She Faded into Air - Ethel Lina White - ebook

She Faded into Air ebook

Ethel Lina White

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Ethel Lina White tried to confuse us again. In the story „She Faded into Air” a lot of thinking is needed, there is some logical chain. The main character, Evelyn Cross, disappears in a tannic manner when she enters a London apartment. Detectives get down to business, but not so simple.

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Liczba stron: 329

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Contents

I. ACCORDING TO THE EVIDENCE

II. NUMBER SIXTEEN

III. PROTECTION OF PROPERTY

IV. GIFT FROM CINDERELLA

V. POTTED PERSONALITIES

VI. WEIGHTS AND MEASURES

VII. MONEY TALKS

VIII. POSTE RESTANTE

IX. A LADY CALLED "NELL"

X. A LADY'S PRIVILEGE

XI. LEAKAGE

XII. COURTESY OF THE POLICE

XIII. STANDING BY

XIV. PHOTOGRAPHS

XV. THE FIRST CLUE

XVI. HAND-MADE GLOVES

XVII. ACCIDENT

XVIII. "WHERE ARE YOU?"

XIX. AN OPENED WINDOW

XX. "BY HAND"

XXI. MADAME VACATES

XXII. DRIVE TO SAFETY

XXIII. RANSOM

XXIV. CHIVALRY LIVES ON

XXV. STARFISH AVENUE

XXVI. LOOKING-GLASS PLOT

I. ACCORDING TO THE EVIDENCE

THE story of the alleged disappearance of Evelyn Cross was too fantastic for credence. According to the available evidence, she melted into thin air shortly after four o’clock on a foggy afternoon in late October. One minute, she was visible in the flesh–a fashionable blonde, nineteen years of age and weighing about eight and a half stone.

The next minute, she was gone.

The scene of this incredible fade-out was an eighteenth-century mansion in Mayfair. The Square was formerly a residential area of fashion and dignity. It had escaped a doom of complete reconstruction, but some of the houses were divided up into high-class offices and flats.

This particular residence had been renamed “Pomerania House” by its owner, Major Pomeroy. He speculated in building property and had his estate office, as well as his private flat, on the premises.

The ex-officer might be described as a business gentleman. Besides being correctly documented–Winchester, Oxford and the essential clubs–he had not blotted his financial or moral credit. In appearance he conformed to military type, being erect, spare and well dressed, with a small dark tooth-brush moustache. His voice was brisk and his eyes keen. He walked with a nonchalant manner. He had two affectations–a monocle and a fresh flower daily in his buttonhole.

Shortly after four o’clock on the afternoon of Evelyn Cross’ alleged disappearance, he was in the hall of Pomerania House, leaning against the door of his flat, when a large car stopped in the road outside. The porter recognized it as belonging to a prospective client who had called previously at the estate office to inquire about office accommodation. With the recollection of a generous tip, he hurried outside to open the door.

Before he could reach it, Raphael Cross had sprung out and was standing on the pavement. He was a striking figure, with the muscular development of a pugilist and a face expressive of a powerful personality. Its ruthless force–combined with very fair curling hair and ice-blue eyes–made him resemble a conception of some old Nordic god, although the comparison flattered him in view of his heavy chin and bull-neck.

He crashed an entrance into the hall, but his daughter, Evelyn, lingered to take a cigarette from her case. She was very young, with a streamlined figure, shoulder-length blonde hair and a round small-featured face. With a total lack of convention she chatted freely to the porter as he struck a match to light her cigarette.

“Confidentiality, we shouldn’t have brought our dumb-bell of a chauffeur over from the States. He’s put us on the spot with a traffic cop.”

“Can’t get used to our rule of the road,” suggested the porter who instinctively sided with Labour.

“It is a cockeyed rule to keep to the left,” admitted Evelyn. “We took a terrible bump in one jam. I’m sure I heard our number plate rattle. You might inspect the damage.”

To humour her, the porter strolled to the rear of the car and made a pretence of examining the casualty before he beckoned the chauffeur to the rescue. When he returned to the hall, the major had already met his visitors and was escorting them up the stairs.

The porter gazed speculatively after them, watching the drifting smoke of the girl’s cigarette and the silver-gold blur of her hair in the dusk. The skirt of her tight black suit was unusually short so that he had an unrestricted view of her shapely legs and of perilously high-heeled shoes.

As he stood there, he was joined by an attractive young lady with ginger hair and a discriminating eye. Her official title was “Miss Simpson,” but she was generally known in the building by her adopted name of “Marlene.” She was nominally private secretary to a company promoter who had his office on the second floor; but as the post was a sinecure she spent much of her time in the ladies’ cloakroom on the ground floor, improving her appearance for conquest.

“Admiring the golden calf?” she asked, appraising the quality of the silken legs herself before they disappeared around the bend of the staircase.

“She’s got nothing on you there, Marlene,” declared the porter.

He had a daughter who was a student at a commercial school and was biased in favour of typists.

“Except her stockings, Daddy. Where’s the boss taking them?”

“I was asking myself that. The gent’s a party after an office. There’s only a small let vacant, right at the top and that’s not in his class.”

“Maybe the girl’s going to Goya to get her fortune told,” suggested the ornamental typist, tapping her teeth to suppress a yawn.

For nearly ten minutes she lingered at the foot of the stairs, chatting to the porter and on the outlook to intercept any drifting male. The place, however, was practically deserted, so presently she mounted the flight on her way back to her office. She paused when she reached the landing of the first floor, where there were three mahogany doors in line, each embellished with a chromium numeral.

Just outside the middle door–No. 16–the major stood talking to Raphael Cross. Impressed by the striking appearance of the fair stranger, she patted the wave of her ginger hair and lingered in the hope of making a fresh contact.

Consequently she became a witness to the beginning of the amazing drama which was later entered in Alan Foam’s case book as “Disappearance of Evelyn Cross.”

Although she was friendly with the major, on this occasion he was neither responsive nor helpful. He merely returned her smile mechanically. Only a keen observer might have noticed a flicker of satisfaction in his hawk-like eye, as though he had been expecting her.

Then he started the show, like the White Rabbit in Alice in Wonderland, by pulling out his watch.

“Your daughter’s keeping you a dickens of a time,” he remarked to Cross. “I thought she said she’d be only a minute. You’re a patient man.”

“Used to it.” Cross grimaced in continental fashion. “I’ll give her a ring.”

He prodded the electric bell of No. 16 with a powerful forefinger. After a short interval it was opened by the tenant of the apartment–Madame Goya.

She was stout, shortish and middle-aged. Her blued-white permanently waved hair did not harmonize with an incongruous dusky make-up and orange lipstick. Her eyes were dark, treacly and protruding, in spite of being set in deep pouches. She wore an expensive black gown which flattered her figure and a beautiful emerald ring.

“Will you tell my daughter I’m ready to go,’ said Cross.

“Pardon?” asked the woman aggressively. “Your daughter?”

When Cross amplified his request, she shook her head.

“Miss Cross was here only to make an appointment. She left some time ago.”

“Left?” echoed Cross. “Which way?”

“Through this door, of course.”

He stared at her as though bewildered.

“But the major and I have been standing outside,” he said, “and I’ll swear she never came out.”

“Definitely not,” agreed Major Pomeroy. “Are you sure she’s not still inside, madame?”

“If you don’t believe me, come in and see for yourself,” invited Madame Goya.

Throbbing with curiosity, the ornamental typist crept to the closed door of No. 16, after the men had gone inside. She heard voices raised in angry excitement and the sound of furniture being bumped about. Presently the major came out alone. His face wore a dazed expression as he took hold of her elbow.

“You’ve just come upstairs. Beautiful, haven’t you?” he asked. “I suppose you did not notice a blonde in black coming down?”

“No,” she replied. “I didn’t meet a pink elephant either. It’s not my day for seeing things. What’s all the blinking mystery?”

“Hanged if I know,” said the major helplessly. “Boss out, isn’t he? Be a good girl and nip round to every office and flat in the place. Ask if anyone’s seen her. They haven’t. I know that. But I’ve got to satisfy her father.”

The ornamental typist made no objection to being useful, for a change. She spun out her inquiries to a series of social calls throughout Pomerania House. True to the major’s forecast, no one had seen a loose blonde, so presently she returned to the first floor.

Raphael Cross, the fair stranger who had attracted her fancy, had come out of No. 16 and was pacing the landing as though on the verge of distraction. Her first glance at him told her that it was no time for overtures. His features were locked in rigid lines and his eyes looked both fierce and baffled. He glared after the figure of the porter as the man returned to his station in the hall. The major spoke to him in a low voice.

“You heard what the fellow said. I’ve known him for years before I employed him. He’s definitely reliable.”

“The hell he is,” growled Cross. “Someone’s lying. Where’s my girl?”

“Oh, we’ll find her. I admit it’s an extraordinary affair. Almost uncanny. I’m at a loss to account for it, myself. But you may be sure there’s some simple explanation.”

“I know that. This is a put-up job. There’s someone behind all of this. It’s an infernal conspiracy.”

Major Pomeroy stiffened perceptibly, while the sympathy died from his eyes.

“Who do you suspect?’ he asked coldly.

“I’ll tell you when I’ve got my girl back. I don’t leave this ruddy place without her. Order that porter to see to it that no one goes out of this building until there’s been a systematic search through.”

“Certainly... Shall I ring up the police?”

The question checked Cross’ hysteria like a snowball thrown in his face. He hesitated and gnawed his lip for some seconds before he made his decision.

“No, Pomeroy.” His voice was low. “This may be kidnapping. If it is, the police are best kept out.”

The major’s hostility melted instantly.

“I understand,” he said in a feeling voice. “Come down to my office and I’ll ring up a reliable private detective agency.”

Halfway down the stairs, he returned to caution Marlene.

“Keep your eyes open and your mouth shut–there’s a good girl.”

“Cross my heart.”

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