Havoc by E. Phillips Oppenheim
Chapter XIX. Mysterious Inquiries
As soon as he had gone through his letters on the following morning, Laverick, in response to a second and more urgent message, went round to his bank. Mr. Fenwick greeted him gravely. He was feeling keenly the responsibilities of his position. Just how much to say and how much to leave unsaid was a question which called for a full measure of diplomacy.
"You understand, Mr. Laverick," he began, "that I wished to see you with regard to the arrangement we came to the day before yesterday."
Laverick nodded. It suited him to remain monosyllabic.
"Well?" he asked.
"The arrangement, of course, was most unusual," the manager continued. "I agreed to it as you were an old customer and the matter was an urgent one."
"I do not quite follow you," Laverick remarked, frowning. "What is it you wish me to do? Withdraw my account?"
"Not in the least," the manager answered hastily.
"You know the position of our market, of course," Laverick went on. "Three days ago I was in a situation which might have been called desperate. I could quite understand that you needed security to go on making the necessary payments on my behalf. To-day, things are entirely different. I am twenty thousand pounds better off, and if necessary I could realize sufficient to pay off the whole of my overdraft within half-an-hour. That I do not do so is simply a matter of policy and prices."
"I quite understand that, my dear Mr. Laverick," the bank manager declared. "The position is simply this. We have had a most unusual and a strictly private inquiry, of a nature which I cannot divulge to you, asking whether any large sum in five hundred pound banknotes has been passed through our account during the last few days."
"You have actually had this inquiry?" Laverick asked calmly.
"We have. I can tell you no more. The source of the inquiry was, in a sense, amazing."
"May I ask what your reply was?"
"My reply was," Mr. Fenwick said slowly, "that no such notes had passed through our account. We asked them, however, without giving any reasons, to repeat their question in a few days' time. Our reply was perfectly truthful. Owing to your peculiar stipulations, we are simply holding a certain packet for you in our security chamber. We know it to contain bank-notes, and there is very little doubt but that it contains the notes which have been the subject of this inquiry. I want to ask you, Mr. Laverick, to be so good as to open that packet, let me credit the notes to your account in the usual way, and leave me free to reply as I ought to have done in the first instance to this inquiry."
"The course which you suggest," replied the other, "is one which I absolutely decline to take. It is not for me to tell you the nature of the relations which should exist between a banker and his client. All that I can say is that those notes are deposited with you and must remain on deposit, and that the transaction is one which must be treated entirely as a confidential one. If you decline to do this, I must remove my account, in which case I shall, of course, take the packet away with me. To be plain with you, Mr. Fenwick," he wound up, "I do not intend to make use of those notes, I never intended to do so. I simply deposited them as security until the turn in price of 'Unions' came.
"It is a very nice point, Mr. Laverick," the bank manager remarked. "I should consider that you had already made use of them."
"Every one to his own conscience," Laverick answered calmly.
"You place me in a very embarrassing position, Mr. Laverick."
"I cannot admit that at all," Laverick replied. "There is only one inquiry which you could have had which could justify you in insisting upon what you have suggested. It emanated, I presume, from Scotland Yard?"
"If it had," Mr. Fenwick answered, "no considerations of etiquette would have intervened at all. I should have felt it my duty to have revealed at once the fact of your deposit. At the same time, the inquiry comes from an even more important source, - a source which cannot be ignored."
Laverick thought for a moment.
"After all, the matter is a very simple one," he declared. "By four o'clock this afternoon my account shall be within its limits. You will then automatically restore to me the packet which you hold on my behalf, and the possession of which seems to embarrass you."
"If you do not mind," the banker answered, "I should be glad if you would take it with you. It means, I think, a matter of six or seven thousand pounds added to your overdraft, but as a temporary thing we will pass that."
"As you will," Laverick assented carelessly. "The charge of those documents is a trust with me as well as with yourself. I have no doubt that I can arrange for their being held in a secure place elsewhere."
The usual formalities were gone through, and Laverick left the bank with the brown leather pocket-book in his breast-coat pocket. Arrived at his office, he locked it up at once in his private safe and proceeded with the usual business of the day. Even with an added staff of clerks, the office was almost in an uproar. Laverick threw himself into the struggle with a whole-hearted desire to escape from these unpleasant memories. He succeeded perfectly. It was two hours before he was able to sit down even for a moment. His head-clerk, almost as exhausted, followed him into his room.
"I forgot to tell you, sir," he announced, "that there s a man outside - Mr. Shepherd was his name, I believe - said he had a small investment to make which you promised to look after personally. He would insist on seeing you - said he was a waiter at a restaurant which you visited sometimes."
"That's all right," Laverick declared. "You can show him in. We'll probably give him American rails."
"Can't we attend to it in the office for you, sir?" the clerk asked. "I suppose it's only a matter of a few hundreds."
"Less than that, probably, but I promised the fellow I'd look after it myself. Send him in, Scropes."
There was a brief delay and then Mr. Shepherd was announced. Laverick, who was sitting with his coat off, smoking a well-earned cigarette, looked up and nodded to his visitor as the door was closed.
"Sorry to keep you waiting," he remarked. "We're having a bit of a rush."
The man laid down his hat and came up to Laverick's side.
"I guess that, sir," he said, "from the number of people we've had in the 'Black Post' to-day, and the way they've all been shouting and talking. They don't seem to eat much these days, but there's some of them can shift the drink."
"I've got some sound stocks looked out for you," Laverick remarked, "two hundred and fifty pounds' worth. If you'll just approve that list as a matter of form," he added, pushing a piece of paper across, "you can come in to-morrow and have the certificates. I shall tell them to debit the purchase money to my private account, so that if any one asks you anything, you can say that you paid me for them."
"I'm sure I'm much obliged, sir," the man said. "To tell you the truth," he went on, "I've had a bit of a scare to-day."
Laverick looked up quickly.
"What do you mean?" he demanded.
"May I sit down, sir? I'm a bit worn out. I've been on the go since half-past ten."
Laverick nodded and pointed to a chair. Shepherd brought it up to the side of the table and leaned forward.
"There's been two men in to-day," he said, "asking questions. They wanted to know how many customers I had there on Monday night, and could I describe them. Was there any one I recognized, and so on."
"What did you say?"
"I declared I couldn't remember any one. To the best of my recollection, I told them, there was no one served at all after ten o'clock. I wouldn't say for certain - it looked as though I might have had a reason."
"And were they satisfied?"
"I don't think they were," Shepherd admitted. "Not altogether, that is to say."
"Did they mention any names?" asked Laverick - "Morrison's, for instance? Did they want to know whether he was a regular customer?"
"They didn't mention no names at all, sir," the man answered, "but they did begin to ask questions about my regular clients. Fortunate like, the place was so crowded that I had every excuse for not paying any too much attention to them. It was all I could do to keep on getting orders attended to."
"What sort of men were they?" Laverick asked. "Do you think that they came from the police?"
"I shouldn't have said so," Shepherd replied, "but one can't tell, and these gentlemen from Scotland Yard do make themselves up so sometimes on purpose to deceive. I should have said that these two were foreigners, the same kidney as the poor chap as was murdered. I heard a word or two pass, and I sort of gathered that they'd a shrewd idea as to that meeting in the 'Black Post' between the man who was murdered and the little dark fellow."
"Jim Shepherd," he declared, "you appear to me to be a very sagacious person."
"I'm sure I'm much obliged, sir; I can tell you, though," he added, "I don't half like these chaps coming round making inquiries. My nerves ain't quite what they were, and it gives me the jumps."
Laverick was thoughtful for a few moments.
"After all, there was no one else in the bar that night," he remarked, - "no one who could contradict you?"
"Not a soul," Jim Shepherd agreed.
"Then don't you bother," Laverick continued. "You see, you've been wise. You haven't given yourself away altogether. You've simply said that you don't recollect any one coming in. Why should you recollect? At the end of a day's work you are not likely to notice every stray customer. Stick to it, and, if you take my advice, don't go throwing any money about, and don't give your notice in for another week or so. Pave the way for it a bit. Ask the governor for a rise - say you're not making a living out of it."
"I'm on," Jim Shepherd remarked, nodding his head. "I'm on to it, sir. I don't want to get into no trouble, I'm sure."
"You can't," Laverick answered dryly, "unless you chuck yourself in. You're not obliged to remember anything. No one can ever prove that you remembered anything. Keep your eyes open, and let me hear if these fellows turn up again."
"I'm pretty certain they will, sir," the man declared. "They sat about waiting for me to be disengaged, but when my time off came, I hopped out the back way. They'll be there again to-night, sure enough."
"Well, you must let me know," he said, "what happens."
Jim Shepherd leaned across the corner of the table and dropped his voice.
"It's an awful thing to think of, sir," he whispered, blinking rapidly. "I wouldn't be that young Mr. Morrison for all that great pocketful of notes. But my! there was a sight of money there, sir! He'll be a rich man for all his days if nothing comes out."
"We won't talk any more about it," Laverick insisted. "It isn't a pleasant thing to think about or talk about. We won't know anything, Shepherd. We shall be better off."
The man took his departure and the whirl of business recommenced. Laverick turned his back upon the city only a few minutes before eight and, tired out, he dined at a restaurant on his homeward way. When at last he reached his sitting-room he threw himself on the sofa and lit a cigar. Once more the evening papers had no particular news. This time, however, one of them had a leading article upon the English police system. The fact that an undetected murder should take place in a wealthy neighborhood, away from the slums, a murder which must have been premeditated, was in itself alarming. Until the inquest had been held, it was better to make little comment upon the facts of the case so far as they were known. At the same time, the circumstance could not fail to incite a considerable amount of alarm among those who had offices in the vicinity of the tragedy. It was rumored that some mysterious inquiries were being circulated around London banks. It was possible that robbery, after all, had been the real motive of the crime, but robbery on a scale as yet unimagined. The whole interest of the case now was centred upon the discovery of the man's identity. As soon as this was solved, some very startling developments might be expected.
Laverick threw the paper away. He tried to rest upon the sofa, but tried in vain. He found himself continually glancing at the clock.
"To-night," he muttered to himself, - "no, I will not go to-night! It is not fair to the child. It is absurd. Why, she would think that I was - "
He stopped short.
"I'll change and go to the club," he decided.
He rose to his feet. Just then there was a ring at his bell. He opened the door and found a messenger boy standing in the vestibule.
"Note, sir, for Mr. Stephen Laverick," the boy announced, opening his wallet.
Laverick held out his hand. The boy gave him a large square envelope, and upon the back of it was "Universal Theatre." Laverick tried to assure himself that he was not so ridiculously pleased. He stepped back into the room, tore open the envelope, and read the few lines traced in rather faint but delicate handwriting.
Are you coming to fetch me to-night? Don't let me be a nuisance, but do come if you have nothing to do. I have something to tell you.
Laverick gave the boy a shilling for himself and suddenly forgot that he was tired. He changed his clothes, whistling softly to himself all the time. At eleven o'clock, he was at the stage-door of the Universal Theatre, waiting in a taxicab.