Authors: James Pattinson
He did not much care for that kind of situation.
When he got back to the flat he examined the parcel. He felt a strong inclination to open it and take a look at the contents. Banner had not specifically forbidden him to do so, but he had almost certainly taken it for granted that Cade would not, and unfortunately the parcel was so well sealed that it would have been impossible to open it and then re-wrap it without leaving obvious evidence of the operation. Reluctantly Cade decided to let his curiosity go unsatisfied.
He glanced round the room, searching for a place in which to hide the parcel. As he had told Banner, he had no safe; but Banner had not seemed worried by the fact and had said nothing about locking the parcel away. So perhaps after all it was of no great value except from the sentimental point of view. He still did not think this was likely, because Harry Banner had always struck him as being about the most unsentimental
going; but it was not impossible. So let it go at that.
After considering various alternatives he decided to stow the parcel behind the three volumes of Prescott’s “History of the Conquest of Mexico” in his bookcase. It was no real hiding-place of course, but nowhere in
the flat was there any repository that would have baffled a resolute searcher for more than a few minutes at the most. And why should there be a resolute searcher
Let Prescott shoulder the responsibility.
to the sound of the door buzzer. He rubbed the sleep out of his eyes and switched on the light. He glanced at the bedside clock and saw that it was not yet eight. Who could be calling at that hour? Only one possible early morning visitor came into his mind and that was Harry Banner. But he had said that he was leaving town.
The buzzer continued its sleep-destroying noise; whoever was outside there pressing the button was certainly persistent.
“All right, all right,” Cade muttered. “I’m coming, damn you.”
He rolled out of bed, stepped into a pair of slippers and pulled on a dressing-gown. The buzzer was still going when he opened the door of the flat A young police-constable in a peaked cap was standing outside.
The constable took his finger off the button and said: “Mr. Cade?”
“Yes,” Cade said.
“Sorry to get you out of bed, sir.” There was a hint
of reproach in the constable’s apology, as though in fact he felt that no one had any right to be in bed at that hour. “I wonder if you’d mind getting dressed and coming with me?”
“Where to? And why?”
“There’s been an incident.” The constable seemed to be speaking with some delicacy. He had a round, babyish face and looked about eighteen. His appearance was probably deceptive. “The superintendent thinks you may be able to help him.”
Cade did not like the sound of things. That bit about helping the superintendent had an ominous ring to it. “What’s this all about?” he asked. “How on earth can I help?”
“The superintendent will tell you, sir.”
“And suppose I refuse to come?”
“It’s up to you, sir, of course, but your co-operation would be very much appreciated.”
Cade detected the carefully veiled pressure. It would be prudent to co-operate; hindering the police in the performance of their duty was not the kind of activity calculated to do you much good. Besides, his curiosity had been aroused and he was enough of a journalist not to allow curiosity to go unsatisfied if he could help it.
“You’d better come inside,” he said. “I’ll dress at once.”
The constable walked in and closed the door behind him. Cade went to the bathroom, cleaned the stubble from his face with an electric razor, brushed his teeth and washed. He returned to the bedroom and dressed quickly. When he went back to the sitting-room he
found the constable by the bookcase apparently reading the titles of the books. He wondered whether the young man had noticed that there was a parcel behind the volumes of Prescott.
“Interested in literature?” Cade asked.
“I read when I have the time,” the constable said. He did not mention the parcel. There was no reason why he should, even if he had noticed it. And there was no reason to believe that he had noticed it “Are you ready, sir?”
“There wouldn’t be time for a cup of coffee first, I suppose?”
“The superintendent is inclined to be impatient. He’s probably chewing his nails as it is.”
“All right,” Cade said. “You go ahead. I’ll follow.”
The constable went to the door, opened it and stepped outside. Cade took the parcel from the bookcase and slipped it into his pocket. He put on his coat and went out of the flat, locking the door behind him.
The patrol car was standing on the kerb. There was another constable sitting behind the wheel. The one who had invited Cade to go with them opened the rear door. Cade got in. The constable closed the door and got in beside the driver. The car moved off. It was the way they took villains for questioning. Cade began to feel like a villain.
“How far is it to the police-station?” he asked.
“We’re not going to the station,” the baby-faced constable said. “We’re going to a hotel.”
So it was something to do with Harry Banner. He had guessed so from the start; the mention of the hotel merely
confirmed the suspicion. He wondered what trouble Harry had got himself into now, but he knew it was of no use asking the policemen he would just have to be patient for a while; all would soon be clear, and maybe he would not like it any better when it was.
It was certainly not the Savoy. It was a seedy, rundown sort of place where you might have expected to meet seedy, run-down commercial travellers or unsuccessful actors. There were half a dozen worn stone steps leading up to the front door with rust-pitted railings on each side. The door was a sickly yellow and the paint was peeling; the building itself was crushed between two other establishments in a similar line of business and of a similar seediness. In the street were two or three police cars and an ambulance, and there were several idlers hanging about and looking as if they would have liked to climb the steps and poke their inquisitive noses in at the hotel doorway but were deterred from doing so by the presence of a large uniformed policeman stationed at the entrance.
The baby-faced constable opened the car door for Cade and waited for him to step out As Cade did so he was aware of a ripple of interest in the party of onlookers. He might have felt flattered by this evident interest in him if he had not been reasonably certain that he was being regarded as some kind of criminal who would undoubtedly soon be reaping the just reward for his misdeeds.
“This way,” the constable said, and he led the way up the steps, through the doorway and into a narrow entrance hall that was more a passage than a lobby.
There was a kind of hatch opening into a cramped little office on the right, and straight ahead was a steep flight of stairs with a worn carpet and banisters that looked as though they had taken more polish from the hands of the hotel guests than from any other source. A smell of coffee and fried bacon was in the air, mingling with other, less easily definable odours that might have emanated from damp walls and inefficient plumbing.
A man was inside the cramped office. He poked his head out when Cade and the young constable came into the hotel. He had a long, sad face and pouches under his eyes, lank, thinning hair and little pits in the end of his nose like the indentations in a strawberry.
“Oh, my God!” he said. “More of you.”
“I’ve been here before, Mr. Solly,” the constable said. “You’ve seen me.”
“Oh, my God!” Mr. Solly said. “So you have.” He seemed to derive no consolation from the fact. “My God,” he said, “why did this have to happen to me? As if I didn’t have enough troubles already. What sort of reputation do you think this is going to give the hotel?”
Cade gathered that he was the proprietor. Judging by what he had seen of the hotel, he doubted whether anything that had happened in it could have any serious effect on its reputation; but perhaps Mr. Solly saw qualities in it that were invisible to the normal eye.
“Oh, my God!” he said. “This is going to ruin me.”
“I doubt it,” the young constable said, and he began to climb the stairs.
Cade followed him.
The room was on the second floor. It was not large
and it seemed to be full of men. The furniture was spartan; it consisted of a single bed, a wooden wardrobe, a dressing-table and a chair. Across from the door was a window; the wallpaper had a pattern of flowers, rather faded, as though autumn had come to them also.
The young constable approached one of the men and spoke to him with some deference. “Mr. Cade, sir.”
“Thank you, Sims,” the man said. He did not look as though he had been chewing his nails; he looked splendidly calm, “That will be all at the moment.”
The constable withdrew from the room. Cade could hear him walking down the corridor towards the stairs.
“Good of you to come so quickly, Mr. Cade. My name’s Alletson. Detective superintendent.” He was a heavily-built man with a pale, squarish face and blue eyes. “Rather nasty business here, I’m afraid.” He sounded mildly regretful; his voice was a trifle hoarse and as he spoke he rubbed two fingers up and down his left cheek as though testing the smoothness of his morning shave.
Cade noticed that all except one of the men in the room were standing. One was using a camera and lighting surroundings with the momentary glare of flashbulbs, another had a small brush and a small jar of some kind of powder, a third appeared to be taking measurements. The odd man out was lying on the floor. He was not moving. He was lying on his left side and he had his back to Cade, so that it was impossible to see his face completely. But Cade did not need to see the face to know that the man was Harry Banner; he recognised the suit and he knew Banner’s shape. He knew too that Banner was dead.
“I’d like you to tell me whether you can identify this man,” Alletson said.
He put a hand on Cade’s arm and guided him as he might have guided a blind person to the other side of the man on the floor.
Cade looked down at Banner and felt a hot wave of anger. There was linoleum on the floor, and Banner’s cheek was on the linoleum and his eyes were open. But they were not seeing anything; they would never see anything again. His jacket was unbuttoned and his shirt was visible. There was a dark stain on the shirt and there was a patch of something dark on the linoleum also; but he had not bled much.
“You know who this man is?” Alletson asked.
“Yes,” Cade said. “It’s Harry Banner.”
He was still looking at Banner’s face and remembering things; remembering Buenos Aires and the pampas and the great times they had had; remembering above all what a good friend Harry had been. And there was a hot anger in him, burning inside him, because somebody had killed that friend and now there was nothing that anyone could do to bring him back.
Alletson was pulling at his arm again. “Come over to the window. I’d be glad if you’d answer a few questions.”
The window looked out on to a car park. The light had strengthened a little, but it was obviously going to be a sunless day. There was nothing cheerful in the view from the window, nothing to raise the spirits.
“Bring the chair, sergeant,” Alletson said. “For Mr. Cade.”
“I don’t need a chair,” Cade said. He rested his hands on the window-sill, holding his anger.
“Mr. Banner was a friend of yours, Mr. Cade?”
“Yes.” Cade turned and saw that the sergeant had his notebook out. The sergeant looked about thirty; he had a long chin and sunken cheeks; his face was expressionless.
“When did you last see him?”
“Last night. He rang up at about seven and came round to my flat He left a little after ten.”
“Any particular reason why he should come to see you?”
“We’d known each other in Buenos Aires. That was six years ago. Hadn’t met since. It was natural he should want to see me. He didn’t arrive back in England until yesterday.”
“I know,” Alletson said.
Cade accepted the statement without surprise. The police had been there long enough to have gone through Banner’s things; they would have found his passport and any other papers he might have had about him. If the parcel had been there they would have found that too. Cade knew that he ought to tell Alletson about the parcel, but he said nothing.
“What did Mr. Banner talk about?” Alletson asked.
“About the old days; things we’d done. You know how it is when friends meet after a long time.”
“Did he tell you what he’d been doing lately?”
“He said he’d been working for a man named Gomara in Venezuela.”
“He didn’t say exactly. He seemed a bit reticent about himself in that respect.”
“Had you kept in touch with him since you last saw
him in Buenos Aires?”
“No. I didn’t even know whether he was alive until he rang up yesterday.”
“He didn’t mention any trouble that he might have been involved in?”
“Any enemies he’d made?”
“No. As far as I knew he had no enemies.”
Alletson pursed his lips. “It seems that he had nevertheless.”
“Yes,” Cade said. And then: “How did you get my name and address?”
“He’d jotted it down in a notebook.”
“He must have done that when he looked it up in the telephone directory.”
“Then he tore the page out.”
“Tore it out?”
“We assume so. We couldn’t find it.”
“He must have pressed rather heavily on the pencil. The impression went through to the next page.”
Cade was thinking. It could, of course, have been as Alletson had suggested; Banner could have torn out the page and destroyed it. On the other hand, it was just as possible that the murderer had taken it. And if that should be so other unpleasant possibilities came up; such as another visit to his own flat, and not this time by a police-constable.
“When was he killed?” Cade asked.
“Almost certainly soon after he returned last night His body was discovered by a maidservant He’d left instructions to be called early.”
“Yes. He was going away for a few days.”
“He told you that?”
“Did he say where he was going?”
“No. Just that he was going away.”
“But he intended coming back?”
“Did he make any arrangements to meet you again?”
“Nothing definite. He said he would let me know when he was back in London.”
“You knew he was staying in this hotel of course?”
“No. He didn’t tell me where he was staying.”
“Didn’t you consider that strange?”
“I thought he had his own reasons for not telling me. I didn’t press him.”
“Perhaps he didn’t want to involve you.”
Alletson gave a wry smile. “If we knew that our problem would be half solved. But perhaps we shall find out. The two men might be able to help us with the answers—if we could trace them.”
“What two men?”
The photographer was packing his gear. “I’ve finished here, sir.”
Alletson nodded. The fingerprint man also appeared to have run out of likely material for his attentions.
“What two men?” Cade repeated.
Alletson looked at him. “Didn’t I tell you? The proprietor saw Banner arrive last night at about a quarter to eleven with two men. They were walking close together. They went up the stairs together.”