'And who contrived all these manoeuvres?' asked Racksole as calmly as he could.
'I did. That is to say, I invented them and I saw that they were carried out. You see, the suspicions of your police obliged me to be particularly spry.'
'And who carried them out?'
'Ah! that would be telling tales. But I don't mind assuring you that my accomplices were innocent accomplices. It is absurdly easy for a man like me to impose on underlings - absurdly easy.'
'What did you intend to do with the corpse ultimately?' Racksole pursued his inquiry with immovable countenance.
'Who knows?' said Rocco, twisting his beautiful moustache. 'That would have depended on several things - on your police, for instance. But probably in the end we should have restored this mortal clay' - again he jerked his elbow - 'to the man's sorrowing relatives.'
'Do you know who the relatives are?'
'Certainly. Don't you? If you don't I need only hint that Dimmock had a Prince for his father.'
'It seems to me,' said Racksole, with cold sarcasm, 'that you behaved rather clumsily in choosing this bedroom as the scene of your operations.'
'Not at all,' said Rocco. 'There was no other apartment so suitable in the whole hotel. Who would have guessed that anything was going on here? It was the very place for me.'
'I guessed,' said Racksole succinctly.
'Yes, you guessed, Mr Racksole. But I had not counted on you. You are the only smart man in the business. You are an American citizen, and I hadn't reckoned to have to deal with that class of person.'
'Apparently I frightened you this afternoon?'
'Not in the least.'
'You were not afraid of a search?'
'I knew that no search was intended. I knew that you were trying to frighten me. You must really credit me with a little sagacity and insight, Mr Racksole. Immediately you began to talk to me in the kitchen this afternoon I felt you were on the track. But I was not frightened. I merely decided that there was no time to be lost - that I must act quickly. I did act quickly, but, it seems, not quickly enough. I grant that your rapidity exceeded mine. Let us go downstairs, I beg.'
Rocco rose and moved towards the door. With an instinctive action Racksole rushed forward and seized him by the shoulder.
'No tricks!' said Racksole. 'You're in my custody and don't forget it.'
Rocco turned on his employer a look of gentle, dignified scorn. 'Have I not informed you,' he said, 'that I have the intention of going quietly?'
Racksole felt almost ashamed for the moment. It flashed across him that a man can be great, even in crime.
'What an ineffable fool you were,' said Racksole, stopping him at the threshold, 'with your talents, your unique talents, to get yourself mixed up in an affair of this kind. You are ruined. And, by Jove! you were a great man in your own line.'
'Mr Racksole,' said Rocco very quickly, 'that is the truest word you have spoken this night. I was a great man in my own line. And I am an ineffable fool. Alas!' He brought his long arms to his sides with a thud.
'Why did you do it?'
'I was fascinated - fascinated by Jules. He, too, is a great man. We had great opportunities, here in the Grand Babylon. It was a great game. It was worth the candle. The prizes were enormous. You would admit these things if you knew the facts. Perhaps some day you will know them, for you are a fairly clever person at getting to the root of a matter. Yes, I was blinded, hypnotized.'
'And now you are ruined.'
'Not ruined, not ruined. Afterwards, in a few years, I shall come up again.
A man of genius like me is never ruined till he is dead. Genius is always forgiven. I shall be forgiven. Suppose I am sent to prison. When I emerge I shall be no gaol-bird. I shall be Rocco - the great Rocco. And half the hotels in Europe will invite me to join them.'
'Let me tell you, as man to man, that you have achieved your own degradation. There is no excuse.'
'I know it,' said Rocco. 'Let us go.'
Racksole was distinctly and notably impressed by this man - by this master spirit to whom he was to have paid a salary at the rate of three thousand pounds a year. He even felt sorry for him. And so, side by side, the captor and the captured, they passed into the vast deserted corridor of the hotel.
Rocco stopped at the grating of the first lift.
'It will be locked,' said Racksole. 'We must use the stairs to-night.'
'But I have a key. I always carry one,' said Rocco, and he pulled one out of his pocket, and, unfastening the iron screen, pushed it open. Racksole smiled at his readiness and aplomb.
'After you,' said Rocco, bowing in his finest manner, and Racksole stepped into the lift.
With the swiftness of lighting Rocco pushed forward the iron screen, which locked itself automatically. Theodore Racksole was hopelessly a prisoner within the lift, while Rocco stood free in the corridor.
'Good-bye, Mr Racksole,' he remarked suavely, bowing again, lower than before. 'Good-bye: I hate to take a mean advantage of you in this fashion, but really you must allow that you have been very simple. You are a clever man, as I have already said, up to a certain point. It is past that point that my own cleverness comes in. Again, good-bye. After all, I shall have no rest to-night, but perhaps even that will be better that sleeping in a police cell. If you make a great noise you may wake someone and ultimately get released from this lift. But I advise you to compose yourself, and wait till morning. It will be more dignified. For the third time, good-bye.'
And with that Rocco, without hastening, walked down the corridor and so out of sight.
Racksole said never a word. He was too disgusted with himself to speak. He clenched his fists, and put his teeth together, and held his breath. In the silence he could hear the dwindling sound of Rocco's footsteps on the thick carpet.
It was the greatest blow of Racksole's life.
The next morning the high-born guests of the Grand Babylon were aroused by a rumour that by some accident the millionaire proprietor of the hotel had remained all night locked up m the lift. It was also stated that Rocco had quarrelled with his new master and incontinently left the place. A duchess said that Rocco's departure would mean the ruin of the hotel, whereupon her husband advised her not to talk nonsense.
As for Racksole, he sent a message for the detective in charge of the Dimmock affair, and bravely told him the happenings of the previous night.
The narration was a decided ordeal to a man of Racksole's temperament.
'A strange story!' commented Detective Marshall, and he could not avoid a smile. 'The climax was unfortunate, but you have certainly got some valuable facts.'
Racksole said nothing.
'I myself have a clue,' added the detective. When your message arrived I was just coming up to see you. I want you to accompany me to a certain spot not far from here. Will you come, now, at once?'
'With pleasure,' said Racksole.
At that moment a page entered with a telegram. Racksole opened it read:
'Please come instantly. Nella. Hotel Wellington, Ostend.'
He looked at his watch.
'I can't come,' he said to the detective. Tm going to Ostend.'
'But really, Mr Racksole,' protested the detective. 'My business is urgent.'
'So's mine,' said Racksole.
In ten minutes he was on his way to Victoria Station.
The Grand Babylon Hotel -by- Arnold Bennett