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  Fire-Tongue Sax Rohmer

Conflicting Clues

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"Any news, Wessex?" asked Innes, eagerly, starting up from his chair as the inspector entered the office.

Wessex shook his head, and sitting down took out and lighted a cigarette.

"News of a sort," he replied, slowly, "but nothing of any value, I am afraid. My assistant, Stokes, has distinguished himself."

"In what way?" asked Innes, dully, dropping back into his chair.

These were trying days for the indefatigable secretary. Believing that some clue of importance might come to light at any hour of the day or night he remained at the chambers in Chancery Lane, sleeping nightly in the spare room.

"Well," continued the inspector, "I had detailed him to watch Nicol Brinn, but my explicit instructions were that Nicol Brinn was not to be molested in any way."

"What happened?"

"To-night Nicol Brinn had a visitor--possibly a valuable witness. Stokes, like an idiot, allowed her to slip through his fingers and tried to arrest Brinn!"

"What? Arrest him!" cried Innes.

"Precisely. But I rather fancy," added the inspector, grimly, "that Mr. Stokes will think twice before taking leaps like that in the dark again."

"You say he tried to arrest him. What do you mean by that?"

"I mean that Nicol Brinn, leaving Stokes locked in his chambers, went out and has completely disappeared!"

"But the woman?"

"Ah, the woman! There's the rub. If he had lain low and followed the woman, all might have been well. But who she was, where she came from, and where she has gone, we have no idea."

"Nicol Brinn must have been desperate to adopt such measures?"

Detective Inspector Wessex nodded.

"I quite agree with you."

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"He evidently had an appointment of such urgency that he could permit nothing to stand in his way."

"He is a very clever man, Mr. Innes. He removed the telephone from the room in which he had locked Stokes, so that my blundering assistant was detained for nearly fifteen minutes--detained, in fact, until his cries from the window attracted the attention of a passing constable!"

"Nicol Brinn's man did not release him?"

"No, he said he had no key."

"What happened?"

"Stokes wanted to detain the servant, whose name is Hoskins, but I simply wouldn't hear of it. I am a poor man, but I would cheerfully give fifty pounds to know where Nicol Brinn is at this moment."

Innes stood up restlessly and began to drum his fingers upon the table edge. Presently he looked up, and:

"There's a shadow of hope," he said. "Rector--you know Rector?--had been detailed by the chief to cover the activities of Nicol Brinn. He has not reported to me so far to-night."

"You mean that he may be following him?" cried Wessex.

"It is quite possible--following either Nicol Brinn or the woman."

"My God, I hope you're right!--even though it makes the Criminal Investigation Department look a bit silly."

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