“Ah!” said Dunbar, and reached out the long arm for his notebook.
“Can I be of any further assistance?” said Exel, glancing at his watch.
“You had entered the hall-way and were about to enter your own flat when the voices of Dr. Cumberly and Mr. Leroux attracted your attention?”
“I actually had the key in my hand,” replied Exel.
“Did you actually have the key in the lock?”
“Let me think,” mused Exel, and he took out a bunch of keys and dangled them, reflectively, before his eyes. “No! I was fumbling for the right key when I heard the voices above me.”
“But were you facing your door?”
“No,” averred Exel, perceiving the drift of the inspector’s inquiries; “I was facing the stairway the whole time, and although it was in darkness, there is a street lamp immediately outside on the pavement, and I can swear, positively, that no one descended; that there was no one in the hall nor on the stair, except Mr. Leroux and Dr. Cumberly.”
“Ah!” said Dunbar again, and made further entries in his book. “I need not trouble you further, sir. Good night!”
Exel, despite his earlier attitude of boredom, now ignored this official dismissal, and, tossing the stump of his cigar into the grate, lighted a cigarette, and with both hands thrust deep in his pockets, stood leaning back against the mantelpiece. The detective turned to Leroux.
“Have a brandy-and-soda?” suggested Dr. Cumberly, his eyes turned upon the pathetic face of the novelist.
But Leroux shook his head, wearily.
“Go ahead, Inspector!” he said. “I am anxious to tell you all I know. God knows I am anxious to tell you.”
A sound was heard of a key being inserted in the lock of a door.
Four pairs of curious eyes were turned toward the entrance lobby, when the door opened, and a sleek man of medium height, clean shaven, but with his hair cut low upon the cheek bones, so as to give the impression of short side-whiskers, entered in a manner at once furtive and servile.
He wore a black overcoat and a bowler hat. Reclosing the door, he turned, perceived the group in the study, and fell back as though someone had struck him a fierce blow.
Abject terror was written upon his features, and, for a moment, the idea of flight appeared to suggest itself urgently to him; but finally, he took a step forward toward the study.
“Who’s this?” snapped Dunbar, without removing his leonine eyes from the newcomer.
“It is Soames,” came the weary voice of Leroux.
“Where’s he been?”
“I don’t know. He remained out without my permission.”
“He did, eh?”
Inspector Dunbar thrust forth a long finger at the shrinking form in the doorway.
“Mr. Soames,” he said, “you will be going to your own room and waiting there until I ring for you.”