Part Third. The Man from Whitehall
Chapter XXIV. To Introduce 719
 

Some moments of silence followed. Sounds of traffic from the Embankment penetrated dimly to the room of the Assistant Commissioner; ringing of tram bells and that vague sustained noise which is created by the whirring of countless wheels along hard pavements. Finally:

"You have selected a curious moment to retire, Chief Inspector," said the Assistant Commissioner. "Your prospects were never better. No doubt you have considered the question of your pension?"

"I know what I'm giving up, sir," replied Kerry.

The Assistant Commissioner slowly revolved in his chair and gazed sadly at the speaker. Chief Inspector Kerry met his glance with that fearless, unflinching stare which lent him so formidable an appearance.

"You might care to favor me with some explanation which I can lay before the Chief Commissioner?"

Kerry snapped his white teeth together viciously.

"May I take it, sir, that you accept my resignation?"

"Certainly not. I will place it before the responsible authority. I can do no more."

"Without disrespect, sir, I want to speak to you as man to man. As a private citizen I could do it. As your subordinate I can't."

The Assistant Commissioner sighed, stroking his neatly brushed hair with one large hand.

"Equally without disrespect, Chief Inspector," he murmured, "it is news for me to learn that you have ever refrained from speaking your mind either in my presence or in the presence of any man."

Kerry smiled, unable wholly to conceal a sense of gratified vanity.

"Well, sir," he said, "you have my resignation before you, and I'm prepared to abide by the consequences. What I want to say is this: I'm a man that has worked hard all his life to earn the respect and the trust of his employers. I am supposed to be Chief Inspector of this department, and as Chief Inspector I'll kow-tow to nothing on two legs once I've been put in charge of a case. I work right in the sunshine. There's no grafting about me. I draw my salary every week, and any man that says I earn sixpence in the dark is at liberty to walk right in here and deposit his funeral expenses. If I'm supposed to be under a cloud--there's my reply. But I demand a public inquiry."

At ever increasing speed, succinctly, viciously he rapped out the words. His red face grew more red, and his steel-blue eyes more fierce. The Assistant Commissioner exhibited bewilderment. As the high tones ceased:

"Really, Chief Inspector," he said, "you pain and surprise me. I do not profess to be ignorant of the cause of your--annoyance. But perhaps if I acquaint you with the facts of my own position in the matter you will be open to reconsider your decision."

Kerry cleared his throat loudly.

"I won't work in the dark, sir," he declared truculently. "I'd rather be a pavement artist and my own master than Chief Inspector with an unknown spy following me about."

"Quite so--quite so." The Assistant Commissioner was wonderfully patient. "Very well, Chief Inspector. It cannot enhance my personal dignity to admit the fact, but I'm nearly as much in the dark as yourself."

"What's that, sir?" Kerry sat bolt upright, staring at the speaker.

"At a late hour last night the Secretary of State communicated in person with the Chief Commissioner--at the latter's town residence. He instructed him to offer every facility to a newly appointed agent of the Home office who was empowered to conduct an official inquiry into the drug traffic. As a result Vine Street was advised that the Home office investigator would proceed at once to Kazmah's premises, and from thence wherever available clues might lead him. For some reason which has not yet been explained to me, this investigator chooses to preserve a strict anonymity."

Traces of irritation became perceptible in the weary voice. Kerry staring, in silence, the Assistant Commissioner continued:

"I have been advised that this nameless agent is in a position to establish his bona fides at any time, as he bears a number of these cards. You see, Chief Inspector, I am frank with you."

From a table drawer the Assistant Commissioner took a visiting-card, which he handed to Kerry. The latter stared at it as one stares at a rare specimen. It was the card of Lord Wrexborough, His Majesty's Principal Secretary of State for the Home Department, and in the cramped caligraphy of his lordship it bore a brief note, initialled, thus:

    Lord Wrexborough
    Great Cumberland Place, V. 1
    "To introduce 719. W."

Some moments of silence followed; then:

"Seven-one-nine," said Kerry in a high, strained voice. "Why seven-one-nine? And why all this hocus-pocus? Am I to understand, sir, that not only myself but all the Criminal Investigation Department is under a cloud?"

The Assistant Commissioner stroked his hair.

"You are to understand, Chief Inspector, that for the first time throughout my period of office I find myself out of touch with the Chief Commissioner. It is not departmental for me to say so, but I believe the Chief Commissioner finds himself similarly out of touch with the Secretary of State. Apparently very powerful influences are at work, and the line of conduct taken up by the Home office suggests to my mind that collusion between the receivers and distributors of drugs and the police is suspected by someone. That being so, possibly out of a sense of fairness to all officially concerned, the committee which I understand has been appointed to inquire into the traffic has decided to treat us all alike, from myself down to the rawest constable. It's highly irritating and preposterous, of course, but I cannot disguise from you or from myself that we are on trial, Chief Inspector!"

Kerry stood up and slowly moved his square shoulders in the manner of an athlete about to attempt a feat of weight-lifting. From the Assistant Commissioner's table he took the envelope which contained his resignation, and tore it into several portions. These he deposited in a waste-paper basket.

"That's that!" he said. "I am very deeply indebted to you, sir. I know now what to tell the Press."

The Assistant Commissioner glanced up.

"Not a word about 719," he said, "of course, you understand this?"

"If we don't exist as far as 719 is concerned, sir," said Kerry in his most snappy tones, "719 means nothing to me!"

"Quite so--quite so. Of course, I may be wrong in the motives which I ascribe to this Whitehall agent, but misunderstanding is certain to arise out of a system of such deliberate mystification, which can only be compared to that employed by the Russian police under the Tsars."

Half an hour later Chief Inspector Kerry came out of New Scotland Yard, and, walking down on to the Embankment, boarded a Norwood tramcar. The weather remained damp and gloomy, but upon the red face of Chief Inspector Kerry, as he mounted to the upper deck of the car, rested an expression which might have been described as one of cheery truculence. Where other passengers, coat collars upturned, gazed gloomily from the windows at the yellow murk overhanging the river, Kerry looked briskly about him, smiling pleasurably.

He was homeward bound, and when he presently alighted and went swinging along Spenser Road towards his house, he was still smiling. He regarded the case as having developed into a competition between himself and the man appointed by Whitehall. And it was just such a position, disconcerting to one of less aggressive temperament, which stimulated Chief Inspector Kerry and put him in high good humor.

Mrs. Kerry, arrayed in a serviceable rain-coat, and wearing a plain felt hat, was standing by the dining-room door as Kerry entered. She had a basket on her arm. "I was waiting for ye, Dan," she said simply.

He kissed her affectionately, put his arm about her waist, and the two entered the cosy little room. By no ordinary human means was it possible that Mary Kerry should have known that her husband would come home at that time, but he was so used to her prescience in this respect that he offered no comment. She "kenned" his approach always, and at times when his life had been in danger--and these were not of infrequent occurrence--Mary Kerry, if sleeping, had awakened, trembling, though the scene of peril were a hundred miles away, and if awake had blanched and known a deadly sudden fear.

"Ye'll be goin' to bed?" she asked.

"For three hours, Mary. Don't fail to rouse me if I oversleep."

"Is it clear to ye yet?"

"Nearly clear. The dark thing you saw behind it all, Mary, was dope! Kazmah's is a secret drug-syndicate. They've appointed a Home office agent, and he's working independently of us, but . . ."

His teeth came together with a snap.

"Oh, Dan," said his wife, "it's a race? Drugs? A Home office agent? Dan, they think the Force is in it?"

"They do!" rapped Kerry. "I'm for Leman Street in three hours. If there's double-dealing behind it, then the mugs are in the East End, and it's folly, not knavery, I'm looking for. It's a race, Mary, and the credit of the Service is at stake! No, my dear, I'll have a snack when I wake. You're going shopping?"

"I am, Dan. I'd ha' started, but I wanted to see ye when ye came hame. If ye've only three hours go straight up the now. I'll ha' something hot a' ready when ye waken."

Ten minutes later Kerry was in bed, his short clay pipe between his teeth, and The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius in his hand. Such was his customary sleeping-draught, and it had never been known to fail. Half a pipe of Irish twist and three pages of the sad imperial author invariably plunged Chief Inspector Kerry into healthy slumber.