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12: The Inquest and After

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Author Topic: 12: The Inquest and After  (Read 6 times)
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« on: November 09, 2023, 10:57:44 am »

MALLETT LOOKED with an impassive face at the document which Miss Brown had laid on the table. Neither he nor Pettigrew said anything for a moment or two. Then he rose to his feet, rather wearily.

“Well,” he said, “it is what one might expect, isn’t it? Borrowed and returned. I’m only surprised it hasn’t got the usual Civil Service minute, ‘Seen, thank you’, at the end. I don’t suppose the messenger has the slightest idea where he picked it up, either. He just found it in someone’s tray along with a lot of other stuff and brought it along in the ordinary way. And if I hadn’t happened to come in this morning, there’d have been nothing whatever to show that it hadn’t come here straight from the Controller’s room.”

“It makes me wonder how many of my other files have taken the same trip,” said Pettigrew.

“I don’t suppose we shall ever know that. I blame myself for ever letting the report leave my hands, but it’s too late to think about that. Well, it all fits in, doesn’t it, Mr. Pettigrew? We’ve had a very interesting talk, anyway, and I shan’t forget what you have told me. I’ll see you at the inquest this afternoon.”

The inquest was sparsely attended. Besides Pettigrew, the only member of the Control who was present was the Establishment Officer, who presumably had come to ascertain where and by what means his establishment had been reduced by one. The local press was represented by an untidy young woman, from whose lack-lustre expression it was easy to see that no advance information of the morning’s discovery had been allowed to leak out. A jury of seven looked as wooden as juries do all the world over. Apart from these, there were not a dozen people in court, and nobody who had not noticed that at least half of them were plain clothes policemen would have guessed that the proceedings would be of the smallest interest.

A troubled looking middle-aged man with a black tie was the first witness. He proved to be Miss Danville’s brother and only near relation. He gave evidence of identifying his sister’s body in the hospital mortuary and disappeared from the witness-box in a matter of seconds. The untidy young woman jotted down a few words, tapped her pencil against her teeth and yawned. She was still yawning when the doctor whom Pettigrew remembered from Friday afternoon briefly described being called to the offices of the Pin Control and finding Miss Danville already dead. Then the county pathologist came into the box to detail the result of his post-mortem examination. It was couched in language of the severest technicality and it was an appreciable time before the reporter realized its purport. Then she began to scribble furiously.

In plain English, Miss Danville had died from a stab wound in the abdomen. The wound was very small and very deep. It had penetrated the renal artery and caused internal haemorrhage which might be expected to produce death in a matter of minutes. The weapon used was evidently long, rigid, thin and sharply pointed. It was certainly not a knife of the ordinary type. Rather, the pathologist suggested, a stiletto. The edges of the wound were not incised. It was a puncture wound, indicating that, apart from the sharp point, the instrument was cylindrical in shape. If he might hazard a guess---But the coroner was not encouraging guessing, and the witness passed on to an elaborate but irrelevant description of every other part of Miss Danville’s anatomy, none of which showed any particular signs of abnormality. Pettigrew, who knew nothing of medicine, was interested to note that her poor, muddled wits had apparently inhabited a physically unimpaired brain. There were, the pathologist concluded, no other traces of injury.

As Mallett had predicted, at this point the coroner formally adjourned the inquest. While he was explaining to the jury that their duties were for the time being at an end, Pettigrew sat in a daze. He had known in advance what the gist of the pathologist’s evidence would be, but none the less it had come as a shock to him. He tried to picture that small, deep punctured wound. “If I might hazard a guess,” he repeated to himself. It would have been interesting to know what the fellow was going to say. Not that it mattered. He could guess better for himself. He felt as if he had known it all along. What was it Edelman had said? “We have fixed everything, even to the weapon. . . . Known locally as bodkins.” All part of what Mrs. Hopkinson called “the giddy Plot”! And now in some nightmare fashion the plot had come alive, the silly farce turned itself into grim tragedy. For a moment he thought he was going to be sick. Then he came to himself and realized that everyone in court was standing up, and that Inspector Jellaby was beckoning him.

Pettigrew meekly followed him to the police-station. Mallett, who had occupied an inconspicuous seat at the back of the court, had preceded them and was already in Jellaby’s office when they arrived. Here also, he seemed determined to make himself as small as it was physically possible for him to do, and for the first part of the long interview that followed remained seated quietly in a corner, idly watching the smoke curling upwards from his pipe.

At Jellaby’s request, Pettigrew went through in detail all that he could remember of the events of Friday afternoon. It was little enough that he had to tell, and in retrospect he could think of nothing that could at the time have led him to suspect that Miss Danville’s death was a violent one.

“You saw nothing that might have been used as a weapon?” Jellaby asked.

“No. I wasn’t looking for anything, of course. But the room was small and pretty bare.”

“And since then there have been three days to clear it up in,” said Jellaby bitterly. “Still, it must have been a fairly unusual kind of instrument.”

“There are plenty of them about in the Control,” said Pettigrew. “I think my secretary has one.”

“What are you speaking about, sir?”

“Sharp, pointed instruments. Known locally as bodkins. They are used for piercing holes in bundles of papers for filing.”

“And why are you so certain that was what was used in this case?”

“This,” said Pettigrew wearily, “is going to take rather a lot of explaining.”

“Would it be connected with what was known as the Plot, sir?”

“Oh, you’ve heard about that, have you?”

“Mr. Mallett has given me a few notes of what you told him this morning, and perhaps it will save you some trouble if I just run through them with you now.”

He pulled from a drawer in his desk some closely written sheets of paper and from them read an amazingly accurate résumé of the conversation of the morning. Glancing across to Mallett, Pettigrew fancied that he could detect on that broad, good-humoured face a subdued glow of self-satisfaction as the recital proceeded. He had taken no notes of the interview and the exactitude of its reproduction was a sample of the phenomenal memory on which he prided himself.

“Well, sir,” said Jellaby as he finished reading, “does that statement cover your experiences since you have been at Marsett Bay, so far as this case is concerned?”

“Not altogether. You must remember that I was primarily concerned with the inquiry into the Blenkinsop affair, and all that that entails. Also, I hadn’t then heard the evidence at the inquest.”

“That brings us to what you were telling us just now, sir. Where do the bodkins come into it?”

Pettigrew repeated what he could remember of the conversation with Edelman that had haunted his mind ever since he had heard the pathologist’s evidence.

“I didn’t mention it to Inspector Mallett this morning,” he added. “I couldn’t see that it was relevant.”

“Doesn’t make sense,” said Jellaby shortly.

“I know,” said Pettigrew faintly. “It doesn’t make sense that Edelman should advertise to me in advance the means by which he intended to commit a murder. It doesn’t make sense that he should want to kill Miss Danville, anyway. I don’t say for a moment that he did. Yet I feel positive that whoever did it used that very weapon. You can ask the pathologist about that. But does anything in this case make sense? Why should anyone want to kill Miss Danville, of all people?”

Inspector Jellaby made no reply. His expression said plainly enough that he regarded it as his function to ask questions rather than to answer them.

“Is there anything else you can tell us, Mr. Pettigrew?” he went on.

“Only this. When I spoke to Miss Danville at lunch on the day that she died, I got the very clear impression that she was trying to tell me something.”

“You have told us that already, sir.”

“Yes, but what I want to make clear is this. The reason why I refused to listen to her---and I shall never forgive myself for it---was that I took it for granted that she was simply wanting to do what she had already tried to do the previous evening---explain her outburst at the Fernlea Club, which, of course, was simply part of her sad mental history. But looking back on it now, I feel sure that she really had something important to tell me. And if that is right, it must have been something that had happened or that she had got to know during that morning. It’s a point that might be worth following up.”

“I see,” said Jellaby doubtfully. He wrote down a few notes and then sat silent. The interview seemed to be at an end, or at all events at a standstill. Then Mallett took his pipe out of his mouth, cleared his throat and said in an almost deprecatory tone, “There are just one or two points that occur to me. For one thing, I am rather interested in this locked door. The door of the room where she was found, I mean. The messenger opened it, didn’t he?”

“Yes.”

“Was there usually a key in the lock of that door?”

“I’m afraid I have no idea.”

“We’ve all been assuming---at least, I have---that it had been locked from the outside. But could it have been done from within? What about the window? Was it open?”

“Certainly not wide open. I have a vague idea it wasn’t completely closed, but I can’t be sure.”

Mallett clicked his tongue against his teeth. “And all this happened three days ago, so now there’s no possible means of knowing. Now, another thing,” he went on. “Before the Thursday evening, did anybody at the Fernlea Club know that Miss Danville had been in a mental hospital?”

“So far as I can tell, no. It was common knowledge that she was somewhat abnormal in some ways. Wood was the first person to spot it, I remember. I suppose his training as a novelist would make him exceptionally alive to that sort of thing. But I think I can say the fact came as a surprise to everyone in the room.”

“And everyone in the room at the time was on more or less bad terms with her?”

“I should hardly put it that way, Inspector, because that implies some reciprocity, and you couldn’t say that Miss Danville ever shewed up to that evening that she was much affected by what other people thought of her. But it is true to say that the only people, myself apart, who didn’t dislike her in one way or another were Phillips and Miss Brown. Miss Brown, of course, was away on leave on this particular evening.”

“Which of them would you say shewed the greatest enmity towards her?”

“That’s a very difficult question to answer. I should think the word ‘enmity’ much too strong in every case, if by that you mean a feeling powerful enough to induce a motive for murder. So far as my opinion is worth anything, it is that everyone concerned had a different attitude towards her. Miss Clarke, for example, regarded her just as a blot on the landscape from the official point of view. She wasn’t much use in the department, and Miss Clarke doesn’t suffer fools gladly. Mrs. Hopkinson was a good deal more personal in the matter. She seemed to feel rather bitterly towards her, because of the encouragement she had been giving to Phillips and my secretary. Whether it was, as she represented to me, because she thought Miss Brown was throwing herself away or because of some more personal reason, I couldn’t say.”

“Mrs. Hopkinson’s real enmity was towards Mr. Phillips, was it not?”

“Apparently so. Indeed, the trouble on Thursday night began from her taking the opportunity of Phillips being out of the room to slander him behind his back. She had got it into her head that he was a potential bigamist, and told poor Miss Danville such a circumstantial story that she was thoroughly upset. If it hadn’t been for that, I don’t think she would have broken down as she did later on.”

“I don’t think you mentioned this to me, this morning, sir,” said Mallett reproachfully.

“I’m sorry, but it seemed quite irrelevant. It still does, for the matter of that, but you are the best judges of what is important and what isn’t.”

“Anything may be important at this stage,” said Jellaby. “So she thought Mr. Phillips had a wife alive, did she?”

“A wife and several children, to be accurate.”

“What should make her say that?”

“Pure spite, I imagine. There was not a word of truth in it, of course.”

“And how do you know that?”

“I don’t know how Mr. Pettigrew knows it,” said Mallett, “but he is right about Mr. Phillips being a widower. I have seen Mrs. Phillips’s death certificate.”

Pettigrew looked at him in surprise.

“Why on earth, Inspector?” he asked.

“Routine,” Mallett answered. “I told you I have made a study of a number of the employees in the Control for my own inquiry, and I naturally checked up on their personal histories. I believe in thoroughness in these matters.”

“Well,” said Pettigrew, “I didn’t go quite as far as you, but for my own purposes”---he flushed uncomfortably---“that is to say, because I felt a certain responsibility towards Miss Brown, I had made inquiries through other channels, with, of course, the same result. Consequently, I was able to stifle Mrs. Hopkinson and reassure Miss Danville.”

“Was that a great relief to her?” Mallett asked.

“Very much so. In fact, she burst into tears, and had to leave the room. It was most embarrassing. She came back just in time for Rickaby to precipitate her final breakdown. You know of that already.”

“So much for Mrs. Hopkinson. I’m afraid she’s been the cause of rather a digression. You were describing the attitude of the residents to Miss Danville, and there are still the men to deal with.”

“Well, Rickaby thought her extremely funny. He is the type of gentleman who thinks that if there is one thing in nature more inherently amusing than an old maid it is a lunatic, and when the two are combined the joke is, of course, irresistible. I thought we had grown out of such things nowadays, but apparently I was wrong. Edelman can hardly be said to have shewn dislike to her at all. But then he is not the type to shew his feelings, anyway. He regarded her as an interesting psychological specimen and I think he was quite prepared to cause her any amount of pain just to observe her reactions. When I say pain, I don’t of course mean----”

“I quite understand, sir. Please go on.”

“Well, that only leaves Wood and Phillips. Phillips, as I have said, was to all appearances fond of her---as he ought to have been in all conscience, for I don’t think he’d have made much headway with Miss Brown without her. Wood seemed to consider her principally as a potential subject for a story, and if he disliked her, as I think he did, it was probably mainly on the score that she disapproved of him and his works. I’m afraid I’ve put all this very crudely,” Pettigrew concluded. “But what I find very difficult to convey is the atmosphere at the Fernlea. There was definitely an anti-Danville party, although all the members of it arrived at their position in different ways. But I should have thought the last thing any of them would have wanted was to murder the poor woman.”

“Motive known---none,” muttered Jellaby, writing as he spoke. “Next stage---opportunity.”

“This is where my own inquiry may be of some help,” observed Mallett. “It seems to me that the person who had the opportunity of intercepting my report on its way from Mr. Palafox to Mr. Pettigrew had also an opportunity to kill Miss Danville. The two things must have happened within a few yards of each other and within a very short space of time.”

“Doesn’t follow the same person did both,” Jellaby objected.

“Certainly not, although it is possible, and if so, perhaps it would shed some light on the motive. I think that the interests we are fighting would be prepared to use pretty drastic methods to prevent us exposing their means of breaking the control. But that isn’t my point. What I mean is that the same group of people fall under suspicion in each case as being likely to be on the spot at the right time. Now to begin with, Mr. Pettigrew, I am right in thinking that nobody, apart from the messenger, would normally have had any business there at that hour of the day?”

“So far as my knowledge of the office routine goes, no.”

“Except Mr. Pettigrew and Miss Brown,” said Jellaby.

“I apologize,” said Pettigrew. “I was forgetting that so far as opportunity goes, ours was as good as, or indeed better than anyone’s. It would be a little embarrassing to us all to discuss my own case, particularly as you haven’t administered a caution yet; but I am quite prepared to answer for Miss Brown.”

“Perhaps you’d better. I’ll be seeing her anyway,” Jellaby said with what seemed to Pettigrew unnecessary grimness.

“Well, to begin with, Miss Brown was actually with me when---- No, that’s wrong, I was forgetting.” He stopped, confused and angry with himself for being confused. “Let me get this right. First I heard the kettle starting to whistle. Then I heard what I took to be Miss Danville going to make the tea. The kettle went on whistling, and so when Miss Brown came into my room, I naturally assumed that it was her footsteps I had heard and not Miss Danville’s. I know now of course that my first supposition was right.”

“Do you?” said Jellaby.

“Well---dash it, Miss Danville was there. We know that now.”

“And where was Miss Brown?”

“I---I really have no idea, except that she came into my room while the kettle was whistling and I sent her to turn it off. She may have been in her room some time, of course, long enough to take off her hat and coat, anyway.”

“You didn’t hear her come into her room?”

“No. I wasn’t listening for her, naturally. I didn’t expect her at all that day. And she has very light footsteps anyway.”

“Rubber-soled shoes, perhaps?”

“I dare say. I have never troubled to find out.”

“And coming into the building by the ordinary entrance she would have to pass the scene of the crime to reach her room?”

“Really,” said Pettigrew warmly, “I must protest. It is a ridiculous notion that Miss Brown could conceivably be guilty of an act of violence against anyone, let alone Miss Danville. It simply outrages reason to suggest that a girl like that----”

“Well, well,” Mallett interposed tactfully. “Suppose we go back to where I started just now. Apart from you two and the messenger, there was nobody who ought to have been in that vicinity at that time?”

Pettigrew, who was conscious of having made himself look rather foolish by his over-emphatic advocacy on his secretary’s behalf, considered the question as coolly as possible before replying.

“There are two possibilities which have just occurred to me,” he said. “One is that the Controller might have sent for some member of the staff who would normally take that route to his room. You can easily ascertain whether that happened on this occasion, of course.”

“Good. That point will be attended to. And the other possibility?”

“Next to the pantry where Miss Danville died, and on the side furthest from my room is a ladies’ cloakroom. That means of course that any woman working in that part of the building might properly be within quite a short distance of the pantry door at any time.”

“Thank you, sir. It looks as if a lot of ladies will have to be asked about their visits to that room on Friday afternoon. Well, that covers authorized persons. Now for the unauthorized. You had at different times had to suffer from the presence of intruders in your corridor?”

“Edelman, Wood, Hopkinson, Rickaby, Phillips,” Jellaby enumerated, reading from Mallett’s notes.

“That is right. But I don’t want to mislead you about this. I was several times aware of people fooling about outside my door, and on each occasion it was in the afternoon and about the time we are considering in this case---between half-past three and four. The only time I caught them in the act it proved to be Edelman, Wood and Mrs. Hopkinson. It doesn’t prove, of course, that it was the same three, or any of them, on the previous occasions. Phillips I found on the same day”---the recollection of the circumstances still made him feel uncomfortable---“but it was a good deal later, after tea. Rickaby was earlier, about one o’clock. And in both the last two cases, there was a perfectly reasonable explanation for their presence.”

“The explanation of the others did not strike you as so reasonable,” Mallett commented.

“No, it didn’t.”

“You told me a very odd story this morning, sir, about what became known as the Plot. What is your candid opinion of it?”

Pettigrew shrugged his shoulders.

“I gave up trying to form an opinion of it some time ago,” he said. “Except that it was a damned nuisance. It started as a quite amusing game, and seems to have ended as an obsession.”

“You didn’t think there was anything behind it?”

“Behind it?”

“Some ulterior motive on the part of the plotters?”

“I can’t say I did. The whole thing seemed to me completely purposeless and silly.”

“Purposeless or not,” interrupted Jellaby. “Look at the results.”

“Surely,” Pettigrew objected, “you can’t say that anything that happened was a result of the Plot. At least, you can’t prove it at this stage.”

“I never heard of the Plot till I read these notes over my lunch,” said Jellaby, “but I’ve found two results already. Miss Danville driven off her head---I call that one result. The other one is that all the plotters knew exactly what to expect in this part of the building at the exact time of the crime. Knowledge on the part of suspects---I call that another result, and maybe the bigger one of the two.”

“There were only three present at the rehearsal which I interrupted,” said Pettigrew.

“They were all in the room plotting it out together on the Thursday evening, or so you told Mr. Mallett this morning.”

Pettigrew disliked Jellaby’s uncompromising methods of argument, but he was compelled to admit that he was right. Still he remained unconvinced on the main issue.

“It seems to me difficult to believe that such an elaborate pretence should have been built up over such a long period without anyone giving it away,” he said.

“The secret---if there was a secret---needn’t have been known to all of them,” Mallett pointed out. “Possibly the Plot came into existence quite accidentally, and then one or more of the plotters decided to make use of it as a convenient cover for other activities. But we’re straying into theory. At present, we do possess the two solid results of the Plot mentioned by Mr. Jellaby just now. How they fit in to the rest of the story we don’t know yet, but I think it’s asking rather a lot to believe that neither of them have anything to do with either my inquiry or Mr. Jellaby’s. Is there anything further you would like to tell us, sir?”

“Nothing,” said Pettigrew, and rose to go.

“Good afternoon, sir. By the way, I have just heard from London that summonses are being issued against Blenkinsops under Article 7 (I) (d) of the Order, just as you advised.”

“That is a tremendous consolation, isn’t it?” said Pettigrew.

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