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Chapter 9

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« on: January 31, 2023, 07:15:10 am »

THE yard was as gloomy and dirty as only a London crevice can be. It was both cold and unsavoury, homely and uninviting. As Mr. Campion climbed out of the taxi-cab after making an exhaustive examination, there was a hint of rain falling. Yeo's red face glistened above his magnificent overcoat.

"What hope?" he enquired.

"Of identifying it? Not a glimmer. Not in the witness-box. I had my little dust-up in the dark, you see. Besides, this damned thing looks like every cab there ever was; it's been cleaned, too, so there's not a hope of real proof. The suspicion is tremendous, of course."

Yeo sighed. "Suspicion doesn't count," he said. "Pity you can't remember something definite. Still, I don't blame you, you can't be too careful. I don't see where it fits in either; you said there was a connection between the two crimes and I admit it begins to look like it, but I don't see that helps us, it just makes it more difficult to my mind."

Mr. Campion turned up his coat collar. "What's their story?" he enquired.

"The restaurant's? Oh, they say they're minding the cab for a lad on active service. We can check that, but it's probably true."

The Superintendent began to move back to the house as he spoke. "They say it hasn't been out for a year," he went on, "and it's not licensed. So if it was on the road yesterday, the driver was taking a big risk."

"That's rather the kind of driver we're looking for," observed Mr. Campion as he followed him towards the house.

"Exactly," said Yeo irritably. "And so what? I tell you, Campion, I've had this case exactly twelve hours, and I'm tired of it; I've held this kind of baby before. It's going to be unlucky for policemen, I can smell it."

Recollecting the Admiral, Mr. Campion thought there well might be something in the prophecy, but tactfully forbore to say so, and the Superintendent went on. "Now we'll see Stavros," he said. "He'll have to identify the deceased formally this afternoon. We didn't realize there was a husband about at first, so we got her char to come along to the mortuary. That won't do, though, we must get the whole thing in order. There's a great deal to do and no daylight anywhere. Holly's with him now; a good officer, Holly, but hard, very hard, not like a London policeman, really."

All the time he was talking he was edging his companion towards the side door, and Campion, becoming aware of the manoeuvre, stopped abruptly.

"Do you need me?" he said.

"Yes, my lad, I do." Yeo took his arm. "You weren't surprised when I told you the dead woman was Stavros's wife. Why was that?"

Mr. Campion's pale eyes widened. "I hope you realize that I was safely on the high seas," he began.

"Yes, I do. And don't keep talking about it or I shall feel I've got to verify it. No, you're not a suspect, but you're friendly with people who may be. Also, you're missing your first home leave for three or four years, and once you've made certain your shady old chum, Lugg, is safely above ground, I shouldn't be at all surprised if you happened to forget any details which might keep you in London as a witness. That's how we stand, Campion. Have I made myself clear?"

"Horribly," said his companion. "It may surprise you to learn, Yeo, that you remind me vividly of my dear mother. She used to see things with the same clarity, and say them too, which is more serious."

The Superintendent grunted. "I don't feel like anybody's mother," he said. "How did you happen to be here, anyway? I don't have to have a suspicious nature to notice that, I suppose."

"I came here to eat," said Campion with dignity, "and I'm still hoping to do it. I met Mrs. Shering at the Caradoses' house and she brought me here because she often eats here, as do others of her circle. That is why I was here, and also why I was not surprised to learn the dead woman came from the place either. Until you told me that I could not imagine how the crowd who seem so determined to make a mystery of her death could ever have met her alive. When you came out with your little piece, I saw how it had happened, and therefore I was not surprised. Now, are you satisfied?"

Yeo sniffed. "You've covered yourself," he said maddeningly, "but you don't help. We got on to her through a laundry mark on her nightdress; our chap who specializes on them traced it to a firm in Notting Hill, and they gave us her address. The char did the rest. She didn't live with her husband, you see."

"She didn't live with Stavros? Didn't live here?" Mr. Campion, who was being forced up a narrow flight of stairs, paused in astonishment, and the Superintendent came up with his shoulder.

"That's right," he said. "She didn't live here. And if you can believe her husband's story she hasn't come here very often. She lived alone in a little art and crafty flat in Kensington High Street."

"When did they marry?"

"Beginning of the war. She was a widow then. The man Lewis appears to have been dead for years. According to Stavros he and she never did live together for more than a fortnight, yet he insists he was very fond of her."

Yeo was panting a little over the stairs, and had lowered his voice to an angry mumble. "You come and see him," he said. "He sounds almost on the level, which doesn't help, I tell you, Campion. I don't like the people in this case."

"Which people? Stavros, or Lady Carados and family?"

"All of them. They're all"--the Superintendent hesitated over the word--"they're all expense-and-talk-over-your-head," he said at last. "Class, that's what it is. It's all right in its proper place, no doubt."

"Where's that?" enquired Mr. Campion, side-tracked.

"On the stage," said Yeo stoutly. "I like it better than anywhere on the stage. But when I meet it in my business it gets round my feet. You come and hear this chap. He thinks he means something in a high-class foreign way, I don't doubt, but I can't say I follow him."

Mr. Campion gave up thinking about his meal, and did what he was told.

They found Stavros standing by a circular table in a small, dark room which was sometimes used for private dinner parties. A constable sat at the table taking notes, while Chief Inspector Holly stood on the hearthrug looking very neat and spare; his black hair receded sleekly from a pallid forehead that shone like china, and his eyes, which were remarkable for their coldness, looked large and blue and hard. On catching sight of Stavros, Mr. Campion's first impression was that he had changed, and only afterwards it occurred to him that he had become a private person. At the moment he had an entirely new dignity and a different courtesy in which there was nothing ingratiating; he stood easily, but quite still with his hands folded, and his head raised a little. His eyes flickered as Campion came in, but he did not speak.

Holly stepped across the room to meet Yeo. "He has nothing to add," he murmured, lowering his voice a tone or two, but making no real attempt to speak in confidence, "his story remains. The last time he saw the deceased was on Sunday when she looked in on him for ten minutes or so in the afternoon for a chat and a sherry. When she left, she did not tell him where she was going. He says he did not ask her."

Yeo turned and looked at Stavros with gloomy speculation. "Don't you want to add anything to that?" he said. "Nothing at all?"

The Greek grimaced nervously at Campion. "It is never easy to explain one's exact relations with a woman, is it?" he said.

Yeo's homely face cleared hopefully. "We're all men of the world here, Mr. Stavros," he said heartily, his fatherliness marred only by a gleam of policemanly embarrassment. "You won't find us narrow-minded. You just say what you want to."

Stavros coloured under his dark skin, and Campion felt profoundly sorry for him. "I loved my wife," said the man with an effort, "I loved her enough to marry her. Afterwards I still loved her, but not so much. She was not a woman to live with every day."

Holly's glass-cold eyes became contemptuous, while Yeo's were resigned. They were both married men, and Mrs. Yeo and Mrs. Holly were ladies who could be lived with every day or emphatically not at all. Stavros appeared aware of the impression he was making, but he floundered stoutly on.

"We lived very contentedly," he persisted, his round brown eyes fixed on Yeo's beseechingly. "Sometimes she came to see me, sometimes I visited her, but we did not live in the same house nor did we share the same friends. We were neither of us young, we were not unfaithful."

Holly's head was inclining more and more to one side, but Yeo had made up his mind to be sympathetic, and now did his best.

"Yes, I can see that," he said mendaciously, "but surely she'd tell you where she was going?"

"Why?" The other man seemed astonished, and Yeo was put out of his stride.

"I should have thought you'd have had a right to know," said Holly primly.

"But I did not want to know. I did not know where she came from that afternoon; where we each went, what we each did, was not the other's affair."

The constable wrote something in his notebook in a scholarly long-hand, and Campion glanced over his shoulder.

"Loveless marriage," he had written, and had drawn a curling line under the words.

Mr. Campion felt a trifle helpless. Yeo shook his head sadly. "You can't help us then," he said. "It's a great pity, Mr. Stavros. After all, a woman has been foully done to death, and she was your wife."

"Do you think I do not know that?"

The whole room was unprepared for the outburst. The man stood before them cracking visibly; his dignity and sophistication were gone, there were tears in his eyes and on his cheeks, and his mouth was ragged and hideous like the mouth of a tragedy mask.

"Do you think I don't know?" The words came in an ugly broken whisper, and he turned his back on them.

Yeo, who was by nature the kindest of men, was appalled; his red face became a little blue as he stepped away from his victim, and buttonholed Holly.

"Have you got the full description of the clothes she was wearing when he last saw her?" he muttered, dropping his voice so low that it sounded like a growl.

"Yes. That's been done. I've got a note."

"Good. Well, I think I can leave this to you, Inspector." Yeo was retreating in bad order, and was not concealing the fact. "He'll have to identify her, you know, but give him time; don't hustle him, it's only a formality. Come on, Campion."

He hurried out of the room without a backward glance and paused in the passage to wipe his face.

"There you are," he said, "I told you, I don't understand these damned people. There was no fake about that, he's genuinely upset."

"Of course he is, poor chap. He was in love with her."

"Yet he only saw her now and again. Married her, and didn't live with her."

"That's probably why."

"Why what?"

"Why he was in love with her. I mean, perhaps that is how it was done. We haven't got much of a line on the sort of woman she actually was, you know."

Yeo regarded him with kindly regret. "Cynical," he said. "You may be right, but it's not nice."

"Not nice be blowed," said Campion stung to inelegance. "This man found he'd married a woman whom he loved sometimes, therefore he saw her sometimes. Eminently sensible. What you don't seem to have asked him is why she called."

The Superintendent appeared out of his depth. "Didn't she ever look up her husband?" he enquired innocently.

"I don't know, but I should think they usually met by appointment. I mean, that sort of relationship would require a certain amount of mutual tact, wouldn't it? Envisage it."

"I can't," said Yeo. "And if my missus heard you talking, she'd put you across her knee. Still, go on; I'm not too old to learn."

"Well, I don't know," said Campion again, "but it sounds to me as though either he phoned her or she him, and they had a week-end together occasionally. I don't swear it worked like this, but if she dropped in for ten minutes suddenly I should say it was to tell him something she'd rather not mention on the phone. That's the impression I get."

"Very French," commented the Superintendent.

"Not really," said Mr. Campion.

"Very well, I'll look into it." Yeo was grudging. "All the same it seems a funny thing for me to ask a man--why his wife went to see him." He shook his head darkly. "You don't know what we've got to contend with," he said. "Not all the evil in the world is on the Continent, and what have I got to do now? Trot along to see that terrifying woman."

"Lady Carados?"

"Yes. We've got to go over her place with a tooth-comb for the rest of Mrs. Stavros's clothes. She can't have come in out of the street in a nightdress. In the ordinary way I should leave that to someone else, but this is very special, and in police work the higher the rank of the bobby the thicker the kid gloves, or that's the theory. I doubt if it's true."

"Suppose you don't find the missing clothes at Lady Carados's house?" enquired Campion.

Yeo cocked an eye at him. "Then we shall make a bee-line for her son's place," he said. "Somebody smothered that woman knowing what he was doing. We shall get him, you know, Campion, and when we've got him we shall hang him."

Mr. Campion glanced at the powerful figure with sudden gravity.

"I back you," he said soberly.

Yeo grunted. "I'm glad to hear it," he observed. "We've got more on hand than you realize, my lad. Now you get back to your young lady, and don't forget I expect cooperation."

"You'll get it," said Campion. "See you at Philippi."

"It's called the 'Coach and Horses,'" murmured the Superintendent. "Up the wrong end of Early Street. Any time just before ten. So long."

Mr. Campion went back to the now practically deserted restaurant, and glancing across the room to his table saw as he had feared that all traces of the meal had been cleared away. Susan was still there, though, but she was not alone. A young man in green khaki was sitting beside her. Mr. Campion had only seen Don Evers once before, and then not in the happiest circumstances, but he had no difficulty in recognizing him; the youngster had a distinctive appearance and now, when he was paler than he had been on the doorstep of the flat in Bottle Street, his natural good looks had asserted themselves. He looked older than his years, and the strong lines which would one day lend character to his face showed faintly under his fair skin.

Susan was watching him with tragedy in her eyes. They were both unaware of their surroundings and were alone together.

Mr. Campion forbore to interrupt. He chose a table some distance away and sat down, and the old waiter, who could still talk too impulsively, came shambling up to him. Mr. Campion accepted his ultimatum that coffee alone or with a liqueur was the best that could be done for him, and was sniffing something which he trusted devoutly was not medicated paraffin before he ventured a casual question.

"Seen Mrs. Stavros lately?"

The watery eyes regarded him furtively. "Not since the quarrel, sir," said the old man. "That was some days ago. Sunday, I think."

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