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Chapter 23

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« on: February 01, 2023, 07:22:10 am »

THE Coach and Horses, which as Yeo had said was at the wrong end of Early Street, was a modest little pub. It nestled shyly under the wing of a Baptist Chapel, and Mr. Campion found it with twenty minutes to spare. As he entered the neat bar with the nostalgic smell, his heart sank. There was no sign of the familiar square figure with the bullet head. He was resigning himself to the prospect of a further journey when an old-fashioned barmaid with a smile and sunset hair asked him if he was looking for anybody.

"You are tired, aren't you?" she said. "Wait a minute." She put her head round a door behind the bar and there was a brief delay before a face appeared at a small window between a museum-piece of a bottle of Chartreuse and two dummy magnums. It disappeared again, and the woman turned to Campion.

"This way, ducky," she said, raising a flap in the counter. "I thought you looked like a friend of his. He's all alone. I'll bring you both a 'special' in a moment."

Mr. Campion felt comforted. For the first time since his return to England he felt certain that he was at home. He passed behind the bar, through the red curtains with the ball fringe and came to a small, hot room with a fire and a hanging alabaster lampshade. The Superintendent was sitting at the table, his collar loosened, his spectacles on his nose, an Evening News neatly folded into a wide wafer in his hands, and a tankard at his elbow.

Campion surveyed him with open satisfaction.

"Got your boots off too?" he enquired vulgarly.

Yeo raised one eyebrow. "These are my unofficial headquarters," he explained. "Take a pew. I was hoping you'd come in. They tell me you're a wonderful marksman with a flowerpot." He permitted himself the ghost of a sniff. "Lucky they had you with them. Considering the rank of the personnel involved, not a very creditable arrest, in my opinion, for what it's worth."

Mr. Campion sank down into a chair with a deep leather lap, and lay back gratefully.

"It wasn't too tidy," he agreed, "but the whole thing was utterly unexpected."

Yeo looked virtuous. "They always used to tell me that nothing was ever unexpected to a good cop," he said smugly. "The old man had his gun with him too, didn't he? Still," he added with growing generosity, "I don't blame the old so-and-so. I'd rather he had his job than me. God love us, what a shine the influential chap can kick up. I saw some of it, and I was glad to get the Chief back this afternoon."

"Whom are you talking about?"

"That perishing Admiral." Yeo was nearly respectful. "He's put the cat among the pigeons all right. Questions, chits, memos coming down every two minutes. You'd think we were trying to hush something up, not sweating our guts out (if you'll excuse me) to clear the mess up. I told you this case was going to be unlucky for policemen. However, we're well away now, thank God; things are moving."

"Are they?" The note of hopefulness was apparent in the words and the Superintendent shook his head.

"All in the same way, I'm afraid," he said. "Sorry, old man, I can see how you feel in a way, but the thing is too clear. It's rolling down on Carados like a thunderstorm. He's just out of it at the moment, but it can't last much longer. It's sweeping in on him."

Mr. Campion moved impatiently. "What about Gold?"

"Oh, we've got him." Yeo spoke with quiet satisfaction. "A pretty little job of Pelly's this afternoon. Gold and the woman met, as arranged; she recognized him and spoke to him and he gave himself away. It was as easy as that--no fuss, no fireworks, no jumping through the window, just a straight arrest done in the proper way. It doesn't take us much forrader, though."

"Oh, why?"

"Because he was merely working behind the woman Chivers. I've seen his statement and I've had a look at him this evening. There's no doubt about it, you can tell it. I've seen it happen again and again in this case. He knew he was working for Chivers and he wasn't sure whom she was working for. He guessed, perhaps, but he didn't know. Every single one of them has been like that. We shall work out the connection between Gold and the others we've already got in the bag, but we shan't find anything to take him close to anyone in the opposite direction, except for the woman. I know, I've seen it before."

Mr. Campion remained lying back in the chair; his eyes were closed behind his spectacles. "Quick work," he said at last.

"It was." Yeo accepted honour where he felt it was due. "We got the firm's books early this morning and I sent the boys out to the addresses right away. The only thing in a case like this is to make a big swoop everywhere before any information can leak out. The reports have been coming in ever since. There's half the treasure in England, or that's what it feels like, scattered about in safe little hide-outs all over the country. This is a feather in our cap, however they treat us, I will say that."

"It is." Campion was serious in his praise. "As an organization I suppose you're capable of putting on a greater speed than anyone in the world, except, perhaps, the Russian Army."

"That's right, for all our old flat feet," said Yeo, and he chuckled with pleasure. "We don't get many bouquets except from foreigners, and I can't say I mind one now and again."

Mr. Campion returned to the problem. "You don't think Miss Chivers could have been doing it alone?" he suggested. "Using Carados's name, but in reality playing a--a lone hand?"

Yeo met his eyes squarely. "That be damned for a tale," he said inelegantly. "No, I don't. Apart from everything else she hadn't the nerve, and she hadn't the size, if you get me. She couldn't keep her hands off a few odd bottles which she thought were negligible. When things began to go wrong she lost her head, started killing people, and finally broke her own wretched neck in her panic. No, the bloke we want isn't her sort. His head is like ice, and he keeps his hands good and clean."

The argument was too convincing altogether. Campion was forced to face it. The sinking fear in his heart grew.

The barmaid came in with their drinks, accepted an arch endearment from the Superintendent with tolerant kindness, and left them to it. They sat for some time without speaking.

"There's a lot I don't quite see about that first killing," observed Campion at last.

Yeo grinned. "There's a lot there no one will ever see," he said. "There'll be an open verdict when the inquest is resumed and it'll go down on that list of unsolved murders they hold against us. She did it though."

"Oh yes, she did it." The thin man spoke slowly. "The Stavros woman was a pest; she got it into her head that Miss Chivers was holding out on her and I should say she just used everything. That must have been the time when the secretary began to lose her head. The nerve strain must have been colossal for some time, and the Stavros woman's nagging was doubtless the last straw. Somehow she got her to the house and killed her. It was diabolically clever in one way, because if she hadn't lost her nerve and smothered her but had left it to the chloral, it would have looked very much like suicide; while the fact that she was found where she was just before the wedding did suggest a reason, however unfounded."

"Ah," said Yeo. "And there may have been more justification in that than you think."

"What do you mean?"

The Superintendent set down his glass. "As soon as I heard of the decease of the party this morning, I sent round to her rooms in Pimlico and took possession of all her papers," he said. "The boys are still going through them. But just before I came out tonight, one of them brought me a collection of letters which I thought curious. They were all very much the same, all just a line or two, all written on the same date in different years, and they all said 'Darling, thank you terribly, but you shouldn't,' or words to that effect. They were signed 'Moppet' and they were addressed to Carados. The last one was dated last week. What do you know about that?"

Campion was sitting upright, incredulous distaste in his eyes. "I don't believe it," he said.

"Come round to my office tomorrow, and I'll show them to you."

"Why should she have them at her private address?"

"Now you're asking," said Yeo, "but it all fits in to a kind of a theory I'm getting to have about Chivers. I'm not much of a one for theories, as you know, but I rather think I've come across women like her before. She was one of those cheerful, tell-you-everything-and-nothing kind, wasn't she? That's the kind that harbour grievances, get into emotional states and work out things that would make your hair curl, all behind those smiling faces of theirs."

"You're suggesting that she had a sublimated passion for Johnny, got no encouragement and wanted to hurt him, I suppose?" Mr. Campion put the question uneasily. He was remembering Miss Chivers, efficient and splendid at her desk such a terrifyingly short time before. Then she had been hinting at emotional under-currents said to dominate the life of the famous household. So far he had received no other evidence of them whatever. What if the tortuous depths she had referred to then had been her own?

"I don't know about that." Yeo was answering his question. "But that idea of the suicide and the wedding--that looks like it, doesn't it? And then this keeping the letters the other woman wrote. That's curious. She may even have engineered that, you know."

"Engineered?" Mr. Campion was looking at the policeman with shocked respect.

"Yes, done the whole thing herself. Sent the other girl little presents, making out they'd come from him--got a feeling of being boss out of it." Yeo was faintly amused at Campion's disapproval.

"You were laughing at me yesterday because I didn't cotton on to one or two high-class ideas," he said, "but I'm not unsophisticated when it comes to crime, you know. All this modern guff the blokes the troops call 'trick cyclists' hand out, that's only barminess of a feminine kind, most of it. We've known about that for a long time. That's about what this was. Something like that, I'll bet my pension. It's not nice and it makes a lot of trouble."

"Yes, I dare say it might." Campion spoke absently. He was uneasy; he had not forgotten Johnny Carados's reaction to the gift of a rose and some Woolworth pearls.

"That's about how Chivers got Mrs. Stavros to get into bed there." Yeo went on unbearably. "Stuffed her up with a lot of tales, I'll be bound. Nasty minds women have sometimes, you'd be surprised. I expect the Stavros woman was all excited by the publicity about the wedding, which is now off, I see. Well, they're both dead, and the old girl down in the country is lucky she's not with them. She's a one by all accounts."

"Miss Pork?" Campion came back to a happier world with relief. "Oh yes, you ought to see her, Yeo. She's one for the memoirs."

"So I understood." Yeo's smile was reminiscent. "I had a wonderful tale from Tovey. Holly won't speak about her, she seems to have dazed him permanently. I thought I might nip down at the inquest. Do you realize who the Coroner is for those parts?"

"No, I'm afraid I don't." Mr. Campion was surprised. "I'm out of touch altogether, I thought it was a very small district."

"So it is, and has need to be. It's Montie Forster's manor. Thank God travel is difficult or we'd have all the Press there."

"Doctor Forster?" said Campion. "Wait a minute--it's coming back vaguely. He's a medical legal wallah, retired, or something, isn't he?"

"Say an old publicity hound, and you'll be nearer," said Yeo with prejudice. "He knows a coroner is king of his own pub parlour, and trades on it. Thoroughly enjoys himself. There were always bits about him in the paper at one time."

Campion got up. "That's where I saw the name, then," he said wearily. "It rang only a very faint bell. Well, thank you very much."

Yeo peered at him. "You ought to get some kip," he advised. "Have you been in bed at all since you came back?"

"No," said Campion, "apparently the police don't sleep."

"It's not the police, it's London," said Yeo with ferocious good humour. "We lost the habit. See you tomorrow."

In the doorway Mr. Campion remembered something. "What about Lady Carados?" he enquired. "Is any action being taken there?"

Yeo stared past him, his round eyes deliberately vague.

"Eh?" he said. "Oh, her? No. As a matter of fact, we decided we'd pass her clean up. Your chap Lugg can thank his lucky stars for picking on a confederate who's a little too much of a good thing even for us. No, we don't want her, it's her boy we're after."

"Yes, I see," said Mr. Campion, and went out again into the perfect night.

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