Chapter XVIII. The Silent Shot
 

That faithful servitor of Fleet Street, the Law Courts clock, had just finished striking seven. It boomed out the hour, stroke by stroke, solemnly, inexorably, like a grim old judge summing up and driving home, point by point, an irrefutable charge. The heavy strokes broke in upon the fitful doze into which Robin Greve, stretched out in an armchair in his living-room, had dropped.

He roused up with a start. There was the click of a key in the lock of his front door. Bruce Wright burst into the room.

The boy shut the door quickly and locked it. He was rather pale and seemed perturbed. On seeing Robin he jerked his head in the direction of the courtyard.

"I suppose you know they're still outside?" he said.

Robin nodded nonchalantly.

"There are three of them now," the boy went on. "Robin, I don't like it. Something's going to happen. You'll want to mind yourself ... if it's not too late already!"

He stepped across to the window and bending down, peered cautiously round the curtain.

Robin Greve laughed.

"Bah!" he said, "they can't touch me!"

"You're wrong," Bruce retorted without changing his position. "They can and they will. Don't think Manderton is a fool, Robin. He means mischief ..."

Robin raised his eyebrows.

"Does he?" he said. "Now I wonder who told you that ..."

"Friends of yours at Harkings asked me to warn you ..." began Bruce awkwardly.

"My friends are scarcely in the majority there," retorted Robin. "Whom do you mean exactly?"

But the boy ignored the question.

"Three men watching the house!" he exclaimed; "don't you think that this looks as though Manderton meant business?"

He returned to his post of observation at the curtain.

Robin laughed cynically.

"Manderton doesn't worry me any," he said cheerfully. "The man's the victim of an idée fixe. He believes Parrish killed himself just as firmly as he believes that I frightened or bullied Parrish into doing it ..."

"Don't be too sure about that, Robin," said the boy, dropping the curtain and coming back to Robin's chair. "He may want you to think that. But how can we tell how much he knows?"

Robin flicked the ash off his cigarette disdainfully.

"These promoted policemen make me tired," he said.

Bruce Wright shook his head quickly with a little gesture of exasperation.

"You don't understand," he said. "There's fresh evidence ..."

Robin Greve looked up with real interest in his eyes. His bantering manner had vanished.

"You've got that letter?" he asked eagerly.

Bruce shook his head.

"No, not that," he said. Then leaning forward he added in a low voice:

"Have you ever heard of the Maxim silencer?"

"I believe I have, vaguely," replied Robin. "Isn't it something to do with a motor engine?"

"No," said Bruce. "It's an extraordinary invention which absolutely suppresses the noise of the discharge of a gun."

Robin shot a quick glance at the speaker.

"Go on," he said.

"It's a marvelous thing, really," the boy continued, warming to his theme. "A man at Havre had one when I was at the base there, during the war. It's a little cup-shaped steel fitting that goes over the barrel. You can fire a rifle fitted with one of these silencers in a small room and it makes no more noise than a fairly loud sneeze ..."

"Ah!"

Robin was listening intently now.

"Parrish had a Maxim silencer," Bruce went on impressively.

"Parrish had?"

"It was fitted on his automatic pistol, the one he had in his hand when they found him ..."

"There was no attachment of any kind on the gun Parrish was holding when he was discovered yesterday afternoon," declared Robin positively; "I can vouch for that. I was there almost immediately after they found him. And if there had been anything of the kind Horace Trevert would certainly have mentioned it ..."

"I know. Jay, who came in soon after you, was surprised to see that the silencer was not on the pistol. And he made a point of looking for it ..."

"But how do you know that Parrish had it on the pistol?..."

"Well, we don't know for certain. But we do know that it was permanently fitted to his automatic. Jay has often seen it. And if Parrish did remove it, he didn't leave it lying around any where. Jay has looked all through his things without finding it ..."

"When did Jay see it last?"

"On Thursday!"

"But are you sure that this is the same pistol as the one which Jay has been in the habit of seeing?"

"Jay is absolutely sure. He says that Parrish only had the one automatic which he always kept in the same drawer in his dressing-room ..."

Robin was silent for a moment. Very deliberately he filled his pipe, lit it, and drew until it burned comfortably. Then he said slowly:

"This means that Hartley Parrish was murdered, Bruce, old man. All through I have been puzzling my mind to reconcile the unquestionable circumstance that two bullets were fired--I told you of the bullet mark I found on the upright in the rosery--with the undoubted fact that only one report was heard. We can therefore presume, either that Hartley Parrish first fired one shot from his pistol with the silencer fitted and then removed the silencer and fired another shot without it, thereby killing himself, or that the second shot was fired by the person whose interest it was to get rid of the silencer. There is no possible or plausible reason why Parrish should have fired first one shot with the silencer and then one without. Therefore, I find myself irresistibly compelled to the conclusion that the shot heard by Mary Trevert was fired by the person who killed Parrish. Do I make myself clear?"

"Perfectly," answered Bruce.

"Now, then," the barrister proceeded, thoughtfully puffing at his pipe, "one weak point about my deductions is that they all hang on the question as to whether, at the time of the tragedy, Parrish actually had the silencer on his pistol or not. That is really the acid test of Manderton's suicide theory. You said, I think, that a rifle fired with the silencer attachment makes no more noise than the sound of a loud sneeze!"

"That's right," agreed Bruce; "a sort of harsh, spluttering noise. Not so loud either, Robin. Ph ... t-t-t! Like that!"

"Loud enough to be heard through a door, would you say?"

"Oh, I think so!"

Robin thought intently for a moment.

"Then Mary is the only one who can put us right on that point. Assuming that two shots were fired--and that bullet mark in the rosery is, I think, conclusive on that head--and knowing that she heard the loud report of the one, presumably, if Parrish had the silencer on his automatic, Mary must have heard the muffled report of the other. What it comes to is this, Mary heard the shot fired that killed Parrish. Did she hear the shot he fired at his murderer?"

"By Gad!" exclaimed Bruce Wright impressively, "I believe you've got it, Robin! Parrish fired at somebody at the window--a silent shot--and the other fellow fired back the shot that Mary Trevert heard, the shot that killed Parrish. Isn't that the way you figure it out?"

"Not so fast, young man," remarked Robin. "Let's first find out whether Mary actually heard the muffled shot and, if so, when ... before or after the loud report."

He glanced across at the window and then at Bruce,

"I suppose this discovery about the silencer is responsible for the deputation waiting in the courtyard," he said drily.

"The police don't know about it yet," replied Bruce; "at least they didn't when I left."

Robin shook his head dubiously.

"If the servants know it, Manderton will worm it out of them. Hasn't he cross-examined Jay?"

"Yes," said Bruce. "But he got nothing out of him about this. Manderton seems to have put everybody's back up. He gets nothing out of the servants ..."

"If Parrish had had this silencer for some time, you may be sure that other people know about it. These silencers must be pretty rare in England. You see, an average person like myself didn't know what it was. By the way, another point which we haven't yet cleared up is this: supposing we are right in believing Parrish to have been murdered, how do you explain the fact that the bullet removed from his body fitted his pistol?"

"That's a puzzler, I must say!" said Bruce.

"There's only one possible explanation, I think," Robin went on, "and that is that Parrish was shot by a pistol of exactly the same calibre as his own. For the murderer to have killed Parrish with his own weapon would have been difficult without a struggle. But Miss Trevert heard no struggle. For murderer and his victim to have pistols of the same calibre argues a rather remarkable coincidence, I grant you. But then life is full of coincidences! We meet them every day in the law. Though, I admit, this is a coincidence which requires some explaining ..."

He fell into a brown study which Bruce interrupted by suddenly remembering that he had had no lunch.

For answer Robin pointed at the sideboard.

"There's a cloth in there," he said, "also the whisky, if my laundress has left any, and a siphon and there should be some claret--Mrs. Bragg doesn't care about red wine. Set the table, and I'll take a root round in the kitchen and dig up some tinned stuff."

They supped off a tinned tongue and some pâté de foie gras. Over their meal Bruce told Robin of his adventure in the library at Harkings.

"Jeekes must have collected that letter," Bruce said. "Before I came to you, I went to Lincoln's Inn Fields to see if he was still at Bardy's-- Parrish's solicitor, you know. But the office was closed, and the place in darkness. I went on to the Junior Pantheon, that's Jeekes's club, but he wasn't in. He hadn't been there all day, the porter told me. So I left a note asking him to ring you up here ..."

"The case reeks of blackmail," said Robin thoughtfully, "but I am wondering how much we shall glean from this precious letter when we do see it. I am glad you asked Jeekes to ring me up, though. He should be able to tell us something about these mysterious letters on the blue paper that used to put Parrish in such a stew ... Hullo, who can that be?"

An electric bell trilled through the flat. It rang once ... twice ... and then a third time, a long, insistent peal.

"See who's there, will you, Bruce?" said Robin.

"Suppose it's the police ..." began the boy.

Robin shrugged his shoulders.

"You can say I'm at home and ask them in," he said.

He heard the heavy oaken door swing open, a murmur of voices in the hall. The next moment Detective-Inspector Manderton entered the sitting-room,