Authors: John Creasey
It all sounded so beautiful. If he'd had to sit down and work out a story to fit all that had happened, Mannering couldn't have done better himself. All the i's were dotted and the t's crossed. That was, if he could believe in two people in the early twenties being so dumb. That curious quality of naivete penetrated through everything that came to the surface in the case. Even in the acting story; and he didn't doubt Marjorie's histrionic ability. They'd actually believed that Mannering would hand over a diamond they knew to be worth a fortune . . .
Even they couldn't have believed that.
But they had; Marjorie's shock when he'd told her about the fake had been real shock.
Could Harding be so desperate, simply to get the jewel back for his father? Was that motive enough? Not by a hundred miles!
He'd told that tale well, made it almost convincing â perhaps too convincing; the last touch had been masterly.
âWhat the hell am I going to do?' demanded Harding. âIf I tell the policeâ'
A bell rang softly; it was the telephone from the shop to the office. The ringing sound was so low-pitched that it could be used when anyone was entering the shop, without the caller knowing.
Mannering lifted the receiver.
Simon's husky voice sounded in his ear.
âWe thought you would like to know, Mr. Mannering, that Superintendent Bristow is outside â or rather he is just stepping into the shop.'
âThanks,' said Mannering. âI'll see him in a moment.' He replaced the receiver, seeing that Harding was watching him intently; but Harding could not possibly have heard the Simon message.
âThe police have come to see me,' Mannering told him. âDo you want to make a statement?'
âNo! No, of course not.' Harding clenched his fists. âLook here, you haven't sent for them? This isn't a trick toâ'
âOh, be your age!' said Mannering. He was having too much of Harding-Addel tantrums. âThey don't know you, do they?'
âNot as far as I know. There's no reason why they should.'
âThen there's no reason why you shouldn't be a customer leaving the shop,' Mannering said. He stood up, and opened the door. âHurry. Yes, we'll look after all that for you,' he added in a louder voice, and shook hands. âGoodbye.'
âI do appreciate all your trouble,' said Harding with commendable steadiness. âWhen shall I see you again?'
âI'll tell you later â call me here or at home.'
Mannering ushered him out, to see Bristow waiting halfway along the shop.
There was no time to dwell on young Harding's story, no chance to check where it corroborated what he already knew. The visit from Bristow meant that the heat was on; Bristow would keep it on, giving him little chance to relax; and when with Bristow, a single mistake might prove fatal.
If Bristow knew who Harding was, for instance.
Carmichael went forward to open the door for Harding, and Mannering approached Bristow, who gave the youth a long, calculating stare, then turned to Mannering. So that trick was won. Bristow was looking a trifle drawn but was as spruce as ever. There was a fresh gardenia in his buttonhole; that was Bristow's favourite flower, and it was an unhappy day when he failed to get one.
âYou're just in time for tea, Bill,' greeted Mannering, and led the Superintendent into the office. Simon, as if by magic, brought in tea.
Bristow sat in Harding's chair. He wasn't sure of himself, which meant that he wanted something.
âWell, Mannering. I've asked you not to do too much on your own, haven't I?' His voice was flat.
âAnd I haven't.'
âYou knew Bray's body was in that room,' Bristow accused.
âMy dear chap! I can't see through a brick wall. â
âYou'd been upstairs â the lock had been picked. I've had it down and inspected it, and the marks are fresh. Why must you go crazy?'
Mannering murmured: âI didn't go crazy that way, Bill. But if I had, I would have called you just as quickly as I did.'
âOh, you knew he was there. One of these days when you do a job that â oh, forget it! Why did you chase the girl out of the shop? If you'd let her get away, we would have picked her up and had a much stronger case.'
âI didn't want her to panic,' said Mannering.
âHaven't you seen her eyes?'
âDon't be a fool. What had you been saying to her?'
âI warned her that she would be in trouble over the Adalgo stone, and that you would ask her many questions,' Mannering said. âAs she was bound to know that soon, I didn't see any harm in it. The bloodstains shook me. The office and yard had been covered in blood, and I thought you ought to know about it. Surely you can't complain about that. Any news of Bray's murderer?'
Bristow leaned back; in his manner there was a promise of frankness, a âwe're old friends, John, let's work this out between us' look.
âNot yet. He was killed in that office, there isn't much doubt about that. He was carried up to the stock-room, and the murderer tried to rub out the traces. I'm not sure whether either of the women partners knew anything about it. According to her statement, Miss Addel was away from the shop all the evening, butâ' Bristow hesitated; he was going to try to pull a fast one. âYou know as much as I do, I expect. She stayed the night at that house in Guildford.'
âWhich house?' asked Mannering.
âThe one she told you about.' Sly Bill Bristow!
Mannering chuckled. âShe didn't tell me about any place at Guildford, Bill. You may be surprised, but I spent ages trying to persuade her to be frank with you, and all I got for my pains was a kick in the shins. Did she tell you about that?'
âA hard one.'
âOh,' said Bristow, who knew he'd failed. “Well, you probably asked for it .She spent the night at Guildford, and came back late this morning.'
âYou'd better try to find out for yourself. She told you that she knew Bray, didn't she?'
Mannering looked blank.
âI told you that she didn't seem to know him. What's the matter with your memory today?'
Bristow leaned forward and smiled a little wanly; he was preparing another catch question, and looked as innocent as Marjorie Addel.
âTo tell you the truth, John, I'm tired. I've had a run of late nights, and I'm not feeling at my brightest. A good night's sleep would put me right. Sure she didn't mention Bray to you?'
âShe still insists that she doesn't know him,' said Bristow, with a fine disregard of consistency. It was when he appeared to be illogical, tired and losing his grip that he was most dangerous. âYet the man was killed there between the time they shut up at six o'clock last night, and midnight. He'd been dead about twelve hours. Say between nine and nine-fifteen.'
âThat's what the doctor says. What did you think when you saw Bray?'
âBut Bill, I haven't seen him since he died. You wouldn't let me, remember?'
âHow well did you know Bray?'
âCasually. We didn't do much business.'
âDid you like him?'
âWell enough to be sorry he's dead, and to hope you find the murderer, but not well enough to risk my neck.'
âI hope you mean that. Did Bray ever speak to you about a collector named Harding?'
Was that a trick question or just for information? Bristow stifled a yawn as he put it.
âDo you know a collector of that name?'
âI've never met one. There isn't one of importance, or I'd know him.'
âHe collects in a small way,' Bristow admitted. âHe saw Bray at Bray's office last night, about nine o'clock â a little after nine.'
âWhat's your game, Bill? Bray must have been killed between that time and midnight, not between six o'clock and midnight.'
Bristow didn't seem to hear that. âHarding and Bray had a fierce quarrel. People in the next office to Bray's heard them. Harding, who lives at Guildford, was recognised. A man who read about the murder told us about Harding's visit.'
âOh,' said Mannering. âPraise the press!'
âYou followed Marjorie Addel to Guildford. You know she went to Harding's place, don't you. You knew that she's in love with Harding's son. You knew she stayed there all night, and that was why she was late at the shop this morning.'
Mannering said: âDid I, Bill?'
Bristow growled: âYou think you're clever but you're a fool.' He stood up. âHarding is being questioned now. We've got him, and we're looking for his son. The son's an officious young upstart, by repute, and may think that you can help him better than the police. If he comes to you, you'll tell me at once.'
âWell, well,' said Mannering. âYou couldn't have known much sooner.'
There were limits to reticence; Paul Harding's visit had to be mentioned now.
âMeaning what?' Bristow demanded.
âHe was here just now.'
âThe man I saw going out?'
âI see,' said Bristow, slowly, ominously. âYou allowed him to go without telling me who he was. You had him here before I could get at him â a man who's urgently wanted. Ten minutes ago, you told me you'd never heard of a jewel collector named Harding. Now you have the impudence to admit that his son was sitting under my very nose when I came in the shop.' Bristow's voice was low-pitched, angry. âI've told you time and time again that one day you'll go too far, and this time you've done just that. For years â for eight years â you've gone your own sweet way, you've made a monkey of me a dozen times, laughed in my face because you've always had an answer and an alibi, but
time you've gone over the line. You may have stopped lifting jewels, but you haven't stopped trying to teach the police their job. Now you're going to have a chance of watching them at close quarters. You're coming with me to the Yard for questioning. You'll have to think up something very smart before you get away. You've deliberately withheld a wanted man, but you won't have a chance to do it again. Come on.'
Mannering put his head on one side, and stood up slowly. He took out his cigarette case, and lit a cigarette. Bristow turned to the door. He touched the handle as Mannering lit the cigarette.
Then Mannering gave a sudden, deep, hearty laugh.
It made Bristow snatch his hand away from the door and swing round.
âMy dear chap! Not you, you were wonderful. I shall remember that to my dying day.
Bristow snapped: âPerhaps your wife will think so.'
âStop stalling. We're going places.'
âWhenever you've a warrant, William.' What was this? Super bluff or sober action? Had Bristow come to take him to the Yard, and played a cat and mouse game until now?
âIt's still funny,' Mannering said. âIn this job, I've tried to keep things warm for you. Never again â I was a damned fool not to work on my own, working with you blunts what mind I've got. How the blazes did I know you wanted young Harding? I needn't have told you about the bloodstains, not about Marjorie Addel. You might not have known that Bray was dead for days, for weeks. Isn't it funny?'
âMaybe it was, until you let Harding walk out on me.'
âHow was I to know that you wanted him?'
âYou could guess.'
âSo you're that good. Forsythe and other bright newspapermen would have fun out of that â a man arrested because he didn't guess the next police notice. Have the papers mentioned that Harding was wanted?'
Bristow didn't answer.
Mannering rubbed his hands together briskly.
âCome on, Bill. Let's go. You won't feel proud of it later.'
âI'm not paid to feel proud.'
âYou're paid to do your job. Why don't you do it? You ought to know what young Harding looks like â you ought to have recognised him. Not so good, Bill, is it? A wanted man walks past you without any attempt at disguise, and you let him go.'
âWhy did you lie to me about knowing his father?'
âI don't know a collector named Harding. I know an impetuous young man who says his father collects precious stones, but that's the best I can do for you. Bill, you make one crazy mistake with me. Always at your elbow and at the back of your mind is the nonsense notion that I was once the Baron. If you could get that out of your head, you'd be a wiser man â and you'd know when to ask me for help. Do you know what's at the bottom of this job? Of course you do â the Adalgo diamond. Do you know who has, or did have, copies or similar stones? You don't? I
I'm probably the only man in the country who can help you in this particular case. And will I help? Just ask me! Come on, let's go. I'll call my attorney from the Yard.'
Bristow didn't move.
âAren't you anxious to let Inspector Tring have his great triumph?' asked Mannering. âOr are you worried in case I find a way to give Forsythe the story? It won't look too good, but you're not paid to look after your reputation, you're paid to get results. Remember?'
After a long pause, Bristow said: âI'll give you an hour to put on paper all you know about the Adalgo, the fakes and the similar stones, all that Harding told you and all you know about the girl and that dress shop. If I catch you out in a single lie, I'll charge you with complicity and hold you until the inquiry's over. Is that clear?'
Mannering sat on the corner of the desk; he felt warm.