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 on: Today at 11:04:44 am 
Started by Admin - Last post by Admin
THE safe looked like being a teaser, and Warnford knelt on the floor in front of it, listening in an agony of concentration. He was waiting for a faint clicking sound inside which would be the tumblers falling into place as he found the right letter, for this was a five-letter combination safe. He had a small box on the floor beside him from which one connection led, like a stethoscope, to his ears while another ran to a rubber suction disc on the safe door close to the little window which showed the five letters. There were five small dials also, one to each letter; when these were turned the letters changed.

With hands damp with nervousness Warnford turned one dial at a time, and number one clicked into place. Two also. Three. Four was a trouble. If there was any click at all it was too faint to be audible; he left it for the time being and went on to the last. His fingers felt stiff. What a time all this took; surely one couldn’t expect to be unmolested all this time---number five went down with a click that was almost loud.

He sighed with relief and returned to four, pulling the door gently at every letter, not troubling to listen, till at last the safe swung slowly open. Warnford sat back on his heels, took his listening apparatus off the door and out of his ears, and wiped his forehead. He was surprised to find he was perspiring. Now the---- A footstep sounded behind him, and he sprang to his feet and turned all in one movement. It was only Ashling with a stout metal box in his hands.

“I’m sorry, sir, if I startled you.”

“It’s all right, Ashling, come in. What is it?”

“Only this money box, sir. Been collecting threepenny bits in it for years, sir, I ’ave, till it’s nearly full, and now I find I’ve lost the key and can’t open it no ’ow. I was wondering, sir, whether you could open it for me while you was at it like.”

“I’ll have a shot at it,” said Warnford.

“With a skeleton key, sir, or some such?”

“You don’t want a skeleton key for a lock like this,” said Marden, getting out of the long chair where he had been smoking in silence and watching Warnford’s efforts with the safe. “Give it to me a minute. Got a bit of stiff wire anywhere? A hairpin’ll do quite well.”

“This is a bachelor establishment,” said Warnford. “Here’s a wire paper clip. Will that do?”

“Fine, if you’ll pass me the pliers. Now we straighten it out---thus. And bend it over at one end, like this. Then at the other end, so; that’s to make a handle to turn it with. Then we insert the wire into the keyhole after this fashion and feel for the pawls of the lock. This is where the long delicate fingers, like those of an artist, come in useful; all the best burglars have them---in books. Though personally the most expert lock wangler I ever met had hands like a bunch of bananas, which only goes to show---- There. My soul, I didn’t know there were so many threepenny bits.”

“Thank you, sir, very much,” said Ashling gratefully. “I’m much obliged, I’m sure.” He went out, carrying his money box carefully.

“Ashling’ll be able to have a real evening out now,” said Warnford. “Well, how did I get on?”

“Oh, not too badly at all. You’ll get quicker with practice.”

Warnford had hired the safe on the pretext of having to store some valuables for a short time for an aunt who didn’t believe in banks. When it came to experiments in boring holes in safe doors, sawing them open and generally manhandling them, he would have to buy one, and safes are expensive things.

“You’ll improve with practice,” repeated Marden. “I’ll shut it up for you again in a minute, and then you can have another try. Safes which are locked with a combination of figures work in exactly the same way as this one, of course, and present no difficulties. You must try and be quieter. You let that box of yours slide off your knee twice before you decided to leave it on the floor. It’s extraordinary how loud small noises sound at night, especially bumps on floors. Always remember never to leave anything where it can possibly fall down or roll off. Another thing, put your tools away the moment you’ve finished with them, then if you have to make a bolt for it you won’t leave so much behind.”

Warnford nodded eagerly, and Marden began to stroll up and down the room, talking as he went.

“You sprang to your feet when Ashling came in; you would probably have done better to sit perfectly still if you’re fairly sure you haven’t been heard. People who wander about houses in the middle of the night are probably looking for the bathroom, not the study or wherever the safe is kept. Or they might want a book or a drink of water. It’s incredible how little people see if there’s no movement at all. You want to keep perfectly still, hardly breathing at all, and think about something innocent and far away. Such as a frog hopping slowly round the edge of a pond or a cow lying in long grass, thoughtfully chewing the cud with its eyes half shut.”

“For heaven’s sake, why?”

“Because there is such a thing as telepathy. If you think intently about the person who comes, ninety-nine out of every hundred will feel it and know there’s somebody there.”

“I see.”

“Continuing my general instructions,” said Marden spaciously, “here is a tip if you’re talking on the telephone. If the bird of either sex at the other end says he or she is alone and you wonder whether it’s true, make some excuse to leave the phone for a moment. Put the receiver down on the table and instantly pick it up again and listen. Most people who have someone in the room with them will make some remark at that point when they think they are not overheard. After a moment, whatever the result, touch the table with the receiver again and go on talking.”

“Continue, Machiavelli,” said Warnford.

“What else? There are hundreds of tips, all useful. Tread on the front edges of stairs to avoid creaks; the riser will take your weight. Oh, if you’re walking across a room in which someone is sleeping, take a step when they breathe out and wait while they breathe in.”

“Even if they snore?”

“Even so. I’m told it’s something to do with the pressure on the inside of the eardrums, but that may be all baloney; I’m not a doctor. Beware of the snorer; they sometimes wake themselves up with an extra-loud snort and, having their mouths open as a rule, they hear extra well in the ensuing hush.”

“Especially as they’re usually convinced somebody else has made the noise.”

“Exactly. You know how to prevent a sneeze from fruiting, don’t you? Press your finger firmly on your upper lip close below your nose; it’s infallible.”

“I had heard that one,” admitted Warnford.

“It’s fairly well known. If you’re doing a bolt and you dash out of a gate or drop from a garden wall practically into the arms of a policeman, don’t run away from him. Run towards him, avoiding, of course, the outstretched arm. He will then lose time turning round to pursue you instead of getting straight off the mark, and you will be several yards to the good.”

“When I am standing on the extreme edge of a stair,” said Warnford, “thinking of cowslips and pressing my finger on my lip so as not to awaken the snoring policeman on the top step, I’ll remember your words.”

“Splendid. Now, if you’ll turn your back a minute I’ll rearrange these letters for you and you can have another shot at safe opening.”

Some days later Marden said, “You know, I’ve been thinking over your case, and the more I think, the more convinced I am that Rawson is at the bottom of it.”

“Uh-ha,” grunted Warnford.

“At the same time, there’s no doubt Rawson is merely one part of a large piece of machinery. He may have liked you quite a lot personally, but that wouldn’t stop him from doing his job.”


“You had some idea of happening across some German spies at work and hoping they’d lead you to Rawson. I don’t know whether it’s occurred to you that if you could start with Rawson he might lead you on to something very much bigger.”

Warnford looked at him.

“There’s no doubt,” went on Marden, “that there’s a lot of espionage going on, if only one could get a start---find a door leading into it, as it were. You know one door: Rawson.”

“Yes. But what could I do? There are professionals at this job; they’d have no use for enthusiastic amateurs.”

“No. None whatever. But if you could prove your usefulness you might not always remain the amateur. What? Wouldn’t that be better than spending the best years of your life on a personal vendetta?”

Warnford slowly coloured to the hair, and a light came into his eyes which had not been there for a long time---not since he walked into a long room to see his sword lying on a table with the point towards him.

“Yes,” he said thoughtfully, “that’s just remotely possible, I suppose. I don’t know anything about these matters---and anyway, I’m discredited,” he added bitterly. “Besides, how do we find Rawson?”

“Private-enquiry agency,” said Marden promptly. “I can put you onto one. Not one of those ghastly divorce-a-specialty places, but a real good one.”

“Why, what have you had to do with them?”

“Quite a lot. Hasn’t it ever struck you that if you want to know all about a particular household, what hours they keep, how many servants they’ve got, who their friends are and when they call, there’s nothing like a good private-enquiry agency? They never ask why you want to know. They’ve saved me weeks of work many a time.”

“It’s an idea,” said Warnford.

“Of course it’ll cost you something, but you won’t mind that. Got a photo of the late-lamented? Good. Let’s take it along.”

But though Marden’s favourite agency did their ingenious best for a matter of three months, nothing came of it. Captain Rawson had apparently ceased without trace.

Warnford made it clear at the outset that if Marden were to help him to carry out his rather nebulous ideas, the partnership must be on a business footing. A man of that type would not take up burglary as a profession if he had private means, though the younger man was surprised to find what a paying game it was “when intelligently conducted,” said Marden, “which it seldom is. Why, the first thing the police do when a robbery has been committed is to look round and see who’s throwing money about---I mean, of course, in circles where people don’t usually have money to throw.”

“I always thought of burglars as more or less starving between jobs,” said Warnford, “and then having a glorious binge when they’d pulled something off.”

“That is more or less the way they go on. I’ve always been frightfully careful not to do that; I just keep enough current cash to keep me going on a slowly rising scale and invest the rest. The Desmond diamonds---you read about them in the paper, I expect---were a great help. A few more windfalls like that and I shall retire to Kent and breed spaniels. Black cockers. Or Aberdeen terriers. There were always cocker spaniels and Aberdeens at home when I was a boy.”

“You like Kent, do you?”

“I was brought up there. In fact, I’ve got a cottage there still, not far from Maidstone.” Warnford learned by degrees through different conversations that Marden had married during the war, a marriage which consisted solely of a few wonderful leaves spent in hotels here and there, with much talk of the home they would have when the war was over. Then the young wife fell ill and it turned out to be pulmonary tuberculosis, it was one of those interminable lingering illnesses culminating in seven months at the Brompton Hospital, where she died. Money for doctors’ bills, money for nurses, for special diets, for periods in nursing homes by the seaside, weekly payments to the hospital, presents of flowers and fruit, travelling expenses to go to see her, all these things swept away Marden’s gratuity and a few hundreds he inherited from his parents, everything except Halvings, the cottage near Maidstone, which he could not bear to part with; besides, it was let and brought in something every quarter. “She might have got better; I had to have somewhere she could go to.” It was at this point, Warnford gathered, that Marden took to burglary. “This was during the post-war slump, you know; there were no jobs to be had for an untrained man. I saw my late captain one day in Kensington High Street selling bootlaces. Burglary’s better than that; if not so honest it’s much more interesting. Occupies your mind. You’ve got to keep fit too; if you take to drink you’re done. I reckon burglary has saved me from a lot, and I only rob those who can spare it. Profiteers’ wives and suchlike.”

Marden used to come up to the flat two or three evenings a week, sometimes oftener, to sit on a box in Warnford’s workshop while he was boring out tiny steam-engine cylinders on the Drummond lathe or filing small parts to fit within extremely fine limits. At the end of a month or two it seemed like a bad dream that he had spent so long brooding alone with no one but Ashling who knew or cared who he was or what became of him, getting more morbid and bitter with every passing day. The blue devils retired into the background at once at the sound of Marden’s knock on the door and his quiet voice talking about dogs and fly-fishing, dowagers and diamonds, night raids in no man’s land, and what the corporal said to the mayor of Lessines.

One day while they were still hoping for news of Rawson from the enquiry agency Marden went to Hoxton on private business of his own, a little matter of a pearl necklace and a few other trinkets. When the affair was settled as satisfactorily as is possible with a receiver of stolen goods---which isn’t saying much---Marden left the furtive-looking house with a sense of relief. He strolled down the street and had stopped at a corner to light a cigarette, when a small man who was crossing the road towards him glanced up with an expression of surprise.

“Well, well, if it isn’t Marden! Quite a stranger; haven’t seen you for a long time.”

“Hullo, Collard. How’s things?”

“Not too bad, you know. Not too good, either. It’s a hard life, isn’t it? Come and have one?”

Marden agreed. Collard was an ex-headmaster of a Council School who had involved himself in rather serious difficulties when he was asked to account for some Benefit Society funds of which he was treasurer. After that matter had been disposed of with some inconvenience to Collard he had not found it easy to find employment, and he had become a bookmaker’s runner. He was not, however, very successful; he seemed to attract policemen as the jam pot attracts wasps. In places where no policemen should be, and at times when they ought to have been elsewhere, they always arrived at the wrong moment for Collard. Marden was sorry for him, not a bad chap really; at the moment he was pallid and greyish in complexion from a recent visit to Maidstone Jail.

“Come and have one with me,” said Marden, and led the way. They talked about one thing and another in a quiet corner of the half-empty saloon bar, of the doings of Hitler, and of what he would do next. Collard said he thought perhaps the Germans would settle down now they were all one, as it were; didn’t Marden agree?

Marden did not; he said he thought there would be trouble and England would be in it, as usual.

Collard said that no doubt Marden was right. “Probably you know more about international affairs than I do; you’ve travelled a lot, I expect. I did think the Russians were going to give us trouble at one time, but they’ve been minding their own business these last few years.”

Marden said he thought the Russians had their hands full with their own affairs, and, anyway, their activities were more in the nature of people trying to spread a gospel. The Germans, on the other hand, when they went poking about, meant mischief.

“It’s funny you should have said that,” said Collard, dropping his voice. “There’s been a little bit of funny business going on down here nobody seems to get to the bottom of. Know old George King, do you? P’raps you don’t. Everyone who lives about here knows him. Decent old chap, keeps a cigarette-and-newspaper shop round the corner two---no, three turnings down the road. Accommodation address for advertisers, that sort of thing. Well, it seems somebody got in touch with some of the real toughs round here, you know, men who’d cut their grandmother’s throat for twopence, you’d think. They wanted them to knock out poor old George on his way to the post one dark evening and take everything off him. They could have any money there was; what these other fellows who were trying to get ’em to do it wanted was the papers he carried.”

“Queer,” said Marden. “Very odd. What papers would a man like that be carrying, anyway?”

“I’ve no idea at all; it seems silly to me. Anyway, as I was saying, everyone likes old George, and I don’t suppose he’d have much money on him really, so there was nothing doing.”

“Very funny indeed,” said Marden. “I say, miss! Same again, please. Who were these mysterious people? Any idea?”

“I was told---I don’t know if it’s right, mind you---that it was two gentlemen who come into the Spotted Cow fairly regularly. I don’t know their names, but they’re foreigners if I ever saw any.”

Marden thought this story would interest Warnford; it did. He sat up in his chair and said, “What did I tell you? I knew we’d drop across something like this sometime, if we were patient. Do you know the Spotted Cow? Oh, you do, good. Have you ever seen the two foreign gentlemen there?”

“No,” said Marden. “My connection with the Spotted Cow is rather peculiar. It is run by a retired C.I.D. sergeant whom I know and, strange to say, I rather like him. I don’t mean to imply that sergeants in the C.I.D. are inherently unlikable; quite the contrary, so far as I know. I do not mingle---much. But this fellow was the man who caught me the only time I ever was caught---touch wood. He was very decent to me indeed, made things as easy as possible at the time, and kept in touch with me afterwards, not officially, just in a friendly way. I don’t know why. I appreciated it, though. If I were a respectable law-abiding citizen now I should owe it to him.”

“Does he know you’re not?”

“I hope not, though he may have his doubts. I told him I was living on a legacy from an aunt; I don’t know whether he believed it. Why shouldn’t he? Most people have aunts, and they can’t take their money with them when they die.”

“No. D’you know what’s-his-name---the man in the newspaper shop?”

“George King. I didn’t until today, but I dropped in there after I got rid of Collard, and we had a chat about things in general. Nice old fellow, I thought; got a gammy leg in the South African War.”

“But what’s behind it all, Marden? Wouldn’t Collard say any more, or didn’t he know?”

“I should say he didn’t know; he’s not very intelligent, really. He’s the bookish type---perhaps that’s why he took up with bookies. He did say one odd thing, though I doubt if he noticed it himself; I think he was only quoting what he’d been told. He said King was to have been set on on his way to the post. These people are interested in King’s correspondence, evidently.”

“But if King keeps an accommodation address,” said Warnford, “most of his letters would be other people’s readdressed, wouldn’t they? Not his own.”

“I suppose so. I can’t explain it.”

“I think we drop into the Spotted Cow, don’t we?”

There was nothing of the gin palace about the Spotted Cow. It was an old-established place of a better type than one would expect to find in that neighbourhood and, of course, very well run, seeing who was in command there. Mr. Gunn was something of a martinet, so rowdies and troublemakers went elsewhere. The furniture and fittings were good solid stuff and so, said Marden, were the barmaids, steady middle-aged women who knew how to behave. The house was eminently respectable and attracted a clientele to match, quiet elderly men and their wives, small shopkeepers and army pensioners who all knew each other and went there to meet their friends. The place was divided into two, a large saloon bar with a small lounge leading out of it, with a wooden partition between them. There was a public bar also, of course, but it was somewhere round the other side, out of sight.

Marden led Warnford into the saloon, which was comfortably, if rather stuffily, furnished with settees along the walls, easy chairs set about a number of small tables, and the bar counter across the end. There were coloured advertisements on the walls, and in each corner a tall plant stand upholding an aspidistra. There were two or three groups of people sitting about talking quietly and drinking, for the most part, a rather heavy port in thick glasses. Mr. Gunn himself was behind the bar; his face lit up with pleasure when Marden came in.

“I’m very glad to see you,” said Gunn warmly, “very glad indeed. It’s a long time since you’ve been in to see us.”

“It’s been too long,” said Marden. “I’ve been meaning to come in many times, but something always cropped up to stop me. I’ve brought a friend of mine along with me tonight---Mr. Warnford.”

Gunn transferred his interested attention to the younger man, but there was no suggestion in his manner that the name conveyed anything to him. “I am pleased to meet you, sir. Any friend of Mr. Marden’s is very welcome here indeed; he knows that. What can I get you, gentlemen? This one is on the house.”

Marden enquired after various mutual friends and eventually looked round the room, nodded to one or two acquaintances, and asked casually whether any new people of any interest had taken to coming in since he was last there.

Gunn looked at him and replied in the same tone that the house had made a few new friends lately. There was Captain Butler, now, very interesting man who had spent his life piloting ships up and down the Hooghly, a very treacherous river by all accounts. He wouldn’t be in tonight; he was away, spending a week with a married daughter in the country somewhere. There was old Mr. Williams who, believe it or not, had spent forty-five years doing nothing but paint rocking horses. Funny, that; you’d think it was monotonous, but he said no, there was a lot of scope in that job if you were anything of an artist. Couldn’t he sing, too; probably because he was Welsh. If he was in the mood and it was a night when there were all friends there, Mrs. Gunn would play for him on the piano in the lounge there and he’d sing “Just a song at twilight,” and “Land of my fathers,” that sort of thing. It was a real treat.

That old gentleman in the far corner with white hair, he’s an undertaker. Gloomy sort of job, you’d think, but comic things happen in all trades; he’d make you roll up with laughing sometimes when he got talking. The worst job he ever had was boxing up the Sidney Street gang, what was left of ’em after the fire and all that. Not so good. Well, there’s got to be undertakers.

The door opened and two men came in. They were short, fat, bald-headed, and rather obviously brothers. They sat down on a settee against the partition which separated the saloon from the lounge and nodded to Gunn, who turned and gave an order to one of the barmaids. She went away and returned at once with two tall glasses of lager on a tray, which she carried across the room to the newcomers. They greeted her in a friendly manner, lit cigars, and began to talk together.

“More habitués, evidently,” said Marden.

“Mr. Percy and Mr. Stanley Johnson,” said Gunn drily.

“Sounds very English,” said Warnford.

“Yes, doesn’t it?” said Gunn.

“There is a theory,” said Marden, “that the English are descendants of the Lost Tribes of Israel. When you look at those two---Englishmen---you’d almost believe it.”

Gunn laughed, and Warnford asked what they did for a living. Tailoring? So many Jews were tailors.

“Oh no,” said Gunn, “at least I suppose you might say it is clothing of a sort. They are sausage-skin dealers; they import them from Germany. Most of our cats’-meat overcoats come from Germany, I understand.”

“That’s interesting,” said Warnford. “Harmless imports anyway, sausage skins.”

 on: Today at 10:04:48 am 
Started by Admin - Last post by Admin
WARNFORD sat in an armchair before the fire in his flat in Pight’s Mews, off Gloucester Place. He had on his knee a handbook, Engineering Practice for Small Workshops, but he was staring at the fire instead of reading. Nice little lathe, that 3½″ Drummond, and the drilling machine wasn’t too bad, considering it was secondhand; he’d always wanted a workshop of his own and now he’d got it. A set of milling cutters would be necessary if one were going to turn out anything worth doing; he would get them in the morning. Yes, and anything else he wanted, too; it was so very nice for him, wasn’t it, to be able to buy himself anything within reason he wanted; anything, that is, except the one thing he really desired, reinstatement and the black mark wiped out. His mouth twisted and he moved uneasily in his comfortable lounge suit because it was too comfortable, no pressure from the strap on the shoulder, no constriction round the waist from a stiff Sam Browne belt, no more, no more. And Rawson had resigned his commission; why? Very queer. There was no reason why he should resign, nothing at all against Rawson, unless . . .

No use brooding like this; think about something else. It would be interesting to make a model steam locomotive, 2½-inch gauge; take up rather a lot of room, but it gives one more scope for detail than a smaller size. Steam-driven boats required a pond, but a scale-model Foden steam wagon would be interesting, or an exact model of one of the early steamcars; probably drawings were obtainable somewhere. Anything but a tank; no more scale-model tanks, no more. “Where’s that model now?” he thought. “One of these days I’ll ask Rawson, and if he doesn’t want to be taken to pieces like a jointed doll I think he’ll answer me.” Warnford’s jaw stuck out and his dark eyebrows met over his nose.

There was a dull thud from the room next door which attracted his attention. “Sounds as though Ashling’s dropped the telephone directory, unless the poor chap’s been taken ill himself.” He listened intently and heard sounds of movement; evidently his servant was still capable of activity, and Warnford returned to his thoughts. Those engine parts advertised by Bassett-Lowke which only wanted some machining and assembling were rather nice; it might be as well to start with one of those; it would provide a lot of experience. He made a long arm for the Bassett-Lowke catalogue on the top of the bookcase beside the fire and stopped halfway at the sound of a peculiar dragging noise outside the room. The next moment the door was kicked open and Ashling came in, towing behind him the unconscious body of a man whose arms and legs trailed limply on the floor. Ashling himself had an air of quite unusual ferocity owing to the fact that he was carrying a heavy round ruler between his teeth, having no hand to spare. He dropped the body on the carpet, took the ruler out of his mouth, shut the door quietly, and explained himself.

“Look what I got, sir! Found ’im burgling your safe and dotted him one with this.” He flourished the ruler.

“Good lord, man, you may have killed him!” said Warnford, getting up hastily.

“No fear, I didn’t ’it ’im in the right place for that, only to put ’im to sleep. I didn’t know but what ’e might be armed, sir.”

“Quite true, he might have been,” said Warnford, running his hands over the man, “but he isn’t. He’s breathing all right. Pour some water on his head.”

This was done, and the burglar gasped once or twice, opened his eyes, and struggled to a sitting position, rubbing the back of his head. “What----?” he mumbled. “Who are you----?” Then in a clearer voice, “Which of you dotted me that one? My soul, what a clout. I shan’t get a hat on for days when the bump comes up.”

Warnford and Ashling looked at each other in surprise, for the voice was pleasant and cultured, nor did the burglar resemble in the least what one expects burglars to look like, now that he was in his senses again and no longer a crumpled heap on the floor. He was more like a Boat Race night reveller at Vine Street next morning, a little the worse for wear but unmistakably a gentleman.

“I did, sir,” said Ashling gruffly, adding by way of excuse, “You didn’t ought to’ve been burgling our safe.”

“Believe me,” said the burglar, still feeling his head tenderly, “I wish from my heart I’d left the damn thing alone.”

“Have a drink,” said Warnford, pouring him a stiff whisky and soda. “Not that this is going to stop me from telephoning for the police in a few minutes, but have this one first.”

“Thanks awfully,” said the burglar, struggling unsteadily to his feet, “awfully decent of you. Probably saved my life, if the idea appeals to you. Well, here’s luck.” He took a pull at the whisky, and the colour began to return to his face.

“Sit down,” said Warnford, turning a chair towards him, “and have a cigarette. Feeling better?”

“Much, thanks. I wonder if you’d mind---er---disarming your servant. That blunt instrument makes me nervous.”

Warnford laughed. Ashling put the ruler down on the table and fidgeted a little. The burglar was so calm that he made the other two feel awkward. “Will you be wanting anything else, sir?”

“I don’t think so, thanks,” said Warnford, and Ashling withdrew. The uninvited guest lay back in his chair and closed his eyes. Probably his head was aching, thought Warnford, and took the opportunity to look him over. Not a young man, forty at least, but evidently very fit and active; rather on the small side, but strong and wiry. Rather shabby clothes, but one wouldn’t put one’s best suit on to go burgling. Queer case; wonder what made a man like that take to burglary in the first place. The visitor opened his eyes and smiled.

“Yours must be a pretty exciting sort of life,” said Warnford as an opening.

“Interesting, in its way,” agreed the burglar. “Lots of psychology in it, you know. After a certain amount of experience you can tell the moment you look round the house whether they’re the sort of people who keep their money in the safe, leave it lying on the mantelpiece, or hide it away among their clothes. It’s usually women who do that, middle-aged single women.” He yawned suddenly. “Sorry. Must be the whisky acting on the clout.”

“Have some more,” said Warnford, who had suddenly been seized with an idea. “You’ve been at it some time, then.”

“Since soon after the last war. I was demobbed, like everybody else; my people had died, and there wasn’t any money worth mentioning. Nobody wanted to employ me. Why should they? I didn’t know how to do anything except kill Germans, and nobody wanted anybody killed after November ’18. Othello’s occupation gone, what? So I drifted into this and I’ve been pretty lucky; only caught once, and then of course I got off lightly---first offender, you know. I don’t know why I’m babbling to you like this; hope I don’t bore you. Effect of ebony ruler on the brain, no doubt. I thought this job was going to be so easy, too, all nice and quiet till your batman drifts in and bangs me on the head,” he went on in a comically pained voice. “Don’t you people ever go to bed? It’s past one o’clock now. Which reminds me, if you’re going to send for the police----”

“I don’t think I am,” said Warnford. “I’ve got another idea. I am going to ask you to put me wise about this burglary business. Opening safes, particularly; are you an expert on safes? I suppose there are different methods for all the various different makes. I am a fair mechanic, used to handling tools.”

The burglar had been regarding him with growing horror. “But, my dear good chap,” he burst out, “are you bats? Here you are, apparently pretty well off, very comfortable flat, Bentley car in garage below, faithful devoted servant, and all that; why in the name of holy Mike throw it all away? Are you hard up? Why take up burglary, of all things? I suppose you’re bored. Better be bored than jailed, believe me; I’ve tried both. You’re sure to be caught sooner or later; think of the disgrace.”

Warnford burst out laughing, but it was laughter of a nature to silence his guest completely; he merely sat and stared.

“I’m not doing it for money,” explained Warnford, “and the disgrace doesn’t frighten me, strange to say. I am doing it for a purely private reason.”

His guest’s face lit up with the gleam of sudden recollection and immediately darkened again with sympathy. “Of course,” he said slowly, “I remember you now. I was wondering why your face was familiar; saw your photograph in the papers at the time the case was on. I never remember names.” He lit another cigarette and stared thoughtfully into the fire.

“I haven’t changed it,” said Warnford harshly. “It is still Warnford.”

“No business of mine to comment, but it struck me at the time you’d had a raw deal. In fact, I thought you’d been framed.”

“Just fancy that,” said Warnford sardonically. “Whatever made you think that?”

“I dunno, just an idea I picked up. But probably you’d rather not talk about it.”

Warnford hesitated. It did seem absurd to talk about one’s very private affairs to a total stranger and a burglar at that; on the other hand it is often easier to talk to a stranger, and this was a man of his own caste, burglar or no. It came over Warnford suddenly what an immense relief it would be to talk to someone about it again; he and Ashling had dropped the subject long ago, and there had been no one else. When you dive down a side turning every time you see an old friend coming you don’t make new ones either. But this man was different; he also was outside the pale, and in spite of his profession there was something about those steady eyes which inspired confidence.

“I don’t want to bore you with an old story,” he began.

“It won’t bore me.”

“Well---I was in the Tank Corps, if you remember. I took a lot of interest in the experimental side---always been keen on engineering. Ultimately I came to have a lot to do with the new stuff; had one or two little ideas of my own adopted, as a matter of fact. Then we had down a complete set of plans for a new tank---very hush-hush. I had to get the hang of them and explain them to a selected few. It was a good design in many ways; I was very keen about it.” He paused.

“The plans were in your charge, were they?”

“Yes. I had one key to the safe; the C.O. had the other. There were only two keys. The design was rather complicated, so I made a small scale-model to make it easier to understand. As you probably know, it’s not always easy to follow a design on paper if you’re not used to engineers’ drawings.”

“I’ll take your word for it,” said the stranger. “I’m not an engineer myself.”

“Of course I kept the model locked up too. Nobody saw it who wasn’t entitled to, till one morning I opened the safe and found plans and model missing.” He paused again, but his visitor merely lit another cigarette and waited.

“There isn’t much more to tell. I was court-martialled of course; I expected that. What I didn’t expect was that evidence would be forthcoming which suggested I’d sold the stuff to agents of a foreign power. Of course there’s no doubt that such agents did get it.”

“What I didn’t understand at the time,” said the burglar frankly, “was why, if the evidence was true, you weren’t sent to the Tower.”

“It wasn’t very convincing evidence,” said Warnford. “I was alleged to be hard up. I wasn’t really, but I saw no sense in blueing good cash on the sort of damn follies most of our fellows go in for, you know. Then, two days before this happened, I bought the Bentley. Again, I was supposed to be in the habit of driving up to Town and meeting mysterious people; I was seen in quiet restaurants with men of un-English appearance. That was pure invention, though I did run up to Town pretty often. In point of fact, I went to see a lady, but one can’t say so. They could not find any corroborative evidence about my mysterious friends, so they let that drop, but the suggestion had its effect. Left a nasty taste, you know.”

The burglar nodded. “Who produced this evidence?”

“A brother officer, fellow named Rawson. Always been rather a friend of mine, too; that is, as much as he was a friend of anybody’s. Not a very popular bloke, actually, but dashed keen on his job in the same way I was. On the engineering side, rather than tactics and field exercises.”

“Know anything about his antecedents?”

“Not much. His people were dead, I gathered, and he didn’t seem to have any near relations, but lots of chaps haven’t. Told me once he’d been privately educated as he’d been considered delicate when he was a kid; I always put down any little differences to that.”

“What sort of differences?”

“Oh, I don’t know. Sort of lack of background, I think, as much as anything. If you’ve been to a big school it’s always cropping up; old so-and-so out in Rangoon or somewhere, of course, he was in my form; that sort of thing, don’t you know? Nothing of that about Rawson; you’d think he wasn’t born till the day he joined us. Small differences in outlook, habit of mind---oh, I don’t know. But there was something.”

The burglar nodded. “Speak many languages?”

“I don’t think so. Always said he was a fool at languages---and yet----”


“I remember a little incident once. I came into the mess bar one day and Rawson was there. He didn’t see me come in, and I smacked him on the back and made him spill his drink, you know.”


“He swore, as anybody might. Only he said it in German.”

“He did, did he? You speak German yourself, do you?”

“Oh yes. My father was with the Army of Occupation, and my mother went to live with him at Wiesbaden. I went too. I was quite a small kid at the time, about ten or so, and you pick up languages easily then. I went to a German school for some time.”

“Rawson is still with the regiment, I suppose.”

“No, he isn’t,” said Warnford in a puzzled voice. “I saw in the paper that he’d resigned his commission quite soon after I left. I’ve no idea why, and of course I don’t hear any news now except occasionally through Ashling. He was my batman nearly all the time I was there, but he left, time-expired, about four months before my affair came on. He wrote to me after the case, and I came up to Town and saw him. Then when I moved in here I took him on again. But of course Ashling’s correspondents in the regiment wouldn’t know anything except gossip. Ashling says Rawson was always very much disliked by the men, too much of a martinet. Hadn’t quite the right manner, I always thought. Ashling did suggest that Rawson wasn’t too happy with the other officers after I left, for what that’s worth.”

“Perhaps they resented his evidence,” suggested the stranger.

“They may have done. In point of fact, his remarks weren’t too well received at the court-martial, I thought; there was rather a purple silence, if you know what I mean. But the damage was done all the same.”

“Wonder where he is now.”

“So do I. I should like to know,” said Warnford. “I should very much like to know. Then I should like to take him somewhere private, where no one could overhear us, however much noise we made, and talk to him.”

“Better not, perhaps.”

“Why ever not?”

“Don’t you see? Suppose he came to pieces in your ’and, as the housemaids say; nobody would believe it wasn’t murder. Look at your motive.”

“Revenge, ha-ha? I suppose they would say that. I don’t want to kill him; I want to---to unmask him is, I believe, the correct phrase.”

“Is that why you want to study burglary?”

“Not only that, for it’s quite on the cards I shall never see or hear of Rawson again. No. The point is this. Whether Rawson really had much to do with it or not, there’s no doubt that they were spies of some sort who had my plans and the model. My idea was to keep my eyes open for what you might call suspicious characters; if we’re as riddled with spies as they say, there must be plenty of them about. Then I propose to investigate them closely. It is possible that one thing might lead to another and eventually to Rawson, but if it doesn’t I shan’t be wasting my time.”

“Sort of unofficial counterespionage?”

“Oh, I know it sounds mad, but----”

“If you find papers or things like that---maps---you send ’em to British Intelligence, I suppose?”

“To the Foreign Office, I think. I don’t know where British Intelligence hangs out---does anybody? The F.O. will do.”

“It’s a hideous risk you’re running,” said the burglar thoughtfully.

“Not so much as you think. If a man loses papers he’s no right to have he won’t call the police, will he?”

“You might take quite innocent papers by mistake, or----”

“Then he can have ’em back by return of post.”

“Or you might find yourself up against people compared with whom our police are doting aunts and indulgent grandmothers.”

“Make life quite exciting, won’t it?” said Warnford casually. “Have another spot?”

“No, thanks, I don’t drink much. I still think----”

“Oh, for God’s sake!” burst out Warnford furiously. “Think, man. I’m twenty-five and I may live to be seventy-five. Am I to spend the next fifty years of my life hiding in corners, dodging people I used to know, driving the Bentley to places where they don’t know me, and using up the rest of my days making model engines in my workshop downstairs? I won’t commit suicide. I expect Rawson thought I would, so I’m damned if I will. But I can’t go on like this. I can’t; I can’t! I shall go mad; I’ve started talking to myself already.” He paused, emptied his glass, and went on in a quieter tone: “Sorry to be so dramatic; frightful bad form. There’s another point too. I used to hold the King’s commission; now I don’t. We shall be in for another war soon; it’s coming. When it comes I can enlist, but there’s no point in my doing so now; I’m a trained man already. If I do this I shall at least be doing something; if I’m successful at all I might be quite useful---with luck. At least I shall have something else to think about all the mornings, all the afternoons, all the evenings, nearly all the nights---I don’t sleep much----”

“All right, all right,” said his visitor soothingly. “I’ve made my protest; let it go at that. When you put it like that it’s still crazy but not quite so mad. I will help you in any and every way I can.”

“That’s frightfully good of you.”

“Not at all. On the contrary, I hope you’ll let me in on this a bit. Two heads, you know, and all that.”

“No,” said Warnford decidedly. “This is too damn dangerous. It doesn’t matter for me---I’m done for anyway---but you----”

“Don’t make me laugh,” said the burglar.

Warnford laughed himself. “I’d forgotten your career; I had, honestly. But anyway, it’s not so----”

“Oh, dry up, do. If you come to that, I also held the King’s commission once. It’s true it was only a temporary one, but it was a good one while it lasted. If I can turn my talents to good account----”

“Well, we’ll see---er----”

“Marden’s my name. John Marden.”

 on: Today at 09:39:22 am 
Started by Admin - Last post by Admin
Adelaide Frances Oke Manning (1891–1959) and Cyril Henry Coles (1899–1965), collaborated between the early 1940s and the early 1960s to write many spy thrillers under the pseudonym Manning Coles.

Their novel "Without Lawful Authority" appeared in 1943 and has twenty-three chapters:

   1.    On the Evidence
   2.    Johnson Brothers, Importers
   3.    The Apple Row Incident
   4.    Unofficial Subscriber
   5.    The Lady Who Liked Cats
   6.    The Man with the Fur Collar
   7.    The Desmond Diamonds
   8.    Deep Sleep of a King’s Messenger
   9.    Dark Deeds in Kent
   10.  Pork and Diamonds
   11.  Per Nocte ad Quod
   12.  At the Malplaquet
   13.  Bells on Their Boots
   14.  Mrs. Ferne’s Guest
   15.  And the Manager Fainted
   16.  Disappearance of an Experimenter
   17.  The Old Barn
   18.  Hambledon Listens In
   19.  Arrest of a Botanist
   20.  Police Car Vanishes
   21.  The Place Where Things Happen
   22.  Most Irregular
   23.  Conversation Piece
Here follows an approximate list of "Manning Cole's" productions. Most of them are collaborations of Adelaide Manning with Cyril Coles. The last two were written by Coles with Tom Hammerton:

    Drink to Yesterday, 1940
    Toast To Tomorrow, 1940
    Pray Silence, 1940
    They Tell No Tales, 1941
    Without Lawful Authority, 1943
    Green Hazard, 1945
    The Fifth Man, 1946
    Let the Tiger Die, 1947
    A Brother for Hugh, 1947
    Among Those Absent, 1948
    Diamonds to Amsterdam, 1949
    Not Negotiable, 1949
    Dangerous by Nature, 1950
    Now or Never, 1951
    Operation Manhunt, 1953
    Night Train to Paris, 1952
    A Knife for the Juggler, 1953
    Not for Export, 1954
    The Man in the Green Hat, 1955
    The Basle Express, 1956
    The Three Beans, 1957
    Death of an Ambassador, 1957
    No Entry, 1958
    Crime in Concrete, 1960
    Search for a Sultan, 1961
    The House at Pluck's Gutter, 1963

 on: March 21, 2023, 05:41:55 pm 
Started by guest224 - Last post by joachim
I have already listened to many works by this Brazilian composer. His masses are particularly beautiful.

Here is for example his Missa Pastoril para noite de Nata (Pastoral Mass for the night of the Nativity)

 on: March 21, 2023, 08:56:41 am 
Started by Admin - Last post by Admin
I call upon the secretary,” said Mrs. Basset in her high, neighing voice, “to read the minutes of the last meeting.”

In his time Francis Pettigrew had aspired to, and even applied for, a number of appointments of different kinds. He had, in fact, held not a few, most of them honorary. But the last job that he had ever expected to come his way was that of honorary secretary to the Markshire Orchestral Society. None the less, fate and the operation of law had between them created a gap which he had had no option but to fill. With deep distaste he opened the book and read from the late secretary’s neat script: “At a meeting held at Mrs. Basset’s house on the 15th of July . . .”


 on: March 21, 2023, 08:40:10 am 
Started by Admin - Last post by Admin
THE Chief Constable looked across the room at Pettigrew.

“This is your show, I think,” he said. “You tell him.”

Pettigrew did not reply at once. “It’s easy enough to say what you have done, Inspector,” he said at last. “When I first propounded my theory to Mr. MacWilliam I told him that it led straight to an impossibility. We’ve been staring hopelessly at that impossibility ever since. You have removed it. That’s all. So long as we were looking for a man who could play the clarinet we were looking for someone who simply did not exist. Now that we know we only have to find a man who could put on a false moustache and a pair of horn-rimmed spectacles and sit in the orchestra with a clarinet in his hand---well, there he is.” He indicated with his hand the little bundle of official papers which the Chief Constable had produced to him earlier in the evening. “I should have explained,” he added, “that I am alluding to my esteemed colleague, the secretary of the Markshire Orchestral Society.”

“Mr. Dixon!” exclaimed Trimble. “Do you really mean Mr. Dixon, sir?”

“None other, I assure you. Assisted, I regret to have to say, by Mrs. Dixon, who is on much better terms with her husband than she would have you believe.”

“Mr. Dixon! But I don’t understand. Why on earth should he have wanted to do such a thing?”

“As to the Why, that is where I come in. I spotted the Why some time ago, and the proof of it is in those papers over there. The really difficult problem was the How, and that you have succeeded in solving. With that done, it wouldn’t have taken you very long to get at the truth, but as it is, I can shorten your labour. There are some details that are not quite clear to me at the moment, but I have no doubt you will be able to clear them up as we go along.”

To look at Inspector Trimble at that moment, nobody would have believed that a short time before he had been on the verge of despair. With the complacent smile of success, he was sitting back to hear his assistant put the finishing touches to his work. Something very like a wink passed from MacWilliam to Pettigrew as the latter proceeded:

“Why? Why should Dixon wish to murder the woman from whom he was comfortably divorced as long ago as 1942? Both he and she had married again and they were as completely uninterested in each other’s lives---or deaths---as any two people could possibly be, to all appearances. Oddly enough, though, the motive for Dixon wanting to get rid of his ex-wife was presented to me at a very early stage in the case, in fact more than twenty-four hours before it was a case for the police at all. The person who gave me the hint, quite unconsciously, was Lucy Carless herself. I don’t know whether you are a reader of Dickens, Inspector?”

“I can’t say I am, sir. I have tried him once or twice, but I found him a bit too wordy for me.”

“Miss Carless had also tried Dickens---or rather he had been tried on her, with rather unfortunate results, it appeared. At Mr. Ventry’s famous party I happened to raise the subject of Dickens with her, and mentioned David Copperfield.”

“That’s one of the ones I dipped into, sir. There was a fellow in it called Micawber, I recollect, who was very comical.”

“Quite right. There were also two ladies who successively married the hero, named respectively Dora and Agnes.”

“That Dora! I think that was the bit of the book where I got bogged.”

“I can’t altogether blame you. Miss Carless held similar, and even stronger, views about that character. Now the point is this: Dora, in the story, is a charming but not altogether satisfactory wife, who conveniently dies, leaving the hero free to marry the equally charming and entirely satisfactory Agnes. As a matter of history, Dickens’s own marriage was somewhat of a failure, and he appears to have got it very firmly into his head that the girl he ought to have married was not his wife, but her younger sister. Whether things would have turned out any better if he had there is, of course, no knowing. But that being his state of mind, and since David Copperfield is obviously largely autobiographical, you can well imagine that many readers today identify Dora with Mrs. Dickens and Agnes with her sister---the convenient death of Dora and the subsequent marriage with Agnes being in the nature of what the psychoanalysts call ‘wish-fulfillment.’ ”

“Very interesting, sir, but I don’t quite see----”

“You will in a moment. As soon as ever I mentioned David Copperfield to Miss Carless she referred, not, as you very properly did, to Micawber, but to Dora and Agnes and to the commonplace identification of them with Dickens’s wife and sister-in-law. And she followed it up with these words---I think that I can recollect them exactly: ‘What a fuss he made about it! Nowadays he’d have simply got a divorce and married the other one!’ It struck me at the time that she seemed to be taking rather a strong personal interest in what is, after all, fairly ancient history, and I puzzled over it a good deal. Later on, a simple explanation occurred to me, which has now turned out to be the true one. Miss Carless was identifying herself with Dora---or with Mrs. Dickens, if you prefer it---and Dixon had done exactly what she suggested Dickens might have done.”

“With Mrs. Dixon, that now is, standing for Agnes?”


“But surely, sir, the two ladies weren’t sisters? Miss Carless’s father was a Polish count and Mrs. Dixon’s maiden name was Minch---or so Mrs. Basset says.”

“What Mrs. Basset says Debrett also says, and both are correct. What neither of them say, but is none the less true, is that Mrs. Minch and the Countess Carlessoff (or should it be Carlessova?) were one and the same person. Mrs. Dixon that was, and Mrs. Dixon that is, were half sisters.”

“You still haven’t told me, sir,” Trimble reminded Pettigrew, “why Dixon should have wanted to kill Miss Carless.”

“I thought I had made it clear. It was so that he could marry her sister.”

“Marry her? But isn’t that just what he’d done, years ago?”

“He had gone through a form of marriage with her, certainly. The Chief Constable has the certificate in front of him at this moment. But it is of no legal effect whatever. You may not lawfully marry your divorced wife’s sister---and a half sister, for this purpose, counts as a full one. That is the result of an Act of Parliament passed in the reign of Henry VIII—a gentleman who knew quite a bit about divorces. On the other hand, modern legislation has made it possible to marry a deceased wife’s sister, and that is exactly what Dixon intended to do.”

Seeing the look of incredulity on Trimble’s face, Pettigrew added: “Just to prove that this is not a piece of guesswork on my part, you will find on that table Dixon’s application to the ecclesiastical official known as the Surrogate, asking for the issue of a marriage license to enable him to marry Nicola Minch, spinster. It is dated just a week after Lucy Carless’s death. The license, of course, would enable him to marry without the publicity of banns, or giving notice at a register office.”

The inspector was still only half convinced.

“What beats me about the whole business is this,” he said. “Here’s a man in a good position, who, so far as anyone can tell, is comfortably married---he is married, to all intents and purposes, whatever the law may say. Why on earth should he run the fearful risk of committing a murder just to put himself right with the letter of the law, when he could have gone on as he was, and nobody any the wiser?”

“Because,” said Pettigrew, “he found himself in a position where he had to put himself right with the law, or sooner or later a great many people would be the wiser. Two unexpected events occurred just before the concert. The first was the death of the only son of Lord Simonsbath. That, as anybody within earshot of Mrs. Basset must have heard, left Dixon the next heir to the peerage, though his succession was liable to be defeated by the birth of a posthumous son to the widow. Then the posthumous child duly appeared and proved to be a girl. After that, whether he liked it or not, nothing but a miracle could prevent Dixon becoming the seventh Viscount, and, again according to the omniscient Mrs. Basset, the present peer is a pretty poor life, so that it might occur at any time.”

Pettigrew paused for a moment.

“Here,” he said, “I am obliged to speculate a little, but from what we now know happened I think I am on fairly safe ground. Whether married or living in sin, Dixon would unquestionably be Lord Simonsbath, and I don’t suppose anyone would question Mrs. Dixon’s right to call herself My Lady. But suppose he wanted to set up a family himself? Suppose---and time will very soon show if I am right---she is already in what the newspapers call ‘a certain condition’? I don’t profess to be an expert in such matters, but I fancy that before anyone can succeed to a peerage he has to take some steps to prove his right to do so. There would be a pretty kettle of fish, would there not, when Dixon’s son came to man’s estate and it turned out that after all he was what the law crudely styles a bastard. Plain Mr. Dixon could afford to let things go on in the way they always had done. Lord Simonsbath simply could not---and even if he was prepared to, the lady who had always passed as his wife was not going to let him.”

“When I was a boy,” observed the Chief Constable, “I was given a damned dull book to read. I’ve forgotten most of it, but the title has always stuck in my head. It was Madam How and Lady Why. It seems appropriate to this case, somehow.”

“I think we have disposed of Lady Why,” said Pettigrew, “and I must apologize for letting her ladyship take up so much of your time. And now, Inspector, we are waiting for you to give us Madam How.”

Inspector Trimble drew a deep breath. From the very beginning of the investigation he had been looking forward to the moment when before an admiring audience (which would certainly include the Chief Constable) he would demonstrate with telling logic and crystalline clarity the solution to the problem. Since then his confidence had wavered until, less than an hour ago, it had reached vanishing point. Now, it seemed, when he was least expecting it, his hour had struck. He was a successful detective after all! Except for one little detail---which, as Mr. Pettigrew pointed out, he would have found out for himself in due course---he had unraveled the mystery; and here was his audience, waiting breathless on his words. He could have wished for a little more time to assemble his thoughts---to assimilate the little detail which, he recognized, was not without its importance. But he would do his best. Tentatively at first, and then with growing assurance, he began his exposition.

“It’s a bit of a jigsaw puzzle, sir,” he said, “but I think that I can explain how it fits together. Let’s start at the beginning: Dixon made up his mind to kill Miss Carless in the artist’s room at the concert. In order to do that he had to impersonate a member of the orchestra, relying on the fact that players in an orchestra don’t look at each other during a performance but at the conductor, and the conductor in this case was as blind as a bat. The trouble was that he couldn’t play a note himself. But he noticed that one of the pieces to be played---this K. thing---didn’t use clarinets, and he decided that he would pretend to be a clarinet player for the occasion. As I see it he had three difficulties to get over before he could bring it off: One, to get hold of a clarinet; Two, to get rid of the genuine player; Three, to arrange for this K. affair to be played at the start of the concert, instead of at the end, as arranged. Am I right so far, sir?”

“In my humble opinion, absolutely right,” said Pettigrew.

“The first job was easy enough. I take it that he simply lifted Mr. Ventry’s instrument at the party. The second must have given him a bit of trouble, though. But luckily for him he was able to take advantage of the row that blew up at the rehearsal between Miss Carless and the Polish fellow.”

“There I am afraid I must disagree with you,” said Pettigrew. “There was no luck in the matter at all. The whole affair was deliberately staged by Dixon.”

“Are you sure of that, sir?”

“Looking back on the occasion---and don’t forget that I was an eyewitness---I have no doubt about it whatever. It seemed to me at the time that Dixon was showing an extraordinary lack of tact in dragging Zbartorowski up to be presented to the soloist. He was obviously reluctant to be brought forward and only wanted to be left alone. Introducing him to Miss Carless was like introducing a spark to a powder barrel.”

“How did he know that?”

“How was he not to know it? Dixon had lived in Poland. He had been given the job of vetting Zbartorowski before Evans would admit him to the orchestra. Of course he had found out all about him, and knew that if there was one name calculated to send Lucy off the handle it was his.”

“Very good, sir. Having got rid of one player in this way, of course he was given the job of finding another one. As we know, he eventually succeeded in engaging Mr. Jenkinson.”

“Here again I think I can help you. It is a lamentable fact, but I have just realized that I am going to be an important witness for the prosecution. Dixon wasted a considerable amount of time, no doubt deliberately, in trying a number of different people before he finally pitched on Jenkinson, whom he must have known to be available all along. I think this was done so that it would be too late for him to come direct to Markhampton, which was essential to his plan. Also you will note that he so arranged matters that I and not he made the first contact with Jenkinson, by way of additional proof, if necessary, that the man had been genuinely engaged. Incidentally, Evans very nearly queered his pitch at the last moment by offering to do without a clarinetist, but luckily for him the offer came just too late.”

“That is very helpful, sir.” The inspector’s tone, to MacWilliam’s disguised amusement, had become positively patronizing. “Now we come to an odd point: Dixon then and there, in the presence of you and a number of other people, purported to ring up Farren’s garage for a car to meet the seven twenty-nine train at Eastbury Junction. But Farren is positive that the message he received was to meet the seven fifty-nine train. Moreover, he says that the message came at five twenty, whereas Mrs. Basset is prepared to swear that Dixon telephoned in her presence at five ten. Up to now I’ve gone on the line that either Farren or Mrs. Basset or both were mistaken. It looks now as if they were right. Somebody did, later on, tell Farren to meet the wrong train. That, of course, must have been Dixon. The message which you heard Mr. Dixon send, sir, must have been a fake, sent to some other number on the Markhampton exchange.”

“By Jove!” said Pettigrew.

“What is it, sir?”

“I have just remembered something. Not only was the message a fake, but it was spotted as such by one of those present at the time it was made, even though he did not realize the effect of his own observation.”

“You spotted, it at the time, sir?”

“Not I---but Clayton Evans certainly did. If you had got so far in your last interview with him he might have told you. Let me recall exactly what occurred. Dixon said: ‘I am going to ring up Farren’s,’ or words to that effect. (He had let me do the telephoning up to then, of course, but this time he was careful to do it himself.) He then repeated the number---2203---and proceeded to dial. But of course he didn’t dial that number, but another one. We shall see in a moment which that number really was. Now if you listen to a number being dialed on an automatic telephone you can tell, if you are sufficiently interested to notice, whether the digits composing the number are long or short by the time taken for the dial to come back to its position. Obviously our old friend 999 would take much longer to dial than 111, for instance. If you have a very keen and observant ear trained to notice exact gradations of speed, I dare say you could tell the difference, say, between dialing 99 and 98. Of course, I haven’t an ear like that---but Evans certainly has. Well, as he left the room just after the bogus telephone call had been made I noticed that he looked distinctly puzzled. Somebody asked him if anything was the matter, and he said that something had been bothering him---he wasn’t quite sure what, but he thought it was a question of tempo. Of course it was. He had been expecting to hear Dixon dial 2203 and what he had heard in fact was the sound of dialing 2381. Without realizing it consciously he felt that something was wrong with the timing and it upset him, just as an orchestra playing out of time would have done.”

“2381,” said the Chief Constable. “That is Dixon’s own telephone number, is it not?”

“Yes. There is only one person to whom he could have possibly given that fake message and that was his wife---as it is convenient to call her. We aren’t in a position to prove it, of course, but if Ventry is asked I shall be surprised if he doesn’t say that a telephone call came through to her at ten minutes past five.”

“Ventry,” repeated the inspector, who obviously felt that he had been kept from the centre of the stage quite long enough. “I was just coming to him. Dixon had still his third hurdle to get over---he had to prevent the items at the concert being played in their proper order. The obvious way to do that was to arrange for Ventry to turn up late at the concert, and rely on Mr. Evans’s anxiety not to keep the audience waiting. Well, we know where Ventry was, all right. He was having what he calls ‘fun and games’ with Mrs. Dixon. She, no doubt, had told him that the coast would be clear that afternoon and early evening---Yes?” he broke off impatiently, as Pettigrew showed signs of speaking again.

“I am sorry to butt in once more,” said Pettigrew humbly, “but I am a witness of fact on that point also. Dixon made it very clear to me, in Ventry’s hearing, that he would not be coming home between the concert and the rehearsal. When the shemozzle over finding another clarinetist began Ventry weighed in with the suggestion that Clarkson should be approached. Dixon fairly bit his head off, and thereupon Ventry beetled away with what I now recognize to have been a ‘You Have Been Warned’ expression on his face.”

“Thank you, sir,” said Trimble graciously. “Dixon and his wife between them baited the trap and Ventry fell into it. Once at the house, it was her business to keep him there. She was able to do that by setting her clock twenty minutes slow and only leaving the house just in time to drive down to the concert before it was due to begin. Ventry followed her out, and found that his own car was gone.”

“On the whole,” said MacWilliam, “I think that was the most ingenious part of the entire scheme. Dixon had to ditch Ventry. At the same time he wanted a car to meet Jenkinson’s train and ditch him. He killed two birds with one stone in the simplest possible fashion, by taking Ventry’s car and using it to get Jenkinson out of the way. I am bound to say I rather admire him for thinking of that.”

“At the same time,” Trimble went on, “he was throwing suspicion on Ventry, who was naturally reluctant to tell the truth about his adventures that evening. The rest of the story is quite straightforward. Dixon drove to Eastbury Junction, met Mr. Jenkinson there, landed him at Didford Parva and then came back to Markhampton, timing himself to arrive just as the concert was due to begin. He entered the Hall by the artists’ entrance. By that time, of course, the back of the Hall was deserted, as the orchestra was all assembled on the platform. While the National Anthem was being played he made his way into the soloist’s room and strangled Miss Carless with one of his wife’s nylon stockings, which he had brought with him. Presumably he was successful in taking her by surprise, but if there was any struggle the sound of it would be drowned by the noise of the music. Then he slipped into his place in the orchestra and sat there quietly, in full view of the audience, while the symphony was being played. In the confusion that followed the discovery of the crime it was quite easy for him to slip out, remove his very simple disguise and reappear in his ordinary capacity as secretary to the Society. Naturally, nobody thought of asking him where he had been that evening,” the inspector added defensively. “As secretary he would, of course, be expected to be here, there and everywhere up to the time of the concert and to have a seat somewhere in the hall while it was going on.”

“Exactly,” said Pettigrew. He was recollecting how he had sat in the gallery of the City Hall, and chatted amiably with the accomplice of a murderer, while she airily explained that her husband “had a seat downstairs, somewhere near the back”; how he had eagerly looked along the rows of musicians and seen their ranks joined by the very murderer himself fresh from his crime. His mind reverted again to Nicola Dixon. How sparkling and alive she had been! As he contemplated the real causes of her eager excitement on that evening, he shuddered.

Aloud he said: “I congratulate you, Inspector. It has been a most complicated affair, but your reconstruction of it appears to me perfect.”

“Thank you, sir,” said Trimble modestly. “I think it is pretty clear now. And, if I may say so, your assistance has been most valuable.”

The Chief Constable choked over his fifth whisky and soda.

 on: March 21, 2023, 07:57:35 am 
Started by Admin - Last post by Admin
“THERE are two steps down,” said the Chief Constable. “And mind your head.”

He spoke just too late. Pettigrew negotiated the steps fairly successfully, but the low beam caught him sharply on the top of his skull. When he recovered he found himself in a small, square, panelled room, half filled by an enormous desk. It was the first time that he had ever penetrated into Mr. MacWilliam’s tiny, mediaeval house, squeezed between two Palladian residences in a corner of Markhampton Cathedral Close.

The Chief Constable was busy with a corner cupboard behind the desk.

“With the Dean on one side of me and the Chancellor of the Diocese on the other, I live in what might be called a desirable neighbourhood,” he observed, emerging from the cupboard with a decanter, a siphon and two glasses. “None the less, I make it a point of honour not to invite anybody to this house over five feet six in height, if it can be avoided. The ancestors of the English must have been a squat race.”

Pettigrew took the glass extended to him.

“I am sorry I couldn’t invite you to my place,” he said. “But my wife had asked some friends in to play bridge, and I thought you would prefer not to risk meeting them. Mrs. Basset was one of them,” he added.

MacWilliam opened a bulky portfolio and took from it a mass of papers which he arranged upon the desk. Their appearance was depressingly familiar to his visitor. Then he opened a long envelope and added its contents to the pile.

“I agree,” he said. “Your wife’s guests were better avoided on this occasion, particularly Mrs. Basset. However, we should not be disturbed here this evening. I have given orders that I am not to be sent for except in an emergency. And I do not think there is much risk of one of my ecclesiastical neighbours dropping in.” He leaned back in his chair and fixed Pettigrew with his candid open-eyed stare. “Talking of ecclesiastics,” he went on, “you were perfectly right about the Surrogate.”

“Oh,” said Pettigrew.

“In fact, you were perfectly right all along.”

“Oh,” said Pettigrew again.

“Perhaps you would like to look at the papers to satisfy yourself that they are all in order.”

“I suppose I might as well,” said Pettigrew unenthusiastically. When he had glanced through them he said: “Yes, they seem to be quite conclusive. They certainly bear out my suggestions as to what happened.”

“I congratulate you.”

“Thanks.” Pettigrew’s tone was one of the deepest despondency.

“On the other hand,” the Chief Constable went on in level tones, “the latest reports from Trimble don’t seem to carry the matter very much farther.”

Pettigrew, rapidly running through the reports, agreed that they did not. “In fact,” he said, “we are exactly where we were when we started.”

“Now there,” said MacWilliam placidly, “I am unable to agree with you. We have done a great deal. We have established the truth of what seemed at first---you will forgive me for saying so---a wild and highly improbable theory. In so doing we have proved a number of highly suggestive facts. And the facts seem to me to point to one inescapable conclusion---namely, that we have identified at least one of the persons responsible for this crime. I think that is quite a lot to go on with.”

“And where, my good Chief Constable,” cried Pettigrew, losing his patience, “where do you go on from here? What is the good of all your suggestive facts and your inescapable conclusions when you know perfectly well that at the end of it all you can’t say who committed the murder or how it was done? You say that I have been right all along, and so I have. But please to remember that this is exactly the situation which I foretold would arise when you dragged all this stuff out of me. Here we are with a mass of facts which may or may not concern the crime. We have no means of proving whether they do or don’t. So we are left with the prospect of living here for the rest of our lives with a fellow citizen whom we suspect of having committed a murder, although the suspicion may be quite baseless. I wish to God I had obeyed my instincts and kept out of this business altogether!”

The Chief Constable’s only reply to this tirade was to pick up the decanter and pour a generous helping into Pettigrew’s glass, adding a minute quantity of soda water. Pettigrew gratefully accepted the peace offering and the two men sat in silence for a moment. Then, as MacWilliam was about to speak, the quiet was broken by the ringing of the front door bell.

MacWilliam rose quietly, drew the window curtain aside and peered out.

“This is rather awkward,” he murmured, returning to the middle of the room. “Inspector Trimble is outside. It must be something important, or he wouldn’t have come here in view of my instructions. My servant is out, so I shall have to let him in myself.” He looked round the room in mock despair. “I ought to have devised a bolthole from this place,” he went on. “There’s nowhere in it where a rat could hide. Perhaps, though, I could see him in the hall, and you stay here till he’s gone.”

“No, no,” said Pettigrew resignedly. “Let him come in, by all means. It will make the perfect end to a delightful day.”

MacWilliam still hesitated.

“It’s the man’s feelings I’m thinking about,” he said.

“Damn the man’s feelings! I don’t see why I should be the only one to suffer over this diabolical affair.”

The ring at the door was repeated, and the Chief Constable, with a shrug of his shoulders, went out of the room. Pettigrew heard the front door being opened and the sound of Trimble’s voice in the hall.

“You will forgive my troubling you, sir, but it is a matter of such importance----” he was saying as he expertly negotiated the two steps down and with the ease born of long practice ducked his head at the right moment. He stopped short at the sight of Pettigrew. “I beg your pardon, sir,” he said stiffly. “I was not aware you had a visitor. Perhaps you would prefer me to----”

At this point the inspector’s eyes fell on the damning evidence laid out on the desk. It was a painful moment. A deep flush spread across his face as his superior’s iniquity slowly dawned upon him. “I was not aware,” he repeated, “---not aware, sir, that you---that Mr. Pettigrew . . .”

With something approaching horror Pettigrew perceived that there were actually tears in the man’s eyes. His heart smote him, and he vainly sought for words of consolation, but no words came. One can apologize for most things, he reflected, but injury to a fellow man’s professional pride is an offence almost beyond expiation.

The Chief Constable had his own remedy for this, as for almost every other, emergency. He reached quickly into the corner cupboard, found another glass, filled it and pressed it into Trimble’s hand.

“Thank you, sir, but I do not drink,” said the inspector coldly.

“I am aware of that, but on this occasion you do. You’re in need of a dram. Drink it up, and sit down---or better, sit down first.”

He pushed a chair behind Trimble, just in time. The inspector sat down so abruptly that the contents of the glass were in danger of being spilled. He seemed to be in a daze, and automatically carried the glass to his lips and took a long drink. The strength of the spirit caught him completely by surprise, and his first essay at dram drinking ended in a prolonged and violent fit of coughing.

“You’ll feel better for that,” said MacWilliam, when the fit had subsided. “And now, Mr. Trimble, I owe you an apology.”

The inspector shook his head. “I am sure, sir,” he said faintly, when he was able to speak, “that you are entitled to do anything you think proper to----”

“I am not entitled to go behind the backs of members of my force in a criminal investigation. If I did it on this occasion it was for a particular reason. It won’t occur again.”

The inspector looked at the Chief Constable as though he were seeing him for the first time. In fact, it was the first time that he had ever been confident that his chief’s words meant exactly what they said and nothing more.

“That is very generous of you, sir,” he said.

MacWilliam had only one reply to remarks of this nature. “I am not a generous man,” he said curtly. “It is a matter of simple justice.”

“Perhaps at this point I should say something,” Pettigrew observed. “Mr. MacWilliam thought fit to ask me, as a complete amateur, to consider the facts in this case, because he thought that my special knowledge might be of assistance in matters quite outside the ordinary run of police investigation. Well, I did what I was asked to do, and as a result I suggested a line of inquiry which has been carried out. The results of that inquiry have just come in and will, I have no doubt, be put before you as the officer in charge of the case”---he looked towards the Chief Constable, who nodded emphatic agreement---“for you to take such action on them as you may think proper. But I am bound to give it to you as my personal opinion---as I have just been giving it to the Chief Constable---that the knowledge so obtained is completely and absolutely useless. It is interesting in itself, perhaps, but it wholly fails to solve the problem presented by this case. That, Inspector, is what you might expect from calling in an amateur; and speaking for myself, I can heartily endorse what Mr. MacWilliam has just said---it won’t occur again. And now,” he concluded, rising to his feet, “I gather that you have something of importance to discuss. I shall only be in the way, so I will say good night.”

Before MacWilliam could say anything Trimble interposed: “I’d rather you stayed, sir, if you don’t mind. This case has given me a great deal of trouble, and what I came to tell the Chief Constable this evening seems to me to make it more difficult than ever. I---I’m a bit out of my depth, sir, and that’s a fact. I had it at the back of my mind to ask the Chief to call in the Yard, but since you are here, perhaps you’ll be able to save us from doing that. I thought I could run this show on my own, but it seems I can’t, so I shall be glad of all the help I can get, and if you can give me a hand I shall be grateful.”

Probably nobody but Trimble himself could have told just how much this avowal had cost him, but Pettigrew was sufficiently aware of the position to find the appeal irresistible.

“Of course I shall stay, if the Chief Constable will allow me,” he said. “I have already given you my opinion on the value of amateur detection, so you have been warned.” He settled down again in his chair, refused the whisky which MacWilliam immediately pressed upon him, and prepared to listen.

“Well, Inspector,” said the Chief Constable, reverting to his official manner, “I understand you have a report to make to me.”

“Not a report exactly, sir,” said Trimble. “That is, I haven’t had time to put the whole of it into writing. But in view of the importance of the matter I thought it best to bring it to your notice at once. You will have had the reports and statements dealing with this case up to yesterday, so you will be aware of the state of the inquiries to date.”

“The last report before me covers your second interview with Mr. Ventry,” said MacWilliam.

“Precisely, sir. Well, when I had reached that point I found myself fairly at a dead end. It seemed to me that I had pursued every line about as far as it would go, and I couldn’t see which way to turn. That being so, with the assistance of Sergeant Tate” (here the inspector coughed in a somewhat self-conscious manner) “I went right through the whole case from the beginning, to see if there was anything that might have been missed. On rereading the papers, sir, it struck me that there was one witness whose evidence was in a marked degree unsatisfactory. I am referring, sir, to Mr. Clayton Evans.”

“Clayton Evans, eh?” said MacWilliam. “This is very interesting, Mr. Trimble. Please go on.”

“I would remind you, sir, of the second statement made by this witness. That statement contains a highly important disclosure as to the last time that Miss Carless was known to be alive, which he had entirely omitted from his first statement. His excuse for doing so was that he had not been asked for that particular piece of information in so many words, and when I suggested to him that this was an unreasonable attitude he went on to make a variety of wild and intemperate observations, sir, which you will find summarized in my report.”

“I recollect them perfectly.”

“Well, sir, it occurred to me that in view of Mr. Evans’s rather exceptional approach to these matters there was quite a chance that he might still possess information of importance, which he had never bothered to disclose. So this evening I made an appointment with him and interviewed him for the third time. I decided to take no risks, but to question him precisely as to everything that had occurred within his recollection on the evening previous to and on the day of the concert. He displayed some considerable irritation during the course of the interview, sir, but I am bound to say that he answered my questions fairly, and his powers of memory appeared to be good. Nothing of importance transpired, however, until I reached the point in my examination where I was dealing with the scene that took place at the rehearsal as the result of which the Polish player retired from the orchestra. At this point, sir, Mr. Evans made a disclosure which seemed to me to be of first-class importance, so much so that I broke off the interview at once and came to consult you. I made a note of the relevant questions and answers immediately after the interview, sir, and though they are made from memory only, I think that they are approximately accurate.”

The inspector here fished a notebook out of his waistcoat pocket and read as follows:

Question: After Zbartorowski had left the Hall in the way you have described, what did you do?

Answer: I have told you. I sent Dixon off to find another clarinet.

Question: What did you do next?

Answer: I told Miss Carless not to let this affair upset her and saw her off the platform.

Question: And then?

Answer: I then sent the orchestra back to their places and carried on.

Question: You mean you carried on with the rehearsal?

Answer: Of course.

Question: Was the rehearsal successful?

Answer: It was quite satisfactory.

Question: Although the orchestra was then deficient of one player?

Answer: It wasn’t.

Question: But surely, you were then left with only one clarinet player instead of two?

Answer: I had no clarinets at all.

Question: I understood you to say that your orchestra contained two clarinets to start with?

Answer: That was the full orchestra. We had already rehearsed the Handel and the Mendelssohn concerto. All that was left to do was the symphony.

Question: Do you mean that it is possible to play a symphony without using clarinets?

Answer: Don’t be silly. I am not talking about “a symphony,” but this particular one.

Question: Very good, I should have said: Is it possible to play this particular symphony without using clarinets?

Answer: Really, I cannot go over the same ground continually. You already have the concert program. We were playing Mozart’s symphony No. 38 in D, K.504, commonly called the Prague.

Question: I am aware of that I am simply asking for a straight answer to this question: Do you use clarinets----

Answer: For goodness sake don’t go on talking about “using” clarinets, as though they were toothpicks. The Prague symphony is not scored for clarinets. I imagined that everybody knew that.

The inspector looked up from his notebook.

“At this point, sir,” he said, “Mr. Evans produced a large book of music, with some words on it in the German language, which he described as the score of the piece in question. I could not read it, of course, but he tendered it as evidence that clarinets are not employed in the symphony K.504. I then concluded my examination, as follows:

Question: At the concert was there not a full orchestra on the platform?

Answer: Certainly there was.

Question: But, as it turned out, the clarinets were not called upon to play?

Answer: Not except in the National Anthem.

Question: If the organ piece had been played first would the clarinets have been wanted?

Answer: Of course. We were using Henry Wood’s arrangement. It is all in the program.

Inspector Trimble closed his notebook and put it away in his pocket.

“And what,” said the Chief Constable after a long pause, “what is troubling you about this case now, Mr. Trimble?”

Trimble stared at him in surprise. “But don’t you see, sir?” he said. “This means that the man we’ve been looking for all this time---this missing clarinetist---may not even have been a clarinetist at all. Nobody ever heard him play a note. He may have been just anybody. We’ve got to start all over again.”

“On the contrary,” said MacWilliam imperturbably. “Unless I am much mistaken, this is where we stop. Do you agree with me, Mr. Pettigrew?”

Pettigrew did not answer directly. His hands clasped round one knee, leaning back in his chair, he addressed nobody in particular.

“What a fool---what a doubly distilled idiot I have been!” he murmured. “The amateur all over! Here was this simple, obvious fact lying right under my nose---and I missed it. What did Evans say? ‘I imagined that everybody knew that.’ So they did---pretty nearly everybody connected with this case. Mrs. Basset knew it, Miss Porteous knew it. My own wife knew it perfectly well. I could have asked her at any time and got the simple answer. But it never occurred to me to ask, even when she offered to help me. This is a lesson to me, Inspector, to leave the business of detection to my betters.”

Trimble cast a bewildered gaze from Pettigrew to MacWilliam and back again to Pettigrew.

“Do you mean, sir,” he faltered, “that this piece of information actually helps the inquiry? When I heard it, I thought----”

“Helps!” exclaimed the Chief Constable. “Lord save us all! Here’s a chiel who goes off on his own and solves the crime of the century, and he asks if it helps!” He poured out a bumper for himself and another for Pettigrew. “This deserves a drink if anything ever did. Mr. Trimble, your very good health! But where’s your glass? Come now, I insist you should have a drop of something!”

“Thank you, sir,” said the inspector faintly. “I’ll have a small glass of soda water, if I may. And now, sir, perhaps you or Mr. Pettigrew wouldn’t mind telling me just what I’ve done?”

 on: March 21, 2023, 07:24:36 am 
Started by Admin - Last post by Admin
THE Dixons were proud in the possession of a resident maid---a stiff-jointed, sour-faced creature with unaccommodating manners, but a resident maid none the less. It was she who opened the door to the detectives, admitted that Mrs. Dixon was in, and showed them into what was evidently Dixon’s study, ordering them, rather than asking them, to wait. Within a minute or less the door opened and Dixon himself came into the room.

“You wished to see me, I understand?” he said.

“I am afraid your servant must have made a mistake,” replied Trimble. “Actually, it was Mrs. Dixon we asked for.”

“My wife? I don’t understand. What conceivable interest can you have in my wife?”

“I should prefer to explain that to her personally.”

Dixon and Trimble were much of a size. They faced each other across the little room with wary, appraising eyes, like two lightweight boxers just entering the ring. Dixon was pale, his chin thrust out aggressively, his hands buried in his coat pockets. It was obvious that he was prepared to take offence at the least provocation, and equally obvious from which direction he looked for the offence.

“You will not explain anything to my wife,” he said sharply, “except in my presence.”

It was the third time that Dixon had used the expression “my wife,” Trimble noticed. Each time it had been spoken with an unmistakable emphasis that had grown sharper at every repetition. Obviously a possessive type of husband, he thought. Possessive---and nervous. It was not a very happy combination of qualities, considering the nature of the inquiry on which he was now engaged. He had the disagreeable feeling that what he was about to do that evening might well result in personal disaster to two quite innocent people, without really advancing the investigation an inch. But it had to be done. He had chosen to become a detective, and it was too late in the day to complain that the trade was sometimes incompatible with gentlemanly behaviour.

“Of course, Mr. Dixon,” he said, “you are entitled to be present when Mrs. Dixon is interviewed, if you so desire. It is entirely a matter for you---and for her.”

“My wife’s wishes will be the same as mine in this respect,” said Dixon sharply and rather jerkily. “I repeat, I cannot imagine what possible interest you should have in seeing her---but I suppose that you are still concerned with the death of Mrs. Sefton---as you were on the last occasion that I saw you---when I gave you all the help I could---as I always shall.”

“The matter arises out of that case---yes, sir. We believe that Mrs. Dixon may be in a position to help us.”

Dixon shrugged his shoulders, and was apparently about to make some angry retort. He evidently thought better of it, however, for he spun round on his heel, and muttering, “Very well, I’ll fetch her,” made for the door.

Before he could leave the room the inspector, prompted by Sergeant Tate, spoke again.

“One moment, sir,” he said. “You said just now that you were ready to assist us. Well, there is one small matter on which I should like your help, and as it does not affect Mrs. Dixon in any way perhaps we could deal with it straightaway.”

“By all means. What is it?” It was noteworthy that now the matter concerned himself, and not his wife, Dixon was perfectly at ease.

“We have just been interviewing a man named Zbartorowski. I think you know him.”

“Mrs. Roberts foisted him on to the orchestra and I vetted him on Evans’s behalf. That is the extent of my knowledge of him. Why?”

“He tells us that you procured the loan of a clarinet for him from Mr. Ventry. Is that so?”

“Perfectly correct. He had broken his instrument in a fit of drunkenness and asked me where he could find another. I knew Ventry had one which he did not use, and promised to mention the matter to him. Why not?”

“Were you aware that Mr. Ventry’s clarinet was missing on the night of the concert?”

“Obviously I should not have asked Ventry to lend an instrument if I had thought it was missing. Is that all?”

“That is all, sir, thank you.”

Dixon went out and returned almost immediately with Nicola.

“My wife has had a long and tiring day,” he announced. “I must therefore ask you to be as brief as possible.”

He led her to the one comfortable armchair which the room contained, settled her in it, and remained standing behind its back, as though to protect her from assault.

Whether because she was tired or not, Nicola Dixon was paler than usual. Her head drooped, so that as she sat in the low chair there was little that the detectives could see of her except a mass of auburn hair.

“Mrs. Dixon,” Trimble began, “my colleague and I, as you are aware, are inquiring into the death of Lucy Carless on the occasion of the recent concert at the City Hall. For that purpose we are anxious to check, as far as possible, the movements of various individuals on that evening.”

“My wife,” put in Dixon from behind the chair, “was at home the whole of that evening up to the time of the concert itself.”

“Excuse me, sir,” said the inspector firmly. “I raised no objection to your being present at this interview, but I must ask you not to interfere. I require Mrs. Dixon’s answers to my questions, and not yours.”

Nicola raised her head for a moment.

“What does it matter?” she said in her rich, languorous tones. “It’s perfectly true. I was in the whole afternoon and evening, right down to the time I left to go to the concert---and I only got there in time by the skin of my teeth. Mr. Pettigrew will tell you about that---he sat next me in the Hall. You can ask the man who helped me park my car, too, if you like. I expect he’ll remember it, because I gave him half a crown. Hadn’t got anything smaller,” she explained.

“Make and number of the car?” Sergeant Tate asked automatically.

“It’s a Collingwood Twelve. I haven’t the least idea of the number---I’ve no head for figures.”

“ZQM 592,” Dixon interposed.

“Thank you.”

“The point on which I particularly require your assistance, Mrs. Dixon,” the inspector pursued, “is this: During the afternoon and evening, when, as you say, you were in, was anybody else with you in the house?”

Dixon drew in his breath with an audible hiss, and his hands gripped the back of the chair until the skin whitened round the knuckles, but Nicola herself showed no sign of emotion.

“No, I don’t think so,” she said in the same lazy, low-pitched voice. “It was the maid’s day out, I know that, because I had to get tea for myself.”

“You are quite sure, Mrs. Dixon?” The inspector’s eyes for a moment strayed towards Dixon’s mask-like face behind the chair, and his heart smote him. But duty was duty, and he steeled himself to go on. “I must ask you to be careful about this, because we have reason to believe otherwise.”

Still Dixon said nothing. He was breathing hard, and staring down at the back of Nicola’s head as though fascinated.

“I don’t quite know what you mean.” Her voice was as deliberate as ever, but not quite so level in tone.

“A car which was not yours was seen outside this house between the hours of six and seven on the evening in question. I have reason to believe that it belonged to one of the persons whose movements I am endeavouring to trace. It was a Hancock car and the number was----”

“Ventry, by God!” The words came from Dixon’s lips with the force of an explosion. At the sound Nicola turned in her chair and looked up into his face. The detectives were unable to see her expression, but his was a study in concentrated fury.

“Mr. Dixon!” Trimble implored him. “I asked you just now----”

“Be quiet, you fool!” was the contemptuous reply. “I can handle this. How long was he here?” he demanded of the woman, crouched in an appealing attitude, her face within a few inches of his own. “He left the rehearsal early---he never turned up to play at the concert. What were you doing here all that time, the pair of you?”

Nicola made no reply. Slowly she drew away from the distorted angry countenance confronting her. Then she stood up and deliberately turned to face the inspector.

“What do you want to know?” she said, with a faint but purposeful stress on the word “you.”

“I want to know particularly what time Mr. Ventry left this house.”

Nicola was looking at the floor, her foot tracing patterns on the carpet. “I don’t know exactly,” she muttered. “My clock was all to hell---about twenty minutes wrong---that was what made me late at the concert----”

“Your bedroom clock, you slut!” came the furious comment from behind her. Nicola made no reply. She did not even turn her head, but remained standing, beautiful and forlorn, in the middle of the room.

Trimble steeled himself to go on.

“If you only left just in time to get to the concert before it began,” he said, “it should be fairly easy to calculate when that was. Did Mr. Ventry leave at the same time?”

“No---he didn’t leave with me---of course not---he had his own car,” she faltered.

“But did you leave the house together?”

“Yes---no---I can’t remember---I---”

“It is important that you should remember, Mrs. Dixon.”

Nicola gulped twice and then said faintly, “He left first, I remember that.”

“How long before you did?”

“Some time before, I don’t know exactly. I----” As she spoke her legs appeared to give way beneath her and she would have fallen if Dixon had not come forward and caught her. By the time that he had helped her back to her chair she was in a state of collapse. Deliberately he turned his back on her and faced the inspector.

“My wife is in a delicate state of health,” he said in the hard voice of a man under intense strain. “I do not propose to allow her to answer any further questions. I may have some of my own to put to her later, but that is my affair. Please be good enough to leave us now.”

It was when the two detectives had nearly reached police headquarters that Sergeant Tate uttered his first comment on the scene which they had just witnessed.

“I never knew there was so many jealous husbands about,” he said. “Do you realize, sir, that makes the third we’ve had to deal with in this case alone? Sefton, Clarkson, and now Mr. Dixon. It’s really surprising, when you come to think of it. Of course,” he added reflectively, “in a way it’s a compliment to the ladies, I suppose.”

“If I were to say what I think of Mrs. Dixon it would be anything but a compliment,” said Trimble austerely.


When the inspector entered his office next morning he was greeted by an unexpected piece of news.

“Mr. Ventry has just been on the telephone asking for you,” the sergeant on duty told him.

“What did he say?”

“He just wanted to know if it would be convenient for him to call and see you at half-past ten about the Carless case, sir. I told him that it would.”

“You were quite right,” said Trimble, and sat down to digest this new development. It was the first time, he reflected, since the case began, that anybody had offered to come forward and assist the police. It was somewhat ironical that the person to do so should be the very man who was next on his list for questioning, and some very awkward questioning, too. It was all to the good, inasmuch as it would save him a journey out to the other end of the town and he felt that he would be in a better position to extract the truth from this elusive customer on his own ground, in the clean air of police headquarters, than in the cigar-laden atmosphere of Ventry’s music room.

But Ventry had a way of bringing his own atmosphere with him, and the scent of a rich Havana preceded him up the narrow stairs that led to Trimble’s office. The inspector sniffed in disgust and Sergeant Tate, who did not share his superior’s dislike of tobacco, in envy, as the patrician aroma reached their nostrils.

“Morning, Inspector,” said Ventry, when he appeared, panting slightly. “Your stairs are bloody steep for a man in my condition. I know---don’t tell me---smoking’s bad for the wind, but you can’t have everything. Look, I won’t keep you long, but I thought you ought to see this. I should have given it you sooner, but I had to go to London yesterday, and I thought it would keep.”

“This” proved to be a cardboard box, about eighteen inches long, six inches wide and as many deep, empty save for paper packing; a sheet of brown paper addressed to Ventry and bearing ten pennyworth of canceled stamps; and a length of stout string.

“It came by the afternoon post the day before yesterday,” Ventry explained. “No letter or anything with it. And inside was----”

“Your B flat clarinet,” Trimble could not resist interrupting.

“That was a jolly good guess,” said Ventry in naïve admiration. “Anyhow, I thought this might be a help to you if you wanted to trace the chap who took it, so I----”

“It might have been even more help if you had brought us the clarinet as well as the packing, Mr. Ventry, instead of getting rid of it again immediately.”

“Getting rid of it? I haven’t. You can have the thing today if you really want to see it.”

Trimble began to lose patience.

“I have already seen your instrument,” he said. “It was then in the hands of another person to whom you had chosen to lend it, and for that reason was quite useless to me.”

“Lord! You fellows know everything! How the devil did you get on to that? I only gave it to the man yesterday.”

“That is neither here nor there, Mr. Ventry. Please let us stick to the point. A man of your intelligence must have understood that as soon as you realized what the parcel contained the proper thing to do was to take it to the police in exactly the condition in which it reached you.”

Ventry nodded his head sagely, took his cigar from his mouth and knocked a generous supply of ash on to the floor.

“I know,” he said, with the air of a proud schoolboy giving the correct answer. “Fingerprints.”

“Well? And what is your explanation?”

“I’m afraid I made a bit of an ass of myself over that,” said Ventry with unabashed geniality. “You see, it was just the fingerprint question that worried me. I knew if I brought you the thing down you’d find it simply stuck all over with fingerprints and all of them mine. And as one way and another I seem to be in a bit of a spot over this business, I just couldn’t face it. You see, what happened was this---I opened the parcel, just as you might open any other parcel, thinking of nothing in particular, and as soon as I got down among the paper stuff inside there was the old B flat. Well, you may think me a fool, but I’m a collector. I collect musical instruments and I like musical instruments, just as some people do watches or clocks or china dogs, so naturally the first thing I did was to fish it out and stick it together and go over it thoroughly, to make sure it wasn’t damaged in any way. Of course, I know as well as you do that the proper thing to do was to pick it up with a pair of tongs and bring it down here to be tested or dusted or whatever the chaps do in books, but my mind simply wasn’t working that way. I wasn’t thinking of it as Exhibit A at somebody’s trial, but as a damned good piece of craftsmanship which might have got knocked about after travelling through the post in a flimsy box like that.”

He looked regretfully at the diminished stub of his cigar and threw it into the empty fireplace.

“Well,” he continued, “it looked all right. There were one or two scratches on the polish of the wood, but none of the keys were damaged so far as I could see. But after all, there’s only one way to tell if an instrument is in good order, and that is to see if it sounds right. There was a clean reed fitted to the mouthpiece---there’s a clue for you, if you like---a perfectly good, clean reed---so I tried it over. It must be years since I played a clarinet, and I made some horrid squeaks at first, but it’s astonishing how quickly a thing like that comes back, and in next to no time I was playing a silly little Vivaldi Gigue my father used to make me do every day by way of fingering practice. Sheer force of habit, I give you my word! As soon as I’d finished I realized what an ass I’d been, and I went all hot and cold when I thought of those damned fingerprints. I decided to put it away and sleep on it. When next day Dixon rang me up and asked me if I had an instrument to lend to that Polish blighter it seemed to me an easy way out. He could put his prints on top of mine, I thought. Sorry if I’ve destroyed a valuable clue and all that, but at least I had the sense to keep the paper and string.”

Whatever Trimble’s opinion of the story, he kept it to himself. Instead, he picked up the sheet of brown paper and examined it closely.

“This doesn’t look as if it would be particularly helpful,” he remarked.

“No, it doesn’t,” Ventry agreed. “Block letters for the address, very thick writing. Looks to me as if it had been done with a matchstick dipped in ink instead of a pen. Postmark, Markhampton Central. The box is homemade, I should say. It might have been cut down from----”

“All these things will be examined in due course,” said the inspector curtly, putting the bundle of paper and cardboard to one side.

“Sorry I butted in. Not my business, I know. Well, there it is.” He rose. “Anything I can do to help you fellows----”

“Yes, there is. Please sit down again, Mr. Ventry. I have another question altogether to ask you. How did you go to the City Hall on the night of the concert?”

“Oh, but I’ve told you that one already. By bus.”

“Which bus?”

Ventry stared at the inspector for a moment without speaking, and then a slow grin spread across his face.

“Oh, Lord!” he said. “Has somebody been talking?”

“I asked you, sir, which bus?”

“This is where my reputation goes below zero,” said Ventry in a resigned voice. “It was a 5a.”

Sergeant Tate, sitting in his corner, could not suppress a gasp of satisfaction.

“A 5a,” Ventry repeated, turning towards him. “And more by token, the conductor had one of those wild Battle of Britain moustaches. I’d know him again anywhere. I only hope he’d know me. I’m afraid you’ll want to have anything I say checked up, after all the trouble I’ve given you,” he explained.

“Then you did not go to the concert direct from your house?”

“I did not. I never went near my house from the time I left the rehearsal till the concert came to its sticky end.”

“Your car was stolen----”

“Oh, my car was stolen all right. That was the trouble.”

“Your car was stolen,” the inspector repeated, “not from your house but from outside No. 6 Fairfield Avenue.”

“It was. You’ve got the whole thing taped, Inspector, and I’ve been lying like a trooper about it---all for the love of a lady. Who says the age of chivalry is dead?”

“I think, Mr. Ventry,” said Trimble coldly, “that it is about time we heard the truth from you.”

“Right-oh!” said Ventry cheerfully. “Though I think you’ve found out pretty nearly all of it off your own bat. You see, I’ve been making passes at Nicola Dixon for quite a time now, and just lately she’s been responding more than a little. From something I overheard at the rehearsal I knew that the coast would be clear the rest of the evening so far as that codfish of a husband of hers was concerned, so I decided to try my luck. I rang her up, and she was in. I drove up to her house, and everything went according to plan. We had a few drinks, we had a bite of supper, we had some fun and games, and then, a bit late in the day, we found out that her clock was twenty minutes slow.”

“Her bedroom clock?”

“Saving your presence, it was her bedroom clock. That was a bit of a shock, knowing what a stickler Evans is for starting his shows on the dot, but there was just time still, and I was pretty sure I could make it comfortably in the car. The real shock came later. Nicola’s car was in the drive and she got in first. Mine was in the road, tucked away against the hedge so as not to be too conspicuous. At least, that’s where it had been. When I got there, it wasn’t. I shouted to stop Nicola---she was only just out of the drive---but she was in low gear and couldn’t have heard me. So there I was, planted. And the rest of my story,” he concluded with simple pride, “is perfectly true.”

“Thank you,” said Trimble. He sat silent for a moment and then went on, “I won’t ask you, sir, why you have chosen to conceal the truth until now, because the reason is as obvious as it is disreputable.”

“I am a damned disreputable fellow,” Ventry agreed cheerfully. “By the way, does Dixon know about this?”

“He does, sir. You will have to face the consequences of that.”

“Oh, consequences! One thing I can be sure of. He’ll never divorce Nicola on my account!”

With this enigmatic observation the interview terminated.

 on: March 21, 2023, 07:14:33 am 
Started by Admin - Last post by Admin
A THICK envelope addressed in spidery handwriting was among Inspector Trimble’s post next day. It was marked “Private and Confidential,” heavily underscored.

Inspt. Trimble [the letter began abruptly]: You asked me if I had seen a certain person on the day of somebody else’s alibi and I told you I hadn’t which was absolutely true, but I did know where he had been. It’s absolutely no business of mine what he was up to, because I’m absolutely through with him and wouldn’t touch him with a barge pole after he let me down like he did. He was always talking about being careful and of course he is a coward like that sort of men always are but actually it wasn’t that at all but just that he’d found another woman. All I can say is I’m sorry for her and hope she doesn’t go through what I have done. I had my suspicions when I saw them at his party the night before but now I know and that’s why I don’t mind telling you. He’d been putting me off and putting me off but I meant to have it out with him so that morning I phoned him and said I’d come round to his place about half-past five. He pretended to be ever so glad and said he’d run me down to M’s before he went to the concert so I shouldn’t be late and look suspicious. Well I got a 5a bus down to the centre and there was a 14 just coming so I was there quite a bit before half-past five and he wasn’t there. I rang and rang and no one answered and then I thought perhaps I was early though he said he would be coming straight home from the rehearsal so I hung about outside until nearly six and then I came away. I waited ages for a bus back to the centre and when I got there I was so scared of being late I couldn’t wait for a 5a and walked up. I took the short cut to Charleville Road through Fairfield Avenue. Well, you know how the houses on the N. side of the Avenue sort of lie back from the road with drives leading up to them. There was a car outside No. 6, not in the drive but close up to the fence in the road. I thought it was sort of peculiar to put a car there without any lights on or anything because of course it was getting dark and then I thought it looked sort of familiar so I went to look and it was his car. So if you want to know where he was that evening you can go and ask the lady at No. 6 and see what sort of answer you get. Only don’t expect me to give any evidence about it because I’m not saying anything or signing anything. This is just an annonimous letter with no names mentioned because I think you ought to know.

P.S. You can see over into Fairfield Avenue from the back of Charleville Road so when I got to M’s I went up to powder my nose in her bathroom and I took a peek out of the bathroom window and the car wasn’t there any more, so I must have only just caught it. I thought you ought to know this.

Trimble passed the letter over to Sergeant Tate with an air of triumph. The latter read it through slowly and in silence.

“Six, Fairfield Avenue!” he said, taking off his ancient spectacles and carefully putting them away. “But that’s Mr. Dixon’s house!”

“Also Mrs. Dixon’s,” observed Trimble.

“This man Ventry,” said the sergeant solemnly, “is no better than a satire, if you ask me.”

Trimble made no comment.

“It’s a pity the lady can’t be a bit more precise about the time,” Tate went on.

“Whatever the time was,” said the inspector, “it seems pretty clear that he left Fairfield Avenue in plenty of time to get to Eastbury Junction to meet the train.”

“That’s what bothers me. I don’t see how he could have, if he was on the bus.”

“If he was on the bus.”

“Well, the conductor seemed pretty sure of him.”

“I told you, I shall want to have a talk to that conductor myself.”

“Yes, sir, you did,” said Sergeant Tate in an absolutely expressionless voice. “Will you be wanting to interview Mr. Schlumberger also?”

“Mr. Who?”

“Mr. Schlumberger---the other clarinetist who was engaged for the concert.”

“Of course, I remember. We got his name and address from the list Mr. Dixon gave us. What about him?”

“There’s a report just come through from the Yard,” the sergeant said. “The Chief asked me to let you have it. I’ve got it here.”

“Let me see it,” said Trimble in the resigned voice of one who expects bad news.

The detective-sergeant who had been given the task of interviewing Mr. Schlumberger at his home at Herne Hill wasted no words.

“I interviewed the above-named man this morning, and showed him the copy photographs supplied,” his report ran. “He studied them carefully and then made the written statement enclosed.”

The enclosure was to this effect: “I am bad at remembering faces and I am not at all interested in strangers. I do not think I could recognize again the performer who sat next to me at this concert. The photographs produced do not seem to me to resemble the person in question. One of them reminds me rather of an old acquaintance of mine named Ventry, but it is not a very good likeness. Henrich Schlumberger.”

“No,” said Trimble. “No. I do not think I shall want to see Mr. Schlumberger.” He laid the report down. “Of course,” he said hopefully, “he may have been disguised. He must have been disguised---whoever he was. The man is bad at remembering faces, too, and not interested in strangers.”

“An old acquaintance of mine named Ventry,” the sergeant murmured.

“Clarkson could have pinched that car easily enough,” Trimble went on, frowning at the interruption. “That won’t do, though. He was at Charleville Road when his wife arrived, and it had gone by then. All right! Let’s suppose this Schlumberger person is correct and Ventry didn’t take the clarinet’s part. That doesn’t mean he didn’t drive to Didford and ditch the other fellow. It was too much of a risk for him to go on to the platform, so he got someone else . . . someone else . . .”

His voice trailed away. His fingers drummed nervously on the table before him. For the first time he looked completely at a loss---and entirely human. Sergeant Tate, who was a good-natured man, to his astonishment found himself actually feeling sorry for the fellow. He coughed in an embarrassed fashion, cleared his throat and, seeking for words of comfort, finally said: “I dare say that bus conductor was mistaken. We’ll see him again.”

The gesture was not lost on the inspector. A grateful smile flitted for a moment across his face, but his despondency remained.

“Yes, we’ll do that,” he said. “But even if he is wrong, that won’t take us much farther.”

“And then we’ll put it across Ventry good and proper,” Tate went on. (It was strange how easily the “we” of the old City Police days came to his lips again, and how naturally the inspector seemed to take it.) “He’s told too many lies. We could break him down easily now.”

“No,” said Trimble. “We don’t want to go back to Ventry yet. Not until we’re sure of our ground and can nail his lies to the counter. Before we tackle him I think a chat with Mrs. Dixon is indicated.” He rose to his feet. “The bus conductor first,” he said. “What’s his name?”


“Get on to the bus depot and find out when Barry will be available. Then we’ll tackle Mrs. Dixon. Then Ventry. Damn it, Tate, between the three of them we ought to be able to clear this case up somehow!”

There followed a day of maddening frustration. The omnibus company, after prolonged research, discovered that Barry was taking a week’s holiday. They supplied his home address where he lived with his parents. Tate went to the address in a back street behind the cathedral and found an empty house. After patiently waiting for half an hour he encountered Mrs. Barry returning from shopping, and learned from her that her son was “off for the day,” and that she did not expect to see him home till midnight. When pressed for his whereabouts she finally recollected that among his engagements was a Select Dance at the Masonic Hall that evening, where he was to act as Master of the Ceremonies. The sergeant had no better luck with Mrs. Dixon. She had gone to London for the day and would not be home before dinner.

Further work on the case was perforce postponed until the evening, and the rest of the day was occupied in clearing off accumulated arrears of routine work. At a little before nine the two detectives left the police headquarters together.

An extremely elegant young man with a superb handle-bar moustache was just announcing a Paul Jones as they pushed through the doors of the Masonic Hall. They advanced up the room through an inferno of noise, avoiding with difficulty the whirling circle which filled the dancing floor. The Master of the Ceremonies bore down upon them at once.

“This is a select dance, you know, chaps!” he said in a voice that somehow made itself heard above the din of the band and the stamping of feet. “Admission by ticket only.”

“We haven’t come here to dance!” Trimble shouted back.

At that moment the music mercifully switched to the comparatively soothing strains of a slow fox trot, and the two revolving circles of men and women split into couples. The young man looked blankly at Trimble and then at Tate.

“Good Lord, it’s the detective-type again!” he said. “What have I been up to now?”

“The inspector would like a word with you, Mr. Barry,” the sergeant explained.

Mr. Barry nodded briefly, and strode up to the platform at the end of the hall.

“Keep the Paul Jones going till I get back, Sammy,” he said to the band leader. “Shan’t be a minute.” Then he beckoned the detectives to follow him and led the way out of the hall. A corridor ran parallel with the side of the dance floor and here the three men established themselves in wickerwork armchairs. “We’re lucky,” Barry went on. “We’ve got the place to ourselves. A little later and it would be full of canoodling couples. By the way, you heard what I said to the band just now? Well, seven minutes is the extreme limit for a Paul Jones. Don’t ask me why, but it is. If it goes beyond that, there’ll be a riot. So make it snappy, won’t you?”

Trimble took the hint and wasted no time on preliminaries. “You made a statement to the sergeant here yesterday,” he said. “Just look through this copy to refresh your memory.”

Barry took the sheet of paper given him and glanced over it rapidly. “That seems right enough,” he said.

“Now look at this photograph again and tell me if you are sure---sure, mind, that it’s the same man.”

Barry studied the photograph and then turned a gaze of innocent inquiry on the inspector.

“Look, chaps,” he said. “Which is it you want me to say---he is or he isn’t? I’ve had to give evidence at a court martial in my R.A.F. days, and I know the way these lawyers can jigger you about. But if you tell me what’s wanted I can stick to it, either way. Only I must have the dope first. What’s it to be?”

“I want your honest opinion,” said the inspector.

“That’s a bit tough,” said Barry with a frown. “If I ever find myself giving my honest opinion in the witness box I shall be made to look an ass as sure as fate. I tell you, I’ve seen it done. Well, here goes!” He closed his eyes, as if plunging on some desperate gamble. “I’m pretty certain that was the blighter,” he said at last. “I wouldn’t mind having a friendly bet on it. But as to being dead sure---well, that’s another matter.”

Trimble persisted a little longer, but could get no more definite opinion from him, and presently the young man, glancing at his wrist watch, announced that the seven minutes allotted for the Paul Jones was nearly up.

“The fellows will be wanting to get back to their regular girls,” he explained. “A Paul Jones is all very well for livening things up at the start, but they didn’t pay for their tickets to see their girls dancing with other fellows. It’s time I called it off and announced a rumba.”

He moved off towards the dance hall. “You can get out that way,” he said, pointing down the corridor in which they had been sitting.

Sergeant Tate was about to move off in that direction, but the inspector restrained him. “I think we’ll come back to the hall for a moment,” he said.

“Just as you like, chaps,” the M.C. replied. “You won’t have much chance of partners, now the Paul Jones is over, but I’ll see if I can fix you up, if you like.”

Trimble declined the offer with thanks on his own behalf and Tate’s. The two officers followed Barry back into the hall. Just inside the door the inspector drew Tate into a corner, and looking towards the platform said, “Sergeant, do you see what I see up there?”

Tate looked in the same direction, and scrutinized each of the players in turn.

“Good Lord!” he said. “Isn’t that Whatsisname playing the thingmebob?”

“Zbartorowski playing the clarinet,” Trimble corrected him. “I spotted him as we came in.”

“Funny, that,” the sergeant said ruminatively. “He must have got hold of another one. He’d never have had time to get the old one mended. Would it be worth while having a word with him, do you think, sir?”

Trimble nodded in agreement.

With a look of resignation in his sorrowful brown eyes, Zbartorowski came from his place in the band at the inspector’s summons.

“So you’re playing again, I see,” said Trimble.

“If you can call this playing---yes,” the Pole replied with a shrug of his shoulders.

“Did you have your instrument repaired, then?”

“No.” Zbartorowski shuddered at what was obviously a painful memory. “No. I have now another.”

“Where did you get it from?”

“Mister---the fat man who plays the organ----”

“Ventry, do you mean?” the inspector put in sharply.

“That is the name---Ventry. He lend it to me till I can buy a new one.”

Trimble drew a deep breath. “The devil he did!” he murmured.

Zbartorowski looked more troubled than ever. “I was wrong to take it?” he said anxiously. “It is stolen, perhaps? I promise you, sir, I did not know----”

“No, no,” Trimble hastened to comfort him. “You’ve done nothing wrong---so far as I know. Only it happens that this particular instrument----”

“Just a minute, sir,” Tate put in. “It occurs to me, Ventry told us he had three of these things, all different. They had letters, I remember. The missing one was a B something or other.”

“B flat---yes,” Zbartorowski said. “That is the one I have here. These dance band parts, they are scored for the B flat. But it is not missing. Mr. Ventry lend it me and I did not think it was wrong to take it.”

“What I want to know,” said the inspector, “is how he came to let you have it. You don’t know him well, do you? You couldn’t even remember his name just now.”

“It is quite simple,” Zbartorowski explained. “Mr. and Mrs. Dixon came to dinner with Mrs. Roberts and I am in the kitchen to wash up. You know, Mrs. Roberts is always very kind to me and so she ask Mr. Dixon to come and speak to me because he can talk my language, and Mr. Dixon ask me what I am doing now and if I will play at the next concert, and I told him I can no more play because of---of what you know, and Mr. Dixon he say, ‘In that case I will find you a good clarinet because I know a man who has one he do not require,’ and so this morning he telephone me and say Mr. Ventry will give it me if I go to his house and I go there and he give it me. But it is a loan only, until the next orchestre concert---if Mr. Evans will let me play,” he concluded.


“And that appears to be that,” remarked Trimble as they left the dance hall. “We will get Dixon to verify that Polish fellow’s story, but it seems genuine enough. If it is, here’s one more poser for Master Ventry to answer. If his clarinet was missing on the night of the concert, how did he come to have it this morning?”

“He seemed surprised enough to find it gone when we were at his house,” Tate remarked.

“Then, at the least, it can only mean that he has since recovered it somehow and not said a word to us about it, which is suspicious in itself. First cars, and then clarinets,” said Trimble, with an unwonted touch of humour. “He’s a master at losing things and finding them again. Has it occurred to you,” he added, “that if anybody wanted to make it quite impossible to prove who played that instrument on the night of the concert he could hardly do better than do just what Ventry has done?”

Tate was not yet accustomed to the new relationship of confidence that had sprung up between himself and his superior. Surprise at being asked for his opinion made him a little slow in the uptake.

“Oh, ah, I see! Fingerprints!” he said at last.

“Exactly, fingerprints. Obviously, if that was the clarinet played at the concert it would be smothered with the prints of the player. If anyone wants to get rid of them, he can do one of two things---either wipe it clean, which will look suspicious when it comes to be examined, or, better still from his point of view, give it to somebody else to play on. One Paul Jones, and every print is obliterated by Zbartorowski’s. The instrument’s quite useless for our purposes now---that’s why I didn’t bother to take it away from him this evening.

“Let’s see how it works out,” he went on, as the pair trudged away from the Masonic Hall through the quiet streets of Markhampton. “Ventry ‘misses’ his clarinet on the night of the concert; in other words, he lends it to---X, let’s call him, to take Jenkinson’s place at the concert. Ventry himself, of course, does the job of meeting Jenkinson at the station and dumping him. Whether Ventry or X actually commits the murder I can’t make out at the moment. After it is done X returns the clarinet to Ventry, and he takes this means of making it useless for purposes of identification. Oh, I know,” he went on hurriedly as the sergeant drew breath to speak. “We haven’t a ghost of an idea who X is, and we don’t yet know of any motive Ventry could have for killing Miss Carless, and that damned man Barry would make a superb witness for the defence. Don’t tell me, sergeant, I know, I know!”

“I was only going to say, sir,” said Tate soberly, “that it seems to have been Mr. Dixon who was responsible for the idea of lending the clarinet to Zbartorowski.”

“Therefore, I suppose you would go on to say, Dixon must be X! When the one certain thing about this whole damned case is that he can’t play a note on any instrument!”

“I quite realize that, sir. I only mentioned it because it seemed a little odd. I had been turning over in my mind whether it might possibly be a case of Dixon and X, or Dixon and Ventry and X, or . . .”

The possibilities of the case stretched before them indefinitely, as endless and uninviting as the steep slope of Fairfield Avenue, which they were just then ascending.

 on: March 21, 2023, 05:11:31 am 
Started by Admin - Last post by Admin
“YOU'LL have another whisky, Chief Constable,” said Pettigrew. It was not a question, but a simple statement of fact. The Chief Constable would have another whisky and it would disappear as quickly, and with as little apparent effect on the consumer, as the two which had preceded it at dinner and the two more which would certainly follow it before the evening was over. This was Mr. MacWilliam’s second visit to his house since they had met at the club, and he was beginning to wonder rather gloomily what he should do if the investigation into the Carless case outlasted his meagre supplies of liquor.

“Thank you,” said the Chief Constable. He helped himself liberally from the decanter, added the minimum of soda water and half emptied his glass at a gulp. “I’ve left a couple of bottles for you in the hall,” he added.

“You’ve---what?” asked Pettigrew faintly.

“I have never been able to understand,” said MacWilliam, looking meditatively at the glass in his hand, “why, in these days of shortages and rationing, it should be considered perfectly proper for guests to bring with them morsels of tea and sugar and disgusting little packets of margarine for the benefit of their hosts, while it is taken for granted that they should be supplied ad libitum with substances far more precious and---if you will forgive my mentioning it---a great deal more expensive. Now I don’t very much care for tea and hardly take any sugar, but I do---as you may conceivably have observed---drink an appreciable quantity of whisky of an evening. I repeat, therefore, I have left two bottles for you in the hall.”

Pettigrew opened his mouth to protest, but thought better of it. There was a finality about the Chief Constable’s tone and a doggedness about the set of his jaw that put any argument on the subject out of the question.

“It is very kind of you,” he ventured.

“Not at all. A simple matter of justice.” The man seemed rather touchily anxious that no question of gratitude should enter into the matter.

Pettigrew tried another tack. “Well,” he said, “if that is the case, I think I will have another glass myself.”

The Chief Constable thawed at once. “That was what I had been waiting for you to say,” he remarked genially. “Your very good health, sir!”

By common consent nothing had been said during dinner on the subject of his visit. MacWilliam had proved an agreeable guest, with a wide range of interests and a conversational gift that had met with Eleanor’s instant approval. It was only now, when, coffee concluded, the two men had adjourned to the tiny cubbyhole which Pettigrew dignified by the title of study, that the business of the evening was due to begin.

Pettigrew seemed distinctly reluctant to begin it, none the less. He mixed his drink, lit cigarettes for himself and his guest, made an unnecessary to-do about finding ash trays and placing them in convenient positions, and was positively fussy over the arrangement of cushions in his armchair. When he finally sat down he remained silent and almost embarrassed, staring at the electric fire that warmed the little room.

“You must be regretting,” said MacWilliam unexpectedly, “that it isn’t a good old-fashioned grate.”


“Something to fiddle with,” the Chief Constable explained. “Something to poke, or put coal on, or puff at with a pair of bellows or just curse for smoking. Something to occupy you, in fact, and help postpone the evil moment.”

Pettigrew flushed guiltily, and then grinned. He found it impossible to be annoyed by this man, impertinent as he might be.

“I feel that I’ve brought you here on false pretenses,” he said.

“I was under the impression that I had invited myself.”

“Allowed you to come here on false pretenses, then.”

“Maybe. Though I hardly think you’d have made such a pother if it was simply a question of telling me that you had nothing to say. In any case I have a few more reports that have come in during the last week which I want to leave with you. But we’ll discuss them later. At the moment I want to listen to you.”

“I don’t know what you’re expecting to hear,” said Pettigrew, “but if it’s a cut-and-dried explanation of how this murder was done and who by, you are not going to get it. You asked me to keep my eyes and ears open, I remember, and so I have done, but as neither my sight nor hearing are particularly keen, and I have no gift for extracting confidences, I haven’t even any fresh bit of information to add to what you already have. Except one, now I come to think of it, and you can make what you can of it. Personally, I think it merely adds to the difficulties of the business. Here it is: Mrs. Basset is perfectly justified in saying that her watch is a reliable timekeeper. I ascertained that, unaided, by a superb piece of detective work the day before yesterday.”

“Um!” said the Chief Constable, and helped himself to another drink.

“That is the beginning and the end of my factual contribution to the problem,” Pettigrew proceeded. “Now for my general impressions about the case. I believe that this was a carefully calculated crime, committed for a valid and compelling motive. If I am right in that, then I can see only one individual who could have had such a motive or been capable of such calculation. At the same time, the facts your Inspector Trimble has so patiently collected make it quite impossible for that individual to have committed it. I trust I make myself quite clear?”

“Perfectly,” said the Chief Constable with the utmost solemnity.

“On the other hand, if the murderer is any person other than the one who, as I say, could not possibly have killed Miss Carless, then we are faced with a perfectly staggering collection of coincidences instead of a logical sequence of events. The only solution that will fit---and I confess that I am far from happy about it---is to assume that this murder was the work of two hands---or, to be more accurate, of one brain and a wholly separate pair of hands, and highly specialized hands at that. Why the brain should have taken the appalling risk of employing an accomplice to do the dirty work, instead of using some other, safer method, I don’t see. Still less do I understand what influence could have been brought to bear on the hands to compel them to do a horrible act from which they could derive no profit whatever. But there it is. Unless we premise the hands, the case against the brain falls to the ground.”

“The hands being highly specialized,” remarked the Chief Constable, “I take it that there are not many candidates for the position.”

“Precisely. That ought to make it all the easier for you. But how you are going to make a case against the brain, short of a confession from the hands, is a bit of a problem.”

“Suppose we leave that problem until it arises?” said MacWilliam. “At the moment what interests me is the identity of the person you call the brain.”

Pettigrew said nothing for some moments. His gaze had reverted to the glowing orange bar of the fire, his hands were clasped, and his nose was wrinkled in an expression of discomfort and anxiety.

“I don’t really know anything,” he said at last. “That’s what I meant when I talked about getting you here on false pretenses. It’s just an impression, built upon---what shall I call it?---atmosphere, intuition---that, and an elementary point of law,” he added. “There may be absolutely nothing in it, but a little simple research will at least demonstrate whether the thing is feasible or not. That is a police job---a simple matter of ferreting round Somerset House. I have an idea that the Surrogate might be helpful, too---if you can persuade him that it’s his duty to talk.”

“The Surrogate, eh?” The Chief Constable was looking at his host with an expression in which exasperation and amusement were nicely blended.

“I go on beating about the bush in this way,” Pettigrew groaned, “simply because I can’t bring myself to perform the good citizen’s duty of peaching on his fellow human being. I can’t be sure, you see. It’s this business of an accomplice that bothers me---it seems to make such nonsense of the whole thing. It’s clean out of character, and that alone throws a horrid doubt over the whole theory. And don’t tell me that it’s the function of the jury to decide,” he added, with a sudden spurt of anger. “I’ve seen too many juries.”

“A minute ago you said that we should have a job to make out a case against him.”

“Did I? How filthily logical and consistent you are. I suppose policemen can’t afford to indulge in any decent feelings. Look, I’ll be honest with you, and myself. I’ll simply tell you what I saw and heard, beginning from the beginning and going right through to the moment when the estimable Trimble appeared on the scene. I’ll nothing extenuate nor ought set down in malice. Then if you come to the same conclusion that I do, in the light of all the knowledge you’ve acquired since, let the law take its course. My conscience will be clear. Like Pontius Pilate, I wash my hands. By the way, that reminds me---do you want to----?”

“Thanks,” said MacWilliam. “Perhaps it would be as well.”

“To begin with,” said Pettigrew, when the discussion was resumed a little later, “do you read Dickens?”

“Yes. I suppose I’ve read all of him one time or another.”

David Copperfield?

“That’s the best of the lot, to my way of thinking.”

“Cheers! Hold fast to David Copperfield. He’s the nub of the case so far as I’m concerned. Now Lucy Carless, God rest her soul, didn’t like Dickens. No, I’m wrong---and accuracy is all-important in these matters. She hated Dickens. And David Copperfield, she declared, was the worst of the lot. I know it takes a bit of believing, but I am being perfectly truthful, and what is more, she seemed to be quite sincere about it.”

“Just a moment,” the Chief Constable put in. “When did she tell you this?”

“I apologize,” said Pettigrew. “I said I would begin at the beginning, and then I was in such a hurry to get to David Copperfield that I skipped the preliminaries. Well, as you presumably know already, Ventry gave a party the evening before the concert. My wife and I were invited and . . .”

Pettigrew continued speaking for quite a considerable time. The Chief Constable heard him out to the end without interruption of any sort, his long legs extended in front of him, his gaze directed at the ceiling, whistling a soundless tune to himself. When the recital was finished he said, without moving from his position, “As you say, it is an elementary point of law. There was a paragraph about it in one of the papers a week or two ago.”

“You see what I’m getting at, then?”

“Ye-e-es. I see what you’re getting at all right. It takes a bit of working out, though. Let me see . . .” He ran over various points on his fingers. “It accounts for most of them,” he conceded. “Not quite all, but most. As you remarked just now, if your theory’s right, it’s a routine matter to confirm the facts.” He sighed. “I don’t know how I’m to manage Trimble over this,” he went on. “It would break his heart to have the case solved behind his back.”

Pettigrew felt a sudden uneasy qualm in the pit of his stomach.

“Do you think the case is solved then?” he asked.

“Well, no, I don’t,” the Chief Constable rejoined with surprising cheerfulness. “We’ve got a long way to go yet, even supposing the facts match up to your very attractive supposition. There’s hope for Trimble yet.”

He appeared to become suddenly conscious of the empty glass at his elbow. Pettigrew took immediate steps to remedy the situation.

“And talking of facts,” he went on, “I promised to let you see the further reports and statements I brought with me. I think you’ll find them interesting.”

He produced a small packet of typewritten papers. They brought the history of the investigation up to date, concluding with Trimble’s report on his visit to the Clarksons’ house. Pettigrew read them through, at first casually, and then with growing attention as he neared the end. When he reached the final page his face was blank with disappointment. He turned back and read over again some of the sheets, this time with anxious concentration.

“Why didn’t you let me see these before?” he asked accusingly, when his scrutiny had come to an end.

“Well,” said MacWilliam with a deprecatory air, “I could see that you had something on your mind, and I didn’t want to distract you.”

“Distract me be blowed! If you’d given me these when you first came in you’d have saved me from making a fool of myself! Surely you can see as well as I can that they knock the bottom out of my case?”

“I think you’re exaggerating a little.” The Chief Constable remained as calm as ever. “But I’d go so far as to say that these reports don’t supply the bottom that your case needs if it’s to hold water.”

“ ‘And it shall be called Bottom’s Dream, because it hath no bottom,’ ” said Pettigrew bitterly. “Well, let’s forget it! I have been wasting your time, Chief Constable. It’ll be a lesson to you not to ask for amateur help behind the backs of your detective force in the future.” He laughed. “Funny to think that just now I was sweating blood because I didn’t want to throw suspicion on somebody who----”

“And now you’re relieved because you think you’ve been proved wrong,” MacWilliam interrupted him. “Man, you’re nothing but a bundle of inconsistencies! You’ve just produced the only logical, consistent explanation for the whole sequence of events, and now you want to drop it like a hot potato.”

“I want to drop it because it leads straight to a plain, blank impossibility.”

“If the logical solution is an impossibility, then either there is something faulty with the logic or the impossibility is a delusion,” said the Chief Constable confidently. “Now I maintain that your logic is good, subject to verification of the facts on which your hypothesis is based. I propose to proceed with the verification, and if that works out as it should, then we will take a good look at the impossibility, and see what becomes of it. It is time I took myself off,” he continued. “Good night to you, Mr. Pettigrew. It has been a most interesting evening. I’ll be seeing you again later.”


“I like your Chief Constable, Frank,” said Eleanor when he had gone. “But do you suppose he is good at his job?”

“Very good, I should think.”

“I shouldn’t imagine that he had many original ideas of his own.”

“Perhaps not, but he has a very ruthless way with other people’s ideas.”

Eleanor looked at her husband narrowly.

“You don’t sound very happy about it,” she observed.

“I’m not,” he confessed. “I feel that I have started something, and I don’t quite know where it will end. I have a horrible feeling that it may simply end in MacWilliam uncovering a very ugly skeleton in somebody’s cupboard, which will do nobody any good, and may do a lot of harm. If it doesn’t end that way----”


“Then it will end in uncovering a corpse in the same cupboard, which will be more horrible still.”



“Wouldn’t you like to tell me about everything? I might be able to help you.”

Pettigrew shook his head. “I want to keep you out of this, if I can,” he said. “And I don’t really think you could help. One thing you could do for me, perhaps---reach me down that book in the corner of the top shelf.”

“Grove’s Dictionary of Music, do you mean? Which volume do you want?”

“No, no, I mean Hobbes’s Leviathan, next to Grove. There’s something there that seems apt to my present state of mind.”

He turned the pages until he found the passage that he sought. “Here it is,” he said, and read aloud:

Sometime a man desires to know the event of an action; and then he thinketh of some like action past, and the events thereof one after another; supposing like events will follow like actions. As he that foresees what will become of a Criminal, re-cons what he has seen follow on the like Crime before; having this order of thoughts, the Crime, the Officer, the Prison, the Judge, and the Gallowes.

“The last word ought to be ‘Home Secretary,’ to bring it up to date,” Eleanor said. “But it’s a lovely passage, and it would be a pity to spoil it.”

“You comfort me with your wise words,” said Pettigrew, closing the book. “I shall go and put away Mr. MacWilliam’s noble gift and then come to bed.”

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