“Because I am a luxury and comfort-loving parasite,” she answered deliberately, “because my father gladly pays my accounts at Lucille and Worth and Reville, because I have never learnt to do without things. And please remember this. My father, so far as I am concerned, has no faults. He is a generous and courteous companion. Nevertheless, number 70 b, Curzon Street is no place for people who desire to lead normal lives.”
And with that she was gone. Her gesture of dismissal was so complete and final that he had no courage for further argument. He had lost her almost as soon as he had found her.
Four men were discussing the verdict at the adjourned inquest upon Victor Bidlake, at Soto’s American Bar about a fortnight later. They were Robert Fairfax, a young actor in musical comedy, Peter Jacks, a cinema producer, Gerald Morse, a dress designer, and Sidney Voss, a musical composer and librettist, all habitues of the place and members of the little circle towards which the dead man had seemed, during the last few weeks of his life, to have become attracted. At a table a short distance away, Francis Ledsam was seated with a cocktail and a dish of almonds before him. He seemed to be studying an evening paper and to be taking but the scantiest notice of the conversation at the bar.
“It just shows,” Peter Jacks declared, “that crime is the easiest game in the world. Given a reasonable amount of intelligence, and a murderer’s business is about as simple as a sandwich-man’s.”
“The police,” Gerald Morse, a pale-faced, anaemic-looking youth, declared, “rely upon two things, circumstantial evidence and motive. In the present case there is no circumstantial evidence, and as to motive, poor old Victor was too big a fool to have an enemy in the world.”
Sidney Voss, who was up for the Sheridan Club and had once been there, glanced respectfully across at Francis.
“You ought to know something about crime and criminals, Mr. Ledsam,” he said. “Have you any theory about the affair?”
Francis set down the glass from which he had been drinking, and, folding up the evening paper, laid it by the side of him.
“As a matter of fact,” he answered calmly, “I have.”
The few words, simply spoken, yet in their way charged with menace, thrilled through the little room. Fairfax swung round upon his stool, a tall, aggressive-looking youth whose good-looks were half eaten up with dissipation. His eyes were unnaturally bright, the cloudy remains in his glass indicated absinthe.
“Listen, you fellows!” he exclaimed. “Mr. Francis Ledsam, the great criminal barrister, is going to solve the mystery of poor old Victor’s death for us!”
The three other young men all turned around from the bar. Their eyes and whole attention seemed rivetted upon Francis. No one seemed to notice the newcomer who passed quietly to a chair in the background, although he was a person of some note and interest to all of them. Imperturbable and immaculate as ever, Sir Timothy Brast smiled amiably upon the little gathering, summoned a waiter and ordered a Dry Martini.