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22: The Forces in Conference

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Author Topic: 22: The Forces in Conference  (Read 44 times)
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« on: April 29, 2023, 10:34:00 am »

THREE days later, Inspector Mallett was summoned to the room of the Assistant Commissioner in charge of his department at Scotland Yard.

“I’ve rather an unusual job for you,” he was told.


“I think that you know all about Mr. Justice Barber?”

“I know that he has been murdered, sir, naturally,” said Mallett non-committally.

“Well, somebody in the City Police seems to have an idea that you know a little more than that. Anyhow, I’ve had a formal request that we should lend you to them to assist in their investigations.”


Mallett’s astonishment was genuine and profound. The relations between the City of London Police and the Metropolitan Force were at that moment, as it is to be hoped they always have been, correct, friendly and even cordial. But they were definitely the relations of two distinct, if allied, Powers. For the City to ask for the assistance of Scotland Yard in the matter of a murder committed literally on its own doorstep was a portent, even in the age that was to produce the Lend Lease Act.

The Assistant Commissioner was smiling.

“Well?” he said.

“Of course I shall go, sir, if I am wanted,” said Mallett. “I should hardly have thought I would be of any use in a case like this, but----”

“Have you seen this?” his superior interrupted him, holding up a photograph.

Mallett looked at it.

“Yes, sir. I understand that was the weapon employed in this case. An unusual looking object. The photograph has been circulated widely, I believe.”

“Exactly. And it has now been identified. A report has come in from the Eastbury police to say that it is identical with the dagger used by a man named Ockenhurst to commit a murder in their part of the world last September.”

“Eastbury!” said the inspector. “Was this man tried there, then?”

“He was. And this knife was naturally an exhibit at the trial. And when the trial was over it had disappeared. And it reappeared between Mr. Justice Barber’s shoulder blades outside the Central Criminal Court. Therefore,” concluded the Assistant Commissioner, who believed in rubbing things in, “it occurred to somebody in the City C.I.D. that this business might have something to do with what happened on the Southern Circuit. And it further occurred to him that you knew rather more about that than most people.”

Mallett said nothing. He was standing, very square and solid, in front of his chief’s desk, pulling vigorously at the long points of his moustaches and frowning. His gloomy appearance impressed the Assistant Commissioner.

“Well?” he said sharply.

“I’ll go, of course, sir,” said Mallett. “This afternoon.”

The Assistant Commissioner looked at the clock on the wall.

“It is now 10.32 in the morning,” he said reproachfully. “You are usually quicker off the mark than that, Mallett.”

“It’s no use my going down to the City empty handed, sir,” Mallett pointed out. “With your permission, I propose to spend a few hours assembling all the information bearing on this matter that I can.”

“Quite so. And then there is your lunch to be considered, isn’t there?”

Mallett sighed.

“Lunch is hardly worth considering these days, sir,” he said. “I’m positively losing weight every day.”


Superintendent Brough, of the City of London Police, made Mallett welcome at Old Jewry. He was a level-headed, broadminded man, who seemed positively to enjoy the prospect of working with Scotland Yard. It was even rumoured that in his very early youth he had been heard to suggest that it was ridiculous to maintain two entirely separate police forces in the capital, but he had managed to live down the memory of this subversive remark, as his subsequent promotion showed.

“First you’ll want to see what we’ve got, and then we’ll see what you’ve got,” he began briskly, laying before the inspector a pile of neatly arranged witnesses’ statements.

Mallett sighed as he looked at the mass of paper.

“You’ve got plenty,” he said. “But I understand you have something more than this, haven’t you? Three persons in custody, I’m told.”

“Yes. All three remanded in custody for a week from yesterday. Charged with breach of the peace and obstructing the police. It seemed the best thing to do with them. Besides, it really was a breach of the peace all right. One of my constables has a beautiful black eye. They have all made voluntary statements. Perhaps you would like to look at them first. One in particular will interest you very much.”

He pulled out three sheets of paper.

“Here you are. Beamish, the girl Bartram and Marshall.”

Mallett read them one after another. Beamish’s statement was florid in style but succinct enough. Having explained that he had lost his position through an unfortunate misunderstanding which he was anxious to clear up with his late employer, he went on to describe the vain effort which he had made on the previous day to speak to him. Then, according to his account, despairing of any other means of attracting his attention, he had formed what he described as “the desperate resolve” of accosting his lordship outside the court and so attracting attention to his just grievance. He deeply regretted the disturbance of which he had been the cause and desired to plead guilty to the charge. As to the death of his lordship, which had shocked him beyond all measure, he was as innocent as the babe unborn.

“Yes,” said Mallett gravely, as he put down the paper. “By the way, did you know that Beamish was known as ‘Corky’?”

“No,” the superintendent confessed. “I didn’t.”

“Corky’s Night Club, you know. That’s him. And that reminds me of something---something----” He beat upon his forehead with the knuckles of his fist. “Lord! My memory’s going! It must be because I never get any proper meals these days. Never mind! I’ll think of it soon. Meanwhile, let’s see what Miss Bartram has to say.”

Sheila’s statement was quite short. Like Beamish, she admitted the offence of obstructing the police and disturbing the peace of which they were the guardians. Like him, but in simpler terms, she denied all knowledge of, or connection with the Judge’s death. As to her part in the affray outside the Old Bailey she said:

“I was frightfully upset about Daddy being sent to prison and I thought I would see the Judge and tell him he must change his mind. I had been told it was the wrong thing to do, but I couldn’t stop myself. When I came close to him and saw his face I knew it wouldn’t be any good appealing to him and I’m afraid I lost my temper. I think I called him a beast, but he didn’t seem to take any notice. There was a lot of noise going on behind me and I was afraid someone would stop me before I had done anything, so I hit at him with my fist. Then a policeman got hold of me and there was an awful mix up. I was winded and my hat was knocked over my eyes. I don’t really know what happened after that.”

Mallett put the document down without comment, and extended his hand for the third statement. He read the first sentence and whistled aloud.

“I thought that would interest you,” said Brough with a grin.

The statement opened with the words: “I killed Mr. Justice Barber.”

“You haven’t charged him with murder yet, have you?” Mallett asked in a tone that sounded almost anxious.

“We have not. You see, we considered---- However, read the rest of it, and tell me what you think.”

Mallett read on.

“I killed Mr. Justice Barber. I was disgusted with his outrageous conduct at the Old Bailey to-day. Knowing what I do of him, I considered his attitude towards Mr. Bartram a travesty of justice. After thinking the matter over during the afternoon I procured a knife and went to the Judge’s entrance. I arrived there just when he was leaving. I saw my fiancée, Miss Bartram, endeavour to speak to him. She was seized by a constable before she could get near him. This made me lose my head completely, because I knew that he was solely responsible for the trouble in which she was. Acting on an impulse, I took the knife and stabbed him between the shoulders. I told nobody of what I was going to do, and I am solely responsible for all that occurred. I did not know that I should see Miss Bartram there. She has nothing whatever to do with the Judge being killed. I decline to say where the knife came from. I am quite prepared to take full responsibility for what I did.”

“Very interesting,” said the inspector.

“Interesting and rather puzzling too,” Brough remarked. “You see how full of contradictions it is. First he says that he was disgusted with the Judge’s behaviour, and therefore got a knife ‘after thinking the matter over’ and went to the Court---with the intention of killing him, presumably. But then a moment later he is saying that he lost his head because he saw his young lady being held by an officer and acted on impulse. It can’t very well be both.”

“True,” said Mallett. “And you will have noticed, no doubt, that he goes out of his way to say that Miss Bartram never got near the Judge. Whereas we know from her own admission that she got close enough to strike him.” “Exactly. The whole rigmarole has just been made up to shield Miss Bartram, if you ask me.”

“I quite agree.”

“Which doesn’t of course mean”, Brough pursued, “that he isn’t necessarily responsible.”

Mallett did not answer. He was studying the document afresh.

“ ‘I decline to say where the knife came from’,” he repeated.

“The knife! Yes,” the superintendent put in. “We’ve got some very interesting information about that from the Eastbury police. Let me show you what they----”

“Wait a moment, Super! Let’s have one thing at a time, if you don’t mind. Tell me something else first. Was Marshall told that this was the Eastbury knife?”

“No. We hadn’t found that out at the time this statement was taken.”

“Of course not. Well, was he shown the knife?”

“No. It was being examined for finger-prints, I remember. Incidentally, there weren’t any.”

“I see. Well, I suggest it would be rather a good plan to see him again, show him the knife, and ask him if he recognizes it. If he doesn’t, tell him what it is and where it comes from. Then see what his reactions are.”

“And what do you expect them to be?”

“If this confession is a fake, made up because he thinks Miss Bartram is guilty, he’ll withdraw it.”

The superintendent looked puzzled, and Mallett went on:

“Because, you see, he’ll tumble at once to the fact that she couldn’t possibly have got hold of it. She wasn’t at Eastbury Assizes.”

“But he was,” Brough objected. “He might have given it to her.”

“Granted. But that’s not the point. If he did give her the knife, then she is probably guilty, with or without his assistance. In that case, he’ll stick to his story. But if he didn’t, then he’ll know that she must be innocent. And he’ll change his tune at once.”

“But suppose his story is true, and he really did kill the Judge?”

“All the more reason for changing it. He won’t want to hang himself any more than the next man, once he knows that there’s nothing to be gained by it. You see, if I’m right, and he denies it, it won’t prove his own innocence, but it will prove hers. And we shall be that much further on, by eliminating one suspect straight away.”

Mallett pulled his moustaches in a satisfied manner.

“And now,” he said with a sigh, “I suppose I’d better tackle this little lot.” And with the superintendent assisting him to separate the wheat from the chaff, he rapidly mastered the accounts given by the eye-witnesses of the tragedy. Over only two of them did he linger. The first of these was Hilda’s. It was short and uninformative enough. Like everybody else, she had had her attention distracted from her husband by the successive appearance of Beamish, Sheila Bartram and Marshall. The last of these had, she thought, separated her from the Judge, although she had tried to keep hold of his arm. Then she had got into touch with him again, and at that moment she felt him stagger and he had collapsed in her arms. That was all.

“We couldn’t very well ask her any questions about it,” the superintendent explained. “She was very distressed. But I doubt whether in any case she would have much to add to her story.”

“Quite,” said Mallett. “By the way,” he added suddenly and after a pause, “I wonder whether you happen to know whether she had been in Court that afternoon?”

“As a matter of fact, I happen to know that she wasn’t. I got a routine statement from the attendant in the Judge’s room, and he mentioned that she was waiting there all the afternoon until his lordship rose.”

“I see. Now the other statement that interests me is this one.”

“Mr. Pettigrew’s? Well, it’s certainly rather more intelligible than most of them. But he didn’t really see more than the rest---less, if anything, being mixed up in the middle of things, so to speak.”

“It’s Mr. Pettigrew himself that interests me more than what he says. Also what he doesn’t say.”

“For instance?”

“Well, you will note that he doesn’t say what he was doing there. His statement just begins: ‘At about 4.20 p.m. on the 12th April 1940, I was outside the Judge’s entrance of the Central Criminal Court’.”

“They all begin that way, more or less,” Brough pointed out. “The officer who took the statement would probably ask a leading question to get the witness going. In any case, Mr. Pettigrew is a member of the Bar, and I suppose the neighbourhood of a court of law is where one might expect to find him.”

“But I’ve never heard that Mr. Pettigrew had any practice at the Central Criminal Court,” Mallett objected. “He’s certainly not a member of the mess there. Of course, anybody might happen to have an odd case there now and again, especially in wartime, with so many regular practitioners away, but I shouldn’t have expected to find him at this particular place at this particular time. I think it will be worth looking into.”

He made a note, and continued:

“Now about this knife. You’ve got a report from the Eastbury police, haven’t you?”

“We have, and a very good one too. Read it for yourself.”

“It comes to this,” the inspector said, when he had read and re-read the papers which Brough put before him. “This nasty little tool was an exhibit in the trial of Ockenhurst at Eastbury last December. After the hearing it disappeared, and turned up four months later between Mr. Justice Barber’s shoulder blades. The last time anybody can positively speak to having seen it was during the Judge’s summing-up and then it was on the Judge’s desk. H’m. And they very thoughtfully give a list of the people on the bench at the time. From left to right—Captain Trevor, Chief Constable; Beamish, Judge’s clerk; Marshall; the Judge in the centre; then Sir William Candish, the High Sheriff; Lady Candish; Lady Barber; and the Under Sheriff, who was---phew!

“What’s up?” said the superintendent.

“I dare say there’s nothing in it, but it gave me quite a start. Mr. Victor Granby is the Under Sheriff. That will be the senior partner in Granby and Co. of course. They are the principal solicitors for that part of the world, I remember. He has been Under Sheriff for years.”

“What of it?”

“Only that the firm used to be Granby, Heppenstall in the old days. Heppenstall senior died, and young Heppenstall took his capital out of the firm and set up on his own in London. That’s all ancient history. You remember the Heppenstall case, of course?”

The superintendent nodded. “And----?” he said.

“And Granby married Heppenstall’s sister. That’s all. But it won’t do, of course. The Judge has been in that circuit half a dozen times since he sentenced Heppenstall and Granby doesn’t seem to bear him any malice.”

“We’ll have his movements for the day in question looked into, to be on the safe side,” Brough said. “But I can’t see why, if he took the knife to kill the Judge with, he should wait four months to use it.”

“And that applies to every soul in court that day,” said Mallett. He paused, and said deliberately, “Tell me why the Judge was killed on the 12th of April and I will tell you who did it.”

“Well,” he went on. “What else do the Eastbury fellows tell us? Oh, yes. Entry and exit to the Bench immediately behind the Judge’s desk. That means that anybody leaving the Bench would pass by the place where the knife was last seen and would have an equal opportunity of picking it up. Others who might have had an opportunity of getting hold of it without attracting comment---Counsel on both sides, namely Sir Henry Babbington and his junior, Mr. Pott, and Mr. Pettigrew; the solicitors instructing them; the police themselves, who hunted for it afterwards and couldn’t find it; and the Clerk of Assize, Mr. Gervase, who sat just in front of and beneath the Judge. I don’t think we need worry about old Mr. Gervase. Oh, yes! and Greene, the Marshal’s man, who served the Judge his tea, and was flitting about between his lordship’s room and the Bench after the case was over. That’s the lot.”

The superintendent was doing some calculating.

“Of the people who could have taken that knife,” he said, “the following, so far as we know, were within striking distance of the Judge when he was killed with it: Marshall, Pettigrew and Lady Barber.”

“And Beamish,” Mallett added.

“No,” Brough corrected him. “All the evidence goes to show that at the exact time when the Judge collapsed, Beamish must have been some distance away. In fact, he never got within arm’s length of him. He was the first, you remember, and the constable pounced on him as soon as he appeared.”

“Quite right,” said the inspector. “He freed himself when the officers were going for the other two, but he never seems to have got any closer. So it looks as if----” He stopped suddenly, and then exclaimed in a tone of immense satisfaction, “Darts!


“I’ve just remembered. That’s what Corky’s club was famous for. They had a lot of dart boards there. It was quite a centre for the sport, if that’s the right word for it. The London championships were held there. Now suppose Corky himself was an expert dart thrower? What easier than to throw this little knife at a few feet’s range, while the police were dragging the other two away? In doing so, they made a clear space on the pavement, remember. The Judge filled it up when he fell.”

Superintendent Brough did not believe in displaying emotion. If he was excited at the new suggestion, he did not show it.

“Very well,” he said. “Then we add Beamish to the list. That makes four altogether. I think we know more or less all we want to know at the moment about Marshall and Beamish. What about the other two?”

“Pettigrew and the Judge had been on notoriously bad terms for years,” said Mallett briefly. “Lady Barber was---well, she was his wife. As I expect you have heard, Barber was supposed to be on the brink of having to retire because of that scandal at Markhampton. I’ll tell you all the details of it directly. She may well have thought it wasn’t much catch being married to him if he was going to lose his job. She was also an old friend of Pettigrew’s. They may have been in it together.”

There was something cursory and unenthusiastic in the way in which he recited these facts that made the superintendent look up at him with a question in his eyes.

“But . . . ?” he said.

“But, perhaps someone will tell me why, if all that is so, her ladyship should put herself to enormous trouble to save his life when he tried to commit suicide only a few weeks ago?”

“Suicide?” said Brough. “This is new to me. What was the motive, do you know?”

“I have every reason to suppose that it was because he couldn’t face the prospect of having to leave the bench, and the scandal I was talking about just now. We can verify that by further inquiry from her ladyship, no doubt.”

“You’re sure it was a genuine attempt? If his wife really meant to get rid of him, she might perhaps have faked something----”

“Oh, it was genuine all right. You see---- But I’m putting the cart before the horse. All this relates back to the very odd things that happened while the Judge was going circuit last autumn. I understand that’s what you called me in about, wasn’t it?”

“Quite right,” said the superintendent. “Let’s hear all you have to say.”

What Mallett had to say took up some considerable time. His account of the troubles that had pursued the Judge during the progress of the circuit interested his colleague a great deal. The conclusions that he drew from the facts interested him even more. They also surprised him very much indeed.

“Frankly,” he said. “I don’t quite see what you are getting at.”

“Equally frankly,” Mallett answered, “neither do I. I have given you the facts, so far as I know them, and I fancy they are pretty accurate. Also, I feel fairly confident that I have interpreted them accurately. But I still don’t see where they are leading me---or rather, if I let them lead me in the direction they seem to point, I come up against a plumb absurdity. So what?”

“I’m beginning to wonder,” said Brough, “if we’re not exploring a blind alley all this time. As matters stand, we have a signed confession by Marshall. Suppose it is true, and neither the girl nor Pettigrew, nor anyone else had anything to do with it? In that case, this crime was quite unpremeditated, and all that happened between October and the day before the murder is quite irrelevant.”

“If this was unpremeditated, why did he pinch the knife at Eastbury?” asked Mallett.

“As a souvenir, very likely. After all, whoever took it can hardly have been intending to commit a crime with it four months later. I think he made up his mind to kill the Judge that afternoon, and then, remembering the knife in his possession, went and fetched it----”

“Where from?”

“I expect from his home. We will try to get some evidence of that, of course.”

“Do so. He’s in lodgings in Kensington, isn’t he? We ought to be able to establish whether he came back there during the course of the afternoon. But don’t forget that you are going to show him that knife and see what effect it has on him.”

“That will be done this evening. What is your next step?”

“My next step,” said Mallett, “will be in the direction of Mr. Pettigrew’s chambers. There are several matters I want to discuss with him. I have a strong feeling that he is the clue to the whole matter. Ring me up at the Yard this evening when you have seen Marshall again and that may help me as to what line I take with Pettigrew.”

And upon this, the detectives parted.

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