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    Chapter 10

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    Chapter 10
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    The Frame-up

    Divisional Inspector Marborne came from his chief's office, closed the door behind him gently, and was whistling to himself as he walked down the stone stairs of police headquarters. Even his friend and associate, a detective sergeant of many years' standing, was deceived.

    He followed his superior into the street, and in the comparative quietude of the Thames Embankment, asked eagerly:

    "Was it O. K.?"

    "It was not O. K.," said the other carefully. "It was as near O. K. as makes no difference. In fact, Barney, the Pure Police movement has spread so thoroughly that I was as near to being asked to turn in my coat as ever I've been. The old man said that he had proof that I'd been taking 'quieteners' from Bolson's gambling house in Upper Gloucester Place, and gave me the number of the notes that Big Bennett paid me for tipping off his brother that he was going to be 'pulled in.' I'm booked for retirement, and so are you--the old man said he knew that you were in it."

    Sergeant Barney Slone winced, for he had tastes which would make living on a pension a painful proceeding.

    "There is one chance, and only one, and I'm going to take it," said the inspector. "I hate depending upon men like Lieber and Colley, but they are our long suits. Bring them up to my apartment for a bit of dinner to-night."

    "What are you going to do?"

    "I'm going to get The Black," said Inspector Marborne, and his subordinate stopped in his walk and stared at him.

    "Get him--how?" he asked incredulously.

    But the inspector was not prepared to explain.

    "I know him--at least, I think I know him--if I don't, a friend of mine does. It will be the biggest thing I've ever done, Barney."

    For more than five years The Black, so called because he wore clothing of funereal hue, had been the bugbear of London. No strong room was invulnerable to the attack of this skilful and single-handed burglar. Banks and safe deposits had been the sole objects of his attention--a fact which had added considerably to the difficulties of the police.

    Curiously enough, the extent of The Black's depredations was never known. His hobby was to rifle private boxes and safes where respectable men hid up the items that would seriously challenge their respectability if they were dragged to the light of day. Some men hid money that way, forgoing the interest that might accrue for the sake of having at hand a nest egg against a stormy day when their worst fears were realised. Naturally, these were vague about their losses, often denying that they had lost anything of value. The Black was obviously a student of human nature, and robbed well, and it was a fact that, in the course of five years, though twenty-three burglaries stood to his discredit, there was no definite charge of stealing a definite sum which might pass the scrutiny of a Grand Jury.

    At five o'clock that afternoon, Mr. Marborne called at 307 Grosvenor Place, where Ralph Hamon had his London residence. Marborne was a type of policeman to be found in every city of the civilised world. Graft is not the canker of any particular police force: it is a disease which makes its appearance, and will continue to appear, wherever lowly and unscrupulous men rise to positions of authority. Wherever easy money is available, there will be found men ready and willing to take the tempting prizes of dishonesty without any thought of their responsibilities or their treachery to the causes they represent.

    Hamon was writing letters when the detective was shown into the drawing-room. He rose and greeted the visitor effusively.

    "Come right in, Marborne. I'm glad to see you. You got my letter?"

    "Yes, I had it this morning," said Marborne, depositing his hat on the floor and seating himself carefully. "Three thousand pounds you lost, eh? I suppose you've got the numbers of the notes?"

    "Yes, I have the numbers, but that won't worry him. You know how easy it is to pass stolen money; and when you're dealing with an expert like The Black, I don't think it's worth while building any hope of catching him through the notes."

    Further conversation was interrupted by the arrival of the servant with a large silver tray and the refreshment which was essential to Marborne's comfort.

    "You're sure it was The Black?" asked the detective, when his host had carefully closed and locked the door behind the servant.

    "Certain."

    "Why didn't you report it to the local police?" asked Marborne curiously. "It would have been a simple matter to have got a search-warrant--you were staying with Lord Creith, and he's Chairman of the Quarter Sessions."

    Hamon shook his head.

    "That isn't the way. I had no evidence but my suspicion. You don't suppose for one minute that we should have found the stuff in Morlake's house, do you? No, that course was suggested by Lord Creith himself, but I didn't proceed with it, because"--he leant forward, and lowered his voice--"that would have spoilt the scheme I spoke to you about a month ago."

    The detective pursed his lips dubiously.

    "It's going to be a pretty hard job to frame up a charge, and it'll cost you a bit of money, Mr. Hamon. I have been thinking it out, and though I know the very men for the work, it will mean spending money freely."

    "Spend to the limit," said Hamon violently, "but get him! He's in London--I suppose you know that?"

    The detective nodded.

    "Yes, I've 'tailed him up' as far as it's possible. I've got a friend of mine, Sergeant Slone, on the job, but it hasn't been easy. Our code doesn't allow a man to be 'tailed' unless an official report has been made against him to the police, and I've had to get Slone to work in his spare time."

    "Any work done for me will be paid for," said Hamon a little impatiently. "Have you got the scheme worked out?"

    The inspector nodded.

    "There is a house on Blackheath," he said, "owned by a retired Colonial officer. He is a rich man, and has a wonderful collection of antique jewellery. There are only his wife, his daughter and three servants in the house, and I've got a man who could crack it in about five minutes. It wouldn't be so easy to get the jewellery, because that is kept in a safe, but there's no need to worry about touching the stuff. The thing is to get him to the house, and to leave enough evidence to catch your man. The real difficulty is going to be to break down any alibi that he may have. It is useless pulling him in for a burglary at Blackheath if he can prove that at the time he was in his club."

    "Can you bring him to Blackheath by any means?" asked the interested Mr. Hamon.

    The detective nodded.

    "That is what I'm working for," he said, "but it will require a whole lot of manoeuvring. Morlake lives in a sort of Oriental flat in Bond Street and has two servants--a Moor named Mahmet--he's travelling a lot in Morocco--and a valet named Binger, who is a pensioner of the 14th Hussars. Binger doesn't live on the premises: he lives with his wife and family in the Blackheath Road--that's why I chose Blackheath. Usually, when Morlake's in town, Binger comes down to Blackheath by one of the all-night cars that run on the southern route. Sergeant Slone has become friendly with Binger, who doesn't know, of course, that Slone is a police officer. Every attempt he has made to get Binger to talk about his boss has been useless so far. I'm perfectly sure he knows a lot more about Morlake than he tells. But he's as dumb as an oyster the moment the conversation turns round to James Morlake."

    "How is this going to help you?" asked Hamon.

    "It's going to help me a lot," said the inspector deliberately. "Morlake is fond of this man, and when he was ill, about two years ago, he used to go down every day in his car to Blackheath Road and bring him fruit and books, and had his own doctor attending him. Sometimes Binger comes home early, and the next night this happens we'll work the frame-up. Can you get anything of Morlake's--a handkerchief, a pocket-book----?"

    Hamon shook his head.

    "No," he said shortly. "I have never been into his house."

    "That is unfortunate, but it isn't absolutely necessary. I'll have his initials engraved on a pocket-knife--it's easier to prove that you own an article than it is to prove you never owned it! It'll cost a bit--as I say, it's going to be a costly business."

    Mr. Hamon took his note-case out, and passed across the table a sum considerably in excess of Marborne's wildest anticipations.

    With this money in his pocket, and a corresponding sense of elation in his soul, the detective strolled out to join the waiting Slone. He had reason for gratification, since the plan, if successful, would not only make him a comparatively rich man (supposing Hamon kept his promise), but would wipe out the memory of a number of very ugly incidents that had disfigured his official career, and would inevitably qualify him for promotion if The Black were convicted.

    Slone was waiting for him on the corner of the street.

    "Did he drop?" he asked, and Inspector Marborne frowned.

    "I wish you'd get out of that vulgar way of talking, Slone," he said severely. "My friend gave me a little money for expenses, but I don't want you to think that he's the Bank of England. I've got a hundred for you on account, which I'll give you when we get to my flat. You told Colley to be there?"

    "He's been waiting all the afternoon," said Slone. "Lieber hasn't turned up--but he's slow, being Dutch. What is the big idea?"

    "You'll hear about it," said the other cryptically.

    Colley proved to be an undersized, wizened man whose face had been not the least of his misfortunes. For, to the evidence which had been produced against him from time to time in various courts of law, there was added the unflattering testimony of a face in which "criminal" was written so unmistakably that the most sentimental of jury-women was ready to convict him before the evidence was through.

    He was waiting on the pavement opposite the detective's lodgings, and followed the two men through the door. In Mr. Marborne's snug sitting-room he took the cigar that was offered him with an ingratiating smile.

    "The sergeant said you wanted to see me, Mr. Marborne," he said. "I got a bit of a fright at first, because I thought you wanted me for that Mill Hill job. If I never move out of this room alive, I'm as innocent----"

    "Shut up about the Mill Hill job. I know who did it," said Marborne. "I've got some work for you, Colley."

    The face of the thief fell.

    "I don't mean honest work," said the detective, "so don't get alarmed! Now listen to this, and listen very carefully. There's a friend of mine who wants to have a little joke with somebody. You needn't worry about the joke being on you, because it won't be."

    He explained carefully in detail just what was required of Colley, and as he listened, the man, who at first was alarmed, began to see daylight.

    "You want me to get in and get out again quick: is that it?"

    "Not too quick," corrected Marborne. "I shall want you to make a bit of a fuss. Let 'em see you, you understand?"

    Colley pulled a wry face.

    "If this fellow's a Colonial, maybe he's got a gun, and if he sees me before I see him, there'll be some one-sided shooting. It's a fine joke, Mr. Marborne, but it don't amuse me as much as a good Chaplin film."

    It took an hour of solid talking to persuade Colley that the danger was negligible and the reward so munificent that he need not work again for a year. In the end he was persuaded, and it was arranged that he should be within call for the next week. When the interview was over, Mr. Marborne went forth to what he knew would be the most difficult of his tasks, and with him went a Mr. Lieber, a belated arrival on the scene.

    "I may not want you, Lieber, but you can wait around in case I do. You know Morlake?"

    Mr. Lieber, who was stout, shook his head, for he needed all his breath to keep pace with the long-striding detective.

    "You can't mistake him, and anyway, I'll be with you to point him out."

    "Is he a crook?" wheezed Lieber.

    "He's a crook, and I want an identification--the same as you got for me in the Crewe case. A handkerchief, a pocket-book, papers--anything. But I may not need you. Here we are--wait on the corner and follow me when I come out."

    Binger opened the door to the caller and eyed him suspiciously, for, although Marborne was unknown to the valet, there was a something "official" in his manner which the old soldier instantly recognised.

    "I don't know whether Mr. Morlake is hin or whether he's hout," he said. "If you wait a bit I'll see."

    He closed the door in his visitor's face and went into the big Oriental room where James Morlake was reading.

    "He says his name is Kelly, sir, and maybe it his and maybe it hain't."

    "What did he say his business was?" asked Morlake, closing his book.

    "He said he'd met you in Morocco some years ago, and had only just found your address."

    "Show him in, will you?" said James Morlake after a moment's thought, and Mr. Marborne, strolling into the big room, took in its beauty with an admiring glance.

    "Sit down, Mr. Kelly. I have no chairs, because I have no visitors--perhaps you will sit on the divan."

    Marborne seated himself with a little smirk.

    "It is a long time since I met you, Mr. Morlake. I suppose you don't remember me dining at your table at the Cecil, in Tangier, some ten years ago?"

    "I have a dim recollection," said Morlake, eyeing his visitor carelessly.

    "I was travelling for a hardware firm," said Marborne glibly, and all the time he was speaking he was casting his eyes around, trying to find some little article by which his man might be identified on some future and vital occasion. "I don't know whether you trouble to keep chance acquaintances in your mind, but I have a very pleasant recollection of our meeting."

    "I remember you now," said Jim Morlake; "though you have altered a little since I saw you last."

    Mr. Marborne looked up at the carved ceiling.

    "Beautiful bit of work there; they couldn't do it in this country, or any other," he said. "You've got a lovely place. Nobody would imagine, walking on Bond Street, that there was a real Moorish room within half-a-dozen paces."

    He had found what he needed: it lay in the shadow at the back of the stationery rack--a small leather folder on which he could see, even at that distance, three initials. It was too small for a pocket-book, and he guessed it to be a little stamp case until, nearer at hand, he saw that it held a clip of flat matches.

    Rising from the divan, he strolled across the room until he stood opposite the watchful man, his hands resting on the desk. Presently:

    "I have no business whatever to interrupt a busy person like you," he said, "but I thought, as I was in London for a day, I'd give you a call. It was not inconvenient, I hope?"

    His fingers had touched the match case and closed over it. To slip the little leather folder into his pocket was unnecessary: it was so small that he could palm it.

    "I'm always glad to see my old Moroccan friends," said Jim. "Won't you have a drink, Mr. Kelly?"

    "No, thank you," said Kelly. "I won't occupy any more of your time. I was told that you didn't live in town--that you had a house somewhere in Sussex."

    "Yes, I have a house in Sussex," said Jim quietly.

    By this time the match case was in the detective's pocket.

    "If you're ever in Liverpool, look me up--John L. Kelly," said Marborne, as he put out his hand. "You'll find me in the telephone directory--943 Lime Street. I'm very glad indeed to have met you again, Mr. Morlake."

    Jim took the hand and watched his visitor as he strolled towards the curtained hallway.

    "Oh, by the way," he said, as the man reached the curtain, "you might be good enough to leave my matches behind--I may want them."

    Marborne stared and started.

    "Your--your matches?" he stammered.

    "Yes, they're in your right-hand trousers pocket, Inspector," said Jim, hardly looking up from the book he had opened.

    "I have no matches," said Marborne loudly.

    "Then you have used them, and I will take the case," said Jim. "And, Inspector, if you give me any trouble, I shall call up headquarters and tell your chief something about the gentleman who runs a receiver's business in Marylebone Lane. You get a rake-off of ten per cent., I am told--I am sure the excellent Commissioner does not know that."

    Marborne's face twitched and he changed colour. He opened his mouth to speak, but thought better of it, then, taking the case from his pocket, he flung it on the ground.

    "Thank you," said Jim gently.

    The man's face was dark with rage, as, stung by the cool contempt of the other, he turned.

    "I'll get you one of these days, Morlake," he quavered in his fury. "You'll not get away with it all the time!"

    "And you won't get away with my matches any time," said Jim, and, to Binger, who had appeared in the opening between the curtains: "Show this gentleman out, and see that he doesn't take my umbrella from the hall-stand."
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