The Middle Temple Murder by J. S. Fletcher
Chapter Eight. The Man from the Safe Deposit
Spargo found Rathbury sitting alone in a small, somewhat dismal apartment which was chiefly remarkable for the business-like paucity of its furnishings and its indefinable air of secrecy. There was a plain writing-table and a hard chair or two; a map of London, much discoloured, on the wall; a few faded photographs of eminent bands in the world of crime, and a similar number of well-thumbed books of reference. The detective himself, when Spargo was shown in to him, was seated at the table, chewing an unlighted cigar, and engaged in the apparently aimless task of drawing hieroglyphics on scraps of paper. He looked up as the journalist entered, and held out his hand.
"Well, I congratulate you on what you stuck in the Watchman this morning," he said. "Made extra good reading, I thought. They did right to let you tackle that job. Going straight through with it now, I suppose, Mr. Spargo?"
Spargo dropped into the chair nearest to Rathbury's right hand. He lighted a cigarette, and having blown out a whiff of smoke, nodded his head in a fashion which indicated that the detective might consider his question answered in the affirmative.
"Look here," he said. "We settled yesterday, didn't we, that you and I are to consider ourselves partners, as it were, in this job? That's all right," he continued, as Rathbury nodded very quietly. "Very well--have you made any further progress?"
Rathbury put his thumbs in the armholes of his waistcoat and, leaning back in his chair, shook his head.
"Frankly, I haven't," he replied. "Of course, there's a lot being done in the usual official-routine way. We've men out making various enquiries. We're enquiring about Marbury's voyage to England. All that we know up to now is that he was certainly a passenger on a liner which landed at Southampton in accordance with what he told those people at the Anglo-Orient, that he left the ship in the usual way and was understood to take the train to town--as he did. That's all. There's nothing in that. We've cabled to Melbourne for any news of him from there. But I expect little from that."
"All right," said Spargo. "And--what are you doing--you, yourself? Because, if we're to share facts, I must know what my partner's after. Just now, you seemed to be--drawing."
"Well, to tell you the truth," he said, "when I want to work things out, I come into this room--it's quiet, as you see--and I scribble anything on paper while I think. I was figuring on my next step, and--"
"Do you see it?" asked Spargo, quickly.
"Well--I want to find the man who went with Marbury to that hotel," replied Rathbury. "It seems to me--"
Spargo wagged his finger at his fellow-contriver.
"I've found him," he said. "That's what I wrote that article for--to find him. I knew it would find him. I've never had any training in your sort of work, but I knew that article would get him. And it has got him."
Rathbury accorded the journalist a look of admiration.
"Good!" he said. "And--who is he?"
"I'll tell you the story," answered Spargo, "and in a summary. This morning a man named Webster, a farmer, a visitor to London, came to me at the office, and said that being at the House of Commons last night he witnessed a meeting between Marbury and a man who was evidently a Member of Parliament, and saw them go away together. I showed him an album of photographs of the present members, and he immediately recognized the portrait of one of them as the man in question. I thereupon took the portrait to the Anglo-Orient Hotel--Mrs. Walters also at once recognized it as that of the man who came to the hotel with Marbury, stopped with him a while in his room, and left with him. The man is Mr. Stephen Aylmore, the member for Brookminster."
Rathbury expressed his feelings in a sharp whistle.
"I know him!" he said. "Of course--I remember Mrs. Walters's description now. But his is a familiar type--tall, grey-bearded, well-dressed. Um!--well, we'll have to see Mr. Aylmore at once."
"I've seen him," said Spargo. "Naturally! For you see, Mrs. Walters gave me a bit more evidence. This morning they found a loose diamond on the floor of Number 20, and after it was found the waiter who took the drinks up to Marbury and his guest that night remembered that when he entered the room the two gentlemen were looking at a paper full of similar objects. So then I went on to see Mr. Aylmore. You know young Breton, the barrister?--you met him with me, you remember?"
"The young fellow whose name and address were found on Marbury," replied Rathbury. "I remember."
"Breton is engaged to Aylmore's daughter," continued Spargo. "Breton took me to Aylmore's club. And Aylmore gives a plain, straightforward account of the matter which he's granted me leave to print. It clears up a lot of things. Aylmore knew Marbury over twenty years ago. He lost sight of him. They met accidentally in the lobby of the House on the evening preceding the murder. Marbury told him that he wanted his advice about those rare things, Australian diamonds. He went back with him to his hotel and spent a while with him; then they walked out together as far as Waterloo Bridge, where Aylmore left him and went home. Further, the scrap of grey paper is accounted for. Marbury wanted the address of a smart solicitor; Aylmore didn't know of one but told Marbury that if he called on young Breton, he'd know, and would put him in the way to find one. Marbury wrote Breton's address down. That's Aylmore's story. But it's got an important addition. Aylmore says that when he left Marbury, Marbury had on him a quantity of those diamonds in a wash-leather bag, a lot of gold, and a breast-pocket full of letters and papers. Now--there was nothing on him when he was found dead in Middle Temple Lane."
Spargo stopped and lighted a fresh cigarette.
"That's all I know," he said. "What do you make of it?"
Rathbury leaned back in his chair in his apparently favourite attitude and stared hard at the dusty ceiling above him.
"Don't know," he said. "It brings things up to a point, certainly. Aylmore and Marbury parted at Waterloo Bridge--very late. Waterloo Bridge is pretty well next door to the Temple. But--how did Marbury get into the Temple, unobserved? We've made every enquiry, and we can't trace him in any way as regards that movement. There's a clue for his going there in the scrap of paper bearing Breton's address, but even a Colonial would know that no business was done in the Temple at midnight, eh?"
"Well," said Spargo, "I've thought of one or two things. He may have been one of those men who like to wander around at night. He may have seen--he would see--plenty of lights in the Temple at that hour; he may have slipped in unobserved--it's possible, it's quite possible. I once had a moonlight saunter in the Temple myself after midnight, and had no difficulty about walking in and out, either. But--if Marbury was murdered for the sake of what he had on him--how did he meet with his murderer or murderers in there? Criminals don't hang about Middle Temple Lane."
The detective shook his head. He picked up his pencil and began making more hieroglyphics.
"What's your theory, Mr. Spargo?" he asked suddenly. "I suppose you've got one."
"Have you?" asked Spargo, bluntly.
"Well," returned Rathbury, hesitatingly, "I hadn't, up to now. But now--now, after what you've told me, I think I can make one. It seems to me that after Marbury left Aylmore he probably mooned about by himself, that he was decoyed into the Temple, and was there murdered and robbed. There are a lot of queer ins and outs, nooks and corners in that old spot, Mr. Spargo, and the murderer, if he knew his ground well, could easily hide himself until he could get away in the morning. He might be a man who had access to chambers or offices--think how easy it would be for such a man, having once killed and robbed his victim, to lie hid for hours afterwards? For aught we know, the man who murdered Marbury may have been within twenty feet of you when you first saw his dead body that morning. Eh?"
Before Spargo could reply to this suggestion an official entered the room and whispered a few words in the detective's ear.
"Show him in at once," said Rathbury. He turned to Spargo as the man quitted the room and smiled significantly. "Here's somebody wants to tell something about the Marbury case," he remarked. "Let's hope it'll be news worth hearing."
Spargo smiled in his queer fashion.
"It strikes me that you've only got to interest an inquisitive public in order to get news," he said. "The principal thing is to investigate it when you've got it. Who's this, now?"
The official had returned with a dapper-looking gentleman in a frock-coat and silk hat, bearing upon him the unmistakable stamp of the city man, who inspected Rathbury with deliberation and Spargo with a glance, and being seated turned to the detective as undoubtedly the person he desired to converse with.
"I understand that you are the officer in charge of the Marbury murder case," he observed. "I believe I can give you some valuable information in respect to that. I read the account of the affair in the Watchman newspaper this morning, and saw the portrait of the murdered man there, and I was at first inclined to go to the Watchman office with my information, but I finally decided to approach the police instead of the Press, regarding the police as being more--more responsible."
"Much obliged to you, sir," said Rathbury, with a glance at Spargo. "Whom have I the pleasure of----"
"My name," replied the visitor, drawing out and laying down a card, "is Myerst--Mr. E.P. Myerst, Secretary of the London and Universal Safe Deposit Company. I may, I suppose, speak with confidence," continued Mr. Myerst, with a side-glance at Spargo. "My information is--confidential."
Rathbury inclined his head and put his fingers together.
"You may speak with every confidence, Mr. Myerst," he answered. "If what you have to tell has any real bearing on the Marbury case, it will probably have to be repeated in public, you know, sir. But at present it will be treated as private."
"It has a very real bearing on the case, I should say," replied Mr. Myerst. "Yes, I should decidedly say so. The fact is that on June 21st at about--to be precise--three o'clock in the afternoon, a stranger, who gave the name of John Marbury, and his present address as the Anglo-Orient Hotel, Waterloo, called at our establishment, and asked if he could rent a small safe. He explained to me that he desired to deposit in such a safe a small leather box--which, by the by, was of remarkably ancient appearance--that he had brought with him. I showed him a safe such as he wanted, informed him of the rent, and of the rules of the place, and he engaged the safe, paid the rent for one year in advance, and deposited his leather box--an affair of about a foot square--there and then. After that, having exchanged a remark or two about the altered conditions of London, which, I understood him to say, he had not seen for a great many years, he took his key and his departure. I think there can be no doubt about this being the Mr. Marbury who was found murdered."
"None at all, I should say, Mr. Myerst," said Rathbury. "And I'm much obliged to you for coming here. Now you might tell me a little more, sir. Did Marbury tell you anything about the contents of the box?"
"No. He merely remarked that he wished the greatest care to be taken of it," replied the secretary.
"Didn't give you any hint as to what was in it?" asked Rathbury.
"None. But he was very particular to assure himself that it could not be burnt, nor burgled, nor otherwise molested," replied Mr. Myerst. "He appeared to be greatly relieved when he found that it was impossible for anyone but himself to take his property from his safe."
"Ah!" said Rathbury, winking at Spargo. "So he would, no doubt. And Marbury himself, sir, now? How did he strike you?"
Mr. Myerst gravely considered this question.
"Mr. Marbury struck me," he answered at last, "as a man who had probably seen strange places. And before leaving he made, what I will term, a remarkable remark. About--in fact, about his leather box."
"His leather box?" said Rathbury. "And what was it, sir?"
"This," replied the secretary. "'That box,' he said, 'is safe now. But it's been safer. It's been buried--and deep-down, too--for many and many a year!'"