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Our Library => John Bude - Death on the Riviera (1952) => Topic started by: Admin on April 19, 2023, 09:04:12 am



Title: 22: Motive for Murder
Post by: Admin on April 19, 2023, 09:04:12 am
BACK at the Hotel Louis, Meredith learnt from Strang that his immediate superior, Chief Inspector Cox, had come through on the telephone from the Yard. Would Meredith ring back the moment he came in?

“Any idea what it’s about, Sergeant?”

“Yes, sir. It’s that information you wanted about Dillon. The Chief’s evidently been in touch with the Hawland Aircraft people.”

“Good,” nodded Meredith. “I’ll get on to him at once.”

For a long-distance call it was remarkable how quickly Meredith got through to Whitehall 1212. In less than ten minutes the Chief Inspector’s familiar bark was winging to him over the wires. According to Meredith’s request he’d made contact with the head of the research department of the Hawland Aircraft Company and picked up quite a lot of information about Dillon. If the Inspector had his notebook at the “ready” then he’d read the details of his report at dictation speed. Five minutes sufficed for Meredith to scribble down in his own private shorthand the salient points of Cox’s streamlined statement, and, after the exchange of a few pleasantries, Meredith rang off and went up to his room.

There, still profoundly depressed by the result of his visit to the Col de Braus, he settled down to study the Chief’s report. Apart from a brief assessment of Dillon’s character and abilities, it dealt mainly with his recent work in the firm’s laboratories, covering both the technical and scientific aspects of his particular line of research---i.e. aerodynamics. It appeared that Dillon, although still a comparatively young man, had already displayed considerable originality in his approach to the subject. He was rated one of their most reliable and promising young scientists. So much for that.

His employers were able to sketch in only the barest outline of his private life---the sort of details that are normally incorporated in the official form filled in by an employee on entering a firm---education, war service, domestic background and so forth. His next-of-kin, however, was given as Charles K. Dillon, Mullion House, Sealand Road, Douglas, Isle of Man.

From a perusal of this somewhat meagre report, Meredith turned once more to the rest of the data connected with the case. For over an hour he sat at the table, struggling to isolate from the mass of irrelevant evidence the clues that really mattered. Then, coming to a sudden decision, he reached for his hat and set off through the town towards the Commissariat de Police.

There, after a word with Gibaud, he learnt that the results of the tests had come in from Lyons and that the stains on the Vedette were unquestionably those of human blood. From Gibaud’s office he crossed to the mortuary where he made another prolonged and detailed examination of the body. It was here, he felt, that the real problem lay. Despite all the evidence to the contrary he was still plagued by a persistent doubt that gnawed away at the back of his mind. Was this Dillon’s body or Shenton’s? On the face of it there was only one logical answer to the query. Dillon was seen by a disinterested witness (Hamel) to plunge over a sheer three-hundred-foot drop, so, ipso facto, the body below the crag must have been that of Dillon. But for the sake of argument suppose he persuaded himself that it was Shenton’s. Who would be best placed to identify his remains? First and foremost Dillon’s wife and then, presumably, Mrs. Hedderwick. Mightn’t it be essential after all to drag these two unfortunates down to the mortuary in the hope that this nagging doubt could be scotched once for all?

Meredith had just arrived at this conclusion when he noticed a faint scar running obliquely across the inner side of the left forearm. It was, perhaps, some two inches long—a thin white cicatrice visible only because the surrounding skin had been tanned by the sun. It was certainly a long-standing blemish, but wasn’t it possible that either Kitty Dillon or Mrs. Hedderwick had noticed the scar? And if they had . . . ? Meredith’s depression lifted a little. Well, here at any rate was a line of enquiry that was well worth following up. If either of the women recalled the scar then he’d be in a position to identify the body without any shadow of doubt.

---

Looking back on the remainder of that memorable day, Meredith always marvelled that an investigation which had seemingly come to a dead-end could be transformed in so brief a time to a swift and progressive elucidation of the many problems confronting him.

It was Mrs. Hedderwick who supplied the initial impetus---a distracted, hysterical Mrs. Hedderwick, frantic with worry and apprehension, whom Meredith was forced to interview in bed. As she lolled back limply against the pillows, drained of all her vigour and self-assurance, it was hard to believe that this was the same woman who had swept into the Chinese room with such devastating authority only a few days back. Meredith found her ready, even eager, to talk---clearly anxious to do all in her power to put an end to the suspense that was driving her out of her senses. It was obvious that Dillon’s suicide, though naturally upsetting, hadn’t deeply affected her. It was the ominous and inexplicable disappearance of Tony Shenton that had brought about her collapse. And about Tony she was prepared to talk freely, lengthily and, above all, with startling and revealing frankness.

When eventually Meredith left the villa, he set off through the town like a man in a daze. For although Mrs. Hedderwick’s surprising evidence had finally disposed of one important question, it had resurrected a score of equally vital problems that he’d already endeavoured to solve without a glimmer of success. Now, like a hen scratching over the same well-worn patch of earth, Meredith began for the umpteenth time to analyse the evidence in hand.

Ignoring the fact that it was well past his customary dinner hour, the Inspector lit his pipe and, with long easy strides, set off on a protracted walk along the sea-front. And it was then that he was visited by one of those revealing flashes of deduction that spring, not from any inspirational source, but from a clearly realized and logical appreciation of the facts. And, as was so often the case, the moment he grasped the full significance of this infinitesimal scrap of evidence all the other mysteries surrounding the case were abruptly clarified. Now the sequence of events that must have occurred on Thursday night became obvious. He realized with an inaudible whoop of triumph that, apart from following up a few conclusive lines of enquiry, the problem of Shenton’s disappearance was virtually solved! By midday tomorrow he should be in a position to put in a full and final report to his good friend Blampignon.

His immediate concern, however, was to get in touch with Gibaud and see that the official machinery for the apprehension of the murderer was immediately set in motion. With any luck the criminal was still at large “somewhere in France”. And since a detailed description of the wanted man could be broadcast to every policeman and gendarme in the country there was reasonable hope that within the next twenty-four hours an arrest would follow!

---

It was precisely twelve o’clock the following day when Blampignon, Gibaud, Strang and Meredith gathered for their last conference in the local Inspector’s office. Although Meredith had been forced to reveal to Gibaud the identity of the murderer, he’d deliberately kept Blampignon in the dark concerning the ultimate phase of his investigations. Blampignon, as a matter of fact, had been out all night on a burglary case at Fréjus and had driven over direct from Fréjus to Menton. He was, therefore, unaware that a general call had already been sent out for the arrest of the wanted man. In fact he’d no inkling of the real significance of Meredith’s urgent request for this meeting. Even Gibaud was still ignorant of the details that had finally led Meredith to a solution of the puzzle.

Eh bien,” demanded Blampignon once the little group was comfortably settled about Gibaud’s imposing desk, “what is the reason you call me over here? You say, mon ami, it is necessary we should talk together at once. You have made, perhaps, some progress in your investigations?”

Meredith exchanged a twinkling glance with Gibaud and said with a malicious little smile:

“Well, it all depends on what you call progress, my dear fellow. I’ve solved the mystery surrounding Shenton’s disappearance, if that’s what you mean.”

Qu’est-ce-que vous dites?” thundered Blampignon, springing to his feet and staring at Meredith dumbfounded. “You know what happen to Shenton? You know where he is?”

“I do,” nodded Meredith.

“Then, mon Dieu!” pleaded Blampignon, almost tearful in his impatience, “why do you not tell me? Where is he---this M’sieur Shenton? Where can we discover him?”

Meredith smiled.

“He’s not far away.”

“Not far away?” gasped Blampignon. “Then where? Where?”

Underlining the effect of his sensational announcement with deliberate under-emphasis, Meredith said: “Stretched out stiff and cold on the mortuary slab only a stone’s throw from this window!”

“Shenton!” cried Blampignon incredulously. “So the body you find at the foot of the crag was not that of Dillon? But how can this be, mon vieux? How did you come to make the identification?”

“An almost invisible scar on the inner side of his left forearm,” explained Meredith. “It was Mrs. Hedderwick who finally settled the point. She recalled the scar at once. She actually remembered the occasion when Shenton had cut his arm on a sliver of broken glass.”

“You mean it happened recently?” asked Gibaud.

“Recently?” Meredith laughed. “According to Mrs. Hedderwick’s calculations it must have happened when Shenton was just seven years old. He shoved his arm through a cucumber-frame.”

“But . . . but how should she know this?” asked Blampignon, dropping again into his chair. “I did not think that Madame Hedderwick----”

“Neither did I,” cut in Meredith incisively. “I was under the impression that they’d only known each other for the last three or four years. Well, that’s just one of the many illusions under which I’ve been suffering. Mrs. Hedderwick knew all about the accident for the very simple reason that she was there at the time.”

“But how? . . . why?” demanded Gibaud.

Tony Shenton happens to be her son.

“Her son!” gasped Blampignon.

“By her first marriage. Obvious now, isn’t it, why she was so concerned about his sudden disappearance? A very natural maternal solicitude for the welfare of an only child, eh? When she married Hedderwick, Tony was about eighteen and since he and his step-father hated each other on sight, Tony kept out of his way. Well, to cut a long story short, Shenton got into trouble with the police. You may recall that, thinking his face familiar, I got in touch with the Yard to see if they knew anything about his past record. You recollect their reply. A six months’ sentence in 1939 for theft. Charged under the name of Anthony Shenton, though this was suspected to be an alias.”

“And it was?” asked Gibaud.

“Yes---about the one decent thing the lad ever did, I imagine. His mother’s name by her first marriage was Fenman-Smith. An easy name to remember. So when he was pulled in, he gave his name as Shenton---a moniker that he’s stuck to ever since.”

“But look here, sir,” put in Freddy. “Didn’t Miss Westmacott realize that Shenton was her aunt’s son by her first marriage?”

“Not a bit of it. Mrs. Hedderwick led her to believe that the boy had been killed in the War. He and the girl had never met, so when he turned up at the villa as Tony Shenton . . . you follow?”

Blampignon burst out explosively:

“Yes, yes . . . this is all very interesting, mon ami. But it is really of little account. What I demand to know is----”

“Who murdered Shenton, eh? Well, that’s obvious, isn’t it?”

“You mean it was Dillon?”

“Of course,” nodded Meredith. “Who else?”

“And the motive?” put in Gibaud.

“An exceptionally strong one as you probably realize. Dillon was desperately in love with his wife. Shenton not only came between them and whisked the girl down here to his mother’s villa, but got the poor kid into trouble. I mean, of course, this baby that’s on the way. Dillon realized that Kitty was infatuated with Shenton, that he was the father of the child. Much as he loathed Shenton, even then, I reckon, Dillon would have done nothing really violent. His one thought was for his wife. If Shenton was prepared to marry Kitty then Dillon was prepared to agree to a divorce. The whole point was that Shenton refused to marry the girl. And that, so to speak, put the lid on it. From that moment onward Dillon settled down with malice, aforethought, to plan what might well have been the perfect murder. And if you ask me he all but succeeded in pulling it off.”

“But what first made you suspect that Dillon was the wanted man?” asked Blampignon eagerly. “How did you arrive at the modus operandi of the murder? What made you first to think, mon ami, that the body below the Col de Braus might not be that of Dillon?”

“Whoa! Whoa! One at a time, my dear chap,” chuckled Meredith. “Suppose I deal with your last question first. Let me put it this way. If Dillon had been short and dark there would have been no question as to the identity of the body, even if the features were completely unrecognizable. The point is Dillon and Shenton were remarkably alike in their general physical appearance. Both broad, well-built fellows with fair hair and blue eyes. And with facial recognition impossible, there naturally entered in some element of doubt. Don’t forget, until Hamel put in his report, there was only one witness who actually saw Dillon go over that precipice---namely his wife. And it struck me at once that the couple might have collaborated in Shenton’s murder---the girl, of course, having suffered a sudden change of heart after Shenton’s refusal to marry her. And that, more or less, explains how I first came to suspect that it might be Shenton’s body at the foot of the crag.” Meredith paused for a moment to draw frantically at his expiring pipe; then went on: “Now for your first question. Why did I place Dillon at the top of my suspect list? Answer---A---because he had a thumping good motive for the murder. B---because he was the last person to see Shenton alive.”

“But how do you know that?”

“This somewhat unexpected and secretive meeting on Thursday night at the Bar St. Raphael,” pointed out Meredith. “You see, from the moment Shenton walked out of the place he wasn’t seen again until we discovered his corpse under the Col de Braus. Though at the time, of course, we didn’t realize it was his body.”

“But wait a minute!” sang out Gibaud. “What about M’sieur Picard? He saw him sitting in the parked Vedette later that evening on the corner of the Avenue St. Michel.”

“But did he?” asked Meredith bluntly. “Admittedly he claimed there was somebody sitting in the car, but he didn’t actually identify that ‘somebody’ as Shenton. In fact, my dear chap, Picard wasn’t even certain that the car was occupied.”

Eh bien,” put in Blampignon, “do you have the answer to this little question yourself?”

“I have it now,” said Meredith promptly. “As a matter of fact, Picard wasn’t deceived. The car was occupied and the man sitting inside it was Shenton.”

“And it was Shenton, of course, who drove down through Monti about 2 a.m. on Friday morning,” observed Gibaud.

Meredith winked and said with tantalizing vagueness:

“Was it? I wonder . . .”

“Oh for heaven’s sake, man!” cried Gibaud. “You might----”

“No, no,” broke in Blampignon. “Let him tell his story in his own way. Let him amuse himself at our expense, mon cher Gibaud. All in good time, no doubt, he will satisfy our curiosity. Allow him to enjoy his little hour of triumph, even if, in my heart, I could choke the life out of him!”

Meredith grinned amiably.

“O.K. O.K. I’ll cut the cackle and come to the goose. The modus operandi, eh, gentlemen? That’s what’s got you guessing. Just as it had me guessing until I stumbled on the clue that suddenly clarified the whole mystery. But being an obstinate fellow with a perverse sense of humour, I’m going to leave this tit-bit to last. I’m going to start my reconstruction of the crime with Bill Dillon walking into the Bar St. Raphael about twenty to ten on Thursday night . . .”