Authors: John Creasey
“What happened to him?” Mannering asked quietly as he looked at the mask-like face of the old man.
“As far as I can judge, morphine poisoning,” the grey-haired man declared. “Certainly one of the narcotics.”
“This is Dr.Â Rush,” said Druitt. “This man came straight up to this room which you booked,” put in the detective.
booked?” Mannering echoed.
“It was booked in the name of Mannering.”
“Not by me,” Mannering said.
Now his mind was racing over the possibilities, none of them pleasant. Some things were now quite obvious. The blonde had met Toji at the airport and pretended that Mannering had sent her. They had come straight here, Toji expecting to see Mannering, and had been taken straight up to a room reserved in his name. It was too easy to see what conclusions one could reach from those facts.
“If you didn't book the room, why did you come here?” the detective asked.
It would be simple to argue and refuse to answer: it would also waste time.
“Someone telephoned my wife to say I was wanted here,” said Mannering. “Has everything been done to help Toji?”
“Everything,” said the doctor.
“An ambulance is on the way,” put in Druitt. “Once we realised what was wrong we didn't lose any time.”
“What are his chances?” Mannering wanted to know that desperately.
“In my view he hasn't a chance,” Dr.Â Rush declared flatly.
The words were hardly out of his mouth before the roar of an engine sounded outside in the street. It stopped. Doors slammed and footsteps clattered. Soon two ambulance men carrying a stretcher came into the room. Mannering watched as they lifted Toji on to the stretcher and carried him out. He felt a great sense of shock; in some ways this was unbelievable. But his mind and his eyes were working. He saw Toji's single lightweight suitcase in a corner, a trilby hat, a furled umbrella, a folded raincoat.
Detective Officer Druitt said: “Are you
“I'm Mannering of Quinns,” Mannering said.
“That's what I mean, sir. Did you expect the Jap here?”
The use of “Jap” irritated Mannering but he knew that he mustn't show it. He told his story briskly and comprehensibly, seeing belief replacing the doubt in the detective's eyes. He finished: “He isn't Japanese, he's a Thai, a very respected man in Bangkok and among dealers everywhere.”
“Thank you, sir. You think this blonde woman met Mr. Toji at the airport and told him you'd sent her, do you, sir?”
“I think it's possible.”
“As she already booked a room for you here, she must have been pretty sure that the visitor had come to see you, mustn't she? Have you told anyone?”
“Only my office manager.” Mannering had kept Toji's confidence so faithfully that he had not even told Lorna. “No one discovered that Toji was coming here from my end.” As he spoke he realised that he would have to make a formal statement soon, probably at the Yard. That would be better than telling this man everything now, and repeating it. “I'll be glad to make a full statement when it can be taken down properly,” he went on. “Just now we ought to look about the room.”
“A murder squad is on the way from the Yard,” the detective said. “We'll have to leave everything until then.”
“Of course,” Mannering said, as if he accepted that without question. “I'll be back in a few minutes.” He hurried out, guessing that Druitt would stay in the room until his colleagues arrived. Dr.Â Rush was in a small room off the hall, talking to the tall woman and the plump grey-haired man.
“No one is going to blame you,” he was saying almost testily. “I doubt if your hotel will be named. Let me know if there's anything I can do. Elsie, if you take my advice you'll keep busy about the house. If you sit around you'll just brood over it.” He turned away, and looked startled at sight of Mannering. “Ah, Mr. Mannering. You've met Mr. and Mrs. Smith, no doubt. Most distressing experience for them.” He nodded, and bustled off.
The man and woman turned to Mannering.
“Please don't worry my wife with any more questions,” Smith pleaded. “She's dreadfully upset as it is.”
“Who took the telephone booking in the name of Mannering?” inquired Mannering.
“I did,” the woman answered.
“Elsie, there's no needâ”
“Was the woman already staying here?” Mannering ignored the plump man's objections.
“Yes, she came last night,” the woman replied. “She registered under the name of Yates, and said she had some business in London this morning. It's terrible.
“Did she have any luggage?” asked Mannering.
“Just one case,” Smith answered. “But pleaseâ”
“The police will ask all these questions, and it should be a help to go over them now,” Mannering said persuasively. He did not think questions would really harm Mrs. Smith. They might even save her from a bout of hysterics. “Was anyone else with her?”
“Mr. Mannering, we run a respectable hotel!”
“I'm sure you do,” said Mannering hastily. “But did she leave by herself? Apparently she drove to London Airport to meet Mr. Toji.”
“She said she had hired a drive-yourself car,” answered Smith. “She went off in a taxi at eight o'clock, and came back with the man in an Austin. The man said he was to wait in Mr. Mannering's room, and as it was empty I didn't see any harm in that.”
“Did you see Miss Yates leave?”
“Has she paid her bill?”
“She paid in advance for bed and breakfast,” the proprietress answered. “She seemed charming and honest, I can't believe she had anything to do with this awful thing.”
“I wonder if I could have a look in her room,” Mannering said.
The hotel-owner and his wife were still so upset and preoccupied that they raised no objection, and led Mannering up to the second floor. As they reached it, two cars and a swarm of men arrived downstairs.
“That will be the rest of the police,” Smith said. “I'd better go and see them. Elsieâ”
“Why don't I look after your wife,” suggested Mannering, “while you have a word with the police?”
“Thank you, thank you.” Smith hurried downstairs. His wife, looking very pale, opened the door of a small room in which a narrow window overlooked the back garden and the backs of similar houses in the next street. The bed was made, the room had the unlived-in look of most hotel rooms.
“When did you make up the room?” asked Mannering.
“Soon after Miss Yates left. After all, I didn't knowâ”
Mannering interrupted: “Was there anything left about?”
“No, she had packed her case â it was standing just there.” Mrs. Smith pointed to the window. “I made the room up myself, so I know what I'm talking about, I really do. Staff is so short, and in any case they
do their work properly.”
“Did you empty the waste-paper basket?” asked Mannering.
“There wasn't really anything in it, except last night's newspapers.”
“Do you still have them?” asked Mannering.
“I always keep newspapers, you never know when they'll come in useful. But whyâ”
Mrs. Smith broke off as footsteps sounded on the stairs. Mannering had a quick look round but saw nothing which might interest or help him, until he looked behind the old-fashioned walnut dressing-table, with its wing mirrors. Curled up on the floor was a cylinder of paper. He could not get at it easily, but could see a shiny surface on the outside and some printing which showed through.
The woman hurried towards the door. Mannering squeezed behind the dressing-table and picked up the roll of paper. As he did so, Druitt's voice sounded: “I understand that the young woman stayed on this floor, Mrs. Smith.”
“Yes she did. Sheâ”
The hotel proprietress put on her more nervous, strident voice. She broke off as Mannering held the little cylinder in his left hand.
Druitt and another plainclothes man came in.
“What are you doing here?” Druitt asked sharply.
“Looking around,” Mannering said.
“I thought I toldâ”
“I don't think I like being told anything,” Mannering interrupted coldly. “If I'm wanted, I'll be at Quinns. Thank you, Mrs. Smith.”
He nodded curtly to the detective and went out. He half expected to be stopped, but Druitt let him go. A policeman on duty at the front door actually saluted.
Mannering turned towards the Bayswater Road. He took the roll of paper out of his pocket. It was a gummed label which had curled up and come off a piece of baggage. Square and yellow with black printing, it ran:
B.I.C: British India Steamship Navigation Company
There was no name of vessel, nothing else to help, but if this had come off the blonde Miss Yates's baggage, it could mean a great deal. There was no certainty that it had, of course, but it was very new-looking. He folded it in half, carefully, and placed it in his wallet, then looked about for a taxi. One came along as he reached the corner.
“Scotland Yard,” he ordered.
Mannering sat back, with a picture of the little man from Bangkok vivid in his mind's eye. He had absorbed the shock, but the real sadness of the situation was beginning to affect him. He could recall Toji's bright, eager face, his thoroughness, the way his eyes lit up whenever he was discussing Oriental jewels. Toji had been a dedicated man â and he had come to England with such implicit trust in Mannering.
Was he dead by now? Or had he a chance to live?
Was it conceivable that he had taken the Mask of Sumi with him to the Compton Hotel?
Mannering found questions streaming through his mind one after the other. The most insistent was:
how had anyone in London learned what Toji had brought with him and known it had been worth stealing?
Quite suddenly it dawned on Mannering that he wasn't using logic and reasoning; he was jumping to conclusions. There was as yet no proof that robbery had been the motive. There could have been other motives for his murder â and the word
wasn't yet justified. It was even conceivable that Toji had killed himself.
“Nonsense!” Mannering said aloud. “He wouldn't have come to England to commit
The taxi turned into the Embankment gates of New Scotland Yard, and stopped at the foot of the steps leading up to the C.I.D. building. Mannering paid off the driver, walked up the steps, and was welcomed by a sergeant in the reception hall.
“Haven't seen you for a long time, Mr. Mannering. Hope you're well, sir.”
“Very well, thanks. And you?”
“Can't grumble, sir. Mr. Bristow said to go straight to his office.”
Mannering was startled, but covered his surprise well. He knew the way up to the next floor and to the office of Superintendent William Bristow, old friend, old adversary, and the Yard's expert on precious stones. A sergeant was coming out of Bristow's office as Mannering arrived.
“Morning, Mr. Mannering!” he welcomed heartily.
The sergeant held the door open. Mannering went in to a large, airy, sunny office with a view of the Thames which was bright in the summer sun. Bristow was now grey, grey-haired, grey-moustached (except in the middle where it was stained with nicotine) and grey-clad. His hair was cut short, and his moustache was clipped. He was spruced to the point of immaculacy, and sported a white gardenia.
“Hallo, John.” He stood up and stretched his hand across his desk. “I thought it wouldn't be long before you came to make your peace.”
“Has there been a war?” inquired Mannering.
“The Division thinks you probably engineered the Toji affair yourself for some nefarious purpose known only to dealers in precious stones,” Bristow said. “Sit down.” He pushed cigarettes across the desk. “Do you know why Toji killed himself?”
“So you did think it was murder,” Bristow said smugly. “You can't be right every time, can you?”
“Are you sure he killed himself?”
“Oral dose of morphia, in tablet form. He had a small phial of the tablets in his pocket. His fingerprints are on the phial, a fragment even on one of the other tablets. He swallowed them about one o'clock today, if Dr.Â Rush is right. And he's dead now.”
Although he had expected it, news of Toji's death was a shock. Mannering stood up and crossed to the window, really upset. Then he went back to the desk.
“Did you know him well?” asked Bristow, in a much more sympathetic tone.
“Why did he come to England?”
“Shall we have a stenographer in?” suggested Mannering. “Then I can make a real job of the whole story.”
“Of course,” Bristow said.
Mannering dictated for over five minutes to a woman stenographer. Bristow made no comment until she had left, but studied the letter and cable from Toji, which Mannering had brought with him.
“Someone knew what he had brought here,” Bristow said at last. “There can't be any doubt about that.”
“What did he have with him?” asked Mannering.
“Don't you know?”
Bristow said: “The Mask of Sumi.”
“I can't believe he'd bring it.”
“He did. Customs officers saw and examined it. Toji actually declared it on his declaration form as a jewelled mask of great antique value known as the Mask of Sumi.”
“How do you know it was genuine?” asked Mannering huskily.
“I don't think you need have any doubts about that,” Bristow retorted. “Toji told the Customs officer that he had brought the mask to prove the genuineness of the Collection he had to offer. He said that he was coming to see you. I've since checked with the London Airport police and your friend Justin. The woman Yates told Toji she was your personal assistant, and obviously convinced him, because he went off with her without any hesitation.”