Authors: John Creasey
“No robbery,” Mannering said almost lightly; he had been surprised at the depth of his own feeling, his fears, and now his relief. “What made you think there might have been, Bill?”
“May I see that?” inquired Bristow.
“Let's take it up to my office. The light's better.” Mannering pushed the sword back into the leather cover, and led the way up the cement steps. As he walked up he heard the telephone bell ring. He waved Bristow to a chair and picked up the telephone. “John Mannering here.”
“This is David,” Levinson said, in a voice which seemed very far away.
“Hallo, David,” Mannering said, as if there had been no estrangement. “When are you coming in?”
Levinson paused. Mannering began to hope that he was not going to be awkward again; it was so easy to get out of patience, and lost temper with Levinson would certainly do more harm than good.
“IâI wondered whether you would prefer me to stay away from the shop.” Levinson sounded in a chastened mood.
“There are several things for you to do here,” Mannering told him. “When can you come?”
“I'm at a call box in New Bond Street,” Levinson answered almost eagerly. “I could be at the shop in five minutes.”
“Make it fifteen,” Mannering said. “I'll see you then.”
He rang off before Levinson could speak again. If Bristow was interested in the call he did not show it, but sat opposite Mannering peering at the sword. The inspection light was just above his eyes, and he had a slim catalogue held at an angle from his forehead, to save his eyes from the direct rays of the light. Mannering had never seen such brilliance; even in the few moments while he had been talking to Levinson, the fiery scintillas seemed to have taken on a living, breathing beauty. He sensed Bristow's awe, too, and saw Larraby's hands clenching by his side. Larraby felt for jewels what some men felt for a beautiful woman â a passion that amounted almost to mania. He was breathing hard; so was Bristow.
Mannering sat at the corner of the desk, watched and waited; he seemed to be waiting for so much in this case. And Bristow seemed determined to be mysterious.
At last, he looked up.
“Magnificent,” he said, and moistened his lips. “Absolutely magnificent.” His right hand moved to his pocket and he drew out a shabby looking wash-leather bag, pulled out a wedge of cotton wool from it, and unfolded it; flashes of coloured light stabbed from it. He placed the miniature sword on the desk by the side of the big one, then pushed his chair back.
“John,” he said, “we've got to know the truth about these. I don't mean who took the miniature, I mean the basic truth. Are you any nearer to it?”
“I'm not sure,” Mannering said. “I'm going to see Gentian this afternoon; he might talk.”
“Make him,” Bristow urged. “I've just come from Sara Gentian.”
Something in his manner carried alarm.
“She's terrified of that sword and of the miniature,” Bristow declared. “She says that it must go back to Gentian House. We can't make her say why. We've had two doctors examine her this morning. They've pretty well agreed in their diagnosis. She is suffering from a form of hysteria, what can loosely be called temporary insanity.
She has some kind of fixation about that sword. Do you know Dr Prince?”
“Yes,” Mannering said; Prince was perhaps the best nerve specialist in the country.
“He told me that if she gets much worse she may go over the line for the rest of her life,” Bristow said. “She certainly won't talk to him, to other doctors, to psychiatrists. I wondered if” â he squared his shoulders as he looked up at Mannering â “if Lorna might be able to persuade her to talk.”
Mannering said: “Well, well.”
“Sara Gentian's tried twice again to get out of the nursing home. She seems to think that she's been put there to get her out of the way. If she were at a private homeâ”
Mannering laughed. “Lorna suggested it this morning,” he said. “She's due over at the nursing home now.”
Bristow's eyes lit up. “Two great minds,” he said. “If Lorna can persuade the girl to stay at your flat it will be a start, and if she can make her talkâ”
“One condition,” Mannering interrupted.
“The move is made in secret; no one knows where she is.”
“We'll fix that,” Bristow assured him. He stood up, taking the miniature sword from the table, wrapping it up in the cotton wool, and slipping it into the wash-leather bag. “Still think Levinson guiltless of all this?”
“You know what I think,” Mannering said.
“Well, don't let him jump his bail,” Bristow rejoined. “I don't think I have the same faith in that young man that you seem to have.”
Levinson came into the office, when Bristow had gone, looking as chastened as he had sounded over the telephone.
He also looked tired. He had shaved badly and cut himself slightly, just beneath his chin, leaving a line of dried blood. Mannering waved him to a chair.
“I'd rather stand, sir. It's good of you to let me come back whileâwhile I'm under this suspicion.”
“Didn't occur to me to do anything else,” Mannering said, “any more than it occurred to me that you took that miniature. What I want you to do is trace Claude Orde's movements. You'll need help â Josh Larraby will tell you whom to go to. I want as comprehensive a picture of Orde's recent movements as you can get in half a day. I want to know who he has seen in the City especially, who he has been with, his financial position â everything. It will mean a lot of high pressure inquiries, but it can be done. Willing to have a go?”
“Of course.” Levinson was almost eager.
“I'll tell Larrabyâ” Mannering began, and his finger hovered over a bell push.
“Just a moment, sir!” Levinson interrupted. He gave a nervous little cough. “I haveâI have an apology to make to you, and I really mean it.”
“Forget it, David,” Mannering said. “You were badly steamed up.”
“I was damned badly frightened,” Levinson confessed. “Mr Bristowâ” he coughed again. “Mr Bristow told me what you'd told him, andâwell, that made me feel as big a fool as I must have looked to you. I can't even explain what got into me. I just felt that you'd taken advantage ofâ”
“Forget it,” Mannering insisted. “Find out all you can about Orde. It could be vital.” He pressed the bell for Larraby to come in, and when the door opened went on to the manager: “Josh, I've told David what I want him to do. I think the best man to help him will be Cunningham, of the Cunningham Agency. Heâ”
“I've already had a word with Mr Cunningham,” Larraby said. “He will do all he can to help.”
When Levinson had left the shop, Larraby stood frowning at Mannering. Mannering sat back in his chair, and asked: “What is it, Josh?”
“I don't understand David, sir,” Larraby said. “I'm not at all sure that he understands himself. Cunningham could have done this work just as well if not much better without him. Are you hoping that if he thinks he has got a job to do, it will help him over this difficult situation?”
“That's it, Josh,” Mannering said lightly. “Any messages?”
“One from Mrs Mannering,” Larraby told him. “She said that she has arranged to see Miss Gentian early this afternoon. She will not be meeting you for lunch.” Even frowning, Larraby looked rather like a cherub grown up in years but hardly changed in appearance, his hair was so white and his pink cheeks so smooth. “I wasn't easy in my mind from the moment I saw Miss Gentian walk in here. There is something unhealthy in this affair â something that goes very deep. As deep as hatred,” he finished with great care.
“I know exactly what you mean,” Mannering said. “And I hope to find the answer at Gentian House. I'll be there by two fifteen.”
In fact, he drove in the Rapier straight to Gentian House, arriving about one o'clock. No cars were parked inside; the great iron gates with the Gentian Coat of Arms wrought into each gate were closed. The shutters were up at most of the windows, but two were open, at the top.
He drove to Hillbery Mews.
He made sure that no one followed him, passed the mews twice, then looked for a parking space; several meters were free within two minutes' walk of the mews.
He crossed the cobbles briskly, reached the little porch, rang the bell and knocked. There was no answer. He rang again, stood back and studied the porch, and saw a maid at one of the windows of another flat. He shrugged his shoulders, turned, and walked back towards the end of the mews. He went straight to his car, took out a long plastic raincoat, big and shapeless, and a mackintosh cap. He put these on. The weather justified it, for the wind was still blowing, and there was more than a promise of rain. He limped noticeably as he walked into the mews again. No one appeared at any of the windows of the mews apartments.
As he reached the porch he took out a bunch of keys, including a skeleton key. He slid this into the door, just as Levinson must have done, and opened it almost as quickly as with a real key; it was like sleight of hand. Without looking round, he stepped inside and closed the door. Immediately he went into the front room where he had been when the police had arrived. Standing close to one side, he looked out to find if anyone had followed him, or if anyone took any notice; no one appeared to. Satisfied, he went into the kitchen.
Nothing had been touched; even the towel was still where he had left it. He stood looking at the gas oven, picturing Sara Gentian sitting there, sleeping on the way to death. If Levinson hadn't caught up with her, remember, she would be dead. He moved to the small window of the kitchen which overlooked the blank wall. No one could observe him from here. He studied the room and walls, got the measurements in his mind, and looked from one wall to the next.
“That's the connecting wall,” he said
He approached a tall kitchen cabinet, which served as a larder. It was painted bright red, and was flush with the wall. He opened both doors; the fastenings clanged. He examined the back of the two shelves in front of him, and behind a pile of plates he saw a large chromium topped screw, suggesting that the cabinet was secured to the wall that way; but there was only one screw.
He pressed his thumb against the chromium and twisted; the head of the screw underneath moved under pressure. It fell off, clinking against the edge of the plates. The real head of a screw, with the usual indented line across it, showed at once. He took out his knife, opened a small screwdriver blade, and twisted the screw clockwise. Almost at once, he felt something yield. He continued to turn it, slowly, and realised that the whole cabinet was moving away from the wall. This was more than a screw; it was the control of a mechanism he had hoped to find.
He stood back.
The cabinet was at least six inches away from the wall. He put a hand to one side, and pulled; it moved further away until he could get through into the flat next door. The room beyond was a kitchen, spick and span in black and white. It had an unlived in look. There was no odour, nothing to suggest that anything had been cooked here for a long time. He stepped further through. The refrigerator was silent, and when he opened the door he found the inside dripping with water after a defrosting. A few tins of fruit were there, and some bottles of lager; that was all.
More boldly, Mannering went out of the kitchen into the living room. The flat was almost identical with the one next door, and it was necessary to go up a few stairs to get to the bedroom, where there was a divan bed. He opened the wardrobe which was built in exactly as the one next door. Inside were two party dresses, a flimsy dressing gown or negligÃ©e, and a suit, while at the other side was a man's suit, a pair of pyjamas and a dressing gown. He took the man's suit down, and examined it, holding it up against him. It was about his size, but would be too large for him â large enough, no doubt, for Claude Orde. He rummaged through the pockets, and found a handkerchief; the initials on it were C.O.
“This is more like it,” Mannering murmured to himself.
If this were Orde's place, and it seemed likely, then it was either a hiding place or a love nest. Mannering examined the women's clothes, half fearfully hoping that they were not Sara's. When he held them at arm's length he knew that they were much too small.
Looking out of the window, he noticed that a piece had been built on to his flat. He went back downstairs and opened the kitchen door, which led to an outhouse, probably once used for coal and wood; now there was no approach from the street because of the new building. On one side was a wooden bench, quite old, with a wooden vice, a rack of tools, a few tools stuck in the rack. At one end of the bench were shelves, and on the top shelf was a roll of some kind of material. When he took it down, some small pieces fell out of the roll. It was familiar to the touch, and when he opened it he realised that this was the leather out of which the outer sheath of the Mogul Sword had been made. The tools were a leatherworker's, and the intricate cutting and patterning on the sheath showed in some of the pieces which had been cut away.
In a drawer, he found some needles, finer than those usually needed for working in leather â but this leather was very soft and pliable. He felt it between his fingers, rolled it between his palms, and then folded a piece up and slipped it into his pocket. It seemed almost too thin for the sheath itself; perhaps it had been treated in some way.
Had Orde worked here?
He found a few traces of cigarette burns on the woodwork, and one cigarette end, at the back of the bench and hidden away by a cutting tool, daubed with bright scarlet; he needed no telling from whom that lipstick had come. He made a closer search. A few golden coloured hairs in a brush used for sweeping the shelves and bench down also betrayed Sara.