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13: Talking About It

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Author Topic: 13: Talking About It  (Read 4 times)
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« on: November 09, 2023, 11:28:20 am »

“THIS FELLOW,” observed Mallett to Jellaby, as he entered the latter’s office next morning, “really had the most astonishing luck.”

Jellaby looked up from his desk, on which were laid the first fruits of his inquiry, a set of photographs of the scene of Miss Danville’s death, and another of the body of the lady herself.

“What fellow?” he asked absently.

“Our murderer, of course---or murderess, as the case may be.”

Jellaby grunted and resumed his study of the photographs.

“Ought to be a close up of the window,” he murmured. Then he looked up suddenly. “Did you say our murderer?” he asked.

Mallett nodded. “Ours now,” he said. “It came through to my digs just after breakfast. Your chief must have been pretty emphatic on the telephone yesterday evening to get it arranged so quickly. I am to be in charge of this investigation, subject to my continuing to do what I can in the Blenkinsop affair---which is pretty well cleaned up, anyway---and the enquiry into the leakage of information from the Control. That’s an affair I have very small hopes of now, unless this one throws some light on it. So there we are. I hope you have no objections.”

“Objections? No. Glad to have you. Don’t care for Yard men butting in as a rule, but this is different. Not a local business, properly speaking. All foreigners involved. You’ll understand ’em better than I should.”

“I’m glad you feel that way about it,” said Mallett. “I hoped you would.”

“Matter of fact,” Jellaby grunted, rather as though a confession was being forced from him, “matter of fact, I asked for you myself. Well,” he went on hastily, before Mallett could thank him, “you’ll want to see what I’ve got so far. Haven’t had much time since our talk with Mr. Pettigrew yesterday, but such as it is, it’s here.”

Mallett drew up a chair to the desk and read with concentrated attention the papers which Jellaby placed before him. At the end of ten minutes, he pushed his chair back and lighted his pipe.

“Well, you’ve cleared the ground a bit, Mr. Jellaby,” he observed. “Let’s summarize what you’ve got here. Statement from Establishment Officer---pure routine, and nothing of any value in it. Statement from her brother: his sister had no enemies that he knew of; she had suffered from melancholia in the past, but had been apparently cured several years ago; no suicidal tendencies, so far as he is aware. Well, this isn’t a case of suicide, we can bank on that. It doesn’t look like a self-inflicted wound anyhow, and apart from that, if she killed herself, how did she manage to dispose of the weapon? Statement from pathologist: The wound is certainly consistent with the use of a paper piercer of the type now produced and shewn to him. That’s one up to Mr. Pettigrew, anyway. Statement from Miss Hawker, assistant principal in charge of the Stationery Department at the Control: Eighty-seven paper piercers (known colloquially as ‘bodkins’) large, have been issued for the use of the officers of the Pin Control; these are distributed according to demand among all the sections in the office; number now accounted for, sixty-eight; it is against the rules to remove these for personal use, but she fears it is done. It doesn’t look as if we shall get very far in that direction. Now if Miss Clarke had been in charge of the Stationery Department, I don’t expect a single paper clip could have been moved from one room to another without a requisition form in triplicate. What’s next? This is interesting---Statement from John Peabody, messenger: Further to previous statement, he adds that, according to usual routine, after depositing his papers on the shelf and before proceeding upstairs to his tea, he went into the pantry, filled the kettle and lighted the gas-ring; the room was then empty, and he observed nothing and nobody suspicious. Lastly, Statement from Elizabeth Evans, landlady of the Fernlea Residential Club: At the request of Detective-Inspector Jellaby, she now hands to him all books, papers and documents in the room lately occupied by Honoria Danville, deceased---which have not been disturbed in any way since her death. What about the books and documents, Mr. Jellaby. Is there anything of interest there?”

“Nothing at all. They’re all here if you want to look at ’em, but you’d be wasting your time. Very few letters, and they were of no consequence. There was a fattish note-book, labelled ‘Journal’, which I had hopes of. But there was nothing in it but prayers and so forth. I didn’t like it at all, I can tell you, though I thought it my duty to read every word of it. Nasty stuff. Very high, she must have been. Very high indeed---almost Romish. I’m a Free Churchman myself.”

“Well,” said Mallett, “you’ve certainly wasted no time up to date. But I’m afraid we’re going to have our work cut out to make up the three days we lost before we ever began.”

“That’s true. As you said just now, this chap’s had the devil’s own luck. Could hardly have relied on getting away with a start like that, could he?”

“No,” Mallett agreed. “And I think that’s rather an important point. Because, assuming, as he must have assumed, that the murder was going to be discovered as soon as anyone went into the room, he was obviously taking a tremendous risk. At the most, he could only count on a few minutes to make his getaway. The fact that there was only one wound, which he couldn’t have been sure would be fatal, shows what a hurry he was in. Every murder is a risk, of course, but anyone planning in advance to dispose of Miss Danville could, I should have thought, have devised something with a greater margin of safety. Why was it done this way, then?”

“Unpremeditated attack, perhaps,” suggested Jellaby. “Sudden quarrel and a flare up---like nine murders out of ten are, anyhow.”

“A sudden quarrel with a deafish woman in a room with all that row going on from the kettle? It doesn’t seem very plausible to me.”

“Sudden emergency, then.”

“That’s what I’m looking for. I think it looks as though he (and in ‘he’ I’m always including ‘she’, of course) took this quick opportunity to get rid of Miss Danville because he had to. In other words, something had happened, or was just going to happen, which made it urgently necessary for him to kill her.”

“Such as----?”

Mallett left the question in the air while he knocked out his pipe.

“One could imagine half a dozen situations in which the removal of someone might become suddenly necessary,” he said, “but I don’t think there’s much to be gained by starting from that point. I’d rather begin at the other end---which was where the murderer began, after all, with Miss Danville. What are the salient facts about her, and what new development, if any, had recently occurred with regard to those facts? If we examine those, we may get a clue to what was in our fellow’s mind.”

“First salient fact,” said Jellaby. “She was mad.”

“Yes, that certainly leaps to the eye as the most important thing about her. Not that she was mad in the ordinary sense of the term---I don’t suppose any doctor would have certified her. But she was unquestionably abnormal in some ways.”

“She had been in an asylum, hadn’t she?”

“Yes, but as a voluntary patient only. I checked that up when I was looking into the antecedents of the Fernlea crowd. Even the Government in war-time would hardly have given her a job if she had actually been certified insane. Well, that’s our first point, I don’t know that it carries us much further. As Mr. Wood seemed to think, madness may be a good reason for committing a murder, but I don’t see that it provides a motive for anyone else to kill the mad person---unless the insanity is of a very different type to Miss Danville’s.

“But it is interesting to note that there had been a recent development affecting her mental condition, or rather two, one on top of the other. Firstly, the night before her death she had had what seems to have been a bad, though temporary, mental breakdown, and secondly, as a result of that, she had published the fact of having been in a mental hospital.”

“Second salient fact,” Jellaby went on, “and the only other one that I can see is---a lot of people disliked her.”

“M’m,” said Mallett doubtfully, “I’d rather prefer to split that one up. It’s a bit broad for our purposes. Besides, it’s the facts behind the dislike I want to look at. Shortly, I can see only two of substance. One is that she wanted Miss Brown to marry this man Phillips.”

“Nothing occurred lately to affect that,” said Jellaby.

“No, unless you count the fact that Miss Clarke and Mrs. Hopkinson had publicly quarrelled with her the night before on that subject.”

“Miss Brown had just come back from London when the murder took place,” Jellaby observed. “Could that possibly affect the position in any way?”

“Until we interview Miss Brown we can’t answer that one,” Mallett replied. “It is a possibility, of course, but it doesn’t seem likely.”

“The other cause for dislike,” said Jellaby, “was her objection to the Plot, or whatever they called the silly thing.”

“Exactly. And the recent development affecting that fact was that Rickaby disclosed that she had been cast for the part of the villain in the Plot.”

Jellaby, while Mallett was speaking, had been writing busily.

“I believe in making notes,” he explained. “Helps to clear the mind sometimes. Care to see them?”

Mallett read the notes, which were as follows:

Miss Danville

Salient Facts:

1. Madness. Developments: (a) Breakdown, (b) Asylum revelation.

2. Encouraged Miss B.’s affair with P. Developments: (a) Attack from Miss C. and Mrs. H. (b) Miss B.’s return from London (?).

3. Disapproval of Plot. Development: Told of part in ditto by R.

“It’s certainly terse enough,” said Mallett, handing it back with a smile.

“All there, isn’t it? I hate wordy stuff. Only fogs the mind.”

“Yes, it’s all there. And you will note that every person who Mr. Pettigrew mentioned as having been near the scene of the crime at the time figures in it in one way or another.”

“Except Mr. Pettigrew himself.”

“Yes, there is that one exception. And now that it’s down in black and white, what does it suggest to you?”

“Nothing at all,” said Jellaby promptly.

Mallett took the sheet of notes again and stared at them, tugging his moustache the while.

“She was mad,” he said to himself. “Everyone suspected that, it seems. But she had a breakdown on Thursday night and she gave away that she had been in an asylum. Therefore she had to be killed, in a hurry, on Friday. It doesn’t make sense to me. Why had it suddenly become necessary to kill her because she made a scene in the Fernlea lounge or because she had let out her past history? Try again. She encouraged Miss Brown to accept Phillips. That, too, seems to have been notorious for a long time past. But Mrs. Hopkinson took it into her head to blow her up publicly for it. Therefore---No, that’s plain nonsense. Nobody was ever killed for having been abused in public. But, also, Miss Brown had just come back from London. I don’t see that can be of any importance. Suppose while she was away Miss Brown had decided not to have him after all---as the result of having found out something against him, let us say. . . . Well, she would hardly go and kill her simply for giving her bad advice. And in that case, nobody else would have any motive left, if stopping the marriage was a motive. . . . I’m afraid I’m being very wordy,” Mallett added apologetically.

“That’s all right,” Jellaby assured him. “You’re not fogging my mind---so far.”

“Good. Well, suppose Miss Brown came back meaning to marry Phillips, she wouldn’t have wanted to kill her main supporter, so we can count her out on that score. But how does it provide any sort of motive for anyone else? You don’t prevent a marriage by eliminating the bridesmaid.”

“I don’t think much of Salient Fact No. 2.”

“Is No. 3 any better? She disapproved of the Plot, and had shewn her disapproval ever since it was first suggested. But she had just been told by one of the plotters that she had a part in the story, and that her function in it was to murder the Controller. This, coming on top of her scene with Mrs. Hopkinson sent her temporarily off her head. Therefore, it was necessary to remove her---why? Because she might have put a stop to this parlour game in some way? Or out of pique, because she wouldn’t play?”

Jellaby shook his head.

“Look here, Mr. Mallett,” he said, “it’s about time I reminded you that we’re investigating the murder of a mad person and not looking for a mad murderer.”

“At least, we’re not looking for a murderer who is obviously mad. And, so far as can be seen at present, none of the facts that we know about Miss Danville would provide any sane person with a motive for killing her, let alone a motive for killing her in a great hurry and at great risk.”

“I could have told you that before we started.”

Mallett laughed. “I know what’s in your mind,” he said, “but all the same, I don’t think we’ve wasted our time this morning. For one thing, we’ve assembled a highly unusual set of facts, and I think it’s asking too much of coincidence to believe that they could all be present simultaneously and have nothing whatever to do with the fourth and most unusual fact of all, which is her murder. And, if we’re right in thinking that the murder happened when it did because something had suddenly made it a matter of urgent necessity to the murderer, it is significant that in each case there had been a fresh development as recently as the preceding evening.”

“I’d like to find one that had happened as recently as Friday morning,” said Jellaby.

“Why so?”

“Don’t you remember what Mr. Pettigrew said? Miss Danville was trying to tell him something at lunch that day, and he wouldn’t listen. He thought at the time it was only an explanation of her having come over queer the night before, but now he’s sure it was something fresh.”

“He may be wrong there, of course. He is probably wrong about what she wanted to tell him the preceding night. There were two distinct stages, remember. First, Mr. Pettigrew persuaded her that she need not believe Mrs. Hopkinson’s slanders about Phillips. She was so relieved that she started to cry and had to leave the room. When she came back, she was starting to make some sort of explanation, but Rickaby interrupted her. I don’t see why she should have wished to tell him about her having been in an asylum before her final breakdown. Afterwards, she was in no shape to tell him anything. In any case, if something new did happen on Friday morning, we have no clue to it yet.”

“I was wondering,” Jellaby said. “This Black Market business of yours. Could she have found out something, and wanted to tell him about it?”

“Hardly, I should think. It couldn’t be the purloining of my report, anyway, because that couldn’t have been till the afternoon. We’ll check up her movements during that morning, so far as possible, to see if she had any opportunities of picking up information of that kind.”

“I think you raised the point earlier on,” Jellaby continued. “Your report was lifted just about the time Miss Danville was killed. Can’t tie it down to minutes, of course, but near enough the same time. Isn’t it likely the same man did both? She caught him in the act. He killed her to stop her squealing. Nearest thing to a motive we’ve got so far, anyhow.”

“It looks feasible certainly, but the more I think about it, the less I like it. After all, the very last person to take a trespasser in the corridor by surprise would be Miss Danville. Her coming was always advertised beforehand by a steam whistle, which gave anyone ample time to get away. Besides, even if you can get over that difficulty, where did the bodkin come from, unless the murderer brought it with him, intending to use it? It’s not the kind of thing you would normally want to walk about with, I should imagine. I think whoever killed Miss Danville went to the pantry for that specific purpose, and no other.”

The two men were silent for a moment or two. Inspector Jellaby drummed his knuckles on the edge of the desk, a habit of his when vexed or puzzled. Finally he said, somewhat tartly:

“It’s getting clear to me that we’re not going to make an arrest in this case by sitting here and talking about it!”

“I know,” said Mallett mildly. “We’ve got to get busy now and take statements from everybody who can possibly throw any light on the affair. But before you start a search, it’s a good thing to have some idea of what you’re looking for. I think we know now what it is.”

“Do we? What is it, then?”

“A link. I want to find the link between one or more of our salient facts and this crime. On the face of it, there is no possible connection between any of them and Miss Danville’s death, but I’m convinced there is one somewhere.”

“And what makes you say that?”

“Simply that if there is no connection, the last two days of Miss Danville’s life were just an incoherent jumble. I don’t think things happen like that. There’s a pattern somewhere if we could only find the key to it.”

Jellaby sniffed.

“I was going to begin taking statements at the Control this morning,” he said. “You’re in charge now, of course, but----”

“We’ll go at once,” said Mallett.

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