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7: The Man in the Teddy-Bear Coat

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Author Topic: 7: The Man in the Teddy-Bear Coat  (Read 2 times)
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« on: May 24, 2023, 04:52:28 am »


INSPECTOR Duffy’s investigations of the shooting affair in Mayblossom Cut were slow and tedious. The evidence upon which to base any satisfactory theory was extremely slender. Two shots fired out of the night, the sound of running feet---beyond that, nothing! No description of Sid Arkwright’s assailant. No apparent motive. Not even the certainty that the would-be murderer had intended to kill Arkwright; for always at the back of his mind Duffy entertained the belief that the shots were meant for Penpeti.

A careful examination of the locale surrendered some information. At a point not far from the middle lamp-post, where Arkwright and the girl had been standing, Duffy discovered that a patch of grass on the verge of the lane had been muddied and trampled flat, suggesting that the wanted person had been lurking in the gloom beyond the lamplight. Several Swan Vestas littered this little patch of ground. A fact which led Duffy to assume that Arkwright’s assailant was of the male sex. For, since no cigarette-stubs were visible, it was reasonable to suppose that the matches had been used by a pipe-smoker. Doubtless in his keyed-up state of mind, he had allowed his pipe to go out more than once, though it was impossible to assess the time that the assailant had waited there from the number of expended matches.

The next point that puzzled Duffy was this. If the shots were directed specifically at Arkwright (or Arkwright in the guise of Penpeti) and were not fired at random by some homicidal maniac, how had the assailant known that Arkwright would be coming along Mayblossom Cut? This route had only been decided on as he and the young lady left the factory gates. It rather suggested that the man who had fired the shots had been present at the dance and had chanced to overhear Sid’s conversation with Violet. The couple, at a further cross-examination in Sid’s room over the garage, reckoned that they had taken about twenty-five minutes to cover the ground between the factory gates and the middle lamp-post. As Sid explained, with a wink, they had naturally lingered a little on the way---a point that Duffy was quick to appreciate. So if the assailant had overheard their conversation outside the factory, he would have had ample time to race ahead and take up his position in the Cut.

It was then that Duffy harvested a clue which he was inclined to rate as highly significant. Both Arkwright and the girl admitted that there were several people within a few yards of them when they had made their decision to go home via the Cut. Any of these persons might have overheard them making this arrangement. But it was Violet who recalled a somewhat curious fact that seemed to isolate one particular figure from the rest of the group. All the other dancers like themselves had been in fancy-dress and, although many had put on their overcoats, all the men in their immediate vicinity were wearing some kind of fancy head-gear. All, that is, save this one man. Both Violet and Sid had remembered noticing him for three very good reasons: (a) He was dressed in a well-fitting teddy-bear coat and tweed cap. (b) He was abnormally tall and broad-shouldered. (c) He was middle-aged and, as Violet graphically put it, “a wah-wah sort of chap”. They further recalled that this unusual fellow had suddenly slipped away and jumped into a small car that Sid recognised as a Stanmobile Eight. They both felt sure that this man had not been attending the dance. He was of a different type and generation from the rest of the crowd. He appeared, in fact, to be a complete stranger.

Duffy was deeply interested. Suppose this man were the assailant. Wasn’t it possible that he had driven his car all out to the far end of the Cut, making a small detour through the neighbouring streets, parked his Stanmobile at some inconspicuous spot, and gone on foot down the lane to the point where Duffy had discovered the trampled patch of grass? This would have given him plenty of time to intercept the couple. Plenty of time, in fact, to light and relight his pipe as he crouched there, waiting, with the revolver in his hand.

Revolver? Well, that, as the inspector was prepared to admit, was mere guesswork. Revolver, automatic, rifle---the exact nature of the weapon was uncertain. He had made a close search for the spent bullets, but the result was nil. In the circumstances he was inclined to suspect a revolver, but he was taking no bets on the matter.

But this tall figure in the teddy-bear coat had captured his imagination. Was he a citizen of Welworth or a mere visitor? Had anybody seen the man about the place either prior to or since the shooting incident in the Cut? Was he really connected with the crime?

That week Duffy had a small paragraph inserted at the foot of the column in the Welworth Echo which dealt with the incident. It ran:

The police are anxious to get in touch with a tall, broad-shouldered, middle-aged man, wearing a teddy-bear overcoat and tweed cap, speaking with an educated accent. It is thought that this person may be able to throw some light on the mystery surrounding the shooting. If any person has seen this man recently in Welworth or knows of his present whereabouts, they are asked to get in touch immediately with the local police.

It was two days after the insertion of this notice, that a rotund, bald, benign little man looked---or rather, peeped---into the main office. He claimed to have some information about the man the police were anxious to interview. The sergeant showed him through to Inspector Duffy.

Once seated, the little fellow placed his hat carefully on the inspector’s desk, puffed out his cheeks, wriggled like a small child on his chair and chuckled:

“Dear, dear, to think of me in a police-station. My name’s Pillick, by the way. Strange indeed are the quips and quirks of . . . Now, where was I? What did I . . . ? But, of course. That paragraph in the Welworth Echo. It was the Echo, wasn’t it? Not that nasty cheap mid-weekly Gazette, which my wife and I . . . My wife---yes! It amused her enormously when she knew I was coming here to . . . tut-tut! But my domestic life can’t possibly . . . Now what was it I came here to give you?”

“Information,” suggested Duffy, curbing his impatience with difficulty. “Concerning the----”

“Ah yes!---that’s it. Information. But I can’t for the life of me . . . But how ridiculous. It was in connection with your notice in the Gazette.”

“The Echo.”

“Naturally---the Echo. I can’t imagine the police having any truck with a nasty, cheap . . . But don’t let’s waste time discussing the merits of our local newspapers. Both are utterly devoid of any literary . . . As a matter of fact, Mr. Manxton observed only the other day that . . . I mean, of course, Mr. Fred Manxton. Not Herbert. Herbert knows nothing. He has no critical faculties whatsoever. So different from his brother. Herbert, if you’ll pardon my forceful termination, is a nitwit. He has absolutely no . . . Information! Yes. Yes. I mustn’t wander. You mustn’t let me. Bad habit. Information, of course. About the man in the teddy-bear hat.”


“Dear me---of course. Overcoat. A teddy-bear hat would . . . Rather like that oriental gentleman in his fez, eh? I bumped into him---yes, last Saturday it would be---coming out of a gate not far from my little place in Bindweed Crescent. Tall, broad-shouldered----”

“You mean the oriental gentleman?”

“In what connection?”

“You mean you bumped into the oriental gentleman?”

“But, gracious me, you don’t want information about him, surely?”

“No, sir, we don’t. We want information about a tall, broad-shouldered, middle-aged man in----”

“Yes! Yes! I know. In a tweed cap and a teddy-bear coat. The gentleman I bumped into coming out of a gate near my house in . . . He emerged from the front door and walked so quickly down the path that I . . . Most unfortunate.”

“You say this was last Saturday? That is, four days ago. Is that right, sir?”

“Oh yes, yes. There’s no mistake about that. I always have a little game of contract every Saturday evening with . . . My wife doesn’t play, of course. She finds the bidding overcomplicated. Her mind’s adequate rather than . . . Yes, he came out of the gate rather suddenly and almost knocked me over. I’m a small, rather undersized man, as you can see. My hat---the same hat that I’ve put there on your desk---rolled into the gutter. But he was very apologetic and charming . . . It was the Echo you said, wasn’t it?”

“Yes, sir---our notice appeared in the Echo.”

“Good! Good! I must say that both my wife and I abominate that nasty cheap----”

“And what time would it be when you collided with this gentleman, Mr. Pillick?”

“Oh, late. Very late. Far too late. In fact it was very nearly twelve o’clock . . . er . . . that is to say, midnight. Most reprehensible. But as I was subsequently to explain to my wife----”

“He was coming away from the house?”

“Oh dear me, yes. In a great hurry. One might almost employ the phrase ‘in a state of apparent agitation’. Most charming, though. Picked up my . . . profuse apologies . . . and drove off in his car.”

“Can you recall the name or number of the house from which the gentleman had just come?”

“Most certainly. Both the name and the . . . Elysium---yes, that was the name. Elysium, number fourteen, Bindweed Crescent. I live at number twenty-two. It’s a nice quiet----”

“I take it that this gentleman doesn’t happen to live at number fourteen?”

“At number . . . ? Oh, good gracious---no. As a matter of fact I happen to know who does live at . . . But perhaps you’re not . . . Or are you?”

“Decidedly, Mr. Pillick. All evidence is grist to our mill, you know.”

“Quite, quite. Very apt. Now let me see? Oh yes, of course, you want to know who. A most charming young lady by the name of . . . tut-tut! . . . it’s on the tip of my . . . Of course, I remember now! I caught a quick glimpse of her that very evening before she shut the . . . Now let me see . . .”

“Well, Mr. Pillick?”

“Miss . . . Miss . . . I know it’s an alliterative . . . Ah yes . . . dear, dear . . . tut-tut! . . . of course. Miss Penelope Parker!”


Mr. Pillick was not the only witness to come forward and give information about the Man in the Teddy-Bear Coat. A young operative at the Rollup Corset Factory, on his way to the fancy-dress dance, had noticed him changing a wheel of his car at a spot directly opposite the main entrance to the works. This was at seven-twenty, just before the dance was scheduled to begin. And finally, a member of the Hertfordshire County Police, patrolling a section of the Great North Road near Hitchin, had seen the fellow at the wheel of his car when held up by adverse traffic-lights at a cross-road. This was on Saturday night, some fifteen minutes after midnight. The car was heading in the direction of London. Unfortunately he had not noticed the registration number of the car.

“Now, what exactly,” pondered Inspector Duffy, “can I deduce from these separate scraps of evidence?”

One factor impressed him immediately. All three witnesses claimed to have seen the man on the same day and all within a few hours of each other---that is to say, between seven-twenty and twelve-fifteen on Saturday night. The shots had been fired in Mayblossom Cut at (circa) eleven-ten. Drawing a sheet of paper on to his blotting-pad, Duffy wrote:

   Seen changing wheel outside factory 7.20
   Seen by Arkwright and girl outside factory 10.45
   Shots fired in the Cut 11.10 (circa)
   Seen by Pillick outside No. 14 Bindweed Crescent 12.0
   Seen by constable on Great North Road 12.15

Studying this brief summary of the time-factor in the case, the inspector felt prepared to put forward a theory concerning the man’s movements. In his opinion, the man, in the light of this fresh evidence, was not a citizen of the town. He had probably driven down from London just prior to the dance and driven back again after his unaccountable visit to Bindweed Crescent. Certain it was that this visit in no way precluded the assumption that he was the man who fired the shots at Arkwright. There would have been ample time for him to have dropped in at no. 14 after the incident in the Cut. It was equally certain that, after his collision with the scatter-brained Mr. Pillick, he had jumped into his car and headed directly for London. So much for his possible movements.

But what was the significance of his visit to this Miss Penelope Parker. Who was this Miss Parker? Had she any connection with Sid Arkwright?

Duffy rang for Sergeant Underwood who was on duty in the outer office that morning.

“Look here, Sergeant,” he said, as the burly figure entered. “You’re about the biggest gossip and scandalmonger in the station---what do you know of a Miss Penelope Parker? Anything worthwhile?”

“Miss Parker of Bindweed Crescent?” Duffy nodded. “Well, sir, she’s a good-looking party, in her late twenties, I should say. Well-breeched to judge from the establishment she manages to keep up. She’s a pretty active member, too, of that queer sect in Carroway Road---that Temple of Osseris or whatever it’s called.”

Duffy gave a low whistle and nodded his satisfaction.

“Thanks, Sergeant. You’ve told me just what I wanted to know.”

So Miss Parker, in a roundabout way, was connected with Sid Arkwright. And, of course, with Penpeti, since they were all members of the same faith. Umph!---a queer lot. First the mysterious disappearance of that Crux Something-or-other, and now this equally mysterious affair in Mayblossom Cut. But how did this tall, broad-shouldered Man in the Teddy-Bear Coat fit into the picture? Was he one of these high-faluting Children of Osiris? And if so, was there some sort of skullduggery going on inside the Movement?

Duffy jumped energetically to his feet and reached for his peaked cap. Well, it was no good sitting there asking himself a series of damfool questions to which he didn’t know the answers. What was it his old Chief used to say? “Get out, get the evidence, and get on with the case.” Exactly! And if he wanted further information, surely this Miss Penelope Parker was the one person who could supply it?


Penelope, swathed in pale heliotrope veiling, in a flowing gauzy dress with long filmy sleeves and a silver uraeus binding her long tresses, was seated on a high-backed chair with her eyes closed. Two joss-sticks burned on a coffee-table by her side. A large, tawny-eyed cat lay curled on an oriental cushion watching her with baleful rigidity. The room, although it was mid-morning, was submerged in a mellow and mystical twilight, for the heavy brocaded curtains had been drawn across the french windows which led into the garden. The sole illumination, in fact, was diffused through the enormous amber eyes of a big bronze Anubis set in an alcove by the fireplace. The room was reminiscent of a cinema foyer that had been specially decorated to advertise such forthcoming attractions as Ben Hur or the Birth of a Nation.

Penelope, for the last twenty minutes, had been in a profound state of “non-being”. She had, despite the vague repercussions of a large breakfast-plate of mashed banana and cream, succeeded in merging her Grosser Self into the Infinite. She had elevated herself on to this Higher Plane with the avowed intention of projecting a series of Beautiful Thoughts towards her maid, who only two days before had been rude to her in the kitchen. But to her annoyance and dismay, no sooner was she well astride the Higher Plane, when she clean forgot what had originally prompted her to make this mystical ascent. She had, of course, two alternatives. Either she could go through the somewhat lengthy and arduous process of returning once more to the Finite Plane, there to pick up the lost thread, before clambering back laboriously on to her present exalted perch. Or she could stay where she was in a state of Absolute Nothingness. Being of an indolent nature, Penelope had no difficulty in making her choice. She just squatted up there on her Higher Plane and passed out into the realms of Nirvana.

Inspector Duffy’s visit could scarcely have been more ill-timed, for the maid’s entrance to announce his arrival suddenly jerked Penelope off her Higher Plane and back, with somewhat of a jar, into her Grosser Self. She eyed the servant in a dazed sort of fashion.

“Who?” she murmured.

“Inspector Duffy, ma’am.”

“Very well, Hilda. Show him in.”

Duffy came in smartly, hat under his arm, and gave a stiff little bow. Penelope waved a languid hand towards an imitation Hathor couch covered with a vegetarian leopard-skin and struggled hard to come to grips with the realities of the situation. A police inspector. But why? What did he want? She suddenly felt nervous and a little dizzy.

She said inanely: “You wish to see me about something?”

“A little routine matter. Perhaps you’d be good enough, madam, to answer a few simple questions.”

“Of course . . . if I can.”

“It concerns a gentleman whose movements and present whereabouts we’re anxious to trace. Perhaps you’ve seen this week’s edition of the Echo?”

“No. I only read the Cabalist and the Mystic Times. I don’t find local journalism very elevating.”

“Quite so.” Duffy coughed uncomfortably. The glaring amber eyes of the bronze Anubis rather distracted him. “We have reason to believe that shortly before midnight last Saturday, the gentleman in question paid a visit to this house.”

“I beg your pardon?” Duffy reiterated his statement. “To this house?” echoed Penelope. “But that’s impossible! If he had visited this house I should certainly have been aware of it. I was alone at the time. Hilda, the parlour-maid, always spends Saturday night with her mother at St. Albans. And cook, as I happen to know, went up to bed before ten o’clock. So you see, Inspector . . . there’s no question about it.”

“But I have evidence, which I consider to be reliable, that this gentleman left your house about midnight and drove off in his car, which was parked outside your gate. You’re quite sure of your facts, madam? It’s easy to forget details, even in a few days. I repeat---this was last Saturday night.”

Penelope’s expression during the inspector’s statement had undergone a curious and subtle change. It was obvious that she was now fully alive to the situation---no longer trailing clouds of glory, but alert, even watchful, gazing at the inspector through narrowed lids.

“But there must be some misunderstanding. No visitor came to this house on Saturday night.”

“Not even for a brief visit?” Penelope shook her head. “Curious,” muttered Duffy with a meaning glance. “Very curious. My witness was convinced that he saw you at the open door as the gentleman was leaving.”

“Your witness, perhaps, mistook the . . . the number of the house.”

“This is number fourteen Bindweed Crescent, isn’t it?” Penelope inclined her sleek head. There was a long and awkward pause and then, with an abrupt change of tone, Duffy rapped out: “I must ask you to think again, Miss Parker, and think carefully. I’ve no need to tell you that it’s a crime to withhold information from the police. I’ll put the question to you once more. Did you or did you not receive a gentleman into this house shortly before midnight last Saturday?”

Penelope hesitated a moment, pursing her lips and half-closing her eyes in the face of the inspector’s stern and piercing scrutiny. Then with a toss of her head, she said with a defiant air:

“No---I did not. I can’t imagine how this mysterious rumour has reached you. It’s very upsetting.”

“Very well.” The inspector rose. “I’m sorry to have taken up your time, Miss Parker. No---don’t trouble to ring for the maid. I’ll see myself out.” He gave another stiff little bow. “And thank you.”

As Duffy closed the front door, he heard the click of the garden-gate and turned to see a familiar figure advancing towards him. As they passed each other on the path, Duffy’s eyebrows lifted quizzically, but he said affably enough:

“Good morning, Mr. Penpeti. Not quite so raw to-day.”

“Exceptionally mild,” beamed Penpeti. “At least, for the time of the year.”


This chance meeting was equally intriguing to both of the participants. In the amber twilight of Penelope’s exotic drawing-room, Penpeti was demanding:

“But what was he doing here? What did he want? What exactly was he after?”

His extreme nervousness, coupled with his intense curiosity, rather surprised Penelope. But she said lightly:

“Oh, just a little private matter. Nothing of importance.”

“You’re sure?”

Penelope laughed gaily.

“My darling Peta---please!”

“You must excuse my anxiety. But the thought of you being badgered by the police . . . most repugnant to me. A small matter you say?” Penelope nodded, as she accepted a light for her herbal cigarette. “I only ask because they don’t usually send a police inspector to deal with trivial matters. You’re sure you’re not hiding something from me, my dear?”

“Hiding something from you! But why should I?”

“Out of the kindness of your heart, chérie. To protect me from any hurt or humiliation, perhaps.”

“I . . . I don’t follow, my darling.”

Penpeti seemed troubled by an unfamiliar embarrassment.

“I wondered if the inspector had been asking any questions . . . er . . . about me. If so, I think it only fair that you should tell me the truth.”

“But why should he ask questions about you?” asked Penelope, bewildered.

“Oh, in a general sense, I mean. I haven’t spoken to you about this before, but Inspector Duffy called on me after the Crux Ansata had been stolen. He left me with the impression that he thought I was the thief!” Penpeti’s laugh was a trifle hollow. “Preposterous, you’ll agree. But once these uniformed gentlemen get a bee in their bonnet . . .”

Penelope’s arms slid gently round his neck as she drew him down on to the gilded Hathor couch.

“Now don’t be a great stupid. It had nothing to do with you. As I said before, it was a private matter of no importance. Now let’s forget all about the inspector’s visit and . . .”

Penpeti, knowing well enough what was expected of him, seemed prepared to abandon the subject. But that morning Penelope noticed that his love-making was perfunctory and by no means up to standard. He seemed worried and absent-minded.

Duffy, too, was worried. He had suddenly run his head into a brick wall. It was the old cul-de-sac of conflicting evidence. Mr. Pillick’s assertions versus Miss Parker’s denials. What precisely did it mean? Had the Man in the Teddy-Bear Coat visited no. 14 last Saturday night or not? Duffy’s inclination was to suspect that he had, and that for some reason Miss Parker was anxious to conceal the fact from the police. But why? Was she in any way connected with the attempt on Sid Arkwright’s life?---an accessory, perhaps, both before and after the fact?

That the Man in the Teddy-Bear Coat knew something about the lay-out of Welworth was obvious. After all, if he had taken up his position in the Cut after overhearing the conversation between Arkwright and his girl, it meant very definite knowledge of the local topography. Either the fellow had at one time lived in the Garden City or else he had been a frequent visitor to the town. A frequent visitor to no. 14 Bindweed Crescent, perhaps?

Another significant point occurred to him. Miss Parker and Penpeti were acquainted. Nothing very surprising about that, since they were both members of that odd religious set-up in Carroway Road. On the other hand, it was on the cards that the would-be murderer had fired those shots at somebody he believed to be Penpeti. Surely there was a suggestive link-up here? Penpeti knew Miss Parker and Miss Parker knew the Man in the Teddy-Bear Coat. Was he, at last, on to a really plausible line of investigation? Did the motive for the attempted murder lie in the relationship between these three widely diverse personalities?

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