Willis Spreads His Net

Though Inspector Willis had spent so much time out of London in his following up of the case, he had by no means lost sight of Madeleine Coburn and Merriman. The girl, he knew, was still staying with her aunt at Eastbourne, and the local police authorities, from whom he got his information, believed that her youth and health were reasserting themselves, and that she was rapidly recovering from the shock of her father’s tragic death. Merriman haunted the town. He practically lived at the George, going up and down daily to his office, and spending as many of his evenings and his Sundays at Mrs. Luttrell’s as he dared.

But though the young man had worn himself almost to a shadow by his efforts, he felt that the realisation of his hopes was as far off as ever. Madeleine had told him that she would not marry him until the mystery of her father’s murder was cleared up and the guilty parties brought to justice, and he was becoming more and more afraid that she would keep her word. In vain he implored her to consider the living rather than the dead, and not to wreck his life and her own for what, after all, was but a sentiment.

But though she listened to his entreaties and was always kind and gentle, she remained inflexible in her resolve. Merriman felt that his only plan, failing the discovery of Mr. Coburn’s assassin, was unobtrusively to keep as much as possible in her company, in the hope that she would grow accustomed to his presences and perhaps in time come to need it.

Under these circumstances his anxiety as to the progress of the case was very great, and on several occasions he had written to Willis asking him how his inquiry was going on. But the inspector had not been communicative, and Merriman had no idea how matters actually stood.

It was therefore with feelings of pleasurable anticipation that he received a telephone call from Willis at Scotland Yard.

“I have just returned from Bordeaux,” the inspector said, “and I am anxious to have a chat with Miss Coburn on some points that have arisen. I should be glad of your presence also, if possible. Can you arrange an interview?”

“Do you want her to come to town?”

“Not necessarily; I will go to Eastbourne if more convenient. But our meeting must be kept strictly secret. The syndicate must not get to know.”

Merriman felt excitement and hope rising within him.

“Better go to Eastbourne then,” he advised. “Come down with me tonight by the 5:20 from Victoria.”

“No,” Willis answered, “we mustn’t be seen together. I shall meet you at the corner of the Grand Parade and Carlisle Road at nine o’clock.”

This being agreed on, both men began to make their arrangements. In Merriman’s case these consisted in throwing up his work at the office and taking the first train to Eastbourne. At five o’clock he was asking for Miss Coburn at Mrs. Luttrell’s door.

“Dear Madeleine,” he said, when he had told her his news, “you must not begin to expect things. It may mean nothing at all. Don’t build on it.”

But soon he had made her as much excited as he was himself. He stayed for dinner, leaving shortly before nine to keep his appointment with Willis. Both men were to return to the house, when Madeleine would see them alone.

Inspector Willis did not travel by Merriman’s train. Instead he caught the 5:35 to Brighton, dined there, and then slipping out of the hotel, motored over to Eastbourne. Dismissing his vehicle at the Grand Hotel, he walked down the Parade and found Merriman at the rendezvous. In ten minutes they were in Mrs. Luttrell’s drawing-room.

“I am sorry, Miss Coburn,” Willis began politely, “to intrude on you in this way, but the fact is, I want your help and indirectly the help of Mr. Merriman. But it is only fair, I think, to tell you first what has transpired since we last met. I must warn you, however, that I can only do so in the strictest confidence. No whisper of what I am going to say must pass the lips of either of you.”

“I promise,” said Merriman instantly.

“And I,” echoed Madeleine.

“I didn’t require that assurance,” Willis went on. “It is sufficient that you understand the gravity of the situation. Well, after the inquest I set to work,” and he briefly related the story of his investigations in London and in Hull, his discoveries at Ferriby, his proof that Archer was the actual murderer, the details of the smuggling organisation and, finally, his suspicion that the other members of the syndicate were privy to Mr. Coburn’s death, together with his failure to prove it.

His two listeners heard him with eager attention, in which interest in his story was mingled with admiration of his achievement.

“So Hilliard was right about the brandy after all!” Merriman exclaimed. “He deserves some credit for that. I think he believed in it all the time, in spite of our conclusion that we had proved it impossible. By Jove! How you can be had!”

Willis turned to him.

“Don’t be disappointed about your part in it, sir,” he advised. “I consider that you and Mr. Hilliard did uncommonly well. I may tell you that I thought so much of your work that I checked nothing of what you had done.”

Merriman coloured with pleasure.

“Jolly good of you to say so, I’m sure, inspector,” he said; “but I’m afraid most of the credit for that goes to Hilliard.”

“It was your joint work I was speaking of,” Willis insisted. “But now to get on to business. As I said, my difficulty is that I suspect the members of the syndicate of complicity in Mr. Coburn’s death, but I can’t prove it. I have thought out a plan which may or may not produce this proof. It is in this that I want your help.”

Mr. Inspector,” cried Madeleine reproachfully, “need you ask for it?”

Willis laughed.

“I don’t think so. But I can’t very well come in and command it, you know.”

“Of course you can,” Madeleine returned. “You know very well that in such a cause Mr. Merriman and I would do anything.”

“I believe it, and I am going to put you to the test. I’ll tell you my idea. It has occurred to me that these people might be made to give themselves away. Suppose they had one of their private meetings to discuss the affairs of the syndicate, and that, unknown to them, witnesses could be present to overhear what was said. Would there not at least be a sporting chance that they would incriminate themselves?”

“Yes!” said Merriman, much interested. “Likely enough. But I don’t see how you could arrange that.”

Willis smiled slightly.

“I think it might be managed,” he answered. “If a meeting were to take place we could easily learn where it was to be held and hear what went on. But the first point is the difficulty⁠—the question of the holding of the meeting. In the ordinary course there might be none for months. Therefore we must take steps to have one summoned. And that,” he turned to Madeleine, “is where I want your help.”

His hearers stared, mystified, and Willis resumed.

“Something must happen of such importance to the welfare of the syndicate that the leaders will decide that a full conference of the members is necessary. So far as I can see, you alone can cause that something to happen. I will tell you how. But I must warn you that I fear it will rake up painful memories.”

Madeleine, her lips parted, was hanging on his words.

“Go on,” she said quickly, “we have settled all that.”

“Thank you,” said Willis, taking a sheet of paper from his pocket. “I have here the draft of a letter which I want you to write to Captain Beamish. You can phrase it as you like; in fact I want it in your own words. Read it over and you will understand.”

The draft ran as follows:

“Silverdale Road,


Dear Captain Beamish⁠—In going over some papers belonging to my late father, I learn to my surprise that he was not a salaried official of your syndicate, but a partner. It seems to me, therefore, that as his heir I am entitled to his share of the capital of the concern, or at all events to the interest on it. I have to express my astonishment that no recognition of this fact has as yet been made by the syndicate.

“I may say that I have also come on some notes relative to the business of the syndicate, which have filled me with anxiety and dismay, but which I do not care to refer to in detail in writing.

“I think I should like an interview with you to hear your explanation of these two matters, and to discuss what action is to be taken with regard to them. You could perhaps find it convenient to call on me here, or I could meet you in London if you preferred it.

“Yours faithfully,

“Madeleine Coburn.”

Madeleine made a grimace as she read this letter.

“Oh,” she cried, “but how could I do that? I didn’t find any notes, you know, and besides⁠—it would be so dreadful⁠—acting as a decoy⁠—”

“There’s something more important than that,” Merriman burst in indignantly. “Do you realise, Mr. Inspector, that if Miss Coburn were to send that letter she would put herself in very real danger?”

“Not at all,” Willis answered quietly. “You have not heard my whole scheme. My idea is that when Beamish gets that letter he will lay it before Archer, and they will decide that they must find out what Miss Coburn knows, and get her quieted about the money. They will say: ‘We didn’t think she was that kind, but it’s evident she is out for what she can get. Let’s pay her a thousand or two a year as interest on her father’s alleged share⁠—it will be a drop in the bucket to us, but it will seem a big thing to her⁠—and that will give us a hold on her keeping silence, if she really does know anything.’ Then Beamish will ask Miss Coburn to meet him, probably in London. She will do so, not alone, but with some near friend, perhaps yourself, Mr. Merriman, seeing you were at the clearing and know something of the circumstances. You will be armed, and in addition I shall have a couple of men from the Yard within call⁠—say, disguised as waiters, if a restaurant is chosen for the meeting. You, Miss Coburn, will come out in a new light at that meeting. You will put up a bluff. You will tell Captain Beamish you know he is smuggling brandy, and that the money he offers won’t meet the case at all. You must have £25,000 down paid as the value of your father’s share in the concern, and in such a way as will raise no suspicion that you knew what was in progress. The interview we can go into in detail later, but it must be so arranged that Beamish will see Mr. Merriman’s hand in the whole thing. On the £25,000 being paid the incriminating notes will be handed over. You will explain that as a precautionary measure you have sent them in a sealed envelope to your solicitor, together with a statement of the whole case, with instructions to open the same that afternoon if not reclaimed before that by yourself in person. Now with regard to your objection, Miss Coburn. I quite realise what an exceedingly nasty job this will be for you. In ordinary circumstances I should not suggest it. But the people against whom I ask you to act did not hesitate to lure your father into the cab in which they intended to shoot him. They did this by a show of friendliness, and by playing on the trust he reposed in them, and they did it deliberately and in cold blood. You need not hesitate from nice feeling to act as I suggest in order to get justice for your father’s memory.”

Madeleine braced herself up.

“I know you are right, and if there is no other way I shall not hesitate,” she said, but there was a piteous look in her eyes. “And you will help me, Seymour?” She looked appealingly at her companion.

Merriman demurred on the ground that, even after taking all Willis’s precautions, the girl would still be in danger, but she would not consider that aspect of the question at all, and at last he was overborne. Madeleine with her companion’s help then rewrote the letter in her own phraseology, and addressed it to Captain Beamish, ℅ Messrs. The Landes Pit-Prop Syndicate, Ferriby, Hull. Having arranged that he would receive immediate telephonic information of a reply, Willis left the house and was driven back to Brighton. Next morning he returned to London.

The Girondin, he reckoned, would reach Ferriby on the following Friday, and on the Thursday he returned to Hull. He did not want to be seen with Hunt, as he expected the latter’s business would by this time be too well known. He therefore went to a different hotel, ringing up the Excise man and arranging a meeting for that evening.

Hunt turned up about nine, and the two men retired to Willis’s bedroom, where the inspector described his doings at Bordeaux. Then Hunt told of his discoveries since the other had left.

“I’ve got all I want at last,” he said. “You remember we both realised that those five houses were getting in vastly more brandy than they could possibly sell? Well, I’ve found out how they are getting rid of the surplus.”

Willis looked his question.

“They are selling it round to other houses. They have three men doing nothing else. They go in and buy anything from a bottle up to three or four kegs, and there is always a good reason for the purchase. Usually it is that they represent a publican whose stock is just out, and who wants a quantity to keep him going. But the point is that all the purchases are perfectly in order. They are openly made and the full price is paid. But, following it up, I discovered that there is afterwards a secret rebate. A small percentage of the price is refunded. This pays everyone concerned and ensures secrecy.”

Willis nodded.

“It’s well managed all through,” he commented. “They deserved to succeed.”

“Yes, but they’re not going to. All the same my discoveries won’t help you. I’m satisfied that none of these people know anything of the main conspiracy.”

Early on the following morning Willis was once more at work. Dawn had not completely come when he motored from the city to the end of the Ferriby lane. Ten minutes after leaving his car he was in the ruined cottage. There he unearthed his telephone from the box in which he had hidden it, and took up his old position at the window, prepared to listen in to whatever messages might pass.

He had a longer vigil than on previous occasions, and it was not until nearly four that he saw Archer lock the door of his office and move towards the filing-room. Almost immediately came Benson’s voice calling: “Are you there?”

They conversed as before for a few minutes. The Girondin, it appeared, had arrived some hours previously with a cargo of “1375.” It was clear that the members of the syndicate had agreed never to mention the word “gallons.” It was, Willis presumed, a likely enough precaution against eavesdroppers, and he thought how much sooner both Hilliard and himself would have guessed the real nature of the conspiracy, had it not been observed.

Presently they came to the subject about which Willis was expecting to hear. Beamish, the manager explained, was there and wished to speak to Archer.

“That you, Archer?” came in what Willis believed he recognised as the captain’s voice. “I’ve had rather a nasty jar, a letter from Madeleine Coburn. Wants Coburn’s share in the affair, and hints at knowledge of what we’re really up to. Reads as if she was put up to it by someone, probably that ⸻ Merriman. Hold on a minute and I’ll read it to you.” Then followed Madeleine’s letter.

Archer’s reply was short but lurid, and Willis, not withstanding the seriousness of the matter, could not help smiling.

There was a pause, and then Archer asked:

“When did you get that?”

“Now, when we got in; but Benson tells me the letter has been waiting for me for three days.”

“You might read it again.”

Beamish did so, and presently Archer went on:

“In my opinion, we needn’t be unduly alarmed. Of course she may know something, but I fancy it’s what you say; that Merriman is getting her to put up a bluff. But it’ll take thinking over. I have an appointment presently, and in any case we couldn’t discuss it adequately over the telephone. We must meet. Could you come up to my house tonight?”

“Yes, if you think it wise?”

“It’s not wise, but I think we must risk it. You’re not known here. But come alone; Benson shouldn’t attempt it.”

“Right. What time?”

“What about nine? I often work in the evenings, and I’m never disturbed. Come round to my study window and I shall be there. Tap lightly. The window is on the right-hand side of the house as you come up the drive, the fourth from the corner. You can slip round to it in the shadow of the bushes, and keep on the grass the whole time.”

“Right. Nine o’clock, then.”

The switch of the telephone clicked, and presently Willis saw Archer reappear in his office.

The inspector was disappointed. He had hoped that the conspirators would have completed their plans over the telephone, and that he would have had nothing to do but listen to what they arranged. Now he saw that if he were to gain the information he required, it would mean a vast deal more trouble, and perhaps danger as well.

He felt that at all costs he must be present at the interview in Archer’s study, but the more he thought about it, the more difficult the accomplishment of this seemed. He was ignorant of the plan of the house, or what hiding-places, if any, there might be in the study, nor could he think of any scheme by which he could gain admittance. Further, there was but little time in which to make inquiries or arrangements, as he could not leave his present retreat until dark, or say six o’clock. He saw the problem would be one of the most difficult he had ever faced.

But the need for solving it was paramount, and when darkness had set in he let himself out of the cottage and walked the mile or more to Archer’s residence. It was a big square block of a house, approached by a short winding drive, on each side of which was a border of rhododendrons. The porch was in front, and the group of windows to the left of it were lighted up⁠—the dining-room, Willis imagined. He followed the directions given to Beamish and moved round to the right, keeping well in the shadow of the shrubs. The third and fourth windows from the corner on the right side were also lighted up, and the inspector crept silently up and peeped over the sill. The blinds were drawn down, but that on the third window was not quite pulled to the bottom, and through the narrow slit remaining he could see into the room.

It was empty, but evidently only for the time being, as a cheerful fire burned in the grate. Furnished as a study, everything bore the impress of wealth and culture. By looking from each end of the slot in turn, nearly all the floor area and more than half of the walls became visible, and a glance showed the inspector that nowhere in his purview was there anything behind which he might conceal himself, supposing he could obtain admission.

But could he obtain admission? He examined the sashes. They were of steel, hinged and opening inwards in the French manner, and were fastened by a handle which could not be turned from without. Had they been the ordinary English sashes fastened with snibs he would have had the window open in a few seconds, but with these he could do nothing.

He moved round the house examining the other windows. All were fitted with the same type of sash, and all were fastened. The front door also was shut, and though he might have been able to open it with his bent wire, he felt that to adventure himself into the hall without any idea of the interior would be too dangerous. Here, as always, he was hampered by the fact that discovery would mean the ruin of his case.

Having completed the circuit of the building, he looked once more through the study window. At once he saw that his opportunity was gone. At the large desk sat Archer busily writing.

Various expedients to obtain admission to the house passed through his brain, all to be rejected as impracticable. Unless some unexpected incident occurred of which he could take advantage, he began to fear he would be unable to accomplish his plan.

As by this time it was half past eight, he withdrew from the window and took up his position behind a neighbouring shrub. He did not wish to be seen by Beamish, should the latter come early to the rendezvous.

He had, however, to wait for more than half an hour before a dark form became vaguely visible in the faint light which shone through the study blinds. It approached the window, and a tap sounded on the glass. In a moment the blind went up, the sash opened, the figure passed through, the sash closed softly, and the blind was once more drawn down. In three seconds Willis was back at the sill.

The slot under the blind still remained, the other window having been opened. Willis first examined the fastening of the latter in the hope of opening the sash enough to hear what was said, but to his disappointment he found it tightly closed. He had therefore to be content with observation through the slot.

He watched the two men sit down at either side of the fire, and light cigars. Then Beamish handed the other a paper, presumably Madeleine’s letter. Archer having read it twice, a discussion began. At first Archer seemed to be making some statement, to judge by the other’s rapt attention and the gestures of excitement or concern which he made. But no word of the conversation reached the inspector’s ears.

He watched for nearly two hours, getting gradually more and more cramped from his stooping position, and chilled by the sharp autumn air. During all that time the men talked earnestly, then, shortly after eleven, they got up and approached the window. Willis retreated quickly behind his bush.

The window opened softly and Beamish stepped out to the grass, the light shining on his strong, rather lowering face. Archer leaned out of the window after him, and Willis heard him say in low tones, “Then you’ll speak up at eleven?” to which the other nodded and silently withdrew. The window closed, the blind was lowered, and all remained silent.

Willis waited for some minutes to let the captain get clear away, then leaving his hiding-place and again keeping on the grass, he passed down the drive and out on to the road. He was profoundly disappointed. He had failed in his purpose, and the only ray of light in the immediate horizon was that last remark of Archer’s. If it meant, as he presumed it did, that the men were to communicate by the secret telephone at eleven in the morning, all might not yet be lost. He might learn then what he had missed tonight.

It seemed hardly worthwhile returning to Hull. He therefore went to the Raven Bar in Ferriby, knocked up the landlord, and by paying four or five times the proper amount, managed to get a meal and some food for the next day. Then he returned to the deserted cottage, he let himself in, closed the door behind him, and lying down on the floor with his head on his arm, fell asleep.

Next morning found him back at his post at the broken window, with the telephone receiver at his ear. His surmise at the meaning of Archer’s remark at the study window proved to be correct, for precisely at eleven he heard the familiar: “Are you there?” which heralded a conversation. Then Beamish’s voice went on:

“I have talked this business over with Benson, and he makes a suggestion which I think is an improvement on our plan. He thinks we should have our general meeting in London immediately after I have interviewed Madeleine Coburn. The advantage of this scheme would be that if we found she possessed really serious knowledge, we could immediately consider our next move, and I could, if necessary, see her again that night. Benson thinks I should fix up a meeting with her at say 10:30 or 11, that I could then join you at lunch at 1:30, after which we could discuss my report, and I could see the girl again at 4 or 5 o’clock. It seems to me a sound scheme. What do you say?”

“It has advantages,” Archer answered slowly. “If you both think it best, I’m quite agreeable. Where then should the meetings be held?”

“In the case of Miss Coburn there would be no change in our last night’s arrangement; a private sitting-room at the Gresham would still do excellently. If you’re going to town you could fix up some place for our own meeting⁠—preferably close by.”

“Very well, I’m going up on Tuesday in any case, and I’ll arrange something. I shall let Benson know, and he can tell you and the others. I think we should all go up by separate trains. I shall probably go by the 5:03 from Hull on the evening before. Let’s see, when will you be in again?”

“Monday week about midday, I expect. Benson could go up that morning, Bulla and I separately by the 4, and Fox, Henri, and Raymond, if he comes, by the first train next morning. How would that do?”

“All right, I think. The meetings then will be on Tuesday at 11 and 1:30, Benson to give you the address of the second. We can arrange at the meeting about returning to Hull.”

“Righto,” Beamish answered shortly, and the conversation ended.

Willis for once was greatly cheered by what he had overheard. His failure on the previous evening was evidently not going to be so serious as he had feared. He had in spite of it gained a knowledge of the conspirators’ plans, and he chuckled with delight as he thought how excellently his ruse was working, and how completely the gang were walking into the trap which he had prepared. As far as he could see, he held all the trump cards of the situation, and if he played his hand carefully he should undoubtedly get not only the men, but the evidence to convict them.

To learn the rendezvous for the meeting of the syndicate he would have to follow Archer to town, and shadow him as he did his business. This was Saturday, and the managing director had said he was going on the following Tuesday. From that there would be a week until the meeting, which would give more than time to make the necessary arrangements.

Willis remained in the cottage until dark that evening, then, making his way to Ferriby station, returned to Hull. His first action on reaching the city was to send a letter to Madeleine, asking her to forward Beamish’s reply to him at the Yard.

On Monday he began his shadowing of Archer, lest the latter should go to town that day. But the distiller made no move until the Tuesday, travelling up that morning by the 6:15 from Hull.

At 12:25 they reached King’s Cross. Archer leisurely left the train, and crossing the platform, stepped into a taxi and was driven away. Willis, in a second taxi, followed about fifty yards behind. The chase led westwards along the Euston Road until, turning to the left down Gower Street, the leading vehicle pulled up at the door of the Gresham Hotel in Bedford Square. Willis’s taxi ran on past the other, and through the backlight the inspector saw Archer alight and pass into the hotel.

Stopping at a door in Bloomsbury Street, Willis sat watching. In about five minutes Archer reappeared, and again entering his taxi, was driven off southwards. Willis’s car slid once more in behind the other, and the chase recommenced. They crossed Oxford Street, and passing down Charing Cross Road stopped at a small foreign restaurant in a narrow lane off Cranbourne Street.

Willis’s taxi repeated its previous maneuver, and halted opposite a shop from where the inspector could see the other vehicle through the backlight. He thought he had all the information he needed, but there was the risk that Archer might not find the room he required at the little restaurant and have to try elsewhere.

This second call lasted longer than the first, and a quarter of an hour had passed before the distiller emerged and reentered his taxi. This time the chase was short. At the Trocadero Archer got out, dismissed his taxi, and passed into the building. Willis, following discreetly, was in time to see the other seat himself at a table and leisurely take up the bill of fare. Believing the quarry would remain where he was for another half hour at least, the inspector slipped unobserved out of the room, and jumping once more into his taxi, was driven back to the little restaurant off Cranbourne Street. He sent for the manager and drew him aside.

“I’m Inspector Willis from Scotland Yard,” he said with a sharpness strangely at variance with his usual easygoing mode of address. “See here.” He showed his credentials, at which the manager bowed obsequiously. “I am following that gentleman who was in here inquiring about a room a few minutes ago. I want to know what passed between you.”

The manager, who was a sly, evil-looking person seemingly of Eastern blood, began to hedge, but Willis cut him short with scant ceremony.

“Now look here, my friend,” he said brusquely, “I haven’t time to waste with you. That man that you were talking to is wanted for murder, and what you have to decide is whether you’re going to act with the police or against them. If you give us any trouble you may find yourself in the dock as an accomplice after the fact. In any case it’s not healthy for a man in your position to run up against the police.”

His bluff had more effect that it might have had with an Englishman in similar circumstances, and the manager became polite and anxious to assist. Yes, the gentleman had come about a room. He had ordered lunch in a private room for a party of seven for 1:30 on the following Tuesday. He had been very particular about the room, had insisted on seeing it, and had approved of it. It appeared the party had some business to discuss after lunch, and the gentleman had required a guarantee that they would not be interrupted. The gentleman had given his name as Mr. Hodgson. The price had been agreed on.

Willis in his turn demanded to see the room, and he was led upstairs to a small and rather dark chamber, containing a fair-sized oval table surrounded by red plush chairs, a red plush sofa along one side, and a narrow sideboard along another. The walls supported tawdry and dilapidated decorations, in which beveled mirrors and faded gilding bore a prominent part. Two large but quite worthless oil paintings hung above the fireplace and the sideboard respectively, and the window was covered with gelatine paper simulating stained glass.

Inspector Willis stood surveying the scene with a frown on his brow. How on earth was he to secrete himself in this barely furnished apartment? There was not room under the sofa, still less beneath the sideboard. Nor was there any adjoining room or cupboard in which he could hide, his keen ear pressed to the keyhole. It seemed to him that in this case he was doing nothing but coming up against one insoluble problem after another. Ruefully he recalled the conversation in Archer’s study, and he decided that, whatever it cost in time and trouble, there must be no repetition of that fiasco.

He stood silently pondering over the problem, the manager obsequiously bowing and rubbing his hands. And then the idea for which he was hoping flashed into his mind. He walked to the wall behind the sideboard and struck it sharply. It rang hollow.

“A partition?” he asked. “What is behind it?”

“Anozzer room, sair. A private room, same as dees.”

“Show it to me.”

The “ozzer room” was smaller, but otherwise similar to that they had just left. The doors of the two rooms were beside each other, leading on to the same passage.

“This will do,” Willis declared. “Now look here, Mr. Manager, I wish to overhear the conversation of your customers, and I may or may not wish to arrest them. You will show them up and give them lunch exactly as you have arranged. Some officers from the Yard and myself will previously have hidden ourselves in here. See?”

The manager nodded.

“In the meantime I shall send a carpenter and have a hole made in that partition between the two rooms, a hole about two feet by one, behind the upper part of that picture that hangs above the sideboard. Do you understand?”

The manager wrung his hands.

“Ach!” he cried. “But meine Zimmern! Mine rooms, zey veel pe deestroyed!”

“Your rooms will be none the worse,” Willis declared. “I will have the damage made good, and I shall pay you reasonably well for everything. You’ll not lose if you act on the square, but if not⁠—” he stared aggressively in the other’s face⁠—“if the slightest hint of my plan reaches any of the men⁠—well, it will be ten years at least.”

“It shall be done! All shall happen as you say!”

“It had better,” Willis rejoined, and with a menacing look he strode out of the restaurant.

“The Gresham Hotel,” he called to his driver, as he reentered his taxi.

His manner to the manageress of the Bedford Square hotel was very different from that displayed to the German. Introducing himself as an inspector from the Yard, he inquired the purpose of Archer’s call. Without hesitation he was informed. The distiller had engaged a private sitting-room for a business interview which was to take place at eleven o’clock on the following Tuesday between a Miss Coburn, a Mr. Merriman, and a Captain Beamish.

“So far so good,” thought Willis exultingly, as he drove off. “They’re walking into the trap! I shall have them all. I shall have them in a week.”

At the Yard he dismissed his taxi, and on reaching his room he found the letter he was expecting from Madeleine. It contained that from Beamish, and the latter ran:

“Ferriby, Yorks,


Dear Miss Coburn,⁠—I have just received your letter of 25th inst., and I hasten to reply.

“I am deeply grieved to learn that you consider yourself badly treated by the members of the syndicate, and I may say at once that I feel positive that any obligations which they may have contracted will be immediately and honorably discharged.

“It is, however, news to me that your late father was a partner, as I always imagined that he held his position as I do my own, namely, as a salaried official who also receives a bonus based on the profits of the concern.

“With regard to the notes you have found on the operations of the syndicate, it is obvious that these must be capable of a simple explanation, as there was nothing in the operations complicated or difficult to understand.

“I shall be very pleased to fall in with your suggestion that we should meet and discuss the points at issue, and I would suggest 11 a.m. on Tuesday, 10th prox., at the Gresham Hotel in Bedford Square, if this would suit you.

“With kind regards,

“Yours sincerely,

“Walter Beamish.”

Willis smiled as he read this effusion. It was really quite well worded, and left the door open for any action which the syndicate might decide on. “Ah, well, my friend,” he thought grimly, “you’ll get a little surprise on Tuesday. You’ll find Miss Coburn is not to be caught as easily as you think. Just you wait and see.”

For the next three or four days Willis busied himself in preparing for his great coup. First he went down again to Eastbourne via Brighton, and coached Madeleine and Merriman in the part they were to play in the coming interview. Next he superintended the making of the hole through the wall dividing the two private rooms at the Cranbourne Street restaurant, and drilled the party of men who were to occupy the annex. To his unbounded satisfaction, he found that every word uttered at the table in the larger room was audible next door to anyone standing at the aperture. Then he detailed two picked men to wait within call of the private room at the Gresham during the interview between Madeleine and Beamish. Finally, all his preparations in London complete, he returned to Hull, and set himself, by means of the secret telephone, to keep in touch with the affairs of the syndicate.