The Clue of the Twisted Candle

by Edgar Wallace

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Chapter V

Six months later T. X. Meredith was laboriously tracing an elusive line which occurred on an ordnance map of Sussex when the Chief Commissioner announced himself.

Sir George described T. X. as the most wholesome corrective a public official could have, and never missed an opportunity of meeting his subordinate (as he said) for this reason.

"What are you doing there?" he growled.

"The lesson this morning," said T. X. without looking up, "is maps."

Sir George passed behind his assistant and looked over his shoulder.

"That is a very old map you have got there," he said.

"1876. It shows the course of a number of interesting little streams in this neighbourhood which have been lost sight of for one reason or the other by the gentleman who made the survey at a later period. I am perfectly sure that in one of these streams I shall find what I am seeking."

"You haven't given up hope, then, in regard to Lexman?"

"I shall never give up hope," said T. X.,"until I am dead, and possibly not then."

"Let me see, what did he get - fifteen years!"

"Fifteen years," repeated T. X.,"and a very fortunate man to escape with his life."

Sir George walked to the window and stared out on to busy Whitehall.

"I am told you are quite friendly with Kara again."

T. X. made a noise which might be taken to indicate his assent to the statement.

"I suppose you know that gentleman has made a very heroic attempt to get you fired," he said.

"I shouldn't wonder," said T. X. "I made as heroic an attempt to get him hung, and one good turn deserves another. What did he do? See ministers and people?"

"He did," said Sir George.

"He's a silly ass," responded T. X.

"I can understand all that"-the Chief Commissioner turned round - "but what I cannot understand is your apology to him."

"There are so many things you don't understand, Sir George," said T. X. tartly, "that I despair of ever cataloguing them."

"You are an insolent cub," growled his Chief. "Come to lunch."

"Where will you take me?" asked T. X. cautiously.

"To my club."

"I'm sorry," said the other, with elaborate politeness, "I have lunched once at your club. Need I say more?"

He smiled, as he worked after his Chief had gone, at the recollection of Kara's profound astonishment and the gratification he strove so desperately to disguise.

Kara was a vain man, immensely conscious of his good looks, conscious of his wealth. He had behaved most handsomely, for not only had he accepted the apology, but he left nothing undone to show his desire to create a good impression upon the man who had so grossly insulted him.

T. X. had accepted an invitation to stay a weekend at Kara's "little place in the country," and had found there assembled everything that the heart could desire in the way of fellowship, eminent politicians who might conceivably be of service to an ambitious young Assistant Commissioner of Police, beautiful ladies to interest and amuse him. Kara had even gone to the length of engaging a theatrical company to play "Sweet Lavender," and for this purpose the big ballroom at Hever Court had been transformed into a theatre.

As he was undressing for bed that night T. X. remembered that he had mentioned to Kara that "Sweet Lavender" was his favorite play, and he realized that the entertainment was got up especially for his benefit.

In a score of other ways Kara had endeavoured to consolidate the friendship. He gave the young Commissioner advice about a railway company which was operating in Asia Minor, and the shares of which stood a little below par. T. X. thanked him for the advice, and did not take it, nor did he feel any regret when the shares rose 3 pounds in as many weeks.

T. X. had superintended the disposal of Beston Priory. He had the furniture removed to London, and had taken a flat for Grace Lexman.

She had a small income of her own, and this, added to the large royalties which came to her (as she was bitterly conscious) in increasing volume as the result of the publicity of the trial, placed her beyond fear of want.

"Fifteen years," murmured T. X.,as he worked and whistled.

There had been no hope for John Lexman from the start. He was in debt to the man he killed. His story of threatening letters was not substantiated. The revolver which he said had been flourished at him had never been found. Two people believed implicitly in the story, and a sympathetic Home Secretary had assured T. X. personally that if he could find the revolver and associate it with the murder beyond any doubt, John Lexman would be pardoned.

Every stream in the neighbourhood had been dragged. In one case a small river had been dammed, and the bed had been carefully dried and sifted, but there was no trace of the weapon, and T. X. had tried methods more effective and certainly less legal.

A mysterious electrician had called at 456 Cadogan Square in Kara's absence, and he was armed with such indisputable authority that he was permitted to penetrate to Kara's private room, in order to examine certain fitments.

Kara returning next day thought no more of the matter when it was reported to him, until going to his safe that night he discovered that it had been opened and ransacked.

As it happened, most of Kara's valuable and confidential possessions were at the bank. In a fret of panic and at considerable cost he had the safe removed and another put in its place of such potency that the makers offered to indemnify him against any loss from burglary.

T. X. finished his work, washed his hands, and was drying them when Mansus came bursting into the room. It was not usual for Mansus to burst into anywhere. He was a slow, methodical, painstaking man, with a deliberate and an official, manner.

"What's the matter?" asked T. X. quickly.

"We didn't search Vassalaro's lodgings," cried Mansus breathlessly. "It just occurred to me as I was coming over Westminster Bridge. I was on top of a bus - "

"Wake up!" said T. X. "You're amongst friends and cut all that 'bus' stuff out. Of course we searched Vassalaro's lodgings!"

"No, we didn't, sir," said the other triumphantly. "He lived in Great James Street."

"He lived in the Adelphi," corrected T. X.

"There were two places where he lived," said Mansus.

"When did you learn this?" asked his Chief, dropping his flippancy.

"This morning. I was on a bus coming across Westminster Bridge, and there were two men in front of me, and I heard the word 'Vassalaro' and naturally I pricked up my ears."

"It was very unnatural, but proceed," said T. X.

"One of the men - a very respectable person - said, 'That chap Vassalaro used to lodge in my place, and I've still got a lot of his things. What do you think I ought to do?'"

"And you said," suggested the other.

"I nearly frightened his life out of him," said Mansus. "I said, 'I am a police officer and I want you to come along with me.'"

"And of course he shut up and would not say another word," said T. X.

"That's true, sir," said Mansus, "but after awhile I got him to talk. Vassalaro lived in Great James Street, 604, on the third floor. In fact, some of his furniture is there still. He had a good reason for keeping two addresses by all accounts."

T. X. nodded wisely.

"What was her name?" he asked.

"He had a wife," said the other, "but she left him about four months before he was killed. He used the Adelphi address for business purposes and apparently he slept two or three nights of the week at Great James Street. I have told the man to leave everything as it is, and that we will come round."

Ten minutes later the two officers were in the somewhat gloomy apartments which Vassalaro had occupied.

The landlord explained that most of the furniture was his, but that there were certain articles which were the property of the deceased man. He added, somewhat unnecessarily, that the late tenant owed him six months' rent.

The articles which had been the property of Vassalaro included a tin trunk, a small writing bureau, a secretaire bookcase and a few clothes. The secretaire was locked, as was the writing bureau. The tin box, which had little or nothing of interest, was unfastened.

The other locks needed very little attention. Without any difficulty Mansus opened both. The leaf of the bureau, when let down, formed the desk, and piled up inside was a whole mass of letters opened and unopened, accounts, note-books and all the paraphernalia which an untidy man collects.

Letter by letter, T. X. went through the accumulation without finding anything to help him. Then his eye was attracted by a small tin case thrust into one of the oblong pigeon holes at the back of the desk. This he pulled out and opened and found a small wad of paper wrapped in tin foil.

"Hello, hello!" said T. X.,and he was pardonably exhilarated.


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