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Chapter 19: Detective-Sergeant Parkapple

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« on: May 27, 2023, 10:22:42 am »

I FIRST set eyes on the famous Detective-Sergeant Parkapple in the parlour of the village inn, where, with a glass of bitter ale in front of him, and a crust of bread and cheese in his hand, he was arguing with the landlord and Sergeant Preece about the best methods to be adopted in the successful growing of vegetable marrows. He was not a bit like a detective; at any rate, not a bit like my idea of a detective. I had always thought of detectives as men whose appearance suggested mystery: there was nothing mysterious about Parkapple. He was a little, plump man, with a cheery, pink face and mutton-chop whiskers; very smartly dressed, in a black morning coat, fancy waistcoat, and fashionable striped trousers. He wore spats to his shoes and had a shiny silk hat and a neatly rolled umbrella. And his manner was frank, chatty, and jovial---when conversing about vegetables, anyway. I made out, from his talk, that he lived at Surbiton, and possessed a garden in which he spent all his spare time, and, young as I was, it struck me that gardening was probably his proper job in life, and that he had got thrown into police work by accident and had somehow stuck where he was thrown.

When this great man (of whose fame and deeds, in the way of criminal-catching, Preece had told us a lot, the night before) had finished his refreshment, he went with Preece and me to Trace’s, whose house by that time had come to be regarded by the police as a highly convenient centre for discussions. We had a sort of informal committee meeting there, at which Macpherson and Preece did most of the talking. As for Parkapple, he lighted a cigar, folded his plump hands over his fancy waistcoat, and listened. He was a good listener, but though, boy-like, I watched him with absorbed attention, I could not see a flicker of anything like interest in his face. He just listened, politely. And after Macpherson had said all that he had to say, and Preece had followed suit, Parkapple said a few quiet words which showed that he already knew pretty well everything they had told him. I was not surprised at that, when, a few minutes later, he opened a little dispatch-case which he carried about with him and drew from it a sheaf of papers, amongst which were quantities of sheets on which newspaper reports had been neatly pasted. Yet, to be sure, there were certain things with which he was not conversant, such as the Hentidge story, and the evidence of Pyker, and that of the man brought to us by Silvermore. What I, and, I think, Trace too (Macpherson certainly did), wanted to know was---what did Parkapple make of that aspect of the question?

Parkapple didn’t tell us; for the time being, he seemed to regard all that as irrelevant; at any rate, he put it aside quietly. Out of his mass of papers he produced one, a folded sheet of official-looking foolscap. With this unopened in his hand, he took his cigar out of his lips and looked round at Trace, Macpherson, and Preece.

“Which of you gentlemen lived here, in this village, when Chissick came to it?” he asked. Trace and Macpherson promptly shook their heads. Macpherson, of course, was not a villager at all. Trace was, comparatively, a new-comer.

“I lived here,” answered Preece. “It’s five years since he came.”

“What did you know of him, when he did come?” asked Parkapple.

“Why, nothing! He was a stranger.”

“Well, what did you learn of him? What did he do?”

Preece put on his thinking-cap.

“Let’s see?” he said. “Five years is a long time---lots o’ things happened in that time. Well, Chissick---first thing I knew of him, or anybody knew of him, he turned up here, a complete stranger, and bought that home in which he lived ever afterwards till he was murdered the other day. Bought it from an old man who had it to sell, and who’s now dead. I think I seem to remember that they said Chissick gave eight hundred pounds for the house, garden, and orchard, freehold---it’s not a very big place. And---well, then he settled down. Did nothing at first. Retired gentleman, you know, in the beginning, anyway.”

“When did he begin to do anything?” asked Parkapple.

“After a bit,” replied Preece, “he began speculating a time or two in land. Bought up a plot here and a plot there, d’ye see?---and, of course, sold them again. Then he began building a bit---and selling what he’d built as soon as it was finished. He kept on at that game. During the last two years he did a good lot at it; had a builder’s yard, and employed a fair lot of men.”

“I suppose you knew him pretty well?”

“As a resident, yes---no more. Never had any great amount of talk to him.”

“You don’t know, and never did know, anything about his past? Where he came from, for instance?”

“No! I do know this, though---he wasn’t a native of these parts. You could tell that by his speech.”

Parkapple turned, and, looking at me, gave me a close, searching inspection.

“This is the lad, Tom Crowe, who’s figured in this case a lot, isn’t it?” he asked. “Very well---is he to be trusted thoroughly?”

They all spoke up for me. I began to think a lot of myself as I heard them. And Parkapple nodded.

“So I’d heard!” he remarked, with a smile. “I shouldn’t have said as much as I have if I hadn’t. Very well; as Master Tom there seems to be one of the cabinet, we can talk freely. This Chissick, now---I have his record here!”

I don’t think any of us knew what he meant, with the exception of Preece. I am sure Trace and I didn’t, and I believe Macpherson only guessed. But Preece, as a policeman of experience, started.

“Ah!” he exclaimed. “Record, eh? Just so!”

“Record!” continued Parkapple. “You see, when the fact came out about Chissick’s murder, there was mention of his habit of going to Brighton to spend his week-ends. Very good! I went to Brighton! I got information at Brighton that enabled me to work back---a long way. To cut things short, I’ve investigated Chissick’s past---I’ve only just finished the investigation. It’s all here,” he added, tapping his folded paper. “I’ll give you the gist of it.”

He searched for and found a pair of spectacles, and began polishing them, leisurely---too leisurely for me, and, I think, for Macpherson, who by this time was all agog with excitement and began to mutter.

“Aye!” he murmured, shifting about in his seat at the table. “Aye!---it’ll be another digging up o’ dry bones out o’ the grave o’ the past! Aye!---and maybe he’ll be able to clothe them in flesh and blood---ye’ll no doubt have some more than ordinary revelations to make, Mr. Parkapple?”

“Oh, so---so!” replied the detective. “Nothing very wonderful, Mr. Macpherson---just such facts as you generally get in such cases. Of course, you see, this man’s real name wasn’t Chissick at all.”

“D’ye tell me that, now!” exclaimed Macpherson. “Aye, and what would it be, I’m wondering?”

Parkapple had fitted on his spectacles by that time. He unfolded his paper and began to give us bits from it, punctuating them with remarks.

“The real name of this man was James Creswick,” he said. “His father was a small builder and contractor at Middlesbrough. He himself was apprenticed to that trade---to the building trade. But when he was about twenty he seems to have left it, and at twenty-one he was working as a clerk in the employ of a firm of shipping merchants at Newcastle. Three years afterwards he was secretary to a building society at Darlington: a building society the members of which were chiefly working-class people, folk who wanted to buy their own houses, you know.”

“Aye, there’s a deal o’ societies o’ that sort in the North,” agreed Macpherson.

“Well, he evidently did very well in this capacity,” continued Parkapple. “I mean well for the society---so well, indeed, that within a few years he was not only secretary but treasurer into the bargain, and had the entire affairs of the concern in his hands. However, when he was about thirty-five, some officious member began to suspect that something was wrong. He induced other members to join him in an enquiry; there was a drastic one, and the result was Creswick’s arrest, on a charge of falsifying accounts, forging documents, and embezzling the society’s money. Pretty bad, eh?”

“Aye---aye!” moaned Macpherson. “Aye---it’s a grave matter!”

“Grave enough! Well, he was tried at Durham Assizes, and found guilty, and he got seven years’ penal servitude,” continued Parkapple. “He served part of that sentence at Dartmoor, and part at Parkhurst.”

“That’s where Kest was,” observed Preece.

“Exactly!” said Parkapple. “Kest and Creswick were at Parkhurst about the same time. Creswick left first, some little time before Kest, but they certainly had some months together as fellow-guests in His Majesty’s hotel, as they call it.”

“They must have met!” exclaimed Preece. “In that case----”

“To be sure! But we haven’t got to that yet,” said Parkapple. “Continuing with Creswick---he proved himself, as his sort invariably do, quite a model and well-behaved prisoner, and earned the full period of remission. When he was discharged his friends sent him away---to Australia. He came back from Australia a few years after, called on his brother, who’s a very respectable man at Brighton, and said he’d done well where he’d been, had saved a nice bit of money, and had come home to start life again in England under a new name---or, rather, under the name in which he’d left, which was Chissick. And then---he came here.”

Parkapple uttered the last three words with a snap of his plump jaws, and, taking off his spectacles, put the paper back amongst his other documents. He picked up his cigar, which had smouldered at his side while he read, puffed at it for a minute, and then discharged a question, point-blank, at Preece.

“Know anything against him---as Chissick?” he asked.

But Preece shook his head, with definite decision.

“Nothing! Always a law-abiding man, I thought. Keen, they said, about his bargains, but---no, there’s nothing whatever against him here.”

Parkapple laid a finger on his newspaper extracts.

“I learn from these local accounts of the inquest on Kest that Chissick was one of the coroner’s jury,” he observed. “Did he show any particular interest in the case?”

“Not more than any other juryman,” replied Preece. “That is, as far as I recollect.”

“He was deeply interested, though,” remarked Trace. “I can tell as to that. Kest was murdered in the presence of Tom Crowe here very early in the morning. By breakfast-time, the news had spread over the village. Before Tom and I had finished our breakfast, Chissick and Fewster----”

“Fewster---who’s Fewster?” interrupted Parkapple sharply.

“A man who lives in the village, a retired business man, who was Chissick’s great pal,” replied Trace. “Chissick and Fewster, I say, before we’d finished breakfast that morning of Kest’s murder, walked in here for news. They didn’t get any!---I wouldn’t allow Tom to speak. But---they were keen! Chissick especially. And, if we’re going to be so confidential about it, I’ve come to a conclusion since---in fact, quite recently, since Chissick’s death---why Chissick was keen, and what he really wanted!”

“Well, what do you think he really did want?” asked Parkapple.

Trace hesitated. Then he spoke firmly, more firmly than I had ever known him speak. “I think he wanted to assure himself that this boy was absolutely unable to identify the man who knifed Kest and ran away in the mist!” he answered. “Just---that!”

“And you wouldn’t let this lad tell him?” suggested Parkapple.

“No! The lad himself refused to tell anything---then. But,” added Trace significantly, “Chissick soon got to know!”

“How?”

“At the inquest. Tom told the coroner there, in his evidence, that he could not possibly identify the man.”

“Did you notice if Chissick showed any sign of---well, anything, when he heard that?” enquired Parkapple.

“No! But he heard it. The point was emphasised,” said Trace. “A good deal was made of it.”

Parkapple turned to me.

“Sea fog, wasn’t it, my boy?” he suggested. “Pretty thick?”

“Very thick, sir,” I answered. “Thick, white, clinging!”

“But you saw the man who ran off after knifing Kest?”

“Oh, I saw him, yes, Mr. Parkapple---as a figure!”

“Well, now, as to a figure. Was his figure anything like Chissick’s?”

“Well,” I answered hesitatingly, “I should say---it was! A middle-height man, thick-set.”

Parkapple began to put his papers in his bag. Suddenly, in the midst of a dead silence, he turned to me again.

“Are you a very sound sleeper, my lad?” he asked. “Real sound?”

“Yes, sir,” I answered. “Especially when I’ve been out in the open all day.”

“As you had on that occasion, I think,” he remarked. “Do you think it possible that two men could have met and talked in the lower part of that old mill without waking you on the floor above?”

“Yes, sir,” I said promptly. “I’m sure they could!”

He closed his bag with a snap of the catch and stood up.

“Looks to me, you know,” he said, glancing at Preece and the other two, “as if Chissick, to give him his assumed name, had gone up there that morning to meet Kest, and as if they’d quarrelled and rushed out of the mill fighting, with the result we know of. Chissick may have been afraid of Kest giving him away as an ex-convict. I think, considering everything, that perhaps---only perhaps, mind you!---Chissick did murder Kest.”

“But---who murdered Chissick?” muttered Macpherson. “Chissick!”

“Oh, that!” answered Parkapple, almost unconcernedly. “That is what we’re going to find out!”

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