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The Angel of Terror
Edgar Wallace (1922) Country of origin: USA
Available texts by the same author here
The police search of the house and grounds at Dulwich Grange, Mr. Rennett's residence, occupied the whole of the morning, and neither Rennett's nor Jack's assistance was invited or offered.
Before luncheon Inspector Colhead came to the study.
"We've had a good look round your place, Mr. Rennett," he said, "and I think we know where the deceased hid himself."
"Indeed!" said Mr. Rennett.
"That hut of yours in the garden is used, I suppose, for a tool house. There are no tools there now, and one of my men discovered that you can pull up the whole of the floor, it works on a hinge and is balanced with counter-weights."
Mr. Rennett nodded.
"I believe it was used as a wine cellar by a former tenant of the house," he said coolly. "We have no cellars at the Grange, you know. I do not drink wine, and I've never had occasion to use it."
"That's where he was hidden. We found a blanket, and pillows, down there, and, as you say, it has obviously been a wine cellar, because there is a ventilating shaft leading up into the bushes. We should never have found the trap, but one of my men felt one of the corners of the floor give under his feet."
The two men said nothing.
"Another thing," the detective went on slowly, "is that I'm inclined to agree that Meredith did not commit suicide. We found footmarks, quite fresh, leading round to the back of the hut."
"A big foot or a little foot?" asked Jack quickly.
"It is rather a big foot," said the detective, "and it has rubber heels. We traced it to a gate at the back of your premises, and the gate has been opened recently--probably by Mr. Meredith when he came to the house. It's a queer case, Mr. Rennett."
"What is the pistol?"
"That's new too," said Colhead. "Belgian make and impossible to trace, I should imagine. You can't keep track of these Belgian weapons. You can buy them in any shop in any town in Ostend or Brussels, and I don't think it is the practice for the sellers to keep any record of the numbers."
"In fact," said Jack quietly, "it is the same kind of pistol that killed Bulford."
Colhead raised his eyebrows.
"So it was, but wasn't it established that that was Mr. Meredith's own weapon?"
Jack shook his head.
"The only thing that was established was that he had seen the body and he picked up the pistol which was lying near the dead man. The shot was fired as he opened the door of Mr. Briggerland's house. Then he saw the figure on the pavement and picked up the pistol. He was in that position when Miss Briggerland, who testified against him, came out of the house and saw him."
The detective nodded.
"I had nothing to do with the case," he said, "but I remember seeing the weapon, and it was identical with this. I'll talk to the chief and let you know what he says about the whole affair. You'll have to give evidence at the inquest of course."
When he had gone the two men looked at one another.
"Well, Rennett, do you think we're going to get into hot water, or are we going to perjure our way to safety?"
"There's no need for perjury, not serious perjury," said the other carefully. "By the way, Jack, where was Briggerland the night Bulford was murdered?"
"When Miss Jean Briggerland had recovered from her horror, she went upstairs and aroused her father, who, despite the early hour, was in bed and asleep. When the police came, or rather, when the detective in charge of the case arrived, which must have been some time after the policeman on point duty put in an appearance, Mr. Briggerland was discovered in a picturesque dressing gown and, I presume, no less picturesque pyjamas."
"Horrified, too, I suppose," said Rennett dryly.
Jack was silent for a long time. Then: "Rennett," he said, "do you know I am more rattled about this girl than I am about any consequences to ourselves."
"Which girl are you talking about?"
"About Mrs. Meredith. Whilst poor Meredith was alive she was in no particular danger. But do you realise that what were advantages from our point of view, namely, the fact that she had no relations in the world, are to-day a source of considerable peril to this unfortunate lady?"
"I had forgotten that," said Rennett thoughtfully. "What makes matters a little more complicated, is the will which Meredith made this morning before he was married."
"Did he make a will?" he said in surprise.
His partner nodded.
"You remember he was here with me for half an hour. Well, he insisted upon writing out a will and my wife and Bolton, the butler, witnessed it."
"And he has left his money----?"
"To his wife absolutely," replied the other. "The poor old chap was so frantically keen on keeping the money out of the Briggerland exchequer, that he was prepared to entrust the whole of his money to a girl he had not seen."
Jack was serious now.
"And the Briggerlands are her heirs? Do you realise that, Rennett--there's going to be hell!"
Mr. Rennett nodded.
"I thought that too," he said quietly.
Jack sank down in a seat, his face screwed up into a hideous frown, and the elder man did not interrupt his thoughts. Suddenly Jack's face cleared and he smiled.
"Jaggs!" he said softly.
"Jaggs?" repeated his puzzled partner.
"Jaggs," said Jack, nodding, "he's the fellow. We've got to meet strategy with strategy, Rennett, and Jaggs is the boy to do it."
Mr. Rennett looked at him helplessly.
"Could Jaggs get us out of our trouble too?" he asked sarcastically.
"He could even do that," replied Jack.
"Then bring him along, for I have an idea he'll have the time of his life."