Again The Ringer/XV

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XIV Again The Ringer
XV
written by Edgar Wallace
XVI




CHAPTER XV   THE OBLIGING COBBLER


Doctors are credited with an aversion for their own medicines. It was because of this aversion that Henry Arthur Milton found himself with two feuds on his hands. The first of these was with two brothers named Pelcher. They were specialists, but nobody referred to them by that title. The police called them "The Two"; damaged house-holders found descriptions which varied in their vitriolic quality according to their wealth of vocabulary.

Marlow Joyner, the latest of their victims, lay in bed with his head heavily bandaged, and told, haltingly and painfully, the story of his experience to a select audience consisting of a London police magistrate, Superintendent Bliss, and two police stenographers. For Mr. Marlow Joyner was on the danger list, and the doctors said that it was going to be a toss-up whether he ever left his bed alive. Happily, as it proved, the doctors were wrong, but it was touch and go for a week.

Bliss took the deposition back to Scotland Yard.

"I don't know which I'd rather take, The Two or The Ringer, but I know which would be the greatest loss to society."

"Maybe The Two is The Ringer?" suggested Inspector Mander hopefully.

Bliss turned his cold eyes upon the fatuous man.

"The Ringer has adopted many disguises," he said, "but I cannot remember that he has ever appeared at one and the same time as two people—except to the hopelessly intoxicated."

In a sense, the Superintendent was right, in a sense, wrong. There was an occasion when The Ringer was three men, but, as the greatest of tale-tellers has said, "that is another story."

    

What was a secret to Scotland Yard was no secret to The Ringer, who, through his peculiarly effective organisation, was able to bring home to these two respectable young men—they lived in the suburbs and in their spare time cultivated roses—responsibility for their many acts.

For five weeks he sought evidence which would convince a police magistrate, but this was difficult to come by, and in the end he decided that this was a matter for "private treatment."

In the early hours of the morning the two brothers were picked up in the street in which they lived and rushed to the hospital.

They were as terribly bludgeoned as any of their victims had been, and it was eight weeks before the first of them was convalescent. They gave no information to the police except that they had been attacked by "a gang of toughs." Neither told the story of the solitary man who accosted them late one night.

"You've heard of me—I am The Ringer, and I'm rather annoyed with you two thugs …"

While they had been debating how best to deal with the man—naturally, they were disinclined to make trouble so close to their own home—something hit the nearest. It might have been a rubber truncheon; the victim wasn't sure. His brother, who rushed to the rescue, had no doubt at all that it was something effective. The blow that caught him did not stun him, but knocked him out. When he awoke he was in the one bed and his brother was in the next. They were released from hospital at last and reached, spontaneously, a common agreement.

"From what you and I know, Harry," said one, "we ought to get this bird."

    

The second feud was developed more violently, in a fashionable Viennese café, when "Kelly" Rosefield missed the man he hated with his first shot. The strange man in the black wideawake hat fired the second, and Kelly went down with a bullet in the bony part of his shoulder. The curious thing about it was that the successful marksman was entirely in the right.

Kelly used to beat up his woman partner when he felt that way. They lived in an expensive block of flats; the interfering gentleman who stole in upon them one night—Kelly had most carelessly left the flat door open—lived in the apartment beneath. What he did to the wife-beater was a subject for comment, commiseration, and explanation among Mr. Rosefield's friends for many a day.

Kelly explained his injuries variously. He had been knocked over by a car, he had fallen against a lamp standard, he had been thrown when riding a spirited blood horse. And in all these prevarications he was assisted by the woman called Carmenflora, who had most reason to gloat over his enlarged countenance.

Carmenflora was more bitter than her man; and when the matter ended as it did, and Kelly was lying in hospital—nobody quite certain as to the brand of spiritual consolation appropriate to his condition—Carmenflora went forth and looked for the interfering gentleman.

But Henry Arthur Milton knew that other people were looking for him. You cannot shoot off automatics in Viennese restaurants, fashionable or unfashionable, without inviting the attention of the local constabulary. He faded to Berlin.

Four months later he was entering his London hotel and came face to face with Carmenflora, who recognised him. She said nothing, but he caught the flicker of her eyes, read their story, and, going up to his room, packed his handbag, 'phoned for his bill, and was out of the hotel in half an hour.

Therefore there were three people looking for The Ringer or 18,004, if the active and intelligent members of the Metropolitan Police Force be included.

    

There were people who called The Ringer clever. He never laid claim to any such title. He was painstaking, thorough, left nothing to chance, examined his ground with the finicky care of a very conscientious staff officer.

He did not believe in luck, good or bad, and found no excuse for such failures as he had. He had his vanities, but they were of a harmless sort, judged by the meaner ones common to humanity.

"I'll get that feller if I have to wait fifty-five years," said Kelly extravagantly.

Now Kelly was, by the Scotland Yard standard, a pretty bad man. He was a thief and an associate of thieves, and, with the assistance of his partner, who was courteously described as his wife, he had cleaned up considerable sums of money, mainly from susceptible young men, for Carmenflora was pretty and could be very, very attractive.

Bliss heard of his arrival and sent a polite sergeant to inquire if he was staying long in London.

"I'm a British subject and you can't deport me," said Kelly hotly. "I'm here on private business."

"We can't deport you further than Wormwood Scrubs," said the police sergeant gently, "but that's one of the foreign countries you'd hate to visit, Kelly. And that's just where you'll be if I find you giving nice little supper parties to young gentlemen."

Kelly winced at that, for the previous night he had entertained the impecunious son of a millionaire. Most millionaires' sons are impecunious, but their fathers will pay almost anything to keep the family name out of the newspapers. But this was the merest sideline.

"If it hurts you to see somebody else getting a free drink——" he began.

The polite sergeant became impolite very suddenly.

"Let's fan you for that old gun of yours," he said, and Kelly submitted to the outrage. As he could afford to do, for his automatic was well hidden.

When the visit was reported to Bliss the superintendent was rather interested.

"I've just had a report through from the Austrian police," he said. "Kelly's been shot up by somebody and Blunthall advances a theory that the somebody was The Ringer. If that is so The Ringer is in London."

He sent for Mander, who had his uses.

"I have an idea that we may get a line to The Ringer through Kelly," he said. "And there's another little matter which I'd like you to clear up. You remember the two brothers Pelcher, who were admitted to the Lewisham Hospital pretty well beaten up about six months ago?"

Mander remembered.

"I want them kept under observation. I don't say they are The Two, but the information I have from the divisional inspector has made me a little suspicious. If they are The Two then that is The Ringer's work also."

"They seem fairly respectable men: they are both working in the City——" began Mander.

"That doesn't make them respectable," said the superintendent.

    

Kelly was a wealthy man. He could afford to live in the best hotel; he could afford to employ private detectives in his search for the man he loathed. He could also have afforded to have given his "wife" and partner complete control of her jewellery; but, like so many of his kind, he was mean to an extraordinary degree. For example, in all their Continental journeyings his wife invariably travelled second-class, while he lorded it in superior accommodation.

But his chief eccentricity was in relation to the jewels. His vanity demanded that his lady should appear beautifully and, indeed, extravagantly bedecked. Her necklace, her diamond bracelet, her rings and brooches he carried in a long case which fitted into his hip pocket. Every evening before dinner the jewels were given to her; every night, on her retirement, they were taken away and safely stored in the case.

There was an excellent reason for this. A previous partner, who had slaved for him and whom he had misguidedly trusted with jewellery, had disappeared, carrying with her about two thousand pounds' worth of portable property.

He was "serving out" the evening allowance of adornment, when the floor-waiter knocked at his door and told him there was a man who wished to see him. Kelly, whose mind ran to detectives, asked for a description, and was relieved to learn that the caller was an elderly gentleman.

"Gentleman" was perhaps an exaggeration; he was obviously a working man; he confessed to being a cobbler—a mender of old shoes—a grey-haired man, shabbily attired, who wore spectacles and a bristling, iron-grey moustache. He was obviously nervous, and would not speak until the partner had been peremptorily ordered into the next room.

"It's about a lodger of mine, sir," said the cobbler nervously. "I don't want to interfere with anything I ought not to interfere in. I've lived in the same house for twenty-five years and I've never owed anybody a shilling, let alone got myself mixed up in any scandal. This lodger of mine …"

The lodger had been staying with him three weeks—a quiet man, who only went out in the evenings—a perfectly natural thing to do, since he was, as he said, a night watchman.

"But I've had my suspicions of him," said the cobbler-landlord, who gave his name as Hays; "and the other night, after he went out, I opened his bedroom door with one of my keys and I found the table covered with plans of this hotel.

"I didn't know it was this hotel," he went on, "but it happens to be the only hotel in the street."

"Plans?"

    

The cobbler felt in his pocket, produced a transparent sheet of paper and smoothed it out on the table.

"Here you are, sir," said Mr. Hays, and pointed to an inscription—"Kelly's room." And then a cross: "Wife's jewels kept here."

Kelly looked and gasped. The cross marked exactly the place where in the daytime the jewellery was securely locked in a dressing-trunk.

"I said to myself," proceeded Mr. Hays, "this man must be a burglar, and my job is to go along and warn the gentleman——"

"What's he like?" asked Kelly, easily.

Mr. Hays's description was not very graphic. There were one or two points which left no doubt in the mind of Kelly who the burglar was. He made a few rapid inquiries. The cobbler lived alone in a small house on the outskirts of Finchley.

"He's out all night, is he?" said Kelly thoughtfully. "What about letting me in after he's gone one night?"

Mr. Hays hesitated and murmured something about the police.

"Never mind about the police, old boy," said Kelly, producing a convincing number of Treasury notes.

The next morning he gave his orders to his partner.

"You get back to Vienna by the first train and wait for me. I'll be returning in a day or two."

"What have you got on?" she asked, not unused to these sudden fits.

His answer was offensive.

That afternoon he paid his bill—his wife had already taken every bit of baggage and he could stroll forth unencumbered to the rendezvous.

He was not the only person who had received a visitor the night before. The brothers Pelcher were playing a peaceful game of dominoes in their ornate, over-decorated little drawing-room when the maid-of-all-work announced Mr. Hays.

"Hays? Who's Hays, Harry?" asked one of the other, but the information was not forthcoming.

Mr. Hays was a cobbler, a greyish man with a bristling moustache and a nervous manner. He had a small house in Finchley and a lodger….

"It's not for me, gentlemen, to put my nose into other people's affairs. I am a respectable, law-abiding citizen, as you gentlemen are. But I read the papers, and I got a headpiece that can put two and two together."

He paused, but the two silent men did no more than stare at him in their normally unfriendly manner.

"If you're not the two gentlemen who was knocked about one night some months ago, then I've made a mistake and I won't trouble you any further—I mean, two gentlemen named Pelcher … I read it in the papers. I keep a Press cutting book of things like that."

"It's a curious thing that this lodger of mine should have been looking over my shoulder as I was a-reading that bit about you two gentlemen being beaten up. 'Why do you keep that?' said he, laughing. When I told him I always pasted up horrors, he said: 'There's one thing they didn't tell the police—they didn't say anything about Henry Arthur Milton.'"

Both the brothers looked up quickly.

"Did he say any more?" asked Harry.

The cobbler fondled his unshaven chin.

"Yes, he did, sir, and that's why I've come to see you. He said: 'Those two fellers ought to have been settled, and one of these days I'm going down to have a look at them.'"

At their invitation, he described his lodger. The brothers looked at one another, and then Harry began to ask questions. When he was through with his inquiries he said to Hays: "If we gave you a couple of quid, what about going to the pictures tomorrow night and lending us the key of your house? You say he don't go out till ten?"

"Eleven," corrected Mr. Hays.

    

For five pounds the cobbler surrendered the key. Kelly had paid twice that amount for the key's duplicate.

For the greater part of the night the brothers discussed possibilities. Said one: "If we leave him in the house this old bird will put up a squeak. On the other hand, if we get in quiet and drop him somewhere, there will be no squeak at all, and nobody can swear that we went in."

There was agreement here. The second of the ferocious fraternity suggested knocking off a car. They found one the next night: a doctor's coupé, standing outside a house to which he had been called; and they drove cheerfully to the place of judgment.

It was a tiny house, with a tiny garden; and if the brothers had searched diligently in the untidy forecourt they would have discovered a board announcing that "this desirable residence" was to let.

This had been taken down by the cobbler when he had obtained possession of the premises a week before. He had apparently spent very little in furniture; for, although the passage had a narrow strip of carpet, the stairs were bare.

"The room at the head of the first flight of stairs," murmured one brother to the other before they inserted the key. "Have you got your rubbers on, Harry?"

Harry nodded. He had already covered his feet with snow boots.

They went in and closed the door noiselessly behind them. Harry went first up the stairs and paused by the closed door at the head. Somebody was inside. They heard a slight noise. Harry took out his life-preserver with a mirthless little grin, and gently turned the handle.

"Who's that?" said a voice from the dark interior. The occupant of the room, unfortunately for himself, was silhouetted against the uncurtained window. Harry saw the gun with the bulging silencer at the end, and threw himself aside. There was a flash of light, a loud "plop!" and before the man with the pistol could shoot again the life-preserver got home.

    

Two men got down from a car near Burlington Gardens, and each walked in a different direction. That, in itself, was a suspicious circumstance if it had been observed that at this hour—it was nearly ten—Burlington Gardens is more or less deserted save for cars that are taking a short cut to Regent Street.

A constable observed the machine, a closed car of American make, noted that the lights were on, and jotted down mentally the hour at which he saw it. When he returned from the perambulation of his beat the car was still there.

Burlington Gardens is not a parking place; there was no restaurant or hotel which might justify this "obstruction". He took the number and waited for the owners to reappear. He was relieved towards midnight and passed on the information and complaint to the officer who took his place.

At two o'clock the car had not been moved, and its occupants had not appeared. The only person who saw the two men was a night wanderer, an elderly vagrant, who subsequently gave information to the police.

At a little after three the sergeant to whom the matter was reported went up to the car and looked inside. In the light of his lamp he saw a motionless figure huddled on the floor, its head on its chest. He jerked open the door….

By the time the ambulance arrived they had laid the unfortunate man flat on the pavement. He was living—was to live for many years, though his appearance was never quite the same again.

The battered Kelly had a story to tell the police, and he spoke with difficulty.

"… two fellers … one of 'em was The Ringer! … He took my jewel-case from my hip-pocket … my watch and chain … about eighteen hundred quid …"

The two brothers, who had separated in Burlington Gardens, met again at the corner of the street in which they dwelt. They had walked in single file within sight of one another until they were within easy reach of home, and then they joined up.

"I'm betting this feller doesn't use a cosh again for years."

"Is he dead, Harry?" asked his companion.

"It wasn't worth killing him," said Harry, complacently. "I want to have a look at that case as soon as we get indoors. I'll bet there are sparklers there worth thousands. And as for money …" His fingers closed on a thick wad of notes that he had neither counted nor examined.

They opened the door of their modest dwelling and walked into the drawing-room. Harry went first. "Clear!" he shouted.

Before the brothers could reach the door it was opened, and the front garden seemed more or less filled with constabulary.

    

"Robbery with violence is one of the most serious offences that can be committed," said the Judge, in passing sentence upon the two dazed young men. "Your unfortunate victim is still in hospital, and, although he is a man of evil character, and one has the gravest doubts as to the origin of the property you stole, society must be protected. You will be kept in prison with hard labour for eighteen months, and will each receive twenty-five lashes with the cat-o'-nine-tails."

The extraordinary thing was that neither Kelly, the prosecutor, nor the brothers Pelcher ever mentioned the author of their misfortune.


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