Again The Ringer/XII
|XI|| Again The Ringer
written by Edgar Wallace
The trouble with Mr. Bliss, from the point of view of the Yard, was that he tried to do too much himself. He had, moreover, a furtive and secret method of working, consulted nobody, and seldom informed even his immediate superior that he was taking on some especial task until the moment was ripe for an arrest.
An example of his methods was the case of the brothers Steinford. London had become flooded with forged ten-shilling notes—ten-shilling notes being much easier to pass than the pound variety. He took the case himself, and immediately it vanished as a subject of discussion; when the conferences were called and the forged bills came up for examination. Bliss would content himself with saying: "Oh, yes, I'm seeing to that." No further comment was made.
He took a journey or two into the Midlands, went down into Wales, to interview a man serving a sentence, and, with his assistance, found a gentleman named Poggy, who kept a baked potato-can and lived in East Greenwich.
But the solution of the mystery was never revealed. Nobody was arrested, and when the forgery was mentioned in Mr. Mander's private office he would look at his sycophantic sergeant, and they would raise their eyebrows together and smile. All of which indicated a deep disparagement of Mr. Bliss and his methods.
In the Rowley murder case it was the same. Bliss didn't bother to look for the tall, dark man who had been seen in the neighbourhood of Mr. Rowley's house, but scoured London to find an old carpet slipper, the fellow of that which had been left behind in the kitchen of Mr. Rowley's house on the night of the murder.
In this case, of course, he was successful; but, as Mr. Mander often said, it is the exception which proves the rule.
There appeared in the pages of a popular weekly periodical an article entitled: "Can The Ringer Be Caught?" Its author was described as "the greatest living authority upon this super-criminal." His name was modestly withheld. It described certain exploits of Henry Arthur Milton, and dealt with the failure of those who were responsible for his capture. One passage ran:
- There is no doubt that those engaged in the search are either stale or inefficient. Contemporaneously with his activities, a strange inertia seems to have settled on the officers in charge of the various cases.
Now, every man has his favourite word, and, the less literate he is, the more frequently it is employed. Mr. Bliss, who had read many reports written by the officer, knew that "contemporaneously" was a great pet with Inspector Mander. If he had a second fancy it was for "inertia", and these words occurred many times in the article.
He rang the bell, and the messenger came. "Ask Mr. Mander to see me, please," he said.
Inspector Mander arrived cheerfully, but at the sight of the periodical spread out on the superintendent's desk he changed colour.
"Have you read this article, Mander?"
Mr. Mander cleared his throat.
"No," he said boldly.
"An interesting one—you should take it home and study it," said the icy voice of Superintendent Bliss. "It is full of queer English, and is obviously written by a man who, in addition to being a fool and disloyal to his superiors, is also extremely illiterate."
Bliss did not look up, yet a furtive glance told him that Mr. Mander's face had gone a deep red.
"He says, amongst other things," Bliss went on, "that—well, I'll read it:
- The Ringer is not so clever as people think he is. By a series of lucky chances, he has escaped detection; but, sooner or later, the one man at Scotland Yard whose name perhaps is less known to the public than the officer who is associated with The Ringer and his nefarious acts will bring him to justice.
"I gather from this rather involved sentence that there is a super-intelligence at Scotland Yard. Do you happen to know whose it is?"
"No," said Mander loudly.
Bliss folded the paper, picked it up, as though it were some noxious and evil-smelling thing, with the tips of his finger and thumb, and dropped it carefully into the wastepaper basket.
"It isn't the paper," he explained, "it's the article that makes me sick. I can only say that whoever wrote that article is a very bold man. It is a challenge to The Ringer, and I have never known him to ignore a challenge. I shall be interested to see if the writer is still alive at the end of next week because it contains some very rude references both to The Ringer's courage and his genius."
There was a silence, which, with an effort, Mr. Mander broke.
"Who do you think wrote it?" he asked, a little huskily.
Bliss shook his head. "Obviously an hysterical woman," he said icily, fished the periodical from the wastepaper basket, and handed it to his subordinate. "Read it—it will give you a laugh."
There were, apparently, people who agreed with the writer of the article. Mr. Mander lived in Maida Vale, and it was his practice to travel home by Tube. Police-Constable Olivan, who stepped into the Tube compartment with him one night, was among the number. He grinned, touched his helmet, and, with an apology, sat down by the side of the inspector.
Mr. Mander was not averse from being saluted by policemen: he was one of those men who believe that detective-inspectors should carry a gold badge or something equally distinguishing, so that common individuals should not rub elbows with him without realising the honour his presence gave them.
"Do you mind if I smoke, sir?"
Police-Constable Olivan was obviously going off duty; he carried a rolled waterproof cape between his knees, and he took the liberty, after consulting the inspector, to light a clay pipe.
"Oh, yes, sir, I recognised you; I've seen you in several big cases," he said, a smile on his rubicund face. "It's a funny thing—I was only talking to our sergeant this morning about you, sir, if I might be so bold."
Mr. Mander inclined his head graciously to indicate that Police- Constable Olivan could be as bold as he liked, so long as the talk was complimentary.
"I read a bit in the paper—I forget the name of it—about this Ringer, and I said to my sergeant: 'I bet the gentleman that feller means is Mr. Mander.'"
"I haven't read the article, constable," said Mr. Mander.
"You ought to, sir," said the other earnestly. "It's the talk of our division. Do you know what I think, sir, if I might say so without being disrespectful to my superiors? I think a flat-footed policeman could catch that Ringer better than some of the people that's taken an 'and in it."
"I wouldn't say that," demurred Mr. Mander.
The constable nodded.
"Naturally you wouldn't, sir; I understand the police service very well. I've been twenty-three years a constable. They offered to make me a sergeant when I'd done seven years' street-duty, but I wouldn't look at it.
"I haven't got the education," he added explanatorily, "and I can't be bothered to go to school with a parcel of young policemen."
"So you think that you could catch The Ringer, eh?"
Mander looked at the police officer with an amused smile.
"Good Lord, no, sir!" the man hastened to excuse himself. "All I say is that if I was assistant to a gentleman like you-somebody that gave me confidence-we'd run him to earth in a week-if you'll excuse my saying 'we'."
He took out his pipe, looked round the compartment as though to be sure that there was nobody near enough to hear him, and bending towards Mr. Mander, said in a low, confidential voice: "I don't mind telling you, sir, there's a man keeping a money-lender's business near where I live who might be The Ringer. He's only been in the place about two months; he's seldom at home, and when he does come home it's always at night."
"What does he look like?" asked Mander, interested.
"He's got a little beard, rather like Mr. Bliss, sir. I don't even know whether he's a money-lender. I know he's got the premises that old Isaacstein used to have: but there it is!"
Constable Olivan grew confidential about himself. He had been married seventeen years, and nobody had a better wife, unless, he added hastily, Mr. Mander was married. Mr. Mander denied that happy state.
It was easy to see that Police-Constable Olivan was tremendously interested in the high politics of the police force. Mander glowed under the enthusiastic admiration of his subordinate.
"If I'd had any sense," said the policeman, "I'd have gone into the C.I.D. years ago. It's too late now. It fairly makes me writhe when I see fellows getting away with it as they are every day. Look at those ten- shilling forgers: nothing's been done about it! In our division they say that there's going to be a lot of changes at Scotland Yard, and, with all due respect, sir, I think it's about time."
Mr. Mander thought so too.
"Where is this house where the mysterious Ringer lives?" he asked flippantly.
The constable drew a little plan on the palm of his hand.
"I'll ride on with you and take a look at the place," said Mr. Mander, and Olivan nearly dissolved with gratification.
"If any of my mates saw me with you, sir," he said humorously as they left the station, "it'd be a rare feather in my cap! But only two of our division live round here. It's hard to find a house …"
As they trudged through the dark streets he enlarged upon every policeman's grievance, which is mainly confined to the question of pay and allowances.
They came at last to a narrow crescent, where houses stood shoulder to shoulder. They must have been built in the 'sixties, and they bore the unmistakable stamp of the 'sixty architects' atrocious minds. Flights of stone stairs led up to the front doors; there was a little narrow basement, protected by railings; and above the level reached by the stone stairs was another floor.
"That's my house." The police-constable pointed. "When I say it's my house, I mean I've got three rooms there." He thought a moment and added a kitchenette; he was evidently not a fast thinker. "If you'll come along, sir, I'll show you the other place."
Half-way along the crescent the houses were divided by a narrow lane, about wide enough to take the wheels of a cart.
"That's the house." He pointed to the corner premises. "And this is what always strikes me."
He led the way down the passage. On the right was a wall the height of a tall man's chin, and over this Mander commanded an uninterrupted view of a back garden. At the end of the garden was a solid-looking building which, Olivan explained, comprised the premises of a firm of electrical instrument makers, the entrance being in the street running parallel to the crescent.
Except for one window set upon an upper floor, the back of the premises which showed on to the garden of the mysterious stranger was black.
"See that window?" said Olivan impressively. "I'll tell you something about that, sir. I came home rather late one night, suffering from insomnia or indigestion, as the case may be, and I had a walk round and a smoke. I come along this very passage, and what do you think I saw? A ladder up to that window! That's funny, I thought. I didn't know that this fellow had moved into the house then. I continued my stroll, and when I come back the ladder wasn't there!"
He said this dramatically. Mr. Mander scratched his chin.
"Electrical instrument makers, eh?" he said thoughtfully. "I'd like to have a little private investigation here, constable. What time are you off duty tomorrow night?"
"Seven o'clock, sir. It's about eight by the time I get home."
"Could you meet me at the end of this street at half-past eight?" suggested Mander. "I don't want you to be in uniform—you understand?"
"Quite, sir," said the constable gravely. "You want the whole thing to be private."
"And I don't want you to mention the fact to any of your friends, your sergeant, or your inspector. In fact, this is a private matter between ourselves. If I pull off anything, you may be sure you won't be the loser."
"Very good, sir."
Constable Olivan saluted. He insisted upon walking with Mander back to the end of the street.
"There's a lot of bad characters around here, sir, and, although I know you're quite capable of looking after yourself, I shouldn't like anything unpleasant to happen in our neighbourhood." Which was very thoughtful of him.
When Mander got to the office next morning he found Bliss had already arrived and had twice sent for him. With a little sinking of heart, his mind instantly flew to his ill-timed literary effort; but Superintendent Bliss had evidently forgotten all about that unhappy lapse.
"The Ringer is in London," he said. "I had a 'phone message from a call-box this morning, and, although I was able to locate the box in the Kingsland Road, I haven't been able to track the gentleman. I want to warn you."
Mr. Mander was startled.
"Warn me, sir? Why?"
"Because I have an idea that you are immediately concerned," said Bliss grimly. "If you feel you'd like to go after this gentleman, you're at perfect liberty to do so. I have a couple of cases which will occupy all my tune and probably take me out of town a good deal."
Mr. Mander smiled.
"I don't know that there's much to go on," he said. "A telephone message from the north of London doesn't give us a great deal of assistance."
Bliss looked up at the ceiling.
"I seem to remember reading an article in which the writer said that the big mistake they were making at Scotland Yard was in waiting for definite clues. I also seem to remember that there was some talk of anticipating The Ringer's movements and working out a theory as to what be would do next."
Mander coughed. "Yes, I read the article," he said awkwardly. "Nonsense, I call it."
"Damned nonsense, I should call it," said Bliss; and for a moment his subordinate hated him, for he loved that little article, the composition of which had occupied so much of his time.
He considered the matter all the morning. The telephone message had come from North London, and that fitted with Constable Olivan's theory. He might be wildly guessing; at the same time, luck runs in curious grooves, and who knew if that stolid man might not be the instrument for bringing Mander's name prominently before the world as the single-handed captor of The Ringer?
It was an old trick of The Ringer's, too, to call up Scotland Yard.
When Mander met his new assistant that night he had half formulated a working theory.
Constable Olivan in mufti was less imposing than Constable Olivan in uniform. He wore a purplish suit, a silver watch-guard decorated with athletic medals, and on his feet a pair of white gymnasium shoes. "He's in the 'ouse, sir." Olivan was in a state of excitement.
"He come up in a taxicab and let himself in with a key. I'll tell you something, sir: I've been making a few inquiries in the neighbourhood, and that house is practically unfurnished.
"He's got one little bedroom where he sleeps, and all the other rooms are empty. They took old Isaacstein's money-lending sign away yesterday, so he's not in that business. Isaacstein was the fellow who was pinched for receiving about; two months ago."
They made their way to the passage and took up a position near the wall. After an hour their vigilance was rewarded. There came the click of a door opening, and presently Mr. Mander espied a dark figure stealing through the garden towards the building at the end. He waited some time, then heard a thud, like the sound of a door closing.
Ten minutes passed, and then Mander, with the assistance of the constable, climbed over the wall and went stealthily in the direction of the building.
There was nobody in sight. The man, whoever he was, had vanished, and after a little search Mander discovered where he had gone. Near the wall of the instrument maker's little factory was a wooden trap-door, and when Mander tried this he found it was unbolted. He peered down into the darkness, but could see and could certainly hear nothing. Replacing the trap, he returned to his companion.
"He may be just an ordinary burglar," he said. "I want to make sure before reporting."
He gave Olivan his private address and telephone number, and the constable volunteered to keep watch until two o'clock in the morning, after which, "nature being what it is," as he reluctantly confessed, he could not maintain the surveillance.
It was a little after eleven when Mr. Mander reached his home, and he had hardly entered the hall of the respectable boarding-house where he had his residence when the telephone bell rang.
"For you, Mr. Mander," said the landlady, bustling out from the sitting-room which she called an office.
Mander went in. It was Olivan's excited voice.
"Excuse me, sir. He come out of the house and I trailed him. He went to one of the public telephones in the street and I heard him call Victoria 7000—isn't that Scotland Yard?"
"Yes, yes," said Mander impatiently. "Did you hear what he said?"
"No, sir. He shut the door after he gave the number."
Mander thought quickly.
"Ring me up in ten minutes' time. I'm going to get on to the Yard."
In a few minutes he was connected with his own office, and after a little delay found somebody who could give him information.
"Yes, there's been a message through from The Ringer tonight. I don't know how genuine it was. I wrote it out and, as a matter of fact, I was just going to call you up to give it to you. I'll get it now."
"What was it about?" asked Mander impatiently. "Anyway, it doesn't matter, so long as you're sure it was from The Ringer. Do you know where the call came from?"
The officer in charge had taken the precaution of locating the message. It must have been the very box from which the spying Olivan had seen the man telephone.
In ten minutes Constable Olivan came through.
"Wait for me," said Mander. "I'll pick you up near the wall. And listen, Olivan; don't mention this to a soul—not to anybody in the division, or to any police officer you meet or may know..."
"Trust me, sir," said Olivan's reproachful voice.
The taxicab that carried Inspector Mander of Scotland Yard to the rendezvous did not move fast enough for him. He jumped out, paying the driver at the corner of the street and, hurrying along, met Olivan.
"I thought I told you——" he began.
"Excuse me, sir," said the police officer, "in a case like this I've got to do me own thinking. I thought I'd have to have a consultation with you, and what's the good of doing it just outside his garden, where he might be hearing every word?"
The intelligence of this reply was rather staggering.
"Yes, of course."
Mander seldom admitted that he was wrong, but he did so now.
"Well, where is he?"
"In the factory, sir. He's made two journeys, and the last time, sir, I saw him take a gun out of his pocket and look at it before he put it back. It was an automatic, I'm sure, because I heard the jacket come back."
Now to do Mr. Mander every justice, he was not deficient in courage, and the fact that he might confront an armed Ringer did not in any way deter him, the more especially as he had also brought an automatic from his house in preparation for any such emergency, and he was a fairly good shot.
He gave his instructions in a low voice as they walked rapidly towards the passage.
"I'll go into the factory and you keep guard in the garden. You haven't got your police whistle?"
"Yes, I have sir," said Olivan proudly. "I brought that with me in case——"
"You're an extremely intelligent man, constable," said Mander graciously. "If you hear me shout blow your whistle—not before, you understand? When I've got him I don't mind who helps to put him inside. If there's any credit going for this job I want it myself."
"I think we ought to have it, too," said the constable. If Mr. Mander noticed the "we", he did not contest the claims of his humble friend to recognition.
There was no sound in the garden when Mr. Mander was assisted over the wall. He went straight to the trap-door, opened it, and flashed down the light of an electric lamp. There was a flight of stone steps, and down this he went, extinguishing the lamp before he moved into the vault-like passage which apparently ran under the factory.
He heard a queer sound: a distant whirr, a thud. Along he crept and turned into another passage which ran at right angles, not daring to use his lamp. And then, stretching out his hand to feel his way, he touched a human shoulder. Instantly he grappled with the unknown. The rough hair of a beard brushed his face as he gripped the intruder's throat.
"Go quietly," he shouted. "I've got you, and the house is surrounded by police!"
He heard the sound of running feet and then silence. "I want you——"
Something hard and violent caught him under the jaw and he staggered back.
"I've got you covered; don't move!"
As he spoke he flashed the lamp upon the bearded man.
It was a very dishevelled Inspector Bliss.
Next morning there was a discussion at the Yard.
"Naturally, the constable did not blow his whistle when he heard you shout," said Inspector Bliss with exaggerated politeness, "because the constable was Henry Arthur Milton, who had been playing you for the sucker that you are!
"Could you not choose some other time to make your dramatic appearance than the moment when I had located the printing works of the biggest gang of forgers that has ever operated in London? Happily, I had phoned through to Scotland Yard for my reserves, and the most important of the gang were caught.
"Why do you imagine I spend my nights in an empty house if I hadn't some reason for it? It took me three months to locate that factory. It took you three minutes nearly to bust up three months' work! However, I'm bearing you no malice. The Ringer caught you, and that is my complete satisfaction."
As Mr. Mander walked towards the door Bliss called him back.
"You ought to write an article about this adventure of yours," he said offensively.
|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.|