I

SPEAKING UNOFFICIALLY

ALTHOUGH MORE THAN TWO YEARS HAD PASSED since Gregory George Gordon Green—known to his friends as “Gees” for obvious reasons—had established his confidential agency, he still gave himself an occasional mental pat on the back over his choice of a secretary. She was not only useful, but decorative too, a tall girl with blue eyes and brown hair with reddish lights in it, and a face attractive more through its expressiveness of eyes and lips than through regularity of feature. That is to say, it was normally an expressive face, though, as he had discovered by asking if he might kiss her and receiving a flatly negative reply, she could cover away all expression under a poker front, if she chose.

She faced him, this mid-morning of January, from the doorway of his official sanctum, and dropped her metaphorical bomb calmly enough.

“Inspector Tott would like to see you, Mr. Green.”

He took his well-shaped but unduly large hands from his pockets, and stared at her incredulously.

“Tott?” he echoed. And, by the way he voiced the word, it might have been a synonym for Adolf Hitler.

The girl waited, with an absolutely poker face.

“All right, Miss Brandon,” he said at last. “I’ll see him.”

Returning to her own room, she ushered in to Gees’ sanctum a well set-up, alert-looking individual who might, by his appearance, have been a stock-broker’s clerk, or even a stock-broker, but who, as Gees knew from his own two years’ experience in the police force, was a trusted official of the Special Branch. For a few seconds the two men gazed at each other in silence: at the conclusion of Gees’ first case, they had agreed to bury a certain hatchet, but their expressions indicated that a bit of the handle still stuck out.

“Come in and park yourself, Inspector,” Gees invited eventually, pointing to the luxurious, leather-upholstered arm-chair at the end of his desk, while he took the swivel chair by the kneehole and waited.

“Before I do, Mister Green”—the inspector laid a heavy emphasis on the “Mister”—”I’d like to be sure that microphone of yours is not working. You know. The one that means your secretary takes down every word I say. Because I’m speaking unofficially.”

“Speak, then.” Gees seated himself, and Inspector Tott followed suit, to find himself sinking and sinking into the leather, and stop-ping only just short of a cry for help. For it was a most luxurious chair, as other callers had found.

“I—well—the microphone isn’t on?” Tott inquired, with what dignity he could compass as he looked up at Gees.

“Whatever you say, Inspector,” Gees assured him blandly, “will not be taken down and used as evidence against you.”

“I wish we had you back in uniform again,” Tott observed, rather wistfully.

Gees shook his head as he offered his cigarette case, and, after Tott had taken one, his lighter. Then he lighted up himself.

“My fee for an initial consultation is two guineas, as you may remember,” he observed. “I wouldn’t get that in uniform.”

“I know what you’d get from me,” Tott replied grimly.

“We both know,” Gees assured him. “Is that all you wish to say?”

For a few seconds the inspector made no reply. Perhaps he was arranging what he wanted to ask of the cool young man before him, and perhaps regretting the bad opening he had made.

“You remember that Kestwell case?” he asked eventually.

Gees nodded. “With justifiable pride,” he answered.

“And the end of it—the day they murdered Sergeant Johns?”

“And I put you on to rounding them up—and you wanted to arrest me,” Gees completed for him.

“Yes—that’s the point,” Tott said. “You got Mr. Briggs to come along and prevent that arrest.”

“Quite so,” Gees assented. “He being my very good friend.”

“And, as you know, practically my chief,” Tott added. “I believe they think a lot of Mr. Briggs at the Foreign Office.”

“Do they really?” Gees inquired interestedly. “But aren’t you rather wasting your two guineas, Inspector?”

“Over what I’ve come to see you about, I’ll pay it, if you insist,” Tott snapped out acidly. “This is a matter over which I can’t do a thing, but you might be able to do—to suggest something.”

“You’re handing me a case, eh?” Gees suggested.

“Yes—and no,” Tott answered, and frowned thoughtfully.

“Shall I get a corkscrew?” Gees inquired.

“Corkscrew? I didn’t come here to drink.”

“No, but if I had one I might be able to get something out of you, perhaps,” Gees told him. “Apart from ancient history, I mean.”

“This is difficult,” Tott told him, with a recurrence of irritation, “and you’re not making it any easier. I suppose you’ve heard that Mr. Briggs has got engaged to be married?”

“I have, now. From you. Who is the lady? I must ring up Tony and congratulate him. I’ve been busy over that Colborne affair, and haven’t seen or heard of him for over a fortnight.”

“It’s because he’s not to be congratulated that I’m sitting here,” Tott said slowly. “You’ve heard of Lady Benderneck, I expect?”

“There is also an Albert Memorial,” Gees observed pensively.

“Yes, I thought you had. Well, she sponsored this Miss Kefra—Cleo Kefra is the name—Lady Benderneck sponsored her and got her launched, and Mr. Briggs met her there and—well, lost his head over her. And the engagement was announced day before yesterday.”

“The old hag would sponsor anything, at a price,” Gees re-marked. “Cleo Kefra. Sounds a bit exotic.”

“Is, I assure you,” Tott said, and made it a grim comment.

“Well, what about it?” Gees inquired.

“Well, I’ve got a great respect for Mr. Briggs, and I’ve seen the lady,” Tott told him. “I’d hate to see a gentleman like him trapped.”

“What is wrong with Miss Cleo Kefra?” Gees asked.

Tott shook his head. “You’d better see her for yourself,” he answered. “Mr. Briggs is a friend of yours, I know. There’s nothing wrong with her—nothing that I can put a finger on, but—”

“There was once a Doctor Fell—or was there?” Gees reflected aloud. “Also, Inspector, my friend is a pretty level-headed man, and I don’t see any possibility of interfering, even if I felt like it.”

“Well, I’ve got it off my chest,” Tott said, and stood up.

“And seeing as how I won’t charge you the two guineas,” Gees told him, also rising to his feet. “In spite of our little brushes, I’ve a considerable respect for your intelligence—enough, at least, to be sure you wouldn’t have come to me like this unless you felt pretty strongly about the engagement, and had some cause to feel as you do. But you can’t define that cause, apparently?”

“If I could, probably I should not be here,” Tott answered.

“No. Well, who is Miss Cleo Kefra? Port of registry, and all that? The name isn’t English, for a start.”

“She looks Eastern, to me,” Tott said. “She’s got a passport is-sued by the British consulate in Alexandria describing her as a British subject aged twenty-three, and apparently she’s very wealthy. No relatives, as far as I can gather. Came to this country five months ago, and she’s leased Barnby-under-Hedlington Grange, furnished—that’s in the Cotswolds. Also runs a swagger flat in Gravenor Mansions.”

“It sounds as if Mr. Briggs is to be congratulated,” Gees re-marked.

“The flat is number thirteen,” Tott added.

“My grandmother died of pneumonia,” Gees said.

“What’s that got to do with it?” Tott almost barked.

“As much as the number of the flat, I think,” Gees told him. “Don’t get peeved. I appreciate your interest, and I shall certainly make a point of seeing the lady as soon as I can. Which is not to say that I’m going to stir up a hornets’ nest for myself by butting into anybody’s love affairs. What is your grievance against Miss Ke-fra?”

Tott shook his head. “I can’t pin it down,” he answered.

“Would you call her good-looking?”

“Very. And I’d use your word—exotic. And another word too that fits her. Slinky. It’s a modern expression that often gets mis-used but she is that. Slinky. You’ll see.”

He turned toward the door. “Thank you for listening to me,” he added. “It’s not—as I said—a matter over which I can do anything.”

“Thank you for talking,” Gees said. “I’m glad you feel like that about Mr. Briggs, Inspector, though I don’t see—”

“No,” Tott remarked in the pause. “But I must get along.”

After closing the outer door of the flat on him, Gees went into his secretary’s room, seated himself on the end of her desk, and produced the inevitable cigarette-case. When he had lighted both cigarettes, he said—”If Tott were a fool, he wouldn’t be where he is.”

The girl made no comment, but waited.

“And yet,” he went on, “it’s apparently possible for Tott, even, to acquire a bee. About my friend Briggs of the Foreign Office. You remember him, Miss Brandon? He came up here over the Kestwell affair.”

“And you consider him the best-dressed man in London,” she said.

“He’s just got engaged. The girl is Tott’s bee.”

She gave him an inquiring look.

“Exotic, slinky, and hails from Egypt,” he went on. “Also appears possessed of a healthy packet of dough—flat at Gravenor Mansions and a house down in the country. And Tott wants me to break the engagement, since he can’t do anything about it himself.”

“But that’s absurd,” she said.

“Quite. Now I suggest standing you lunch at the Berkeley, Miss Brandon, for the same reason that the woman took her dog to market. As soon as I can fix for Tony to bring Miss Cleo Kefra along, that is. A woman’s view of another woman is always worth having.”

“So is a lunch at the Berkeley,” she remarked. “But what name was that you called her?”

“Exactly, Miss Brandon—it hit me just like that. Cleo Kefra—something to do with the great pyramid, by the sound of it. Not an alias, either—she’d have chosen something less conspicuous. Now I’ll leave you to get on turning down those inquiries, and see if the telephone will yield me up Master Tony Briggs.”

Which it did, and Tony expressed himself as delighted to bring his fiancée to lunch on Wednesday. He had arranged to lunch with her that day, and had already spoken to her about meeting his old friend Gees, so that he had no hesitation over making the appointment without first consulting her. And, in answer to Gees’ query, he had not seen Tott recently: not for over a fortnight, in fact.

“And when is the wedding?” Gees inquired.

“Oh, we haven’t got as far as that yet,” Tony protested.

“Just as well. I’d better pass judgment, first.”

“Oho!” And Tony laughed. “I’ve no fear of anybody’s judgment.”

“Probably another Tony said that about another Cleopatra, old son,” Gees observed. “One-fifteen Wednesday, in the lounge.”

He hung up, and went along to Miss Brandon’s room again. She looked up at him from her typing.

“Wednesday, Miss Brandon, and we’ll leave here at one and walk along, if it’s fine. It just occurred to me, too, that history is doing another of its repetitions.”

“I’ll wear my new frock,” she promised. “But—history—?”

“Anthony Briggs, and apparently Cleopatra Kefra,” he explained.

“I thought of that some time ago,” she said.

“Well, the other one threw the world away, but I expect chucking the Foreign Office will be this one’s limit,” he remarked.