For close upon twenty minutes, Soames waited, walking slowly up and down. When, at last, coming from the direction of Westminster, he saw the familiar spruce figure.
Eagerly he hurried forward to meet the Greek; but Gianapolis—to the horror and amazement of Soames—affected not to know him! He stepped aside to avoid the stupefied butler, and passed. But, in passing, he hissed these words at Soames:—
“Follow to Victoria Street Post Office! Pretend to post letters at next box to me and put them in my hand!”
He was gone!
Soames, dazed at this new state of affairs, followed him at a discreet distance. Gianapolis ran up the Post Office steps briskly, and Soames, immediately afterwards, ascended also—furtively. Gianapolis was taking out a number of letters from his pocket.
Soames walked across to the “Country” box on his right, and affected to scrutinize the addresses on the envelopes of Mrs. Leroux’s correspondence.
Gianapolis, on the pretense of posting a country letter, reached out and snatched the correspondence from Soames’ hand. The gaze of his left eye crookedly sought the face of the butler.
“Go home!” whispered Gianapolis; “be cautious!”
In a pitiable state of mind, Soames walked away from the Post Office. Gianapolis had hurried off in the direction of Victoria Station. Something was wrong! Some part of the machine, of the dimly divined machine whereof he formed a cog, was out of gear. Since the very nature of this machine—its construction and purpose, alike—was unknown to Soames, he had no basis upon which to erect surmises for good or ill.
His timid inquiries into the identity of East 18642 had begun and terminated with his labored perusal of the telephone book, a profitless task which had occupied him for the greater part of an evening.
The name, Gianapolis, did not appear at all; whereas there proved to be some two hundred and ninety Kings. But, oddly, only four of these were on the Eastern Exchange; one was a veterinary surgeon; one a boat-builder; and a third a teacher of dancing. The fourth, an engineer, seemed a “possible” to Soames, although his published number was not 18642; but a brief—a very brief—conversation, convinced the butler that this was not his man.
He had been away from the flat for over an hour, and he doubted if even the lax sense of discipline possessed by Mr. Leroux would enable that gentleman to overlook this irregularity. Soames had a key of the outer door, and he built his hopes upon the possibility that Leroux had not noticed his absence and would not hear his return.
He opened the door very quietly, but had scarcely set his foot in the lobby ere the dreadful, unforgettable scene met his gaze.
For more years than he could remember, he had lived in dread of the law; and, in Luke Soames’ philosophy, the words Satan and Detective were interchangeable. Now, before his eyes, was a palpable, unmistakable police officer; and on the floor...