The Door with Seven Locks

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Chapter 10

MR CODY was not a good walker, and was, moreover, a particularly fearful man, otherwise he might have walked the six miles which separated him from Gallows Cottage on a dark and windy night. Instead, he ordered his car, his chauffeur protesting sourly, and drove to within a hundred yards of the house.

"Back into that lane, put your lights out, and don't move until I return."

Mr Tom Cawler growled something under his breath.

"And don't you be long !" he said. "What is the game, anyway, Cody? Why didn't you get him to come over?"

"Mind your own dam' business!" snapped the little man, and disappeared into the darkness.

He reached the cottage soon after one o'clock, and groped his way up the dark drive. Once, as he put out his stick to feel his way, it almost dropped from under him. If he had been leaning his weight upon it he would have fallen into the pit which had been dug by the side of the path.

He did not knock at the door, but, making a half circuit of the house, tapped at one of the dark windows, and returned to find the front door open and Stalletti waiting in the hall.

"Ah, it is you! So strange to find you at such an hour! Come in, my very dear friend. I received your telephone message, but, alas! fate was against me."

"He got away?" asked the other fearfully.

Dr Stalletti shrugged and stroked his long beard.

"It was fate," he said. "Otherwise, he would be - quite close to us. I spread the lamps on the road, and myself emptied his petrol, and got back to the house before he came. The situation was extraordinary and remarkable. There was nothing between him and death by the thin end of this card." He held a soiled and greasy playing - card in his hand. He had been playing patience when the knock came. "There was one weak link, and so it snapped."

Cody looked round the gloomy hall like a man frightened.

"What will happen now?" he asked in a whisper.

Again the doctor shrugged.

"The police will come sooner or later, and they will make a search of my house. Does it matter? What shall they find here but a few rats lawfully dead?"

"Did you - -?" Cody did not complete the question.

"I sent somebody after him, but somebody failed like a bungling idiot. You cannot develop muscle except at the expense of brain, my dear fellow. Will you come in?"

He led the way back to his workroom. The desk at which he worked had been cleared of its unpleasant properties, and was half covered with playing - cards.

"First you may tell me who is this man? I have seen him before. He came to me to ask some questions about a book. It was the day your chauffeur was here. I seem to know him, and yet I do not know him." Cody licked his dry lips; his heavy face was white and drawn.

"He is the man Havelock sent after Selford," he muttered, and the doctor's eyebrows went up to a point.

"Can that possibly be? How extraordinary and bizarre! So he is the gentleman that the clever lawyer sent to look for Selford!" He began to laugh, and the sound of his laughter was like the crackling of parchment.

"That is too good a joke! The real good, simple Havelock! So clever a man! And," he demanded archly, "did our friend find my lord? No? That is remarkable. Perhaps he did not move quick enough! Perhaps he went by train when airplanes were procurable!"

He seated himself at the table, tapping a tattoo with his uncleanly fingers upon its surface.

"What else does my friend want?" he asked, eyeing the other keenly.

"I want some money," said Cody, in a sulky voice.

Without a word, the doctor stooped down and unlocked a drawer of his desk, took out a battered tin cash - box, opened it, and extracted a thick bundle of notes.

"There are fewer to pay now," he said. "Therefore your money is increased. If I die, it will be to your benefit. Per contra - -"

"Don't let us talk about death," shivered the little man, his trembling hands straying to his bald head. "We don't want any of that sort of thing; we've gone right away from our first idea, which was good. If you take life - -"

"Have I taken life?"

"Have you?" demanded Cody, and waited.

The doctor's red mouth curled in a smile.

"There was a Mr Pheeney," he said carefully. "Is that how you name him? He certainly died, but I think that must have been suicide." He chuckled again. "I do not love people who go to policemen. That is very bad for business, because the police have no imagination. Now, suppose I go to a policeman" - he was eyeing the other from under his drooping lids - "and suppose I make statements - what a catastrophe!"

The little man jumped to his feet, quivering.

"You dare not!" he said hoarsely. "You dare not!"

Again Stalletti shrugged his thin shoulders.

"Why do I stay in this cold and horrible country," he asked, "when I could be sitting on the patio of my own beautiful villa in Florence? There I would be away from these stupid policemen."

He stopped suddenly and raised his finger to signal for silence. Cody had not caught the faint squeak against the shuttered window, but the doctor had heard it twice.

"There is somebody outside," he whispered.

"Is it - -?"

Stalletti shook his head.

"No, it is not Beppo." His lips curled at the word, as though he were enjoying the best jest in the world. "Wait."

He crossed the room noiselessly and disappeared into the dingy passage. Cody heard the sound of a door being softly unlocked, and there was a long wait before the man returned. He was blinking as though the return to the light was painful to his eyes, but Cody had seen him in this condition before, and knew that this strange, unearthly man was labouring under an unusual emotion.

He carried in his hand a thing that looked like a telephone earpiece with a rubber attachment.

"Somebody was listening at the window, my friend. I will give you three guesses - you were not driven here by car?"

"I walked," said the other shortly.

"Your excellent chauffeur - he suffers from curiosity?"

"I tell you I walked. No chauffeur came with me."

"He could walk also. What is this?"

He took from his pocket a cap and laid it on the table.

"Do you recognize this - no?"

Cody shook his head.

"He had taken this off to put on the earpieces. The microphone I could not find. But he listened - yes."

"Who was it? It couldn't have been Cawler," said Cody fretfully. "He is my wife's nephew."

"And adores her?" sneered the doctor.

He turned the cap inside out, and read the name of the seller.

"How strange it would be if, after all, you harboured in your house a spy."

"How can that be?" said the other violently. "You know as much as I know about Cawler."

"And you know - what? Nothing except that he is a thief, a stealer of motor - cars, on whom the police have their eye all the time. When this friend of yours came, this Martini - Martin, is it? - he knew your Cawler, and I was instantly compromised."

Then Cody began to speak in a low, earnest tone, and the bearded man listened, at first with contemptuous indifference and then with interest. "It is a pity that my Beppo was not in the grounds. We should have known for sure," he said at last.

Mr Cody walked half a mile along the road to where he had left his car. The chauffeur was dozing in his seat, but woke at the sound of his employer's voice.

"Cawler, have you been by the car all the time? Did you follow me?"

"Would I walk if I could ride?" growled the man. "Of course I've been here all the time. Why? Somebody been shadowing you?"

"You play the fool with me, my friend, and you'll be sorry."

"I'm never sorry for anything I've done," said the other coolly. "Get inside - it's raining."

He swung the car out on the main road and drove back to Weald House at breakneck speed. Amongst the many things which Mr Cody dreaded was fast driving, and the only way his chauffeur could get even at times was to do one of the things that the little man did not like. He got out, livid with rage, and spluttered an expletive at the unmoved chauffeur.

"You're giving yourself airs because you think you're indispensable, you - - !"

Even while he was talking, the car moved on to its garage. As a debater, Tommy Cawler did not regard his master as being worthy of his metal.

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