Ask Miss Mott - E. Phillips Oppenheim - ebook

Ask Miss Mott ebook

E. Phillips Oppenheim



Miss Mott quickly rose from the sound of knocking at her office door. She was engaged in the typical task of writing her advice to a young woman whose relationship with the acquisition had been pulled in, and she forgot the flight time. Her typist left, her ambassador was a boy and a shy but very nice young clerk who helped her in various activities. In other words, Miss Mott was alone on the top floor of the building, not far from Adelphi, and she did not wait for the subscriber during an hour that had passed during the working hours.

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Miss Mott looked up quickly at the sound of the knock at her office door. She had been engaged in the typical task of writing her advice to a young woman whose courtship affairs had become involved and she had rather forgotten the flight of time. Her typist had gone, also her messenger boy, and the lame, but very pleasant young clerk who assisted in her various activities. In other words, Miss Mott was alone on the top floor of a building not far removed from the Adelphi, and the hour being long past office hours, she was not expecting a caller.

“Come in,” she invited curiously.

From that moment onwards, strange things happened. First of all, the door was opened only about six inches, and a man’s hand–a very well cared for and shapely hand it seemed–crept through the aperture, felt about for a moment, and, finding the switch which controlled the electric light, pulled it firmly down, thereby plunging the room into darkness. The next moment the hand was withdrawn, and the owner had appeared in person, or rather had stepped through the now wide-opened door, and closed it carefully behind him. Little of him was to be seen in the darkness, except the blurred outline of a human being, slim, she imagined, but with broad shoulders, a trifle over medium height, perhaps, but with nothing aggressive in his appearance.

“What do you want?” Miss Mott demanded, an undernote of alarm in her tone.

There was no immediate reply, nor, for some reason or other, did Miss Mott expect one. Congratulating herself upon her presence of mind, she pulled the table telephone instrument towards her and lifted the receiver. There was no answer–a curious deadness, in fact, at the other end of the line. She peered through the gloom, and, although the sensation was unusual with her, she began to be afraid. Her visitor, while his back had been turned towards her, had donned a mask of some dark colour. He had now locked the door, put the key in his pocket, and was leaning back in the easy-chair which she kept for the more distinguished of her clients.

“I shouldn’t worry about that, if I were you,” he suggested, with a wave of his hand towards the telephone. “I am not an amateur, you know. I am a full-fledged professional criminal, with all the tricks of the trade at my finger tips. I cut the telephone cord outside the room.”

“Then you were guilty of a very impertinent action,” Miss Mott declared with spirit. “Who are you and what on earth can you want with me?”

“Keep calm, I beg of you,” he enjoined. “Do you suppose that I should be likely to mount all these stairs and pay you a visit at this inconvenient hour of the evening without wanting something? If you wait for a few moments in patience, you will certainly hear what it is.”

“Wait for a few more moments,” Miss Mott lied courageously, “and my secretary and clerk will both be back.”

He laughed, derisively but not unpleasantly.

“My dear young lady,” he pointed out, “since when have your secretary, and your messenger boy, and your director of intelligence, as I suppose you call the lame youth, returned at something after eight o’clock, when you have once dismissed them? They have all three left for the night. You are here, utterly alone, busily engaged in completing your column for Home Talks. In other words, you are delving into other people’s troubles and answering the long string of queries which you invite every week under the heading of:


“You seem to know a great deal about my business,” she remarked icily.

“Only,” he assured her, “since you began to interfere in mine.”

She liked his voice and she was not in the least alarmed now, but she realised to the full the unusualness of the situation.

“Perhaps you will tell me,” she invited, “when I had the misfortune to interfere in your affairs?”

“I am coming to that,” he promised her.

“Couldn’t we have the light on?” she begged. “I don’t like sitting in the darkness with a stranger on the seventh floor of a deserted building.”

“Compromising, my dear Miss Mott, I admit,” the voice from the shadows acknowledged, “but necessary. I am a very shy person, as most criminals are. My mask may disguise my features, but I cannot afford to give you the opportunity of taking note of other details of my person.”

“You are sure that you are a criminal, I suppose?” she ventured. “You see, I haven’t met many, and I need experience badly.”

“Absolutely certain,” he assured her. “Really, I should be a godsend to you. Not only am I a criminal, but I am a member of a gang which is very seriously looked upon by the police. If you were in the fortunate position of being able to deliver me up to justice, I have no doubt that you might commence your career auspiciously by touching several rashly offered rewards.”

“Then, if that is really your position, why are you here?” she demanded. “I have nothing worth stealing and I imagine a nicely brought up criminal doesn’t go about frightening young women, unless there’s something to be gained by it.”

“Very well put, Miss Mott,” he approved. “I will tell you why I am here. It is to stop your interference in my legitimate business.”

“But how can I have interfered with your business,” she argued, “when I don’t know what it is? And, furthermore,” she went on, “if you have a business, how can you be a criminal?”

“My dear young lady,” he remonstrated, “my business is crime.”

“Then what is your business with me?” she asked him point-blank.

He settled himself down more comfortably in his chair.

“I will explain,” he promised. “You have, I understand, for several years, conducted an extraordinarily successful column in a paper called Home Talks. You give advice, chiefly of course, to members of your own sex, who are in difficulties with their lovers, husbands, cookery or wardrobes. Excellent, so long as you stick to that. Lately, however, encouraged by certain minor successes, you have gone farther afield. You have placed yourself privately at the disposal of your clients who find themselves in any sort of difficulty whatsoever. In pursuit of your vocation, you have engaged a small staff, and you now call yourself, I think, an ‘Intelligence Agent’.”

“That seems to me a very reasonable definition of my activities,” Miss Mott admitted coldly.

“I will not quarrel with it,” he agreed. “You must permit me to point out, however, that you fly a little high when you interfere in the enterprises of any one so well known in the criminal world as your humble visitor.”

“Who are you then?” she enquired.

“I have many aliases,” he confided. “The one under which you would know me best, perhaps,–but, wait a moment.”

He rose to his feet and moved towards her. She was conscious of a sudden shiver, which, if it were not of fear, was certainly of some kindred excitement. Her pulses were stirred. She felt her heart beating more quickly. He made no attempt to come round to her side of the desk, however. He leaned over it, his eyes, through the slits in his mask, taking swift and appreciative note of her. She caught a gleam of something white in his hand and was at once aware of a waft of delicate perfume.

“Violet Joe!” she exclaimed.

He nodded approvingly.

“You are really quite intelligent,” he acknowledged. “So far as one can gather in this light, too, I should say that you are even more personable than I had imagined. All the same, you must be taught not to interfere in my affairs.”

“You are the man who is blackmailing–”

“Hush,” he interrupted. “One of the first lessons of our profession–yours and mine, I mean–which must be learned and adhered to, is ‘no names.’ I have a great many more serious crimes laid to my charge than the present one, but you may take it that it was from my agent that your messenger procured that little packet of letters yesterday afternoon at the Black Boy Inn at Cobham. I must congratulate you upon the idea. It was indeed a very cleverly thought-out piece of work, and I can assure you that it goes very much against the grain with me to insist upon having them back again.”

“So that is what you have come for!” she exclaimed.

“That is what I have come for.”

Miss Mott was not feeling quite so comfortable. She had an uncle in Scotland Yard who was fond of telling her stories about the famous criminals of the day and she had heard some very ugly tales indeed about the gang with which Violet Joe was connected. There was a murder case in which they were supposed to be concerned, and a case of manslaughter in the suburbs which was put down to them. There was also a crop of minor burglaries attributed to them, and only recently a terrible assault on a wealthy financier, in which the latter had been half killed and robbed of a very large amount of money. She dimly remembered that a reward of a thousand pounds had been placed upon the head of the leader of the gang.

“How do you know that I have not already parted with those letters?” she asked. “You are quite correct in what you say. My agent brought them in yesterday afternoon.”

“Because,” he answered–“shall I be indiscreet, for once, and mention names?–Mrs. Bland Potterson comes back from Brighton to-night, and she is almost certain to have asked you to deliver them into her own hand. That might almost be one reason why you are working late here. In any case, the letters are in that drawer on your right-hand side and I am afraid that I must ask you to hand them over to me.”

It was a very exciting moment for Miss Mott. She had embarked bravely enough upon the high seas of adventure, but she had never dreamed of anything like this happening within a few weeks of her start. How she prayed for a single gleam of light! How she longed to see behind that enveloping mask of purple silk! The eyes and the voice had both their separate thrill, but, more than anything else in the world, she wanted at that moment to look into the face of Violet Joe.

“Supposing I refuse?” she suggested.

“That seems such a foolish supposition,” he argued, a touch of weariness in his tone. “You are not a large person, Miss Mott. I personally have a penchant for small, elegant young ladies of your type and build, but you will admit that they are not in a position to deal with affairs where physical strength is the deciding factor. You have heard a few things about Violet Joe, I daresay?”

“I have indeed,” she acknowledged.

“Not all to my detriment, I hope?” he enquired anxiously.

“Mostly negative,” she confided, sitting upright in her place. “I have heard that you absolutely decline to carry firearms in any of your enterprises, that you can break a man’s wrist with your hands, that you are an amateur boxer, a famous wrestler, and all those stupid things. They are part of the equipment of your profession, I suppose.”

“Slightly withering,” he commented.

She shrugged her shoulders. Her eyes were becoming accustomed to the gloom now and she could trace the outline of his figure as he lounged opposite.

“One wonders,” she went on, “why a man so well equipped as you to fight for what he wants should stoop to the lower branches of crime–perhaps I should say the lowest branch of all–blackmailing.”

“Ah, but my dear Miss Mott,” he expostulated, “you do not know Mrs. Bland Potterson. You have probably never met Mr. Bland Potterson. I can assure you that if you had made their acquaintance, you would understand the joy–the positive ecstasy–of having them both shivering in their shoes.”

“I don’t know either of them,” Miss Mott acknowledged, “but I don’t see what that has to do with it. In any case, I have the letters and I am going to carry out my contract. I am not in the least afraid of you. Besides–”


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