The Little Grey Woman - Aidan de Brune - ebook

The Little Grey Woman ebook

Aidan de Brune

0,0

Opis

At Sydney’s scandalous Artist’s Ball... a gunshot... a falling body... Call Inspector Knox of the CIB. „The Little Grey Woman” is rather short story and moves along very quickly but there’s plenty of tension and some genuinely creepy moments. Recommended for lovers of the offbeat. The Artists’ Ball was a real, and occasionally scandalous, costume ball held in Sydney for many years. Aidan de Brune walked round Australia in two years, and so he is able to give a thoroughly Australian setting and sentiment to this yarn full of thrills. These problems are raised in the opening chapters of the book. Lovers of a clever detective yarn will need to be certain of the delivery of their papers.

Ebooka przeczytasz w aplikacjach Legimi na:

Androidzie
iOS
czytnikach certyfikowanych
przez Legimi
czytnikach Kindle™
(dla wybranych pakietów)
Windows
10
Windows
Phone

Liczba stron: 353

Odsłuch ebooka (TTS) dostepny w abonamencie „ebooki+audiobooki bez limitu” w aplikacjach Legimi na:

Androidzie
iOS



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 I

“HERDIN’ the little devils tonight, Houston?” Inspector Robert Knox came up behind Detective-Sergeant Houston, standing under the portico of the Alamanza Rooms, watching the guests gather for the annual Artists’ Ball. A couple of hilarious young men had just passed, dressed in strange costumes.

“Seem to get a kick out of it, don’t they?” Houston, a middle-aged, stolid officer, grinned as he turned to welcome his young chief. “Can’t say I see the fun of it, m’self; staying out of a nice warm bed till all hours of the morning. But–well, the Chief asked me to give an eye here for a few hours. A queer gang get in at these affairs, y’know.”

“Just the impression I formed,” Knox took out his cigarette-case and held it towards his companion. “Thought I’d saunter down for an hour or so and see if any of our particular friends are in a festive or working mood, this evening. Got the glad rags on, I see.”

“May have to go inside.” Houston grinned, self-consciously, wriggling his shoulders under the stiff linen. “You’re in full regalia, too.”

“‘Course!” The Inspector drew away from the edge of the pavement as a well-appointed car drew to the curb. “Hello! Thought fancy was compulsory at these affairs. This couple–”

He watched curiously as a tall, military-looking man, about forty years of age, backed from the car and went forward to speak to the driver. He wore a light overcoat, open, over his immaculate evening clothes. A moment, and he turned to the car and assisted a woman to alight. She, also, was in evening dress, a light, gauzy wrap streaming back from her bare shoulders. Neither of them carried costumes, the woman swinging from her fingers a small vanity bag.

The couple slowly ascended the steps, the man talking earnestly to his companion. Knox, turning to speak to his brother-officer, saw him move quickly forward and bend to pick up a small object from the steps, almost under the man’s feet.

“Excuse me, sir.” Houston held, his open hand out towards the man. “You; dropped this.”

“What?” The man halted, speaking slowly. “Dropped what? That?” His face flushed and unconsciously he drew himself more erect. “No, that’s not mine.”

Brusquely, he caught his companion by her elbow, urging her up the steps. As they disappeared into the vestibule, Houston turned to his brother-officer, a quizzical look on his face.

“Seems upset.” He opened his hand again. “And, all I did was to offer him this fountain-pen he dropped. Why, what’s the matter; Inspector?”

Knox had moved forward, and was bending down, keenly examining something on one of the steps. He beckoned the sergeant to come to his side.

“What’s that, Houston?” He pointed to a few grains of white, glistening powder, lying, on the step. “You picked up that pen from about there, didn’t you?”

“That? Looks like powder.”

“Marvellous!” Knox laughed, sarcastically. “But the lady didn’t drop her vanity bag. It was the man who dropped his fountain-pen.”

“He says it wasn’t his.”

“Perhaps he was right.” The Inspector took a scrap of paper from, his pocket and, gathering up the grains on the tips of his fingers, transferred them, to the paper. “When he turned to speak to you his coat flew open and I noticed that he had a pen, very, similar to that one, clipped to his breast-pocket. A busy man doesn’t carry two pens, even when in evening dress.”

“But–damn it–I saw it fall!” Houston pushed his hat to the back of his head, rubbing his forehead perplexedly. “There’s nothing in a man carrying two fountain-pens.”

“Not ordinarily.” Knox had collected all the grains of powder he could find and stood examining them. “But the average man carries ink in his pen, not–”

“Snow!” The Sergeant barely breathed the word. He bent eagerly over the paper Knox held, “Do you think–”

“Mustn’t think!” The Inspector folded the paper carefully and, taking an envelope from his pocket, enclosed it. “Come on, Sergeant. That fellow is worth watching. Usual costumes in the dressing-room, I suppose?”

“‘Course!” Houston passed his superior-officer, into the vestibule. A quick glance round showed him that the couple had disappeared. He led into the men’s dressing-rooms. Only the two young men they had seen entering the rooms were there. As the police officers entered they completed their toilets and moved to the door.

“That fountain-pen, man!” Knox turned abruptly to his companion. He almost snatched it from Houston’s hand.

It was a cheap-looking, full-barrelled pen, made of common vulcanite and bare of ornamentation. It had not even a safety-clip attached; it was the kind of a pen sold in low class shops for a few shillings. Knox examined it for cracks. There were none. He tried the nib. There was no ink in the barrel. He let the pen fall, carelessly, on the table. No powder came from it.

“Queer sort of fountain-pen for that class of a man to carry!” Houston observed. “You’re certain you saw him drop it?”

“Not the slightest doubt.” The sergeant answered, promptly. “I saw it fall. ‘Fact, I almost reached it before it touched the step.”

Houston was certain and Knox could not doubt him. The sergeant was not a brilliant officer, but sound in his work. If he was certain that the pen had dropped from the man’s pocket, it had–in spite of his denials. Yet, why had a man, evidently well off carried a cheap pen? Why was he carrying two pens–for Knox was certain he had noticed a pen in the man’s breast-pocket. If he had possessed two pens, why had he denied this pen belonged to him?

The man intrigued Knox. From the moment he had descended from the limousine, his carriage and figure had caught the Inspector’s attention. Knox prided himself that he knew the Sydney crooks, and a fair number of other States’ crooks, by sight. In the department he was spoken of as the man with the “camera eye.” His comrades boasted that he had only to glance at a suspect and place him, definitely. If the man had passed through the hands of the police, he could recount his aliases, his sentences, and frequently describe his fingerprints and body-markings.

The Inspector shook himself, angrily. If the man had, at any time, passed through the hands of the police he should be a memory. He made a mental note of that, when he returned to Headquarters, he would satisfy himself about him.

Then there was the woman. In some ways she fitted well with the man. About twenty-five to thirty years of age; slender and finely-formed, dark hair and grey eyes, she complemented his tall, spare, yet square figure. Knox knew that her portrait was not in his mental registry. If she had ever come under suspicion he would have remembered. But, because she had not before come under his notice, that did not say she was an honest member of society. He knew that, extensive as was his knowledge of criminals, there were men and women, then free, who should be under restraint. Impatiently, he rose from his seat and paced the room.

His thoughts went back to the few grains of white powder he had picked up from the steps of the Alamanza Rooms. In them he had a clue. If, as he suspected, the powder was cocaine, then he had chanced on a couple of the many new criminals in the city, who had blossomed with its recent growth. They belonged to one or other of the dope-gangs that were poisoning young and old on the continent. They were operators in this era of tense superficial excitement; these times of weird, semi-barbaric music; of wild, grotesque dances; of frenzied gaieties, demanding dangerous drugs to feed and keep alive a nervous tension which, if allowed to relax, would bring to the sufferers almost the tortures of the damned.

The dope-ring! Knox was again on familiar ground. Although not attached to the Dope Squad he knew much of their work; of the growing trade in cocaine, hasheesh, opium–a few only of the numerous drugs that fed tangled nerves. The trade had grown enormously, of recent years. Its operations were nationwide. Its operators penetrated all stages of Australian society. Almost daily memoranda and reminders came from the Headquarters’ offices relating to the evil–to rank and file of the Police Department, as well as to the special members of the Dope Squad. So alarmingly had the trade grown that a large special branch of the service had been formed to deal with it. He turned abruptly to the table.

“Where’s that pen, Houston?” The Inspector’s voice had grown hard.

He almost snatched it from the man’s hands and placed it on a sheet of newspaper. Again he examined it, using a powerful magnifying glass. The vulcanite was not cracked. Again he tried the nib. The pen would not write. He held the nib under the glass. No ink had passed over it. Then–

Then with a wrench of his powerful fingers he unscrewed the nib-holder from the barrel and drew out the ink-container. He smiled slightly as a little bag came into view. He had not been wrong in his surmises. Instead of the usual, ink-bag of soft, thin rubber, there was a larger bag of fine, closely-woven silk–and that bag was full of some soft substance.

Again the powerful glass was brought into use. Where the bag of silk joined the nib-bolder a minute rubber-band held the connection, Again Knox smiled. He was beginning to understand. If he was right then the man had obtained, with the pen, another bag–not of silk–but of rubber. The silk bag withdrawn and the rubber bag substituted, the pen would be, once more, a cheap fountain pen, such as children buy in small stationer’s shops.

Tearing from the news sheet a square of paper, Knox drew off the silk bag and emptied it. The bag held quite an amount of fine, crystallised powder. He took from his pocket the fold of paper in which he had enclosed the few grains he had found on the Alamanza steps. Under the glass they matched, exactly.

The powder in the bag was cocaine. Then, the powder he had gathered from the steps was also cocaine. Again Knox brought the magnifying grass into use, scanning nib and holder. Down the vent through which ink should flow were traces of powder. The pen had, by some mischance, been carried nib downwards. The finer grains of powder had sifted through to the nib. He picked up the cap. It fitted loosely on the barrel–so loosely that it was strange it had not been lost.

“End off, when you picked up the pen, Houston?” Knox inquired abruptly.

“Very loose, sir. I jammed it back before I handed the pen to the man.”

“And–you jammed it back! Yes! So! That’s how the powder escaped. Well, we’ll have a look for our friend, now. Get the costumes, man. We’ll have to make ourselves pretty, to join in with this gay throng.”

“Dope runners, sir?”

“As you say, Sergeant. Dope runners. Just the place for them to operate. The Artists’ Ball. A night of revelry and excitement! ‘Course! Wonder why the wise-heads at Headquarters never thought to detail some of the Dope Squad to it. Humph! Crowds of flappers, brimming with excitement. Pocket flasks empty–and rawed, jagged nerves. Giddy whirl and fascinating strange partner–‘Have a sniff at this, honey. Put you straight for the night’–can’t you imagine it, man! The dammed curs! Come on! I want some glad rags to hide in. I want that man and woman. Curse it, Houston, hurry up! You’ve got boys and girls of your own, you tell me. Think of them, man! Think of them in some such place as this–and those fiends teasing and luring them on! Oh, damn–damn!”

CHAPTER II

TWO clown costumes were hanging on a peg in the corner of the room. They were police. Houston had brought them down to the Alamanza early in the evening. They had hung on a peg in the corner waiting–waiting in case it became necessary for the police to invade the dancing floor, inconspicuously, and bring out some wanted person. The Sergeant fetched them and handed one to Knox. The detective threw, it over a chair-back, busying himself restoring the cocaine to the pen and fitting it together.

“Here, Sergeant.” He turned with the screw of paper containing the pen in his hand. “Take this. There’s no knowing where tonight’s work is going to take me. Put it in your pocket and, when we get out of here, go straight to Headquarters and find Inspector Martin of the Dope Squad. Hand this to him and tell him how we came by it. Tell him the whole story and say I’m on the trail and will get word to him somehow. Now, come on!”

He led out of the dressing room across the inner vestibule, to the screen that shielded the dancing floor from the doors. Just as he turned the screen he ran into a tall, melancholy-looking individual, dressed in a weird travesty of Faust. The Inspector was passing without looking at him when the man caught him by the shoulder.

“By little devils! Bob Knox, and at the Artists’ Ball.” The man spoke in deep, solemn tones. “Had I’d known we were to be favoured I would of had out the Town Band.”

“Just as well you didn’t–and don’t go shouting my name over the heads of this conglomeration of humanity, Bill Loames.” Knox shook hands warmly. He glanced around the dancing floor.

“What’s here? Been making a collection of all the crooks in the State?”

“A libel!” Loames, one of the leading cartoonists in Sydney, drew back a step. “Will you stand if I fetch block and pencil, Knox? I’m sure there are business friends who would gladly pay large sums for autographed portraits of their favourite–shall I say arrestor–in his true character, a clown.”

“Faust–for I suppose your array of rags is intended to represent that personage–and a clown. Gounod never thought of that, did he? Yet, I’ve often thought that if the tempter of the opera had tucked his tail into trousers–baggy ones, decorated with large crimson spot, he would have been more true to character. But stop rotting, Bill. There’s work on hand. You know everyone here?”

“And you stated this gathering as composed of the crooks of the state.” There was pained reproach in the artist’s voice. “Is anyone exempt from the vile insinuations of the Police Department? Still–”

“Just so. The friends I’m looking for are first, a tall, military looking man, in evening dress. Rather–”

“Evening dress.” Loames interrupted. “Then he won’t be on the dancing floor. Tried the gallery?”

“Hear that, Houston?” Knox turned to the Sergeant who was standing a pace behind him. “Have a look in the gallery. You’ll find me down here on your return, I won’t mask.”

“Arrest him?” Houston asked the question from behind his hand.

“Arrest your grandmother!” Knox whispered angrily. “It’s your word against his about that pen. No, keep a watch on him. We’ve got his supply of the drug he’ll want more. If there’s a runner in the hall we may make a find. Anyway, I think he’s only one of the small fry in the game. Find out where he is and what he is doing. Get word to me. I’ll wait for you here.”

The Inspector took Loames’s arm and strolled up the room, leaving the Sergeant to make his way to the gallery. The artist lifted his eye-brows at Knox’s impatient words, but allowed himself to be dragged away.

“What’s the trouble Knox? Want to dance? I’m committee–and what about that little flapper over there? Just your style, I should say.”

Knox did not answer. He had paused and was furtively watching a slender, fair-haired woman, well under the medium height, sitting close to where he had stopped. Something in her face attracted his attention. He turned to his companion.

“Who’s the girl there–next to the pillar–wearing a shepherdess dress?” he questioned.

“Who? Oh!” The artist caught the eyes of the woman and bowed. “Don’t know Mrs Margaret Venne, eh? Come along, I’ll introduce you. Pretty and plenty of the needful. What luck to be a policeman. It’s the uniform that catches them. Why, they can spot it even under a clown’s rig-out.

“Steady, man.” Knox moved on quickly. “I’m here on business not for the dance. Who’s the woman she’s talking to? But they’re different.”

“Different, I should say so.” Loames looked down quizzically at the detective. “Different as chalk and cheese; Margaret Venne’s fair and flighty while Isobel Kilgour’s staid and dark. Margaret hasn’t been out here long. Comes from ‘Pommyland’ I believe. The only resemblance is that they are both short and slender. What’s the trouble man?”

“Dope,” the Inspector answered under his breath. “Man came in just before Houston and me. Dropped a fountain pen filled with cocaine. Tall man, military bearing, strange slow way of talking, clean-shaven, florid complexion, rather handsome in a bold, dashing way. Had a woman with him between twenty-five and thirty. Rather over medium height, dark, Spanish-looking, good eyes and teeth, and not frightened of showing them off. Seen either of them about?”

“And there are nearly two thousand people on the floor,” the artist grinned. “Think I’m a medium and can walk into that throng and pick out your quarry? So that’s why you sent Houston to hunt in the gallery. What costumes did they wear?”

“Had none, so far as I could see.” They had reached the head of the hall and halted before the grills hiding the band-stand. “The man certainly had none with him and the woman only carried a small vanity bag. ‘Course, they might of had costumes in the hall. But he wasn’t in the dressing rooms. Houston and I followed in almost immediately and there were only two men there–costumed as devils.”

“Then Houston’s found them in the gallery,” Loames spoke decidedly.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.