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    Chapter 28

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    Chapter 28
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    A Love Call

    "He is a dithering old fool," said Marborne angrily, "and I can't stand here all night discussing Welling. Get me a taxi, commissionaire."

    "Don't you make any mistake about Welling," said Slone, a greatly troubled man. "That man knows! If he says 'quit' you take my advice and quit."

    "I don't even want your advice. I'll see you in the morning," said Marborne, bustling into the taxi.

    He was more sober than he had been since the dinner started and his first impulse was to go home. Indeed, he gave instructions to this effect, but changed them and leaning from the window ordered the driver to take him to Grosvenor Place.

    There was a light in the drawing-room and he smiled as he mounted the steps.

    Lydia heard his voice in the hall and almost before the footman had announced his name--

    "I am not at home," she said in a low voice.

    This was the third evening visit Marborne had paid in a week and with each he had grown a little bolder. Before the servant could get out of the room, the door was pushed open and the ex-inspector appeared.

    "Hullo, Lydia! Thought I would come and see how you were getting along."

    It was the first time he had called her by her Christian name and for a second there was a gleam in her eye which boded ill for the adventurous man.

    "Ralph is out, I suppose?"

    "How long has he been 'Ralph' to you, Mr. Marborne?"

    "Oh, for a long time," said Marborne lightly. "I'm not one of these sticklers for etiquette. If a man's name is Ralph, he should be called Ralph."

    She checked the retort on her lips, having discovered that the best method of wearying her visitor was to allow him to make all the conversation, for Marborne had not a great stock of small talk. But to-night she had not the patience to continue in her abstention and presently she was irritated into asking:

    "What has happened lately, Mr. Marborne, that you have become so very familiar, both with my brother and myself? I'm not a snob, and I daresay you're as good as anybody else, but I tell you frankly that I do not like your calling me 'Lydia' and I will ask you not to call me so again."

    "Why not?" he demanded with a tolerant smile. "Your name is Lydia. They used to call you Lydia in the dear old days when you shook cocktails for the thirsty boys!"

    She was white with passion but had gained control over her speech.

    "Come now, Lydia, what is the use of putting on side? I am a man, the same as other men you meet. Why can't we be good friends? Come and have a bit of luncheon with me to-morrow and we can go on to a matinée afterwards."

    "I am thrilled," she said coldly. "Unfortunately I have a luncheon engagement."

    "Put it off," said Marborne, his admiring eyes devouring her. "Lydia, why can't we be good friends?"

    "Because I don't like you," she said. "After all, barmaids do not choose barmen for their companions; they like to get something a little above them, socially and intellectually. What you are intellectually, I have never had an opportunity of discovering; but I would as soon think of going to luncheon with one of my brother's footmen. Is that plain to you?"

    By his purple face and the incoherent sounds that were escaping from his lips she gathered it was plain enough. Fortunately, her brother came in at that moment and gave her an excuse for leaving the room.

    "What's the matter with you?" asked Ralph Hamon, glowering at the man.

    "What's the matter with me?" spluttered Marborne. "I'll tell you what's the matter with me, Hamon. That sister of yours has got to apologise to me ... throwing my manners up in my face ... telling me I'm no better than a footman...."

    "I guess she's right," said Hamon, his lips curling at the man's hurt vanity and self-pity. "She didn't call you a blackmailer by any chance, did she? Because, if she did, she'd have been right again. Now see here," his voice was like a rasp. "I'm paying you money because you stole something from me, and you're using the threat of exposure to get it. I'll go on paying money just so long as I have to buy your silence. But you will confine all your business transactions to me. You will have nothing whatever to do with any member of my family, by which I mean my sister. You understand that?"

    "I'll do as I dam' well please!" stormed Marborne.

    "You're drunk," said Hamon calmly. "If you weren't drunk you wouldn't have made a fool of yourself. See me in the morning."

    "I want Lydia to apologise to me," said the other and Hamon laughed sourly.

    "Come to-morrow and maybe she will," he said. "I want to go to bed. Have you seen Welling?"

    "Welling? Yes. What made you ask that?" asked Marborne in surprise.

    "He was standing outside the house as I came in, that is all."

    Marborne walked to the window and, drawing aside the blind, peered out. On the opposite side of the road he saw a man standing by the edge of the sidewalk.

    "That's Welling," he agreed. "What does he want?"

    "He has tailed me up," growled Marborne.

    "I'm glad," said the other. "I was afraid for the minute he was tailing me. Have a drink?"

    Marborne smiled and shook his head.

    "No, thanks--if I'm going to be poisoned I'll have mine at home."

    The watcher had disappeared when Marborne left the house. He walked to the corner to get a taxicab and though he looked back several times, he saw no sign of the shadow. He went through the side door of the shop which constituted the entrance to his flat, and waited for some time in the dark passage before he pulled the door open and stepped out. There was still no sign of Welling. Possibly Hamon had been mistaken, or else Welling's presence had been sheer coincidence.

    His apartments occupied the whole of a floor above a shop and had been furnished by the landlord with those solid and useless articles which have been called "furniture" from time immemorial. A buffet that he did not use, a clock that did not go, a table at which it was impossible to write and a three-branch chandelier only one lamp of which was practicable. But on the buffet was a tantalus, and pouring himself out a stiff glass of whisky, he drank it down.

    What was Welling driving at, he wondered. And what significance was there in his reference to the safe? It was perfectly true that Marborne kept his money in the flat; and he did this because he had sufficient intelligence to know that there might come a moment when his victim would make it necessary for his hasty departure. And to Marborne money was not real money unless it was visible. A balance at the bank meant nothing except figures that gave him no satisfaction whatsoever.

    He stirred the fire into a blaze, took off his dress jacket and went into the bedroom. Switching on the light, he stood in the doorway and the first object on which his eyes rested was the safe. It stood in a corner of the room, supported by a stout wooden stand.

    He looked at it dully, uncomprehendingly, and then with a shriek of rage he leapt into the room and began feeling wildly in its dark interior. For the door was hanging and the safe was empty!

    When he had recovered from his rage, he made a rapid search of the apartment. The method of entrance was clear. The thief had come up the fire escape, broken through the window of the bedroom and had worked at his leisure.

    He dashed downstairs to the street and threw open the door. Captain Welling, his hands clasped behind him, his head perched on one side, was standing on the sidewalk, gazing intently up at the lighted windows of the flat.

    "Captain Welling, I want you!"

    Marborne's voice betrayed his agitation.

    "Anything wrong?" asked Welling as he came over. "Curious my being here."

    "I've been robbed--robbed!" said Marborne. "Somebody's broken open my safe...."

    He led the way up the stairs, babbling incoherently, and kneeling before the rifled safe, Welling made a brief examination.

    "He certainly did the job thoroughly," he said. "But burglar-proof safes are easy to a good cracksman. You'd better not touch it until this morning and we'll have it photographed for finger-prints."

    He got out of the window on to the fire escape.

    "Hullo! What's this?" he said and took something from the landing at his feet.

    "One cotton glove. I suppose we'll find the other at the bottom. I don't think it is necessary to bother about looking for finger-prints."

    He examined the glove under the light.

    "And you couldn't trace these if you spent a week of Sundays. I'm afraid he's made a good getaway. How much money did you lose?"

    "Between two and three thousand pounds, I think," whined Marborne.

    "Anything else?"

    The ex-inspector looked at him sharply.

    "What else was there to lose?" he asked surlily. "Isn't it enough to lose two thousand?"

    "Had you any books, any documents of any kind?"

    "No, not in the safe," said Marborne and added quickly: "nor anywhere else for the matter of that."

    "Looks like The Black's work to me," mused Welling, coming back again to the safe. "It certainly does look like The Black's work. And I don't see how it can be. Have you got a telephone here?"

    "In the other room," said Marborne.

    Welling put through a long-distance call and went back to make what he knew was doomed to be a fruitless and hopeless search for clues.

    The thief had evidently not been satisfied with the money he had found in the safe. Every drawer had been ransacked, its contents thrown to the ground; the cupboard had been wrenched open; a trunk beneath the bed had been forced and its contents strewn about the floor. Even the bed had been dismantled, blanket by blanket, sheet by sheet, and the mattress lay half on the floor and half on the bedstead.

    Welling went back to the dining-room. There were no cupboards here and no drawers, save three in the sideboard, which were empty. He looked round the walls. One of the pictures was hanging askew and he nodded.

    "He was looking for something, this friend of ours. What was it?" he asked.

    "How in hell do I know?" demanded Marborne savagely. "He didn't get it anyway."

    "I don't know how you can say that, if you don't know what he was looking for," said Julius gently.

    The telephone bell rang. It was the call which Welling had put through to Creith.

    "Captain Welling speaking. Is that you, Milligan?"

    "Yes, sir."

    "Where is your man?"

    "He's in his house--or he was five minutes ago."

    "Are you sure?"

    "Absolutely certain. I haven't seen him, but I've seen his shadow. He's here all right. Besides which, he hasn't got a car; it went to Horsham to-day for repair."

    "Oh, it did, did it?" said Welling softly. "All right."

    He hung up the telephone receiver and went back to Marborne, surveying the wreckage helplessly.

    "You'd better 'phone the divisional police and ask them to send a man up, Marborne," said the old chief. "I don't think they'll be able to help you--too bad your losing all that money. Banks are safer."

    Marborne said nothing.
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