The Clue of the Twisted Candle

by Edgar Wallace

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Chapter XIII

"If you would care to come in, sir, I'm sure Lexman would be glad to see you," said T. X.; "it's very kind of you to take an interest in the matter."

The Chief Commissioner of Police growled something about being paid to take an interest in everybody and strolled with T. X. down one of the apparently endless corridors of Scotland Yard.

"You won't have any bother about the pardon," he said. "I was dining to-night with old man Bartholomew and he will fix that up in the morning."

"There will be no necessity to detain Lexman in custody?" asked T. X.

The Chief shook his head.

"None whatever," he said.

There was a pause, then,

"By the way, did Bartholomew mention Belinda Mary!"

The white-haired chief looked round in astonishment.

"And who the devil is Belinda Mary?" he asked.

T. X. went red.

"Belinda Mary," he said a little quickly, "is Bartholomew's daughter."

"By Jove," said the Commissioner, "now you mention it, he did - she is still in France."

"Oh, is she?" said T. X. innocently, and in his heart of hearts he wished most fervently that she was. They came to the room which Mansus occupied and found that admirable man waiting.

Wherever policemen meet, their conversation naturally drifts to "shop" and in two minutes the three were discussing with some animation and much difference of opinion, as far as T. X. was concerned, a series of frauds which had been perpetrated in the Midlands, and which have nothing to do with this story.

"Your friend is late," said the Chief Commissioner.

"There he is," cried T. X., springing up. He heard a familiar footstep on the flagged corridor, and sprung out of the room to meet the newcomer.

For a moment he stood wringing the hand of this grave man, his heart too full for words.

"My dear chap!" he said at last, "you don't know how glad I am to see you."

John Lexman said nothing, then,

"I am sorry to bring you into this business, T. X.," he said quietly.

"Nonsense," said the other, "come in and see the Chief."

He took John by the arm and led him into the Superintendent's room.

There was a change in John Lexman. A subtle shifting of balance which was not readily discoverable. His face was older, the mobile mouth a little more grimly set, the eyes more deeply lined. He was in evening dress and looked, as T. X. thought, a typical, clean, English gentleman, such an one as any self-respecting valet would be proud to say he had "turned out."

T. X. looking at him carefully could see no great change, save that down one side of his smooth shaven cheek ran the scar of an old wound; which could not have been much more than superficial.

"I must apologize for this kit," said John, taking off his overcoat and laying it across the back of a chair, "but the fact is I was so bored this evening that I had to do something to pass the time away, so I dressed and went to the theatre - and was more bored than ever."

T. X. noticed that he did not smile and that when he spoke it was slowly and carefully, as though he were weighing the value of every word.

"Now," he went on, "I have come to deliver myself into your hands."

"I suppose you have not seen Kara?" said T. X.

"I have no desire to see Kara," was the short reply.

"Well, Mr. Lexman," broke in the Chief, "I don't think you are going to have any difficulty about your escape. By the way, I suppose it was by aeroplane?"

Lexman nodded.

"And you had an assistant?"

Again Lexman nodded.

"Unless you press me I would rather not discuss the matter for some little time, Sir George," he said, "there is much that will happen before the full story of my escape is made known."

Sir George nodded.

"We will leave it at that," he said cheerily, "and now I hope you have come back to delight us all with one of your wonderful plots."

"For the time being I have done with wonderful plots," said John Lexman in that even, deliberate tone of his. "I hope to leave London next week for New York and take up such of the threads of life as remain. The greater thread has gone."

The Chief Commissioner understood.

The silence which followed was broken by the loud and insistent ringing of the telephone bell.

"Hullo," said Mansus rising quickly; "that's Kara's bell"

With two quick strides he was at the telephone and lifted down the receiver.

"Hullo," he cried. "Hullo," he cried again. There was no reply, only the continuous buzzing, and when he hung up the receiver again, the bell continued ringing.

The three policemen looked at one another.

"There's trouble there," said Mansus.

"Take off the receiver," said T. X., "and try again."

Mansus obeyed, but there was no response.

"I am afraid this is not my affair," said John Lexman gathering up his coat. "What do you wish me to do, Sir George?"

"Come along to-morrow morning and see us, Lexman," said Sir George, offering his hand.

"Where are you staying!" asked T. X.

"At the Great Midland," replied the other, "at least my bags have gone on there."

"I'll come along and see you to-morrow morning. It's curious this should have happened the night you returned," he said, gripping the other's shoulder affectionately.

John Lexman did not speak for the moment.

"If anything happened to Kara," he said slowly, "if the worst that was possible happened to him, believe me I should not weep."

T. X. looked down into the other's eyes sympathetically.

"I think he has hurt you pretty badly, old man," he said gently.

John Lexman nodded.

"He has, damn him," he said between his teeth.

The Chief Commissioner's motor car was waiting outside and in this T. X., Mansus, and a detective-sergeant were whirled off to Cadogan Square. Fisher was in the hall when they rung the bell and opened the door instantly.

He was frankly surprised to see his visitors. Mr. Kara was in his room he explained resentfully, as though T. X. should have been aware of the fact without being told. He had heard no bell ringing and indeed had not been summoned to the room.

"I have to see him at eleven o'clock," he said, "and I have had standing instructions not to go to him unless I am sent for."

T. X. led the way upstairs, and went straight to Kara's room. He knocked, but there was no reply. He knocked again and on this failing to evoke any response kicked heavily at the door.

"Have you a telephone downstairs!" he asked.

"Yes, sir," replied Fisher.

T. X. turned to the detective-sergeant.

"'Phone to the Yard," he said, "and get a man up with a bag of tools. We shall have to pick this lock and I haven't got my case with me."

"Picking the lock would be no good, sir," said Fisher, an interested spectator, "Mr. Kara's got the latch down."

"I forgot that," said T. X. "Tell him to bring his saw, we'll have to cut through the panel here."

While they were waiting for the arrival of the police officer T. X. strove to attract the attention of the inmates of the room, but without success.

"Does he take opium or anything!" asked Mansus.

Fisher shook his head.

"I've never known him to take any of that kind of stuff," he said.

T. X. made a rapid survey of the other rooms on that floor. The room next to Kara's was the library, beyond that was a dressing room which, according to Fisher, Miss Holland had used, and at the farthermost end of the corridor was the dining room.

Facing the dining room was a small service lift and by its side a storeroom in which were a number of trunks, including a very large one smothered in injunctions in three different languages to "handle with care." There was nothing else of interest on this floor and the upper and lower floors could wait. In a quarter of an hour the carpenter had arrived from Scotland Yard, and had bored a hole in the rosewood panel of Kara's room and was busily applying his slender saw.

Through the hole he cut T. X. could see no more than that the room was in darkness save for the glow of a blazing fire. He inserted his hand, groped for the knob of the steel latch, which he had remarked on his previous visit to the room, lifted it and the door swung open.

"Keep outside, everybody," he ordered.

He felt for the switch of the electric, found it and instantly the room was flooded with light. The bed was hidden by the open door. T. X. took one stride into the room and saw enough. Kara was lying half on and half off the bed. He was quite dead and the blood-stained patch above his heart told its own story.

T. X. stood looking down at him, saw the frozen horror on the dead man's face, then drew his eyes away and slowly surveyed the room. There in the middle of the carpet he found his clue, a bent and twisted little candle such as you find on children's Christmas trees.


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