“I didn’t kill him, Mr. Hawke! I swear I didn’t kill him!”
Foxy Lee’s rattish face was grey with fright. It was quiet in the interview room at Wandsworth Jail, and the little crook’s voice roused strange echoes.
“He was dead when I broke in!” Foxy went on, beads of perspiration gathering on his forehead.
“I told the truth to the inspector. I didn’t kill Michael Martin!”
“Take it easy,” Dixon Hawke said. “I’ll help you if I can, but the evidence against you is pretty black.”
The famous criminologist had been called to the jail by the personal appeal of the prisoner, who was well known to him. Foxy was a crook, but a second-rater. He had carried out small robberies, but had never committed any crime of much magnitude.
And now he was charged with murder —charged with the death of Michael Martin, and with enough evidence against him to hang a dozen men. They had found his fingerprints on the pistol by the side of the body. They had found his jemmy and other tools scattered on the floor. And Foxy had made a confession of breaking in with intent to rob.
“But I didn’t kill the cove!” ho whimpered. “I tell you what happened, Mr. Hawke. I lifted a window and went in. There was just one light in the room, and that was shaded. I saw a pistol on the floor, and picked it up. Then I saw the—the body! I dropped the pistol and done a bolt!”
“Every word’s true. They’ll ’ang me if you don’t do something! I didn’t kill him! I didn’t!”
The criminologist looked at the little man. If Foxy was acting the part of an innocent man, he was certainly doing it cleverly.
“You’re as crooked as they’re made,” the criminologist said, “but I don’t think you’d do murder. I’ll try my best to get you out of this mess.”
“Bless you, Mr. ’Awke. You’re a real gent—straight! –Not like that inspector, who don’t care nothing so long as he gets the rope round my neck!”
“That’s enough!” growled Inspector Meadows, the C.I.D. officer responsible for the arrest. “I don’t want to see an innocent man hanged, but I think we’ve got the right chap in you!”
The warder came to take Foxy away. Dixon Hawke and the inspector left the jail. The latter was half-defiant as they entered the car which had brought them to Wandsworth.
“They don’t call him Foxy without reason,” he suggested.
“Oh, he’s clever, Meadows, but there are some queer facts in this case to be studied.”
“The weapon that killed Martin, for example.”
“It was a duelling pistol. Martin had many queer things in his house. His real name, by the way, was Micha Martinez. He came originally from Moravia, and was naturalised as a British subject five years ago.”
“A curious character, I believe. I’d very much like to see the room where he was killed.”
“I have the keys to the house in my pocket. We’ve removed the body for the inquest, but everything else is as the housekeeper found it.”
“She was away the night of the crime?”
“Her master had sent her away over the week-end, and he was alone in the place.”
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The Bullet in the Wall
The house was midway between Hampstead and Golders Green, standing at the edge of the wide heath. Inspector Meadow’s unlocked the doors and showed the way to the room where Martin had been killed.
It was an enormous room, dating back to the spacious days of the Victorians. The length was over fifty feet, and it was a good twenty wide. A thick carpet was underfoot, and the walls were hung with rich tapestries. The furniture was somewhat disarranged and moved back from the centre of the room.
“We found it like this,” Meadows said. “I don’t quite understand what Martin had been up to.”
“Where was he lying?”
“Over there by the window. The curtains were drawn, and the lamp near the fireplace turned on. The bullet had caught him above the heart.”
“A duelling pistol, you say?”
“Ho has a collection of them. I think he must have been loading the weapon when Foxy came in. Possibly there was a struggle. The weapon was fired from a good forty feet, so I think Foxy had taken it from him and was making for the door when he lost his nerve and pulled the trigger.”
“But you found the pistol near the body r
“Our man probably put it there in the hope the thing would look like suicide–”
“In that case why did he leave his housebreaking tools scattered on the floor?”
Inspector Meadows grunted, but did not answer. Hawke turned away, and began a careful search of the room. First, he examined the case containing the collection of pistols. They were all there except the one that had been found with the body.
One by one he picked them up. The pistols smelt of oil, and were in excellent condition. A number of bullets were in the collection.
The bullets were round, and cast with all the care of the old-time gunsmith. For a long time the criminologist stood examining the case.
“There are spaces for twelve bullets,” he said at last. “Did you notice that two were missing?”
“We found one in Martin.”
“And the other?”
“It was probably lost long ago.” Hawke took one of the pistols. Slowly he moved to the chalk marks on the floor which showed the position in which the dead man had been found. He turned and faced the length of the room, raising his arm with the pistol extended.
His eye was keen as he looked along the barrel. The weapon poised with exquisite balance. Hawke could see the tapestry-hung wall beyond the foresight.
The design of the hanging represented a pastoral scene. A goatherd played his pipes and a young kid skipped in the background. There was a tree with birds flying in and out of the foliage. Something queer about one of those birds, the investigator noticed.
And then a cry of astonishment burst from Hawke’s lips.
“The other bullet! ” he said.
Hurrying across the room he put a chair against the wall and climbed on to it. Carefully he moved the tapestry, and a shower of fine plaster fell from behind it. He began to dig with the blade of a knife, and presently a rounded lump of lead was in his hand.
“How do you explain it?” he asked Meadows. “Did Martin have two pistols loaded and fire one at Foxy?”
“I’m blessed if I know! ” The C.I.D. officer was mortified at the discovery of the bullet. “I searched thoroughly,” he added, “but I didn’t think of looking in that wall.”
“The angle of the shot was upward. Even if Martin had been lying on the floor ho couldn’t have put the ball where I found it. Something deflected it.”
“You can see faint stains on the lead. I notice spots on the carpet redder than the dye. If you have a test made, I am sure you will find traces of human blood 1 ”
“But there’s no mark on Foxy! ”
“Quite—and I’m ready to bet that the little crook is innocent 1 ”
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A Visitor from Moravia
The second bullet was a valuable clue, but at that the new line of investigation was halted. It had already been established that nobody had hoard the firing of the shots. The house stood alone at the edge of the heath and it was easy to enter or leave the place without being seen.
Standing in front of a cabinet, the criminologist looked at some photographs in silver frames. He picked up one which showed a group of officers in the smart uniforms of the Moravian Army. Meadows crossed to Hawke’s side and looked over his shoulder at the photograph.
“Martin is the one on the left,” ho volunteered. “Before he came to this country he was an officer in the Royal Guard.”
“And the man whose arm is linked in his is General Riccardo Pablo,” supplemented Hawke. “I saw his photograph in the papers a few days ago when he came here with a military mission. I wonder what caused Martinez to give up such a fine career and change his nationality?”
“I don’t know, Hawke—and it will be almost impossible to find out,” said Inspector Meadows.
“I’ll look into that myself. I’ll be glad, by the way, if you will have the two bullets and the collection of duelling pistols examined by an expert. You can got that done quickly?” rapped Hawke.
“Certainly. What do you expect to find out?” asked the inspector, feeling more curious than ever.
“That the bullets were fired from different pistols! That one of the weapons in the case has been recently cleaned and oiled!” announced Hawke, his eyes glittering with excitement.
Inspector Meadows blinked in astonishment. He was bewildered by the rapid developments in what had appeared to be a simple case. The officer shook his head as he went to the telephone and called Scotland Yard. Hawke’s strange requests were to be satisfied.
Leaving the scene of the tragedy, the criminologist returned to his Dover Street chambers. He ordered his assistant, Tommy Burke, to bring him the files of newspapers for the past three days.
The journals came from all parts of Europe, those of Paris and Berlin arriving at Dover Street on the day of publication. Hawke knew several languages, and gleaned valuable information from his study of the foreign press.
An English paper reported the arrival of the Moravian military mission, headed by General Pablo. Its business had been quickly accomplished, but the officers had stayed for various entertainments arranged for them.
“Moravia was represented at Aider—shot by Colonel Battisti,” Hawke read. “General Pablo flew to Paris unexpectedly this morning. No explanation has been given for his sudden departure, but he is not expected to return.”
The date of the paper was the previous day, an early evening edition. The criminologist then turned to the French file and worked through the columns of the “Paris Soir,” the popular newspaper of that city. He found what he was looking for on an inside page.
“General Pablo, of Moravia, who has been in England, arrived by air at Le Bourget this afternoon. His visit was unexpected, and there was no reception. He left in a closed car for the Hotel du Roi”
In the “Matin ” of that morning’s date there was another brief paragraph.
“General Pablo is confined to his apartment at the Hotel du Roi by a bad chill. He is being attended by a doctor from the Moravian Embassy.”
Hawke cut out the paragraphs and put them in his wallet. He spent some time walking up and down the room, his usually pale cheeks flushed with excitement. When the telephone rang in the other room he reached the instrument before Tommy Burke could lift the receiver.
Inspector Meadows was on the wire. The C.I.D. man was excited. He could hardly control himself as he reported the findings of the firearms expert at Scotland Yard.
“You must be a wizard, Hawke! The bullet you found in the wall was fired from one of the guns in the collection. It was carefully cleaned and oiled before being put back in the case.”
“Excellent! And do you think Foxy would have thought of that?” asked Hawke.
“I’m blessed if I know! The evidence was all against him a few hours ago, but now he’s got a good defence,” said the inspector.
“What about the stains on the carpet?”
” It’s human blood all right. Somebody was hurt, but it wasn’t Foxy. The thing that puzzles me is this. If two guns were fired, why was the one that killed Martin found by his body and the one he apparently used cleaned and put away?”
“I think the killer planned to clean both guns, but his wound made it necessary for him to leave. Either that, or he was forced to clear off when Foxy arrived,” Hawke suggested.
Then the detective hesitated a moment. Meadows called his name several times before he replied, and then it was with a request as surprising as any he had made.
“Can I have the gun and bullet packed and sent to meet me at Croydon?”
‘‘Croydon? What’s the idea, Hawke?” gasped Inspector Meadows, becoming more and more puzzled.
“I’m taking the plane for Paris,” the criminologist answered. “I need the gun as—as a visiting-card, Meadows. As a visiting card! ”
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At the Hotel du Roi
To Dixon Hawke, the French capital was as familiar as London. When the bus from Le Bourget dropped him at the air terminus on the Rue George V’., he strolled slowly along the boulevard to the great Place du Concorde. Under his arm was a small package which he had passed unopened through the Customs with the aid of his Scotland Yard credentials.
For once the criminologist had no intention of asking for the aid of his French friends in the Sûreté. What he had come to do was entirely unofficial. He hesitated before entering the Hotel du Roi, but finally approached the desk and made an inquiry concerning General Pablo.
“I regret,” said the clerk, “the General does not receive visitors. He is ill.”
“So I read in the papers,” Hawke said. “But it is very important that I sec him.”
The clerk spoke on the telephone. Shortly afterwards a swarthy man of military appearance stepped from the lift. He introduced himself as the Moravian’s aide-de-camp.
“It is quite impossible,” he said. “The General is confined to his bed with a bad chill. If you will leave your card, perhaps an interview can be arranged later.”
“This is my card,” Hawke said, holding out the flat case under his arm. “If you will give it to the General I’ll wait for his reply. I think he will sec me at once.”
The young officer bowed and went away. Hawke paced the lobby, his hands gripped behind his back.
Several minutes passed and then the clerk called him. He was requested to go up to the General’s apartment. Following the dapper page, he walked down a broad corridor and was admitted to a suite of rooms by the same swarthy aide-de-camp he had met a few minutes previously. There was a look of alarm on the man’s face.
“If you please,” he said, opening the door of an inner room.
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A Full Confession
It was a fine room, lighted by the bright evening sky. In a chair near the windows sat a tall and dignified man. He wore a dressing-gown over his pyjamas, and the detective noticed that his left arm was in a sling. As Hawke entered, lie gazed at him intently.
“I am General Pablo,” he said. “You wish to see me? I understand that I am talking to Mr. Dixon Hawke.”
“I regret troubling you, General, but the matter is of some importance,’’ said Hawke grimly.
“So I understand from your—er— visiting-card.”
The Moravian tapped the open case lying on the table. The pistol and misshapen bullet were open to view.
“Your ‘cards’ are dangerous,” ho said reflectively.
“In some hands. General. Such a * card ’ as this killed Micha Martinez, with whom I believe you were acquainted,” said Hawke.
The detective looked at the man’s haggard face. It was with difficulty that ho forced the next words from his lips.
“Did he shoot first?” he asked the General.
“Before the clock struck for the signal. He was treacherous to the last! You know all, Mr. Hawke?”
“Most of it. You went to Martinez and challenged him to a duel. The pistols were loaded and you fired from opposite ends of the room. His shot, I gather, struck your shoulder and was deflected upwards to the wall, where I found it. Yours, fired a second later, found his heart.”
“You started to clean the guns, hoping thereby to bewilder the police, but were interrupted by the arrival of a thief. You dropped the gun you had not cleaned near the body of Martinez, and hid. Afterwards you went away and left for Paris as quickly as possible. And an innocent man is accused of murder! ”
A troubled look showed in the Moravian’s eyes for a moment, and then he pushed a thick envelope towards the accuser. It was addressed to Scotland Yard.
“Full confession,” he said. “I could do nothing else. The reason for the duel I cannot explain in detail. It concerns a lady—five years ago, when Martinez was my brother officer. He was a rat, Mr. Hawke! Is there any need for me to explain? I challenged him, but he ran from Moravia. When I came to London I sought him out and begged him to return to meet me in the proper manner. He refused, and then I saw the pistols. I repeat, he was more than a rat! I have no regrets—except for the man who was blamed for my action ! ”
The words were spoken with considerable force, and the General sank back weakly in the chair when he had finished. Hawke stood before him, the envelope containing the confession between his fingers. It was a difficult moment.
He had no reason to doubt the Moravian. The man’s tale of what had happened was perfectly true. Doubtless, too, Martinez had deserved to die.
But taking the law into one’s hands was a crime in England. General Pablo would be charged with manslaughter, perhaps murder, if the confession was put in the hands of Scotland Yard.
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A Present from Foxy
I will come with you to England if you wish,” the General said.
“Not yet,” Hawke said. He had made up his mind. “I want your word as a soldier that you will not leave this hotel until I wire you permission. I am returning alone. If nothing else can save Foxy Lee, I must give the police your confession.”
“I am at .your orders, Mr. Hawke ! ” The General rose to his feet. He stood at attention while the criminologist went to the door. It was a rare moment for Dixon Hawke, who actually regretted that he had succeeded in unravelling the mystery of the second bullet.
On his return to England, Hawke called Inspector Meadows at the Yard. The C.I.D. officer was in a cheerful mood, and asked him to come round at once.
“Well,” he said, rubbing his hands, “while you’ve been making mysteries I’ve been solving ’em ! ”
“Solving them. Inspector?”
“You played a big part in it, Hawke. Foxy Lee has been released. It is quite obvious that Martinez shot himself I ”
“I have discovered he used to practise shooting with his pistols. On the night in question he fired one weapon, and you found the bullet in the wall. He cleaned the gun and put it away. The second weapon went off accidentally and killed him. What do you think of the theory?”
Dixon Hawke thrust his hands into his pockets. He felt the thick envelope containing the confession. It was a long time before he spoke.
“Congratulations, Meadows,” ho said.
“So you agree? We’re not so stupid at the Yard, after all, eh? And what about your crazy trip to Paris?”
“It was just a crazy trip! ” Dixon Hawke said quietly.
Some days later a small package arrived at Dover Street. The criminologist opened it at the breakfast table, and whistled as he took out a valuable tiepin. A scrap of paper, containing a message pencilled in an uneducated hand, was wrapped around it.
“You’re a gent!” he read. “You got me off having my neck stretched. Here’s something to show you my thanks! ”
The signature was that of Foxy Lee, and Hawke laughed as he examined the pin and then passed it over to his assistant.
“Thanks from the criminal world ! ” he said. “Will you please check this up with the list of stolen property. Tommy? I’m very interested to know whom I must thank for Foxy’s gift!”
~ The End ~