Herbert Jenkins.

John Dene of Toronto: A Comedy of Whitehall



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CHAPTER IX
DEPARTMENT Z. AT WORK

"Naylor isn't satisfied then." Colonel Walton glanced across at Malcolm Sage, who was gazing appreciatively at his long, lender fingers.

"He's the shyest bird I've ever come across," said Sage without looking up. "He gave Finlay a rare wigging for that call. Now he's having him watched."

"I expected that," said Colonel Walton, engrossed in cutting the end of a cigar.

"I think it's jealousy," continued Sage. "He's afraid of the special agent getting all the kudos – and the plunder," he added. "It was a happy chance getting that Bergen chap."

"I'm rather concerned about Finlay," said Colonel Walton.

"Good man, Finlay." There was a note of admiration in Sage's voice. "He's quite cut adrift from us. He's nothing if not thorough. I can't get in touch with him."

"Of course he knows?"

"That he's being watched? Yes."

"Who's looking after him?"

"Hoyle." Sage drew his pipe from his pocket and proceeded to charge it from a chamois-leather tobacco-pouch. "I've had to call Thompson off, I think they linked him up with us."

"That's a pity," said Colonel Walton, gazing at the end of his cigar. "He's a better man than Hoyle."

"It's that little chap they've got," continued Sage, "lives at Wimbledon, retired commercial-traveller, clever devil." Malcolm Sage never grudged praise to an opponent.

"How about John Dene?"

"He's not taking any risks," said Sage, as he applied a match to his pipe. "But they'll never let him go north."

"Then we must prevent him."

"Perhaps you'd like to take on that little job, chief." There was a momentary suspicion of a twinkle in Sage's eye before a volume of tobacco smoke blotted it out.

"I'm afraid it'll force our hand," said Colonel Walton.

"That burglary business complicated things," said Sage, as he sucked in his lips, with him a sign of annoyance. "It was a mistake to keep it dark."

"That was Sir Lyster."

"It made Naylor suspicious."

"Has Finlay seen him since?" enquired Colonel Walton.

"Naylor must have given him the secret-code. They've met several times; but I believe Naylor is determined to act on his own. He's a weird creature. I wish I could get in touch with Finlay, however."

"Why not try the taxi?"

"I've had Rogers following him round all the time; but Finlay hasn't once taken a taxi."

"I'm afraid he's taking a big risk – " began Colonel Walton. "That Naylor fellow – " He paused.

Sage nodded.

During the previous ten days Department Z. had learned a great deal about the comings and goings of Mr. Montagu Naylor of Streatham. It had become manifest to Sage that he had to do with a man who had reduced cunning and caution to a fine art. His every act seemed to have been carefully thought out beforehand, not only in relation to himself, but to what might grow directly out of it.

During a walk he would sometimes turn suddenly and proceed swiftly in the direction from which he had come, as if he had forgotten something, looking keenly at every one he passed.

At others he would step into a shop, where he could be seen keeping a careful watch through the window. A favourite trick was to walk briskly round a corner, then stop and look in some shop window with a small mirror held in the palm of his hand.

From the first Malcolm Sage had realised that the conventional methods of shadowing a suspect would be useless for his purpose. Those in whom Department Z. were interested would be old hands at the game, and to set a single person to watch them would inevitably result in the discovery of what was afoot. He therefore set at least three men, or women, to dog the footsteps of the suspect.

These would follow each other at intervals of from twenty-five to a hundred yards, according to the district in which they were operating. At a signal that the first in the line was dropping out, the trail would be taken up by number two, who in turn would relinquish the work to number three. Sometimes as many as six were allocated to one shadowing.

This method had the additional advantage of enabling the Department to assure itself that the watchers were not in turn being watched.

It was no uncommon thing for a suspect to arrange to have himself shadowed in order to ascertain whether or no there were any one on his track. This was a favourite device with Mr. Naylor.

For nearly two years Department Z. had been endeavouring to solve the problem of a secret organisation, with the offshots of which they were constantly coming into contact. The method this organisation adopted was one of concentration upon a single object. At one time it would be at the sailing of vessels from home ports, at another the munitions output, or again the anti-aircraft defences of London.

Malcolm Sage was convinced that somewhere there was at work a controlling mind, one that weighed every risk and was prepared for all eventualities. Individuals had been shadowed, some had been arrested, much to Sage's disgust. The efforts of the organisation had frequently been countered and its objects defeated; but Department Z. had hitherto been unable to penetrate beyond the outer fringe. The most remarkable thing of all was that no document of any description had been discovered, either on the person of those arrested, or through the medium of the post.

Scotland Yard stoutly denied the existence of the organisation. They claimed to have made a clean sweep of all secret service agents in their big round-up on the outbreak of war. Whatever remained were a few small fry that had managed to slip through the meshes of their net. Malcolm Sage merely shrugged his shoulders and worked the harder.

When it had been discovered that the famous Norvelt aeroplane, which was to give the Allies the supremacy of the air, had been copied by the Germans, the War Cabinet regarded the matter as one of the gravest setbacks the Allied cause had received. Mr. Llewellyn John had openly reproached Colonel Walton with failure. Again when time after time a certain North Sea convoy was attacked, the Authorities knew that it could be only as a result of information having leaked out to the enemy. A raid into the Bight of Heligoland had been met in a way that convinced those who had planned it that the enemy had been warned, although the utmost secrecy had been observed. All these things had tended to cause the War Cabinet uneasiness, and Department Z. had been urged to redouble its efforts to find out the means by which information was conveyed to the enemy.

"We must watch and wait, just hang about on the outer fringe. When we find the thread it will lead to the centre of things," Sage had remarked philosophically. In the meantime he worked untiringly, keeping always at the back of his mind the problem of this secret organisation.

Day by day the record of Mr. Montagu Naylor's activities enlarged. With him caution seemed to have become an obsession. As Malcolm Sage went through the daily reports of his agents he was puzzled to account for many of Mr. Naylor's actions other than by the fact that circumlocution had become with him a habit.

Among other things that came to light was Mr. Naylor's fondness for open spaces, and the frequency with which he got into conversation with strangers. He would wander casually into Kew Gardens, or Waterlow Park, or in fact anywhere, seat himself somewhere on a bench, and before he had been there ten minutes, someone would inevitably select the same bench on which to rest himself or herself, with the result that they would soon drift into desultory conversation with Mr. Naylor.

The same thing would happen at a restaurant at which Mr. Naylor might be lunching, dining or taking tea. With strangers his manner seemed irresistible.

It would sometimes happen that he would keep one of the telephone appointments, pass through the thoroughfare indicated, and proceed either to a park or a tea-shop, where later he would find himself in casual conversation with someone who, curiously enough, had been in that particular thoroughfare when he passed through it.

For some time Malcolm Sage was greatly puzzled by the fact that even when the name of a long thoroughfare were indicated in one of the telephone messages, such as Oxford Street, Marylebone Road, or even the Fulham Road, Mr. Naylor never experienced any difficulty in locating the whereabouts of his subordinate. Sage gave instructions for the exact position of each thoroughfare to be indicated. As a result he discovered that contact was always established in the neighbourhood of the building numbered 10.

"It's the German mind," remarked Sage one day to Colonel Walton. "It leaves nothing to chance, or to the intelligence of the other fellow."

As each one of Mr. Naylor's associates was located, he or she was continuously shadowed. In consequence the strain upon the resources of Department Z. became increasingly severe. It was like an army advancing into an enemy country, and having to furnish the lines of communication from its striking force. Sometimes Sage himself was engaged in the shadowing, and once or twice even Colonel Walton.

"By the time we've finished, there won't be even the office cat left," Thompson one day remarked to Gladys Norman, a typist whom Malcolm Sage had picked out of one of the Departments through which he had passed during his non-stop career. She had already shown marked ability by her cleverness and resource, to say nothing of her impudence.

"Never mind, Tommy," she had replied. "It's all experience, and after the war, when I marry you and we start our private inquiry bureau – " She nodded her head knowingly. "Why, I've got enough facts from my own department to divorce half the officers on the staff," she added.

The work of shadowing Mr. Naylor was not without its humours. Sometimes Department Z. was led away on false scents. On one occasion a week was spent in tracking a venerable-looking old gentleman, he turned out to be a quite respectable pensioned civil servant, who, out of the kindness of his own heart, had passed the time of day with Mr. Naylor.

The plan decided upon by Colonel Walton and Malcolm Sage was carefully to watch all Mr. Naylor's associates and, at a given time, make a clean sweep of the lot. To achieve this effect a zero hour was to be established on a certain day. Each was to be arrested as soon after that time as it was possible. This was mainly due to Malcolm Sage's suspicion that some scheme of warning existed between the various members of the combination, whereby any danger threatening one was quickly notified to all the others.

"In all probability we shall get a few harmless birds into the net," Malcolm Sage had remarked. "Probably the sister of an M.P., or the head of a department in one of the new Ministries; but that can't be helped."

"Still I should prefer that it didn't happen," Colonel Walton had said drily. "You know the Skipper hates questions in the House."

"By the way," said Malcolm Sage to Colonel Walton one day, "Thompson sent in an interesting report this morning."

"Naylor?" queried Colonel Walton.

Malcolm Sage nodded.

"He's having a sort of small greenhouse arrangement fitted in the window of the front-room of the basement. It may be for flowers or for salad."

"Or – ?" interrogated Colonel Walton.

Malcolm Sage merely shrugged his shoulders as he proceeded to dig the ashes out of his pipe.

The work of Department Z. continued quietly and unostentatiously. John Dene was never permitted out of sight, except when in some private place. This meant the constant changing of those responsible for keeping him under observation.

The necessity of this was not more evident to Department Z. than to John Dene himself. In spite of his scornful manner, he was not lacking in caution, as soon became obvious to Malcolm Sage. At the hotel he was careful, taking neither food nor drink in his room. He never dined two consecutive nights at the same restaurant, and he consistently refused all overtures from strangers.

It soon became evident to Malcolm Sage that John Dene realised how great was the danger by which he was threatened.

The ransacking of his room at the Ritzton left John Dene indifferent. The fact that he never locked the small safe he kept at his office at Waterloo Place was not without its significance for Malcolm Sage.

In the course of the next few weeks Malcolm Sage learned a great deal about John Dene of Toronto. Although proof against the wiles of confidence men, always on the look-out for the colonials, he fell an easy victim to the plausible beggar. He never refused a request for assistance, and the record of his unostentatious charities formed a no inconsiderable portion of the rapidly increasing dossier at Department Z.

Many were the incidents recorded of John Dene's kindness of heart. A child smiling up into his eyes would cause him to stop, bend down and ask its name, or where it lived. Whilst the little one was sucking an embarrassed finger John Dene would be feeling in his pocket for a coin that a moment later would cause the youngster to gaze after him in speechless wonder, clutching in his grimy hand a shilling or a half-a-crown.

Once he was observed leading a tearful little girl of about five years old up the Haymarket. The child had apparently become lost, and John Dene was seeking a policeman into whose care to consign her. It became obvious to Malcolm Sage that John Dene's weak points were children and "lame dogs."

Thompson, who first had charge of the guarding of John Dene, reported that one of the most assiduous of those who seemed to interest themselves in the movements of the Canadian, was a little man in a grey suit, with a pair of shifty eyes that never remained for more than a second on any one object.

"He's clever, sir," Thompson had remarked to Sage, "clever as a vanload of monkeys, and he takes cover like an alien," he added grinning, at his own joke.

"Has he linked up with Naylor yet?"

Thompson shook his head. "The old bird's too crafty for that, sir," he said. "He only comes up against the small fry. This little chap in the grey suit is something bigger."

The officials at Department Z. soon discovered that the chiefs of the organisation, against which they were working, never came into contact with each other. Communication was established verbally by subordinates. Another thing that added to the difficulties of Sage's task was that a man, who had for some days been particularly active, would suddenly drop out, apparently being superseded by someone else with whom he had not previously been in contact. Later, the man who had dropped out would pick up an entirely different thread. This meant innumerable loose ends, all of which had to be followed up and then held until they began to develop along new lines.

"It's a great game played slow, Gladys," Thompson remarked one day to Gladys Norman as they sat waiting for Malcolm Sage.

"Slow," cried the girl. "If this is slow, what's fast?"

"Her initials are G. N.," was the reply.

Malcolm Sage entered at the moment when Gladys had succeeded in making her colleague's hair look like that of an Australian aborigine.

CHAPTER X
JOHN DENE GOES TO KEW

"And now we'll go to Kew and say how-do-you-do to the rhododendrons," cried Dorothy, as she rolled up her napkin and slipped it into the silver ring that lay beside her plate. "I'll go and make myself smart; and mother" – she paused at the door – "mind you put on your new hat that makes you look so wicked."

Mrs. West smiled what Dorothy called her "Saturday afternoon smile."

Half an hour later Dorothy was gazing at herself in the looking-glass over the dining-room mantelpiece. With a sigh half of content, half of rebelliousness she turned as Mrs. West entered. For a moment she stood looking enquiringly at her daughter.

"Shall I do?" she demanded impudently. "I've put on my very best, undies and all."

"But why, Dorothy?" began Mrs. West.

"Oh, I just wanted to feel best to-day. I wonder if John Dene notices legs, mother," she added inconsequently.

"Really, Dorothy!" began Mrs. West, with widening eyes.

"Well, I've got rather nice legs, and – Oh! but I'm sure he doesn't. We had fillets of sole done up in a most wonderful way the other day, and he asked if it was cod. He's got cod on the brain, poor dear." With a sigh she turned once more to regard herself in the looking-glass. "If he could see me in this hat, it would be all 'u.p.' with Honest John;" and she laughed wickedly as she caught her mother's eye.

"I wish you wouldn't use such expressions," protested Mrs. West gently, "and – and – " She stopped and looked appealingly at her daughter.

"I know I'm a horrid little beast," she cried, turning quickly, "and I say outrageous things, don't I?" Then with a sudden change of mood she added: "But why shouldn't a girl be pleased because she's got nice legs, mother?"

"It's not nice for a young girl to talk about legs," said Mrs. West a little primly, making the slightest possible pause before the last words.

"But why, mother?" persisted Dorothy.

"It's – it's not quite nice."

"Well, mine are, anyway," said Dorothy with a little grimace. "Now we must be off."

Mrs. West merely sighed, the sigh of one who fails to understand.

"Mother dear," said Dorothy, observing the sigh, "if I didn't laugh I'm afraid I should cry." All the brightness had left her as she looked down at her mother. "I wonder why it is?" she added musingly.

To Mrs. West, Saturday afternoons were the oases in her desert of loneliness. During the long and solitary days of the week, she looked forward with the eagerness of a child to the excursions Dorothy never failed to plan for her entertainment. If it were dull or wet, there would be a matinee or the pictures; if fine they would go to Kew, Richmond, or the Zoo. It was an understood thing that Mrs. West should know nothing about the arrangement until the actual day itself.

"I think," remarked Dorothy, as they walked across Kew Bridge, "that I must be looking rather nice to-day. That's the third man who has given me the glad-eye since – "

"Oh, Dorothy! I wish you wouldn't say such dreadful things," protested Mrs. West in genuine distress.

Slipping her arm through her mother's, the girl squeezed it to her side.

"I know I'm an outrageous little beast," she said, "but I love shocking you, you dear, funny little mother, and – and you know I love you, don't you?"

"But suppose anyone heard you, dear, what would they think?" There was genuine concern in Mrs. West's voice.

"Oh, I'm dreadfully respectable with other people. I never talk to John Dene about legs or glad-eyes, really." Her eyes were dancing with mischief as she looked down at her mother. "Now I'll promise to be good for the rest of the day; but how can a girl say prunes and prisms with a mouth like mine. It's too wide for that, and then there are those funny little cuts at the corners; they are what make me wicked," she announced with a wise little nod.

Mrs. West sighed once more; she had learned that it was useless to protest when her daughter was in her present mood.

They entered the Gardens, and for an hour walked about absorbing their atmosphere of peace and warmth, sunlight and shadow and the song of birds; the war seemed very far away.

Presently they seated themselves by the broad walk leading to the large tropical greenhouse, and gazed idly at the stream of passers-by.

"I wish I were a girl bird," said Dorothy dreamily, as she listened to the outpourings of a blackbird fluting from a neighbouring tree.

Mrs. West smiled. She was very happy.

"It would be lovely to be made love to like that," continued Dorothy, "so much nicer than – Mother, darling, look!" she broke off suddenly, clutching Mrs. West's arm. "There's John Dene."

Following the direction of her daughter's eyes, Mrs. West saw a rather thick-set man with hunched-up shoulders, looking straight in front of him, a cigar gripped aggressively between his teeth. He was walking in the direction that would bring him within a few feet of the seat on which they sat.

"He'll never see us," whispered Dorothy excitedly. "He never sees anything, not even a joke. Oh! I wish he would," she added. "I should so like you to meet him."

Mrs. West did not speak; she was gazing with interest at the approaching figure.

"Mother dear, do you think you could faint?" Dorothy's eyes were shining with excitement.

"Faint!" echoed Mrs. West.

"Yes, then I could call for help and John Dene would come, and you would get to know him. I'm sure he'll never see us."

"Hush, dear, he might hear what you are saying," said Mrs. West.

When John Dene was within a few feet of them, Dorothy's sunshade fell forward, seeming to bring him back with a start to his surroundings. Instinctively he stepped forward, picked up the sunshade and lifting his hat handed it to Dorothy. For a moment there was a puzzled expression in his eyes, followed instantly by one of recognition; and then John Dene smiled, and Mrs. West liked him.

"You see, I found my way," he said to Dorothy when she had introduced him to her mother, and for some reason she blushed.



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