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   Chapter 7 DETECTIVE BONES

Bones in London By Edgar Wallace Characters: 27178

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


Mr. Harold de Vinne was a large man, who dwelt at the dead end of a massive cigar.

He was big and broad-shouldered, and automatically jovial. Between the hours of 6 p.m. and 2 a.m. he had earned the name of "good fellow," which reputation he did his best to destroy between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.

He was one of four stout fellows who controlled companies of imposing stability-the kind of companies that have such items in their balance sheets as "Sundry Debtors, £107,402 12_s_. 7_d_." People feel, on reading such airy lines, that the company's assets are of such magnitude that the sundry debtors are only included as a careless afterthought.

Mr. de Vinne was so rich that he looked upon any money which wasn't his as an illegal possession; and when Mr. Augustus Tibbetts, on an occasion, stepped in and robbed him of £17,500, Mr. de Vinne's family doctor was hastily summoned (figuratively speaking; literally, he had no family, and swore by certain patent medicines), and straw was spread before the temple of his mind.

A certain Captain Hamilton, late of H.M. Houssas, but now a partner in the firm of Tibbetts & Hamilton, Ltd., after a short, sharp bout of malaria, went off to Brighton to recuperate, and to get the whizzy noises out of his head. To him arrived on a morning a special courier in the shape of one Ali, an indubitable Karo boy, but reputedly pure Arab, and a haj, moreover, entitled to the green scarf of the veritable pilgrimage to Mecca.

Ali was the body-servant of Augustus Tibbetts, called by his intimates "Bones," and he was arrayed in the costume which restaurateurs insist is the everyday kit of a true Easterner-especially such Easterners as serve after-dinner coffee.

Hamilton, not in the best of tempers-malaria leaves you that way-and dazzled by this apparition in scarlet and gold, blinked.

"O man," he said testily in the Arabic of the Coast, "why do you walk-in-the world dressed like a so-and-so?" (You can be very rude in Arabic especially in Coast Arabic garnished with certain Swahili phrases.)

"Sir," said Ali, "these garmentures are expressly designated by Tibbetti. Embellishments of oriferous metal give wealthiness of appearance to subject, but attract juvenile research and investigation."

Hamilton glared through the window on to the front, where a small but representative gathering of the juvenile research committee waited patiently for the reappearance of one whom in their romantic fashion they had termed "The Rajah of Bong."

Hamilton took the letter and opened it. It was, of course, from Bones, and was extremely urgent. Thus it went:

"DEAR OLD PART.,-Ham I've had an offer of Browns you know the big big Boot shop several boot shop all over London London. Old Browns going out going out of the bisiness Sindicate trying to buy so I niped in for 105,000 pounds got lock stock and barrill baril. Sindicate awfuly sore awfuley sore. All well here except poor young typewrighter cut her finger finger sliceing bread doctor says not dangerus."

Hamilton breathed quickly. He gathered that Bones had bought a boot-shop-even a collection of boot-shops-and he was conscious of the horrible fact that Bones knew nothing about boots.

He groaned. He was always groaning, he thought, and seldom with good reason.

Bones was in a buying mood. A week before he had bought The Weekly Sunspot, which was "A Satirical Weekly Review of Human Affairs." The possibilities of that purchase had made Hamilton go hot and moisty. He had gone home one evening, leaving Bones dictating a leading article which was a violent attack on the Government of the day, and had come in the following morning to discover that the paper had been resold at a thousand pounds profit to the owners of a rival journal which described itself as "A Weekly Symposium of Thought and Fancy."

But Boots … and £105,000 …!

This was serious. Yet there was no occasion for groaning or doubt or apprehension; for, even whilst Hamilton was reading the letter, Bones was shaking his head violently at Mr. de Vinne, of the Phit-Phine Shoe Syndicate, who had offered him £15,000 profit on the turn-over. And at the identical moment that Hamilton was buying his ticket for London, Bones was solemnly shaking hands with the Secretary of the Phit-Phine Shoe Syndicate (Mr. de Vinne having violently, even apoplectically, refused to meet Bones) with one hand, and holding in the other a cheque which represented a profit of £17,500. It was one of Bones's big deals, and reduced Hamilton to a condition of blind confidence in his partner…. Nevertheless….

A week later, Bones, reading his morning paper, reached and passed, without receiving any very violent impression, the information that Mr. John Siker, the well-known private detective, had died at his residence at Clapham Park. Bones read the item without interest. He was looking for bargains-an early morning practice of his because the buying fever was still upon him.

Hamilton, sitting at his desk, endeavouring to balance the firm's accounts from a paying-in book and a cheque-book, the counterfoils of which were only occasionally filled in, heard the staccato "Swindle! … Swindle!" and knew that Bones had reached the pages whereon were displayed the prospectuses of new companies.

He had the firm conviction that all new companies were founded on frauds and floated by criminals. The offer of seven per cent. debenture stock moved him to sardonic laughter. The certificates of eminent chartered accountants brought a meaning little smile to his lips, followed by the perfectly libellous statement that "These people would do anything for money, dear old thing."

Presently Bones threw down the paper.

"Nothing, absolutely nothing," he said, and walked to the door of the outer office, knocked upon it, and disappeared into the sanctum of the lady whom Bones never referred to except in terms of the deepest respect as his "young typewriter!"

"Young miss," he said, pausing deferentially at the door, "may I come in?"

She smiled up at him-a proceeding which was generally sufficient to throw Bones into a pitiful condition of incoherence. But this morning it had only the effect of making him close his eyes as though to shut out a vision too radiant to be borne.

"Aren't you well, Mr. Tibbetts?" she asked quickly and anxiously.

"It's nothing, dear old miss," said Bones, passing a weary and hypocritical hand across his brow. "Just a fit of the jolly old staggers. The fact is, I've been keeping late hours-in fact, dear young miss," he said huskily, "I have been engaged in a wicked old pursuit-yes, positively naughty…."

"Oh, Mr. Tibbetts"-she was truly shocked-"I'm awfully sorry! You really shouldn't drink-you're so young…."

"Drink!" said the hurt and astounded Bones. "Dear old slanderer!

Poetry!"

He had written sufficient poetry to make a volume-poems which abounded in such rhymes as "Marguerite," "Dainty feet," "Sweet," "Hard to beat," and the like. But this she did not know.

By this time the girl was not only accustomed to these periodical embarrassments of Bones, but had acquired the knack of switching the conversation to the main line of business.

"There's a letter from Mr. de Vinne," she said.

Bones rubbed his nose and said, "Oh!"

Mr. de Vinne was on his mind rather than on his conscience, for Mr. de Vinne was very angry with Bones, who, as he had said, had "niped" in and had cost Mr. de Vinne £17,500.

"It is not a nice letter," suggested the girl.

"Let me see, dear young head-turner," said Bones firmly.

The letter called him "Sir," and went on to speak of the writer's years of experience as a merchant of the City of London, in all of which, said the writer, he had never heard of conduct approaching in infamy that of Augustus Tibbetts, Esquire.

"It has been brought to my recollection" (wrote the infuriated Mr. de Vinne) "that on the day you made your purchase of Browns, I dined at the Kingsway Restaurant, and that you occupied a table immediately behind me. I can only suppose that you overheard a perfectly confidential" (heavily underscored) "conversation between myself and a fellow-director, and utilised the information thus disgracefully acquired."

"Never talk at meals, dear old typewriter," murmured Bones. "Awfully bad for your jolly young tum-for your indigestion, dear young keytapper."

The letter went on to express the writer's intention of taking vengeance for the "dishonest squeeze" of which he had been the victim.

Bones looked at his secretary anxiously. The censure of Mr. de Vinne affected him not at all. The possible disapproval of this lady filled him with dire apprehension.

"It's not a nice letter," said the girl. "Do you want me to answer it?"

"Do I want you to answer it?" repeated Bones, taking courage. "Of course I want you to answer it, my dear old paper-stainer and decorator. Take these words."

He paced the room with a terrible frown.

"Dear old thing," he began.

"Do you want me to say 'Dear old thing'?" asked the girl.

"No, perhaps not, perhaps not," said Bones. "Start it like this: 'My dear peevish one--"

The girl hesitated and then wrote down: "Dear Sir."

"'You are just showing your naughty temper,'" dictated Bones, and added unnecessarily, "t-e-m-p-e-r."

It was a practice of his to spell simple words.

"You are just showing your naughty temper," he went on, "and I simply refuse to have anything more to do with you. You're being simply disgusting. Need I say more?" added Bones.

The girl wrote: "Dear Sir,-No useful purpose would be served either in replying to your letter of to-day's date, or re-opening the discussion on the circumstances of which you complain."

Bones went back to his office feeling better. Hamilton left early that afternoon, so that when, just after the girl had said "Good night," and Bones himself was yawning over an evening paper, and there came a rap at the door of the outer office, he was quite alone.

"Come in!" he yelled, and a young man, dressed in deep mourning, eventually appeared through the door sacred to the use of Miss Marguerite Whitland.

"I'm afraid I've come rather late in the day."

"I'm afraid you have, dear old thing," said Bones. "Come and sit down, black one. Deepest sympathy and all that sort of thing."

The young man licked his lips. His age was about twenty-four, and he had the appearance of being a semi-invalid, as, indeed, he was.

"It's rather late to see you on this matter," he said, "but your name was only suggested to me about an hour ago."

Bones nodded. Remember that he was always prepared for a miracle, even at closing time.

"My name is Siker," said the visitor.

"And a jolly good name, too," said Bones, dimly conscious of the fact that he had heard this name mentioned before.

"You probably saw the account of my father's death. It was in this morning's newspaper, though he died last week," said Mr. Siker.

Bones screwed up his forehead.

"I remember that name," he said. "Now, let me think. Why, of course-Siker's Detective Agency."

It was the young man's turn to nod.

"That's right, sir," he said. "John Siker was my father. I'm his only son."

Bones waited.

"I've heard it said, Mr. Tibbetts," said the young man-"at least, it has been represented to me-that you are on the look-out for likely businesses that show a profit."

"That's right," agreed Bones; "that show me a big profit," he added.

"Well, Siker's Detective Agency has made two thousand a year clear for twenty years," said the young man. "We've got one of the best lists of clients in the kingdom, and almost every big business man in the City is on our list. With a little more attention than my father has been able to give to it for the last two years, there's a fortune in it."

Bones was sitting upright now, his eyes shining. The amazing possibilities of such an acquisition were visible to his romantic eye.

"You want to sell it, my poor old Sherlock?" he demanded, then, remembering the part he was called upon to play, shook his head. "No, no, old thing. Deeply sorry and all that sort of thing, but it can't be done. It's not my line of business at all-not," he added, "that I don't know a jolly sight more about detectivising than a good many of these clever ones. But it's really not my game. What did you want for it?"

"Well," said the young man, hesitating, "I thought that three years' purchase would be a bargain for the man who bought it."

"Six thousand pounds," said Bones.

"Yes," agreed the other. "Of course, I won't ask you to buy the thing blindfolded. You can put the accounts in the hands of your lawyer or your accountant, and you will find that what I have said is true-that my father took two thousand a year out of his business for years. It's possible to make it four thousand. And as to running it, there are three men who do all the work-or, rather, one, Hilton, who's in charge of the office and gives the other fellows their instructions."

"But why sell it, my sad old improvidence?" said Bones. "Why chuck away two thousand a year for six thousand cash?"

"Because I'm not well enough to carry it on," said young Mr. Siker, after a moment's hesitation. "And, besides, I can't be bothered. It interferes, with my other profession-I'm a musician."

"And a jolly good profession, too," said Bones, shaking hands with him across the table. "I'll sleep on this. Give me your address and the address of your accountants, and I'll come over and see you in the morn

ing."

Hamilton was at his desk the next morning at ten o'clock. Bones did not arrive until eleven, and Bones was monstrously preoccupied. When Hamilton saluted him with a cheery "Good morning," Bones returned a grave and non-committal nod. Hamilton went on with his work until he became conscious that somebody was staring at him, and, looking up, caught Bones in the act.

"What the devil are you looking at?" asked Hamilton.

"At your boots," was the surprising reply.

"My boots?" Hamilton pulled them back through the kneehole of the desk and looked at them. "What's the matter with the boots?"

"Mud-stains, old carelessness," said Bones tersely. "You've come from

Twickenham this morning."

"Of course I've come from Twickenham. That's where I live," said

Hamilton innocently. "I thought you knew that."

"I should have known it," said Bones, with great gravity, "even if I hadn't known it, so to speak. You may have observed, my dear Hamilton, that the jolly old mud of London differs widely-that is to say, is remarkably different. For instance, the mud of Twickenham is different from the mud of Balham. There's what you might call a subtle difference, dear junior partner, which an unimaginative old rascal like you wouldn't notice. Now, the mud of Peckham," said Bones, waving his forefinger, "is distinguished by a certain darkness--"

"Wait a bit," said Hamilton. "Have you bought a mud business or something?"

"No," said Bones.

"And yet this conversation seems familiar to me," mused Hamilton.

"Proceed with your argument, good gossip."

"My argument," said Bones, "is that you have Twickenham mud on your boots, therefore you come from Twickenham. It is evident that on your way to the station you stopped to buy a newspaper, that something was on your mind, something made you very thoughtful-something on your jolly old conscience, I'll bet!"

"How do you know that?" asked Hamilton.

"There's your Times on the table," said Bones triumphantly, "unopened."

"Quite true," said Hamilton; "I bought it just before I came into the office."

"H'm!" said Bones. "Well, I won't deceive you, dear old partner. I've bought Siker's."

Hamilton put down his pen and leaned back in his chair.

"Who's Siker's?"

"Siker's Detective Agency," began Bones, "is known from one end--"

"Oh, I see. Whew!" whistled Hamilton. "You were doing a bit of detecting!"

Bones smirked.

"Got it at once, my dear old person," he said. "You know my methods--"

Hamilton's accusing eye met his, and Bones coughed.

"But what on earth do you expect to do with a detective agency, Bones?" asked Hamilton, strolling across and lighting a cigarette. "That's a type of business there isn't any big demand for. And how is it going to affect you personally? You don't want your name associated with that sort of thing."

Bones explained. It was a property he could "sit on." Bones had always been looking for such a business. The management was capable of carrying on, and all that Bones need do was to sit tight and draw a dividend.

As to his name, he had found a cunning solution to that difficulty.

"I take it over, by arrangement with the lawyer in the name of 'Mr. Senob,' and I'll bet you won't guess, dear old Ham, how I got that name!"

"It's 'Bones' spelt backwards," said Hamilton patiently. "You tried that bit of camouflage on me years ago."

Bones sniffed disappointedly and went on.

For once he was logical, brief in his explanation, and convincing. Yet Hamilton was not altogether convinced. He was waiting for the inevitable "but," and presently it came.

"But of course I'm not going to leave it entirely alone, old Ham," said

Bones, shrugging his shoulders at the absurdity of such a suggestion.

"The business can be doubled if a man with a capable, up-to-date

conception of modern crime--"

Hamilton made a hooting noise, derisive and insulting.

"Meaning you?" he said, at the conclusion of his lamentable exhibition.

"Meaning me, Ham, my fat old sceptic," said Bones gently. "I don't think, dear old officer, you quite realise just what I know about criminal investigation."

"You silly ass," said Hamilton, "detective agencies don't criminally investigate. That's done by the real police. Detective agencies are merely employed by suspicious wives to follow their husbands."

"Exactly," said Bones, nodding. "And that is just where I come in. You see, I did a little bit of work last night-rather a pretty little bit of work." He took a slip of paper from his pocket. "You dined at the Criterion at half-past eight with a tall, fair lady-a jolly old dear she was too, old boy, and I congratulate you most heartily-named Vera."

Hamilton's face went red.

"You left the restaurant at ten past nine, and entered cab No. 667432.

Am I right, sir?"

"Do you mean to tell me," exploded Hamilton, "that you were watching me?"

Bones nodded.

"I picked you up, old thing, outside the Piccadilly Tube. I shadowed you to the theatre. I followed you home. You got a taxi-No. 297431-and you were an awful long time before you got out when you reached the lady's destination-an awful long time," said Bones emphatically. "What you could find to talk about after the cab had drawn up at the dear old ancestral home of Vera--"

"Bones," said Hamilton awfully. "I think you've gone far enough."

"I thought you'd gone a bit too far, dear old thing, I did really," said Bones, shaking his head reprovingly. "I watched you very carefully."

He danced, with a little squeak of joy, into the office of his beautiful secretary, leaving a very red and a pardonably annoyed Hamilton breathing heavily.

Bones went to the office of Siker's Detective Agency early the next morning. He went, it may be remarked in passing, though these details can only be interesting to the psychologist, wearing the darkest of his dark suits and a large black wideawake hat. There was a certain furtiveness in his movements between the taxicab and the entrance of the office, which might suggest to anybody who had taken the trouble to observe him that he was an escaping bank-robber.

Siker's had spacious offices and a small staff. Only Hilton, the manager, and a clerk were in when Bones presented his card. He was immediately conducted by Mr. Hilton to a very plain inner office, surrounded with narrow shelves, which in turn were occupied by innumerable little deed boxes.

Mr. Hilton was a sober-faced man of fifty-five, sallow and unhappy.

His tone was funereal and deliberate, his eyes steady and remorseless.

"Sit down, Mr. Senob," he said hollowly. "I have a message from the lawyers, and I presume I am welcoming to this establishment the new proprietor who has taken the place of my revered chief, whom I have faithfully served for twenty-nine years."

Bones closed his eyes and listened as to an address of welcome.

"Personally," said Mr. Hilton, "I think that the sale of this business is a great mistake on the part of the Siker family. The Sikers have been detectives for four generations," he said with a relish of an antiquarian. "George Siker first started work as an investigator in 1814 in this identical building. For thirty-five years he conducted Siker's Confidential Bureau, and was succeeded by his son James the grandfather of the late John George for twenty-three years--"

"Quite so, quite so," said Bones. "Poor old George! Well, well, we can't live for ever, dear old chief of staff. Now, the thing is, how to improve this jolly old business."

He looked around the dingy apartment without enthusiasm.

Bones had visitors that morning, many visitors. They were not, as he had anticipated, veiled ladies or cloaked dukes, nor did they pour into his discreet ears the stories of misspent lives.

There was Mr. Carlo Borker, of Borker's Confidential Enquiry Bureau, a gross man in a top hat, who complained bitterly that old man Siker had practically and to all intents and purposes offered him an option of the business years ago.

It was a one-sided conversation.

"I says to him: 'Siker, if you ever want to sell out' … He says to me: 'Borker, my boy, you've only to offer me a reasonable figure' … I says to him: 'Now, Siker, don't ever let anybody else get this business….'"

Then there was ex-Inspector Stellingworth, of Stellingworth's Detective Corps, a gloomy man, who painted in the blackest colours the difficulties and tragedies of private investigation, yet seemed willing enough to assume the burden of Siker's Agency, and give Bones a thousand pounds profit on his transaction.

Mr. Augustus Tibbetts spent three deliciously happy days in reorganising the business. He purchased from the local gunsmith a number of handcuffs, which were festooned upon the wall behind his desk and secured secretly-since he did not think that the melancholy Mr. Hilton would approve-a large cardboard box filled to the brim with adjustable beards of every conceivable hue, from bright scarlet to mouse colour.

He found time to relate to a sceptical Hamilton something of his achievements.

"Wonderful case to-day, dear old boy," he said enthusiastically on the third evening. "A naughty old lady has been flirting with a very, very naughty old officer. Husband tremendously annoyed. How that man loves that woman!"

"Which man?" said Hamilton cynically.

"I refer to my client," said Bones not without dignity.

"Look here, Bones," said Hamilton with great seriousness, "do you think this is a very nice business you are in? Personally, I think it's immoral."

"What do you mean-immoral?" demanded the indignant Bones.

"Prying into other people's lives," said Hamilton.

"Lives," retorted the oracular Bones, "are meant to be pried into, dear old thing. An examination of jolly old motives is essential to scientific progress. I feel I am doing a public duty," he went on virtuously, "exposing the naughty, chastising the sinful, and all that sort of thing."

"But, honestly," said Hamilton persistently, "do you think it's the game to chase around collecting purely private details about people's goings on?"

"Certainly," said Bones firmly, "certainly, dear old thing. It's a public duty. Never let it be written on the fair pages of Thiggumy that a Tibbetts shrank back when the call of patriotism-all that sort of thing-you know what I mean?"

"I don't," said Hamilton.

"Well, you're a jolly old dense one," said Bones. "And let me say here and now"-he rammed his bony knuckles on the table and withdrew them with an "Ouch!" to suck away the pain-"let me tell you that, as the Latin poet said, 'Ad What's-his name, ad Thiggumy.' 'Everything human's frightfully interesting'!"

Bones turned up at his detective office the next morning, full of zeal, and Hilton immediately joined him in his private office.

"Well, we finish one case to-day, I think," said Hilton with satisfaction. "It has been very hard trailing him, but I got a good man on the job, and here's the record."

He held in his hand a sheaf of papers.

"Very good," said Bones. "Excellent! I hope we shall bring the malefactor to justice."

"He's not exactly a malefactor," demurred Hilton. "It is a job we were doing for one of our best clients."

"Excellent, excellent!" murmured Bones. "And well we've done it, I'm sure." He leant back in his chair and half closed his eyes. "Tell me what you have discovered."

"This man's a bit of a fool in some ways," said Hilton.

"Which man-the client?"

"No, the fellow we've been trailing."

"Yes, yes," said Bones. "Go on."

"In fact, I wonder that Mr. de Vinne bothered about him."

"De Vinne?" said Bones sitting up. "Harold de Vinne, the moneyed one?"

"That's him. He's one of our oldest customers," said Hilton.

"Indeed," said Bones, this time without any enthusiasm at all.

"You see, a man did him in the eye," explained Mr. Hilton, "swindled him, and all that sort of thing. Well, I think we have got enough to make this chap look silly."

"Oh, yes," said Bones politely. "What have you got?"

"Well, it appears," said Hilton, "that this chap is madly in love with his typist."

"Which chap?" said Bones.

"The fellow who did Mr. de Vinne in the eye," replied the patient Mr. Hilton. "He used to be an officer on the West Coast of Africa, and was known as Bones. His real name is Tibbetts."

"Oh yes," said Bones.

"Well, we've found out all about him," continued Hilton. "He's got a flat in Jermyn Street, and this girl of his, this typist girl, dines with him. She's not a bad-looking girl, mind you."

Bones rose to his feet, and there was in his face a terrible look.

"Hilton," he said, "do you mean that you have been shadowing a perfectly innocent man and a charming, lovely old typewriter, that couldn't say 'Goo' to a boose?"

Bones was pardonably agitated.

"Do you mean to tell me that this office descends to this low practice of prying into the private lives of virtuous gentlemen and typewriters? Shame upon you, Hilton!" His voice shook. "Give me that report!" He thrust the report into the fire. "Now call up Mr. Borker, and tell him I want to see him on business, and don't disturb me, because I am writing a letter."

He pulled a sheet of paper from his stationery rack and wrote furiously. He hardly stopped to think, he scarcely stopped to spell. His letter was addressed to Mr. de Vinne, and when, on the following day, Mr. Borker took over the business of Siker's Agency, that eminent firm of investigators had one client the less.

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