stunned with amazement. By this time, the hotel staff had gathered. Nobody had seen any sign of Mr. Lumière.
"What is that door?" He pointed to a plain door opposite the bedroom of the missing man.
"That is the baggage lift," said the valet.
Mander made his way quickly down the stairs to the hall. His policemen were still on guard at the door, but they had seen no sign of the missing millionaire.
He was about to turn into the manager's office when he heard a well-remembered and much-disliked voice.
"Have you lost him?" He spun round on his heels, to meet the unpleasant smile of Superintendent Bliss.
"I came back this afternoon, after I had your letter," said Bliss, in his deliberate way. "I gather you've had some trouble?"
By this time Mander was nearly hysterical.
"I've had no trouble," he almost shouted. "I took every precaution. I have had every entrance guarded—"
"Go back to the Yard and leave this case to me, will you?" said Bliss.
It was late that night when a miserable detective inspector was summoned to his superintendent's office. He found Bliss chewing at a half-smoked cigar.
"Sit down, Mr. Mander," Bliss's voice was icily polite. "In the first place," he said, "let me explain why I came back from Nice. When I got your letter I pretty well knew that The Ringer was purposely taking advantage of your innocence. He knew I'd left London—you saw to that! And when he addressed the letter to Bliss he knew very well that Mr. Mander would open it.
"It was the cleverest little coup that he'd ever planned, and I've not the slightest doubt—this may bring a little comfort to you—that he would have tried it on me, and possibly have succeeded. Do you know the firm of Randwell and Coles?"
"I know they are jewellers, that is all," said Mander, unhappily.
"Randwell and Coles," said Bliss, "are names which cover the identity of a very rich man who changed his name some years ago to Chapman. It was previously Lumière, and when The Ringer told you that he was going to rob Lumière, that was the Lumière that he meant."
"And who was the other Lumière?"
He saw Bliss smile, and his jaw dropped.
"The Ringer?" he squeaked.
"The millionaire in his suite at the Revoy was our dear friend. To get possession of the thirty thousand pound necklace was a very simple matter, with a forged bank draft, always supposing that he could find a mug at Scotland Yard who would vouch for him. He found one. You left the unfortunate jewellers no doubt as to the bona fides of Mr. Lumière. If you had cabled to New York, to Mr. Sullivan, of the police department, you would have discovered that Mr. Sullivan died last year; and if you had ever seen a letter-head from Police Headquarters at New York you would also have known that the heading of the letter you received was printed in London.
"As to the fire alarm—I'm not so sure that that wasn't as clever as anything The Ringer has ever attempted. He knew all about this girl who was living next door; knew exactly her horror of fires, and she served him rather well, because at the psychological moment, by inserting a steel needle through the plaster of the wall and short-circuiting the fire alarm, he was able to send that timorous female flying for her life with the two people who had been set to watch the passage running after her.
"That gave him the opportunity he wanted. He slipped into the luggage lift, went down into the basement; he had his quick-change ready, and was out through the service entrance before you could say 'knife'!"
Mr. Mander said nothing.
"The Ringer isn't easy, is he?" asked Bliss, maliciously.
|Works by this author are in the public domain in countries where the copyright term is the author's life plus 84 years or less.|