The Door with Seven Locks

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Chapter 3

DICK WAS piqued to the extent of wishing to renew the encounter, and there was only one excuse for that. He went to the garage near his flat, took out his dingy Buick and drove down to Gallows Hill. It was not an easy quest, because Gallows Hill is not marked on the map and only had a local significance; and it was not until he was on the edge of Selford Manor that he learnt from a road - mender that the cottage was on the main road and that he had come about ten miles out of his way.

It was late in the afternoon when he drew abreast of the broken wall and hanging gate behind which was the habitation of Dr Stalletti. The weed - grown drive turned abruptly to reveal a mean - looking house, which he thought was glorified by the name of cottage. So many of his friends had 'cottages' which were mansions, and 'little places' which were very little indeed, when he had expected to find a more lordly dwelling.

There was no bell, and he knocked at the weather - stained door for five minutes before he had an answer. And then he heard a shuffling of feet on bare boards, the clang of a chain being removed, and the door opened a few inches.

Accustomed as he was to unusual spectacles, he gaped at the man who was revealed in the space between door and lintel. A long, yellow face, deeply lined and criss - crossed with innumerable lines till it looked like an ancient yellow apple; a black beard that half - covered its owner's waistcoat; a skull - cap; a pair of black, malignant eyes blinking at these were his first impressions. "Dr Stalletti?" he asked.

"That is my name." The voice was harsh, with just a suggestion of a foreign accent. "Did you wish to speak with me? Yes? That is extraordinary. I do not receive visitors."

He seemed in some hesitation as to what he should do, and then he turned his head and spoke to somebody over his shoulder, and in doing so revealed to the detective a young, rosy, and round - faced man, very newly and smartly dressed. At the sight of Dick the man stepped back quickly out of sight.

"Good - morning, Thomas," said Dick Martin politely. "This is an unexpected pleasure." The bearded man growled something and opened the door wide.

Tommy Cawler was indeed a sight for sore eyes. Dick Martin had seen him in many circumstances, but never so beautifully and perfectly arrayed. His linen was speckless; his clothes were the product of a West End tailor.

"Good - morning, Mr Martin." Tommy was in no sense abashed, "I just happened to call round to see my old friend Stalletti."

Dick gazed at him admiringly. "You simply ooze prosperity! What is the game now, Tommy?"

Tommy closed his eyes, a picture of patience and resignation.

"I've got a good job now, Mr Martin - straight as a die! No more trouble for me, thank you. Well, I'll be saying goodbye, doctor."

He shook hands a little too vigorously with the bearded man and stepped past him and down the steps.

"Wait a moment, Tommy. I'd like to have a few words with you. Can you spare me a moment whilst I see Dr Stalletti?"

The man hesitated, shot a furtive glance at the bearded figure in the doorway.

"All right," he said ungraciously. "But don't be long, I've got an engagement. Thank you for the medicine, doctor," he added loudly.

Dick was not deceived by so transparent a bluff. He followed the doctor into the hall. Farther the strange man did not invite him.

"You are police, yes?" he said, when Dick produced his card. "How extraordinary and bizarre! To me the police have not come for a long time - such trouble for a man because he experiments for science on a leetle dog! Such a fuss and nonsense! Now you ask me - what?"

In a few words Dick explained his errand, and to his amazement the strange man answered immediately:

"Yes, the book, I have it! It was on the shelf. I needed it, so I took it!"

"But, my good man," said the staggered detective, "you're not allowed to walk off with other people's property because you want it!"

"It is a library. It is for lending, is it not? I desired to borrow, so I took it with me. There was no concealment. I placed it under my arm, I lifted my hat to the young signora, and that was all. Now I have finished with it and it may go back. Haeckel is a fool; his conclusions are absurd, his theories extraordinary and bizarre." (Evidently this was a favourite phrase of his.) "To you they would seem very dull and commonplace, but to me - - " He shrugged his shoulders and uttered a little cackle of sound which Dick gathered was intended to be laughter.

The detective delivered a little lecture on the systems of loaning libraries, and with the book under his arm went out to rejoin the waiting Mr Cawler. He had at least an excuse for returning to the library, he thought with satisfaction.

"Now, Cawler" - he began without superfluous preliminaries and his voice was peremptory - "I want to know something about you. Is Stalletti a friend of yours?"

"He's my doctor," said the man coolly.

He had a merry blue eye, and he was one of the few people who had passed through his hands for whom Dick had a genuine liking. Tommy Cawler had been a notorious 'knocker - off* of motor - cars, and a 'knocker - off' is one who, finding an unattended machine, steps blithely into the driver's seat and is gone before the owner misses his machine. Tommy's two convictions had both been due to the unremitting inquiries of the man who now questioned him.

"I've got a regular job; I'm chauffeur to Mr Bertram Cody," said Tom virtuously. "I'm that honest now, I wouldn't touch anything crook, not to save my life."

"Where does Mr Cody live when he's at home?" asked Dick, unconvinced.

"Weald House. It is only a mile from here; you can step over and ask if you like."

"Does he know about your - sad past?" Dick questioned delicately.

"He does; I told him everything. He says I am the best chauffeur he ever had."

Dick examined the man carefully.

"Is this er - er - uniform that your employer prefers?"

"I'm going on holiday, to tell you the truth," said Mr Cawler. "The governor is pretty good about holidays. Here's the address if you want it."

He took an envelope from his pocket addressed to himself 'c/o Bertram Cody, Esq., Weald House, South Weald, Sussex.'

"They treat me like a lord," he said, not without truth. "And a more perfect lady and gentleman than Mr and Mrs Cody you'd never hope to see."

"Fine," said the sceptical Richard. "Forgive these embarrassing questions. Tommy, but in my bright lexicon there is no such word as 'reform'."

"I don't know your friend, but you've got it wrong," said Tommy hazily.

Martin offered him a lift, but this was declined, and the detective went back alone to London, and, to his annoyance, arrived at the library half an hour after the girl had left.

It was too late, he thought, to see Mr Havelock of Lincoln's Inn Fields, and in point of fact the recollection of that engagement brought with it a feeling of discomfort. His plans were already made. He intended spending a month in Germany before he returned to the work which he had promised himself: a volume on 'Thieves and Their Methods', which he thought would pleasantly occupy the next year.

Dick, without being extremely wealthy, was in a very comfortable position. Sneed had spoken of a six - figure legacy, and was nearly right, although the figures were dollars, for his uncle had been a successful cattle fanner of Alberta. Mainly he was leaving the police force because he was nearing promotion, and felt it unfair to stand in the way of other men who were more in need of rank than himself. Police work amused him. It was his hobby and occupation, and he did not care to contemplate what life would be without that interest.

He had turned to go into his flat when he heard a voice hail him, and he turned to see the man whom he had released that morning crossing the road in some haste. Ordinarily, Lew Pheeney was the coolest of men, but now he was almost incoherent.

"Can I see you, Slick?" he asked, a quiver in his voice, which Dick did not remember having heard before.

"Surely you can see me. Why? Is anything wrong?"

"I don't know." The man looked up and down the street nervously. "I'm being trailed."

"Not by the police - that I can swear," said Dick.

"Police!" said the man impatiently. "Do you think that would worry me? No, it's the fellow - I spoke to you about, There's something wrong in that business. Slick, I kept one thing from you. While I was working I saw this guy slip a gun out of his hip and drop it into his overcoat pocket. He stood holding it all the time I was working, and it struck me then that, if I'd got that door open, there'd have been no chance of my ever touching the thousand. Half way through I said I wanted to go out, and, once outside, I bolted. There was something that chased me - God knows what it was; a sort of animal. And I hadn't got a gun - I never carry one in this country, because a judge piles it on if you're caught with a barker in your pocket."

All the time they had been speaking they were passing through the vestibule and up the stairs to Slick's flat, and, without invitation, the burglar followed him into the apartment.

He led the man into his study and shut the door. "Now, Lew, let me hear the truth - what was the work you were doing on Tuesday night?"

Lew looked round the room, out of the window, everywhere except at Dick. Then: "I was trying to open a dead man's tomb!" he said in a low voice.

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