AT TEN o'clock the next morning Dick Martin walked blithely into Lincoln's Inn Fields. The birds were twittering in the high trees, the square lay bathed in pale April sunshine, and as for Slick, he was at peace with the world, though he had travelled nigh on thirty thousand miles and had failed to report at the end of them.
Messrs Havelock and Havelock occupied an old Queen Anne house that stood shoulder to shoulder with other mansions of the period. A succession of brass plates on the door announced this as the registered office of a dozen corporations, for Mr Havelock was a company lawyer, who, though he never appeared in the courts, gave the inestimable benefit of his advice to innumerable and prosperous corporations.
Evidently the detective was expected, for the clerk in the outer office was almost genial.
"I will tell Mr Havelock you're here," he said, and came back in a few seconds to beckon the wanderer into the private sanctum of the senior partner.
As Dick Martin came in, he was finishing the dictation of a letter, and he smiled a welcome and nodded to a chair. When the dictation was done and the homely stenographer dismissed, he got up from the big writing - table, filling his pipe.
"So you didn't see him?" he asked.
"No, sir. I moved fast, but he was quicker. I got into Rio the day he left. I was in Cape Town just three days after he had gone on overland to Beira - and then I had your cable."
Havelock nodded solemnly, puffing at his pipe.
"The erratic devil!" he said. "You might have come up with him at Beira. He's there yet."
Walking to his desk he pressed a bell, and his secretary made a reappearance.
"Give me the Selford file - the current one," he said, and waited until she had returned and given him a large blue folder. From this he took a cable form and banded it to his visitor. Slick read:
HAVELOCK LONDON. WHO IS THIS MAN MARTIN CHASING AFTER ME? HAVE ALREADY MAILED POWER OF ATTORNEY. PLEASE LEAVE ME ALONE. SHALL BE IN LONDON AUGUST. - PIERCE.
The cable was dated Cape Town, three days before Dick had arrived there.
"I could hardly do anything else," said Mr Havelock, rubbing his nose irritably with his knuckle. "Did you hear anything about him?"
Dick chuckled. "That fellow didn't stand still long enough for anyone to notice him," he said. "I've talked to hotel porters and reception clerks in seven kinds of broken English, and none of 'em had anything on him. He was in Cape Town the day the new High Commissioner arrived from England."
"Well," asked Havelock after a pause, "what has that to do with it?"
"Nothing." Another pause, and then: "What do you really suspect?" asked Dick.
Mr Havelock pursed his lips. "I don't know," he admitted frankly. "At the worst that he has married, or has become entangled in some way with a lady whom he is not anxious to bring to England."
Dick fingered his chin thoughtfully. "Have you had much correspondence from him?" And, when the other nodded: "May I see it?"
He took the portfolio from Mr Havelock's hand and turned the leaves. There were cablegrams, addressed from various parts of the world, long and short letters, brief instructions, obviously in reply to some query that Havelock had sent.
"Those only take you back for a year. I have one or two cases filled with his letters, if you would like to see them?"
Dick shook his head. "These are all in his handwriting?"
"Undoubtedly. There is no question that he is being impersonated, if that is what you mean." The detective handed back the portfolio with a little grimace. "I wish I'd caught up with him," he said. "I'd like to see what kind of bird he is, though I know a dozen young fellows whose feet start itching the moment they sit still. I'm sorry I haven't been more successful, Mr Havelock, but, as I say, this lad is a swift mover. Maybe at some later time I'll ask to see the whole of these letters; I'd like to study them."
"You can see them now if you wish," said the lawyer, reaching for the bell.
The detective stopped him. "So far as the alliance is concerned, I think you can rest your mind. He was alone in New York and alone in San Francisco. He landed without any encumbrances at Shanghai, and I trailed him through India without there being a hint of a lady in the case. When he comes back in August I'd like to meet him."
"You shall." Mr Havelock smiled grimly. "If I can nail him down long enough to give you time to get here."
Dick went home, turning over in his mind two important problems, in his pocket a very handsome cheque for his services. The elderly woman who kept house for him was out marketing when he arrived. Sitting down at his desk, his head in his hands, his untidy hair rumpled outrageously, he went over the last six exciting months of his life, and at the end the question in his mind was not answered. Presently he pulled the telephone towards him and called Havelock.
"I forgot to ask you, why does he call himself Pierce?"
"Who? Oh, you mean Selford? That is his name. Pierce, John Pierce. I forgot to explain to you that he hated his title. Oh, did I? Have you an idea?"
"None," said Slick untruthfully, for he had several ideas. He had unpacked all but one suitcase, and this he now proceeded to turn on to the table. It was full of documents, hotel bills, notes he had made in the course of his tour; and at the bottom of the case a square sheet of blotting - paper, which he took out carefully and held up to the light. It was the blotted impression left by an envelope: Mr Bertram Cody, Weald House, South Weald, Sussex. There was no need to refresh his memory, for he had made a very careful note of the name and address. He had found that sheet of blotting - paper in the private sitting - room at the Plaza Hotel in Buenos Aires which had been occupied, forty - eight hours before his arrival, by the restless Mr Pierce. Nobody had used the room after he had gone until Dick had asked the hotel manager to show him the suite which his quarry had occupied.
He locked away the blotting - paper in a drawer of his desk, strolled into his bedroom, and stood for a long time looking at himself in the glass.
"Call yourself a detective, eh?" he demanded of his reflection, as his lips curled. "You poor, four - flushing mutt!"
He spent the remainder of the day learning a new card trick that he had picked up on the voyage over; an intricate piece of work, consisting of palming a card from the top of the pack and passing it so that it became the ninth card of the pack. With a stop - watch before him he practised, until he managed to accomplish the transfer in the fifteenth part of a second. Then he was satisfied. When dusk descended on the world, he got out his car and drove southward leisurely.