He Walked In Her Sleep
by Peter Cheyney
AT six o'clock on a summer's evening, Mr. Alonzo MacTavish, quietly distinguished in a superior-cut grey suit, a smile illuminating his pleasantly saturnine countenance, sat at a little marble-topped table outside the Cafe de la Paix. Through his green eyeglass he regarded the cream of Paris pass on its way there and back. Presently, the tables outside the Cafe began to fill, and, at about twenty minutes past six, a short, well-dressed individual with a small imperial attached to a bespectacled visage, sat down on the other side of Alonzo's fable and ordered a vermouth cassis.
MacTavish glanced casually at his companion and then resumed the important business of the moment, which consisted of absorbing, with an open admiration, the lines of an exquisitely dressed woman who, standing with one charmingly turned ankle on the step of her car, talked to an acquaintance.
The short gentleman watched MacTavish for a moment. Then he looked across at the lady whose shape found such favour in Alonzo's eyes. Then he leaned across the table and said, very quietly: 'I agree with you, Monsieur MacTavish—a most beautiful, enchanting woman, filled with—what is the word, m'sieu'?—ah, allure, yes, that is the word. Don't you think?'
Alonzo smiled his most charming smile. 'I agree with you about the lady, m'sieu',' he said. 'But that is all. I am not Monsieur MacTavish. My name is Verneuilton—Alphonse Verneuilton, of Nantes, at your service.'
The short individual smiled.
'I am sure that you will permit me to disagree with you,' he said pleasantly. 'But, m'sieu', you are not Alphonse Verneuilton, you are Alonzo MacTavish—once seen never forgotten.'
He offered a thin, gold cigarette case. 'I was present when the enterprising Chief Inspector Garroche nearly arrested you in Nice in '32—you remember? Also, please note, I said "nearly."'
Alonzo took the cigarette and shrugged his shoulders.
'Yes?' he murmured.
The short gentleman leaned a little nearer. 'My name is Jacques Falbaron,' he said, 'of Jacques Falbaron et Cie, jewellers of rue Henri Martin. Like you I am interested in precious stones—even if from a different and, shall we say, more legal angle.
'It is an extraordinary world, m'sieu',' he continued, 'is it not? Just now, when I saw you looking at the lady across the street—Madame la Comtesse de Lirac, is her name—the thought came to me—'
'Just what was the thought that came to you, m'sieu'?' queried Alonzo, pleasantly.
'Madame la Comtesse de Lirac is a lady with whom I have done a great deal of business,' said the jeweller. 'She is the wife of an extremely rich man who, I should point out, is some thirty years her senior. Madame la Comtesse used to be on the stage before she married.'
'How interesting,' said Alonzo.
'Quite,' said Falbaron. 'Well, monsieur, as I was saying, I have bought and sold a great deal of jewellery and precious stones for Madame la Comtesse. Sometimes I have bought it from her and sometimes from some of her young gentleman friends to whom she has either given it, or who have just helped themselves to it in one of her more generous moments.'
He grinned pleasantly. 'I should point out,' he went on, 'that she is extremely attracted to slim and handsome types—your own type; in fact, m'sieu'.
'Really?' said Alonzo, blowing a little smoke out of one nostril.
'Only this morning,' continued Falbaron, musingly, 'Madame la Comtesse telephoned me and asked me to advance her fifty-thousand francs, and I found I could not agree. Yet, with a little co-operation from you, m'sieu, I think I could see a way in which I might manage to make her the advance, and at the same time both you and I might also make a considerable sum of money.'
He leaned a little closer to Alonzo. 'Have you heard of the Plaque Lirac, m'sieu'?' he inquired innocently. 'And are you interested?'
Alonzo looked at him. His eyes were twinkling.
'Falbaron,' he said, 'it seems that times are not so good with you French jewellers either! Yes, m'sieu, I have heard of the Plaque Lirac, and I am interested.'
Monsieur Falbaron smiled winsomely. 'This casual meeting, Monsieur MacTavish,' he murmured, 'this coincidence, is obviously inspired by a kindly Fate.' He got up.'Shall we eat a little dinner together?'
Alonzo nodded assent. He was not a great believer in coincidences.
'LET us consider Madame la Comtesse Valerie de Lirac,' said Falbaron. 'She is a beautiful woman, still young and inclined towards adventure. Her husband keeps her very short of money, but gives her a great deal of jewellery. He is an old fool and dotes on her. He is busy and leaves her a great deal to herself.' He grinned. 'What is the result?' he went on. 'Why, from time to time she sells the jewellery. I have bought a great deal of it from her at bargain rates.'
'And what does the count say to that?' asked Alonzo.
'He doesn't say anything,' replied Falbaron. 'He doesn't know. She tells him that she has lost it, and he, knowing that she is very careless, believes her and produces more.
'Do you know,' said Falbaron, with a chuckle, 'that old idiot has, on occasion, bought the same piece of jewellery from me no less than four times, madame having sold it back to me at cut rates on no fewer than three different occasions!'
'The Plaque Lirac is a large and distinctive plaque of diamonds set in platinum,' he continued. 'It is uninsured because no company will take the risk of insuring the comtesse's jewellery. It is worth 250,000 francs. She keeps it in a Chinese cabinet on the dressing table in her bedroom, and the house is in the rue St. Honore. The back of it abuts that of a friend of mine—a gentleman named Paudache.'
'And the scheme?' Alonzo asked.
'She desired an advance of 50,000 francs from me,' said Falbaron. 'Very well, when I ask her to let me have the plaque as security, she refused. She wants to eat her cake and have it, too.
'Now, m'sieu',' he said with a smile, 'I suggest that tonight you call upon my friend Paudache, who will be waiting for you. You have a reputation as a very quiet, skilful, and successful burglar.
'Very well. You go through Paudache's second-floor window, along the balcony at the back of the house, and you can jump—it would be quite easy for you—on to the balcony of madame's bedroom. She always sleeps with the window open.'
Again Alonzo smiled. 'It would be child's play for you to get that plaque,' said Falbaron. 'You would not even wake her. She sleeps very soundly. Then tomorrow you bring it or send it to me, and in return I hand you the sum of 100,000 francs.'
'I will then telephone madame and agree to make the advance she desires of 50,000 francs, and the balance will constitute my own profit in the matter. Well, m'sieu'?'
'And the count?' asked Alonzo. 'What will he do when he hears of the robbery?'
'He won't,' said Falbaron, with a grin. 'First of all he has instructed madame to keep the plaque at the bank, which she has not done; and, secondly, I know the reason why she has not sent it to the bank.
'The reason being?' queried Alonzo.
Falbaron looked serious.
'She is in love with a young fellow,' he said. 'A maquereau of the worst description. Two or three days ago she telephoned me and asked casually whether it would be possible for me to make a colourable imitation of the plaque. She gave some futile reason for desiring to have this information. Do you not see, m'sieu!'
'You mean,' said Alonzo, 'that she intends to give the real one to her lover to dispose of, and to replace it with an imitation, and you suggest that if we get the real plaque first, we shan't be doing anyone any harm—except madame's lover—who doesn't matter, anyway?'
'Precisely,' said Falbaron. 'Well, m'sieu'?'
'It sounds very nice and easy, Falbaron,' Alonzo said. All right I'll do it. Now a few details.
'By tomorrow morning I shall have the plaque. When and where do you want me to hand it over to you, and when and where do I collect my money? Because I am leaving Paris from the Gare du Nord at eleven o'clock. Platform seven.'
Falbaron thought for a moment. 'It is all quite simple,' he said: 'At ten o'clock tomorrow morning, I shall send round to your apartment an envelope containing the 100,000 francs. I shall send this by a trusted messenger. You will please hand him the Plaque Lirac done up in an ordinary package, and he can bring it to me. Does that satisfy you?'
'Perfectly,' said Alonzo. He raised his glass. 'To your clever little scheme, m'sieu',' he said.
A CLOCK struck three as Alonzo, standing on the top rail of the balcony of the Paudache house, jumped across the intervening space and landed silently on the second floor balcony at the back of the Lirac house. He waited long enough to draw on a pair of rubber globes, and then worked silently along the balcony until he came to the open window. Two minutes later he was in the bedroom. A gleam of moonlight, stealing between a crack in the curtains at the front windows, fell across the beautiful and peaceful face of Madame la Comtesse and she dreamed sweetly of whatever it was she was dreaming about. Silently as a cat, Alonzo crossed the bedroom to the dressing table. On one end stood the lacquer box.
He took from his pocket the key Falbaron had given him, and opened it. Inside the box, on a bed of white velvet, glittered the Plaque Lirac. Alonzo took it out, dropped it into his pocket. Then with a glance at the sleeping beauty, he tiptoed back to the window and slid quickly and quietly over the edge. He moved silently away from the window, and waited for a few moments, then, almost as an afterthought, he crept back to the window and looked through into the bedroom.
Then he moved away to the end of the balcony.
But he did not attempt to jump back to the Paudache second floor. Instead, he sat down, his back against the balcony railings, and waited until he heard the clock strike four.
AT ten o'clock precisely the messenger arrived from Falbaron. Alonzo took from him the envelope addressed to himself, and handed him a neat, brown paper package in return. The man said good-morning, and went.
Alonzo wasted no time. He put on a hat, went downstairs, and crossed the road. He went into the little cafe and opened the envelope. Inside, as arranged, were ten ten-thousand franc notes. He put them into his breast-pocket and smiled. Then he looked across the road towards the door of his apartment—just in time to see the police car arrive. He smiled again, paid his bill and went out whistling.
At approximately the same moment, M. Falbaron, in his office at the back of his jewellery shop, opened his brown paper package. He found it to contain two or three fresh cabbage leaves—and nothing else! His language was extremely fluent. Eventually, having exhausted his vocabulary, M. Falbaron placed his head between his hands, and proceeded to do some very heavy thinking.
AT eleven o'clock Alonzo, standing in the doorway of a house immediately opposite the Lirac mansion in the Rue St. Honore, saw the police car arrive. Garroche, Chief Inspector of Burglary Detail of the Sûrete Generale, and a junior officer, got out of the car and entered the house. Alonzo waited for five minutes. Then, lighting a cigarette, he sauntered across the street and rang the bell.
'I am Alonzo MacTavish,' he informed the butler, 'and I believe M. Garroche is here. I would like to see him. Possibly I have some information which he wants.'
Two minutes later he entered the drawing-room, and smiled a 'Good-morning' to the assembled company.
Round the room were seated the Comte de Lirac, the comtesse, Garroche, and his assistant, Duval.
Garroche looked at Alonzo in amazement.
'Madame la Comtesse,' he said, 'is this the man?'
Her eyes were wide.
'Of course,' she said. 'That is the man. That is the man who entered my bedroom and stole the plaque!'
'Madame,' he said, 'I think you are mistaken.' He turned to Garroche. 'Is it possible,' he asked, 'that I am suspected of something?'
Garroche sighed. He knew MacTavish.
'Last night,' he said, 'the Plaque Lirac was stolen from the bedroom of Madame la Comtesse. This morning an information was laid by M. Jacques Falbaron, a jeweller, that you telephoned him and asked him to purchase a plaque, which be immediately recognised by your description as being the missing Plaque Lirac. He informed you that he wanted nothing to do with it, and telephoned to the police at once.'
Alonzo nodded. He was still smiling.
'What are you going to do, Garroche?' he asked.
Garroche looked worried. As I have said, he knew Alonzo.
'I'm going to arrest you on suspicion,' he said. 'By the way, what are you doing here if you know nothing about this business?'
'I know a great deal about it,' said Alonzo.
He selected a cigarette from his case, and lit it with care.
'I think that someone is making a very grave mistake,' he announced, smilingly. 'Possibly, it is M. Falbaron, or possibly Madame la Comtesse. Would it be possible for me to telephone Monsieur Falbaron? I think that he is under a misapprehension as to who telephoned him this morning.'
'There is a telephone booth in the hall,' he said. 'You can use that. Duval will keep an eye on you.'
MacTavish went out into the telephone booth. Duval stood in the hall, watching him.
After a minute Falbaron came on the line.
'Falbaron,' said Alonzo very quietly, 'you listen to me carefully, otherwise you and your friend, the comtesse, are going to find yourself in a rather tough situation.
'Yesterday,' he went on, 'you told me a lovely fairy story which you thought I believed. I didn't. I suppose the only reason that the comtesse had already sold you the plaque was because even her old fool of a husband wouldn't have been silly enough to buy that for her again without recognising it. It was too distinctive and too big.
'So the scheme was that I was to steal it, and send it round to you in exchange for 100,000 francs. You would get the plaque all right, but nobody would know that. Your story to the police was going to be that I had telephoned you and tried to sell you the plaque, and that you had recognised my voice.
'A few minutes afterwards the police would have arrested me at my apartment. They would have found on me the 100,000 francs, which eventually would have been handed over to Madame la Comtesse as the proceeds of the illegal sale of her jewellery, which I had somehow got rid of—no one else having come forward to claim the money.
'She in turn, would have handed it back to you. So you and she would have had the plaque and the money, and I should have been accused of all the other Lirac jewel burglaries which have happened, out of which you and the comtesse have been doing nicely for months.'
'Look here, MacTavish,' said Falbaron, 'where are you speaking from? What's up your sleeve?'
'Enough to fix both you and the comtesse quite nicely,' said Alonzo. 'The position at the moment is just this. I'm speaking from the booth in the hall of the Lirac house. I've just told Garroche that I think you've made a mistake, and you're coming here to back me up.'
'Rubbish,' said Falbaron. 'You've got that plaque, and nobody knows that the money on you is mine. They'll think you've already disposed of the plaque. You'll get ten years for this, and a damned good job, too.'
'Really?' said MacTavish. 'Listen Falbaron, if you don't do what I tell you, both you and the comtesse will be round at the Sûrete Generale facing a charge inside half an hour, because I'll tell Garroche the whole story.'
'And he'll believe you, won't he?' sneered Falbaron.
'He'll have to,' said Alonzo. 'Because the Plaque Lirac was never stolen. It's still in the comtesse's room!'
'What the devil do you mean?' spluttered Falbaron.
'I'll tell you,' said Alonzo. 'I suspected you from the start. I didn't like your face! I realised that I was to be the innocent, led to the slaughter. So I watched points. I got into the comtesse's bedroom last night, as arranged, and removed the plaque.
'While I was getting out of the window I saw her eyelids move. She wasn't asleep! So I pretended to go off, and then came back and watched her. She got out of bed and went over to the lacquer box, and looked into it. Then she smiled and went back to bed. Are you listening, Falbaron?'
'Yes,' muttered Falbaron.
'Well, my dear idiot,' said Alonzo, 'I sat down on the balcony, and then I went back into the bedroom and put the plaque back in the lacquer box. It's there now!'
'Oh, mon Dieu!' said Falbaron.
'Quite!' said Alonzo. 'Quite! Now, either you're going to speak to the comtesse on the telephone and arrange with her to make an apology to me, and come round yourself and do the same thing, or I'm going to tell Garroche that you two have tried to frame me.
'He'll believe it soon enough when he goes upstairs and finds the plaque is still in its proper place, with the comtesse's freshly made fingerprints all over the box. You see, I wore gloves!'
'Very well,' said Falbaron. 'I'm licked, and I know it. I'll come round. But what about my 100,000 francs?'
'I'm sticking to that,' said Alonzo cheerfully. 'You can't tell Garroche you sent it round to me without admitting your complicity in the burglary. Well, au revoir, Falbaron. Come round and do your stuff like a good boy, now!'
AT six o'clock that evening Alonzo MacTavish, sitting under the awning of the Cafe de la Paix, sipping a very dry Martini, watched the car of Madame la Comtesse de Lirac drive slowly by.
Mr. MacTavish took off his hat with a gallant smile, but for some reason the comtesse looked the other way.
And, believe it or not, had any one been in the car with her, they would have heard her use an expression about Mr. MacTavish which, I am sure, is not used, except by very angry comtesses.
End of He Walked In Her Sleep by Peter Cheyney