Red Aces (1929) – Baffling murders on a bitter night with deep snowfall; the only clues are two red aces. A story from the investigations of Mr. J. G. Reeder.
Chapter I. The Threat.
Chapter II. Murder!
Chapter III. The Red Aces.
Chapter IV. J. G. Reeder’s Theory.
Chapter V. The Missing Policeman.
Chapter VI. The Veiled Woman.
Chapter VII. Who Killed Wentford?
Chapter VIII. Reeder—the Devil!
Chapter IX. Trapped!
Chapter X. The Raid.
Chapter XI. Deduction.
Richard Horatio Edgar Wallace (1875–1932) was born into poverty as an illegitimate London child. Wallace left school at 12. He joined the army at 21 and was a war correspondent during the Second Boer War for Reuters and the Daily Mail.
A prolific writer, one of Wallace’s publishers claimed that a quarter of all books then read in England were written by him. In 1931, Wallace moved to Hollywood, where he worked as a script writer for RKO Pictures. He died suddenly from undiagnosed diabetes, during the initial drafting of King Kong (1933). Wallace is probably best remembered as the creator of King Kong.
Red Aces was first published in the February 9, 1929 issue of The Thriller, the first issue of the magazine.
WHEN a young man is very much in love with a most attractive girl he is apt to endow her with qualities and virtues which no human being has ever possessed. And at rare and painful intervals there enter into his soul certain wild suspicions, and in these moments he is inclined to regard the possibility that she may be guilty of the basest treachery and double dealing.
Everybody knew that Kenneth McKay was desperately in love. They knew it at the bank in Beaconsfield where he spent his days in counting other people’s money, and a considerable amount of his lunch-hour writing impassioned and—it must be confessed—rather ill-spelt, letters to Margot Lynn. His taciturn father, brooding over his vanished fortune in his gaunt riverside house at Marlow, may have devoted a few moments’ thought to the consideration of his son’s new interest. Probably he did not, for George McKay was entirely self-centred. and had little thought but for the folly which had dissipated the money he had accumulated with such care, and the development of fantastic schemes for its recovery.
All day long, summer and winter, McKay, senior, sat in his study, a pack of cards before him, working out averages and what he called “inherent probabilities,” or at a small roulette wheel, where, alternately, he spun and recorded the winning numbers.
Kenneth McKay went over to the bank in Beaconsfield every morning on his noisy motor-bicycle and came back every night. Sometimes very late, because Margot lived in London. She had a small flat where she could not receive him, but they frequently dined together at the cheaper restaurants and sometimes saw a play. Kenneth was a member of an inexpensive London club which sheltered at least one sympathetic soul. Except Mr. Rufus Machfield, the confidant in question, he had no friends.
“And let me advise you not to make any here.” said Rufus.
He was a military-looking man of forty-five, and most people found him rather a bore, for the views which he expressed so vehemently, on all subjects from politics to religion, he had acquired that morning from the leading article of his favourite daily. Yet he was a genial person and a likeable man.
He had a luxurious flat in Park Lane, a French valet, a couple of hacks which he rode in the Park, and no useful occupation.
“The Leffingham Club is cheap,” he said, “the food’s not bad, and it is near Piccadilly. Against that you have the fact that almost anybody who hasn’t been to prison can become a member—”
“The fact that I’m a member—” began Ken.
“You’re a gentleman and a public school man.” interrupted Mr. Machfield a little sonorously. “You’re not rich, I admit—”
“Even I admit that,” said Ken, rubbing his untidy hair.
Kenneth was tall, athletic, as good-looking as a young man need be, or can be without losing his head about his face. He had called at the Leffingham that evening especially to see Rufus and to confide his worries to that amiable gentleman. And Kenneth’s worries were, at the moment, enormous. Hie looked haggard and ill; Mr. Machfield thought it possible that he had not been sleeping very well. In this surmise he was right.
“It’s about Margot—” began the young man.
Mr. Machfield smiled.
He had met Margot, had entertained the young people to dinner at his flat, and twice had invited them to a theatre party.
“We’ve had a row, Rufus. It began a week ago. For a long time her reticence has been bothering me. Why the devil couldn’t she tell me what she did for a living? I wouldn’t say this to a living soul but you—it is horribly disloyal to her, and yet it isn’t. I know that she has no money of her own. and yet she lives at the rate of a thousand a year. She says that she is secretary to a business man, but the office where she works is in her own name. And she isn’t there more than a few days a week, and then only for a few hours.”
Mr. Machfield considered the matter.
“She won’t tell you any more than that?” Kenneth looked round the smoke-room. Except for a servant counting the cigars in a small mahogany cabinet, they were alone. He lowered his voice.
“She’ll never tell me any more. I’ve seen the man,” he said. “Margot meets him surreptitiously!”
Mr. Machfield looked at him dubiously.
“Oh—what sort of a man?”
“Well—to tell you the truth, he’s elderly. It was queer how I came to see them at all. I was taking a ride round the country on Sunday morning. Margot told me that she couldn’t come to us—I asked her to lunch with us at Marlow—because she was going out of London. I went through Burnham and stopped to explore a little wood As a matter of fact, I saw two animals fighting—I think they were stoats —and I went after them—”
“Stoats can be dangerous,” began Mr. Machfield. “I remember once—”
“Anyway, I went after them with my camera. I’m rather keen on wild life photographs. And then I saw two people, a man and a girl, walking slowly away from me. The man had his arm round the girl’s shoulder. It rather made a picture—they stood in a patch of sunlight, and with the trees its a background—well, it was rather an idyllic sort of picture. I put up my camera. Just as I pressed the button the man looked over his shoulder, and then the girl turned. It was Margot!”
He dabbed his brow with a handkerchief. Rufus was slightly amused to see anybody so agitated over so trifling a matter.
Kenneth swallowed his drink; his hand trembled.
“He was elderly—fifty—not bad-looking. God! I could have killed them both! Margot was coolness itself, though she changed colour. But she didn’t attempt to introduce me or offer any kind of explanation. ”
“Her father—” began Rufus.
“She has no father—no relations except her mother, who is an invalid and lives in Florence—at least, I thought so,” snapped Kenneth.
“What did she do?”
The young man heaved a deep sigh. “Nothing; just said ‘How queer meeting you!’ talked about the beautiful day, and when I asked her what it all meant and what this man was to her—he had walked on and left us alone—she flatly refused to say anything. Just turned on her heel and went after him.”
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