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Max Linster went through the small side gate and saw the large house in front of him. Not far away, a church clock told him that it was ten o’clock. He had half an hour to do the job. At midnight a private plane would take off for Europe from a lonely field in Norfolk, and Linster planned to be on it even if his last job in England was not successful.
He walked towards the house and saw a room with a light on. He looked quickly through the window and saw that it was the servants’ room. Then he moved round the building and climbed to the upstairs room that his orders had described. It was not difficult to reach, and the window was unlocked, as promised.
He stepped inside, and waited.
After a moment, he heard someone coming and moved quickly and silently across to the door. He hid behind it. It opened slowly. Someone put on the light. The man who came in was about thirty-five years old. He had fair hair, and the right arm of his coat was empty.
«Mr Elliston?» Linster said from behind him.
Jacob Elliston turned quickly. He looked at Linster for a moment, then said, «So you’re the person they sent.»
«I’m who they sent,» agreed Linster.
Elliston closed the door. «We have to be quick,» he said. «You’ve guessed that this is my wife’s bedroom. She’s downstairs with her brother, but he’ll leave to catch his train in a minute or two, and she’ll come up to bed.»
Linster looked at his watch but said nothing.
«Please understand,» Elliston went on, «that you will get no money if you don’t succeed in… er…»
«In killing the lady,» Linster finished for him, with a smile. «Yes, I understand, Mr Elliston. It’s cash on delivery.»
He stepped forward — carefully, because this was the first part of his plan. He was not like some other men he knew. He was not interested in murder if robbery could do the same job…
«You have the cash ready, I hope.»
Elliston took a gun from his pocket. «Don’t try that,» he said. «The money is safe in my bedroom. If you want it, you’ll have to finish the job.»
«Of course,» said Linster, smiling.
«You must use both hands,» said Elliston.
Linster looked at the empty arm of the other man’s coat. «Yes, that’s sensible,» he said. «They always look for clues like that.»
«And you must pretend there was a burglary,» said Elliston. «Take that jewel-box. There’s nothing valuable in it, but you could not know that because it’s locked.»
Still holding his gun, Elliston moved towards the door. «I’m going to my bedroom where I shall turn my radio on loud.» He opened the door a little. «That’s my wife’s brother leaving now. She’s tired, and will come up almost at once. I’ll return with the money in… twenty minutes.»
Elliston left, and soon the sound of music came from another room. Linster looked around for a good place to hide and saw a clothes cupboard. He would not to be able to see anything from inside it, but he could still hear. He turned off the light and disappeared into the cupboard like a shadow.
Josephine Demessieux, the young and pretty French servant, came into the bedroom and closed the door. In a bored and careless way, she got the bed ready for Mrs Elliston. There was plenty of time because Mrs Elliston was walking to the railway station with her brother. It was something which she had decided to do at the last moment.
Josephine looked around at the beautiful things which Mrs Elliston owned. She put on one of the rings, then a pretty brooch. Next, she put on a short fur coat which made her look very different when she saw herself in the mirror. «I’m like a real lady,» she thought.
It was then that Linster moved out of the clothes cupboard. He went silently up behind her. He watched her face in the mirror and was still a metre or two away when she saw him and turned. But his left hand was large and fast. It closed around her narrow throat. She made no sound as she died…
Linster gently put her body on the bed, then covered her with a blanket. It took only a few minutes to open cupboards and made them look untidy. He looked at the little jewel-box, then threw it under the bed.
When Elliston entered the room again, still with the gun in his hand, he looked at the shape under the blanket. He said, «It — it’s done?»
«Yes,» said Linster. «It’s done.»
«You’re sure she’s…?»
«Yes, Mr Elliston, she’s dead.» Linster pulled a white hand from under the blanket. «If you don’t believe me, feel this.»
But Elliston jumped back, shaking. «That ring,» he said slowly. «It’s one she almost never…»
Linster dropped the hand. «The money, Mr Elliston. Five thousand.»
The money was silently put into his hands.
«I’m going now, Mr Elliston,» said Linster. And then with a smile said, «Sorry I can’t stay and talk to that pretty little servant that your wife has.»
Elliston looked surprised. «The girl?»
«The girl,» replied Linster. «I looked through the window of your servants’ room before I climbed up here, and there she was. Dark. A soft-looking mouth. A pretty girl. I’d recognize her again, anywhere. But I had this job to do. And you don’t get paid until you’ve done the job, do you? It’s cash on delivery. And a man must live.»
«I don’t understand what you’re talking about,» said Elliston.
But Linster was already climbing out of the window. «You will, Mr Elliston,» he said. «You will.»