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23: Inquiries in the Temple

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Author Topic: 23: Inquiries in the Temple  (Read 73 times)
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« on: April 29, 2023, 10:45:29 am »

MALLETT was at Pettigrew’s chambers early next morning. He was received with a grave courtesy, not unmixed with suspicion, by John, Pettigrew’s elderly clerk, who told him that his master had not yet arrived. The inspector amiably said that he would wait, and set himself to occupy the time in conversation with John.

“We’ve had a young man from the City Police round here already,” the latter said in a somewhat aggrieved tone. “It’s a bit unpleasant for us, being mixed up in this kind of thing, you know.”

“I can quite understand that,” said Mallett soothingly.

“As if it wasn’t a nasty enough shock for us,” John went on, “we being such an old friend of her ladyship and all. It’s a bit too bad being brought in as a witness as well.”

“Very bad luck,” the inspector agreed. “But these things will occur, you know. It was just Mr. Pettigrew’s misfortune that he should happen to be at the Old Bailey that afternoon. I suppose he was holding a brief there?”

John looked at him with suspicion.

“And I suppose if I said ‘Yes’, you’d want to look at our engagement book,” he said. “Well, I’ll save you the trouble. He was not. Yesterday afternoon, he was doing a little arbitration over the way. We thought it would be finished by half-past three or earlier, but it wasn’t till just gone four o’clock that he came back.”

“Four o’clock! Then he must have gone straight down to the Old Bailey from here?”

“It’s no part of my business to tell you where he went to. For another thing, I don’t know because I didn’t inquire.”

“But he did leave from here to go somewhere as soon as he came back?”

“I wouldn’t say as soon as. We had a bit of a chat after he came in. About the arbitration, and appointments for the next day, and who had been in while he was out, and so on.”

“And had anyone been in?” Mallett asked at random.

“There’d only been one caller that afternoon. Mr. Pettigrew just missed him. That was a young gentleman who had been here before. Marshall, the name was.”

“Marshall. What was he doing here?”

“I’m sure I couldn’t tell you, except that he called to see Mr. Pettigrew. It was none of my business to ask him.”

“But this may be important,” the inspector insisted. “You know that Marshall is in custody for assaulting the police at the Old Bailey when the Judge was killed?”

“Indeed?” said John in apparently genuine surprise. “No, that’s news to me. You see, I don’t much care for reading the reports of police courts in the papers, unless we happen to be professionally concerned. I find them rather too low for my taste, if you’ll excuse my saying so. But that is interesting, as you say, really very interesting indeed.”

“What did he do while he was here?”

“Why, nothing in particular. He just hung about most of the afternoon, and then, just before four, he left in a hurry. If he’d waited another five minutes he’d have seen Mr. Pettigrew.”

“Did he go into Mr. Pettigrew’s room at all while he was here?”

“Certainly, I let him sit there. It’s got the only comfortable chair in the chambers.”

“You didn’t happen to miss anything after he had gone?”

“Miss anything? Certainly not! Mr. Marshall is hardly the sort of gentleman you’d expect to miss anything after he’s been. I shouldn’t have let him into Mr. Pettigrew’s room else, I can tell you.”

“You’re quite sure?” Mallett persisted. “Mr. Pettigrew hasn’t mentioned to you that he has lost anything?”

“He has not---and if you want to pursue that inquiry you had better ask him yourself,” John added, as a footstep was heard outside the door. “Good morning, sir!”

“Morning, John,” said Pettigrew, entering at that moment. “Good morning, Mr.---Mallett, is it not? Did you want to see me?”

“If you can spare me a few minutes of your time, sir.”

Pettigrew preceded Mallett into the shabby but comfortable room, and sat down behind his desk with a sigh. He looked tired and dispirited.

“Well?” he said. “You have come about this wretched Barber business, I suppose? You have seen the statement I gave to the police immediately afterwards? If so, I don’t think there is anything I can add to it.”

“There is only one point in your statement which I should like amplified,” said the inspector. “You didn’t say exactly why you were outside the Old Bailey on that particular occasion.”

“Quite right, Inspector, I didn’t. It did not appear to me to affect the value of my evidence one way or the other. And”, he added as the detective was about to speak, “it still does not appear to me to do so.”

“You decline to answer the question?”

“Yes.”

Mallett said nothing for a moment or two. Then he asked abruptly,

“You remember the case of Ockenhurst at Eastbury Assizes?”

Pettigrew raised his eyebrows.

“Of course,” he said.

“Do you know that the knife with which Mr. Justice Barber was murdered has been identified with the knife that was exhibited at that trial?”

“Oh?” said Pettigrew slowly, his nose wrinkling.

“After the trial, the knife could not be found. The Eastbury police were under the impression that you might have taken it. I have been speaking on the telephone to-day to the officer in charge of that case, and he tells me that he looked for you, but you had left the Court, somewhat hastily, it seems.”

“Yes, I remember. I wanted some exercise and I went for a walk before catching my train. I wanted to walk off my bad temper.”

“Your bad temper with the Judge?”

“Certainly,” Pettigrew smiled. “I was in a shocking temper over that case.”

“Did you take the knife with you, Mr. Pettigrew?”

“No.”

“Mr. Marshall spent a good deal of the afternoon of the twenty-second in this room. From here he went down to the Old Bailey.”

“Yes. I saw him there.”

“He has since made a confession that he killed Mr. Justice Barber.”

Pettigrew’s face took on an expression of pain.

“The poor boy!” he said. “The poor, wretched boy! This is really horrible, Inspector!” He was silent for a moment or two, and then added, “In that case, there seems to be no reason why I should not now answer the question you asked me just now. I went down to the Old Bailey because I had a suspicion that he might do something silly.”

“Indeed?” said Mallett.

“Yes. You see he had told me some time ago about this case, and I knew that he was in rather a state about it. Yesterday morning, I happened to see on the notice board in the Cloisters that it was being heard in No. 1 Court, where I knew that Barber was sitting, and this morning I saw that it was part heard. I took no particular interest in it until at lunch-time when I happened to sit next to Fawcett in hall, and heard from him that Barber had---not to put too fine a point on it---behaved outrageously. That worried me quite a bit, because I am really quite fond of young Marshall, and I knew he would take it badly. Then when I got back here in the afternoon, John told me that he had been trying to see me. He told me, too, that he was obviously in a very nervous and excited state, and had left abruptly just before four o’clock. I suddenly had a horrible feeling of anxiety about him. I remembered his absurd idealism about judges and justice---rather engaging in its way, but confoundedly dangerous---and it crossed my mind that he might have gone back to the court, and that if so, I really ought to try to head him off. So, on the spur of the moment, I took a taxi and dashed down there. I was just too late, as it turned out. Poor chap!”

“Thank you,” said the inspector. “And now, Mr. Pettigrew, having told me so much, would you like to reconsider another of your answers?”

“I don’t quite follow you.”

“If I am right, you declined at first to tell me why you went to the Old Bailey because you were afraid that by doing so you might throw suspicion on Marshall?”

“Quite right.”

“I was wondering whether you denied having had possession of that interesting souvenir from Eastbury for the same reason.”

“I am afraid I am very dense this morning, but I still don’t understand.”

“If you had taken it as a souvenir,” the inspector explained, “it might have been expected to be lying about somewhere in this room---on your desk, for example, as a paper-knife. What more likely than that the sight of it should have suggested to Marshall how he could get even with the Judge and sent him hurrying down to the Old Bailey just ahead of you?”

“I see,” said Pettigrew slowly. “Very ingenious, if you will allow me to say so. But it won’t do, I am afraid. I can assure you that young Marshall didn’t get that knife from this room.”

Mallett nodded. “I am not altogether surprised to hear that,” he said. “You see, Marshall was shown the knife last night for the first time since he was taken into custody. He was reminded what it was and where it came from, and as soon as he saw it----”

“Yes?”

“He immediately withdrew his confession.”

“Withdrew his----! Really, Inspector! Have you been making a fool of me?”

“I hope you won’t think that, Mr. Pettigrew,” said Mallett apologetically. “You see, I was really anxious to know your explanation for being at the Old Bailey that afternoon. In fairness to yourself, some sort of explanation had to be made. And I thought the quickest way of getting it was to lead you to believe that it was no longer necessary to shield anybody else.”

Pettigrew seemed to be undecided whether to be annoyed or amused.

“This is most immoral,” he said finally. “And now will you tell me what induced Marshall to behave in this way?”

“I think that he made his confession originally because he was under the impression that the police suspected Miss Bartram.”

“Miss----? Oh, of course, the young lady of his affections. That must have been the blonde person I last saw indulging in an all-in contest with the two Roberts. And the reason why---No, don’t tell me, let me work it out for myself. Marshall knew that she could not have had the Eastbury poignard because she wasn’t there to take it, unless he had given it to her himself and he knew he hadn’t. Ergo, she was innocent, to the knowledge of the police. Hence the necessity for protecting her disappears. Am I right?”

“Quite correct.”

“There seems to have been a lot of unregulated quixotry about this case. I suppose the young woman hasn’t dashed forward to shield her fiancé with a bogus confession, by any chance?”

“No,” said Mallett gravely.

“I thought not. The female of the species usually has a more realistic outlook in such matters, I fancy. Meanwhile, it still remains possible that Marshall, not knowing that you had identified the dagger, really had---but you have worked all that out for yourself no doubt. Who am I to do Scotland Yard’s cerebrations? By the way, I understand that friend Beamish is also in custody?”

“He is.”

“One tip about him I can give you. I am tired of shielding people, and it’s time I took a hand in giving my fellow man away. He’s a perfectly miraculous dart thrower.”

“I thought as much,” said Mallett. “But I’m interested to have positive evidence of it. Have you actually seen him play?”

“I have, indeed. It was a most impressive sight.”

“When was that?”

“Oh, quite a long time ago now. The night of a certain motor accident. The night when it all started.”

A long pause succeeded the remark. Mallett stared into the fireplace, pulling at the ends of his moustaches, as though uncertain how to proceed. Pettigrew was lost in reverie.

“Well, that’s that!” he said at last. “I think we have covered the list of suspects, have we not, Inspector? I suppose, for form’s sake at least, I must include myself among them?”

“Yes,” said Mallett absently. It was not clear from his tone which of the two questions he was answering. “I was wondering,” he went on, “about what you said just now---‘the night that it all started’. That was Lady Barber’s idea, you know, that all the unpleasant things that happened to the Judge on the circuit were in some way connected---including the motor accident at Markhampton on the 12th of October 1939.”

“How precise you detectives always are,” said Pettigrew. “I couldn’t have given the date to save my life. Well, there’s no doubt that it was the accident that put the Judge in the very nasty hole in which he was at the time of his death. This is a breach of confidence on my part, Inspector, but I think it is justified in the circumstances. Barber was virtually ordered to send in his resignation during the vacation, and he was so upset at the prospect that he actually attempted to commit suicide.”

“I knew it already,” said Mallett. “That is to say, I was aware of the attempted suicide. I had guessed at the cause, but I didn’t know the precise details.”

“Well, you can verify them for yourself, if you care to refer to certain exalted quarters. I had rather you didn’t quote me as your source of information, however. I heard of it in strict confidence from---from the person chiefly concerned.”

“Quite,” said the inspector. “There is no doubt, according to the medical evidence, that Lady Barber saved her husband’s life on that occasion. It is a pity she was less successful on the other.”

“I don’t want to seem callous,” Pettigrew observed, “but to me it is nothing less than astonishing that any woman could be married to Barber for so many years and still want to save his life.” He glanced hastily at the detective and went on, “At all events, in the circumstances, I am extremely glad for her sake that she did.”

Mallett nodded silently and rose to his feet.

“I have taken up a great deal of your time, Mr. Pettigrew,” he said, “and I must thank you for bearing with me so long.”

“Not at all. It has been a most interesting chat, for me, at any rate, but not, I fear, very useful to you. I don’t honestly think that I can give you any further assistance. I could let you have a list of people who disliked Barber sufficiently to want to put him out of the way, if you like. It would be a very long one, and would contain some quite distinguished names, but I dare say you have enough suspects already, and except to save my own neck I don’t want to cause anybody else any trouble.”

“I should be quite satisfied,” Mallett replied, “if you could give me the name of one person who had a motive for killing the Judge on the 12th of April 1940, long after the circuit was over---if the circuit had anything to do with it, beyond supplying the knife.”

“The 12th of April!” said Pettigrew. “So it was! Dear me, yes! Well, good-bye, Inspector. Let me know if I can help you any further.”

He held out his hand. Mallett did not take it. Instead he looked searchingly at the barrister.

“Yes, Mr. Pettigrew,” he said. “The 12th of April. May I ask what there is about that date that impresses you?”

“Nothing,” Pettigrew assured him in some confusion. “Nothing at all. It was only that---that you detective fellows are always so precise about your dates, as I said just now.”

“But there seemed to be something about this particular date that attracted your attention,” the inspector persisted.

“No, no,” Pettigrew protested. His usual self-assurance seemed to have deserted him entirely. “To-day’s the sixteenth, isn’t it? I was surprised that it should have been such a short time ago. It seems longer. This business has been a fearful shock to me, as you can imagine, and I had quite lost count of the days. . . .”

His voice trailed off uncertainly. Mallett looked at him for a moment in silence, and then with a curt, “Good day, sir!” turned on his heels and left the room.

After he had gone, Pettigrew went back to his desk. He consulted the calendar as though to make certain of the date. Then he went to a bookshelf and pulled out a volume of law reports. After studying this for a moment he sat down and wrote a very short letter, which he took out to the post himself.

Mallett meanwhile was in a telephone kiosk. He rang up Old Jewry and was immediately connected with Superintendent Brough.

“That’s you at last, Inspector?” said Brough excitedly. “I’ve been trying to get hold of you all morning. This is important. I’ve just ascertained that Granby was in town during the whole of April the twelfth.”

“Sorry, but I’m not interested,” said Mallett. “But can you find out for me the name of the firm of solicitors acting for Mr. Sebastian Sebald-Smith?”
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