Room 13

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Chapter 17

IN another second the girl was in his arms, clinging to him, weeping convulsively on his shoulder, her face against his, her clasped hands about his neck.

Craig could only look, wondering and fearing. Johnny would not have walked into the net unwarned. Barney would have told him that he was there. What amazed Craig, as the fact slowly dawned upon him, was that Johnny was still in evening dress. He took a step toward him, and gently Johnny disengaged the girl from his arms.

"I'll like to see the right cuff of your shirt, Johnny," said Craig.

Without a word. Gray held up his arm, and the inspector scrutinised the spotless linen, for spotless it was. No sign of a stain was visible.

"Either somebody's doing some tall lying, or you're being extraordinarily clever, Johnny. I'll see that other cuff if I may."

The second scrutiny produced no tangible result.

"Didn't you go home and change to-night?"

"No, I haven't been near my flat," he said.

Craig was staggered.

"But your man said that you came in, changed, took a suit-case and went away."

"Then Parker has been drinking," was the calm reply "I have been enjoying the unusual experience of dining with the detective officer who was responsible for my holiday in Devonshire."

Craig took a step back.

"With Inspector Flaherty?" he asked.

Johnny nodded.

"With the good Inspector Flaherty. We have been exchanging confidences about our mutual acquaintances."

"But who was it went to your flat?" asked the bewildered Craig.

"My double. I've always contended that I have a double," said Johnny serenely.

He stood in the centre of the astounded group. Into Marney's heart had crept a wild hope.

"Johnny," she said, "was it this man who committed the crime for which you were punished?"

To her disappointment he shook his head.

"No, I am the gentleman who was arrested and sent to Dartmoor—my double stops short of these unpleasant experiences, and I can't say that I blame him."

"But do you mean to say that he deceived your servant?"

"Apparently," said Johnny, turning again to the detective who had asked the question.

"I take your word, of course, Johnny, as an individual."

Johnny chuckled.

"I like the pretty distinction. As an official, you want corroboration. Very well, that is not hard to get. If you take me back to Flaherty, he will support all I have told you."

Peter and the detective had the good taste to allow him to take leave of the girl without the embarrassment of their presence.

"It beats me—utterly beats me. Have you ever heard of this before, Peter?"

"That Johnny had a double? No, I can't say that I have."

"He may have invented the story for the sake of the girl. But there is the fact: he's in evening dress, whilst his servant distinctly described him as wearing a grey tweed suit. There is no mark of blood on his cuff, and I'm perfectly certain that Stevens wouldn't have tried to get Johnny in bad. He is very fond of the boy. Of course, he may be spinning this yarn for the sake of Marney, but it'll be easy enough to corroborate. I'll use your phone, Peter," he said suddenly. "I've got Flaherty's number in my book."

The biggest surprise of the evening came when a sleepy voice, undeniably Flaherty's, answered him.

"Craig's speaking. Who have you been dining with tonight, Flaherty?"

"You don't mean to tell me that you've called me up in the middle of the night," began the annoyed Irishman, "to ask me who I've been dining with?"

"This is serious, Flaherty. I want to know."

"Why, with Johnny, of course—Johnny Gray. I asked him to come to dinner."

"What time did he leave you?"

"Nearer eleven than ten," was the reply. "No, it was after eleven."

"And he was with you all that time? He didn't leave for a quarter of an hour?"

"Not for a quarter of a minute. We just talked and talked… ."

Craig hung up the receiver and turned away from the instrument, shaking his head.

"Any other alibi would have hanged you, Johnny. But Flaherty's the straightest man in the C.I.D."

In view of what followed when Johnny reached his flat in the early hours of the morning, this testimony to the integrity of Inspector Flaherty seemed a little misguided.

"Nobody else been here?"

"No, sir," said Parker.

"What did you do with the shirt I took off?"

"I cut off the cuffs and burnt them, sir. I did it with a greater pleasure, because the rounded corner cuff is just a little demode, if you do not mind my saying so, just a little—how shall I call it?—theatrical."

"The rest of the shirt—?"

"The rest of the shirt, sir," said Parker deferentially, "I am wearing. It is rather warm to wear two shirts, but I could think of no other way of disposing of it, sir. Shall I put your bath ready?"

Johnny nodded.

"If you will forgive the impertinence, did you succeed in persuading the gentleman you were going to see, to support your statement?"

"Flaherty? Oh, yes. Flaherty owes me a lot. Good night, Parker."

"Good night, sir. I hope you sleep well. Er—may I take that pistol out of your pocket, sir? It is spoiling the set of your trousers. Thank you very much."

He took the Browning gingerly between his finger and thumb and laid it on Johnny's writing-table.

"You don't mind my being up a little late, sir?" he said. "I think I would like to clean this weapon before I retire."

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