Authors: John Creasey
Where was the staff? He could hear no one, except for the assistant; the place was deserted. The woman came out.
âCan I take a message?'
âNo, thanks.' Mannering lit a cigarette, and rose. âPerhaps I will go into the office, after all, ifâ'
A car stopped outside. Mannering looked up, hoping that Marjorie Addel hadn't yet arrived. He had lulled suspicion by staying out here; now five minutes in the office might pay good dividends.
An elderly woman came to the door. The sleek woman glided forward, and as she passed him, Mannering murmured: âShall I be in the way?'
prefer to go into the office, sir, that will be quite all right.'
âI will,' said Mannering. It would take a lot to disturb that woman's poise.
The office was small, light, luxurious. He sat down at a small, walnut desk. The customer came in, a loud-voiced woman, a type he heartily disliked. She wanted an afternoon gown.
Salons were so difficult. It was nonsense to pretend that she had an awkward figure to fit. She did not suppose that she would be able to find what she wanted here . . .
The dark-haired woman ventured to disagree politely, was sure she could find exactly what
certainly did not have a difficult figure to fit â it was ridiculous to say so.
and the assistant went into the room next to the office, the door closed. The sound of voices continued subdued by the walls;
was being difficult. Did she know she would turn any gown into a sack?
Mannering glanced into the top drawer of the desk, found only business notes, then looked at the blotting-pad. He shifted it this way and that. There were several brown stains on it, and some bright red, some green. He began to trace the brown marks with a pencil; they were not ink; the others were.
Dried blood looked very much like this.
He pushed the chair back and looked at the cream fur rug in front of the desk. There were several tiny darkish stains on it. He bent down, and touched the rug; it was damp. He stood up and went to the wall; from there it was obvious that parts of the rug had been washed; these places were highly whiter than the rest. He went down on both knees, ran his fingers about the long fur.
For a few moments he saw nothing; then he moved a tuft to one side, and, on the actual skin, was a brown spot half an inch across. He touched it; it was the same caked matter as the stain on the blotting pad.
Blood? They'd want to wash bloodstains away.
He felt a rising tide of excitement.
The voices still came from the fitting-room; he was safe from interruption there, safe until someone else entered the shop. He ran through the desk, and found nothing of interest; then he pulled at a drawer which was locked.
was still complaining.
Mannering took out a knife, slipped it between the desk and the lock, and eased the lock to one side; it opened almost at once.
There were several papers in the desk. The top one was a letter, and the paper was headed:
Bray and Co.,
Dealers in Precious Stones,
11a, Henrietta Street, W.C.2.
Pudding-face was certainly no stranger to Marjorie Addel.
Time had suddenly become precious; this place had its secret.
The letter was in Bray's handwriting which Mannering knew well enough, and was dated the previous day. No one was named, and there was no envelope. Bray had promised to be at the shop that evening, âas arranged'; so the letter had been sent to someone on the staff. Marjorie Addel hadn't appeared to know Bray by name.
Bray â a jewel merchant in difficulties, if Bristow were right. Bray had probably been relying on the commission he would get for the sale of the single diamond to tide him over immediate difficulties. He'd given Lorna the impression of being agitated and in a hurry, in a rather hesitant fashion â that was like Bray.
He had promised to return in the evening; what had kept him away?
was talking raucously.
He crossed to the door and went down on his hands and knees. Looking along the floor, he saw patches of the part of the parquet flooring which had recently been washed over; near the edges it was polished, near the rug it was dull; the rings made by the floorcloth stood out clearly.
The small window behind the desk had recently been washed. He examined it closely. The paintwork was scraped, as if sandpaper had been rubbed over it, in several places. If blood had been smeared there and dried, sandpapering to remove traces would occur to anyone with a practical turn of mind.
He could see no trace of blood near the door to the salon.
He put on his gloves and opened the window. It led to a tiny courtyard. There was a door, marked
âAddel & Co
.' opposite him â access to the courtyard was from another room. The window of the dressing-room ran almost at right-angles to that of the office. He could see the shadows of the two women in there; one had her arms above her head, and the voices were still. Keep trying,
The cement floor of the courtyard had a damp patch in the middle, but was dry at the sides; there had been no rain lately.
Mannering opened the window wide, and climbed out; it was a tight fit. He went to the door; it was locked. He examined the lock with a swift, expert glance; there were thousands like it.
He closed the window behind him, opened his knife and worked on the door. All the windows overlooking the courtyard were of frosted glass; he wouldn't be seen unless one was opened. A breath of the past stole over him; excitement came with it. His fingers moved swiftly, surely.
The door opened.
He put the knife away and stepped into a dark passage; ahead was a flight of stairs. They creaked as he went up. It was gloomy here, and he could not see marks on the staircase. At the top, he opened an unlocked door and light shone on boards which were still damp from washing.
This was a store, cum-workroom. Large built-in walnut cupboards lined it, and there were several rows of dresses covered with plastic material, tables, sewing machines. There was little room to move. The floor had recently been washed, familiar damp patches reached one of the built-in cupboards, but the floor was dry in front of the others.
The cupboard was locked. He opened it, almost mechanically, not thinking of the task, only of the mystery here. Mystery? Why wasn't the staff on duty?
To prevent them from finding out â what?
The lock clicked back. A row of dresses was in front of him, but the door, a double sliding one, still covered half of the cupboard. He slid both sections in the other direction.
A man's body swayed forward and would have fallen had Mannering not put out a hand.
He held it upright.
He'd asked for it; and he'd got it.
The man's head and shoulders were covered with a pale canvas drape. Bloodstains showed on a dark grey waistcoat; Bray always wore dark grey. Mannering eased the canvas up gently; it was in loose folds and not difficult to move. The body lurched to one side, and he grabbed it. Then he saw the face; the round, pale pudding of a face.
He pulled the canvas back again, propped the body up and slid the door to.
He'd asked for itâ
If he reported this to Bristow, Marjorie Addel would soon be at the Yard, and might not come out for a long time. He wanted desperately to see her. If he didn't report it to Bristow, he would probably see the inside of the Yard before he wanted to.
Why not tell half the truth; tell Bristow about the bloodstains? He could lock the doors and cupboards as easily as he had picked them, and he had left no prints. But getting downstairs and into the office before the dark-haired woman had finished with
became urgent. He locked the cupboard door and the door at the top of the stairs.
was still talking, and her arms were above her head again. He fastened the outer door, glanced at the notice of
Addel & Co.,
and went to the office window. He pulled it open gently. He could see no one inside. He put a leg over the window-sill, and a woman's voice came:
She was in a corner, out of sight.
The damage was done, it was pointless to back away. Mannering squeezed himself through quickly, waiting for the woman to scream. She didn't but he could hear her heavy breathing.
Marjorie Addel was standing by the safe, which was wide open. She had been agitated last night; now terror showed in her blue eyes.
He closed the window, smoothed down his hair, and said amiably:
She seemed to be fighting for breath.
âAll right, Miss Addel. I'm not going to run off with your money.'
âThat's right.' Mannering took out cigarettes. âDid you find your friend last night?'
âWhat were you doing out there?'
âLooking round the yard. It's a nice, clean tidy little yard.'
What did she know?
âYou had no right there.' Her middle name should be ânaive.' âWhy did you come here?'
âTo see you. As you were out, I looked about.' He offered his case; she ignored it. He smiled amiably. âI'm full of strange ideas. I thought you might be hiding from me.'
âWhy, why should I hide from you?' she demanded.
âYou might think I want the diamond back.'
She was calmer now, and moved from the safe to the desk. What had terrified her? Him? Or the thought of what he might have seen. If she knew about the body, would she have calmed down so quickly?
âYou're lying to me.'
âWhy did you come here?'
âTo see a lovely lassie.' Mannering backed to the desk and sat on the corner.
was still talking. Marjorie Addel, dressed in the same simple frock as on the previous night, and the same light coat, had a strained composure which made him wonder whether she was fooling him; could anyone of her age be so unsophisticated?
He said solemnly: âI wanted to make sure that you had found your friend and returned the jewel to him.'
âHe is going to get in touch with you soon,' she added. Was there slyness in the way she looked at him?
âI see,' said Mannering, and the body of Bray seemed to press against his arms. âWhat's his name, Miss Addel?'
âYou know that well enough.'
He moved swiftly towards her, took her by the shoulders before she could dodge, held her tightly, his fingers pressing hard into her flesh.
âThat's not the point. Do you know him?'
âOf course I do! Let me go.'
âWhat's his name?'
âLet me go! You've no rightâ'
He began to shake her, gently, to and fro. She opened her lips to shout, but no sound came. Her hair began to move about, a lock fell into her eyes and she shook her head to get it away, so that she could see him. Her lips trembled, the pink flesh of her cheeks quivered, she tried to resist but couldn't prevent him from moving her; as the rhythm of the shaking increased, her teeth began to chatter.
She kicked him on the shin; it hurt.
âNot bad,' he said. âThere's more in you than there looks, my darling. Now let's have the truth, or I'll shake it out of you.'
âIf you don't let me go, I'll scream.'
âGo ahead. scream.'
Mannering said: âSo you don't want a fuss, my pretty. I don't know what you do want, but I know you'll probably get some nasty surprises before you've finished. Either you're as bad as they're made or you're a simpleton. Both kind have been hanged in the past.'
âThat's right.' He moved one hand, stretched the finger and thumb round her pale throat and pressed lightly; she caught her breath. âOh, I'm not going to choke the life out of you, I'm trying to make you realise what it feels like to be hanged.'
She said: âI think you're mad.'
He let her go. She backed away, rubbing her right shoulder. She didn't sit down, and as she looked at him, she seemed more mature, more wary; as if the physical shaking had jolted her mentally, and she was now terrified of him.
âYes, I think you're mad. Who's talking about hanging?'
âDo you read your newspapers?'
âIâI've been too busy this morning.'
âA policeman was killed last night.'
âWhat has that got to do with me?'
She didn't look relieved, just wary; and had she known about the body in the workroom, she would surely have shown relief when he talked about a policeman.
âHe was shot by the thief who wanted the diamond you took.'
âYou mean â at your apartment?'
âThat's right,' said Mannering. âDeath comes easy once you've started killing.' He rubbed the surface of one of the brown spots on the blotting pad. âDo you know what that is?'
âDo you use brown ink?' She didn't answer, and he bent down, ran his fingers through the long-haired rug and uncovered a brown spot.
âKnow what that is?'
She shook her head, but she didn't seem scared, now, she looked at him as if he had taken leave of his senses; would she be able to act like that if she knew what the stains meant?
He said: âIt's blood.'
âYour hearing's good. The stuff that oozes out when you cut yourself, or when you get shot, or when someone sticks a knife in you.'
âIf you don't stop talking like this, I'llâ'
âWell?' he barked.
âI'll call for help.'
âYes, you need help,' said Mannering. âDon't forget, that's blood.' He picked up the telephone. âYou don't happen to remember the number of Scotland Yard, do you?'
âNever mind, I've got it. Whitehall 1212.' He dialled, and kept glancing at her. She licked her lips. The lock of hair fell into her eyes again and she brushed it away impatiently. âThink up a good explanation â say you killed a cat.'
âThat's right. Hallo . . . Superintendent Bristow, please . . . yes, I'll hold on.'
Marjorie Addel came towards him; he thought she was going to try to snatch the telephone away, but she stood quite still. She was â lovely. He'd known that from the beginning; there was a ripe beauty about her, which was more mature than her years. The dress was cut so that no one could make any mistake. Her curving eyelashes swept her cheeks, her complexion was perfect, her lips were parted and her teeth were white and even; and appealing?
She didn't speak.
Bristow said: âWho's that?'
âMannering. Bill, I think you ought to come to Marjorie Addel's place, in Lander Street. Discoveries of importance. Strike the medal for me on the way here, will you, and make it snappy.'
The girl moved, snatched the receiver from Mannering, pushed him back, and cried: âIs that Scotland Yard . . . this
Marjorie Addel . . . yes, but he's no right here, he broke in . . . yes,
in . . . he's talking a lot of nonsense about blood, I don't feel safe with him.'
She banged down the receiver.
Mannering said. âNot bad, my pretty, there's much more in you than you wanted me to know, isn't there? You've ten minutes, at most, before Bristow arrives.'
âThat's ten minutes too long!'
âI don't think you quite get it,' Mannering said. âYou're on the spot. Both you and your boyfriend.'
âWho?' That thrust hurt her, she lost a lot of confidence.
âThe boyfriend, who left you to do the dirty work last night, and then rode off with you. I followed you as far as Guildford. Didn't you know?'
Yes, she was badly hit by this, she backed away from him. âPaulâ' Her colour ebbed.
âSo he's a Paul, is he? I don't recommend gallants who let their ladies take all the risk. You're not going to get out of this easily. That is blood.'
She said: âI thought it was a police car.'
âYou didn't think fast enough. If you tell me the truthâ'
âI've told you the truth!'
âOh, no. Bray didn't ask you to come and collect that diamond, he'd know that I wouldn't hand it over to a stranger. Someone else thought that one up. He probably doesn't know yet that I palmed you off with a paste gem.'
She raised her hands: âNo,' she whispered.
âIt was worth about five pounds.'
She said: âI didn't dreamâ' and broke off, her hands clenching and unclenching at her breast. âPaul must be told, Paulâ'
âWhy? Who is Paul? Why did you lie?'
âThe police mustn't know about
,' she said, and suddenly clutched his arm, pressed herself against him. âYou mustn't mention Paul. Say what you like about me, I don't care, but don't drag Paul into it. The police mustn'tâ'