Now of this man who called himself Gay Falcon many tales are told, and this is one of them.
It is told how, late one night not long ago, a pretty lady awoke to find a man in her bedroom, and how this outrage on her privacy started a train of most peculiar events which finally ended in as sensational a murder as you could wish to see.
But let us take one thing at a time.
Her dreamless sleep so rudely shattered, the pretty lady blinked in the sudden light which the intruder, behaving in a manner quite unsuitable in a decent burglar, had switched on.
"What is it?" she cried. "What do you want?"
She was surprised, not frightened. It took more than a man to frighten this pretty lady, as many a man had found. Flinging her bedjacket about her shoulders, her famous blue eyes, now so entirely devoid of the desire to please that photographers would have recognised her only with difficulty, regarded the stranger with surprise and contempt. But such treatment appeared only to nourish his disagreeable assurance.
"Lady, be good," he said. "Don't ring. Don't telephone."
It should be pointed out that the tall intruder must indeed have lacked all sensibility, for even when addressing the lady he did not remove his hat, which was of weathered felt, the colour of rain on Piccadilly, and worn at an angle over his left eye which might have been called debonair anywhere but in a lady's bedroom.
"You are easy to look at," he said. thoughtfully, "even without the makeup. Easy on the eye."
While these compliments were vulgar and ill-timed, they were deserved in full measure. The lady made a very pretty picture. Her bedjacket matched her bedspread, which was of white satin fringed with white ermine, while everything about her — hair, eyes, features, complexion — was of the very best and most attractive quality obtainable for women over twenty-five but under thirty.
But this lady's beauty can need no description when it is revealed that her name was Mrs Temple, Diana Temple, of London, Paris, and New York, one of the ten or maybe ten thousand best-dressed women in the world, excluding China and the Solomon Islands.
Of the fellow Temple, her husband, nothing can be said since nothing is known, apart from the fact that he had a brother. Once upon a time this brother had run away to sea, while Temple had married Diana, and neither was ever heard of again. But the rude intruder made no attempt to conceal the fact that Diana Temple was no more to him than just another woman. As she swiftly stretched out a hand to her bedside table, he more swiftly put the telephone and bell-push out of her reach.
"Lady, be calm," he said. "This is the one occasion when Diana Temple is not going to do what she likes with a man. I don't want to get tough with you — so be good, my pretty."
Her lovely eyes widened with frank curiosity as she stared up at the man's dark, saturnine face. He was tall, his clothes were as you like it for an old suit casually worn, his face was long and lean and dark, and his eyes were deep, hard shadows.
"You are a strange burglar, I think," she said, "and somehow—"
"Somehow?" he said, and flicked off his hat.
"Why," she cried. "I've met you before!"
"Yes," he said. "We slept together through Lady Taura's dinner party two weeks ago."
"We danced together, too," she said. "I remember — Gay Falcon. Your name is Gay Falcon!"
"I have others equally improbable."
"Tell me frankly, Mr Falcon - do you enjoy being such a contemptible beast?"
"I enjoy the company of a woman of courage, Mrs Temple. It relieves me that you take so lightly the fact that you are going to be robbed."
When she smiled you saw at once why men who were prudent with their wives pressed pearls and diamonds on Diana Temple.
"But," she smiled, "I am not going to be robbed. How silly of you to be so recognisable, Mr Falcon. You can rob me, of course. But you will be arrested tomorrow."
"We shall see," said the man who called himself Gay Falcon.
"Don't you remember something else about Lady Taura's party apart from the fact that we danced together?"
"Dear me," she said, staring, "her emerald! Of course - her lovely emerald, which was found to be missing next morning."
She measured the man with a cold and detached curiosity which might have mortified a less assured scoundrel.
"You are a clever thief, Mr Falcon."
"It was nice work, certainly. Of course, the stone is not worth the sum Lady Taura will collect from the insurance in due course - but still, it was nice work."
"I'm glad you are pleased, Mr Falcon. It must be pleasant to make such a success of one's chosen profession."
"I haven't said I stole it, Mrs Temple." The saturnine stranger unsmilingly surveyed the spacious bedroom.
Mrs Temple lost nothing of her poise when she saw that the thief's eyes had come to rest on her dressing-table. There, on a small tray of crimson velvet, like bright fruit fallen from the trees of an ambitious maiden's dreams, lay the necklace of rubies and bracelets of rubies and clips of rubies she had worn at dinner.
"You won't really mind my taking those," he said, 'since they are so well insured."
"Since you know so much, Mr Falcon, you will know that the insurance cannot repay me for their romantic and sentimental value."
The man glanced at her with a queer cold smile, and Mrs Temple felt really uneasy for the first time. "In that case," he said, "I won't take them. Observe my big heart."
She heard herself, and with infinite surprise, laughing unsteadily.
"Then you must go away empty-handed, Mr Falcon, for everything else is at my bank."
The tall man's eyes had come to rest on the only picture in the austere room. This was a small Italian primitive, the colour still bright on the cracked wood, of the Virgin Mary with the Child, and it was let into the wall just beside the bed behind the bedside table.
And as the man approached the primitive set into the wall, Mrs Temple, the calm and remote Mrs Temple, stared at him with suddenly uncontrollable terror.
"Oh, no!" she whispered. "No — please!"
"I fancy," he said, reaching out a hand past the telephone to the lower right corner of the primitive, "I fancy, Mrs Temple, that you won't tell the police about what I am going to do now."
She fought him with all her strength. Quite silently, but for bitter little sighs of feminine despair, her lovely features distorted with fear, she beat her arms frantically against him in a vain attempt to prevent him from opening the little secret safe in the wall.
But when she had done all she could, she regained her practised dignity. She did not look to see what he was taking from the secret safe. She lay very still and stared up at the ceiling with wide open eyes that seemed to be counting some ghosts that walked there.
He looked back at her from the door and was about to say something. Then he saw how she lay still and looked to be counting ghosts that walked across the ceiling and he went out without a word.
She was the most frightened woman he had ever seen, and it was interesting to wonder why, since it was not of him that she was so frightened.
On the following morning, the activities of the man who called himself Gay Falcon were surprising in a simple burglar.
Passing through the imposing doors of a very large new building on Pall Mall, known to all the world as the headquarters of Universal & Allied Assurance, he was immediately taken up to the handsome boardroom. It was just one minute after noon.
Nine gentlemen appeared to have been awaiting his entrance. Of these, a few were directors of Universal & Allied, while others represented important firms of underwriters and assessors. The sulky features of the ninth gentleman were recognisable to readers of popular newspapers as being those of Chief Inspector Poss of Scotland Yard. As he sat on the board-table, he made no secret of the fact that he disapproved strongly of his present situation and was quite unprepared to change his mind in the near future.
The man called Falcon had with him a small but evidently well-filled leather satchel. He slid this with an expert shove down the length of the long table to the handsome grey-haired gentleman who sat at its head.
"There you are, Mr Hammersley. In the last few years, your people and other underwriters have paid out close to a hundred thousand pounds in claims on the lost or stolen jewellery represented by that little lot."
It was only Chief Inspector Poss who examined the jewellery with any degree of close attention. The others merely glanced at it, some with inexpert eyes, while their interest was centered on the tall lean figure of Falcon.
"If that is the case," said Mr Hammersley, "as it very probably is, your commission of five per cent will come to five thousand pounds, which is very nice money, Mr Falcon."
"When you hired me, Mr Hammersley, did you think you were hiring a nursemaid?"
"Oh, we are not complaining," said a large smiling, ruddy man. "Thank you very much," said Gay Falcon. It was obvious that he was not a man who would have succeeded in politics, where charm of manner is said to be an advantage.
"And now," said the smiling, ruddy man, "perhaps we can hear how you have managed to succeed so quickly where the police have so consistently failed."
Falcon's hard, unsmiling eyes flicked over the Chief Inspector, who, bent over the table, was still examining the jewellery. Then his gaze went back to the large ruddy man with the twinkling blue eyes. This was Mr Harvey Morgan, always known as 'Chappie' Morgan, a very successful financier and popular sportsman. It was apparent from Falcon's expression that he thought more amiably of Chappie Morgan than of his associates.
"Well, what's your story?" said handsome Mr Hammersley sharply.
"My father was a dentist in Leicester and my mother died when I was a child. Shortly afterward I decided to leave home and become an engine-driver, but owing to —"
"We asked you, Mr Falcon, for your story about this recovered jewellery."
Chappie Morgan gave a loud bark of laughter.
"Listen Hammersley," said the man called Falcon, "you people hired me because the police failed to justify reasonable suspicions that underwriters were being cleverly robbed. I have confirmed your suspicions and returned part of the jewellery. I am not a policeman. I am not a storyteller. I am a man who makes a living by keeping his mouth shut. The money due me should be paid into my account at Barclays Bank, Piccadilly branch."
Chief Inspector Poss looked across the table very steadily. "That won't do, Falcon."
"Mister Falcon, Chief Inspector. What won't do?"
"Gentlemen," said the Chief Inspector to the board, "I told you a month ago that it was highly irregular to give a free hand in this matter to a man like this Falcon -"
"Mr Flatfoot," said Gay Falcon, "one more crack from you and I'll give the whole story to the newspapers, then you and your efficient detectives will be looking for jobs as film extras."
"Better be a good boy, Poss," grinned Chappie Morgan. "I am not easily frightened, gentlemen. But now you will appreciate why I warned you against engaging Mister Falcon. This stuff is stolen jewellery, some of it very famous jewellery. And we know for a fact that not one little bit of it has passed through the hands of any fence in England. You are taking a grave risk, gentlemen. If we don't hear from this man Falcon how he has managed to succeed where the police have failed, you share with him the risk of being charged with aiding and abetting a receiver of stolen jewellery."
"Quit kidding," said Falcon. "It's their property, isn't it, since they've paid all claims on it? Try arresting them for receiving back their own property and see how you like it."
"But you can be charged, Mister Falcon, for all sorts of misdemeanours, I make no doubt. Now behave yourself and help the police by telling me how you recovered this property."
"Brains," said Falcon. "Naughty boy, where are yours?"
The Chief Inspector's grim face had reddened and he was about to retort in a manner unworthy of the high traditions of Scotland Yard when Mr Hammersley intervened with practised authority.
"I'm afraid, Chief Inspector, that while we must agree with you that Mr Falcon's attitude is highly irregular, we cannot encourage you to take any action against him. It was with your knowledge that we engaged him to recover this jewellery, which the police had failed to find for two years."
"And now," said Chappie Morgan, "Scotland Yard is angry because Falcon won't give away his little secret."
"The law," said Chief Inspector Poss, with commendable restraint, "does not acknowledge secrets in respect of other people's stolen property. This man Falcon's position requires investigation." He picked up a jewel from amongst the heap on the table. "Now here is the famous Taura emerald, which Lady Taura reported as stolen or missing two weeks ago —"
"Insured at nine thousand pounds," said someone.
“Yes. And here it is, recovered. But how? It was stolen at or after a ball given by Lady Taura. And you were there, Mister Falcon."
"Does the fact that I dance better than you do, Chief Inspector, mean that I'm a criminal? Now let me tell you all something. These insurance claims for lost and stolen jewellery from society people over the last two years and more have been part of a very clever racket. I want to find out who is behind this racket. When I do, I'll maybe talk. In fact I promise to talk. Good day to you, gentlemen. Good day, Chief Inspector."
"You're asking for trouble, Falcon. Remember, there's an unsolved murder somewhere behind these thefts — that of Stella Bowman last year. I warn you again, Falcon."
"It's years and years, Chief Inspector, since I burst out crying because a policeman didn't like me."
Now it is on record that no well-known beauty can long survive the rigorous life of being a well-known beauty day in and day out if she does not acquire the courageous gift of being able to 'put off' engagements at more or less the last minute. Mrs X regrets that she is unable to dine because she has a headache and is going to bed with a boiled egg. Mrs X regrets that she cannot lunch today because her doctor has forbidden her to go out.
They always sound like lies. They usually are lies, but people are eager to forgive lies who will find the truth intolerable. For while it is true that people do not like to be put off, it is also true that those people who are by nature liable to be put off invariably live to fight another day for yet another engagement with the same inconsiderate guest.
Therefore Mrs Temple had little hesitation, that very afternoon, in telephoning to Lady Soda's house and regretting that she could not dine that evening with Sir Theodore and Lady Soda owing to this and that. The fact that she was dining with the man who called himself Gay Falcon, who had telephoned that afternoon in the most casual manner imaginable, was nobody's business but her own. Anyway, Mrs Temple knew, for she was a student of worldliness in all its nasty little niceties, that Sir Theodore and Lady Soda would inevitably invite her again.
She met Mr Falcon at a small restaurant near Jermyn Street which had recently become well known to thinking men of the wealthier sort for its serious attitude in matters of importance. As always, she wore her slender cool beauty with that faint air of detached amusement which is the natural gift of women born to enchant others but never to deceive themselves.
Mr Falcon had taken care they should not be overheard by engaging a corner table. The black-and-white effect of his dinner-jacket emphasised his dark saturnine face and deep eyes and greying hair. It also became apparent to a close observer that he knew how to laugh at many things.
She said: "Dear me, for an ugly man you are really quite good-looking."
"Just wait," he said, "till you get the lowdown on my kind heart as well, and then you will wonder where I've been all your life. I haven't ordered any dinner, since you never know what a pretty woman will eat, if at all. Have some melon. Have some caviar. Have a steak and onions. Have some grouse. Diana Temple, you are a very pretty woman. Have what you like."
"How nice it is," she said, over dinner, "to be with someone with whom I don't have to pretend anything. Dear me, I am a thief. I am a bad woman. Now you know about me — what about you? What are you? Who are you?"
"And why," he smiled darkly, "did I do to you what I did last night?"
"Diana, I'm a man who has done many things. I've been a soldier, a gambler, a secret agent, an aeroplane salesman, a white hunter, a purser, a husband, a co-respondent, a war-correspondent, a long-distance swimmer, a professional dancer, a good salmon-fisherman. I have no rheumatism, no patience, and no money. For further information apply to Scotland Yard for free booklet on the man called Gay Falcon."
"No money? Then how do you make a living?" "By engaging in dangerous enterprise - and I've not been killed — yet."
"But I am not a dangerous enterprise, Mr Falcon. Why did you engage yourself in my business?" "Mrs Temple, some more grouse?" "No, thank you, Mr Falcon."
"Then just one more potato? What is one more potato to a figure like yours ? Have I told you that I was once married to a woman in New York with a figure just like yours, but she —"
She said, "Mr Falcon, why did you, who engage in dangerous enterprises, pick on me?"
Over the rim of his wine glass, his sardonic eyes, now unsmiling, regarded her fair face intently. Her gaze did not waver, but that meant little to a man who knew from experience that liars and thieves and killers can look you straighter in the eyes than many an honest man.
"Then I shall ask you a question, too," he said. "Why were you so infernally frightened last night?"
"Frightened?" She smiled with a wavering uncertainty that made her beauty poignant.
"But isn't it natural - when a strange man bursts into a woman's —"
"You were not," he pointed out, "frightened of me."
Her eyes fell slowly, and she seemed to be counting the little bright bubbles in her wineglass.
"There is someone in your life, Diana Temple, of whom you are very frightened. For you love life, and you are frightened for your life. And it is because I am out to find and catch that someone that this is a dangerous enterprise."
Very still, her eyes gave and absorbed, she said nothing. Then she shivered a very little. She did not look at him.
"I don't want," she whispered to the last bursting bubble in her glass, "to die."
"It would be a pity, I agree. Let me tell you a story, Mrs Temple. There are a number of wealthy and respectable women in this world who are now and then in need of hard cash. Perhaps they have lost too much at racing or at cards or owe their brokers more than they can pay. Perhaps husbands or trustees simply will not pay up again.
"They are not women who would willingly do anything criminal. Looking around for money, they see only their jewellery. They think of selling a ring or bracelet, but if they try to sell to a well-known jeweller they fear their husbands will find out or their credit will be damaged, and from an obscure merchant they can hope only for a very poor bargain.
"There is the insurance. Fine jewels belonging to individuals are invariably insured at their replaceable value and not at what you or I could sell them for at second-hand. Therefore, they will get very much more from the insurance than from selling the stuff, even if they knew how.
"But the very fact that insurance companies can exist and thrive is due to something fundamental in human nature — that the vast majority of people are honest, that a small number would be faintly dishonest if not frightened of the law, while only a very small percentage are really dishonest.
"So the respectable women I speak of would not dream of cheating the underwriters by throwing a ruby into a lake, while some would like to but daren't for fear of breaking down when answering the searching questions of practised investigators.
"Then one day along comes the answer to their troubles. Let us say that a Mrs de Courcy Fish, well known to readers of unimportant papers as an important person, owes her bookmaker a thousand quid. She daren't tell her old man because he is hard up himself and she has promised never to gamble again. Her bookmaker is getting nasty, like in the storybooks. And then one day a voice on the telephone tells her just what to do to raise the wind.
"Mrs de Snooks Fish," says the voice, "don't worry about your debts. Yes, I know all about you. All you have to do is to claim the fifteen hundred insurance on that ruby ring you have lost."
"My ruby!" she cries. "But I haven't lost it. I've never lost anything."
"Oh yes, you have, madam. You have lost your ruby tomorrow night at Delsarto's, where you and your husband have supper so often after the theatre. You were sitting - tomorrow night - at your usual table, and somehow owing to a slight scratch on your finger your ring was bothering you. So you put it, or you thought you did, beside your plate and - really very stupidly - forgot it there for a few minutes while you got up to dance. Or if your husband didn't want to dance tomorrow night, you went to powder your nose.
Anyway, some ten minutes or so after you got back, you missed the ring. But being uncertain whether you really had taken it off or whether it had dropped off your finger while dancing and so on and forget this talk and I am so sorry you have lost your ruby tomorrow night and good day to you, madam."
"That, Mrs Temple, is more or less how this insurance racket started. One clever thing about it was that the people who put in claims for lost or stolen jewellery had never or very seldom lost anything before, and so were and are rated as first-class risks. And another clever thing was that the women concerned really did delude themselves that they really had lost or mislaid or dropped the stuff, as indeed they had, in one way. "That is my story, Diana — and your story, too."
Watching her, he did not help her light her cigarette. Carefully, she blew out the match, and for a long minute stared at its burnt tip.
She said: "How did you find me out?"
"I have been interested in you for some time. I wondered how you had enough money to live and dress as you do, since your husband disappeared years ago."
"My uncle —" she said.
"My uncle my eye, beautiful. Then I watched you at Lady Taura's party. She has a large income, but I happen to know she has to pay her broker five thousand pounds soon or be sold out of her American securities. She had her emerald at dinner. She had it at midnight. She did not have it after she had gone into the library for a gossip with the Home Secretary — though she didn't seem to notice her loss until the next morning. Well, a hostess has much on her mind. But I saw the emerald, and left it where it had apparently slipped from her finger between the cushions of the sofa on which she had been chatting with the Home Secretary - and on which, later on, you were flirting with that young ass, Chubby Wimpole."
She looked at him steadily.
"You win," she said. "What are you going to do? Why haven't you told the police already?"
"Because you are only a frightened minnow, beautiful. What good will it do to put you behind bars? I want to catch the shark. And so I shall catch him, or know why."
She was intent on crushing out her half-smoked cigarette.
"Don't!" she whispered. "Leave him alone." Suddenly, never looking at him, she spoke very quickly. "Yes, I am frightened. He's a killer. Leave him alone, Mr Falcon. I warn you. He doesn't know yet —1 dare not tell him — that you've taken the stuff from me. He's retiring from business next week. Then he comes to collect my lot — it's less than half of what there is in all — and starts on his travels, a retired and rich business man, to South America. Leave him alone, Gay Falcon. There's only one life."
"What about yours? What shall you do?"
She smiled faintly. "Diana Temple," she said, "has taken a suite at the Ritz in Paris as from tomorrow. Perhaps you will dine with me there very soon, Mr Falcon? Yes, I'm running away - from fear, crime, everything." Her fingers, diving quickly into her vanity-bag, as quickly slipped a small packet of tissue-paper into his hand. "You missed this last night. Put it among your collection. Then you have done all you were hired to do and can take a holiday."
Shielded by the tablecloth, he examined the clip in his palm — a magnificent square emerald set in baguette diamonds.
"Lost or stolen," he said, "two nights ago at the Avalons' dance in Belgrave Square. I see. Thank you, Mrs Temple." He tossed the tissue-paper on the table, and slipped the clip into his pocket. "Now go home, beautiful. And I hope you mean what you say about running away. I don't like your friend, and if he should think the police are after you and that you might talk, then it will be a poor lockout for your dressmakers."
Her clear wide eyes, still poignant with hidden fear, regarded him thoughtfully. "Why don't you," she said slowly, as though each word was an ordeal, "try to force his name out of me?"
"Because I've guessed it. Because I don't want you to be bumped off before you dine with me again — I'm particular about women, and I prefer them alive. Because I want better evidence than my guess or your word. Because it's bedtime. Good night, Diana."
She almost snatched up her bag and, as though she couldn't trust herself to say another word, left him very quickly. Had she glanced back from the restaurant door, she would have surprised a look of queer anxiety on his usually saturnine face. The man called Gay Falcon had never in his life made a secret of the fact that he wished pretty women well, no matter what they might wish for him.
Not ten minutes later, he let himself into his flat in St James's Square nearby. He showed no surprise at finding two visitors comfortably awaiting him in the sitting room. One of them was Chief Inspector Poss and the other was a beefy type whom even a blind thief would instantly have recognised as a detective.
"We rang the bell," said Poss innocently, "but as nobody answered and the door was ajar, we just came in to wait for you. This is Detective Sergeant Daisy, but his name does him an injustice."
Gay Falcon, still standing, looked slowly round, glanced into his bedroom, then looked at the Chief Inspector with a smile in his deep hard eyes which would have done credit to a tiger suddenly confronted by a man with a niblick.
"You've got some cheek, Poss," he said amiably enough. "I'm sorry you've had your search for nothing."
"Not quite nothing," said the Chief Inspector with satisfaction. "You'll have to explain these in due course." He took three passports from an inside pocket and held them up.
"Three passports, one for a man of independent means called Gay Stanhope Falcon, one for a soldier called Colonel Rock, who looks quite a bit like you, and one for a journalist with an address in Paris called Spencer Pott, who would be your twin brother but for his moustache. You will have to explain these, Mister Gay Stanhope Falcon."
Detective Sergeant Daisy appeared to have formed a high opinion of his superior's sense of humour and Falcon had to wait for his rugged laughter to die down before he said,
"You'll have to do your own explaining tomorrow morning, Chief Inspector, when you get a telephone call, as I fancy you will, from General Icelin. But don't let me interfere with your evening out. What do you want?"
The Chief Inspector was looking at him thoughtfully.
"Do you know, Falcon, I shan't be a bit surprised to find that you are or have been military intelligence. You've got that nasty look back in your eyes which one associates with MI. I'll give these passports back at one word from the right quarter, don't worry about that. What is worrying me is your attitude about this jewellery affair. Look here, Falcon, I'd much rather have you working with me than against me or on your own."
Falcon, his hands in his pockets, looked unsmilingly from one to the other of the two burly detectives.
"You didn't break into my flat to hand me a bouquet, Poss. What brought you here? A telephone message — about an hour ago?"
Both the Chief Inspector and his subordinate started with surprise.
'We"ll go into that later, Falcon. Now listen, and take it easy. We've got to search you. You can refuse — then you come along with us and we'll search you all according to law. But it will be simpler if you allow us to search you here."
Falcon's eyes went to the telephone for a quick second. Then he said: "Go ahead, but be quick. You and I are going to be busy tonight."
The two detectives, with Falcon's help, were quickly finished, finding nothing more than any man's usual belongings.
Poss sighed. "It was too good to be true. We received information to the effect that you would have in your possession the emerald and diamond clip stolen at Lady Avalon's dance the other night."
Falcon looked deadly serious. He snapped, "If you had found it, what would you have had to do?"
The Chief Inspector stared, puzzled by Falcon's expression.
"As far as anyone would know — anyone who might not know that we might be on your side — we would have to hold you pending full inquiries. You'd be charged first, of course." He added sharply, "What's up, Falcon? What's on your mind?"
Falcon said, "Wait a minute." Pacing up and down, he appeared to come to a conclusion, and stood facing the Chief Inspector.
"Poss, the man who tried to frame me tonight didn't think the charge would stick — he's too clever for that. But he did think it would keep me quiet for a few days — so that he could get clear of the country. He's frightened. And he's dangerous."
"You mean," Poss said, "that these insurance thefts are tied to-"
"They're tied to murder. You were reminding me this morning of that pretty Mrs Bowman who was found strangled in her flat one night last year. She was going to give certain information about stolen jewellery to Scotland Yard the next day, wasn't she?" Poss said, "Apart from just one blurred fingerprint on a tumbler, we didn't get within a thousand miles of whoever killed Stella Bowman."
Falcon said, "Get this. If you do exactly as I say for the next hour or two, you'll put handcuffs on the owner of that finger print, the brain behind the insurance racket, and the killer of another pretty woman like the well-known Mrs Bowman."
The Chief Inspector reddened. "Another? What's this, Falcon? Who is it?"
"Take it easy, Poss. This murder won't come off. Now will you do as I say?"
The Chief Inspector, glancing at his subordinate, said, "Go ahead, Falcon. You'll back me up, Daisy? We can but try. This chap Falcon knows a hell of a sight more about this than we do — perhaps more than is good for him. It certainly would be nice to get that Bowman strangler."
They sat in watchful silence while Falcon dialled a number. When he heard Diana Temple's voice, he said: "Listen, beautiful, your little ploy didn't come off."
She gave a little shivering gasp.
"I know," he said softly, "I know how frightened you are. Listen —"
"But if," she gasped, "he finds out that the police aren't holding you and that you've given them my name and they're going to question me, he will come and —"
"The police are here with me, after searching me without success. You should have told me at dinner that he'd instructed you to frame me. Then I could have taken steps to see to your safety. But it's not too late now, if you'll do what you are told."
"But — but what did you do with the clip?"
"You'll find it at the bottom of your bag, where I slipped it back. I trust nobody, sweetheart. Now, for your own safety, will you follow my instructions to the letter?"
"Yes — oh, yes! I can't face him when he finds you really are after him."
"You will have to face him, Diana, because he will come to see you very soon. He has a key, of course? I'm going to let him know in the next few minutes that the police are to question you in the morning."
"But you mustn't - you can't! You're telling him to kill me, like he did -"
"Be calm, lady. You'll be better protected than Stella Bowman. Now do as you're told. Go to bed immediately."
"That's all. Just go to bed. And wait. Just wait. Read a nice thriller, if you like."
She laughed unsteadily. "I thought better - of you - than to make fun of my fears."
"Don't worry — I'm going to cure you of your fears for ever. Trust in me, beautiful."
He snapped down the receiver and turned to the Chief Inspector, who was glaring at him.
"You're risking a woman's life. Falcon — even though she is an accomplice."
"One moment, Poss. If you're going to arrest this woman — and you've no idea who she is yet —I go no further with this business. This girl is dining with me in Paris the day after tomorrow, and I simply won't have my evening messed up, and that's flat."
"One thing at a time, Falcon. All right, don't fly off the handle. Now, how are you going to let the big man know we're after this dame?"
"You are going to let him know, Poss. It is now eleven. Mr Harvey Morgan, known as Chappie, is at his desirable residence in Grosvenor Street nearby giving a men's dinner. Ring him up right now and tell him, just as a matter of interest, that you were given some bogus information about that man Falcon tonight, that you've searched him without success for stolen property, that Falcon has promised to work with you and has given you the name of a lady whom you're going to question first thing in the morning, and that you're ringing him up just to tell him and other directors of Universal & Allied that you'll have some interesting information to give them at noon tomorrow. Snap to it, Chief Inspector."
"Holy smoke!" said Poss. "Chappie Morgan, is it! This is going to make the headlines all right. Chappie Morgan! I always wondered where he really came from."
"Last year," said Detective Sergeant Daisy with relish, "I made a nice little bit on a horse of his at Gatwick. The bookmakers are going to take a day off when Chappie hangs. It's said he's won packets and —"
"That's enough of your low gossip, Daisy," said the Chief Inspector severely. "Now, Falcon, this Mr Harvey Morgan is an important man. You really mean me to ring him up and —?"
Gay Falcon showed his teeth in a grin which lacked even the pretence of amiability. "You must introduce me to your mother, Poss, so I can ask her if you were bumped on the head when you were a child. Now get busy, man, before that dinner party breaks up."
When the Chief Inspector had spoken his piece to Harvey Morgan, he turned a jaundiced eye on Gay Falcon.
"If his reactions to that rigmarole," he said bitterly, "weren't those of an innocent man, I'll - I'll disguise myself as a police woman."
"What did he say?" said Falcon.
"First, he chuckled himself silly, and then -"
"I've known a laughing murderer," said Sergeant Daisy. "He had some kind of gland trouble and -"
"You shut up," said the Chief Inspector violently. "And then, when I tell Chappie that juicy bit about the important information I'm going to give them at noon tomorrow, he says he always knew Gay Falcon was a clever chap with a mind so crooked that he could see round corners, and he congratulates us all."
"Right!" said Falcon briskly. "Now, Poss, if you can be serious for a moment, put on that awful bowler of yours and follow me. Either of you got a gun?"
"No, we haven't. We're policemen, not gentlemen detectives."
"Okay. Sailors can't swim, either."
Falcon snatched an automatic from a drawer and was slipping it into his pocket when
Poss said, "I'll have that, mister. You've a licence, I suppose?"
"Oh, no," said Falcon savagely. "Mussolini himself gave it to me to use as a toothpick whenever I felt extra peaceful after meals."
Mrs Temple's apartment was on the fourth floor of one of those handsome new blocks of flats which try very hard to look like imposing homes for rich people and succeed in looking like hospitals for rich people being treated for loneliness.
The bedroom window of each flat gave out on to a small balcony. This was not strictly a balcony but in the nature of a decoration, and therefore it was a somewhat tight fit for the substantial figures of the two detectives and Gay Falcon.
Mrs Temple, whose maid slept in the domestic quarters, had let them in and passed them through her bedroom to the hideout on the balcony. She had tried to smile at Falcon, but she had confessed to wishing he had thought of trying some other method of catching his shark.
Chief Inspector Poss, squeezed into a comer of the balcony, was not in the best of tempers. For one thing, it was a chilly night, and for another, he didn't like being on balconies.
"We'd look darn silly," he said sourly, "if this thing gave way and we fell into the square like a ton of Juliets in trousers."
"We're only doing our duty sir," said Daisy, who was enjoying himself.
The bedroom window was ajar so that they could hear anything that passed in the room. The thick curtains were not drawn, but the white net across the windows was sufficient to make the visibility poor. Still, the watchers on the tiny balcony could see everything in outline, and they could hear the slightest sound. Mrs Temple was in bed, her eyes on a book.
"I don't like this," said the Chief Inspector. "Suppose he pulls a gun on her before we can stop him?"
"It would be tough luck on her, wouldn't it?" said Falcon. "She certainly makes a pretty picture."
Suddenly the bedroom door was seen to open noiselessly. The watchers stood rigid, Poss with the automatic in his hand. A man came in, a tall bulky shape. Mrs Temple, unaware, still had her eyes on her book.
The start of surprise with which she put down the book was, considering how frightened she must be, a pretty piece of acting.
"Harry! What is it — why have you come tonight, when you said -?"
He came toward the bed and his face became clearer to the watchers on the balcony. Chief Inspector Poss turned startled eyes on Falcon.
"Diana," the man said conversationally, "I'm afraid I have bad news for you. But in a way it's your own fault for not having managed to frame Falcon and give me time to get away."
"But I tried to, darling, only he must have suspected and —"
"I know, I know. Luck is good or bad. It's bad now, Diana — for you. Falcon has been very clever. It was that fool Morgan who insisted on engaging him for this investigation, and now he knows a sight too much. I was dining with Chappie tonight when the police rang him up to say that they're going to question you in the morning, and I fear, Diana, that I can't risk that. Of course, a wife can't give evidence against her husband, but she can — if she hates going to prison as much as you do — give the police a lot of very dangerous information."
Detective Sergeant Daisy, more pop-eyed than ever, stared at Poss and whispered, "Lumme, 'Arry Temple in the flesh! I 'ad my suspicions of 'im ten years ago, just before he vanished, and then he was as bald as my palm."
Temple was sitting on the side of his wife's bed now. They could not see her expression. They could only see that she stiffened against the pillows behind her.
"Harry," she whispered, "you can't — you can't! Not to me!" "I don't want to, Diana, but how can I help myself? With the jewellery I've got tucked away and my American investments, I can still live my life out in Mexico. And I've always told you I wouldn't be taken — and if, at the worst, I've got to be, I'd rather hang than rot in prison. But I fancy I can get away tonight, in Chappie's aeroplane from Heston. I'm really sorry, Diana, because I've loved you for ten years, and you've been a darned helpful wife, but I can't trust you when you're questioned tomorrow, and —"
"But they will get you anyway," she whispered frantically. "Probably all the airports are watched. I told Falcon your name and that you killed Stella Bowman —"
As she said that name, Temple's expression, hitherto queerly normal and almost affectionate, hardened into such savage contempt that she screamed.
"You double-crossing vixen," he said very quietly, and as she screamed again, his bulk obliterated all but her fair, hysterical face and his hands dug deep into her throat. As the watchers on the balcony burst into the room, Harry Temple, his gloved hands still savaging his wife's throat, gave a thick, sobbing gasp. His handsome face stared at them with a look of idiotic surprise, and then he leapt frantically toward the door.
Poss and Daisy had no difficulty in holding him while Gay Falcon, his eyes darting about the room, stood by the bed patting Mrs Temple's clutching hand. Trying to smile up at him thankfully, her breath came in bruised, hysterical sobs. Temple, held by the detectives, seemed to collapse.
"Henry Edward Hammersley," Poss began in his official voice, "or Henry Edward Temple, I am going to charge you with the attempted murder of your wife. There will be other charges. You will accompany me to Vine Street and -"
Harry Temple turned blindly toward the bed and, his blurred eyes accusing his wife, made some thick incoherent sounds even as a violent spasm made him sag helpless in the detectives' arms. Poss and Daisy got him to a chair. Poss reddened with temper.
"Daisy, ring a doctor quick. He's poisoned himself somehow."
Mrs Temple, sobbing uncontrollably, suddenly clung tight to Gay Falcon's arm.
"I won't," Poss said savagely, "ever hear the end of this if he gets away with it — right under my nose. But how could I have stopped him?"
"You couldn't help it," Falcon said. "I'll back you up."
"Please, please," Diana Temple sobbed, "don't let him - die - in here! Please — I can't bear any more! He always said he'd poison himself if —"
Poss was busy searching the unconscious man's pockets.
Falcon pointed to a tiny rubber bulb and some remnants of smashed glass on the floor between the bed and the chair on which Temple lay.
"That's how he did it, Poss - a hypodermic. We crushed it under our feet as he dropped it. You don't have to tell me it smells of bitter almonds — they always do."
Poss, carefully putting the remnants of the hypodermic into a handkerchief, said soothingly: "All right, Mrs Temple, we'll do our best. Falcon, give me a hand while Daisy is telephoning and we'll get Temple out into the hall."
"I can't," said Gay Falcon, smiling tenderly at Mrs Temple's lovely, distracted face. "This lady is in no state to be left alone even for a moment — and I guess she needs a doctor a deal more than Harry Temple does by now."
Poss looked at him with disgust, but just then Sergeant Daisy came back and between them they heaved Temple's inert bulk out of the room.
Falcon at once sat on the bed, and while she clung to him with terror that would not be soothed he ran the fingers of one hand protectively through her soft hair.
"Thank God," she whispered, "you were here, Gay Falcon! Where would I be now but for you? Oh, I can't bear to think of–"
Poss re-entered the room and looked at them, particularly at Falcon, with severe disapproval.
"Mrs Temple," he said sternly, "I regret to have to tell you that your husband has cheated the law. I shall have to take a brief statement from you now, while a full statement can be taken in the morning in the presence of your lawyer. Mr Falcon, will you be so good as to leave the lady alone for just one minute so that she can give me her undivided attention?" Still clinging to Falcon's arm, Diana Temple was obviously on the verge of an hysterical collapse.
"I simply can't talk now," she pleaded frantically. "Gay, please tell him - make him leave it all till -"
Poss said: "I sympathise, Mrs Temple, but a couple of minutes will suffice. From what we overheard we can establish that the dead man was the brain behind the insurance thefts and also the murderer of Stella Bowman. Further, we were ourselves witnesses of as clear a case of attempted murder as -"
"Attempted?" said Gay Falcon, still caressing Mrs Temple's hair. "Why attempted, Poss? Henry Edward Temple was very thoroughly murdered — right under our noses — by his loving wife."
As she tried to wrench herself away, he held her to him more tightly, in what was now a grotesque parody of affection. She said not a word, her breath coming in thick gasps, then suddenly she threw her head back and started screaming.
Falcon let her fall back on to the bed. She went on screaming, contorting her body frantically beneath the bed-clothes. Daisy ran in, pop-eyed.
"Let her yell," Falcon said. "She's an expert on hysterics. Restrain your pity, Daisy - she had darn little for Stella Bowman when she strangled her."
Poss said: "But look here, we found the smashed hypodermic with which he -" Falcon held out a pocket handkerchief, on which lay another small hypodermic, unbroken, half full.
"She had two — I was looking for this under the pillow while you and she thought I was flirting with her. It was almost undetectable murder, given the circumstances. A clear case of a thief and murder — so we were expected to think — poisoning himself to escape the law. But what actually happened was that as Temple made a grab at her, she chucked one hypodermic on to the floor, pretty certain it would be trodden underfoot, and then, just as we came in, jabbed him in the thigh with the other. You'll find her fingerprints on this."
Diana Temple, her lovely eyes dilated, lay staring at Gay Falcon.
"You beast!" she whispered. "You sneaky, filthy Romeo! But you can't prove I killed Stella Bowman!"
Falcon regarded her absently. "You should watch your words, Mrs Temple — they will be used against you."
Once outside in the hall, Poss said: "How did you get on to her?"
"Not till almost the last minute, Poss. Though I have been married to two pretty women and thought I was hard-boiled, she had me on a string all right. She had me just where she wanted me, believing that she was being victimised by Hammerseley or Morgan, I wasn't quite certain which. It was always obvious that an insurance man was behind this racket.
"And then, at almost the very last minute, she made a mistake. Remember, she told Temple quite unnecessarily that she had told me who he was and that he had killed Stella Bowman. Then I knew that she was goading him into trying to kill her, and I wondered why. Remember, she did not accuse him of having killed Mrs Bowman, all she said was that she had told me so —
"So that we, listening, could pin the charge on him, and also, when he made a grab at her, so that she could get a good chance of putting him away? All right, that can stick. You can kill in self-defence — but not with poison, and not when you know detectives are there to protect you. But why did she have to put Temple away?
"Because if he escaped, she would always be frightened of him and he might interfere with her life as the beautifully dressed and frantically fashionable Diana Temple-and being one of the best-dressed women in the world has been the money motive behind her crimes. Because, again, if he was arrested he would have given us proofs that she was not only the brains behind the insurance racket but also the killer of Stella Bowman.
"But I fancy she was right there — you will never convict her of that crime. Temple's death will be quite enough to go on with. An unpleasant character. But she will look swell in the box, all in black."