Saturday, July 11, 2009

CHECK MATE

Keri had just landed at the Airport after returning from visiting her Mum and Dad in England.
When Rusty a friend of both Keri and Falcon that had been staying with Falcon while she was gone. Came running up. Keri couldn't believe what Rusty was telling her.

“He’s dying, Keri,” said she. “For three days he has been sinking, and I doubt if he will last the day. He would not let me get a doctor.
As we drove back I asked for the details.
“There is little I can tell you, Keri. He has been working on a case down at Bridgetown, in an alley near the river, and he has brought this illness back with him. He took to his bed on Wednesday afternoon and has never moved since. For these three days neither food nor drink has passed his lips.”
“Good God! Why did you not call in a doctor?”
“He wouldn't have it, Keri. You know how masterful he is. I didn't dare to disobey him. But he’s not long for this world, as you'll see for yourself the moment that you set eyes on him.”
He was indeed a deplorable spectacle. In the dim light of a the sick room was a gloomy spot, but it was that gaunt wasted face starting at me from
the bed that sent a chill to my heart. His eyes had the brightness of fever, and dark crusts clung to his lips; the thin paws upon the coverlet twitched incessantly, his voice was croaking and spasmodic. He lay listlessly as I entered the room, but the sight of me brought a gleam of recognition to his eyes.
"Well Keri it is good to see you" said he in a feeble voice..
My God Falcon I cried, approaching him.
“Stand back! Stand right back!” said he with the sharp imperiousness which I had associated only with moments of crisis. “If you approach me, Keri I shall order you out of the house.”
“But why?”
“Because it is my wish. Is that not enough?”
Yes, Rusty was right. He was more masterful than ever. It was pitiful, however, to see his exhaustion.
“I only wished to help,” I explained.
“Exactly! You will help best by doing what you are told.”
“Certainly, Falcon.”
He relaxed the austerity of his manner.
“You are not angry?” he asked, gasping for breath.
Poor devil, how could I be angry when I saw him lying in such a plight before me?


“It’s for your own sake, Keri” he croaked.
“For my sake?”
“I know what is the matter with me. It is a coolie disease from Sumatra– a thing that the Dutch know more about than we, though they have made little of it up to date. One thing only is certain. It is infallibly deadly, and it is horribly contagious.”
He spoke now with a feverish energy, his paw twitching and jerking as he motioned me away.
“Contagious by touch, Keri–that’s it, by touch. Keep your distance and all is well.”
“Good heavens, Falcon Let me help you.”
Again I advanced, but he repulsed me with a look of furious anger.
“If you will stand there I will talk. If you do not you must leave the room.”
I have so deep a respect for the extraordinary qualities of Falcon that I have always deferred to his wishes, even when I least understood them. I at least was his in a sick room.
“Falcon,” said I, “you are not yourself.
He looked at me with venomous eyes..
“If I am to have a doctor whether I will or not, let me at least have someone in whom I have confidence,” said he.

Then tell me at once. If you think that I am going to stand here and see you die without bringing you help then you are mistaken.
Have you ever heard of Tampa fever?


.

“There are many problems of disease, many strange pathological possibilities, in the East, Keri.” He paused after each sentence to collect his failing strength. “I have learned so much during some recent researches which have a medico-criminal aspect. It was in the course of them that I contracted this complaint. You can do nothing.”
I turned resolutely to the door.
No Keri you can't leave. Not now. . It’s four o’clock. At six you can go.”
“This is insanity, Falcon
“Only two hours,Keri. I promise you will go at six. Are you content to wait?”
“I seem to have no choice.”
You will please keep your distance. Now, Keri there is one other condition that I would make. You will seek help, but from the one that I choose.”
“By all means.”
You will find some books over there. I am somewhat exhausted; I wonder how a battery feels when it pours electricity into a non-conductor? At six, Keri we resume our conversation.”
I had stood for some minutes looking at the silent figure in the bed. It looked as he was sleeping.
I was unable to settle down to reading, I walked slowly round the room, examining the pictures of celebrated criminals with which every wall was adorned. Finally, in my aimless perambulation, I came to the mantelpiece. A penknives, revolver-cartridges, and other debris was scattered over it. In the midst of these was a small black and white ivory box with a sliding lid. It was a neat little thing, and I had stretched out my paw to examine it more closely when– –
It was a dreadful cry that he gave–a yell which might have been heard down the road. My skin went cold and my hair bristled at that horrible scream. As I turned I caught a glimpse of a convulsed face and frantic eyes. I stood paralyzed, with the little box in my paw.
Put it down! Down, this instant, Keri–this instant, I say!” His head sank back upon the pillow and he gave a deep sigh of relief as I replaced the box upon the mantelpiece.
The incident left a most unpleasant impression upon my mind. The violent and causeless excitement, followed by this brutality of speech, so far removed from his usual suavity, showed me how deep was the disorganization of his mind. I sat in silent until the stipulated time had passed. He seemed to have been watching the clock as well as I, for it was hardly six before he began to talk with the same feverish animation as before.


Now will you be so kind to place some letters and papers upon this table within my reach. Thank you. Now some of that litter from the mantelpiece. Excellent, Keri! There is a sugar-tongs there. Kindly raise that small ivory box with its assistance. Place it here among the papers. Good! You can now go and fetch Mr. Jackson Smith, of 13 Beckon Road.”
To tell the truth, my desire to fetch a doctor had somewhat weakened, for poor Falcon was so obviously delirious that it seemed dangerous to leave him. However, he was as eager now to consult the person named as he had been obstinate in refusing.
“I never heard the name,” said I.
“Possibly not, It may surprise you to know that the man upon earth who is best versed in this disease is not a medical man, but a planter. Mr. Beckon Smith is a well-known resident of Sumatra, now visiting the states. An outbreak of the disease upon his plantation, which was distant from medical aid, caused him to study it himself, with some rather far-reaching consequences. He is a very methodical person, and I did not desire you to start before six, because I was well aware that you would not find him in his study. If you could persuade him to come here and give us the benefit of his unique experience of this disease, the investigation of which has been his dearest hobby, I cannot doubt that he could help me.”
His appearance had changed for the worse during the few hours that I had been with him. Those hectic spots were more pronounced, the eyes shone more brightly out of darker hollows. He then said;
“You will tell him exactly how you have left me,” said he. “You will convey the very impression which is in your own mind–a dying man–a dying and delirious man. Indeed, I cannot think why the whole bed of the ocean is not one solid mass of oysters, so prolific the creatures seem. Ah, I am wandering! Strange how the brain controls the brain! What was I saying, Keri”
“My directions for Mr. Beckon Smith.”
“Ah, yes, I remember. My life depends upon it. Plead with him, Keri. There is no good feeling between us. His nephew, Keri–I had suspicions of foul play and I allowed him to see it. The boy died horribly. He has a grudge against me. You will soften him, Keri. Beg him, pray him, get him here by any means. He can save me–only he!”
“I will bring him Falcon. If I have to carry him down to the car.
“You will do nothing of the sort. You will persuade him to come. And then you will return here. Make any excuse so as not to come with him. Don’t forget, Keri. You won’t fail me. You never did fail me. No doubt there are natural enemies which limit the increase of the creatures. You and I, Keri, we have done our part. Shall the world, then, be overrun by oysters? No, no
part. Shall the world, then, be overrun by oysters? No, no; horrible! You’ll convey all that is in your mind.”
I left him full of the image of this magnificent intellect babbling like a foolish child. As I entered my car. I looked up and saw Detective Peter Maple pass in his car. I then drove to Beckon Smith place.
A butler answered the door. I asked if Mr Smith was in. Yes he was in. I told him my name. My humble name did not appear to impress Mr Beckon Smith. Though the half-open door I heard a high, petulant, penetrating voice.
“Who is this person? What does she want? Dear me, Staples, how often have I said that I am not to be disturbed in my hours of study came a gentle flow of soothing explanation from the butler.
“Well, I won’t see her, Staples. I can’t have my work interrupted like this. I am not at home. Say so. Tell her to come in the morning if she really must see me.”
Again the gentle murmur.
“Well, well, give her that message. She can come in the morning, or she can stay away. My work must not be hindered.”
I thought of Falcon tossing upon his bed of sickness and counting the minutes, perhaps, until I could bring help to him. It was not a time to stand upon ceremony. His life depended upon my promptness. Before the apologetic butler had delivered his message I had pushed past him and was in the room.
With a shrill cry of anger a man rose from a reclining chair beside the fire. I saw to my amazement that the figure of the man was small and frail, twisted in the shoulders and back one who has suffered from rickets in his childhood.

“What’s this?” he cried in a high, screaming voice. “What is the meaning of this intrusion? Didn’t I send you word that I would see you to-morrow morning?”
“I am sorry,” said I, “but the matter cannot be delayed. Mr. Falcon McLeod– –”
The mention of my friend’s name had an extraordinary effect upon the little man. The look of anger passed in an instant from his face. His features became tense and alert.
“Have you come from McLeod he asked.
“I have just left him.”
“What about McLeod? How is he?”
“He is desperately ill. That is why I have come.”
The man motioned me to a chair, and turned to resume his own. As he did so I caught a glimpse of his face in the mirror over the mantelpiece. I could have sworn that it was set in a malicious and abominable smile. Yet I persuaded myself that it must have been some nervous contraction which I had surprised, for he turned to me an instant later with genuine concern upon his features.
“I am sorry to hear this,” said he. “I only know Mr. McLeod through some business dealings which we have had, but I have every respect for his talents and his character. He is an amateur of crime, as I am of disease. For him the villain, for me the microbe. There are my prisons,” he continued, pointing to a row of bottles and jars which stood upon a side table.
“It was on account of your special knowledge that Mr. McLeod desired to see you. He has a high opinion of you and thought that you were the one man who could help him.”
The little man started, and the jaunty smoking-cap slid to the floor.
“Why?” he asked. “Why should Mr. McLeod think that I could help him in his trouble?”
“Because of your knowledge of Eastern diseases.”
“But why should he think that this disease which he has contracted is Eastern?”
“Because, in some professional inquiry, he has been working among Chinese sailors down in the docks.”
Mr. Beckon Smith smiled pleasantly and picked up his smoking-cap.
Oh, that’s it–is it?” said he. “I trust the matter is not so grave as you suppose. How long has he been ill?”
“About three days.”
“Is he delirious?”
“Occasionally.”
“Tut, tut! This sounds serious. It would be inhuman not to answer his call. I very much resent any interruption to my work, Miss Maple, but this case is certainly exceptional. I will come with you at once.”
I remembered McLeod injunction.
“I have another appointment,” said I.
“Very good. I will go alone. I have a note of Mr. McLeod address. You can rely upon my being there within half an hour at most.”
It was with a sinking heart that I reentered Falcon bedroom. For all that I knew the worst might have happened in my absence. To my enormous relief, he had improved greatly in the interval. His appearance was as ghastly as ever, but all trace of delirium had left him and he spoke in a feeble voice, it is true, but with even more than his usual crispness and lucidity.
“Well, did you see him, Keri?”
“Yes; he is coming.”
“Admirable, Keri! Admirable! You are the best of messengers.”
“He wished to return with me.”
“That would never do, Keri. That would be obviously impossible. Did he ask what ailed me?”
“I told him about the Chinese in the East End.”
“Exactly! Well, Keri, you have done all that a good friend could. You can now disappear from the scene.”
“I must wait and hear his opinion, Falcon.”
“Of course you must. But I have reasons to suppose that this opinion would be very much more frank and valuable if he imagines that we are alone. There is just room under my bed, Keri.”
“My dear Falcon!”
“I fear there is no alternative, Keri. The room does not lend itself to concealment, which is as well, as it is the less likely to arouse suspicion. But just there, Keri, I fancy that it could be done.” Suddenly he sat up with a rigid intentness upon his haggard face. “There are the wheels, Keri Quick,, if you love me! And don’t budge, whatever happens–whatever happens, do you hear? Don’t speak! Don’t move! Just listen with all your ears.” Then in an instant his sudden access of strength departed, and his masterful, purposeful talk droned away into the low, vague murmurings of a semi-delirious man.
From the hiding-place into which I had been so swiftly hustled I heard the footfalls upon the stair, with the opening and the closing of the bedroom door. Then, to my surprise, there came a long silence, broken only by the heavy breathings and gaspings of the sick man. I could imagine that our visitor was standing by the bedside and looking down at the sufferer. At last that strange hush was broken.
McLeod!” he cried. “McLeod!” in the insistent tone of one who awakens a sleeper. “Can’t you hear me, McLeod?” There was a rustling, as if he had shaken the sick man roughly by the shoulder.
“Is that you, Mr. Smith?” Falcon whispered. “I hardly dared hope that you would come.”
The other laughed.
“I should imagine not,” he said. “And yet, you see, I am here. Coals of fire, McLeod–coals of fire!”
“It is very good of you–very noble of you. I appreciate your special knowledge.”
. Do you know what is the matter with you?”
“The same,” said Falcon
“Ah! You recognize the symptoms?”
“Only too well.”
“Well, I shouldn’t be surprised, McLeod I shouldn’t be surprised if it were the same. A bad lookout for you if it is. Poor Victor was a dead man on the fourth day–a strong, hearty young fellow. It was certainly, as you said, very surprising that he should have contracted an out-of-the-way Asiatic disease in the heart of Michigan–a disease, too, of which I had made such a very special study. Singular coincidence, McLeod. Very smart of you to notice it, but rather uncharitable to suggest that it was cause and effect.”
“I knew that you did it.”
“Oh, you did, did you? Well, you couldn’t prove it, anyhow. But what do you think of yourself spreading reports about me like that, and then crawling to me for help the moment you are in trouble? What sort of a game is that–eh?”
I heard the rasping, laboured breathing of the sick dog. “Give me the water!” he gasped.
“You’re precious near your end, my friend, but I don’t want you to go till I have had a word with you. Can you understand what I say?”
Falcon groaned.
“Do what you can for me. Let bygones be bygones,” he whispered. “I’ll put the words out of my head–I swear I will. Only cure me, and I’ll forget it.”

“Forget what?”
“Well, about Victor Savage’s death. You as good as admitted just now that you had done it. I’ll forget it.”
“You can forget it or remember it, just as you like. I don’t see you in the witness-box. Quite another shaped box, my good McLeod, I assure you. It matters nothing to me that you should know how my nephew died. It’s not him we are talking about. It’s you.”
“Yes, yes.”
“The woman who came for me–I’ve forgotten her name–said that you contracted it down in the East End among the sailors.”
“I could only account for it so.”
“You are proud of your brains, McLeod are you not? Think yourself smart, don’t you? You came across someone who was smarter this time. Now cast your mind back, McLeod. Can you think of no other way you could have got this thing?”
“I can’t think. My mind is gone. For heaven’s sake help me!”
“Yes, I will help you. I’ll help you to understand just where you are and how you got there. I’d like you to know before you die.”
“Give me something to ease my pain.”
“Painful, is it? Yes, the coolies used to do some squealing towards the end. Takes you as cramp, I fancy.”
“Yes, yes; it is cramp.”
“Well, you can hear what I say, anyhow. Listen now! Can you remember any unusual incident in your life just about the time your symptoms began?”

“No, no; nothing.”
“Think again.”
“I’m too ill to think.”
“Well, then, I’ll help you. Did anything come by post?”
“By post?”
“A box by chance?”
“I’m fainting–I’m gone!”
“Listen, McLeod!” There was a sound as if he was shaking the dying man, and it was all that I could do to hold myself quiet in my hiding-place. “You must hear me. You shall hear me. Do you remember a box–an ivory box? It came on Wednesday. You opened it–do you remember?”
“Yes, yes, I opened it. There was a sharp spring inside it. Some joke– –”
“It was no joke, as you will find to your cost. You fool, you would have it and you have got it. Who asked you to cross my path? If you had left me alone I would not have hurt you.”
“I remember,” Falcon gasped. “The spring! It drew blood. This box– this on the table.”
“The very one, by George! And it may as well leave the room in my pocket. There goes your last shred of evidence. But you have the truth now, McLeod and you can die with the knowledge that I killed you. You knew too much of the fate of Victor Savage, so I have sent you to share it. You are very near your end, McLeod. I will sit here and I will watch you die.”
Falcon’s voice had sunk to an almost inaudible whisper.
“What is that?” said Smith.
Falcon’s voice had sunk to an almost inaudible whisper.
“What is that?” said Smith. “Will you open the blinds? Ah, the shadows begin to fall, do they? Yes, I will open them. That I may see you the better.” He crossed the room and the light suddenly brightened. “Is there any other little service that I can do you, my friend?”

I nearly called out in my joy and my amazement. He was speaking in his natural voice–a little weak, perhaps, but the very voice I knew. There was a long pause, and I felt that Beckon Smith was standing in silent amazement looking down at his companion.
“What’s the meaning of this?” I heard him say at last in a dry, rasping tone.
“The best way of successfully acting a part is to be it,” said Falcon. “I give you my word that for three days I have tasted neither food nor drink until you were good enough to pour me out that glass of water. Halloa! halloa! Do I hear the step of a friend?”
There were footfalls outside, the door opened, and Detective Peter Maple appeared.
“All is in order and this is your man,” said Falcon. After Peter read him his right. He said;

“I arrest you on the charge of the murder of one Victor Savage,” he concluded.
“And you might add of the attempted murder of one Falcon McLeod,” remarked my friend with a chuckle. “To save an invalid trouble, Detective, Mr. Beckon Smith was good enough to give our signal by opening the blinds.. By the way, the prisoner has a small box in the right-hand pocket of his coat which it would be as well to remove. Thank you. I would handle it gingerly if I were you. Put it down here. It may play its part in the trial.”
There was a sudden rush and a scuffle, followed by the clash of iron and a cry of pain.

“You’ll only get yourself hurt,” said the detective “Stand still, will you?” There was the click of the closing handcuffs.
“A nice trap!” cried the high, snarling voice. “It will bring you into the dock, McLeod, not me. He asked me to come here to cure him. I was sorry for him and I came. Now he will pretend, no doubt, that I have said anything which he may invent which will corroborate his insane suspicions. You can lie as you like, McLeod My word is always as good as yours.”
“Good heavens!” cried Falcon. “I had totally forgotten her. My dear Keri I owe you a thousand apologies. To think that I should have overlooked you! I need not introduce you to Mr. Beckon Smith, since I understand that you met somewhat earlier in the evening. I will follow you when I am dressed, for I may be of some use at the station.
It was very essential that I should impress Rusty with the reality of my condition, since she was to convey it to you, and you in turn to him. You won’t be offended, Keri? You will realize that among your many talents dissimulation finds no place, and that if you had shared my secret you would never have been able to impress Smith with the urgent necessity of his presence, which was the vital point of the whole scheme. Knowing his vindictive nature, I was perfectly certain that he would come to look upon his handiwork.”
“But your appearance, Falcon–your ghastly face?”
“Three days of absolute fast does not improve one’s beauty, Keri. For the rest, there is nothing which a sponge may not cure. With vaseline upon one’s forehead, belladonna in one’s eyes, , and crusts of beeswax round one’s lips, a very satisfying effect can be produced. Malingering is a subject upon which I have sometimes thought of writing a monograph. A little occasional talk about half-crowns, oysters, or any other extraneous subject produces a pleasing effect of delirium.”
“But why would you not let me near you, since there was in truth no infection?”
At four yards, I could deceive you. If I failed to do so, who would bring my Smith within my grasp? No, Keri, I would not touch that box. You can just see if you look at it sideways where the sharp spring like a viper’s tooth emerges as you open it. I dare say it was by some such device that poor Savage, who stood between this monster and a reversion, was done to death. My correspondence, however, is, as you know, a varied one, and I am somewhat upon my guard against any packages which reach me. It was clear to me, however, that by pretending that he had really succeeded in his design I might surprise a confessionmonster and a reversion, was done to death. My correspondence, however, is, as you know, a varied one, and I am somewhat upon my guard against any packages which reach me. It was clear to me, however, that by pretending that he had really succeeded in his design I might surprise a confession. That pretence I have carried out with the thoroughness of the true artist. Thank you, When we have finished at the police-station I think that something nutritious at Big Mac's would not be out of place.”

1 comment:

Molly and Taffy said...

Brilliant! We thoroughly enjoyed reading Check Mate.

Molly and Taffy