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22: Final Facts

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Author Topic: 22: Final Facts  (Read 30 times)
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« on: May 25, 2023, 11:51:45 am »


ALTHOUGH the next day was Sunday, it was certainly no day of rest for Meredith. Overnight he had been inspired by a red-hot theory. Now he was tumbling over himself to check up on its plausibility.

His first visit, directly after breakfast, was to the Manor, where he had a long and serious interview with Mrs. Hagge-Smith. From there O’Hallidan drove him back to The Leaning Man in time to catch Penpeti before he left to conduct his morning service in the lecture tent. The High Prophet seemed worried and impatient.

“I’m sorry,” said Meredith shortly. “I know it’s an awkward moment, but I didn’t have a chance to interview you last night about this shooting affair. I was busy with the police surgeon until midnight.”

“The whole thing,” answered Penpeti icily, “was the work of a madman. I can’t understand it! Hansford Boot always seemed a reliable and enthusiastic member of the Movement. I never suspected that he was in any way abnormal.”

“In my opinion he wasn’t. It may interest you to know that he left a written statement. Perhaps you’d care to read it? It concerns you.”

“A . . . a statement?” stammered Penpeti, obviously disconcerted. “But----”

Meredith thrust the note into his hand.

“Read it!” he rapped out.

Penpeti did so.

“Good heavens! But this is monstrous, Inspector. Libellous, too! A tissue of lies. Surely you don’t imagine that I was blackmailing this man. Me, the High Prophet of----?”

“Sorry---but I can’t ignore the implications of such circumstantial evidence. There’s no smoke without fire. I’ve naturally got to follow up this accusation. But it would save me a great deal of time, Mr. Penpeti, if you told me here and now the true facts of the case. Had you some hold over Hansford Boot or had you not?”

“Most emphatically . . . no!” snapped Penpeti. “The man must have been utterly unbalanced. He must have been suffering from what I believe the psychologists call a persecution mania.”

“All right, Mr. Penpeti. We’ll leave that subject for a moment. Now what about this friend of yours, this man you met in the lane?”

“Friend of mine!” exclaimed Penpeti. “I don’t follow, Inspector. Until last night I’d never set eyes on the fellow. He stopped me in the lane and asked me for a light.”

“For a cigarette, eh?”


“Then how was it his cigarette-case was empty and that no cigarette was found anywhere near his person?”

“I really can’t say. But that was the reason he gave for stopping me.”

“You realise, of course, that Hansford Boot intended that shot for you?”

“Now that I’ve read his fantastic statement, it’s evident.”

“So you had a lucky escape, Mr. Penpeti?”

“A miraculous escape, I imagine.”

“Why did you run away immediately after the shots were fired?”

“I wanted to fetch help from the village. But before I could get back to where the shooting had taken place, I saw the bodies being taken from a car in the yard of the inn.”

“I see. And you’ve nothing further to say on the subject?”


And at that Meredith allowed the High Prophet to pass on his way.


From The Leaning Man he was driven to the North Lodge, where he picked up Sid Arkwright and returned with him to the inn. Once there he ushered the young man into the empty garage. The two bodies lay side by side on the concrete floor, covered with two rough blankets.

“I’m sorry about this, young fellow. Not a particularly agreeable task, I’m afraid, but I want to see if you can identify this man for me.” And stooping over, Meredith gently drew down the blanket from the face and shoulders of the man Penpeti had met in the lane. “Well?”

Sid took one look and straightened up. He stared at Meredith, open-mouthed with amazement.

“Good Gawd! Inspector. It’s that chap I was telling you about.”

“What chap?”

“The one Penpeti met that night in the lane. The chap he spoke to about them letters of the guv’nor’s and what he intended to do with ’em.”

Meredith smiled.

“It’s no more than I anticipated. It may interest you to know that his name’s Yacob Fleischer of Fourteen Salmon Street, Camberwell. We found several letters addressed to him in his pocket. That name doesn’t convey anything to you---in connection with Penpeti, I mean?”

“No, sir. Nothing.”

“Well, Arkwright, I don’t think you can---No, wait---there’s just this. You did say that when you drove Mr. Mildmann over to the Dower House last Thursday evening the drive-gate was shut?”

“Yessir, because of the sheep in the park, as I told you afore, sir.”

“You got out, opened it and closed it behind you?”


“And on your return journey you did the same?”

“Yessir, as quick as I could, on account of the guv’nor’s condition.”

“One other point, Arkwright. While you were waiting outside the Dower House for Mr. Mildmann to reappear, what exactly did you do?”

“Well, sir, I was naturally feeling a bit hoppity. So I lit a cigarette and strolled about on the drive. As I explained, we’d parked just out of sight of the house, so there wasn’t any chance of me being seen. There’s a big clump of bushes and trees in front of the house, as you may have noticed, sir.”

“Thanks. That tells me just what I wanted to know. All right, Arkwright. No need to wait.”


Sid moved towards the door of the garage, hesitated, turned back and said uncomfortably:

“There’s just one thing, sir. Can I have a word with you outside? This place sorta gives me the willies.”

Meredith stepped out into the deserted inn-yard, followed by O’Hallidan, who locked the door behind him.


“It’s about that there Crux Ansata, sir.”

“Oh yes. I recall Inspector Duffy’s report on the case. It was stolen from the temple at Welworth and then, for some mysterious reason, returned.”

“It was me, sir,” said Sid simply.


“I stole it, sir. Been on my conscience ever since it has and I felt I just had to come clean about it. I come across the key of the temple in the guv’nor’s overcoat. He’d left it by mistake in the Daimler. That’s what first put the rotten idea into my head, see? Courting a girl I was then---an expensive sorta judy she was, too. Big ideas! Like a fool I wanted to cut a dash and go over big with the girl. Presents and the like.”

“I see. Well?”

“Well, all this happened just afore the dance at the corset factory and that nasty business in Mayblossom Cut. I’d got my fancy-dress rig-out for the dance up in my room, see? So just in case I was spotted, I shoved on the togs afore I set out for the temple. Idea was that if anybody did spot me, they’d just think it was old Penpeti and leave it at that.”

“Sound logic,” observed Meredith dryly. “Go on.”

“Well, I’d got an uncle of mine who owns a pop-shop in Hammersmith. He was ready to advance me a nice little bit on the thing and no questions asked. With the money I bought my girl a dimind bracelet. Kinda crazy thing one does when a chap’s in luv, I suppose! Well, then came that business in the Cut, which put me on my back for a time. Seeing as I’d guyed his pet religion and all that, I was ready for the guv’nor to cut up rough. Point is---’e didn’t, Inspector. Looked after me as if I was a kid. ’Eaped coals of fire on my head, as the saying is. Made me feel as cheap as dirt, that did. So the moment I’m on my pins again, I forces my girl to give back the bracelet and I nips up to Town and argues my uncle into giving me back that there Ansata affair. And within twenty-four hours, I’d ‘borrowed’ the key of the temple again and put the Ansata back in its proper place, see?” Sid took a deep breath and exhaled gustily, as if with profound relief at a difficult corner now rounded. “Well, thank Gawd, that’s out and done with! It’s up to you now, Inspector. I’m ready to take what’s coming to me. The guv’nor was a grand guy and it’s been sticking in my gullet for months, this has. But I feel a damn sight better now and that’s straight! Tell me, sir, am I for it?”

Meredith shook his head.

“It’s sometimes better to let sleeping dogs lie. This is one of those dogs, Arkwright. But I’m glad you’ve told me. I’ll make matters straight with Inspector Duffy and get him to write ‘Case Closed’ at the bottom of his dossier.”

“Coo! Thanks, Inspector. It’s decent of you.”

“It’s hard-headed common-sense,” Meredith corrected him gently. “Go on, young fellow. Scram!”


Twenty minutes later, Meredith was waiting impatiently on Tappin Mallet station for the London train. He had, as he knew, a busy day in front of him. First a visit to the Yard, where he intended to leave one of the exhibits in the case for expert examination and analysis. Then he intended to go down to 14 Salmon Street, Camberwell, where he hoped to unearth more information about this seedy, shifty, mysterious individual known as Yacob Fleischer. And after that? Well, he had an idea that Moldoni had “gone over the wall” to serve his six-year sentence at Maidstone jail. And he wanted to talk to Moldoni—a quiet, exhaustive talk. He was hoping against hope that Moldoni’s stretch in stir had not impaired his memory. At that moment Moldoni’s memory was a vital element in his final reconstruction of the tragedy at the Dower House.

It was a full programme and Meredith plunged into it with his usual zest and efficiency. He had already phoned the Yard from The Leaning Man, with the result that Luke Spears was waiting in his office when he arrived. Meredith apologised for having dragged him out on the Sabbath.

“Don’t apologise,” chuckled Luke. “There’s something in the wind. That sticks out a mile! Damn it all! Meredith, you needn’t look so smug. You’ve broken the back of the case---is that it?”

“Possibly,” assented Meredith with his customary caution. “I shall know more about that when I’ve had time to digest your report.”

“What exactly do you want me to do?”

Meredith, having gingerly unwrapped his exhibit from the tissue-paper, explained in detail.

“The point is, I want to return to Tappin Mallet to-night. Can you get me out a report by, say, six o’clock this evening?”

“It won’t be for want of trying,” said Luke dryly.

And Meredith knew that with Luke Spears this was tantamount to an affirmative.

Thereafter he kept on the move. A police-car was available and, after a highly satisfactory interview with the tenants of Number 14 Salmon Street, he headed all-out for Maidstone. There again his luck held and, by the time he was ready to return to Town, Meredith was in a mood of undiluted elation.

On his desk at the Yard he found Spear’s neatly-typed and beautifully streamlined report awaiting him. It only needed this to round off a perfect day’s investigation. Luke’s findings set the seal on his previous suspicions. His theory, in short, was no longer a theory. Just one or two links to be welded into place and his chain of evidence would be complete. To-morrow he would press for an open verdict at the inquest. Say another forty-eight hours to collect and collate the extra material he needed. And after that?

Well, barring unforeseen complications, he would be all set to make an arrest!

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