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0100_005E Fire-Tongue Sax Rohmer

Wessex Gets Busy

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"I am wondering what on earth induced Mr. Harley to send that parcel of linen to the analyst."

"The result of the analysis may prove that the chief was not engaged upon any wild-goose chase."

"By heavens!" Wessex sprang up, his eyes brightened, and he reached for his hat, "that gives me an idea!"

"The message with the parcel was written upon paper bearing the letterhead of the late Sir Charles Abingdon. So Mr. Harley evidently made his first call there! I'm off, sir! The trail starts from that house!"

Leaving Innes seated at the big table with an expression of despair upon his face, Detective Inspector Wessex set out. He blamed himself for wasting time upon the obvious, for concentrating too closely upon the clue given by Harley's last words to Innes before leaving the office in Chancery Lane. It was poor workmanship. He had hoped to take a short cut, and it had proved, as usual, to be a long one. Now, as he sat in a laggard cab feeling that every minute wasted might be a matter of life and death, he suddenly became conscious of personal anxiety. He was a courageous, indeed a fearless, man, and he was subconsciously surprised to find himself repeating the words of Nicol Brinn: "Be careful--be very careful!" With all the ardour of the professional, he longed to find a clue which should lead him to the heart of the mystery.

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Innes had frankly outlined the whole of Paul Harley's case to date, and Detective Inspector Wessex, although he had not admitted the fact, had nevertheless recognized that from start to finish the thing did not offer one single line of inquiry which he would have been capable of following up. That Paul Harley had found material to work upon, had somehow picked up a definite clue from this cloudy maze, earned the envious admiration of the Scotland Yard man.

Arrived at his destination, he asked to see Miss Abingdon, and was shown by the butler into a charmingly furnished little sitting room which was deeply impressed with the personality of its dainty owner. It was essentially and delightfully feminine. Yet in the decorations and in the arrangement of the furniture there was a note of independence which was almost a note of defiance. Phyllis Abingdon, an appealingly pathetic figure in her black dress, rose to greet the inspector.

"Don't be alarmed, Miss Abingdon," he said, kindly. "My visit does not concern you personally in any way, but I thought perhaps you might be able to help me trace Mr. Paul Harley."

Wessex had thus expressed himself with the best intentions, but even before the words were fully spoken he realized with a sort of shock that he could not well have made a worse opening. Phil Abingdon's eyes seemed to grow alarmingly large. She stood quite still, twisting his card between her supple fingers.

"Mr. Harley!" she whispered.

"I did not want to alarm you," said the detective, guiltily, "but--" He stopped, at a loss for words.

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