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18: Thread from Threadneedle Street

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Author Topic: 18: Thread from Threadneedle Street  (Read 33 times)
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« on: June 03, 2023, 10:37:42 am »

WHEN Campion entered, the amateur electrician would have risen gratefully had not Miss Palinode’s gesture kept him on his knees.

‘Do please go on. You’re managing very nicely.’ Her gracious cultured voice was packed with authority. ‘I think that little screw goes there, doesn’t it? No, perhaps not. You’re out a great deal,’ she added, presumably to Campion.

It was very gentle chiding.

‘I am trying to get quite ready for my little conversazione tomorrow, and I noticed that this difficult thing had come apart. So annoying of it! I am not very clever with my hands, I am afraid.’

Her laugh, which was delightful, conveyed that a notion so absurd was amusing and yet somehow flattering to them.

‘So I came along to find you. I know you theatrical people are so resourceful. You weren’t here, you see, but your colleague came to my rescue.’

Sir William favoured Campion with a glance from under his lashes. His small sophisticated mouth was pursed with irritation. Anyone less like any actor he had yet met Campion could not imagine. He held out his hands.

‘I’ll have a go, shall I?’ he suggested.

‘I really wish you would.’ The announcement was heartfelt and the older man rose, to take a more congenial position on the hearthrug.

Miss Evadne smiled at him.

‘ “You do look, my son, in a moved sort,” ’ she quoted, ‘ “as if you were dismayed. Be cheerful, sir: our revels now are ended.” ’ She watched his face with an amused tolerance which he found disconcerting.

‘I’m afraid these gadgets are beyond me,’ he said uneasily. He was not a man who believed in the smile as a social lubricant. Miss Evadne found him shy.

‘You’re not a Shakespearian, I see,’ she said kindly. ‘I took it that you were. Now why was that?’ Her glance, falling on his Falstaffian girth, reminded her and her eyes twinkled. ‘Never mind. You must both come in tomorrow, of course. I don’t know that there will be anyone particularly influential there this week. However, it should be amusing, I think.’

She glanced down at Campion, who was making headway.

‘I always ask a few of my good friends from the neighbourhood, tradesmen and so on, for I do feel my nice Thespis people should meet their audience, don’t you?’

Campion got up, his task completed. ‘Salutary all round, I should think,’ he said cheerfully and met a surprised but gratified gleam in her smile.

‘That’s what I think,’ she said. ‘Now, is that mended? Splendid! Good evening to you both. I shall see you tomorrow just after six, then. Don’t be very late. I get too tired to talk rather soon.’

She took the kettle, nodded to Campion to open the door for her, and made an exit which would have graced a royal drawing-room. On the threshold she paused to glance back at Glossop.

‘Thank you for making such a gallant attempt,’ she said. ‘We’re neither of us quite so clever as this kind man, are we?’

Campion was aware that she realized that she was being very naughty and that it was an olive branch of a sort. He closed the door, grinning, and turned back into the room.

Sir William, who looked as out of place as a seal among the Morris and motifs, regarded him gloomily.

‘I was waiting for you when that woman walked in,’ he said. ‘She seemed to think she knew me. Who does she think I am, a policeman?’

Mr. Campion met the wise sad eyes, which seem so often to go with a profound understanding of money, with a certain embarrassment.

‘Well, no. I’m afraid she’s pretending to believe that we are both on the stage.’

‘An actor!’ He glanced casually at himself in the large heart-shaped mirror at his side, and came as near smiling as at any time during the interview. ‘Good lord!’ he said briefly, but he did not seem unpleased. Another thought occurred to him. ‘Is she your murderess?’

‘A runner-up,’ said Campion cheerfully. ‘This is all very unexpected, Sir William. Anything I can do?’

The other man regarded him thoughtfully.

‘Yes,’ he said at last. ‘That’s why I’m here, of course. Just make sure no one can overhear us, will you? It seems ridiculous but one can’t be too careful.’

While Campion investigated, he seated himself on the bench Miss Evadne had vacated and produced a small and shining pipe, which he filled and lit.

‘I’ve been talking to Stanislaus Oates, or rather Oates has been talking to me,’ he began at last. ‘You put a query in a letter to Superintendent Yeo. Do you know what I’m talking about?’

‘It does not leap to mind.’

‘Good.’ He seemed relieved. ‘If we can keep this on the highest level there’s a very fair chance that there’s no harm done. Your letter was a personal note to the Superintendent. He went to Oates. Oates mercifully mentioned it to me direct, since we happen to be working together at the moment on another matter. That means four reliable people; that’s all right, I think. Now, Campion, what exactly do you know about Brownie Mines?’

The pale eyes behind the horn-rims grew momentarily blank and Campion sighed. It had been a hunch of the wildest kind. With some of the old thrill he saw the card turning up.

‘Almost nothing,’ he said. ‘A woman who has been murdered held a number of shares. They are thought to be worthless. Some months ago there was a rumour about them, that’s all I know.’

‘Really? Oh, well then, that’s better than I thought. Just keep absolutely silent about the whole business, if you will.’

‘If I can,’ corrected Mr. Campion mildly.

Sir William shook his head. ‘That’s not good enough, my dear boy. There must be absolutely no suggestion. Do you understand me? There must be absolutely no suggestion in the Press or anywhere else. No suggestion, I say. Need I put it any plainer?’

‘Nice for the murderer,’ suggested Mr. Campion.

‘I beg your pardon? Oh, I see. Good lord, are you suggesting that this wretched woman may have been poisoned because she owned . . . ?’

‘I’m not suggesting so much as inquiring.’ Mr. Campion looked like a thin owl. ‘I have known perfectly genuine murders undertaken by enthusiasts for as little as three pound ten. My---er---my client possessed, as far as I remember, something over eight thousand negotiable what-nots in this charmingly titled concern. You must see that it makes a difference to me and the police generally if there is an outside chance of these ever having meant money. It’s our duty to find out, isn’t it? She certainly had nothing else of which the value is even problematical.’

Sir William rose. ‘I see what you mean,’ he said slowly. ‘It’s an awkward situation. You can see the importance I place on it, or I shouldn’t be here. I made certain that you were on to very much more than this, although of course I realized that you were unaware of its seriousness since you merely queried it. My one thought was to get down here myself and shut you up as soon as I could.’

‘Look here.’ Mr. Campion produced his little bargain modestly. ‘Neither Chief Inspector Luke nor I wish to put our little paws in high finance. We have caught a clue and all we want to know is if it is of value to us. Its importance to you and His Majesty’s Government is not our affair. In fact, you tell us how dangerous your Brownie is and we’ll keep his fair name out of it.’

‘What Brownie? Oh I see, a figure of speech. Well, I’m not going to commit myself, because quite frankly the fewer people to know anything about the matter the better, but I’ll tell you this much. There are three derelict gold mines---I won’t say where, of course---which are suspected of yielding a certain metal.’

‘Nameless,’ said Campion.

‘Exactly. A certain metal of great scarcity, which is in demand for the manufacture of certain items vital for this country’s defence.’ He paused and Campion lowered his eyes. Sir William grunted. ‘It’s now being investigated,’ he said. ‘Secrecy is absolutely vital. My dear chap, think where they are!’

Campion, who had no idea if Brownie had sunk his mines in Chelsea or Peru, was content to look intelligent, while a second thought occurred to Sir William.

‘If some fellow has killed an old woman to get hold of that scrip, I tell you what, Campion, he’s a crook. The secret has been kept like the grave. He’s a dangerous criminal and there’s a serious leakage. You must get hold of him and the sooner the better.’

‘A thoughtless chap all round,’ said Mr. Campion gently. ‘Very well. We know nothing here save the one cogent thing, which is that there’s a motive in the stuff.’

Sir William’s eyes became introspective.

‘An excellent one,’ he said. ‘I’ll leave you to it. Keep me posted. I’m relying on your discretion, of course I needn’t mention that.’ The question in his voice and face belied the words.

Mr. Campion had no time to look injured. An idea had presented itself.

‘Was it dark when you came in?’ he demanded.

‘Not quite, I’m afraid.’ Sir William looked guilty. ‘I know what’s in your mind. You think I may have been recognized. It occurred to me when I saw the house surrounded. I had not thought that there might be sightseers. Incredible morbidity!’ He hesitated, considering. ‘It’s a strange decayed sort of neighbourhood. I see this is the Apron Street which possesses a branch of Clough’s. There’s a fantastic anomaly in a modern world!’

‘I gathered it was an old-fashioned concern.’

‘Archaic. Perfectly sound financially, but living in the past. There are two or three little branches left; one at Leamington, one at Tonbridge, one at Bath. It used to cater for a fashionable class now practically extinct. The cashiers hand you your notes with white-gloved hands, and even minor appointments are decided on the hereditary principle. They pay out less in salary than any house of the kind, but get good service.’ He sighed. ‘Extraordinary world! Well, I’m sorry if I shouldn’t have come here, Campion. Annoying, too. I was so anxious that we shouldn’t be seen together that I took the trouble to come and find you instead of fixing a meeting at the club or the office. I don’t think I was recognized. I’m hardly a public figure. Besides, if there is no mention of the matter we’ve been discussing, there’s no spark for the tinder. Who could put two and two together except yourself, eh?’

Mr. Campion helped him into his greatcoat. As usual, when he was worried he looked affably blank.

‘Myself and one other, and he’s the lad who matters most, don’t you think?’ he ventured.

The visitor stared at him.

‘The murderer?’ he demanded. ‘Good heavens, you’re not suggesting the chap is hanging about outside the house, are you?’

Mr. Campion’s gentle smile grew positively foolish.

‘Well, of course, it’s warmer indoors,’ he murmured.

Ten minutes later, when his guest was safely smuggled off the premises with as much discretion as it was feasible to arrange, he came back to his room and sat down on the end of his bed. He sat still without smoking for some minutes. In every mystery in which he had been concerned, he reflected, there had been a definite point at which reconnaissance had suddenly turned over to become attack. He recognized it again now. Phase Two had begun.

His thought, meandering amid the undergrowth, came upon something self-evident. Since Miss Evadne was not quite the unworldly person she was pretending to be, she was not, surely, a woman to insist upon entertaining at such a moment for the sweet sake of obstinacy alone? Yet she was determined to give her party. Why?

No solution occurred to him and he passed on to her brother, Lawrence, and the curious little tale which Jas Bowels had told about him. The undertaker had missed the obvious there, he was open to bet.

The abrupt opening of the door cut into his reflexions. Charlie Luke swept in without apology and pulled two quart bottles out of his raincoat pockets.

‘Only beer,’ he said. ‘What a country, eh, what a country!’

Campion looked up with interest. ‘Good news?’ he inquired.

‘Nothing to get the bunting out for.’ The D.D.I. was pulling off his coat as if it were attempting to resist him. His hat sailed on to the chest of drawers and he made a long arm for the tooth-glass. ‘You drink pretty and I’ll have the bottle,’ he said, filling it. The room was full of him. ‘Sir Doberman isn’t hopeful. He wanted to see me to ask me if I’d dug up the right chap. Poor old boy! He’s as disappointed as a kid with an empty parcel. Wants to have another go if we can give him a day or two.’

He took another swig from the bottle and sighed over the satisfaction it gave him. His dark face was thinner than ever and the living energy behind it a visible thing.

‘There’s the usual inquiry from H.Q. about “the delay in effecting an arrest”,’ he continued briskly, ‘but it’s on the half-hearted side today. They’re feeling low. Greener has been reported in France. He’s the active partner of the two Greek Street gun-boys there’s been such a hooey about. Paul, the other one, has vanished into thin air.’

Campion looked serious. ‘That’s a bad thing,’ he said.

‘Exactly.’ Luke was ferociously cheerful. ‘After ten days with the lid off. After every slop has been on his poor old toes. After every port has been watched like the last bun at a school-treat. And after every newspaper in the country has sat back waiting to complain. Meanwhile little Apron Street has had about half the man-hours on it it deserves. However, as they say in the high-class books, however . . .’ He set the bottle down carefully between his feet. ‘It’s an ill wind. At last I’ve got a couple of chaps working on Pa Wilde’s stock, and the call has gone out for bier-tending Bella, but nothing of interest has turned up to date except that the old bloke hadn’t made much money out of whatever he was up to.’ He sighed deeply and sincerely. ‘Poor old pill-grinder! I wouldn’t have had that happen for a pound of my pension. I got something for you, though.’

He ferreted in an inside pocket.

‘The doc’s had another anonymous letter. Same writing, same postmark, same paper. The dirt isn’t quite up to standard.’ He held his large nose absent-mindedly. ‘But the same lively soul is cunningly expressed. She hopes we burn.’

He produced a sheet of paper which might, Mr Campion reflected, have been expressly manufactured for the purpose of remaining untraceable. It was thin, it was common, it was off-white and it had no water-mark. It was obtainable in quantity in almost every shop in the metropolis. Even the handwriting was familiar in its unformed, back-sloping illiteracy.

He took it with repugnance, convinced by a first glimpse that he had read something almost identical a dozen times in a dozen different cases. Yet upon examination it was not without interest. After a string of unprintable words, somewhat carelessly arranged but chosen with a certain unpleasant relish, the writer became more explicit.

Well you old blank you have got away so far because all drs are cowards but you have not got much out of the dead have you and why I will tell you now and this is straighter than you could ever be you blank.

The brother who is a blank grasping and mean is the one who is being so clever as He thinks and has got what she left the blank of a Poor so called Captain who is nothing but a poor fool am watching you who are to blame for all trouble and Misery god know amen glass tells all dont forget persons like you are all blanks and the ones to make others sufer though pretending always pretending to bring kindness and do good the police are worse always a ready hand for cash and double cross They will burn in hell on earth as i hope you do You are the worst you blank blank blank blank blank blank.

‘Nice old girl, ain’t she?’ Charlie Luke glanced over his shoulder. ‘She can do better than this, though. There’s not so much repetition when she’s on form. See anything which takes your fancy?’

Campion spread the paper on the bedside table and punctuated the letter lightly in pencil. When he had finished he underlined certain words so that a simple message emerged.

‘The brother is the one who is being clever. He has got what she left to the captain, who is a poor fool.’

‘It’s fascinating if it’s true,’ he murmured.

‘How come?’ Luke’s head was on one side.

‘Because Miss Ruth’s legacy to the Captain, whom she disliked, was eight thousand first preference negotiable shares in a deadly secret.’ His smile was broad. ‘Sit down,’ he invited, ‘and listen to me break a confidence.’

Before he spoke again, though, his pencil wandered on down the unpleasant little missive and underlined yet five more words in the unsavoury harangue.

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