We Shall See! - Edgar Wallace - ebook

We Shall See! ebook

Edgar Wallace



Alva Collins, the mentally unbalanced wife of airline pilot Evan Collins, wants her husband to leave his job. She is neurotic, vicious and unstable but only her brother knows that she is a hopeless psychopath whose condition can only deteriorate. However, she is tragically killed when someone throws a hive of bees into her bedroom. Police deduce that whoever was responsible knew that Alva was allergic to the insects, and suspicion immediately falls on her husband. This early work by Edgar Wallace was originally published in 1926. „We Shall See” is a classic mystery novel by this pioneer of the detective genre.

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SHALL I write “Ichabod” across the rosy splendour of my dreams because I have incurred the disapproval of Inspector Jennings?

He snarls every time he meets me, and in more amiable moments, shakes his head predicting a bitter failure. As to that, to employ Billy’s favourite tag: “We shall see!”

It is sufficient that I am no longer his inferior in rank and that the Third Commissioner has marked “Excellent record” against my name in his confidential report. This I know because he told me over the dinner table last night. He is such a perfect little gentleman that he never once referred to what happened on the 18th day of May at Tavistock railway station, nor did he speak again of that night when Mary Ferrera stood, pistol in hand, staring blankly at the huddled figure lying across Billy’s desk.

The truth is that, though he was a friend of mine, I gave little or no assistance to “Billy” Stabbat in his remarkable adventure; a further truth is that the Stabbat adventure has little resemblance to the fantastic stories which have been woven about it by imaginative writers. For example, it is a lie to say that one of the warders was murdered, and that Stabbat and I assisted in disposing of his body. The warder in question is living at 49, Duchy Street, Princetown, and is to-day in charge of Gallery 7, Block D, Dartmoor Prison. Also I was in London when the attack was made.

To write the true story of the two extraordinary crimes which placed first Billington Stabbat and then Mary Ferrera in a prison cell, is a comparatively easy matter. To know exactly where to begin is the bigger problem. I could, of course, start with the genealogy of Billington Stabbat– except that I am not quite certain as to his nationality. He has been described as English, American, Canadian and Australian. I happen to know that he was born in the city of Lima, in Peru. He would talk for hours about Peru, and quoted Prescott by the page. Gonzalzo Pizzaro and the heroic Tupac Amaru Fransesco of Toledo–and a hundred other names associated with Peruvian history–were the Smiths, Browns and Robinsons of his everyday discourse.

Who were his parents I do not know, and have never asked, nor am I particularly clear about the incidents of his early career. He had been all over the world when I met him in France, and he certainly was serving with the American army at G.H.Q., having been “loaned” by Canadian H.Q. They say that he was the best Intelligence Officer Pershing ever had.

It was not new work for Billy. He had been a detective in Toronto, the smartest man in that corps, and he had his promotion fixed when the war broke out. Most people have heard of the Briscoe Gang–at least most Canadians have heard about them. They were clever. George Briscoe and his brother Tom were the leaders, and there wasn’t a bank manager from Halifax to Victoria, B.C., who didn’t think unkindly of the Briscoes at least once a day. Each of the two Briscoes was a genius at his game. They were safe openers who never used jemmy or “soup.” They just got into the banks and opened the safe of the strong room, took what they wanted, and locked the doors after them.

There was never a sign of burglary except a deficiency in the bank’s assets, and naturally that got the bank managers scared. The job always looked as if it had been worked by an official of the bank who had access to the keys or the combination word, and one bank manager was so upset by the suspicion which attached to him, that he shot himself. That was the manager of the C. & C. T. Bank at Berlin–or as the town is now called “Kitchener.”

What the Briscoes did not know about the mechanics of lock-making, wasn’t worth learning. They were patient, far-seeing, diabolically brilliant criminals. It was Billy who trapped the crowd, caught Tom red-handed and four of the gang. He took George in an hotel at Ottawa, but the case against him fell through. Tom was sent down for twenty years and hanged himself in his cell. I recall this achievement of Billy’s because few people in this country, interested as we are in our domestic crimes and criminals, knew very much about the Briscoe case, even after George stood his trial at the Old Bailey.

I think this story starts when I met Levy Jones on the stairs going up to make a call on Billy. Levy is a little fellow, about five feet two in height, but so immensely broad across the shoulders, that he looks shorter and almost deformed. His face is long, his nose pendulous, his mouth broad and uneven in the sense that when he is amused, one comer lifts higher than the other, which gives his smile the appearance of a sneer.

His bushy eyebrows rose at the sight of me, and out came a hand of considerable size.

“Dear me!” he said. Levy’s expressions of surprise were always unexpectedly mild and inadequate. He seldom permitted himself to go farther in the way of expletive than a respectable old lady would permit herself over the matter of a dropped stitch.

I was surprised and delighted to see him. He had been working with the Mosser Commercial Bureau in pre-war days–as Credit Investigator, I believe –and I had no idea at that moment that he had attached himself to Billy.

“Why, Levy!” said I. “This is a pleasant shock. I thought you were dead.”

“No, sir,” said Levy with that lopsided grin of his, “alive, happily. I’m with Mr. Billington Stabbat.”

“The devil you are!” I was a little taken aback. “And how is it that one of the original Jones of Johannesburg comes to be in the private detective line of business? By the way, Levy, how did you get that ‘ Jones ’ into your name?”

Levy sniffed.

“It is a compromise, Mr. Mont. If I call myself Jivitzki, people think I am a Bolshivicki. You’re not a Jew hater, are you, Mr. Mont?”

“Not a scrap,” said I in truth. “Some of the best pals I have ever had have been of your Royal and Ancient Faith.”

“That’s a new one.” Levy was interested. “Sounds like football to me–or is it golf? I’m rather sorry you’re not a Jew hater. I have a new argument for Judaism which I wanted to try on you. I tried it on our Rabbi, but he has no sense of humour. Have you heard the story about the Jew and the flour-bin …?”

Levy, like most of his compatriots, had a large repertoire of stories digging slyly at the inherent shrewdness of his race, and this story was a good one.

“But, Levy,” said I, “how did you get in touch with Billy–Mr. Stabbat?”

“Call him Billy,” said Levy. “I do, he insists upon it. I met him during the war. He saved my life.”

“What was the fight? I didn’t know you were at the front.”

“There was no fight,” replied Levy decisively. “I say he saved my life. The day I was called up for service I met him, and he got me a job in the Victualling Department at Plymouth.

What’s more,” he spoke so solemnly, that I was deceived, “when the war was over, he saved me from a fate that was far, far worse than death.”

Even I was impressed.

“I had an offer from the Federation Music Hall Circuit to do a turn as a Jewish comedian,” Levy went on. “Billy dragged me out of it.”

All this at the foot of the stairs leading up to Billy’s new offices.

“He’s just the same,” said Levy, answering a question. “I don’t suppose he has ever altered, or ever will. He’d give away his shirt to a friend and go to the gallows to help some woman with a hard-luck story.”

Prophetic words. I remembered them afterwards.

“Kindness to women will be the ruin of Billy.” Levy shook his head. “We lost a fat commission last week because he trailed an erring female, and then, when he’d got all the evidence, turned round, worked day and night to prove an alibi! She got busy with him. A tear in each eye, and two trickling down her nose. Four tears cost us eight hundred, that’s two hundred a tear. When Billy came back, he couldn’t speak about her without his voice breaking and he said our client was a low, unwholesome man, and didn’t deserve such a wife. That’s Billy,” said Levy with melancholy admiration. “Mind your back, Mr. Mont!”

He drew me on one side to allow a white-overalled workman to pass up the stairs.

“They finish decorating to-day,” he said; “that’s the electrician.”

I glanced idly at the workman in the white smock. He was a pale man with a short red beard.

“Well, so long,” said Levy. “I’m going to Whitechapel to nose around. We’ve got a fire-bug case for one of the insurance companies–by the way, get Billy to tell you about our new client.”

He winked mysteriously, and I went up the stairs to meet his chief.

When a man leaps into fame or notoriety, everybody knows him or has met him and can describe off-hand and glibly his appearance and characteristics. But the truth about Billington Stabbat is that few people indeed seem to have known him or were aware of his existence until the trouble started. I saw him described the other day, in a usually well-informed journal, as “a remarkably tall man.” That description is absurd. His height is about five feet ten. His weight must be about one hundred and forty-five pounds. He was well-built, a type of man that never acquires or carries fat. He is, or was in those days, clean-shaven, with a wide somewhat bulging forehead, level blue-green eyes and a rather square jaw. He always reminds me of McKinnel, the English actor, and he had something of that artist’s jerky, booming delivery. His face could be mask-like and inscrutable, and the few people who have met him, and remember him, remarked on the circumstance that they had never seen him laugh or smile. That sounds curious to me, for I know him best as someone who was all a-gurgle with laughter within; who saw the fun of life and extracted every ounce of its sap for his joy and pleasure.

The first impression I had when I went into his big room was the impression of newness. It had the pungent varnishy-limey smell which new houses have. He was a fastidious man in the matter of comfort, and had chosen the decoration himself. It was, as I say, a big room, very high and light. Three windows overlooked Bond Street and in addition there was a fairly large sky-light. The suite had been in the possession of a fashionable photographer who had sold the lease to Billy and had moved into more accessible premises in Piccadilly. There was no elevator in the building, and apparently his clientele did not relish the climb of three flights of stairs. The floor was covered with a rich blue carpet, and blue, a rather delicate blue, was employed in the scheme of panelling.

Undoubtedly the feature of the room was an enormous fireplace, a gorgeous affair in marble. I remember particularly that the two supports for the carved mantelpiece were two Assyrian lions, sejeant and regardant as the heraldry books put it. They were really remarkable pieces of sculpture, and though sheerly decorative, they were infinitely more convincing than, say, the stodgy Landseer lions in Trafalgar Square, or the queer beasts which guard the Post Office on Fifth Avenue, and which every New Yorker takes an unholy joy in pointing out to the visitor. They were astonishingly real with their huge mouths agape, their thick lips drawn up in a snarl, showing a teeth-rimmed cavity.

Billy looked up as I came in and sprang to his feet with a broad smile of welcome.

“Why, Mont!” he almost shouted as he gripped my hand. “Come in and sit on the new carpet–the chairs haven’t arrived yet. What do you think of it?”

He did not wait for me to reply.

“Mont,” he said, “do you realise how like a game of solitaire–‘ patience,’ you call it–life is? We play and play and few of us get it out. We cheat ourselves, Mont. We try to pretend that if the red six had gone on the black seven instead of stacking it, we’d have sailed out and we sneak it back from the stack. How are you?” he asked abruptly.

“Why these moral reflections?” I asked. “Is it the magnificence of your surroundings?”

I could not but notice that after greeting me, he returned immediately, almost hastily, to his desk.

“Moral reflections,” he said, “are the natural sequence to immoral experiences–would you object, Mont, to sitting on the window-ledge? Where you are standing is exactly in my line of fire.”

“Your what?” I asked, scarcely believing my ears.

“My line of fire,” said Billy calmly. “It is a phrase employed by machine-gun officers, with or without lurid adjectives.”

I sat myself upon the broad window-ledge, feeling it very carefully, because window-ledges in newly-decorated houses seem to be the last part of the decoration to dry. And then I saw a red silk handkerchief on Bill’s desk, and towards that red silk handkerchief his hand presently strayed. There was no need, even if it had been expedient, to ask what that square of silk concealed. I knew at once that it was a revolver and wondered why. As a rule there is very little that is dramatic, and still less that is melodramatic, in the everyday life of a private detective.

I saw his eyes go from me to the door, and looking round I saw the white-coated workman with the little beard. He was standing looking up at the cornice, his hands fidgeting with a foot-rule, and then I heard Billington Stabbat speak.

“George,” he said softly, and the man turned round. “Come over here, George,” said Billy, “and keep your hands where I can see ’em, because if they go to your pockets I shall shoot you very dead, and that is a condition in which I am very sure you would find yourself horribly bored.”

The workman came slowly towards the desk, his large brown eyes fixed on Billy.

“Permit me to introduce you to Sergeant Mont, of Scotland Yard,” said Billy with a little flourish of his hand. “This is Mr. George Briscoe, of Canada; and how is the world treating you, George?”

The workman licked his lips and said nothing.

“I had the honour of putting George’s brother into a penitentiary for a life term, or was it twenty years?” said Billy in a conversational tone as though he were explaining the most commonplace event. “Naturally George is a little sore with me, and has come over, I guess, to get even. You have not had many opportunities, have you, George?”

Still the workman said nothing.

“How is Tom, by the way?” asked Billington in all innocence.

Then the man broke his silence.

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