The Dagger and Cord - Aidan de Brune - ebook

The Dagger and Cord ebook

Aidan de Brune

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The dead body of a beautiful girl in a disused house, the secret meeting room in the cellar, a baffling murder mystery... „The Dagger and Cord” is another mystery by Aidan de Brune (Herbert Charles CULL). It’s all great fun and the author keeps the action moving along swiftly, as he always did. Wonderful entertainment and highly entertaining. If you haven’t discovered the joys of Brune’s mysteries there is a good place to start. Aidan de Brune was a Canadian-born writer who settled in Australia. In the 1920s and 1930s a number of his novels appeared in Australian newspapers as serials, and he also appears to have written serials specifically for publication in newspapers.

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Liczba stron: 481

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Contents

CHAPTER I

CHAPTER II

CHAPTER III

CHAPTER IV

CHAPTER V

CHAPTER VI

CHAPTER VII

CHAPTER VIII

CHAPTER IX

CHAPTER X

CHAPTER XI

CHAPTER XII

CHAPTER XIII

CHAPTER XIV

CHAPTER XV

CHAPTER XVI

CHAPTER XVII

CHAPTER XVIII

CHAPTER XIX

CHAPTER XX

CHAPTER XXI

CHAPTER XXII

CHAPTER XXIII

CHAPTER XXIV

CHAPTER XXV

CHAPTER XXVI

CHAPTER XXVII

CHAPTER XXVIII

CHAPTER XXIX

CHAPTER XXX

CHAPTER XXXI

CHAPTER XXXII

CHAPTER XXXIII

CHAPTER XXXIV

CHAPTER XXXV

CHAPTER XXXVI

CHAPTER XXXVII

CHAPTER XXXVIII

CHAPTER XXXIX

CHAPTER XL

CHAPTER XLI

CHAPTER XLII

CHAPTER I

“WANT 7a Peyton Place?” Sam Kearney swung round on the swivel-chair, his ruddy face alight with keenness. “What for?”

“To sell.” Roy Onslay leaned back and calmly met the gaze of the big estate speculator. “You know I do a bit in that line, Mr. Kearney.”

“So I’ve heard.” The lower lip of the square, ruddy race jutted out fiercely. “Maybe one day you’ll find yourself bought and sold, m’boy.”

Roy did not answer. The Peyton Place property did not represent a big deal in the quickly developing city of Sydney. It was a two-story building in a back street not far from Circular Quay, and with only fifteen years of a long lease to run. The price would not be large, possibly well under five thousand pounds. He was prepared to go to that limit, but not a penny beyond.

“The Peyton Place property!” Sam Kearney leaned back in his chair until the solid structure groaned beneath his big weight. “There’s a bare fifteen years of the lease to run, and you won’t get it renewed. Well, it’s your look out. What’ll you give!”

“Three thousand pounds.”

“And–”

“I’ve got to make a profit, Mr. Kearney.”

“Then talk up in thousands. I’ll tell you where to stop.” The big speculator swung round towards his desk and picked up a letter. “Should tell you I’ve a man coming to see me in a few minutes, and you have a long way to go.”

“Meaning?”

“You’re wasting time.”

“Three thousand five hundred.” The big speculator picked a cigar from an open box on the table and bit off the end. There was a grim little smile lurking at the corner of his mouth.

“Suppose you give me a starter, Mr Kearney.

“Offers reviewed. Go ahead, boy. That was a good break. Five hundred at a jump, but, you’ve got a long way to go.”

“Four thousand!”

“My, You’re anxious for it.” Sam Kearney lit the cigar. “I’ll say you’re getting warm–but, keep on.”

“I’ll wait until you put it up for auction.” Roy took his hat from the corner of the desk.

“Mayn’t.” The man did not look up.

“You’ve no reserve?”

“What’s yours?”

“I’ll go my limit. Five thousand pounds!”

“That all!”

“The last penny.”

For a long minute the big man sat and stared at Roy. Not a muscle of his massive face changed, only from between the thin, firm lips came a spiral of fragrant smoke. With a shrug of his shoulders he swung the protesting chair towards his desk and drew to him a pile of papers.

“Nothing doing–good day!”

ON THE Pitt Street pavement Roy Onslay looked up at Aiken House, in which Sam Kearney had his offices. He was puzzled. His expert knowledge told him he had offered well over the value of the lease. At the outside it was not worth more than four thousand pounds. In making an offer of an additional thousand pounds he felt he had passed the business limit. Sam Kearney had turned down a big premium on his speculation.

Roy knew the big man had held the property for some time–it was one of his few bad guesses. He had bought it for a quick turnover, and had found it left on his hands. Kearney had paid two thousand seven hundred pounds for the lease. Now, after holding it for six months, he had refused five thousand pounds! Why? The speculator was a keen buyer and seller, satisfied with quick, small turnovers. He must have long since discovered that be had a white elephant on his hands, yet be refused to unload at a big profit!

Pondering on the problem, Roy turned up Pitt Street. Outside Mansell & Co’s estate offices he hesitated, and finally entered. After a short wait be was shown into the private room of the head of the firm.

“No. 7a Peyton Place?” said Mark Mansell, a small, bald, fair man as he rubbed his head. “Belongs to Sam Kearney? Yes, I remember. Bit of a frost, wasn’t it? Sam’s not usually caught napping. What’s wrong with it?”

“On your books?”

“Used to be. Funny thing. Only yesterday Sam rang up and told me not to make a price. Just to take offers. Now, I wonder what’s up? What do you know?”

“I’ll give you four thousand five hundred for it.”

“Whew!” The estate agent pressed a button on his desk. To the clerk who answered the summons, he said: “Bring me the record of 7a Peyton Place. One of Mr. Kearney’s properties.”

The clerk left the room and Mansell sat silent, gazing at the top of his desk. Roy felt more bewildered. The estate agent had asked him what was wrong with it, and now he felt inclined to echo the words. There must be something wrong about the property. Sam Kearney’s action in turning down a fine profit on his deal had appeared strange; his withdrawal of the property wholly from sale was still stranger. What had influenced the man’s actions? He tried to think of something that would induce the speculator to hold on to the property, but he could not. There were many improvements going on in the city, but none of them would greatly influence Peyton Place.

Roy was not purchasing the property for himself. Twelve months previous he had, on inheriting a small legacy, left his job in the offices of Mansell & Co., Real Estate Agents, and started in business as a property broker. The previous day he had been commissioned to obtain 7a Peyton Place. His client was a stranger to him, but had produced satisfactory references. He had known of Sam Kearney’s purchase of the property and the price the speculator had paid for it. Roy had suggested that Kearney might take a thousand pounds advance on his deal, secretly believing thee man would be glad to get out of the speculation with his money back. He had suggested that the property could be obtained for about three thousand pounds and was astounded when he was informed that he was at liberty to go as high as five thousand pounds, provided that the property passed immediately into his client’s possession.

He had attempted to voice some protest, only to be told to follow his instructions explicitly. Now, his limit offer had been turned down, almost with contempt.

“Four thousand five hundred, you said.” Mark Mansell was examining a record book. “Well, you’re well over the price it was given to us to sell at, Roy. That price firm?”

“I’ll write you a deposit cheque now, if you like.”

“Not from you.” The little man smiled cheerfully. “Say, you should get it. Let you know tomorrow.”

Roy rose from his seat and went to the door As his hand was on the handle Mansell called to him in a low tone, “Say, Roy.”

The young man walked back to the desk. “What’s the matter with the place? Title good?”

“So far as I know. I’m buying it for a client who seems to know all about it. Why?”

“Well, it’s you. I’m telling, not your client, remember. Sam would have let that place go for three thousand pounds, or close offer, yesterday.”

ROY walked back to his office in Bent Street, puzzling over the problem and the strange attitude of the big estate speculator. Sam Kearney had been prepared to sacrifice the Peyton Place property the previous day for practically what he had paid for it. Today, he had refused to discuss an offer of nearly one hundred per cent profit on his bargain.

There could be only one reason for the man’s actions. During the previous twenty-four hours something had happened in the city affecting the value of the Peyton Place properties. More, the unknown quantity in the problem was of such a nature that it was impossible at the time to judge of the estimated value.

Peyton Place lay away from the new city railway and the proposed alterations no Circular Quay. But those improvements had been public property for some time and well advertised in the newspapers. Their effect would certainly be far-reaching in the value of all property in the city, but in the instance of Peyton Place the freeholder would benefit nearly entirely.

Again in his office, Roy turned to the file of newspapers hanging on the wall. There might be some proposal for city improvements that he had overlooked. He did not think so, for he kept well in touch with all private and municipal proposals.

With eager fingers he turned the pages. Nowhere could he see anything that would warrant the peculiar actions of the big real-estate speculator. The day’s Morning Mirror lay on the desk. A careful search of the newspaper was without result. He could find nothing to account for Sam Kearney’s attitude, or for the desire of his client to acquire the property, even at a large figure.

Roy leaned back in his chair, frowning thoughtfully. Somewhere lay information it was vital for him to have, but where? There was not one clue to the problem in the many columns of the newspaper on the desk before him.

He began to scan the columns once more, then suddenly he sat upright in the chair, alert in every nerve.

Here was a clue, but he could not understand it.

One of the small-advertisement pages of the news-sheet lay open. Towards the bottom of the left-hand corner was a half-column of “Personal” advertisements. The fifth from the heading held a strange significance. It read:–

‘Lonely Lady. No friends or relations in Australia. 7a Peyton Place, Sydney. Will some one help?–Box 3971, this office.’

CHAPTER II

IT was some minutes before Roy caught the full significance of the queer paragraph.

“Lonely Lady” was advertising from a box number at the newspaper offices, yet she included ‘7a Peyton Place’ in the body of her appeal. The house was empty and had been so for some considerable time. Sam Kearney had bought the place when it was empty and had not troubled to seek a tenant for it. His business was only the purchase and sale of properly for ultimate profit.

Again Roy read the advertisement. It was strangely worded. The advertiser professed to have no friends, or relations in Australia, and sought companionship through the columns of the newspaper. Why was the Peyton Place house mentioned? Its inclusion in the newspaper advertisement appeared absurd, unless the message was to be read as conveying some secret meaning.

Had this advertisement had anything to do with Sam Kearney’s sudden decision to hold on to his bad bargain? The wording of the advertisement was obscure, yet it was the only thing Boy could find that had any bearing on the reluctance of the big speculator to part with the property.

Roy drew the file of newspapers towards him again. It was possible that ‘Lonely Lady’ had advertised in some previous issue of the newspaper. If that supposition was correct, the connexion between the advertisement and Sam Kearney ended. It was only the previous day that the man had withdrawn the Peyton Place house from the open market. Roy turned the pages quickly, devoting his situation to the few ‘Persona’ advertisements.

In an issue dated ten days previous he found another message from “Lonely Lady:”

Lonely Lady.–No friends or relations in Australia. 143 Kensington Road, Redfern. Will someone help?–Box 2736, this office.

Again Roy turned back in the file of newspapers. In the third issue previous to the Redfern advertisement appeared another:

Lonely Lady.–No friends or relations in Australia. 29, Warren Street. Darlinghurst. Will someone help?–Box 2134, this office.

“Lonely Lady” was catholic in her addresses. The Darlinghurst address was about a mile and a half eastwards in a straight line from Peyton Place and the Redfern address was about the same distance in a southerly direction. Had these advertisements a hidden meaning?

Roy could not but believe that they contained some message concealed beneath the queer wording. He cut them from the newspaper and pasted them in order on a sheet of foolscap. He did not know the street mentioned in the Redfern address but he had a good knowledge of Darlinghurst, and knew Warren Street. It was a long, narrow street running along the eastern boundary of the district, from Oxford Street to Rushcutter’s Bay. Most of the houses it contained were old-fashioned and let out in rooms, or makeshift flats. About one-third way down from Oxford street was a row of five shops. Their trade was small and of little value.

Roy swung round on his chair to the bracket telephone. In a few seconds he was talking to a large Darlinghurst estate agency. His suspicions regarding the Warren Street address were quickly verified. The house at 29 Warren Street was empty, and had been for some time. Peculiarly, it resembled the Peyton Place house in that it was of two-stories, the lower occupied by a shop.

Roy had known that the Peyton Place shop was empty. Now he knew the Warren Street shop was to let. Could he draw any deductions from that, or was it only a coincidence?

He was now certain that the Redfern house was also a shop, and to let. “Lonely Lady” declared that she had no friends or relations in Australia She advertised for help and acquaintances, and the three advertisements had been from different shops, empty, and possibly standing empty for some considerable time. The advertisements were not genuine. There was something behind them that the broker was determined to discover.

So far his investigations did not lead to a solution of Sam Kearney’s peculiar attitude over the Peyton Place property. Roy determined he would examine Peyton Place, and particularly 7a.

Perhaps there he might chance on something that would answer the questions gathering in his mind. He looked at his watch. It was five minutes to five o’clock. At the hour Mark Mansell would leave his offices. He drew the telephone towards him and rang up the estate agency.

“Keys of 7a Peyton Place?” repeated Mark Mansell. “What do you want them for? Have a look around! Sugar! Look here, young man, you’ve got something on. Am I in on it? Oh yes, I’ve got the keys. Meant to send them round to Sam yesterday but forgot.”

Roy thought quickly. Mark Mansell a man of forty-five years, active and ingenious, was a good sport, the head of an old-fashioned firm with a first-class reputation in the city. It would be an invaluable aid in the solution of the mystery that the broker was beginning to believe surrounded Peyton Place. Also, it would he well to have a companion on the adventure.

“You’re in, Mark. Come round here when you leave the office, and we’ll have dinner together. Then we’ll go down to Peyton Place and have a look at it. There’s something damned queer about the place. I’ll tell you more when we meet.”

Mansell did not reach Roy’s office until well after half-past five. For half an hour the two men sat in Roy’s room discussing the strange advertisement. Mansell was interested. He turned over the leaves of the newspaper, and, far back, chanced on another of the Lonely Lady’s advertisements:

Lonely Lady.–No friends or relations in Australia, 421, Missingham Street, Surry Hills. Will someone help?–Box 995, this office.

“The lady’s darned lonely.” Mansell grinned cheerfully as he cut the advertisement from the newspaper. “Stick this on your sheet of cuttings, Roy Now we’ll go to dinner.”

“Think that’s another empty shop, Mark?” Roy turned at the door to ask the question.

“Not a shadow of doubt. And, I’ll bet it’s been standing empty for some time. I’d like to meet ‘Lonely Lady.’ She’s interesting.”

Throughout the meal the two men talked of various things, but always their thoughts were on the four strange ‘Lonely Lady’ advertisements. Once Mansell brought from his pocket three keys tied on a piece of wood, and laid them on the table. Roy did not ask questions. There was no need. He knew those keys belonged to 7a Peyton Place.

“Now for it!” On the steps of the club Mansell turned to his companion. “What is it to be? Cab, or walk?”

“Walk.” Roy turned in the direction of Circular Quay. “We don’t want taxi drivers about the place.”

Night had fallen and the electric lamps glowed brightly in the cool, crisp air.

In a few minutes Roy reached Macquarie Place and came to the narrow lane named Peyton Place, joining Macquarie Place with Pitt Street.

Although a drive lay along the Place, there was hardly room for a vehicle to go down it. The one pavement was only a bare two feet wide, hardly sufficient to walk on in comfort. About half way down, the street widened until two carts might pass with some difficulty and manoeuvring. The right-hand side of the Place was occupied by a blank wall. On the left-hand side stood a row if fix dingy shops, narrow, dark, and with small windows. Three of the shops were vacant, the others being occupied by a newsagent, a grocer, and an antique-dealer.

The last house towards Macquarie Place was 7a vacant; the shop-window broken and partly boarded up.

“Queer sort of a place,” commented Mansell, staring up at the upper story. “What’s your client want it for?”

“Don’t know. Maybe he has the other shops and plans to pull the lot down and built something decent on the land.”

“Best thing he could do.” Mansell went to the padlocked door.

“What on Earth our ancestors wanted to build this sort of house for I never could understand. Yet, at one time, half Sydney was like this.”

The door gave way under some little pressure. The fittings had been removed from the shop, and the floor was covered with litter and dust. As soon as he entered the door Roy produced an electric torch.

“Good thing you brought that,” commented the estate agent. “It would have been folly to wander about here, striking matches. Phew! It’s dark. Mind where you walk.”

Almost immediately within the door, and facing it, was the stairway to the upper floor. The shop proper lay to the left-hand, and at the rear of the shop was a space partitioned off to make a room. The window of the room over-looked a small yard. The ceilings were low and brown with dirt. There was no back door, the yard apparently belonging to the house in the rear.

Mansell went to the shop door and shut it in the space behind the door was a number of handbills and some envelopes. The two men went through the collection carefully. The only thing they found of importance was a rate-notice addressed to ‘Mr. George Bird ‘–probably the last tenant of the shop.

“Coming upstairs, Roy?”

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