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   Chapter 10 AT THE CLUB DE VINGT

The Red Seal By Natalie Sumner Lincoln Characters: 15646

Updated: 2017-11-28 00:06


The large building of the popular Club de Vingt, or as one Washingtonian put it, the "Club De Vin," which had sprung into existence in the National Capital during the war, was ablaze with light and Benjamin Clymer, sitting at a small table in one corner of the dining-room, wished most heartily that it had been less crowded. Many dinner-parties were being given that night, and it was only by dint of perseverance and a Treasury note that he had finally induced the head waiter to put in an extra table for him and his guest, Harry Kent. Kent had been very late and, to add to his short-comings, had been silent, not to say morose, during dinner. Clymer heaved a sigh of relief when the table was cleared and coffee and cigars placed before them.

Kent roused himself from his abstraction. "We cannot talk here," he said, looking at the gay diners who surrounded them. "And I have several important matters to discuss with you, Mr. Clymer."

His remark was overheard by their waiter, and he stopped pouring out Kent's coffee.

"There is a small smoking room to the right of the dining room," he suggested. "I passed there but a moment ago and it was not occupied. If you desire, sir, I will serve coffee there."

"An excellent idea." Clymer rose quickly and he and Kent followed the waiter to the inclosed porch which had been converted into an attractive lounging room for the club members. It was much cooler than the over-heated dining room, and Kent was grateful for the subdued light given out by the artistically shaded lamps with which it was furnished. There was silence while the waiter with deft fingers arranged the coffee and cigars on a wicker table; then receiving Clymer's generous tip with a word of thanks, the man departed.

Kent wheeled his chair around so as to face his companion and still have a side view of the dining room, where tables were being rapidly removed for the dance which followed dinners on Thursday nights. Clymer selected a cigar with care and, leaning back in his chair until the wicker creaked under his weight, he waited patiently for Kent to speak. It was fully five minutes before Kent addressed him.

"So James Turnbull was poisoned after all," he commented. "A week ago I would have sworn that Jimmie hadn't an enemy in the world."

"Ah, but he had; and a very bitter vindictive enemy, if the evidence given at the coroner's inquest this afternoon is to be believed," replied Clymer seriously. "The case is remarkably puzzling."

"It is." Kent bit savagely at his cigar as a slight vent to his feelings. "'Killed by a dose of aconitine by a person or persons unknown,' was the jury's verdict, and a nice tangle they have left me to ferret out.''

"You?"

"Yes. I'm going to solve this mystery if it is a possible thing." Kent's tone was grim. "And Colonel McIntyre only gave me until Saturday night to work in."

Clymer eyed him in surprise. "McIntyre desires to get back his lost securities; judging from his comments after the inquest, he is not particularly interested in who killed Turnbull."

"But I am," exclaimed Kent. "The more I think of it, the more convinced I am that the forged letter, with the subsequent disappearance of McIntyre's securities has some connection with Jimmie's untimely death, be it murder or suicide."

"Suicide?" Clymer's raised eyebrows indicated his surprise.

"Yes," shortly. "Aconitine would have killed just as surely if swallowed with suicidal intent as if administered with murderous design."

A pause followed which neither man seemed anxious to break, then Kent turned to the banker, and the latter noticed the haggard lines in his face.

"Listen to me, Mr. Clymer," he began. "My instinct tells me that Jimmie Turnbull never forged that letter or stole McIntyre's securities, but I admit that everything points to his guilt, even his death."

"How so?"

"Because the theft of the securities supplies a motive for his suicide-fear of exposure and imprisonment," argued Kent. "But there is no motive, so far as I can see, for Jimmie's murder. Men don't kill each other without a motive."

"There is homicidal mania," suggested Clymer.

"But not in this case," retorted Kent. "We are sane men and it is up to us to find out if Jimmie died by his own hand or was killed by some unknown enemy.''

"Rest easy, Mr. Kent," said a voice from the doorway and Kent, who had turned his back in that direction the better to talk to Clymer, whirled around and found Detective Ferguson regarding him just inside the threshold. "Mr. Turnbull's enemy is not unknown and will soon be under arrest."

"Who is he?" demanded Clymer and Kent simultaneously.

"Philip Rochester."

Clymer was the first to recover from his astonishment. "Oh, get out!" he exclaimed incredulously. "Why, Rochester was Turnbull's most intimate friend."

"Until they fell in love with the same girl," answered Ferguson succinctly, taking possession of the only other chair the porch boasted. "One quarrel led to another and then Rochester did for him. Oh, it dove-tails nicely; motive, jealous anger; opportunity, recognition in court of Turnbull disguised as a burglar, at the same time Rochester learns that Turnbull has been caught after midnight in the house of his sweetheart-"

"D-mn you!" Kent sprang for the detective's throat. "Cut out your abominable insinuations. Miss McIntyre shall not be insulted."

"I'm not insulting her," gasped Ferguson, half strangled. "Let go, Mr. Kent. I'm only telling you what that half crazy partner of yours, Rochester, was probably thinking in the police court. Let go, I say."

Clymer aided the detective in freeing himself. "Sit down, Kent," he said sternly. "Ferguson meant no offense. Go ahead, man, and tell us the rest of your theories."

It was some minutes, however, before the detective had collected sufficient breath to answer intelligently.

"I size it up this way," he began with a resentful glance at Kent who had dropped back in his chair again. "Rochester knew his friend had heart disease and that his sudden death would be attributed to it-so he took a sporting chance and administered a fatal dose of aconitine."

"How was it done?" asked Clymer.

"Just slipped the poison into the glass of water he handed to Turnbull in the court room," explained Ferguson, and glanced in triumph at Kent. "Neat, wasn't it?"

Kent regarded the detective, his mind in a whirl. His theory was certainly plausible, but-"Have you other evidence to prove, your theory?" he asked.

"Yes." Ferguson checked off his points on his fingers. "Remember how insistent Mr. Rochester was that Turnbull had died from angina pectoris?"

"I do," acknowledged Clymer, deeply interested. "Continue, Ferguson."

The detective needed no second bidding.

"Another point," he began. "There never would have been a post-mortem examination if Miss Helen McIntyre hadn't asked for it. She knew of the ill-feeling between the men and suspected foul play on Rochester's part."

"Wait," commanded Kent. "Has Miss McIntyre substantiated that statement?"

"Not yet," admitted Ferguson. "I stopped at her house, but the butler said the young ladies had retired and could not see any one." Kent, who had called there on the way to keep his dinner engagement with Clymer, had been met with the same statement, to his bitter disappointment. He most earnestly desired to see the twins and to see them together, to make one more effort to induce them to confide in him; for that they had some secret trouble he was convinced; he longed to be of aid, but his hands were tied through lack of information.

"Don't imply motives to Miss McIntyre's act until you have verified them, Ferguson," he cautioned. "Go on with your theories."

"One moment," Clymer broke into the conversation. "Did

Rochester tell you, Ferguson, that he had recognized Turnbull in his burglar disguise?"

"No, sir; I never had an opportunity to ask him, for he disappeared Tuesday night and has not been seen or heard of since," Ferguson rejoined.

"Hold on," Kent checked him with an impatient gesture. "I had a telegram from Rochester this morning, stating he was in Cleveland."

"I didn't forget about the telegram," retorted Ferguson. "It was to consult you about that, that I hunted you up to-night. That telegram was bogus."

"What!" Kent half rose from his chair.

"Yes. After the inquest I called Cleveland on the long distance, talked with the City Club officials and with Police Headquarters; all declared that Rochester was not there, and no trace could be found of his having ever arrived in the city."

Clymer laid down his half smoked cigar and stared at the detective.

"You think then that Rochester has bolted?" he asked.

"It looks that way," insisted Ferguson. "How about it, Mr. Kent?" The question was put with a touch of arrogance.

Kent did not reply immediately. Every fact that Ferguson had brought out fitted the situation, and Rochester's disappearance added color to the detective's charges. Why was he hiding unless from guilty motives, and where had he gone? Kent shook a bewildered head.

"It is plausible," he conceded, "but, after all, only circumstantial evidence."

"Well, circumstantial evidence is good enough for me to work on," retorted Ferguson. "On discovering that the telegram from Cleveland was a hoax, I concluded Ferguson might be lurking around Washington and so sent a description of him to the different precincts and secured a search warrant."

"You did?"

"Yes. Armed with it I visited Mr. Rochester's apartment, but couldn't find a clew to his present whereabouts," admitted Ferguson. "So then I went to your office, Mr. Kent, and ransacked the firm's safe."

"Confound you!" Kent leaned forward in his wrath and shook his fist at the detective. "What right had you to do such a thing?"

"The search warrant covered it," explained Ferguson. "I could look through your safe, Mr. Kent, because Rochester was your senior partner and you shared the office together; I was within the law."

"Perhaps you were," Kent controlled his anger with an effort. "But I had told you I did not know Rochester's whereabouts before I showed you the Cleveland telegram, which you claim is bogus."

"It's bogus, all right," insisted the detective. "I thought it just possible I might find some paper which would give me a clew to Rochester's hiding place, so I went through the safe."

"How did you get it open?" asked Kent.

"I found it open."

Kent leapt to his feet. "You-found-it open!"-he stammered. "Why, man, I locked that safe securely just before I left the office at six o'clock."

"Sure?"

"Absolutely certain."

"Were you alone?"

"Yes, all alone. Sylvester left at five o'clock"

"Who knew the combination of the safe?"

"Only Rochester and I."

It was Ferguson's turn to spring up "By-!" he exclaimed. "I thought the electric bulbs in the office felt warm, as if they had recently been burning-Rochester must have been there just before me."

"It would seem that Rochester is still in the city," remarked Clymer. "Do you know, Kent, whether he had his office keys with him?"

"I presume so," Kent slipped his hand inside his pocket and took out a bunch of keys. "He left these duplicates in his desk at the office."

"Sure they are duplicates?" questioned Ferguson, and Kent flushed.

"I know they are," he retorted. "Rochester had them made over a year ago as a matter of convenience, for he was always forgetting his keys, and kept these at our office."

"He's a queer cuss," was the detective's only comment and Clymer broke into the conversation.

"Did you find any address or paper in the safe which might prove a clew, Ferguson?" he inquired.

"Nothing, not even a scrap of paper," and the detective's tone was glum.

"Did the safe look as if its contents had been tumbled about?" asked Kent.

"No, everything seemed in order." Ferguson thrust his hand inside his coat pocket. "There was one envelope in the right hand compartment which puzzled me-"

"Hold on-was that compartment also unlocked?" asked Kent.

"It was," not giving Kent time to speak again Ferguson continued his remarks. "As this was unaddressed I brought it to you, Mr. Kent, to ask if it was your personal property"-he drew out the white envelope which Helen McIntyre had brought Kent that morning and turned it over so that both men could see the large red seal bearing the letter "B."

"It is my property," asserted Kent instantly.

"Would you mind opening it?" asked Ferguson.

"I would, most certainly; it relates to my personal affairs."

Ferguson looked a trifle non-plussed. "Would you mind telling me its contents, Mr. Kent?" he asked persuasively.

Kent regarded the detective squarely. He could not betray Helen, the envelope might contain harmless nonsense, but she had placed it in his safe-keeping-no, confound it, she had left it in the safe for Rochester-and Rochester was apparently a fugitive from justice, while circumstantial evidence pointed to his having poisoned Helen's lover, Jimmie...

"If you must know, Ferguson," Kent spoke with deliberation. "They are old love letters of mine."

Clymer glanced down at the envelope which the detective still held, the red seal making a distinct blotch of color on the white, glazed surface.

"Ah, Kent," he said in amusement. "So rumor is right in predicting your engagement to Barbara McIntyre. Good luck to you!"

Through the open doorway to the dining room where the dancing had ceased for the moment, came a soft laugh and Mrs. Brewster looked in at them. McIntyre, standing like her shadow, gazed in curiosity over her shoulder at the three men.

"How jolly to find you," cooed Mrs. Brewster. "And what a charming retreat! It's much too nice to be occupied by men, only." She inclined her head in a little gracious bow to Ferguson and stepped inside.

"Have my chair," suggested Clymer hospitably as the pretty widow raised her lorgnette and scanned the Oriental hangings and lamps, and lastly, the white envelope which lay on the table, red seal uppermost, where Ferguson had placed it on her entrance.

"Are your daughters here, Colonel McIntyre?" asked Kent as he took a step toward the table. McIntyre's answer was drowned in an outburst of cheering in the dining room and the rush of many feet. On common impulse Kent and the others turned toward the doorway and looked inside the dining room. Two officers of the French High Commission were being held on the shoulders of comrades and were delivering, as best they could amidst cheers and applause, their farewell to hospitable Washington.

As his companions brushed by him to join the gay throng in the center of the room, Kent turned back to pick up the envelope he had left lying on the table. It was gone.

In feverish haste Kent looked under the table, under the chairs, the lounge and its cushions, behind the draperies, and even under the rugs which covered the floor of the porch, and then rose and stared into the dining room. Which one of his companions had taken the envelope?

Outside the porch the beautiful trumpet vine, its sturdy trunk and thick branches reaching almost to the roof of the club building, rustled as in a high wind, and the branches swayed this way and that as a figure climbed swiftly down from the porch until, reaching the fence separating the club property from its neighbor's, the man swung across it, no mean athletic feet, and taking advantage of each sheltering shadow, darted into the alley and from there down silent, deserted Nineteenth Street.

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