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   Chapter 24 HUNTERLEYS SCENTS MURDER

Mr. Grex of Monte Carlo By E. Phillips Oppenheim Characters: 12055

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


The concierge of the Hotel de Paris was a man of great stature and imposing appearance. Nevertheless, when Hunterleys crossed the road and climbed the steps to the hotel, he seemed for a moment like a man reduced to pulp. He absolutely forgot his usual dignified but courteous greeting. With mouth a little open and knees which seemed to have collapsed, he stared at this unexpected apparition as he came into sight and stared at him as he entered the hotel. Hunterleys glanced behind with a slight frown. The incident, inexplicable though it was, would have passed at once from his memory, but that directly he entered the hotel he was conscious of the very similar behaviour and attitude towards him of the chief reception clerk. He paused on his way, a little bewildered, and called the man to him. The clerk, however, was already rushing towards the office with his coat-tails flying behind him. Hunterleys crossed the floor and rang the bell for the lift. Directly he stepped in, the lift man vacated his place, and with his eyes nearly starting out of his head, seemed about to make a rush for his life.

"Come back here," Hunterleys ordered sternly. "Take me up to my room at once."

The man returned unsteadily and with marked reluctance. He closed the gate, touched the handle and the lift commenced to ascend.

"What's the matter with you all here?" Hunterleys demanded, irritably. "Is there anything wrong with my appearance? Has anything happened?"

The man made a gesture but said absolutely nothing. The lift had stopped. He pushed open the door.

"Monsieur's floor," he faltered.

Hunterleys stepped out and made his way towards his room. Arrived there, he was brought to a sudden standstill. A gendarme was stationed outside.

"What the mischief are you doing here?" Hunterleys demanded.

The man saluted.

"By orders of the Director of Police, monsieur."

"But that is my room," Hunterleys protested. "I wish to enter."

"No one is permitted to enter, monsieur," the man replied.

Hunterleys stared blankly at the gendarme.

"Can't you tell me at least what has happened?" he persisted. "I am Sir Henry Hunterleys. That is my apartment. Why do I find it locked against me?"

"By order of the Director of the Police, monsieur," was the parrot-like reply.

Hunterleys turned away impatiently. At that moment the reception clerk who downstairs had fled at his approach, returned, bringing with him the manager of the hotel. Hunterleys welcomed the latter with an air of relief.

"Monsieur Picard," he exclaimed, "what on earth is the meaning of this? Why do I find my room closed and this gendarme outside?"

Monsieur Picard was a tall man, black-bearded, immaculate in appearance and deportment, with manners and voice of velvet. Yet he, too, had lost his wonderful imperturbability. He waved away the floor waiter, who had drawn near. His manner was almost agitated.

"Monsieur Sir Henry," he explained, "an affair the most regrettable has happened in your room. I have allotted to you another apartment upon the same floor. Your things have been removed there. If you will come with me I will show it to you. It is an apartment better by far than the one you have been occupying, and the price is the same."

"But what on earth has happened in my room?" Hunterleys demanded.

"Monsieur," the hotel manager replied, "some poor demented creature who has doubtless lost his all, in your absence found his way there and committed suicide."

"Found his way into my room?" Hunterleys repeated. "But I locked the door before I went out. I have the key in my pocket."

"He entered possibly through the bathroom," the manager went on, soothingly. "I am deeply grieved that monsieur should be inconvenienced in any way. This is the apartment I have reserved for monsieur," he added, throwing open the door of a room at the end of the corridor. "It is more spacious and in every way more desirable. Monsieur's clothes are already being put away."

Hunterleys glanced around the apartment. It was certainly of a far better type than the one he had been occupying, and two of the floor valets were already busy with his clothes.

"Monsieur will be well satisfied here, I am sure," the hotel manager continued. "May I be permitted to offer my felicitations and to assure you of my immense relief. There was a rumour-the affair occurring in monsieur's apartment-that the unfortunate man was yourself, Sir Henry."

Hunterleys was thoughtful for a moment. He began to understand the sensation which his appearance had caused. Other ideas, too, were crowding into his brain.

"Look here, Monsieur Picard," he said, "of course, I have no objection to the change of rooms-that's all right-but I should like to know a little more about the man who you say committed suicide in my apartment. I should like to see him."

Monsieur Picard shook his head.

"It would be a very difficult matter, that, monsieur," he declared. "The laws of Monaco are stringent in such affairs."

"That is all very well," Hunterleys protested, "but I cannot understand what he was doing in my apartment. Can't I go in just for a moment?"

"Impossible, monsieur! Without the permission of the Commissioner of Police no one can enter that room."

"Then I should like," Hunterleys persisted, "to see the Commissioner of Police."

Monsieur Picard bowed.

"Monsieur the Commissioner is on the premises, without a doubt. I will instruct him of Monsieur Sir Henry's desire."

"I shall be glad if you will do so at once," Hunterleys said firmly. "I will wait for him here."

The manager made his escape and his relief was obvious. Hunterleys sat on the edge of the bed.

"Do you know anything about this affair?" he asked the nearer of the two valets.

The man shook his head.

"Nothing at all, monsieur," he answered, without pausing from his labours.

"How did the fellow get into my room?"

"One knows nothing," the other man muttered.

Hunterleys watched them for a few minutes

at their labours.

"A nice, intelligent couple of fellows you are," he remarked pleasantly. "Come, here's a louis each. Now can't you tell me something about the affair?"

They came forward. Both looked longingly at the coins.

"Monsieur," the one he had first addressed regretted, "there is indeed nothing to be known. At this hotel the wages are good. It is the finest situation a man may gain in Monte Carlo or elsewhere, but if anything like this happens, there is to be silence. One dares not break the rule."

Hunterleys shrugged his shoulders.

"All right," he said. "I shall find out what I want to know, in time."

The men returned unwillingly to their tasks. In a moment or two there was a knock at the door. The Commissioner of Police entered, accompanied by the hotel manager, who at once introduced him.

"The Commissioner of Police is here, Sir Henry," he announced. "He will speak with you immediately."

The official saluted.

"Monsieur desires some information?"

"I do," Hunterleys admitted. "I am told that a man has committed suicide in my room, and I have heard no plausible explanation as to how he got there. I want to see him. It is possible that I may recognise him."

"The fellow is already identified," the Director of Police declared. "I can satisfy monsieur's curiosity. He was connected with a firm of English tailors here, who sought business from the gentlemen in the hotel. He had accordingly sometimes the entrée to their apartments. The fellow is reported to have saved a little money and to have visited the tables. He lost everything. He came this morning about his business as usual, but, overcome by despair, stabbed himself, most regrettably in the apartments of monsieur."

"Since you know all about him, perhaps you can tell me his name?" Hunterleys asked.

"James Allen. Monsieur may recall him to his memory. He was tall and of pale complexion, respectable-looking, but a man of discontented appearance. The intention had probably been in his mind for some time."

"Is there any objection to my seeing the body?" Hunterleys enquired.

The official shrugged his shoulders.

"But, monsieur, all is finished with the poor fellow. The doctor has given his certificate. He is to be removed at once. He will be buried at nightfall."

"A very admirable arrangement, without a doubt," Hunterleys observed, "and yet, I should like, as I remarked before, to see the body. You know who I am-Sir Henry Hunterleys. I had a message from your department a day or two ago which I thought a little unfair."

The Commissioner sighed. He ignored altogether the conclusion of Hunterleys' sentence.

"It is against the rules, monsieur," he regretted.

"Then to whom shall I apply?" Hunterleys asked, "because I may as well tell you at once that I am going to insist upon my request being granted. I will tell you frankly my reason. It is not a matter of curiosity at all. I should like to feel assured of the fact that this man Allen really committed suicide."

"But he is dead, monsieur," the Commissioner protested.

"Doubtless," Hunterleys agreed, "but there is also the chance that he was murdered, isn't there?"

"Murdered!"

Monsieur Picard held up his hands in horror. The Commissioner of Police smiled in derision.

"But, monsieur," the latter pointed out, "who would take the trouble to murder a poverty-stricken tailor's assistant!"

"And in my hotel, too!" Monsieur Picard intervened.

"The thing is impossible," the Commissioner declared.

"Beyond which it is ridiculous!" Monsieur Picard added.

Hunterleys sat quite silent for a moment.

"Monsieur the Commissioner," he said presently, "and Monsieur Picard, I recognise your point of view. Believe me that I appreciate it and that I am willing, to a certain extent, to acquiesce in it. At the same time, there are considerations in this matter which I cannot ignore. I do not wish to create any disturbance or to make any statements likely to militate against the popularity of your wonderful hotel, Monsieur Picard. Nevertheless, for personal reasons only, notwithstanding the verdict of your doctor, I should like for one moment to examine the body."

The Commissioner of Police was thoughtful for a moment.

"It shall be as monsieur desires," he consented gravely, "bearing in mind what monsieur has said," he added with emphasis.

The three men left the room and passed down the corridor. The gendarme in front of the closed door stood on one side. The Commissioner produced a key. They all three entered the room and Monsieur Picard closed the door behind them. Underneath a sheet upon the bed was stretched the figure of a man. Hunterleys stepped up to it, turned down the sheet and examined the prostrate figure. Then he replaced the covering reverently.

"Yes," he said, "that is the man who has called upon me for orders from the English tailors. His name, I believe, was, as you say, Allen. But can you tell me, Monsieur the Commissioner, how it was possible for a man to stab himself from the shoulder downwards through the heart?"

The Official extended his hands.

"Monsieur," he declared, "it is not for us. The doctor has given his certificate."

Hunterleys smiled a little grimly.

"I have always understood," he observed, "that things were managed like this. You may have confidence in me, Monsieur the Commissioner, and you, Monsieur Picard. I shall not tell the world what I suspect. But for your private information I will tell you that this man was probably murdered by an assassin who sought my life. You observe that there is a certain resemblance."

The hotel proprietor turned pale.

"Murdered!" he exclaimed. "Impossible! A murder here-unheard of!"

The Commissioner dismissed the whole thing airily with a wave of his hand.

"The doctor has signed the certificate," he repeated.

"And I," Hunterleys added, as he led the way out of the room, "am more than satisfied-I am grateful. So there is nothing more to be said."

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