Jennerton & Co - E. Phillips Oppenheim - ebook

Jennerton & Co ebook

E. Phillips Oppenheim

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Impatient of the numerous checks which had held up his car all the way from Croydon, Gerald Jennerton let down the window and looked out. London, he realised at once, was swallowing him up. Not the London upon which he had gazed half an hour ago from his earthward-gliding aeroplane–a huge, tumbled chaos of obscurity, with its far-spreading myriads of lights–but an engulfing wilderness of endless streets, through which cars from every direction seemed to be racing to some magnetic centre.

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Liczba stron: 310

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Contents

I. THREE BIRDS WITH ONE STONE

II. JUDGMENT POSTPONED

III. THE TAX COLLECTOR

IV. THE LION’S DEN

V. THE YANKEEDOODLE KID

VI. WAITING FOR TONKS

VII. NUMBERS ONE AND SEVEN

VIII. TAWSITTER’S MILLIONS

IX. THE MAN WITH TWO BAGS

X. THE GREAT BEAR

I. THREE BIRDS WITH ONE STONE

Impatient of the numerous checks which had held up his car all the way from Croydon, Gerald Jennerton let down the window and looked out. London, he realised at once, was swallowing him up. Not the London upon which he had gazed half an hour ago from his earthward-gliding aeroplane–a huge, tumbled chaos of obscurity, with its far-spreading myriads of lights–but an engulfing wilderness of endless streets, through which cars from every direction seemed to be racing to some magnetic centre.

The pavements were thronged with crowds of human beings, multitudinous, innumerable, like drab ants passing before the brilliantly lighted shop windows. Farther northward a deeper red glowed in the misty sky–the reflection of the burning heart of the city. The young man glanced at his watch. After the smooth flying through windless skies, this laboured progress tugged at his nerves. All the time, too, there was that mysterious telegram in his pocket.

Presently, although the crowds grew even denser and the tramway lines more complicated, the thoroughfares became wider, and progress speedier. They passed one of the great railway termini, joined in the slowly moving stream of traffic across the bridge, crawled along the Strand where the December fog was now an actual thing, turned at last into that long, comparatively silent street, which had always seemed to Gerald Jennerton, on his rare visits to it, like the backwater of a turbulent river, and finally pulled up in front of a great stone building from every window of which lights seemed to flash. There were several taxis outside, half a dozen cars parked opposite. Gerald, descending and entering hastily, passed through a motley little crowd in the corridor on his way to the elevator and mounted to the third floor. He knocked at the door of one of the rooms and was promptly admitted. A large man, of pompous appearance, with grey hair inclined to curliness, and a pince-nez balanced on the end of his long nose, greeted him with apparent satisfaction.

“Ah, Mr. Gerald! Excellent! You can go, Miss Smithson,” he continued, dismissing the secretary to whom he had been dictating some letters. “I will ring for you when I am disengaged.”

The young woman disappeared and Gerald took her place.

“You are here sooner than I had thought possible,” Mr. Brigstock remarked. “Which of my wires found you?”

“I was at San Remo. I caught the first train to Nice, flew to Paris yesterday and here this afternoon. What’s wrong?”

Mr. Brigstock coughed portentously and removed his pince-nez, disclosing red-rimmed eyes of unexpected weakness.

“Something ridiculous,” he confided, “yet something in a way alarming. Your father has disappeared.”

“My father has what?”

“Disappeared–walked out on us–left the place last Tuesday night without a word or a message to any one, and hasn’t been heard of since.”

“Good Lord!” the young man exclaimed. “What have you done about it–Have you let the police know?”

Mr. Brigstock frowned heavily. He leaned back in his chair and toyed negligently with the cord of his glasses.

“My dear Mr. Gerald!” he remonstrated. “Think for a moment. We are Jennerton’s Limited; we are the greatest firm of private detectives the world has ever known–a more important corporation now than even our American rivals. Who are we to go to the police–If we publish what has happened, we shall be the laughingstock of the world. The head of the firm of Jennerton’s tricked and abducted, or a voluntary exile, and his firm unable to discover his whereabouts! Consider the position, I beg of you. We have to be very careful how we move.”

There was a brief silence. A puzzled expression crept into Gerald Jennerton’s handsome, sunburned face. He was young, apparently about twenty- five or twenty-six years of age. His bearing, voice, everything about him, denoted a secure and gentle position in life.

“Have you moved at all in the matter?” he enquired.

“Our disappearance section has made a few cautious enquiries,” Mr. Brigstock replied, “but we are very anxious indeed to keep the matter out of the papers. There is scarcely a soul in this building who knows what has happened.”

“Who saw him last?”

“Harmon, his servant. Your father, as you know, was a man of extraordinarily regular habits. At five o’clock on Tuesday he left his office, went upstairs to his apartment, read the newspapers, had a bath, changed his clothes, and punctually at seven o’clock left here and went around to his club, where he usually dined. He has not returned since, although there are several matters of importance here, awaiting his decision. I suggest now that we go up to the apartment and that you see Harmon.”

The young man, still a little dazed, rose to his feet, and accompanied by his father’s partner, mounted to the top floor of the building where the missing Mr. Jennerton had an apartment. A middle-aged manservant of sombre appearance ushered them into the living room.

“Queer business this, Harmon,” Gerald remarked, as soon as the door was closed.

“A very strange business indeed, sir,” the man said.

“Was the Governor in good health?”

“I have never known him better, sir.”

“And spirits?”

“Excellent. It was a foggy night on Tuesday, and his last words as he left were, ‘I’m not sure Mr. Gerald hasn’t got the better of us out in Florence.’”

“So far as you know his plans were to spend the evening in the usual way?”

“Absolutely, sir.”

“What was the report from the club?” Gerald asked his companion.

“We have made the most searching enquiries there, as a matter of course. Your father arrived at his usual time, played several rubbers of bridge, dined; but instead of joining his friends in the cardroom afterwards he put on his hat and overcoat and left the club. The commissionaire fancies that he saw him enter a taxi, but he was too far off to hear him give any address.”

“Had my father any important cases which he was looking after himself?” Gerald enquired.

Mr. Brigstock produced a small notebook from his pocket, divided his coat tails carefully and sat down.

“Your question is a very natural and apposite one,” he remarked approvingly. “There are two affairs to which your father was giving his personal attention. The first one concerns the disappearance of a young lady–Miss Clarice Laurieson, by name–photograph herewith, from one of the most exclusive boarding schools on the south coast. We received, some ten days ago, a most agitated visit from Miss Townley, the principal of the establishment, who pointed out that to appeal to the press or to the police would mean ruin for her, and your father promised to interest himself in every possible way in discovering the young lady’s whereabouts. So far as I know he has not met with any success, but he was without a doubt working on the case.”

“And the other affair?”

“A very bad blackmailing case, put into our hands, I am sorry to say, after the–er–victim, Lord Porleston, had already parted with a considerable amount of money. It seems that his lordship was induced by some one or other to go to a private establishment to take dancing lessons. The full details are in your father’s possession, but one gathers–er–that his lordship was discovered by the blackmailer, connected no doubt with the establishment, in a compromising situation with one of the young ladies. The seriousness of the affair lies principally in the high social and philanthropic position occupied by his lordship.”

“Were these the only two cases on his private book?”

“The only two recent ones, but, as I dare say you know, it has been one of the ambitions of your father’s life to bring about the arrest of Edgar Morris–the Bristol forger and murderer. The police of New York and London have searched Europe for him vainly for three years, and as a firm we were connected with the matter of his last exploit. He has remained undetected so long, however, that until last week interest in the case–‘Murdering Morris’ he was called, by the bye–had faded somewhat into the background.”

“And last week?”

“Your father had a communication,” Mr. Brigstock announced, “the nature of which he apparently did not divulge to any member of the firm–certainly not to me. He sent for all Morris’ records, however, his photographs and the photographs of his fingerprints. He went over to Scotland Yard to see if they had any later information, and for several days he had one of our best men making enquiries in the southwest of London.”

“Where is that man?” Gerald asked quickly.

“Unfortunately, on his way to the States. Your father sent him over to see the Commissioner at New York.”

The house telephone, which connected Mr. Jennerton’s apartment with the offices, rang, and Mr. Brigstock hurried away to keep an appointment. Gerald remained upon the hearth rug, looking around the comfortably furnished library. Mr. Jennerton, Senior, had been a self-made man, but he was a man of taste. The curtains and hangings were harmonious, the few bronzes were excellent, the sporting prints authentic and the furniture Georgian of the best period–a thoroughly comfortable man’s room.

“You have the keys of my father’s drawers, I suppose?” Gerald asked the servant.

“I don’t think there’s a single thing locked, sir,” Harrnon replied. “Any valuables or anything to do with the business the master kept in his section of the safe downstairs.” The young man pulled open the drawers and examined the contents. At the third one he paused.

“So far as I remember, Harmon,” he said, “my father always used to keep a revolver in here.”

“He did, sir. I noticed it last week.”

Gerald searched once more.

“Well, it’s gone,” he announced finally, “and there’s a broken box with six missing cartridges.”

Harmon was puzzled. “I never knew the master to load his revolver in his life, sir,” he confided. “He always used to say that the days had gone by for that sort of thing.”

Gerald nodded. “Old-fashioned stunt he used to call it, I remember, carrying firearms. Did you go through the pockets of the clothes he took off on Tuesday afternoon?”

“You will find everything that was there on the corner of the mantelpiece, sir.”

Gerald glanced over them–a very harmless collection of oddments. There was a torn fragment of thin pasteboard, however, in the cigarette case, which appeared to be the only object of interest. It was a highly glazed portion of what might have been a plain visiting card, and upon it, in characters so faint that he had to take it to the clearer light to trace them, were written the figures “7107 Chelsea.”

“Have you ever heard my father ring up that number, Harmon?”

“Never, sir,” the man replied. “As a matter of fact, the master never rang up a number himself. He hated the telephone.” Gerald placed the torn piece of pasteboard carefully in his pocket. “I can stay here, I suppose, Harmon?”

“Your room is always ready, sir.”

There was a knock at the door and Mr. Brigstock made his reappearance.

“Know anything about this telephone number?” Gerald enquired, producing the card.

Mr. Brigstock studied it through his pince-nez. “Never heard of it,” he announced.

“Could you find out who owns the number?”

“We have a special department for dealing with that sort of thing–a matter of five minutes at the most.” He spoke through the house telephone and gave a brief order. “No other discovery I suppose, Mr. Gerald?”

“Only one thing, and that I don’t quite like the look of,” Gerald confided gravely. “My father appears to have taken his loaded revolver with him on Tuesday.”

Mr. Brigstock was seriously concerned. “That,” he observed, “seems to carry out the idea that your father had got on the track of ‘Murdering Morris’, though why he should have kept it to himself I can’t imagine. I have been with the firm, as I dare say you know, for nineteen years, and there’s never been a time yet when he hasn’t told me if there was anything serious looming. I don’t understand it–I don’t understand it at all.”

“Neither do I,” Gerald agreed gloomily.

“Your father and I are past the age for deeds of violence,” his partner continued, pulling down his waistcoat a little over what was an undoubted protuberance. “There are members of our staff who are trained in the use of firearms, jujitsu, and all means of self-defence, but we ourselves have for years been concerned only with the civil side of the business. Our personalities, too,” Mr. Brigstock concluded, “after all these years, are too well known for us to engage with any likelihood of success in what I might–er–call the rough stuff. Your father’s action, therefore, becomes the more–er–unaccountable.”

There was a knock at the door, and a clerk entered, bearing a typewritten slip of paper. Mr. Brigstock, after a glance at it, passed it over to Gerald:

Number 7107 Chelsea is the telephone address of Miss Vera Cassan, Number 19a, Walmer Street, Chelsea.

Mr. Henry Wenderby, on that same evening, holding an umbrella over his head and, with due regard to his dancing shoes, avoiding the puddles en route, crossed the street and rang the bell of Number 19a, Walmer Street, Chelsea. A trim-looking maidservant promptly answered his summons and ushered him into a comfortable little sitting room on the ground floor.

“Mr. Wenderby,” she announced.

The girl upon the sofa raised herself and nodded. She was very young and attractive in a queer sort of way–pale, with rather square features, and large, wonderfully coloured eyes of a changing shade of hazel. Her delicately marked eyebrows, light brown hair shingled in the latest mode and the entire absence of cosmetics of any sort gave her an air of peculiar distinction. She welcomed her visitor with a lazy smile.

“Sit down for a moment, Mr. Wenderby,” she invited him. “Help yourself to some coffee and bring your chair up here.”

Mr. Wenderby obeyed without hesitation. He was a man a little past middle age apparently, stout but with a well-knit figure, a healthy complexion, a humorous mouth and keen grey eyes. His hostess watched him thoughtfully as he poured out the coffee.

“For an Australian, Mr. Wenderby,” she remarked, “you have very nice hands.”

“It’s because of my slack days in London,” he confessed. “Somehow or other I don’t know how to pass the time, so I just drop in and have a manicure.”

“Always at the same place?”

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