The Door with Seven Locks

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Chapter 21

"DEAD," said Sneed, unnecessarily, as they went slowly up the five stairs that brought them to the top landing.

There was no sign of violence, and they now saw what kept the body erect. She had been kneeling on a low settee which ran flush with the banisters, and by the accident of balance, when death had come, had retained her position. Reverently they lowered the body to the ground, whilst the inspector conducted a brief examination.

"Fright," he said briefly. "I saw a man like this about ten years ago. She saw something - horrible!"

"Has she got anything in her hand?" asked Dick suddenly, and prised open the tightly clenched fingers.

As he did so something fell to the parquet floor with a clang, and he uttered an exclamation of amazement. It was a key - the fellow to that which reposed at his bankers.

The two men looked at one another without a word. Then: "Where is Cody?" asked Sneed.

He was searching the wall for the telephone wiring, which he had expected to see, and, guessing his thoughts, Dick Martin pointed downstairs.

"You're looking for the phone? It is in the library; I saw it when I was here the other night. Moses! Look at that!"

The stairs were carpeted with dark grey carpet, thick and luxurious to the tread, and he was gaping at something he had not seen when he came up the stairs with the light in his face - the red print of a bare foot! Stooping, he touched it with his finger.

"Blood," he said. "I thought I smelt it! I wonder where those feet picked up that stuff?"

They found the imprint again lower down. In fact, on every second step the stain lay, and the nearer they got to the bottom of the stairs the more sharply defined it was.

"He came up two steps at a time - three here," nodded Dick. "We'll probably find the trail in the hall."

The vestibule was floored with polished wood, but there were three or four Persian rugs of a dark colour, and the prints on these had escaped their notice until they began to search for them.

"Here is one," said Dick, "and here is another." He pointed. "They lead from that room. Bare feet must have wandered aimlessly here - the footmarks are on every rug."

He tried the handle of the door, but it did not move.

"A spring lock," explained Sneed; "fastens automatically when it's closed. What is in the room opposite?"

Facing the closed door was another, which was unfastened. Two series of lights were burning, which at first aroused Dick's suspicion, until he remembered that he himself had turned them on from the switches in the hall. It was evidently a dining - room, beautifully furnished, and empty. The windows were shuttered; there was no sign of anything unusual, and he returned to the problem of the locked door.

He carried a very comprehensive range of tools in the 'boot' of his machine; but it was the jack he used for raising his car when he replaced a wheel that made the opening of the door possible. The small crowbar he tried to insert between door and lintel was useless, but when he used the jack, improvising a brace with the long hall table, the lock burst.

As the door flew open, he caught a glimpse of the library where he had been received by Cody, and his eyes, focussing on the writing table, where the little red lamp still burnt, saw instantly the overturned telephone. He took two steps into the room, followed by Sneed, when the lights went out, not only in the room but in the hall. "Anybody touch the switch?"

"No, sir," said the detective outside the door. Dick lugged out his electric lamp, which he had replaced as soon as he had found the switchboard, and walked gingerly towards the desk. Coming round the end of a large settee which ran across the room, he saw the huddled figure lying by the side of the desk. and it only needed a glance to tell him all that he feared.

Bertram Cody lay on his back with his legs doubled sideways, and he was not a pleasant sight; for the man who killed him had used no other weapon than the bent and bloodstained poker by his side. His hand still gripped the receiver of the telephone, and he had evidently been in the act of talking when the last fatal blow was struck.

All the drawers of the desk had been turned out, emptied, and their contents apparently taken away, for not so much as a sheet of paper had been left behind by the murderer.

Sneed pulled a pair of white cotton gloves from his pocket, drew them on, and, carefully lifting the poker, laid it on the desk. He gave his instructions in a low tone to one of his men, who went out of the library, evidently to the telephone connection which they had seen in the dining - room, for Dick heard him talking.

"I've sent for the Scotland Yard photographer and the local police," he said. "There are probably finger - prints on the poker that will be very useful."

There was a door at the farther end of the room, and this, Dick discovered, was ajar. It opened upon a small apartment which was probably used as a breakfast - room, for on the small buffet there was a hot plate and an electric toaster. Here one of the windows was open.

"It was Cody who phoned, of course," said Dick, pulling his lip thoughtfully; "and Mrs Cody who brought Sybil Lansdown here. Sneed, we've got to find that girl!"

He was sick with fear, and the elder man could not guess what agony of doubt lay behind the calmness of his manner.

"Whoever did this is somewhere around," said Sneed. "The lights did not go off by accident."

At that moment the man he had sent into the dining - room to telephone to the Yard came back.

"The phone wire was cut while I was talking," he announced, and there was a silence.

"Are you sure?"

"Absolutely certain, sir," said the detective. "I had just got through to the Yard and was talking to Mr Elmer when the instrument went dead."

Two of the three Scotland Yard men carried torches, fortunately, and one of them went to find the fusebox, and came back to announce that there was no sign of a blow - out.

"I'll explore upstairs," said Dick. "You hang on here, Sneed."

He went up the stairs, past the dreadful figure lying on the landing, and walked from room to room. Here there was neither sign of disorder nor evidence that the girl was in the house. And then, as he turned his lamp on the dark carpet, he saw the stains again and trailed them. The barefooted man had evidently wandered up and down the corridor, and it was clear to Dick Martin that he was wounded, for whilst the footprints were no longer visible, little spots of blood showed at intervals, and there was a smear against the white wall which almost located the position of the wound.

Soon after be found a little bundle of grimy rags, which undoubtedly had been used as a bandage. The solution came to him in a moment. The killer was the man he had winged in Selford Park - the half - nude savage who had attacked him that night at Gallows Hill. His murderous exertions had displaced the bandage and the wound had begun to bleed again.

He followed the track until it turned into the beginning of a narrow flight of stairs leading to the storey above. He was now on the attic floor, and evidently there were two ways to this floor, for only three rooms opened from the passage in which he found himself. The first was a lumber room; the second was an apartment which held nothing more sinister than a large zinc cistern. It was in the third and last room on the left that he made his discovery. A panel of the door, which hung upon one hinge, was broken; the lock had been smashed into three pieces. As the beam of his lamp went systematically round the room he saw a bed, and then his heart missed a beat. On the floor, almost at his feet, was a little handkerchief, dappled red.

He picked it up with a shaking hand and saw the embroidered initials S. L. Sybil's!

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