Chapter XXVIII. The First Pursuit
 

For a moment Fullaway stood in the doorway of the hotel, staring towards the mouth of Kingsway, around the corner of which Chilverton's cab had already disappeared. Then he turned, gave Allerdyke a look of absolute non-comprehension, and with a sudden gesture, as of surrender to circumstances, walked into the hotel and made for the stairs.

"That licks everything!" he muttered, as he and Allerdyke went up to the first floor. "Tell you what it is, Allerdyke--my poor brain is getting into a whirl! We've had quite enough excitement this morning in all conscience, and now this comes on top of it. Now, how in creation do you explain this last occurrence?"

Allerdyke laughed cynically.

"I don't know so much of the world as you do, Fullaway," he said, "but I don't think this needs much explanation. When a man makes himself suddenly scarce at sight of a well-known detective, I should say that man knows the detective wants him--badly! My impression is that at this moment your friend Van Koon is running away from Chilverton, and Chilverton's going hot-foot after him. And--"

They were at that moment passing the room which Van Koon had occupied, and Allerdyke suddenly remembered the occasion on which he had seen Mrs. Marlow steal out of it, suspiciously and furtively, and when its proper tenant was away. He had carefully abstained from telling Fullaway about that little incident, preferring to wait until events had further developed. Should he tell him now--now that there seemed to be evidence that Van Koon himself was a doubtful character? He hesitated--and while he hesitated Fullaway strode on, flung open his office door, turned to the letter-box at the back, and took out some letters and a telegram. He tore the telegram open, and the next instant flung it on the table with a fierce exclamation.

"Damn it all, Allerdyke!" he said, waving an indignant hand at the bit of pink paper. "What in the name of all that's wicked is the meaning of that? Read it--read!"

Allerdyke picked the telegram up and read it aloud.

"Regret shall be unable to return to office for day or two; called away on extremely urgent private business.--MARLOW."

He laughed again as he put the telegram back and turned to Fullaway, who, hands plunged deep in pockets and black of countenance, was stamping up and down the room.

"Um!" said Allerdyke. "Um! Now, in my humble opinion, Fullaway, that's a good deal queerer than the Van Koon incident. For look you here--your secretary was talking to us in your room there at less than five minutes to one, and we left her here when we went out on the stroke of one. And yet--look at the wire!--she handed that in at the East Strand post office within ten minutes after we'd left her! What do you make of that?"

"Damnation!" exclaimed Fullaway. "How the blazes do I know what to make of it! I seem to be surrounded with--God knows what hellish mysteries! Allerdyke, is there a regular devil's conspiracy, or--what is there?"

Allerdyke made a show of looking at the telegram again. In reality, he was considering matters. Should he tell Fullaway what he knew? He was more than a little tempted to do so. But his natural sense of caution and reserve stopped the words before they reached his tongue, and he took another tack.

"You said just now, in talking to Delkin, that you'd the greatest confidence in this Mrs. Marlow, and had the best references with her, Fullaway," he remarked. "What references?"

"Good business references!" answered Fullaway excitedly. "The best! Firms of high standing in the City. Couldn't have had better. Go and ask any of them about her--I'll lay my last dollar they will say the same. Capital secretary--clever woman--thoroughly trustworthy!"

"What do you know about her private life?" asked Allerdyke.

"What the deuce has the woman's private life to do with me?" snapped Fullaway. "I know nothing. So long as she comes here at ten, stops till five, and does her duty--hang her private life!"

"Do you know where she lives?" asked Allerdyke imperturbably. "But of course you do."

"Then I don't!" retorted Fullaway. "Somewhere up town, I believe--West End somewhere. I don't know. I've nothing to do with her private affairs. I never have had anything to do with the private affairs of any employee of mine."

"She makes her private affairs have something to do with you though," said Allerdyke, tapping the telegram significantly. "But, in my opinion, that wire's nothing but an excuse. What're you going to do?"

"Oh, I don't know!" exclaimed Fullaway. "I'm about sick of the whole thing."

Allerdyke pulled out his watch.

"I must go," he said. "I've a business appointment. I'll see you later."

Fullaway made no reply, and Allerdyke left him, went downstairs and sought Gaffney, whom, having found, he led outside to the street.

"How soon can you lay hands on that brother of yours?" he asked.

"Twenty minutes--in a cab, sir," replied Gaffney.

"Get a cab, then, find him, and drive, both of you, to the warehouse," commanded Allerdyke. "You'll find me there."

He himself got a cab, too, and went off to Gresham Street, more puzzled and doubtful than ever. He closeted himself with Ambler Appleyard and told him all the details of the eventful morning, and the manager listened in silence, taking everything in and making his own mental notes. And with his usual acuteness of perception he quickly separated the important from the momentarily unimportant.

"You don't want to bother your head about what Mr. Delkin says just now, Mr. Allerdyke," he said, when Allerdyke had brought this story to an end. "Never mind his theories--there may be a lot in 'em, and there mayn't be any more than his personal opinion in 'em. Never mind, too, what Chilverton wants with Van Koon. Nor if there's any connection between Van Koon and Miss Slade, or Mrs. Marlow. The thing to do is to find--her!"

"You think she's hooked it?" said Allerdyke.

"I should say that something said by some of you at that talk this morning in Fullaway's room has startled her into action," answered Appleyard. "Now let's get at facts. You say she sent that wire from the East Strand post Office within ten minutes of your leaving her? Very well--I should say she was on her way to Arundel Street to see Rayner, alias Ramsay. I wish we'd had a constant watch kept on him. But we'll soon repair that if you've sent for young Gaffney."

The two Gaffneys arrived at that moment and Appleyard, after some further talk, assigned them their duties. Gaffney, the chauffeur, was to go at once and get himself a room at an inn in close proximity to the Pompadour Hotel, so that he would be at Appleyard's disposal at any hour of the coming evening and night. Albert Gaffney, the clerk, was to devote himself to watching Rayner. He was to follow Rayner wherever Rayner went from the time of his leaving Clytemnestra House that afternoon--even if Rayner should leave town by motor or by train he was to follow. For, as Appleyard sagely observed, it was not likely that Mrs. Marlow, alias Miss Slade, would return to the Pompadour Hotel that night if her fears had been aroused by what had taken place that morning, and it was a reasonable presumption that if she and Rayner were in league she would have communicated with him on leaving Fullaway's office, and that they would meet again somewhere before the day was over.

"The only thing now," said Appleyard, when the two Gaffneys had been presented with funds sufficient to carry each through all possible immediate emergencies, "is to arrange for a meeting to-night. There are two matters we want to be certain about. First, if Albert Gaffney witnesses any meeting between Rayner and Miss Slade, and, in that case, if he can tell us where they go and what they do. Second, if they both return, or either of them returns to the Pompadour to-night. So it had better be near the Pompadour--somewhere in that district, anyhow. Can you suggest any place?" he continued, turning to the chauffeur. "You know that district well, don't you?"

"Tell you the very spot, sir," answered Gaffney promptly. "Lancaster Gate itself, sir. Close by there, convenient pub, sir--stands back a bit from the road. Bar-parlour, sir--quiet corners. What time, sir?"

Appleyard fixed half-past eleven. By that time, he said, he should know if Mr. Rayner and Miss Slade had returned to the Pompadour; by that time, too, Albert Gaffney would be in a position to report his own doings and progress. And so the two Gaffneys went off on their respective missions, and Allerdyke looked at his manager and made a grimace.

"It's like a lot of blind men seeking for something they couldn't see if it was shoved under their very noses, Ambler!" he said cynically. "Is it any good?"

"Maybe," replied Appleyard. "That Albert Gaffney's a smart chap--he'll not lose sight of Rayner once he begins to track him. And I'm certain as certain can be that if Miss Slade's in a hole it's Rayner she'll turn to. Well--we can only wait now. What're you going to do, Mr. Allerdyke?"

"Let's have a bit of a relief," answered, Allerdyke suddenly. "Let's dine together somewhere and go to a theatre or something until it's time to keep this appointment. And not a word more of the whole thing till then!"

"You forget that I've got to look in at the Pompadour last thing to see if those two are there as usual," remarked Appleyard. "But that'll only take a few minutes--I can call there on our way to the rendezvous. All right--no more of it until half-past eleven, then."

Albert Gaffney was already in a quiet corner of the bar-parlour of the appointed meeting-place when the other three arrived there. Appleyard had already ascertained that neither Rayner nor Miss Slade had returned to the Pompadour; Gaffney, the chauffeur, who had been keeping an eye on the exterior of that establishment, had nothing to tell. And Albert's face was somewhat dismal, and his eye inclined to something like an aggrieved surliness, as he joined the new-comers and answered their first question.

"It's not my fault, gentlemen," he whispered, bending towards the others over the little table at which they were all seated. "But the truth is--I've been baulked! At the last moment as you may term it. Just when things were getting really interesting!"

"Have you seen--anything?" asked Appleyard.

"I'll give you it in proper order, sir," replied Albert Gaffney. "I've seen both of 'em--followed 'em, until this confounded accident happened. This is the story of it. I kept watch there, outside C. House--you know where I mean--till near on to six o'clock. Then he came out. But he didn't get into his motor, though it was waiting for him. He sent it away. Then he walked to the Temple Station, and I heard him book for Cannon Street. So did I, and followed him. He got out at Cannon Street and went up into the main line station and to the bookstall. There he met her--she was waiting. They talked a bit, walking about; then they went into the hotel. I had an idea that perhaps they were going to dine there, so as I was togged up for any eventualities, I followed 'em in. They did dine there--so did I, keeping an eye on 'em. They sat some time over and after their dinner, as if they were waiting for something or somebody. At last a man--better-class commercial traveller-looking sort of man--came in and went up to them. He sat down and had a glass of wine, and they all three talked--very confidential talk, you could see. At last they all left and went down to the yard outside the station and got into a taxi-cab--all three. I got another, gave the driver a quiet hint as to what I was after, and told him to keep the other cab in view. So he did--for a time. They went first to a little restaurant near Liverpool Street Station--she and the commercial-looking chap got out and went in; R. stopped in the cab. The other two came back after a bit with another man--similar sort--and all three joined R. Then they went off towards Aldgate way--and we were keeping nicely behind 'em when all of a sudden a blooming 'bus came to grief right between us and them, and blocked the traffic! And though I nearly broke my neck in trying to get through and spot them, it was no use. They'd clean disappeared. But!--I've got the number of the cab they took from Cannon Street."

Appleyard nodded approval.

"Good!" he said. "That's something, Gaffney--a good deal. We can work on from that."

"Well?" he continued, turning to Allerdyke. "I think there's nothing else we can do to-night? We'd better meet, all of us, at Gresham Street, at, say, ten to-morrow morning; then I shall be able to say if they return to the Pompadour to-night. It's my impression they won't--but we shall see."

Allerdyke presently drove him to his hotel, wondering all the way what these last doings might really mean. They were surprising enough, but there was another surprise awaiting him. As he walked into the Waldorf the hall-porter stopped him.

"There's a gentleman for you, sir, in the waiting-room," he said. "Been waiting a good hour. Name of Chettle."