Again The Ringer/XIII
|XII|| Again The Ringer
written by Edgar Wallace
People have the most unlikely hobbies. Mrs. Gardling occupied her moments of leisure with photography. She had a small studio at the back of her house in Hampstead: it was one partitioned half of a garage that had been built to house four cars. Mrs. Gardling had only one car, though she could have afforded more.
Her favourite subjects were flowers, and she was dealing with some perfect Easter lilies in an exquisite Venetian vase that night when The Ringer, who was fleeing for his life, broke into her garage in his search for petrol.
He came out of complete darkness through the partition door into the blinding light of photographic lamps just as Mrs. Gardling was making an exposure. She saw him for a second before his hand closed over the switch and turned out the lights. But she saw him, as few people had ever done, without disguise.
As the lights went off he heard a drawer being pulled out and something hard scrape along the wood.
"Don't move or I'll shoot!" she said, and heard him laugh and the door slam behind him.
By the time the police came he had vanished. They told her they were pursuing a motor-car thief, but they did not tell her who that thief was because they were chary of talking about him and the newspapers getting to know that they had so nearly caught the man they were seeking.
So Mrs. Gardling cherished that photographic negative of Easter lilies rather as a curiosity than from its intrinsic value. Henry Arthur Milton, for his part, was quite unaware that this deadly thing was in the possession of a lady against whom he found it necessary at a later period to operate.
The Ringer was in Berlin, a favourite haunt of his. Superintendent Bliss had a letter from him bearing a Charlottenburg postmark. The letter began, as usual, without formality:
Henry Arthur Milton was an exasperating man, and nothing distressed Mr. Bliss as this habit of putting the police under an obligation to him. He knew, before the wire he addressed to the Manchester police was answered, that The Ringer's data were exact.
The matter was handed to the divisional police, a raid was staged, and in due course Mrs. Gardling appeared before a police magistrate and was sent to prison with hard labour for three months.
Ordinarily this would have been a harsh sentence for selling liquor after hours, but the police found many things which were not described or even hinted at in The Ringer's letter. The amenities of the club were apparently much more extensive than desirable.
Who it was that had betrayed the fact that the raid was made at the instigation of the notorious criminal, Bliss found it difficult to discover. He was a stickler for official secrecy, and it is no exaggeration to say that when Mrs. Gardling turned round as she was leaving the dock and said, in a voice vehement with fury: "You can tell your friend The Ringer that he'll be sorry he ever interfered with me," Bliss was furious.
The divisional inspector denied that he had revealed the part The Ringer had played; the other detectives in the raid were equally emphatic, though it was one of these who had light-heartedly taunted Mrs. Gardling with the name of the informant.
Mrs. Gardling was a rich woman who had afforded to marry her daughter into respectable society. How madam obtained her wealth was no mystery. She ran profitable side-lines to the club business, and many a cheque for a large amount had gone into her bank as the price of her silence about certain disreputable happenings to which she was privy.
When she was waiting to be removed to Holloway she saw the detective who had given her the identity of the informer, and he was rather agitated because his chief had had an unpleasant interview with Bliss and had passed the kick down.
"For the Lord's sake, Mrs. Gardling, don't mention the fact to anybody that it was I who told you The Ringer squeaked on you."
She, who should have been wilting in shame, was boiling with anger.
"I'd like to know that fellow!" she said, incoherent in her justifiable annoyance. "I'd spend ten thousand pounds to get him! Oh, yes, of course I've heard of him, you fool—who hasn't?"
"It's a curious thing," said the loquacious officer of the law, "that the only time I ever met you before, Mrs. Gardling, was the night he broke into your house and pinched petrol——"
She stared at him.
"The Ringer? Was that man The Ringer?" she gasped. "Your people said it was a burglar——"
"Car thief," he corrected, rather satisfied with the sensation he had created. "Yes, that was The Ringer. It's a regular coincidence! He busts your house and now he's bust you!"
But Mrs. Gardling wasn't thinking of coincidences.
She had permission to see her well-married daughter before the removal to Holloway.
"Annie," she said, "go up to 'The Linnets' and in the studio you'll find a black tin box full of negatives. Take it to the bank and ask the manager to keep it locked up till I come out."
"Aren't you going to appeal, mamma?" asked her daughter.
"I'll be out quicker by saying nothing," she said. "And get the lease of that house in Maddox Street; we can wangle a licence for it—we'll call it 'The Furnace Club'. I thought that out last night."
So passed to a prison laundry in North London the famous Mrs. Gardling, and her mind during the period of her incarceration was equally divided between plans for her new club and methods by which she could bring to justice the man she loathed.
It was unfortunate to some extent that Annie, her daughter, desired most passionately to assist her mother in her material rehabilitation. The well-married one was a bright girl, brisk and businesslike, and too well she knew the power of the Press. Her mother had been absent for a month when she sent out a little helpful propaganda for the Furnace Club.
She was not a particularly clever writer, but, as some of us know, it is not necessary to be clever to be interesting, and the news editor of the Weekly Post-Herald, scanning the typewritten effusions she sent to him, and scanning them with an apathetic eye, came upon a paragraph which quickened his interest. He rang a bell and sent for a reporter.
"Call on this woman and see what there is in the story." He blue-pencilled the paragraph.
During the following week there appeared an interesting column. "The Ringer's Vengeance," it was headed, a little hectically, and it told the story of the midnight visit, When Mrs. Gardling was photographing flowers.
In the course of the article it was stated that the interesting negative was in a safe place and that "more would be heard of it."
Curiously enough, Bliss did not give the article a great deal of attention, and the only thing which really interested him was the revelation that the Furnace Club was to be opened in the near future under the care and management of the well-married daughter.
As for this lady, she realised that she had said a great deal too much and refused all further interviews, quaking a little as to what would be the effect upon her fond mother when that resolute woman came out of prison.
She could hardly consult her husband on the matter, for Mr. Leppold, that dark, handsome man, was not on speaking terms with his mother-in-law, and whenever her name obtruded into the conversation he invariably excised it.
"Don't talk to me about that old so-and-so," was his favourite expression.
Ann Leppold bridled but was silent. Mrs. Gardling had been very rude to Alfred, though undoubtedly her exasperation had cause. He had first appeared at the club as Count Giolini. He wasn't a count at all—this fact was not discovered until after the marriage.
In other respects she had little to complain of; he was a well-off man, had a beautiful flat off Jermyn Street, lived expensively, presented jewels to his wife, and took her away every year to Monte Carlo, Deauville, and other fashionable resorts.
She often wondered what his business was, for, although he claimed to be something in the City, he had no office, and spent most of his time in the West End of London. Whatever it was, it did not keep him very busy. He was never away for more than a few days at a time, and, generally speaking, his life was quiet and inoffensive.
She spoke to him about The Ringer but he was rather uninterested. Most of the evenings at home he spent reading the newspapers, the City pages being of special significance, for he was a frugal man who had invested well and hoped some day to retire and live in Paris, a city for which he had a great affection, though he seldom went there.
She was an avid reader of newspapers herself, but confined her studies to those fascinating episodes which are revealed in the courts of law.
One night—it was about a week before her mother was sent to prison—she laid the paper down on her knees.
"It's perfectly awful the way these robberies are going on, Alf," she said. "One of these gangs took over forty thousand pounds' worth of diamonds from a place in Hatton Garden on Sunday, and got away without leaving a trace. I think the police must be in it. Now, if I were the police——"
"You're not," snapped her husband from behind his newspaper; "and the best thing you can do is to shut up."
Annie closed her lips firmly. When she had been married somebody had given her a book entitled How to be Happy though Married, and she had learned the lesson of bearing and forbearing.
At Scotland Yard they accepted this succession of burglaries with philosophic calm. The police were only human, and if shop-owners refused to take elementary precautions, such as employing watchmen or buying safes which offered six hours' resistance to the best of burglars, that was their look-out.
The police did all they possibly could, and followed a routine which is usually very effective. But Scotland Yard had neither second sight nor the power of divination.
"It might be Lewing or Martin or Crooford," speculated Mr. Bliss, "or it may be that Paris gang that come over specially for these jobs."
The gangs which operate from foreign cities are the most difficult to trace. Paris is seven hours from London, and, supposing that one of the gang were in London, making all the preliminary investigations, completing the time-table, and getting together the necessary apparatus and tools, they could arrive on Saturday evening, and leave on Monday morning with the bulk of their loot.
"The thing to do is to find the caretaker," said Bliss.
By this he referred to the one member of the gang permanently established in London.
Mr. Leppold did not even read the interview with his wife in the Weekly Post-Herald, he merely saw her name in a column of print and admonished her.
"The advice I give to you, my girl, is to keep out of the public eye. There's no reason why you should go shoving yourself forward into the limelight."
"I am doing something for my poor, dear mother," said Mrs. Leppold hotly, "and I've a good mind to get that box out of the Northern and Southern——"
Mr. Leppold became instantly interested.
"Does your mother bank at the Northern and Southern?"
"She has for years," said Annie complacently, because the Northern and Southern is rather an exclusive banking company. "She keeps all her papers—what are you laughing at?"
"I wasn't laughing," said Alt Leppold as he took up his newspaper again; but she gathered, from the fact that the sheet shook convulsively, that he was lying.
"What's the joke?" she demanded.
"Something I read in the paper," was his reply.
After she had gone to bed he went into his study and put through a call to Paris. For six minutes he spoke cryptically. He often spoke over the Paris wire, and he always spoke cryptically.
The next day he went to the south of London and had tea with a bearded Army pensioner who was a widower and lived alone in two rooms in a model dwelling, and had a grievance against society, particularly that eminent section of society represented by the Stewards of the Jockey Club.
"They ought to warn off …"
He named a number of eminent trainers whose horses had not won that afternoon at Hurst Park. This bearded man backed horses on a system, though his employers would have dropped in their tracks if they had even suspected his favourite recreation. If he had not backed horses, Mr. Leppold would never have got to know him.
He soothed the disgruntled punter with certain alluring prospects.
"You stay on for a month, then off you pop to South America or South Africa or anywhere you like. There's five thousand pounds—more than you'd earn in fifty years——"
"I should lose my pension," said the man, looking at him from under his beetling black brows. "And what about my good name?"
"You'll lose that anyway," said Mr. Leppold coolly. "The first time your boss knows that you owe money to bookmakers your name will be mud. I'm paying you five hundred pounds on account," he went on, counting out the notes. "I trust you, and you've got to trust me. I'll knock twice on the side door, like this." He sounded a morse B on the table. "All you've got to do is to let us in."
The man moved uncomfortably.
"What about tying me up?" he suggested.
"You needn't worry about that," said Mr. Leppold, secretly amused. "We'll stick an alibi on to you that you couldn't blow off with dynamite."
The man gathered up the money, and after Mr. Leppold had left put it in a safe place. He thought the scheme was a very simple one, that detection was impossible. The prisons of Great Britain and the United States are filled with men who have harboured similar illusions.
When Mr. Leppold got home that night he found his wife a preening piece of self-importance.
"I've had a letter from dear mother," she said, "about that Ringer."
For once he did not silence her.
"What about that Ringer?" he demanded.
"It's his photograph that mother took. I've been talking on the phone to Scotland Yard." (Mr. Leppold blinked, but said nothing.) "A gentleman named Bliss said it's most important, and I'm to get the photograph to-morrow and take it to him. It appears they haven't got a picture of this fellow, and I might get the thousand pounds reward."
"Good luck to you, my girl!" said Mr. Leppold heartily. "That fellow ought to be hung—he double-crossed a friend of mine." He did not particularise the friend or the circumstances.
He was in a very cheerful mood throughout the dinner, of which he partook sparingly, for one thinks most quickly on an empty stomach. After the meal was over he went to the study, locked the door, and took from a safe a small leather packet of tools and put it into his overcoat pocket.
He could afford to be cheerful, for he was embarking upon one of the easiest jobs he had ever undertaken.
At half-past ten o'clock he arrived at a bar near Shaftesbury Avenue, and saw, without any apparent recognition, the two men who had arrived from Paris that night. Ten minutes later he walked out of the saloon and the two men followed him. At a convenient place he stopped to light a cigar, and they came up with him.
"The thing's sweet," he said. "There's enough foreign currency in the vault to make it worth while—about seven thousand pounds in Treasury notes and eighteen thousand in bank-notes."
"Is it a dead shop?" asked one.
"No," said Mr. Leppold, "it's live. The assistant manager lives over, but he's gone into the country to see his mother who's ill."
How Mr. Leppold obtained all these details is entirely his own business.
He walked down a side street, tapped at the private door of the bank, and it was opened instantly. He was hardly inside before the other two joined him. The door was locked.
"What about this tying up?" asked Mr. Leppold of the bearded man, but the watchman showed no inclination to submit to any tying.
"You can tie me before you go," he urged. "I'd like to see how you do the job."
Leppold, who was a man of few words, nodded. He had no need of a guide; he opened the steel grille leading to the vault and went down the stone steps, followed by three men; the key of that grille was the one duplicate he possessed.
At the end of a short passage was another grille. Workmen had been here, and great oblong cavities had been chiselled in the stone.
"They're putting a real safe door on," explained Mr. Leppold, and added: "About time!"
The bearded watchman gaped at the three experts as they attacked the lock. In an hour it was removed and the heavy steel-barred door swung open. A light burned in the arched roof and showed the contents of the vault. Stacked in three lines were a number of deed boxes, and at the sight of these Mr. Leppold, who had a grim sense of humour, chuckled.
"Half a minute," he said.
He walked quickly along till he came to a deed box, and this he tapped with his knuckle.
"Ma's," he said sardonically.
It bore the initials "S. A. G.," Mrs. Gardling's Christian names being Sarah Ann.
"My missus is going to get a thing out of there tomorrow that'll do The Ringer a bit of no good."
"What about this money?" said one of his companions impatiently, and for half an hour they were working industriously, collecting and sorting.
The three men wore overcoats and each overcoat was cunningly pocketed. They were swift workers all, and the money was disposed of almost as soon as it was brought into view.
"Now I think we'd better tie up whiskers," said Leppold, and produced a rope from his pocket.
They looked around, but the bearded man was not in the room. They saw him, however, on the other side of the grille; he had a black box, which was open, and at the moment they came in sight of him he had produced a dark-looking negative and was holding it up to the light.
"Who locked this gate?" demanded Mr. Leppold.
The watchman looked round.
"I did," he said calmly. "You left the key in the lock, which was rather foolish."
"Well, unlock it, quick!" He was carrying in his hand the small kit of tools with which they had forced the downstairs lock.
Suddenly the watchman's arm shot through the grating, and there was an automatic attached to it. The muzzle pressed against Mr. Leppold's stomach.
"Hand over those tools!"
The dazed man obeyed.
"And if any of you pull a gun," said the 'watchman' calmly, "you'll know less about the cause of your death than the coroner who sits on you."
"Who the hell are you?" asked Leppold.
"My name is Henry Arthur Milton, vulgarly called The Ringer," said the other. "And, by the way, if you want the real night watchman you'll find him tied up in the manager's office—really tied up. And the least you can do is to tell the police that you did the tying."
"I've been trailing that ancient sinner for a few days; I was, in fact, in his bedroom when you were discussing to-night's little adventure. He was a little surprised when he got the signal on the door an hour too soon."
He folded the negative and carefully put it in his pocket.
"Give my love to mamma," he said, as he moved out of view and out of range.
Mr. Leppold never forgave him that, and even in the morning, when the police arrived, he was still brooding upon the insult.
|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.|