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GEES' FIRST CASE
GEES, A GIRL—AND INSPECTOR TOTT
THE Aberdeen-London express had just finished its noisy trundle over the Forth bridge when the waiter in the restaurant-car picked up his douceur from the table for two in the corner, and the clean-shaven, pleasantly-ugly young man who had sorted out the coins looked up almost anxiously, as if wondering whether he had over- or underdone it.
“Thank you, sir,” said the waiter, in a tone that proved the tip over rather than under. “Everything all right, sir?”
“Except—yes, thanks, except the sauce tartare.”
“I’m sorry about that, sir. If you’d only mentioned it before—”
“No use, waiter—no use,” the young man interrupted. “It was not the mixing, but the ingredients. Contract stuff, of course. Not your chef’s fault at all. Now tell me, is there likely to be much bustle and confusion at Edinburgh?”
“Much—?” The waiter looked rather puzzled. “You mean— you’re staying in Edinburgh, sir?”
“Not this time, I fear. No. What I meant was—will people be sitting on suit-cases in the corridor when we pull out from the North British? Shall I have to climb into the baggage rack to get peace?”
“Oh, no, sir—it’s not likely to be really crowded. End of May—too early in the year. And the middle of the week at that.”
“Thanks very much, waiter.” The young man got up, revealing himself as of well over average height, and so lanky that he looked even taller than he was. His hands were unduly large, though well-shaped, and, as he made his way to his own first-class compartment in the train, he revealed the fact that his feet were enormous. But his walk was that of a trained athlete, and the way in which he balanced himself when the heavy train swayed proved him an old hand at the game—and almost certainly at other games as well.
He went straight to the rather ancient-looking suitcase on the rack, lifted it down, and, opening it, took out a long envelope. From this he extracted two slips of paper, and, licking the four corners of each slip separately, stuck one on the left hand window at the side of the coach, and the other on the corridor window on the right—that is, the left and right windows considered in relation to the direction of the train. Then he put the envelope back and restored the suit-case to its place: a man whom he knew had provided him with a dozen of these “RESERVED” labels—for a consideration, of course. They were the authentic things, not forgeries.
Then this young man sat back in the corner of the otherwise empty compartment and watched from the left- hand window while the heavy train slid nicely to its thirteen-minute halt in the North British station.
“All,” he quoted to himself gently, “was bustle and confusion.”
It was. Three irascible men looked at his label: the second of them, the young man was sure, uttered his profanities aloud; the others were more restrained. A worried-looking woman in a fur coat—for there was an east wind blowing across the city from Leith that day—came along, dragging a bad-tempered looking small boy by the hand, and following her came a chauffeur leading another boy and a small girl. The small girl pointed at the young man alone in his compartment, and shrilled in a fashion that made him shudder:
“Here’s one, Mummy!”
“No,” said the woman. “That’s reserved, darling.”
“Darling,” the young man decided from the woman’s tone, was the sort of formality that goes with—“Not at home,” and “Must you go already?” There was, he would have said, no kick in it. Then he shuddered again, for the woman was evidently getting into the next compartment: a porter trailed a barrow of small cases and packages behind the chauffeur, emptied the lot into the compartment, and, returning to his barrow, gazed at something in his hand with regret for murder uncommitted in his eye. The chauffeur stayed, probably to arrange packages, and either through the partition or by way of the corridor the young man heard those children begin their respective plaints, an indistinct chorus that was to annoy him in some measure all the way to London.
He looked at his watch: three minutes more, and so far his labels had kept the pass as nobly as Roland at Roncesvalles. Then, hurrying, a trifle anxious by the look of her, the girl came along the platform. She gave him a look of wrath, and he knew she had seen the label: he half-started up to pull it off the window, but before he could complete the action she had passed, and paused before the next compartment, ignoring him and his solitude.
She was tall, he saw, and she had a classic profile: rather pale as to complexion—not too much make-up, he decided—with black or very dark hair showing from under her dainty little hat, and lovely dark eyes—doe’s eyes. But she had gone on: it was too late to remove the label and invite her in, now. And there were signs that departure was imminent: men stood about with flags and things and looked terribly important, or looked at their watches; porters went along the platform with empty barrows, and a gentle hiss of escaping steam sounded from somewhere under the coach. A warning whistle shrilled.
“Any more for the shore?” the young man murmured to himself.
Then, faced toward the engine as he sat, he saw this girl of his dreams almost running back alongside the train, looking into each compartment eagerly as she passed it. Moving at the limit of his agility, he tore that damned label off the window—and saw her get into the next compartment with the woman and three children as the final whistle sounded and the train began to move again.
“Still,” he told himself, “if I hadn’t put ’em on, that woman in fur would have dragged those three abominations in here on me, so what have you? And it’s a long way to London, yet.”
The consideration he had accorded to the situation may be judged from the fact that, when he arrived at this conclusion, the eastern sea was visible and North Berwick not far away.
“Judging by the chorus next door,” he meditated again, “she’s having a thin time. And those eyes were simply marvellous!”
He looked up. She stood in the corridor, gazing in on him: by the way in which her left arm hung down, he concluded that she had brought her little, black morocco dressing-case out from the next compartment on emerging from it. He crossed his compartment and opened the corridor door. She was looking past him, at the left-hand window.
“Can I help you at all?” he asked.
But she nodded at the window. “It had one on too,” she said, ignoring his question. “I’m sure it had, at Edinburgh.”
“Yes,” he confessed, “but I took that off when I saw you coming back. And then you preferred next door.”
“If I have to go back to those children, I shall die,” she declared. “That woman ought to have taken a special train.”
“Do come in here,” he begged. “I’ve got it all to myself, and—and there’s the communication cord if you get frightened.”
She entered with a smile at him and a slight shake of her dainty little head. He took the morocco dressing-case from her.
“Facing, or back to?” he inquired.
“Which do you prefer?” But she glanced at the seat facing forward, and he took down his own ancient case and put hers up in its place.
“Oh, but you shouldn’t!” she protested. “It’s your seat.”
“But I want it down.” He put the case down on the seat, opened it, and took another label out of the envelope. “I don’t know where or how we stop on the way,” he observed after licking the corners of the label and sticking it on the window where its predecessor had been, “only that we’re due in at nine-fifty-five to-night at King’s Cross. And there might be other woes travelling like those three next door. Do sit down, please! I only sat there because of the scenery, and I’m not interested in it any more, now.”
She seated herself, and he took the corner facing her. “Do you always do that?” she queried, nodding at the label.
“It’s practically infallible,” he answered indirectly. “Of course, I’d no idea you’d be travelling by this train. If you’ll let me know in advance next time, I’ll hold it on the end of a stick at the North British and take it down when I see you.”
Her forehead wrinkled in perplexity, he saw, and at the sight divined that she was questioning whether she had done right in coming into this compartment. Then the children next door shrilled again.
“I feel sure I’ve seen you before, somewhere,” she said abruptly.
“Holding up the traffic, probably,” he answered. “I couldn’t have seen you, though, or I should have let it go. On point duty.”
“Do you mean you’re a policeman?” she demanded sharply, and the perplexity in her expression gave way to a transient fear.
“Well, look at my feet,” he counselled. “You see, the Army doesn’t want brains, and the Law doesn’t want common honesty, and the Church doesn’t want anything. So when I suggested the police force to my father as a profession, he agreed there might be something in it.”
“And now”—she sounded rather trepidant over it—“you’re a detective, I suppose?”
“Worse—far worse.” He felt in his breast pocket. “I spent two sad years in the force, but now—” he took out a card and offered it to her—“look at that! Blossoming out—what?”
She took the card, and he estimated that his hand could hold six of hers, easily—she was dainty from head to foot. She read:
Consult Gees for Everything
From Mumps to Murder!
37, Little Oakfield Street, Initial Consultation;
Haymarket, W. Two Guineas.
She frowned heavily over the card, and offered it back to him.
“Keep it,” he urged. “You might need to consult me.”
So she put the card in her handbag. “You are a representative of that firm, you mean?” she asked.
“No—I’m it,” he assured her.
She took the card out again and looked at it. “But—it’s them, surely?” she inquired. “Gees—plural.”
“They, you mean,” he corrected her. “No—they are me—I mean, I’m they—that is, it. Gees. It. Me—I mean I.”
She reflected. “It sounds—well, irreverent,” she observed.
“No, only half. There isn’t any plural,” he assured her. “Gees—it stands for Gregory George Gordon Green—me. I, I should say.”
“Do have an aspirin!” she begged suddenly.
“Do I look like a dope fiend? No, really, it is my name.”
“They are, you mean,” she corrected him. “But they must have chloroformed you to make you take it.”
“No—they chloroformed the vicar.”
“Oh, this is awful! What vicar?”
“The one who christened me. They had to operate twice to remove his stutter. My father managed to say it all right at the font, and wasn’t a bit affected afterward. At least, so they told me later.”
“And you really were a policeman?”
“Not then. When I grew up. Two years of it. But—well, I ought to have gone into the army. There’s too much discipline in the police force for anyone like me. It’s put me agin the law.”
“How do you mean that?”
“Well, you know—all this organisation and—take lottery tickets. Though it’s getting almost difficult to take them. The law! Damn the law! And people go in for crime as if it were an amateur affair. They don’t realise what an organisation there is against them, built up and systematised as it is. Crime ought to be organised—people ought to train for it properly if they mean to go in for it. Burglars’ colleges, night schools for forgers—proper equipment and all that sort of thing. It’s no use trying to conduct a big industry in a casual, haphazard sort of way, when you’ve got that intensive, systematised police opposition to face. All these untrained people, each working alone! What they need is a co-operative system, and proper training.”
“It sounds almost sensible, as you say it,” she reflected.
“It is sensible!” he insisted. “I was in the police force long enough to know what the ordinary and generally altogether untrained criminal is up against. Crime doesn’t pay—an old truth, but true only because crime isn’t properly run—isn’t systematised.”
“And this—this confidential agency you talk about?”
“Oh, that! Well, you see, I’ve only just started it. Must do something, you know. I’ve got an office and a secretary, and went all the way to Aberdeen in the hope of getting a case. But it wasn’t. When I got there, they said my fees were too high.”
“How disappointing for you!” she said sympathetically.
“But I might have known,” he pointed out. “Aberdeen.”
For awhile they sat silent: a ticket-inspector came into the compartment and, with his little punch, relieved each of them of a fraction of the weight they had to carry to the end of the journey. He had gone his way when, looking toward the corridor, Gees saw an unobtrusive sort of man, in a lounge suit of the fifty-shilling vintage, pass the compartment slowly and make such an elaborate business of not looking in as to render it certain that he was. Gees waited hopefully, and sure enough the man returned along the corridor after a brief while, and took a good, hearty look at the pair in the compartment in passing.
“New to his job,” Gees observed. The girl had been looking out of the window abstractedly, and had not seen the man pass at all.
“What was that?” she asked, turning her beautiful dark eyes his way.
“A man should know his job,” Gees amended, and hoped she had not fully comprehended his original observation. “Like me, for instance. I do a couple of years study at police work, make myself thoroughly conversant with it, and then launch out as a whole police force on my own. In my little office—initial consultation, two guineas. Now what could be fairer than that?”
“I don’t know,” she said vaguely and abstractedly, and resumed her survey of the landscape to the east. As they were now approaching the grimy industrial vicinity of Newcastle-on-Tyne, Gees felt sure she must have something on her mind: nobody, he knew, would wilfully scrutinise that outlook with the idea of imprinting it on the memory.
But he left her alone, for the time being. That individual who had walked along the corridor and back was, he knew, what he would have termed a disfrocked rozzer: in plain English, a policeman who had only recently been put on plain-clothes work. This was quite probably his first plain-clothes job, and, by the way he had looked in here, he was making an awful hash of it. He might not be specially interested in the occupants of this compartment, but, on the other hand, it appeared that he had them under observation to some extent.
Reviewing his sins, Gees came to the conclusion that the man could not be detailed to watch him: that rather flamboyant card announcing the existence and purpose of the confidential agency was not yet a month old, and though anything of the kind, as Gees knew from his experiences with the force, was highly unpopular—and all the more so since he was stealing police thunder to a certain extent, having walked out after absorbing as much of procedure and methods as he could—they could have nothing on him yet to justify putting a man on to watch him. Besides, knowing as one Inspector Tott knew that Gees was not nearly such a fool as he looked, they would have put on a more efficient type of man than this, had they wanted to watch him.
Unseen by the girl, he gave her an unbiased scrutiny—that is to say, though he admired her type, he put admiration in the background for the purposes of his survey. Clever—yes, the forehead indicated it: extremely self- possessed—yes, as he had already seen: attractive enough to be very dangerous to the average man: a trifle unscrupulous, for she had appeared to approve his views regarding the necessity of organising crime in order to render it profitable: quite a woman of the world, in spite of her apparent youth, as she had proved by her manner in entering his compartment. Altogether, he decided, the really charming type of girl one always hopes to meet, and always misses meeting. But, in order to prove that rule, his luck was in.
If that fat-headed loon in the corridor were really watching her, what was her little game? No decoy for an ordinary crook enterprise, Gees felt sure, for she was far too expensively attired and too good style in herself for that. Political? But the political game, in spite of assertions in thrillers to the contrary, is not aided by that type, for she was innocent of Mata Hari allure or suggestiveness. He was deliberating over other possibilities when she turned her head and nearly caught him studying her: she did not quite catch him at it.
“Are you one of the Shropshire Greens?” she asked abruptly.
“No, just a Green Green,” he answered. “You know— family supplied the name, and Providence weighed in with the nature.”
“I once met a man on the boat who talked so much about the Shropshire Greens,” she explained. “Forgive the question.”
“Oh, easily,” he assured her. “Did you say the boat, though?”
“A cross-channel boat,” she explained again, but managed to convey by her tone that she did not like the question. Gees divined that her admission of having been abroad was involuntary, and already regretted. Yet everybody went abroad nowadays: there could be nothing in it.
“I didn’t know there were any special Shropshire Greens,” he observed, with a view to putting her at her ease again.
“Lots,” she said ironically. “Village greens, you know.”
“But I’m a town Green,” he countered promptly.
“Like the one at Paddington—green no longer,” she suggested.
“I’ve never known my name to be so really productive before,” he remarked. “It appears to have lasted us all the way from North Berwick, and we haven’t really started on derivations and ways of spelling it. And now I think of it—did we stop at Berwick?”
“Oh, don’t be so appalling!” she urged impatiently.
“But I really didn’t notice!” he assured her. “Can you wonder at it? I was engrossed in talking to you, and nobody came in on us.”
She glanced at his label still on the window. “No,” she assented. “Nobody. I expect you have a Bradshaw in that nice new office of yours. Consult it when you get there, and find out if we stopped.”
“I’ll ask my secretary to look it up the instant I get in to-morrow morning,” he promised. “It shall be a first duty. Meanwhile, do we tea? I feel that tea is one of the fondest things I’m of, at this moment. Will you come along to the restaurant car with me?”
She shook her head ever so slightly and smiled at him. “It’s very nice of you, but couldn’t we have just a pot in here? I had a very good lunch, and don’t wish for anything to eat.”
She was keeping out of sight of that fifty-shilling-suit rozzer, he reflected, as he pressed a bell-push. No, though, she had not seen the man. Perhaps she disliked walking along swaying corridors. He ordered a pot of China tea for two when the attendant appeared in answer to his ring, and, when it arrived, marked the way in which she filled the cups just to the right height and no further. A practised traveller, evidently, used to trains—and boats.
“You live in London?” he inquired, after a sip at his cup.
“Oh, look!” She pointed through the window with her free hand. “An aeroplane! Flying in our direction, too.”
“Service plane,” he announced, after a glance through the window. “A de Havilland Fighter—no, it’s a Fairey. Nice buses to handle.”
“You fly, then?” she inquired.
“I’ve done a bit—got my ticket and all that. You see, supposing I got an inquiry in at my office about flying— someone wanted to steal a plane or crash his rich uncle? I have to be in a position to advise.”
She gazed ahead through the window. “It’s nearly out of sight, now,” she remarked. “Did you ever meet Schroder?”
“That Russian chap with a German name who put up those records last year,” he observed. “Can’t say that I have. Do you know him?”
“I read about him,” she answered evasively—he felt sure it was an evasion. “Richthofen was killed in the War, wasn’t he?”
“I believe so—yes. And you said you do live in London?”
“No.” The framing of the question, as he realised as soon as he had uttered it, invited her inconclusive answer.
“But I do want to see you again!” he pleaded.
She smiled. “Neither did I say I did not live in London,” she said.
“Then my luck is in! You do!” He made it an accusation.
“Sometimes. I’ve been—away—and I don’t expect to be there long this time. This is—” she hesitated—“just a visit, say.”
“Couldn’t you manage to come and consult me about something while you’re there? I’d waive the fee for the initial consultation. I only put it on to keep away the people who might think I’m a sort of workhouse infirmary. The something-for-nothingers.”
“I don’t know. I must think about it,” she said demurely.
“The address is on the card—it’s the third floor. I chose the furniture myself, and it was delivered in plain vans.”
A little frown of perplexity indicated that the final slogan meant nothing to her. She spoke perfect colloquial English with no trace of accent of any kind, but, coupling up her query regarding the famous Russian ace with this ignorance of a catchword nearly everyone used, he began to question—was she English? Her Parisian ensemble, her delicately pale complexion—was she, or was she a foreigner fully conversant (apart from that one slip) with English life and ways?
A little later, an attendant entered the compartment and removed the tea-tray: after he had gone, the girl spoke hesitatingly:
“I wonder if you’d mind if I put my feet up and rest for a little while? I’ve had such an exhausting day—”
“Why, certainly!” he hurried to assure her. “Just a second—if you’ll move out of the corner, along the seat a bit.”
Rising, he reached down his suit-case and dust-coat from the rack. He placed the suit-case in the corner in which she had been sitting, made a loose roll of the coat, and put it on top of the case.
“Head rest,” he explained. “Try it and see if it’s right.”
She lifted her feet on to the seat, smoothed down her skirt, and lay down with her head on the coat. “Just nice,” she said.
“Excellent! Shall I get a table booked in the restaurant-car and waken you in time for dinner?”
“How nice of you! If I find it possible to sleep, that is.”
He composed himself in his corner opposite her, and, seeing that she closed her eyes, let his own gaze travel along her as she lay. Little hands—dainty little hands: equally little feet—
“What are you thinking about?”
She had opened her eyes again, he saw.
“What tiny, beautiful hands and feet you’ve got—and my own tremendous far ends,” he explained. “If we could only shake ’em up together a bit, now—”
But she started up. “That’s a brutal insult!” she exclaimed.
“Please, I didn’t mean it to be,” he pleaded humbly. “I didn’t mean anything insulting. Only that—that Providence had blessed you with lovely feet and hands, and been cruelly lavish to me. Do forgive me, please, so I can forgive myself.”
She composed herself on the seat again. “The apology is accepted, for this once only,” she said coldly.
As she closed her eyes again, he did not reply. With that sharply uttered reproof, she had given herself away as not English—the pronunciation of the word “brutal” had betrayed her. Gees had once heard Hillaire Belloc lecture, and now he noted in her trick of saying the word just such a variation from fully English speech, as he had heard in some words uttered by the great author. No, not English.
She was really asleep, he decided. An exhausting day— what had she been doing before boarding this train at Edinburgh? She looked perfectly healthy, not one who would become exhausted over a trifle.
He sat brooding, and the great express rushed southward.
They dined together at the corner table for two at which Gees had lunched. The evening was serene and luminous—when they went down by Peterborough, he saw the smoke rising straight into the air from the tall brickworks’ chimneys. And, when they returned to their compartment and heard again the horrid sounds of youth from next door, Gees looked at his suit-case in the rack. Yes, it had been moved in his absence, and probably thoroughly overhauled, for he had not locked it. He thanked the fifty-shilling-suit rozzer for the attention, mentally, and wished him luck. There was nothing questionable in the case.
Then they went thunderously through the tunnels beyond which King’s Cross awaited them. Gees took down the morocco suit-case and put it on the seat beside the girl.
“Thank you,” she said. “Now I want to ask you—when I get out, let me go away alone. Don’t go with me.”
“But I was hoping to see you all the way?” he protested.
She shook her head. “No, let me go alone.”
“May I see you again?”
“I don’t know. If so, I have your address.”
“And I don’t even know your name!”
“That is true.” But she did not tell him the name.
Her eyes were soft, lovely. “May I kiss you?” he asked.
“If you do, I shall instantly pull this cord, and give you in charge as soon as the train stops.”
She meant it, he knew. Her eyes were still lovely, but no longer soft in expression. She was fully determined about it.
“I apologise—again,” he said.
“You ask every girl that, of course,” she asserted.
“On my word, only one other, at a first meeting. The one who is now my secretary. And she wouldn’t, either.”
“So you made her your secretary, in the hope that she would relent?”
“On the contrary,” he dissented, “because I knew she wouldn’t. You can’t have that sort of thing in your office.”
“Neither am I cheap,” she said cuttingly, and took up her case. For the train was slowing alongside the platform, then. “And I go my way alone from here. Thank you for all you’ve done—and more for what you have not tried to do. For the present—good-bye.”
Then there was just a hope, he reflected, as he let her precede him out to the platform, that she meant to see him again. Just a hope!
He saw the woman with three children, looking as if it were the last day and she knew the worst, but he had no pity for her—let her find a porter for herself! Then, at the exit from the platform, he saw something else that drew all his attention.
The fifty-shilling-suit rozzer, probably getting out from the front coach, preceded the girl past the end of the platform, and made a little signal that Gees, through his police experience, recognised, to one of two men standing together and looking along the platform as if they had come to meet somebody. When the girl passed out, the rozzer, in view of the two men, made another barely noticeable signal, and at that one of the two—Detective-Sergeant Johns, Gees knew—left his companion and followed her.
So fifty-shilling had been keeping watch on her, and now Johns was taking up the trail! But evidently they had nothing on her, or, with three of them available, an arrest would have been effected there and then. Suspect, for some reason, but no case proved against her.
Well, he himself had been asked not to follow her, and perhaps it would be as well to comply with the request, on the whole. So cogitating, he passed out from the platform, and a voice arrested him—that of the well set-up, alert-looking man (he might have been a prosperous young business man, but Gees knew he was not) who had been waiting with Detective-Sergeant Johns:
“I say, Green?”
“Utterly incorrect, Tott,” Gees retorted, turning on him.
“What do you mean, man?” the other demanded sternly.
“Oh, you can’t scare me now,” Gees told him serenely. “If I’m merely Green you’re merely Tott, not Inspector Tott, to me. And I mean it’s utterly incorrect to address me with ‘I say,’ when evidently you don’t say. You haven’t said. Besides, it’s uncooked.”
“What on earth are you talking about, man?” Inspector Tott snapped.
“Uncooked—not done. I thought you knew that one. It’s really not polite to address a man as ‘I say,’ even if you did have him in uniform and make him salute once—”
“Oh, don’t waste my time! Look here, I’m going to give you one word of warning, my lad, and it’s the last.”
“Say not so, Tott,” Gees urged, with undiminished serenity.
“That silly business of yours—that silly office and pretty secretary,” Tott pursued without heeding the persiflage. “We couldn’t quite make out what you were up to with it, but now I see the sort of company you keep I have an idea. I warn you, watch your step. You’ve been one of us and know what we can do and can’t do.”
“You don’t approve of my company, eh?” Gees asked interestedly.
“Oh, don’t try to come it over me! You know perfectly well that wherever that woman goes she takes trouble with her—and you so careful not to be seen leaving the train with her, after the two of you had had a compartment to yourselves all the way down! This is my final warning to you—watch your step!”
“About a thirty-three inch pace, except when I’m in a hurry,” Gees retorted gibingly. “And a fairly light tread, in spite of my big feet. Good night, Tott—don’t dream about me.”
He turned away and sought a taxi.
“Bees in the bonnet—bats in the belfry,” he murmured to himself. “What a lovely recreation alliteration is!”
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