“What do you mean?” Rees demanded.
Phipps made a movement to rise.
“I am faint,” he cried. “Give me some wine.”
Wingate filled two tumblers with champagne and gave one to each. The effect upon Phipps was remarkable. The colour came back into his cheeks, his tone gathered strength.
“What do you mean?” he echoed, “Worth our while?—Why the devil don’t they bring the man in? You’ll see!”
“Inspector Shields will no doubt insist upon coming in,” Wingate replied. “I gather from his visit that he is on the right track at last. But listen. If I am going to be arrested on a charge of abduction and manslaughter, as seems exceedingly probable, I am not going to leave my job half done. An English jury may call it murder if I shoot you two as you sit. I’ll risk that. If I am going to get into trouble for one of you, I’ll make sure of the lot.”
His voice carried conviction. The two men stared at him. Rees, who had been gnawing at a crust of bread, swallowed thickly, drained his glass and staggered to his feet.
“You wouldn’t dare!” he scoffed.
“You underestimate my courage,” Wingate assured them with a smile. “See, I will speak to you words which I swear are as true as any to which you have ever listened. I hear the footsteps of the inspector. If you fail for a single second to corroborate the story which I shall tell him, I shall shoot you both and possibly myself. Look at me, both of you. You know I have the courage to do it. You know I shall do it.—That’s all.”
There was a knock at the door. Grant opened it and stood on one side.
“Inspector Shields has called,” he announced. “I thought you might like to have a word with him, sir.”
The inspector blinked for a moment. The appearance of the room, with its closely drawn curtains and air of dissipation, was certainly strange. Wingate advanced to meet him.
“You called to see Lord Dredlinton, I believe, Inspector,” he began. “My name is Wingate. I am friend of the family.”
“I understood that Lord Dredlinton was here,” the inspector announced, looking around.
“I am sorry to say,” Wingate informed him gravely, “that a very terrible thing has happened. Lord Dredlinton died suddenly in this room, only a few minutes ago. His body is upon the sofa there.”
The imperturbability of the inspector was not proof against such an amazing statement.
“Good God!” he exclaimed. “Was he ill?”
“Not that we know of,” Wingate replied. “The doctor, who is on his way here, will doubtless be able to inform us upon that point, I have always understood that his heart was scarcely sound.”
The inspector, as he stepped forward towards the couch, with Wingate a yard or two in front of him, for the first time recognised the two men who sat at the table, looking at him so strangely. Rees’ hands were in his pockets, his tie had come undone, his hair was ruffled. He had all the appearance of a man recovering from a wild debauch. Phipps’ waistcoat was unbuttoned, and his eyes, in the gathering light, were streaked with blood.