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Our Library => Margery Allingham - Coroner's Pidgin (1945) => Topic started by: Admin on January 31, 2023, 05:28:19 am

Title: Chapter 5
Post by: Admin on January 31, 2023, 05:28:19 am
JUST for a moment as they came through the city Mr. Campion forgot his train. It was a moist, grey-and-yellow morning with a hint of sun behind the mist and great, round drops of moisture dripping silently from the plane trees. The river was busy and warm, and the hollow bellows from the tugs sounded sadly through the traffic's noise. The old sense of haste was there, too. The police chauffeur drove purposefully; there was work to be done, people to see, points to be raised, mystery to be unravelled; he was home again.

Oates was quiet. It is rare for a man who has begun his career as a police constable to end it as Chief of the Criminal Investigation Department, but the miracle does occur. The grey man wore his honour stoutly; if he knew he had enemies he also knew just how much they mattered, enough to make him watch his step, not enough to cramp his style.

At this moment by carrying Campion off personally he was breaking one of the prime rules of police etiquette, which is rigid and considerable, and although he did this he was careful not to question him until they were safely in the Senior Superintendent's room overlooking the glassy river.

Superintendent Yeo was waiting for them, and Campion's sense of home-coming was made acute by the sight of that square, bullet-headed man. He regarded the circular dark eyes, and the snub nose which lent the full face such a misleading air of comedy, with affection and respect. Yeo was a policeman in a thousand, but he was a policeman in soul; he was dependable, exact, conventional and tenacious, but he liked Mr. Campion and, moreover, admired him if somewhat against his will. He came forward now with genuine welcome.

"I'm glad to see you," he said, sounding as though he meant it. "You've landed head first in something pretty hot, I'm afraid. What's he got, Mr. Oates?"

"I don't know yet." The Chief's cold eyes rested lazily on the Superintendent's face. "I thought we'd hear him together."

Yeo coloured with satisfaction, and he expanded. "That's just what I'd like," he said, "just the plain story. We can take the statement later. There's been an awkward little development, and I'll want your advice, Mr. Oates. But at the moment a straight tale would help. It's a straight case of murder and it fits in with the other matter."

He checked himself abruptly as though he had said too much, and added cheerfully:

"You look all in, Mr. Campion. Sit down over here, will you?"

"What about the Inspector in charge?" said Oates. "That's Holly, isn't it?"

"Holly's got his hands full at the moment, sir." Yeo looked uncomfortable and Oates became studiously incurious.

"Right," he said, seating himself. "Now then, Campion, no omissions and no theories. Just the straight facts."

Mr. Campion was not a fool nor had he any illusions about the true place wherein his loyalty lay. There are some crimes which are serious and murder is not the least of them. Oates was right, the time to talk had arrived.

He went through the events of the previous evening very carefully, and the others sat watching him, Oates with approval, Yeo with growing concern. From time to time they made notes and when Campion had reached the end of the kidnapping, an episode which struck him as more fantastic the more he came to consider it, the Superintendent was fidgeting.

"This is going to be very awkward," he said suddenly, "very awkward indeed."

It was an unexpected comment, and when they stared at him he turned to the Chief.

"We had the Assistant Commissioner in just after you left, Mr. Oates," he said. "He didn't want to influence you in any way, of course, but as far as I could see he was in a bit of a fix himself. It appears the Minister had phoned him to say that a lady who was a very old friend of his had come to him with a story which she felt she ought to tell the police. She appears to have acted insanely, he said, but he also said he was sure she couldn't have realized what she was doing, so he was sending her along at once with a secretary of his. Everyone is a bit hot and bothered, if you ask me."

Oates swore a little. It was not his habit and Yeo was placatory. "I know, Mr. Oates, you won't have interference, and of course you're right, but if I may say so in this case I don't think the gentlemen could have done much less for her. They both acted in a strictly proper way and they have put her into our hands. She's not the sort of person you'd expect to be mixed up in this sort of thing. It's the Dowager Lady Carados. She's not the ordinary sort of party you'd expect to be found in a Police Court."

"How true," agreed Mr. Campion fervently. "Have you had her up yet?"

"She's here now," said Yeo. "Holly's got her downstairs. She's made her statement, and the trouble is, it's not quite the same as yours, Mr. Campion. The differences are rather serious, as a matter of fact."

Oates sighed. "Oh, my Gawd, these silly old women," he said wearily.

Yeo cleared his throat. "There are two main discrepancies," he said. "In Mr. Campion's statement he records that he understood from the man Lugg that the body had come originally from Number Three, Carados Square, which is the house of the Marquess of Carados, where it had been found in the owner's bed just before he was due home on leave. However, Lady Carados deposes that it came from her own house, Number Twenty, on the other side of the square. I must say she's got it very circumstantial. She says it was in a basement room which before the war was used as a footman's sleeping quarters. There's still a bed there. In her opinion the woman was a vagrant, and as the basement door is always unlocked in the daytime and there is only one maid left who is frequently upstairs, Her Ladyship says she doesn't see that it is at all unlikely that the woman should have walked in on her own. That's her story, anyway. She's got it quite clear in her own mind, I will say that for her."

"The first vagrant I knew to have a black silk nightshirt," said Oates. "Go on."

Yeo glanced appealingly at Campion. "We mustn't forget this first point is open to question," he said. "Mr. Campion admits that his version is based on hearsay, but this second point is more difficult. Mr. Campion has just said that Lady Carados phoned her son and that he came along, bringing Miss Evangeline Snow and his social secretary, Miss Dorothy Chivers, with him, and that between them Lord Carados and Miss Chivers identified the body as a Mrs. Moppet Lewis whom Carados said he'd not seen for five years. That's her name, certainly, but I don't see it gets us much forrader.

"Lady Carados has got this very differently," he said. "According to her, when she phoned her son he wasn't there, but she was answered by a Major Peter Onyer who used to be an adviser to Carados. According to her story it was Onyer and his wife who came round with Miss Chivers and she says that neither of them had ever seen the woman before. That's point-blank, isn't it? We shall take statements from them all, of course."

"The fools," Campion burst out helplessly. "The silly, silly fools. They don't realize it's murder."

"She does," said Yeo unexpectedly. "We told her that at once, we've been very careful."

"Then she's mad," said Campion. "You treated her with more consideration than you did me, by the way. How did this wretched woman die?"

"She was smothered," said Oates, before Yeo could speak. "She was given a strong opiate, and then when she was all out a soft cushion or pillow was held firmly over her face until she stopped breathing. Roder-Whyte did the P.M. and he's got it very clear as usual. The cause of death was suffocation and there was fluff and stuff in the larynx. Anybody might have done it."

"Anybody," echoed Yeo. "Not a lot of strength was required, you see, it just needed nerve."

Campion shivered. The homeliness of the method and the deliberation it required were very unpleasant. "When was this?" he enquired.

"According to Roder-Whyte, some time on Monday evening," said Oates. "About twenty-four hours before you saw her."

"You were on the water then, Mr. Campion." It was clear that Yeo intended the information to be reassuring and Campion grinned at him.

"Yes," he said, "that's right. It's the Coroner's pidgin and yours. Not mine, thank God. I catch my train now, don't I?"

"No." Oates spoke flatly, adding as he turned to Yeo: "I think it'll be enough if they just meet each other accidentally in the passage. Don't you? No need to make a set-out about it."

Mr. Campion objected vigorously, but without hope of success. Yeo spoke briefly to Inspector Holly on the house phone and soon afterwards they went downstairs.

The two witnesses met in the main corridor by an arrangement which had been made many times before. Campion and his two guardians turned the corner at the exact moment when Lady Carados and Chief Inspector Holly came out of a door at the far end of the alley. For some seconds the two parties advanced slowly towards each other. In spite of his discomfort, Campion was curious to see Lady Carados. He was not sure when it was that she first noticed him, afterwards he was inclined to think that recognition must have been instantaneous: She came on briskly, her carriage splendid and her head, which was still lovely, held high so that they could see her smile. It was a gracious smile, happily self-confident; the smile of a woman who knew she was at her best, there was nothing even brave about it, she looked as if she had had a satisfactory interview with a properly attentive listener.

At first Campion thought she was going to pass him without a sign, but as they neared each other she met his eyes and stopped immediately.

"Oh, it's Mr. Campion, isn't it?" she said. "My dear man, I am so glad to see you here. Now you can bear out everything I've been saying."

The tone was not quite casual, and he was not sure it did not contain a note of command. It was the last line he expected her to take and it knocked the breath out of him. He stared at her anxiously, but if she noticed the appeal she did not respond. Her smile was still friendly and contented as she passed on with Holly, tall and immaculate, striding behind her.

"That's that," said Oates, as they returned to the Superintendent's room. Yeo shut the door.

"She's got something like a nerve. I could admire a woman like that, you know. Unless...?" He paused, and glanced at the other policeman.

Mr. Campion considered them both with interest. Yeo, he noticed, was sweating a little.

"It's a possibility, of course," said the Superintendent, "but in view of everything--everything, Mr. Oates, I can't believe it."

The Chief returned to the bewildered Campion. "Just sit down for a moment," he said. "I want you to answer one or two questions very carefully. In your story you do not mention that you telephoned the police last night to report the discovery of the body, yet you did telephone them, didn't you?"

Mr. Campion was unprepared for this inquisitorial approach and he looked at his friend in amazement. Once again it occurred to him that something very much more than an enquiry into an ordinary murder was afoot. Clearly Oates and Yeo had some secret which they were not prepared to share at the moment.

"I did not phone at all, I went to catch my train," he said.

"Now, think, Campion." Oates was persuasive. "It was a thing you ought to have done, a thing you'd do almost instinctively. Someone phoned a local police station last night and he gave your name. That was what put us on to the whole thing. Are you sure it was not you?"

Mr. Campion became slightly amused. "I'm sorry," he said, "I thought you could do your own dirty work; I had a train to catch."

"There you are, you see." Oates persisted in his new, slightly unconvincing manner. "You're obsessed by that train. Tell me, how do you think we knew you were ever at your flat yesterday?"

"You saw it in the old police crystal," said Campion, whose sense of humour was failing him. "I don't know. Spies everywhere, I suppose."

"No. This is very important. How do you think we knew?"

"Have you forgotten little Acres, Mr. Campion?" murmured Yeo, sounding as though he thought he was cheating.

"Little Acres?" Campion was becoming annoyed and his eyes narrowed. Oates was looking at him with incomprehensible coldness.

"You've forgotten," he said. "You've forgotten you spoke to a plain-clothes man on Victoria Station yesterday. You told him where you were going. Can you remember anything about it?"

Mr. Campion began to understand, and for a moment he was very angry indeed. It was a rare emotion with him, and he kept silent. Oates went on.

"Probably you can't. It makes all the difference, Campion. I've never believed you've ever quite recovered from that business at the beginning of the war. You were working for a week in a state of amnesia. Oh, I know the Foreign Office is very pleased with your work abroad, but to my mind that other case did you a permanent injury. You do see what I'm driving at?"

The suggestion was so completely unfounded and absurd that Mr. Campion was temporarily silenced. It was true that on the last occasion on which he and Oates had worked together he had, for a short period, lost his memory, but over four years' gruelling work had not provoked a return of the trouble. It occurred to him very forcibly that something very odd indeed must be up to make Oates take this line. He smiled.

"Victoria was like a cup final," he said. "As I fought my way out I did see a little prehensile snout with a gingery quiff above it. A piping voice hailed me and asked me where I was going, and I told him home to wash. Then the waves of blue and khaki carried him away. I do admit I forgot the incident. The snouty redhead is a plain-clothes man called Acres, I take it."

Oates remained suspiciously obstinate. "All the same..." he began.

"All the same," agreed Mr. Campion firmly, "if you are hoping to infer that I can't tell the difference between Johnny, Marquess of Carados, and Peter Onyer, and might even when drunk, drowned, or in a coma confuse Eve Snow with Gwenda Onyer, you're just unlucky. Don't be silly, old boy. You can't muck about with the facts, I saw them."

"I don't know," said Oates desperately. "I don't know. The mind plays tricks. I've never felt the same myself since that business four years ago. I was unconscious for a week and you were out on your feet for three or more. It's no good, Campion, we can't afford to take your unsupported word for it at this juncture. I mean," he added awkwardly, "we don't want to, just at the moment."

The younger man got up with care.

"You're right. I shall go away and nurse myself," he said. "This is a job for somebody else. I can have my luggage, I suppose?"

"No, I don't want you to do that." Oates was still speaking very carefully. "I don't want you to leave London for a day or two. You can get at these people much more easily than we can."

Mr. Campion's smile became genuinely amused. "Scotland Yard employs mental defective," he suggested.

"Scotland Yard holds material witness, if not accessory after the fact," said Oates. "I tell you frankly, if this is what I think it is, it's a most unpleasant, difficult incident in one of the most extraordinary crimes I've yet met, and if this good lady is lying, as you suggest, then it's going to be very awkward."

"I think she's lying, and I think I know why," said Campion carefully. "She's lying because she doesn't know it's serious."

"She was told," Yeo repeated.

"Yes, I know. But even so, it hasn't registered. This is a woman who is absolutely sound and wide-awake in her own sphere, but murder is outside that sphere. She's never come up against anything remotely like it."

Oates sniffed. "She's got a lot of nerve and she admits moving the body. If she's lied as well, I don't see why she shouldn't have done the whole thing."

"Nor do I," agreed Campion, "except that I don't see why. Also I don't see how she could possibly have arranged my kidnapping. I don't see the point of that, either, unless she had some good reason for not making her statement before this morning, and in that case who phoned the police last night?"

"Why should your kidnapping have anything to do with the case at all?" enquired Oates. "As I see it that was something entirely fortuitous."

"That's what I think," put in Yeo, looking up. "That incident must be something separate. That's revenge; someone who had a grudge against Mr. Campion was lying in wait for him." He cocked an eye at Campion. "You don't think so?" he suggested.

The tall, thin figure by the chair shrugged his shoulders. "Not a very good revenge," he observed mildly. "Why should anyone carry a man off to one garage, put him out, and then carry him off to another where he leaves him after strewing his belongings all over the place? He irritates him possibly, but he doesn't do him much harm."

"All the same, it doesn't seem reasonable to me that the Carados Square lot could have had anything to do with it," Yeo persisted, "and they're the people in whom we are primarily interested. They're all being interviewed, of course. The first thing is to make certain where the killing took place, and if they are all going to lie like troopers, that isn't going to be so simple with Lugg out of the way."

Mr. Campion wheeled round. "Lugg out of the way?" he enquired.

"Yes, I'm afraid so." Yeo was apologetic. "He seems to have taken the ambulance back to the depot last night, fed his pig, and then vanished. We shall pull him in eventually, of course, but meanwhile there's just the two conflicting statements, yours and Lady Carados's."

"Here, Campion, where are you going?" Oates demanded.

Mr. Campion, who was already in the passage, put his head round the door again. "To find him," he said, "you didn't tell me it was serious."

He came out into the watery sunlight in evil mood. He was dirty and stiff from his night's adventure, exasperated with Oates for what appeared to be an easy if ingenious temporary way out of an admittedly awkward position, and genuinely alarmed for Lugg. He turned out of the gateway, and was walking along considering his next move when an elegant khaki-clad figure dropped into step at his side. He looked round to find Peter Onyer's narrow, dark eyes on a level with his own. Campion was not pleased to see him; not that he had any aversion to the man himself whom he knew but slightly, but he had no desire to find himself running with both hare and hounds. He had experienced that nightmare before.

"I take it you've been waiting for me?" he said acidly.

"Oh, not very long." It was typical of Onyer to assume an apology. "I came down with Edna Carados and a lad from the Home Office. They've gone back now with an Inspector. She said you were here, though, so I thought I'd wait and collect you."

"Decent of you," said Campion.

"Not at all. I wanted to see you." He lowered his sleek, handsome head a little. "It's a most unfortunate business; Edna's so impulsive, she's quite old, too. She doesn't understand what she can or can't do."

"She can't get away with murder," said Campion brutally, "if she's a hundred and two. She must know that."

"Murder?" Onyer stopped in his tracks, pulling Campion round to face him. There was no colour in his cheeks, and his graceful elegance dropped from him like a garment leaving the essential, intelligent core of the man exposed. It might have been the discovery that a guilty secret had been uncovered, but Campion was inclined to diagnose straight astonishment.

"Was that woman Moppet...? I mean, do the police suggest...? Good God, how did she die?"

Mr. Campion told him. He whistled, and as they walked on together, made a very extraordinary remark.

"I knew there would be hell to pay over this wedding," he said, adding presently, and as if he were thinking of something else, "women do do such incredible things, don't they? I think we'd better go along there at once, Campion. Do you mind?"