Part First. Kazmah the Dream-Reader
Chapter VI. Red Kerry
 

Chief Inspector Kerry, of the Criminal Investigation Department, stood before the empty grate of his cheerless office in New Scotland Yard, one hand thrust into the pocket of his blue reefer jacket and the other twirling a malacca cane, which was heavily silver-mounted and which must have excited the envy of every sergeant-major beholding it. Chief Inspector Kerry wore a very narrow-brimmed bowler hat, having two ventilation holes conspicuously placed immediately above the band. He wore this hat tilted forward and to the right.

"Red Kerry" wholly merited his sobriquet, for the man was as red as fire. His hair, which he wore cropped close as a pugilist's, was brilliantly red, and so was his short, wiry, aggressive moustache. His complexion was red, and from beneath his straight red eyebrows he surveyed the world with a pair of unblinking, intolerant steel-blue eyes. He never smoked in public, as his taste inclined towards Irish twist and a short clay pipe; but he was addicted to the use of chewing-gum, and as he chewed--and he chewed incessantly--he revealed a perfect row of large, white, and positively savage-looking teeth. High cheek bones and prominent maxillary muscles enhanced the truculence indicated by his chin.

But, next to this truculence, which was the first and most alarming trait to intrude itself upon the observer's attention, the outstanding characteristic of Chief Inspector Kerry was his compact neatness. Of no more than medium height but with shoulders like an acrobat, he had slim, straight legs and the feet of a dancing master. His attire, from the square-pointed collar down to the neat black brogues, was spotless. His reefer jacket fitted him faultlessly, but his trousers were cut so unfashionably narrow that the protuberant thigh muscles and the line of a highly developed calf could quite easily be discerned. The hand twirling the cane was small but also muscular, freckled and covered with light down. Red Kerry was built on the lines of a whippet, but carried the equipment of an Irish terrier.

The telephone bell rang. Inspector Kerry moved his square shoulders in a manner oddly suggestive of a wrestler, laid the malacca cane on the mantleshelf, and crossed to the table. Taking up the telephone:

"Yes?" he said, and his voice was high-pitched and imperious.

He listened for a moment.

"Very good, sir."

He replaced the receiver, took up a wet oilskin overall from the back of a chair and the cane from the mantleshelf. Then rolling chewing-gum from one corner of his mouth into the other, he snapped off the electric light and walked from the room.

Along the corridor he went with a lithe, silent step, moving from the hips and swinging his shoulders. Before a door marked "Private" he paused. From his waistcoat pocket he took a little silver convex mirror and surveyed himself critically therein. He adjusted his neat tie, replaced the mirror, knocked at the door and entered the room of the Assistant Commissioner.

This important official was a man constructed on huge principles, a man of military bearing, having tired eyes and a bewildered manner. He conveyed the impression that the collection of documents, books, telephones, and other paraphernalia bestrewing his table had reduced him to a state of stupor. He looked up wearily and met the fierce gaze of the chief inspector with a glance almost apologetic.

"Ah, Chief Inspector Kerry?" he said, with vague surprise. "Yes. I told you to come. Really, I ought to have been at home hours ago. It's most unfortunate. I have to do the work of three men. This is your department, is it not, Chief Inspector?"

He handed Kerry a slip of paper, at which the Chief Inspector stared fiercely.

"Murder!" rapped Kerry. "Sir Lucien Pyne. Yes, sir, I am still on duty."

His speech, in moments of interest, must have suggested to one overhearing him from an adjoining room, for instance, the operation of a telegraphic instrument. He gave to every syllable the value of a rap and certain words he terminated with an audible snap of his teeth.

"Ah," murmured the Assistant Commissioner. "Yes. Divisional Inspector --Somebody (I cannot read the name) has detained all the parties. But you had better report at Vine Street. It appears to be a big case."

He sighed wearily.

"Very good, sir. With your permission I will glance at Sir Lucien's pedigree."

"Certainly--certainly," said the Assistant Commissioner, waving one large hand in the direction of a bookshelf.

Kerry crossed the room, laid his oilskin and cane upon a chair, and from the shelf where it reposed took a squat volume. The Assistant Commissioner, hand pressed to brow, began to study a document which lay before him.

"Here we are," said Kerry, sotto voce. "Pyne, Sir Lucien St. Aubyn, fourth baronet, son of General Sir Christian Pyne, K.C.B. H'm! Born Malta. . . . Oriel College; first in classics. . . . H'm. Blue. . . . India, Burma. . . . Contested Wigan. . . . attached British Legation. . . . H'm! . . ."

He returned the book to its place, took up his overall and cane, and:

"Very good, sir," he said. "I will proceed to Vine Street."

"Certainly--certainly," murmured the Assistant Comissioner, glancing up absently. "Good night."

"Good night,sir."

"Oh, Chief Inspector!"

Kerry turned, his hand on the door-knob.

"Sir?"

"I--er--what was I going to say? Oh, yes! The social importance of the murdered man raises the case from the--er--you follow me? Public interest will become acute, no doubt. I have therefore selected you for your well known discretion. I met Sir Lucien once. Very sad. Good night."

"Good night, sir."

Kerry passed out into the corridor, closing the door quietly. The Assistant Commissioner was a man for whom he entertained the highest respect. Despite the bewildered air and wandering manner, he knew this big, tired-looking soldier for an administrator of infinite capacity and inexhaustive energy.

Proceeding to a room further along the corridor, Chief Inspector Kerry opened the door and looked in.

"Detective-Sergeant Coombes." he snapped, and rolled chewing-gum from side to side of his mouth.

Detective-Sergeant Coombes, a plump, short man having lank black hair and a smile of sly contentment perpetually adorning his round face, rose hurriedly from the chair upon which he had been seated. Another man who was in the room rose also, as if galvanized by the glare of the fierce blue eyes.

"I'm going to Vine Street," said Kerry succinctly; "you're coming with me," turned, and went on his way.

Two taxicabs were standing in the yard, and into the first of these Inspector Kerry stepped, followed by Coombes, the latter breathing heavily and carrying his hat in his hand, since he had not yet found time to put it on.

"Vine Street," shouted Kerry. "Brisk."

He leaned back in the cab, chewing industriously. Coombes, having somewhat recovered his breath, essayed speech.

"Is it something big?" he asked.

"Sure," snapped Kerry. "Do they send me to stop dog-fights?"

Knowing the man and recognizing the mood, Coombes became silent, and this silence he did not break all the way to Vine Street. At the station:

"Wait," said Chief Inspector Kerry, and went swinging in, carrying his overall and having the malacca cane tucked under his arm.

A few minutes later he came out again and reentered the cab.

"Piccadilly corner of Old Bond Street," he directed the man.

"Is it burglary?" asked Detective-Sergeant Coombes with interest.

"No," said Kerry. "It's murder; and there seems to be stacks of evidence. Sharpen your pencil."

"Oh!" murmured Coombes.

They were almost immediately at their destination, and Chief Inspector Kerry, dismissing the cabman, set off along Bond Street with his lithe, swinging gait, looking all about him intently. Rain had ceased, but the air was damp and chilly, and few pedestrians were to be seen.

A car was standing before Kazmah's premises, the chauffeur walking up and down on the pavement and flapping his hands across his chest in order to restore circulation. The Chief Inspector stopped, "Hi, my man!", he said.

The chauffeur stood still.

"Whose car?"

"Mr. Monte Irvin's."

Kerry turned on his heel and stepped to the office door. It was ajar, and Kerry, taking an electric torch from his overall pocket, flashed the light upon the name-plate. He stood for a moment, chewing and looking up the darkened stairs. Then, torch in hand he ascended.

Kazmah's door was closed, and the Chief Inspector rapped loudly. It was opened at once by Sergeant Burton, and Kerry entered, followed by Coombes.

The room at first sight seemed to be extremely crowded. Monte Irvin, very pale and haggard, sat upon the divan beside Quentin Gray. Seton was standing near the cabinet, smoking. These three had evidently been conversing at the time of the detective's arrival with an alert-looking, clean-shaven man whose bag, umbrella, and silk hat stood upon one of the little inlaid tables. Just inside the second door were Brisley and Gunn, both palpably ill at ease, and glancing at Inspector Whiteleaf, who had been interrogating them.

Kerry chewed silently for a moment, bestowing a fierce stare upon each face in turn, then:

"Who's in charge?" he snapped.

"I am," replied Whiteleaf.

"Why is the lower door open?"

"I thought--"

"Don't think. Shut the door. Post your Sergeant inside. No one is to go out. Grab anybody who comes in. Where's the body?"

"This way," said Inspector Whiteleaf hurriedly; then, over his shoulder: "Go down to the door, Burton."

He led Kerry towards the inner room, Coombes at his heels. Brisley and Gunn stood aside to give them passage; Gray and Monte Irvin prepared to follow. At the doorway Kerry turned.

"You will all be good enough to stay where you are," he said. He directed the aggressive stare in Seton's direction. "And if the gentleman smoking a cheroot is not satisfied that he has quite destroyed any clue perceptible by the sense of smell I should be glad to send out for some fireworks."

He tossed his oilskin and his cane on the divan and went into the room of seance, savagely biting at a piece of apparently indestructible chewing-gum.

The torn green curtain had been laid aside and the electric lights turned on in the inside rooms. Pallid, Sir Lucien Pyne lay by the ebony chair glaring horribly upward.

Always with the keen eyes glancing this way and that, Inspector Kerry crossed the little audience room and entered the enclosure contained between the two screens. By the side of the dead man he stood, looking down silently. Then he dropped upon one knee and peered closely into the white face. He looked up.

"He has not been moved?"

"No."

Kerry bent yet lower, staring closely at a discolored abrasion on Sir Lucien's forehead. His glance wandered from thence to the carved ebony chair. Still kneeling, he drew from his waistcoat pocket a powerful lens contained in a washleather bag. He began to examine the back and sides of the chair. Once he laid his finger lightly on a protruding point of the carving, and then scrutinised his finger through the glass. He examined the dead man's hands, his nails, his garments. Then he crawled about, peering closely at the carpet.

He stood up suddenly. "The doctor," he snapped.

Inspector Whiteleaf retired, but returned immediately with the clean-shaven man to whom Monte Irvin had been talking when Kerry arrived.

"Good evening, doctor," said Kerry. "Do I know your name? Start your notes, Coombes."

"My name is Dr. Wilbur Weston, and I live in Albemarle Street."

"Who called you?"

"Inspector Whiteleaf telephoned to me about half an hour ago."

"You examined the dead man?"

"I did."

"You avoided moving him?

"It was unnecessary to move him. He was dead, and the wound was in the left shoulder. I pulled his coat open and unbuttoned his shirt. That was all."

"How long dead?"

"I should say he had been dead not more than an hour when I saw him."

"What had caused death?"

"The stab of some long, narrow-bladed weapon, such as a stiletto."

"Why a stiletto?" Kerry's fierce eyes challenged him. "Did you ever see a wound made by a stiletto?"

"Several--in Italy, and one at Saffron Hill. They are characterised by very little external bleeding."

"Right, doctor. It had reached his heart?"

"Yes. The blow was delivered from behind."

"How do you know?"

"The direction of the wound is forward. I have seen an almost identical wound in the case of an Italian woman stabbed by a jealous rival."

"He would fall on his back."

"Oh, no. He would fall on his face, almost certainly."

"But he lies on his back."

"In my opinion he had been moved."

"Right. I know he had. Good night, doctor. See him out, Inspector."

Dr. Weston seemed rather startled by this abrupt dismissal, but the steel-blue eyes of Inspector Kerry were already bent again upon the dead man, and, murmuring "good night," the doctor took his departure, followed by Whiteleaf.

"Shut this door," snapped Kerry after the Inspector. "I will call when I want you. You stay, Coombes. Got it all down?"

Sergeant Coombes scratched his head with the end of a pencil, and:

"Yes," he said, with hesitancy. "That is, except the word after 'narrow-bladed weapon such as a' I've got what looks like 'steelhatto.'"

Kerry glared.

"Try taking the cotton-wool out of your ears," he suggested. "The word was stiletto, s-t-i-l-e-t-t-o--stiletto."

"Oh," said Coombes, "thanks."

Silence fell between the two men from Scotland Yard. Kerry stood awhile, chewing and staring at the ghastly face of Sir Lucien. Then:

"Go through all pockets," he directed.

Sergeant Coombes placed his notebook and pencil upon the seat of the chair and set to work. Kerry entered the inside room or office. It contained a writing-table (upon which was a telephone and a pile of old newspapers), a cabinet, and two chairs. Upon one of the chairs lay a crush-hat, a cane, and an overcoat. He glanced at some of the newspapers, then opened the drawers of the writing-table. They were empty. The cabinet proved to be locked, and a door which he saw must open upon a narrow passage running beside the suite of rooms was locked also. There was nothing in the pockets of the overcoat, but inside the hat he found pasted the initials L. P. He rolled chewing- gum, stared reflectively at the little window immediately above the table, through which a glimpse might be obtained of the ebony chair, and went out again.

"Nothing," reported Coombes.

"What do you mean--nothing?"

"His pockets are empty!"

"All of them?"

"Every one."

"Good," said Kerry. "Make a note of it. He wears a real pearl stud and a good signet ring; also a gold wrist watch, face broken and hands stopped at seven-fifteen. That was the time he died. He was stabbed from behind as he stood where I'm standing now, fell forward, struck his head on the leg of the chair, and lay face downwards."

"I've got that," muttered Coombes. "What stopped the watch?"

"Broken as he fell. There are tiny fragments of glass stuck in the carpet, showing the exact position in which his body originally lay; and for God's sake stop smiling."

Kerry threw open the door.

"Who first found the body?" he demanded of the silent company.

"I did," cried Quentin Gray, coming forward. "I and Seton Pasha."

"Seton Pasha!" Kerry's teeth snapped together, so that he seemed to bite off the words. "I don't see a Turk present."

Seton smiled quietly.

"My friend uses a title which was conferred upon me some years ago by the ex-Khedive," he said. "My name is Greville Seton."

Inspector Kerry glanced back across his shoulder.

"Notes," he said. "Unlock your ears, Coombes. He looked at Gray. "What is your name?"

"Quentin Gray."

"Who are you, and in what way are you concerned in this case?"

"I am the son of Lord Wrexborough, and I--"

He paused, glancing helplessly at Seton. He had recognized that the first mention of Rita Irvin's name in the police evidence must be made by himself.

"Speak up, sir," snapped Kerry. "Sergeant Coombes is deaf."

Gray's face flushed, and his eyes gleamed angrily.

"I should be glad, Inspector," he said, "if you would remember that the dead man was a personal acquaintance and that other friends are concerned in this ghastly affair."

"Coombes will remember it," replied Kerry frigidly. "He's taking notes."

"Look here--" began Gray.

Seton laid his hand upon the angry man's shoulder.

"Pull up, Gray," he said quietly. "Pull up, old chap." He turned his cool regard upon Chief Inspector Kerry, twirling the cord of his monocle about one finger. "I may remark, Inspector Kerry--for I understand this to be your name--that your conduct of the inquiry is not always characterised by the best possible taste."

Kerry rolled chewing-gum, meeting Seton's gaze with a stare intolerant and aggressive. He imparted that odd writhing movement to his shoulders.

"For my conduct I am responsible to the Commissioner," he replied. "And if he's not satisfied the Commissioner can have my written resignation at any hour in the twenty-four that he's short of a pipe-lighter. If it would not inconvenience you to keep quiet for two minutes I will continue my examination of this witness."