The Dope Lady
by Peter Cheyney
AN east wind whistled through Grosvenor-square, blowinng the coat tails of Mr. Alonzo MacTavish around his shoulders as if it delighted in his immediate predicament. Then, having disarranged his hair, tie and temper, and succeeded in causing his green eyeglass to drop from his eye—necessitating the careful readjustment of the same, for Alonzo was lost without his eyeglass—it turned its attention to other mischief and died away leaving him to deal with a somewhat delicate situation as best he might.
He took shelter beneath one of the imposing porticos on the west side of the square, after a casual glance round to make sure that there were no police inspectors or other nuisances in the vicinity, for Mr. MacTavish and the officials of Scotland Yard had agreed to disagree on a score of matters and, as Mr. MacTavish wished to continue having the best of the argument, he had no desire to come under the notice of any minor official whose zeal might outrun his discretion.
Mr. MacTavish, safe for the moment from the troublous forces of Nature, gave vent to his feelings by smiling sweetly. When other men lost their tempers and cursed, it was his invariable habit to smile, and at the moment he was permitting himself a smile of extremely long duration. Quietly but firmly he consigned roulette tables, chemie games, faro, poker and other inducements of the devil to the lower regions. Things had been bad enough in all conscience, but to arrive in England after having given the police of two countries the chase of their lives, and then, on the first conceivable occasion to be lured into a roulette game and to lose not only every penny which one possessed, but also one's overcoat—new—one's silk hat and gloves—new—one's watch and chain—very dear for sentimental reasons—and one's Malacca and gold walking stick—a very old friend—well, it was too bad! What was to be done?
Mr. MacTavish realised that it is not possible to stand permanently in Grosvenor Square. At the same time he did not relish the idea of walking to his flat in Earl's Court, more especially as a drizzling rain had commenced. He waited impatiently for a few moments, and then put his head round the corner of the portico in order to study the weather. Something caused him to withdraw his head very quickly.
Hurrying towards him, apparently perfectly heedless of the rain, clad in a shimmering evening gown, but with no cloak or gloves or covering of any sort, came a lady. As she passed the porch under which Alonzo was sheltered, the moonlight glinted on her hair, on the whiteness of her shoulders, and lit up for a moment the perfect oval of her face. She passed in a flash.
Alonzo followed. As far as he was concerned, the inclement elements were forgotten. The possessor of an insatiable curiosity towards everything and everybody, he insisted on knowing why exquisitely gowned ladies should walk about in the wet. She crossed the square quickly and turned into Brook-street. Something white dropped from her hand, but in spite of the metallic tinkle which sounded as the white object hit the ground, she walked straight on looking neither to right nor left.
MacTavish picked up the white object. It was a tiny vanity bag as ladies carry in the evening, and a quick squeeze told Alonzo that it contained keys and money. MacTavish continued the chase with the intention of returning the vanity bag, but suddenly the lady turned into one of the houses past Claridge's Hotel, and in a moment Alonzo heard the door close after her.
An idea struck him. Why not utilise the money in the bag in the hire of a taxi home? He could replace it in the morning and return the bag. He turned, and was about to whistle a passing cab, when a tall figure in evening clothes stepped out of the darkness.
Alonzo stopped dead. There was no mistaking the saturnine face with the drooping black moustache, and the brilliant eyes which twinkled like diamond points.
MacTavish smiled sweetly. 'Doctor Theodor Klaat,' he murmured with a bow. 'I am delighted to see you once again. How do you do?'
The brilliant eyes narrowed. Underneath the thin black moustache the full lips curved into a bitter smile. 'I am ver' well, Mr. MacTaveesh,' said Theodor Klaat, 'I was observing that you have lost none of your natural curiositee, Mr. MacTaveesh, and I would advise, eef you value your esteemed libertee, that you do not permit valour to be the better part of discretion.'
'Good-night, Mr. MacTaveesh.'
The tall figure disappeared into the darkness
Alonzo found a taxicab in Oxford-street, and instructed the driver to hurry to Earl's Court. Then, leaning back in the corner of the cab, he gave himself up to deep thought. So Theodor Klaat was back in London. Alonzo realised that this fact boded no good for himself. Klaat had made three attempts to get him out of the way. Two of them—in Vienna—had been simple affairs, and ones which gave the brain Alonzo little trouble, but the third—in Paris—had been a nasty business and very nearly came off. Since then he had neither seen nor heard of the doctor.
What was the meaning of the warning which Klaat; had so melodramatically issued in, Brook-street?
Suddenly Alonzo sat up with a jerk. The explanation was obvious. Klaat had seen him following the uncloaked lady! Alonzo felt in his pocket and produced the little vanity bag. Inside were three one pound notes, two keys, a box of cigarettes, and a few visiting cards.
He examined one of the cards, which read:—
Lady Hermione Margrave,
267, Brook-street, W.
On the back of the card was written in pencil:—
The Nessim Cigarette Co., 764, Jermyn-street, S.W.
He examined the cigarettes and discovered that they were faintly perfumed. He lit one and inhaled the smoke, and somehow the taste and smell of the cigarette brought something to his brain—something from out of the past. Alonzo took the cigarette from his mouth and threw it out of the window, and, leaning back once more in his seat, he smiled grimly as he remembered.
HE was astir early next morning, and paid a visit to a narrow and dirty turning off the Waterloo-road, where he interviewed an old acquaintance, who proceeded to take a wax impression of the two keys which Alonzo had found in the vanity bag. Blooey, for such was the name of Alonzo's friend, promised that the duplicate keys should be at Alonzo's flat that evening and, having effected this important piece of business, Mr. MacTavish sauntered back to the Waterloo-road, and proceeded in the direction of Waterloo Bridge, swinging his cane, and obviously on the best of terms with the world. Beneath his apparent unconcern, his brain was working quickly.
Why had Theodor Klaat warned him to mind his own business. Alonzo was puzzled, for Klaat was a pseudo medical blackmailer and forger of the first water, whereas the speciality of Mr. Alonzo MacTavish was the removal of valuable jewels, pictures, and objects d'art generally from the houses of those men whom he considered were too richly blessed with this world's goods. A newspaper boy ran past him with a 'special,' and Alonzo bought a paper.
A glance at the front page pulled him up with a jerk, and a whistle of surprise came from his lips. He folded the paper and walked quickly over the bridge to the Strand, where he entered a Lyons tea shop, and ordering some coffee, re-opened the paper, and read the report at his leisure. The paper announced:—
MARGRAVE CORONET STOLEN.
A mysterious burglary occurred last night at 267, Brook-street, the residence of the Duke of Margrave. During the absence of the Duke, who was at the theatre, and his daughter, Lady Hermione Margrave, who was with friends at a nearby house, the burglars entered, presumably through the front door, and succeeded in opening the safe in the library and removing the coronet. A strange feature of the case is that an obviously imitation coronet, which would have deceived no one, was left in place of the real one. The skill shown in opening the safe points to the work of expert criminals. The Margrave coronet is valued at £100,000, and contains some of the finest diamonds and rubies in the world. The case is in the able hands of Detective-Inspector Birkett, of Scotland Yard.
Alonzo finished his coffee and wandered out into the sunshine. He was certain that Klaat was responsible for the burglary, but who had actually done the job? Klaat was no burglar, and the safe had been opened by an expert. The main point which puzzled Alonzo was the leaving of the fake coronet behind. He made up his mind that he would have a look at that coronet, for he was certain that there was some definite reason for that part of the business.
He turned up a narrow passage, which ran into Maiden-lane. Here he called on an old friend and, borrowing ten pounds, replaced the three one pound notes in Lady Hermione's vanity bag; then he hailed a cab, and ordered the driver to proceed to the Nessim Cigarette Company in Jermyn-street.
The Nessim Cigarette Company he discovered was a dirty little shop in a side turning off Jermyn-street. He went in and ordered a box of five hundred cigarettes. The wizened old woman behind the counter seemed surprised at the size of the order, and MacTavish noted with some amusement that the whole shop was being ransacked to produce the five hundred cigarettes. He came to the conclusion that very few cigarettes emanated from the Nessim Company.
At the back of the shop was a door, the upper part of which was of glass, and through the dirty pane Alonzo could just discern a dark flight of stairs leading to the upper regions. There was a smell of stale garlic about the place, and he was glad to get back into the open air.
He paid off his cab and walked slowly round to Brook-street. At the back of his brain a definite idea was beginning to take shape—an idea which at first seemed too ludicrous to be possible.
THE butler who opened the door of the Brook-street house regarded Alonzo with interest. Evidently there had been many curious callers that day.
'I'm sorry, sir, but it is absolutely impossible to see Lady Hermione,' he said in answer to Alonzo's request. 'She is indisposed, and has given instructions that she will see no one.'
'I am sorry to disturb Lady. Hermione,' replied Alonzo with a suave smile, 'but it is absolutely necessary that I should see her. Will you take up my card?'
Seated in the hall, awaiting the butler's return, Alonzo wondered whether he would succeed in seeing Lady Hermione. A believer in coincidences, he was of opinion that there was some connection between the burglary and the dirty little shop in Jermyn-street, and that Lady Hermione might be able to throw some light on the subject.
The butler returned.
'Lady Hermione will see you, sir,' he said, and led the way up the broad staircase.
Alonzo was ushered into a room on the first floor, the furniture and decorations of which gave ample evidence of exotic taste. A woman rose from a low seat by the fireside, and he recognised immediately the owner of the vanity bag. She came towards him, and Alonzo thought that he could detect a look of fear in her eyes. She was beautiful, but her beauty was marred by the dark shadows beneath her eyes and the tired look within them. She glanced at the card in her hand.
'Mr. MacTavish,' she said. 'I do not know you. What do you want?'
'Only to return your bag, Lady Hermione,' said Alonzo, producing the vanity bag. 'I was lucky enough to notice is as you dropped it.'
He placed the bag on the corner of a nearby table.
She smiled wearily. 'Thank you very much,' she said. 'I did not even know that I had dropped it.'
Her smile vanished and her face became suddenly tense. 'Where did you find the bag? You said that you saw me drop it. Where?'
MacTavish lied easily. 'Just outside the Nessim cigarette shop in Jermyn-street,' he said with a smile.
She glanced at him sharply.
'The Nessim Cigarette shop,' she repeated. 'What was I doing there?'
She passed her hand across her forehead wearily, as if trying to remember. 'Thank you very much for troubling to bring my bag back,' she said. 'It was good of you.'
'Not at all,' said Alonzo. 'It was a great pleasure, Lady Hermione.' He continued, 'you will probably think me very impertinent, but for your own sake, keep away from the Nessim Cigarette shop.'
She raised her head imperiously and Alonzo saw that her face was white with anger. 'I do not understand you, sir,' she said haughtily.
He smiled. 'Lady Hermione,' he said, 'I do not wish to be cryptic, but I am inclined to agree with you.'
He bowed and turning on his heel left the room.
On returning to his flat in Earl's Court, MacTavish was glad to find that Blooey had been as good as his word, and that a small package containing the duplicates of the keys which Alonzo had found in the vanity bag, had arrived. One of these keys, Alonzo was certain, was the key of the Brook-street house, but what was the other? For a long time he sat in his armchair, swinging the two keys on a long forefinger. Then a smile of satisfaction curved his mobile lips. The pieces in the jigsaw puzzle were beginning to fit together.
AT seven o'clock Alonzo dressed, and after telephoning for a stall at the latest revue, slipped a pair of rubber gloves and an electric flash lamp into his pocket and sallied forth. The revue was a good one, but the thoughts of Mr. MacTavish were far from the stage. His mind was entirely occupied by the Nessim Cigarette Co., Lady Hermione Margrave and Doctor Theodor Klaat.
He realised that Klaat would waste no time now that his main object had been achieved, and he wondered, with a smile, exactly how wise Detective-Inspector Birkett was with regard to the real situation.
Alonzo had a sincere admiration for Birkett, who possessed few brains, but was as tenacious as a bulldog. A sudden humorous thought came to Alonzo as he realised that for the first time in his chequered career he was ranging himself on the side of law and order, a situation unprecedented, surely, since the time of Vidocq! Still smiling, he collected his coat and hat from the cloakroom, and left the theatre. He stood on the corner of Trafalgar-square, undecided, then with a whimsical twist of the lips, he summoned a passing taxi and ordered the man to drive to New Scotland Yard, and a few minutes later he was being shown into Birkett's room.
That gentleman's eyes widened as he read the card which his subordinate had laid on the table before him. 'MacTavish!' he exclaimed in surprise. 'Well, of all the cool cheek!'
ALONZO regarded the detective across the table, his grey eyes twinkling humorously as he observed the blank look of astonishment on the face of the police officer.
'Well, Birkett,' he said cheerfully. 'Aren't you glad to see me? Oh, I know what is going on in your mind! You are thinking of the Lagrane pearl business, the affair of the Amsterdam rubies, the extraordinary mystery of the renovated Gainsborough, and several other little matters, all of which, you are perfectly certain, bore traces of the elusive personality of Alonzo MacTavish. Well, I haven't walked into the enemy's stronghold for the purpose of discussing these trivial matters, but to see you on some very much more important business.'
Alonzo took a chair and sat down.
'What do you know about the Margrave Coronet, inspector?' he asked with a grin.
Birkett sat bolt upright in his chair.
'The Margrave Coronet,' he repeated.
He opened a drawer in his desk and produced a cigar box, which he handed to Alonzo smilingly. 'Some, MacTavish?' he asked, and lit his own cigar in silence. Suddenly he looked up.
'What do you know, MacTavish?' he asked. 'You haven't come here for fun!'
Alonzo watched the cigar smoke curling upwards towards the ceiling.
'I've got my own code of morals, Birkett,' he said. 'There are the things which are done, and also the things which are not done. Well, the Margrave Coronet business, in my opinion, is one of the things which are not done. That's why I'm taking a hand in the game.'
He drew his chair closer to the desk. 'Do you remember "the Mystery Doctor," Birkett?' he asked quietly.
The detective-inspector grinned.
'I do,' he said, a trifle ruefully. 'He did us in the eye. But he never got away with the scheme. Somebody double-crossed him,' he added.
'Exactly,' said Alonzo. 'I did, and he hasn't forgiven me, either! Doctor Theodor Klaat has got it in for me, Birkett,' continued MacTavish cheerfully; 'he tried a sandbag and an arsenic capsule in Vienna, and a car smash in Paris, but I'm still here.'
Alonzo considered the white ash on the end of his cigar. 'I don't like Doctor Theodor Klaat,' he concluded quietly.
Birkett's eves flashed. 'So Klaat's got the coronet, has he?' He leaned back in his chair and whistled. 'Well, what next?' he queried.
Alonzo peeled off his white kid gloves and threw them oh the desk. 'You're wrong, Inspector,' he said. 'Klaat hasn't got the Margrave coronet, but he's going to have it, for I'm going to see that he gets it!' He regarded the astonished detective with equanimity. 'Listen to me, Birkett...'
ONE hour later Mr. Alonzo MacTavish left Scotland Yard, and walked rapidly down Parliament-street, humming a haunting revue chorus. In his room, in the red brick building which never sleeps, Detective Inspector Birkett lay back in his office chair and roared with laughter.
As a neighbouring clock struck two, Mr. MacTavish slipped the duplicate key into the front door of 267 Brook-street, and disappeared into the darkness within. He had taken his bearings carefully during his previous visit, and certain information imparted to him by Birkett enabled him to find the library without trouble. Once in the library he carefully inspected the window blinds, then having made certain that his movements could not be observed from the street, he took off his overcoat and evening coat, and slipped on a pair of rubber gloves. Then, drawing a bunch of keys from his pocket, he commenced operations on the safe.
It was three o'clock before the massive steel door swung open, and ten minutes afterwards Alonzo quietly let himself out of the front door, but not before he had observed through the corner of the library window, the dark figure which lurked in the shadows of the narrow turning opposite.
As Alonzo reached the Grosvenor-square end of Brook-street, he turned suddenly In time to see the figure of the man receding towards Bond-street, and with a grin on his face MacTavish crossed the square, and turning off to the left, was about to cut through Deanery-street, when a seedy-looking individual slouched out from the shadows in front of him. MacTavish gave the man a quick glance, and then spoke, looking straight before him, and timing his footsteps so that he passed the slouching figure of the beggar whilst speaking.
'Klaat's man saw me enter and leave the house, and they are certain to try and finish the business tomorrow night. I'm going round to Jermyn-street now.'
The beggar nodded almost imperceptibly and Alonzo passed on.
Two hours later, seated before a cosy fire in his Earl's Court flat, he smoked a final cigarette before turning in. The glowing coals of the fire made pictures before his eyes. First, the tired, beautiful face of Hermione Margrave, the sinister olive countenance of Theodor Klaat, and finally the round and jovial countenance of Birkett.
Alonzo rose and stretched gracefully. 'Well, Doctor Klaat,' he murmured to himself. 'It's you or me, and somehow I think it's going to be you.'
IT was ten minutes to twelve on the night after Alonzo's interview with Inspector Birkett at Scotland Yard, and an observer with a sense of humour might have obtained a great deal of amusement from a study of the characteristics of the somewhat varied assembly which was seated round the library table in Lord Margrave's house in Brook-street.
The single electric light—for Alonzo had insisted on dim lighting—lit only the centre of the huge table, and reflected dimly on the stern countenance of Lord Margrave, the prosaic, and philosophic faces of Birkett and his two colleagues, and the insouciant nonchalance of Mr. Alonzo MacTavish, whose glistening shirt front was the one bright spot in the dim desert of the library.
Lord Hargrave tapped the polished table impatiently with his finger-tips.
'I cannot believe that this is true. There must be some mistake,' he said, speaking half angrily in an endeavour to conceal his real feelings. Inspector Birkett grinned.
'It's true enough, my lord,' he said. 'At least, there doesn't seem much possibility of a mistake.' He turned to where Alonzo's shirt front shone in the half light.
'You're certain about the Nessim Cigarette business, MacTavish,' he whispered.
Alonzo smiled. 'I am—very much so,' he murmured. He stiffened suddenly and held up a warning hand. 'Hush,' he whispered, 'not a word. The slightest sound may spoil the whole thing.'
Every head turned in the direction of the library door, and not a sound broke the silence, save, perhaps the slightly wheezy breathing of Birkett, produced possibly by the excitement of the moment.
The library door opened slowly. Walking with a strangely erect carriage, her eyes half closed, and her face chalk white, Lady Hermione Margrave entered the room. She looked neither to right nor left, but slowly and with seemingly measured pace walked straight to the safe, and taking a key from the pocket of her navy costume opened the massive door of the safe. After a moment she turned and the watchers saw that she held in her lands the fake Margrave coronet. With the same slow step she walked to the table around which the five men sat, almost touching the arm of her father in her progress, then, drawing a sheet of brown paper and some string from beneath her coat, she made a rough parcel of the coronet and, placing it under her arm, left the room. A gasp broke from Lord Margrave's lips.
'Keep still!' commanded Birkett, as with Alonzo, he made for the library window.
Lady Hermione Margrave was walking slowly down Brook-street. Suddenly, from the mews opposite, a big limousine appeared, and drove along the edge of the pavement beside her. The door opened and the watchers saw a black arm assist the girl into the car. Then the door closed with a bang, and the car shot off across Bond-street in the direction of Hanover-square.
'Come on!' shouted Birkett, and they raced for the front door, where a whistle from MacTavish brought a car from the shadows of Grosvenor-square. 'The Nessim Cigarette Company, Jermyn-street, via Bond-street!' commanded Birkett, and the car dashed off at a pace which made the point policeman in Piccadilly open his eyes with wonder and feel for his notebook.
'Pull up outside the Mars Hotel,' said Birkett, as they swung into Jermyn-street, and the driver obeyed, just as the yellow limousine, bearing Lady Hermione, entered Jermyn-street from the other end. The yellow car passed them and stopped at the end of the little turning which led to the Nessim shop. The figure of a man emerged from the car, his arm supporting the girl, and in a moment they had disappeared.
Alonzo quietly led the way over. At the door of the cigarette shop he paused, and drawing the second duplicate key from his pocket, quietly opened the door. They stole noiselessly across the dark shop, lit by the flash lamp which Alonzo carried. Opening the dirty glass door, he crept up the stairs, followed by Birkett and his two colleagues, the astounded Lord Margrave bringing up the rear.
At the top of the stairs was a passage. A streak of light showed brilliantly in the blackness from beneath an ill-fitting door at the end. The sound of a man's laughter came from within. Noiselessly Alonzo stole along the passage. Arrived at the door, he flung it open and stepped into the room, the others crowding behind him.
'My trick, I think,' murmured Mr. Alonzo MacTavish, smiling urbanely across the dirty deal table at the infuriated countenance of Doctor Theodor Klaat.
Birkett stepped forward. 'Well, Mystery Doctor, we've got you this time,' he said with a grin. 'Theodor Klaat,' he continued. 'I arrest you on a charge of stealing the Margrave coronet, and of illicitly being in possession of drugs.' He added the usual warning, and a pair of steel handcuffs snapped about the doctor's wrists.
ALONZO, seated once more in Lord Margrave's library, regarded the end of his Corona with bland satisfaction, and holding his wineglass to his nostrils considered, with satisfaction, the bouquet of the Duke's oldest port.
'The whole thing was fairly easy once the idea came to me,' he said. 'It was obvious to me that ladies do not walk about in the rain without cloaks, and in thin shoes, unless they are either mad or doped. Then it struck me that the second key which I found in the vanity bag was the key to the door of the Nessim Cigarette shop. After I had inspected the coronet which had been so cleverly faked to look like an imitation, I paid a visit to the Nessim shop, and found what I was looking for.'
He felt in his waistcoat pocket and produced a packet of cigarettes.
'These cigarettes are scented,' he said. 'Scented with dope! The name of this particular drug is hypnosforgene. It does not render the subject unconscious, but places them entirely at the mercy of the hypnotist. Klaat had arranged that Lady Hermione should get one of these cigarettes at the party which she attended on the night of the burglary. He was waiting outside, and as she was about to leave he suggested to her brain—for he is a skilled hypnotist—that she should dismiss her car and walk home. He followed her while she was in this hypnotic state and ordered her to open the safe and fake the real coronet to look like an imitation. This is a simple matter and was easily done by filling in the spaces at the back of the gems with soft blue lead which kills the fire in the gems and gives them the appearance of paste. He handed the lead to Lady Hermione at some stage of her journey home, probably just before I saw her, and when I called next day I could see the bluish stain which the lead leaves, still on her fingers. The soft gold-work of the coronet was simply filed down a little with a nail file, with, the result that even an expert would have pronounced the coronet to be a "dud."
'Klaat's idea was a good one. He knew that there would be a hue and cry after the missing coronet, and that the police must fail to find a coronet which had never been stolen. He would then have arranged that, after a few weeks, Lady Hermione should smoke another cigarette and, under the influence of the drug, would obey his mental command to bring the real coronet to him. Unfortunately for him, he saw me following Lady Hermione and tried to rush the job. I suppose he lost his nerve, for you see I have spoiled one or two of his little coups before. Lady Hermione, of course, knows nothing of the business, and when she wakes up in the morning, except for a slight headache, she will be quite fit.'
'I can only say "Thank you," Mr. MacTavish,' the Duke said. 'Inspector Birkett tells me that but for you this plot would have been successful, and my own daughter an unwitting confederate. I am very grateful.'
Alonzo bowed. 'There's just one thing more,' he said. 'The second cigarette must have been given to Lady Hermione by someone in this house. That someone is your butler, Stevens. His whiskers are very good, but I happen to remember the red mole on the left side of his neck. Stevens is Klaat's right hand man—the man who tried to sandbag me in Vienna.'
'We're making quite a haul tonight, MacTavish, thanks to you,' he said. 'By the way,' he continued, 'Yesterday, Lord Margrave offered a reward of £5,000 for the recovery of the Coronet, and he insists that you shall have it. Come and see me in the morning and we will settle that matter.'
Alonzo rose. 'All things come to him who waits,' he said smilingly, shaking hands with the Duke. 'Au revoir, till the morning, Birkett!'
At the door he stopped. 'You'll want to see Stevens, the butler, Inspector,' he said. 'I'll send him up to you.' The humorous smile deepened upon his mouth.
Downstairs in the hall, Stevens was waiting in a dressing gown to show him out. As he opened the door Alonzo slipped a pound note into his hand. Stevens bowed his thanks.
'Oh, Stevens,' said Alonzo with a cheery smile. 'Go up to the library. Lord Margrave wants to see you. Good-night!'
Mr. Alonzo MacTavish walked towards Grosvenor-square, whistling quietly to himself. The night was fine, and, because he loved the moonlight, he was happy. Very much more so, because the pound note which he had presented to Mr. Stevens was one which had been made originally by Doctor Theodor Klaat!
End of The Dope Lady by Peter Cheyney