The Mouthpiece - Edgar Wallace, Robert Curtis - ebook

The Mouthpiece ebook

Edgar Wallace, Robert Curtis

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Opis

The novel of Edgar Wallace’s famous play told by Robert Curtis in story form with all the dramatic excitement and suspense. In the shady setting of a solicitor’s office on the East End waterfront a plan is evolved – all quite legal to get hold of a large American legacy bequeathed to an English girl. Murder is planned and tried: kidnapping, incarceration in a London barge, a dash for freedom, the intervention of the river police and knock-out drops all play their part in the unfolding of the tale which keeps its suspense to the last in as swift-moving a sequence of events as ever Edgar Wallace at his best devised. It is a case where the Yard was best not to call them in – for reasons best known to the characters in the story as the reader will find for himself.

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Liczba stron: 410

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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 I

THERE might have been occasions when the offices of Stuckey & Stuckey, solicitors, received the ministrations of a charwoman; but if so, no living soul could testify to this of his own knowledge. There had been suspicions from time to time: as, for example, when Mr. Joseph Bells, the managing clerk, had arrived one morning in an unusually observant mood and had noticed that the square foot of his desk which he somehow managed to keep clear of documents was of a slightly different shade of dinginess from what he knew to be its normal colour. There was, too, ground for suspicion that the window behind Mr. Bells’ office chair was letting in more light than usual; but this implied such an unthinkable supposition that he at once concluded the spring sunshine was a little stronger that morning and proceeded to draw the blind farther down. Mr. Bells was not a lover of strong light; it made his small, almost colourless eyes blink under the powerful lenses of his steel-rimmed spectacles; there may also have been a subconscious realization that the activities of the firm of lawyers which was housed in these dingy two rooms on the first floor of the building known as 274a, River Street, Rotherhithe, were of the kind upon which it was not desirable that the full glare of daylight should be thrown.

Probably Mr. Bells had never entertained such a speculation. His mentality was of the type, happily so common, that accepts things as they are, with the tacit assumption that what has been for years must of necessity be proper and legitimate and above reproach.

The tall, thin, gloomy-looking clerk sat in his office chair one bright morning in early spring and almost fumed as he glanced at his watch, which indicated that the only other employee of the firm, the lady stenographer, was already twenty minutes late.

Presently he heard footsteps, and a girl slouched rather than walked through the office door, hung her coat and hat negligently on a dusty peg, strolled to a chair in front of a typewriter, stretched herself and yawned as one who has had insufficient sleep, and flopped into the seat with a gesture of infinite weariness. Taking from her large and ornate handbag her powder-puff and mirror, she commenced languidly to atone for any cleansing deficiencies of her toilet with a liberal coating of the face-powder which, to her, was modern chemistry’s greatest gift to women.

Presently:

“Miss Harringay!” called Mr. Bells.

She did not reply, being absorbed just then in retouching with her lipstick the still discernible outline of a rather wobbly Cupid’s bow drawn with considerable pains the previous evening.

“Miss Harringay!” he said again, a little more loudly this time and with a peremptory note.

With a shrug she swung slowly round to face the managing clerk.

“Oh, good morning, Mr. Bells,” she said.

“Are you aware, Miss Harringay, that this office opens at nine o’clock and it’s now twenty-three minutes past?”

She stifled another yawn.

“I’m terribly sorry,” she drawled. “You see, I went out last night with such a nice boy, Mr. Bells, and we–er–well, we were rather late getting home. You know what it is, don’t you?” She smiled with a lot of teeth into the elderly clerk’s face.

“I’m glad to say I don’t,” said the man shortly. “When I was your age I spent my leisure hours in trying to improve my mind.”

She tittered.

“Such a waste of time!”

He frowned.

“I beg your pardon, Miss Harringay?”

She waved a hand round the office.

“Well, look what it’s brought you to!”

He turned away with a grunt. He was never at his best in verbal encounters with Elsie Harringay; it was not until ten minutes after a minor discomfiture such as this that the right, crushing rejoinder occurred to him, and then it was too late to be effective.

The girl pulled the cover from her typewriter. As she did so the telephone bell rang, and she rose with a sigh and crossed to the wall where the instrument was fixed.

“Hullo!... Yes, this is Stuckey & Stuckey. What name, please?... Well, I can’t tell you unless you give me your name... Haven’t you got a name? Well, what’s your number?”

Bell, hearing the telephone, rose.

“Who’s that?”

“One of the anonymous ones–a man.”

“What did he say?”

“I’d hate to repeat it!”

The managing clerk grunted, then took the receiver and spoke into it.

“Hullo!... Who is that?... Yes, old boy, Bells speaking. The governor’s not here yet... Yes, old boy. There’s a warrant out for you. You’d better get out of the country, old boy... Yes, old boy. Good-bye, old boy.” He replaced he receiver with precision and turned to go.

“Who’s the old boy, Mr. Bells?” asked Elsie.

He turned a stern eye on the typist.

“The rule of this office, Miss Harringay, is–no names. You’ve been here two years, and you’re about as intelligent now as when you came... By the way,” he went on, “who was it came here after I went last evening?”

“The rule of this office,” mimicked Elsie, “is–no names.”

Bells frowned.

“Impertinence will get you nowhere, my girl,” he began.

At that moment the telephone bell rang again, and he crossed to the instrument.

“Hullo! Yes?... Oh, yes, this is Mr. Stuckey’s office. Bells speaking. ... Oh, yes, old boy... Well, if I were you, old boy, I’d get out of the country... Yes, old boy... Good-bye, old boy?”

As he replaced the receiver:

“Another gentleman of England–we do find ‘em!” commented Elsie Harringay. “What tie does the old boy wear, Mr. Bells?”

“Will you please speak a little more respectfully of our clients. Miss Harringay?”

“Call me Elsie,” she begged, “or ‘old girl’. It sounds more homely.”

She rose from her chair and strolled into the inner office, glancing casually at the big, flat-topped desk in the centre of the room. On the blotting-pad lay a small pile of letters placed there by the managing clerk for the attention of Mr. Charles Stuckey, the head of the firm. On the top of these was a cablegram, sent economically from America at night letter rate. As the girl caught sight of this, she opened her eyes wide in astonishment.

“Things are looking up, Mr. Bells, aren’t they?” she called through the open doorway. “Who’s the cable from? It can’t be one of our old boys–they’ve never got any money.”

Bells looked at her disapprovingly from over the top of his steel-rimmed spectacles.

“A little less levity would be more in keeping with your position,” he said sternly. “As a matter of fact, that is a communication from an eminent firm of New York solicitors with reference to one of our oldest and most valued clients–”

The girl put her hand to her chin and tilted her head thoughtfully.

“Now I wonder,” she pondered aloud: “would that be Slick Samuels, the bag-snatcher, or Young Larry–no, it couldn’t be him, he’s down for seven for robbery with violence–”

Mr. Bells interrupted.

“When you have been here a little longer you will perhaps become aware that Mr. Stuckey’s clientele embraces all sorts and conditions of–er–”

“Crooks,” she replied, and returned to her desk as her employer walked into the office.

In some unexplained way, lawyers, and particularly solicitors, usually carry in their faces the unmistakable stamp of their profession. You can recognize them a mile off. Whether it is that they are originally endowed with the legal type of mind which is thus reflected in their features, or that, commencing on fair terms with their fellow men, the study of law so moulds their mental processes as to create gradually this distinctive appearance, is a speculation which has never been fully resolved.

Charles Oliver Stuckey, however, was a pronounced exception to this rule. He bore none of the generic markings of the legal profession. Of medium height, with a sturdily-built frame, faintly suggestive of approaching corpulence, his hair was fair, curly and abundant, and, so far from there being anything hawk-like in his appearance, his nose was short, fleshy, and with a distinctly unlegal tilt. The strength of the broad, capacious forehead was largely offset by the smallness of his rounded, indeterminate chin. For worldly success, a physiognomist would have said, it would have gone better with him had his forehead been moulded along less generous lines, and his jaw made more prognathous.

As he hung his hat and coat on a peg behind the door of his office and sank into the dingy leather chair in front of his desk, he gazed around him with an air of obvious distaste. Outside, the spring sunshine was brilliant and rejuvenating; such diluted rays as managed to creep through the murky window behind him served only to accentuate the dismal atmosphere of his official quarters.

With a shrug, he turned his attention to the small pile of letters in front of him. As he read the cablegram his eyes widened, and a look almost of benevolence came into his face.

He touched a bellpush on his desk and a moment later the door opened, and Mr. Bells came in fussily, in his hand a sheaf of documents, behind his ear a pencil, and on his face a look of absorption. Had one remarked to Joseph Bells during office hours that outside the sun was shining, the birds were singing, and all Nature was shouting a joyous welcome to the nascent beauty of spring, it is certain that he would have taken his pencil from behind his ear, scratched the top of his head, adjusted his spectacles to gaze at one in disapproval of the irrelevance, and replied: “Er–yes. Now, with regard to this little trouble of ‘Cosh’ Baker...”

The lawyer looked up as he entered.

“‘Morning, Bells.”

“Good morning, sir. You saw the cablegram I put on your desk?”

“Yes. I say, what a bit of luck for Miss Smith!”

Bells inclined his head.

“Where are they now?” asked Stuckey.

“Miss Smith and her mother are at present staying in Vienna–the Hôtel des Étrangers,” the clerk said.

Stuckey smiled.

“You mean, I suppose, that they were there when last we heard from them?”

“Quite, sir. It is, of course, possible that by now Mrs. Smith has found it advisable to–er–”

“Oh, for heaven’s sake talk English!” snapped Stuckey irritably. “What you mean is that by now the woman has exhausted her credit in Vienna, issued a few dud cheques, and passed on to Budapest or somewhere.”

“Exactly, sir.”

“What a life!” the solicitor murmured. “Lord knows how the girl stands it!” Aloud, he said: “Well, they won’t have to scrounge their way through Europe any more. Miss Jacqueline is worth half a million dollars now”–he fingered the cablegram–“and they can come back to England and settle down respectably and five in comfort.”

“In some nice cathedral city, I would suggest, sir,” put in Bells.

“I know you would: it’s what I should have expected from you. But from what I have heard of Miss Jacqueline Smith, I scarcely think that nice cathedral cities are her proper setting.”

“You have never met her, I believe, sir?” the clerk queried.

“No. Mrs. Smith was an old friend of my mother’s, and when I started to practise on my own she put her affairs into my hands.” He laughed mirthlessly. “If she knew the type of business we specialize in... She’s about the only respectable client I’ve got, and that’s merely by comparison!... Yes?” he turned his head inquiringly as, following a tap, the door opened and the pert features of Elsie Harringay appeared.

“Will you see Captain Allwright, sir?” the girl asked.

With a frown of recollection, Stuckey nodded.

“Yes, show him in.”

The stout, red-faced man, dressed in seafaring clothes, who entered, beaming benevolence and breathing beer, strode up to the desk, and, seizing the lawyer’s hand, wrung it heartily.

“I came to thank you for what you did for me yesterday,” he began.

“Oh, that’s all right.”

“All right?” echoed the caller. “I should say it was all right. Why, man, you’re a marvel!” He swung round to Bells. “What a masterpiece, your guv’nor, eh? You ought to have heard him talking to the old bubble and squeak. Did he talk to him? I’ll say he did!”

Stuckey smiled faintly.

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