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16: Edelman, Wood and Rickaby

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Author Topic: 16: Edelman, Wood and Rickaby  (Read 6 times)
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« on: November 10, 2023, 06:15:00 am »

“WELL? WHAT do you want me for?”

Edelman’s tone was less belligerent than his words. Rather he gave the impression of a kindly but busy man interrupted in his important work by the inopportune attentions of children. He was quite prepared to give the children some of his attention if necessary, but none the less they were somewhat of a nuisance.

“I am Detective-Inspector Mallett of the Metropolitan Police and this is Detective-Inspector Jellaby of the County Constabulary,” said Mallett evenly. “We are inquiring into the death, last Friday, of Miss Honoria Danville.”

“Oh, that!” said Edelman, as if it was the last thing in the world he expected to hear. “I’m sorry, I can’t help you about that. I don’t know the first thing about it.”

“In that case, we shan’t have to trouble you for very long,” Mallett rejoined equably. “Won’t you sit down?”

“Might as well,” muttered Edelman ungraciously, and flung himself into a chair. Then he said, “There’s only one thing I can tell you about Miss Danville, and I expect you know that already---she was off her head.”

“Did you dislike her very much?”

“Dislike her? No. I thought she was rather amusing---unconsciously, of course. I should probably have hated her like poison if I had had the misfortune to work with her, but as it was I could regard her antics with detachment. I could see she was boiling up for something, but I must admit she surprised me at the end. Her death was really completely out of character.”

“Where were you on Friday afternoon, Mr. Edelman?”

“Well, really that’s rather a hard one to answer. I can say this---I wasn’t in my room, or, rather, the cubby-hole which is dignified by the name of a room. I was on the prowl about the building, picking up things that interested me here and there. It’s rather a habit of mine in this office. Miss Clarke disapproves of it, by the way.”

“Were you at any time near the pantry, by any chance?”

“Let me see. I think I know the place. It’s near Pettigrew’s room, isn’t it? I was certainly in that part of the building at some time in the afternoon, but I’m afraid I haven’t the least idea exactly when. Sorry to be so vague, but it’s some days ago now and I never thought I should be called upon to give an account of my wanderings.”

“Did you hear the kettle whistling while you were in that part of the office?”

“I can’t recollect that I did. It is possible, of course, but there are so many extraneous noises in this madhouse that I don’t know whether I should have noticed it. I have, thank God! the gift of concentration when I am working.”

“And that is absolutely all you can tell us about the business, is it?”

“Absolutely all.”

“There is one other matter I must discuss with you Mr. Edelman, which concerns Miss Danville more than a little and which I think you are in a position to tell us rather more about.”

“I am quite in the dark as to your meaning, Inspector, but I am entirely at your service.”

“It is an affair which was known to those concerned in it as the Plot, I believe.”

“The Plot! Dear me!” Edelman pursed his lips, then smiled and murmured, “The gods are just, and of our pleasant vices make instruments to plague us.”

“What’s that? I didn’t quite catch what you said,” interposed Jellaby, his pencil hovering over his open notebook.

Edelman gravely repeated his words. “For your information, that was a quotation,” he added. “I apologize for troubling you with it, but Hamlet’s remark seemed particularly appropriate at this moment.”

“Well, for your information those words come out of King Lear, not Hamlet,” retorted Jellaby, shutting his notebook with a snap. “But if you think they are appropriate I don’t suppose it matters much.”

Edelman threw his head back and laughed. “Touché!” he exclaimed. “After that, I can hardly in decency refuse to tell you all I can. But I still do not see what possible connection that rather childish affair could have with poor Miss Danville.”

“Perhaps it will prove to have no connection,” said Mallett. “But until it is proved, I must deal with it. There are some coincidences between the Plot and the actual facts of Miss Danville’s death that are too remarkable to be overlooked.”

Edelman’s intelligent face looked serious and thoughtful for the first time.

“Coincidences?” he repeated. “Let me think. If I read the evidence at the inquest aright, it rather looks as though Miss Danville was killed with what in this establishment would be called a bodkin.” He looked inquiringly at Mallett, who nodded. “I was afraid so. That is really a very unfortunate coincidence indeed, so far as I am concerned, because the use of a bodkin as a weapon was entirely my idea. Wood, who, like most writers, has no powers of observation at all, was full of the most fantastic ideas for a lethal instrument until I pointed out that he had one under his nose all the time. If I have been the means of putting an idea into a genuine murderer’s head, I can only say that I am truly sorry. That’s the only coincidence I can think of at the moment.”

“I can tell you of one rather more important,” said Mallett. “My information is that in its later stages the Plot involved something in the nature of rehearsals, and that these rehearsals took place at or near the very spot where the murder was in fact committed. Further, they were rehearsals for an imaginary crime which was to happen at the same time in the afternoon as the real one, and involved calculations of the movements of the staff of the office, including in particular Miss Danville’s. Indeed, except for the fact that the actual murder took place at the opposite end of the corridor and involved a different person, it did in fact follow almost exactly the working out of the Plot. What do you say to that?”

“I have two things to say,” replied Edelman promptly. “The first is that so far as I was aware the rehearsals you speak of were exactly what they purported to be and nothing else. Nothing could have been further from my mind than that what we were preparing in play should be carried out in earnest, and I never noticed anything in the behaviour of the other people concerned to indicate that any of them had any such sinister intention. My second point is this: Granted all you say, isn’t it really quite natural that these coincidences should exist? After all, we were working out, with the greatest degree of realism possible, the means of committing a crime which involved the isolation at the critical time of Miss Danville, whom we had designated for our murderer. Anybody who was planning a real crime, directed against Miss Danville, would naturally plan along the same lines.”

“That is an interesting point----” Mallett began.

“Besides,” Edelman persisted, “it isn’t even necessary to suppose two minds working independently along the same lines. We didn’t exactly make a secret of our plans. Nobody in the Fernlea could help hearing about them. And as Wood was continually making notes of them, which he left about quite freely, anybody working in his department might have come across them. Actually I found one of his drafts slipped inside a file of his only the other day. But I am afraid I interrupted something you were about to say.”

“What I was about to say, Mr. Edelman, has only been confirmed by your last remarks. It is that you are evidently a man of more than ordinary intelligence.”

Edelman bowed his head in polite agreement.

“That being so,” the inspector pursued, “I think it would be only fair if you treated me also as a person of some powers of reason.”

“I hope I do, Inspector.”

“Well, I shall not be satisfied that you are doing so until you have given me some explanation of the part which you have been playing in what seems, on the face of it, to have been a completely crazy, time-wasting game. Quite frankly, your behaviour seems to have been entirely irrational. I can understand a woman like Mrs. Hopkinson being prepared to do anything for the sake of what she would call a ‘lark’, though even she seems to have become bored with it before the end. Mr. Wood, as a novelist, may have had some professional interest involved. But what on earth were you doing in this silly business? Apart from conducting a rather cruel experiment at the expense of Miss Danville, what were you getting out of it?”

Edelman did not reply for a moment or two. He appeared to be reflecting, and the smile that lighted up his lean face suggested that he found his reflections amusing.

“Yes, I suppose I do owe you an explanation,” he murmured at last. Then he said abruptly, “Do you know, when you asked me to see you this afternoon I had no idea it had anything to do with Miss Danville?”

“No?”

“No. I thought it meant that you had tumbled to what I was doing in this galère---this hocus-pocus of a Plot.”

He pronounced the last word with utter contempt.

“It all began, so far as I was concerned, when I got hold of the Blenkinsop file,” he went on. “And while I am on that subject, Inspector, may I respectfully congratulate you on the work you have since put into that case? Your second report, in particular, I thought was quite masterly.”

“So it was you who took my report, was it?”

“Yes, I fear that I was the nigger in that particular woodpile. I hope it didn’t cause any very serious derangement in your plans. Rumours have reached me that the Controller was much concerned about the matter. In the past, I have not noticed that the delay of a day or so in the passage of a document from one department to another has produced any trouble, or indeed any comment.”

“Am I to understand, Mr. Edelman, that you made use of the rehearsals for the Plot as a cover to abstract documents on their way between departments?”

“That is not quite accurate. It would be more true to say that I made use of the knowledge acquired by the rehearsals to lay my hands on official papers when I wanted them in a hurry. But that was a side issue, really. My real object in prancing about the corridors in secret and acting the fool in the way you have so pungently described was, of course, to keep an eye on Wood.”

“I don’t quite follow you.”

Edelman looked pained and surprised.

“But is it possible, Inspector,” he said, “that you are still not aware that the source of the leakage of information which has troubled you so much is none other than our novelist friend, Wood? But I am forgetting that I had certain advantages in the matter of investigation which were not open to you. I had more or less the run of the office, and above all I had the good fortune to be Wood’s confidant in the matter of the Plot.”

“If you knew this,” Mallett objected, “didn’t you consider it your duty to report what you found was going on?”

“No,” said Edelman. “Quite frankly I did not. I don’t propose to put on any airs about it, but I considered my primary duty was towards my firm, to which I am looking forward to returning as soon as this damned war is over. Please don’t misunderstand me. I did not abuse my official position to assist my firm at the expense of the State. I have that amount of conscience---and, in any case, I consider that it would in the long run have been bad business. But I saw no reason why I should not employ part of time in keeping an eye on the activities of our trade rivals, of whom Wood represents our most dangerous. As I said just now, it was the Blenkinsop affair that gave me my first inkling into what was going on and I decided to follow the matter up. I wasn’t much concerned with Wood’s crimes and misdemeanours, because I was tolerably certain that he wouldn’t get away with them for long, but meanwhile I saw the opportunity of getting a really valuable insight into his firm’s business methods, and I decided to follow him up.”

“Then that was what was at the back of the Plot?”

“The Plot was a perfectly genuine affair to begin with. It started as a game to while away the long winter evenings. I had had quite enough of contract bridge as she is played at the Fernlea. A game it remained, so far as Miss Clarke and Mrs. Hopkinson were concerned, but before very long Wood saw his chance to use it as a blind for his nefarious activities. At the same time, he was, I think, really interested in its possibilities as a basis for a story. You see, he is really two men in one---a dishonest little business man and an inferior, but none the less serious, literary artist. Quite an interesting psychological study in his way. Almost as interesting as Miss Danville, really. The study of her neurotic reactions to the affair was, of course, an added interest to me. It was a great disappointment when it was cut short in this abrupt fashion. But Wood remained my primary object. It was really rather amusing to watch his clumsy efforts to deceive me, without his having any suspicion that he was being double-crossed himself.”

“Was Wood alone in this business, so far as you know?” asked Mallett.

“No. Your report was quite right in suggesting that he had an assistant. It was an enamelled-faced creature in the typing pool, who spends most of her spare time in various bars with young Rickaby. Wood used to pay her---very poorly, I may say---to make extra carbon copies of letters which he thought might interest him. But she was of very minor importance.”

“One last question, Mr. Edelman. When you helped yourself to my report---which I assume you did not show to Wood or to anyone else----”

“Good heavens, no! Your report remains every bit as confidential as though it had gone direct to Pettigrew. You can rely on that.”

“I am glad to hear it. When you took it, you were, obviously, very close to the door of the pantry?”

“Obviously,” Edelman agreed readily. “And just to make it quite clear, I timed myself to arrive there as soon as possible after the messenger had dumped his papers on the shelf in the corridor. I actually heard his flat feet as he stumped off up the stairs to his tea. That would mean, of course, that he had just lighted the gas-ring. I can’t tell you exactly how long it takes for the kettle to boil---Wood has precise notes of that, naturally---but allowing myself a minute and a half to find the document I wanted, I should have got away at least five minutes before the whistle started. During that minute and a half I saw nobody in the corridor.”

“Thank you,” said Mallett.

Edelman rose to go. “By the way,” he said from the doorway, “if, as I suppose, you intend to interview Wood, I think you will find that he is the type to crack up pretty easily under examination. I am assuming, of course, that you are still concerned with the black market business. If my reading of his psychology is correct, he is not a murderer. But that is, of course, a question for you. Good day!”

“What do you make of that?” said Jellaby.

Mallett was rubbing his hands with satisfaction.

“If he was speaking the truth about the Plot, and I’m inclined to think he was,” he said, “it looks as though one side of my investigation was going to be cleared up pretty quickly. This means that I shall save my face at the Yard, and make the Controller happy.”

“And we’re not an inch nearer to arresting Miss Danville’s murderer,” added Jellaby gloomily. “All that we’ve found out so far as I can see, is that there’s yet another suspect without an alibi.”

“No,” Mallett admitted. “We still haven’t found our missing link, or, if we have found it, we haven’t recognized it as such, which amounts to the same thing.” He looked at his watch. “This is about the time when the famous whistle would have started,” he remarked. “I wonder whether I could work on Miss Unsworth’s feelings so far as to raise a cup of tea?”

Ten minutes later he returned, triumphantly bearing a tray.

“On second thoughts I decided I couldn’t face Miss Unsworth again,” he said. “I tried the messengers’ room instead. It turns out that Peabody has a brother in the Force, so there was no difficulty there. I’ve asked him to summon Wood to appear before us in five minutes’ time. If Edelman’s psychology is right, that will just give him time to get cold feet.”

Wood had a very pale face and a determined expression. Without acknowledging the inspector’s greeting he plunged into speech the moment he came into the room.

“You will want to know where I was on Friday afternoon,” he began. “I think it only right to let you know at once that I have a perfect alibi for the whole of the material time.”

Something like a sigh of relief came from Jellaby.

“As I think you are aware, I work in the Enforcement Branch,” he went on, “I share a table with Mr. Phillips. It is near the end of the room furthest from the door, and next to the entrance to Mr. Edelman’s office. I have a little sketch plan of it here, if it would be of any assistance to you. Between the hours of three and five fifteen p.m. on Friday I was there without stirring from my seat. I have a number of witnesses to that effect. Not, I should point out, either Mr. Phillips or Mr. Edelman. Mr. Phillips was out of the room between three fifty and four ten. Mr. Edelman left his office at a little before a quarter past three and did not return to it until close on twenty minutes past four. But a number of other persons working elsewhere in the room can vouch for my presence throughout the time I have mentioned. I may refer you to Mr. Clayton, Mr. Walton, Mr. Parker. . . .”

“That is very satisfactory, Mr. Wood,” murmured Mallett.

“There is another matter on which I desire to make a statement,” Wood went on. “I am aware that I have unwittingly placed myself in a position that might be misunderstood as the result of having been responsible for planning the plot of a work of fiction in this office. I am prepared to make the fullest possible disclosure.” He pulled from his pocket an untidy bundle of paper. “Here are all the documentary materials on the subject---all, without exception. I am keeping nothing back. Please peruse them at your leisure. I know that they may be construed as evidence against me, but I insist that on any fair reading of them it must be plain that the crime to which they relate is purely, entirely, imaginary!”

His voice rose almost to a scream on the last words.

Mallett stirred the heap of papers on the desk before him with the tip of his forefinger.

“But surely, Mr. Wood,” he said gently, “if you have a well-attested alibi, it isn’t really necessary for me to go through all this? There seems to be a lot of reading matter here.”

Exhausted by his eloquence, Wood gasped two or three times before muttering, “Of course, if you’re prepared to take my word for it----”

“And the word of Mr. Clayton, Mr. Walton and Mr. Parker,” Mallett reminded him. “Surely, that should be enough for anyone?”

“Yes,” Wood admitted, “I suppose it should.”

“As a matter of fact,” Mallett went on, in the manner of a very large cat playing with a very small mouse, “although my colleague and I are extremely glad that you are able to provide us with such a good account of your activities on last Friday afternoon---my colleague particularly---I am afraid you have rather jumped to conclusions in volunteering your statement.”

He paused and in very leisurely fashion filled and lit his pipe. Wood’s strained expression meanwhile did not relax and his eyes never left the inspector’s face.

“As a matter of fact,” said Mallett, blowing out the match and depositing it carefully in Mr. Bissett’s ashtray, “I intended to ask you a few questions about your other activities.”

“My---other---activities?”

“Activities which I can indicate most simply by the name Blenkinsop.”

If Edelman had been present at that moment, he would undoubtedly have been gratified to observe the accuracy of his psychological observations. Wood’s face seemed to crumple up. The sharply drawn features became blurred as though the spring that had held them rigid had suddenly snapped. His whole body sagged and slumped forward in his chair. The silence was broken by Mallett’s voice, cold and impersonal, administering the official caution.

“I’ll tell you everything,” came the answer, in a voice that was only just above a whisper.

A quarter of an hour later, Wood departed, leaving behind him a signed statement, which amounted to a detailed confession. It set out the exact circumstances in which confidential information of the working of the control and instructions for evading it had been conveyed outside. It gave dates, facts and figures, named individuals and firms. Wood’s memory was a good one, and under the inspector’s firm guidance, every relevant particular had been included. The shabby little story was complete down to the last detail.

“So that’s that!” said Mallett, as he re-read the document before putting it away. “A miserable little job cleared up. Won’t the Controller be pleased!”

“What will they do with him, do you think?” asked Jellaby.

“That’s a matter for the Ministry, I suppose. They can either prosecute that poor little rat under the Official Secrets Act or go for his employers for breach of the control and use him as a witness. I hardly think he’ll try to go back on this,” he added grimly.

“He certainly made things easy for you, once he started,” Jellaby observed.

“Thank goodness for that! After all, we had nothing whatever to go upon except Edelman’s assertion, and that was only in the most general terms. If Wood had chosen to stick his toes in, we should have been able to get nowhere. It’s lucky for us that the citizen who knows his rights and has the guts to stand on them is a rare type.”

“Well,” said Jellaby, “this is all very nice for you, but we’re still not----”

“An inch nearer catching Miss Danville’s murderer. I know. Don’t rub it in. But we’ve had one stroke of luck to-day and we may still have another. There is still Master Rickaby to be tackled.”

The interview with Rickaby, however, proved to be a sad anticlimax. The inspector had not been speaking to him for two minutes before he realized that this unattractive young man belonged to precisely the type that he had just complacently characterized as “rare”. Rickaby obstinately refused to assist the police in any way whatever. He did not know anything about Miss Danville, he said, and he very emphatically did not wish to be mixed up in any police inquiries. When Mallett resignedly asked him if he would sign a statement to that effect, he promptly replied that he would do no such thing except in the presence of a solicitor.

“I wish you would consult a solicitor,” Mallett said. “I have no doubt at all that he would advise you to make a full statement, in your own interest.”

“Then I shouldn’t take his advice,” said Rickaby truculently. “Why should I? I’ve got my rights, haven’t I? If I choose to say nothing, I suppose I can. It’s no use your trying to use third degree methods on me.”

“Nowadays,” said Mallett quietly, “people of your sort usually call them ‘Gestapo methods’. You should try to be a little more up to date. And, by the way, if you should find yourself under police observation from now on don’t write to your M.P. about it. He might want to know why you’re not in the army. Run along now, before I forget I’m a policeman and give you a good smacking.”

Jellaby broke the silence that succeeded Rickaby’s departure.

“I’ll arrange for the police observation straight away,” he said.

“Please do. It will give him a bit of a fright that’ll do him good.”

“What’s at the back of his behaviour?”

“Sheer cussedness, I shouldn’t wonder. I don’t believe he has anything to hide, but simply thinks he sees a chance of scoring off authority. Mr. Edelman would probably have something interesting to say about his psychology.”

He rose and stretched himself.

“It’s been a tiring day,” he said. “I have a strong feeling that I have been talking to a murderer during the course of it and that makes it worse. The whole business seems to me just as illogical as it did this morning, and I can’t see my way to put it into shape.”

“And now?” said Jellaby.

“Now,” Mallett replied, tapping Wood’s confession, “I am going to make glad the heart of Mr. Palafox. That will be one good deed for the day, anyhow. After that----What time did you say the Gamecock opened?”

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