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Chapter Thirty

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« on: August 27, 2023, 06:35:04 am »

PHILIP Jocelyn came out into the open air with the unpleasant sense that he had made a fool of himself. Whatever he had had in his coffee last night had left him with a swimming head. He must have been crazy to walk into Lilla’s room and say a thing like that without so much as waiting to make sure that he and Lyndall were alone before he blurted it out. “Anne’s dead.” He hadn’t meant to say it. He hadn’t even meant to go there. He had just found himself so near that it had seemed all at once an imperative necessity to see her. He had planned nothing. The drug and his disordered thoughts had betrayed him.

As he walked away he had no idea where he was going. Not back to the flat. Not yet---not before he must. Let them get on with it. He became aware that he had had no food all day. A meal would probably stop his head going round. He turned out of a side road into a busy street full of shops and entered the first restaurant he came to.

Half an hour later he walked in at his own front door, and was met by Chief Inspector Lamb.

“This is a bad business, Sir Philip.”

“What do you mean?”

“Don’t you know?”

“I shouldn’t have asked you if I did. She hasn’t gone?”

Lamb looked at him out of an expressionless face.

“That’s one way of putting it.”

Philip’s head was steady now. He said rather sharply,

“What has happened?”

Lamb said, “This,” and moved away from the study door.

Philip came forward a step or two and stood there looking in. There were three men in the room. One of them had a camera. Annie Joyce still lay where she had fallen. Philip thought of her like that---Annie Joyce---not Anne Jocelyn---not his wife. They hadn’t moved her yet. He looked at her lying there, and knew that she was dead. He had a brief stab of compunction. Then his face hardened. He stepped back and said in a controlled voice, “Shot herself? Before you came---or afterwards?”

Lamb shook his head.

“Neither. She didn’t shoot herself---someone shot her. There’s no weapon.”

“Someone shot her?”

“Undoubtedly. We’d better come in here.” The Chief Inspector led the way to the living-room. “They’re just going to take her away, and I should be glad of a word with you. This is Sergeant Abbott. If you don’t mind, he’ll take a few notes. We shall want your statement. I suppose you have no objection to making one.”

Frank Abbott shut the door and got out his notebook. The sun had left the room. It was cold. They sat down. Lamb said, “We have been instructed that this is a very confidential affair---a matter of attempting to obtain information for the enemy. But it seems to have turned into a murder case.”

Philip said, “Are you sure it isn’t suicide?”

“No question about it. Position of the wound---absence of any weapon. Somebody shot her. Now I’m going to ask you straight out---was she alive when you left the flat this morning?”

Philip Jocelyn’s eyebrows went up.

“Of course she was!”

Lamb went on in his solid, serious voice, his eyes bulging a little but shrewd, his gaze fixed and unwinking. Not a twitch of the eyelids, not a change of expression in all the big florid face. Above it, the stiff black hair stood up round a bald patch. He had taken off his overcoat, but even without it he filled his chair, sitting rather stiffly upright with a big capable hand on either knee.

“The police surgeon says she’s been dead a matter of hours. What time did you leave this morning?”

“Twenty to nine.”

Lamb nodded.

“Have any breakfast?”

Philip was as laconic as he.

“Coffee.”

Lamb grunted.

“Something about your being drugged last night, wasn’t there?” His tone conceded that as a medicament coffee might have its uses.

Philip said, “Yes.”

“And whilst you were asleep the case which you had brought back with you from the War Office was opened with your own key and the contents tampered with?”

“Yes.”

“Lady Jocelyn’s fingerprints----”

Philip interrupted sharply.

“She was neither Lady Jocelyn nor my wife. She was an enemy agent called Annie Joyce.”

“But she had been passing as Lady Jocelyn?”

“Yes.”

“Her fingerprints were found on your keys and upon the papers inside the case?”

“Yes.”

“Were these papers of a secret nature?”

“They appeared to be. They were not actually so. There was a code-book, but the code it contained has been superseded. There was nothing which could be of any value to the enemy.”

“Then you suspected that an attempt would be made to tamper with the case?”

“I thought it probable---I wasn’t taking any chances. As you know, I put myself in the hands of the Intelligence. I acted under their instructions.”

“Did you anticipate that an attempt would be made to drug you?”

“No. But it didn’t matter, except that my head is only just beginning to come round. Of course it was on the cards---but I’m a fairly sound sleeper, and she might have chanced it.”

“Would she have been in a position to know how soundly you slept?”

“No, she would not.”

Frank Abbott wrote, leaning forward over a table with a satinwood edge, his hair as pale and shining as the polished wood. Everything in the flat shone with polish except the dusty grate with its wreck of last night’s fire. He thought, “He’s on the spot all right now. If she was alive when he went out, how did he know that she was dead at a quarter to one? He didn’t leave the War Office until just before half-past twelve. We were in the flat before he could possibly have got here.”

Lamb said, “To come back to the deceased. The case was in the papers of course---I mean her coming over from France and claiming to be Lady Jocelyn. May I ask if the accounts which appeared in the press were substantially correct?”

“I think so. I didn’t read them all.”

“You accepted her story---you believed her to be Lady Jocelyn?”

“No.”

“Will you kindly amplify that?”

“Yes. I didn’t think she was my wife. She looked like her, and seemed to know all the things my wife would have known, but I felt she was a stranger. The rest of the family had no doubts at all. They couldn’t understand why I should have any.”

“The likeness was very strong?”

“Very strong, and---very carefully cultivated.”

“How do you account for it?”

“Quite easily. My father succeeded his uncle, Sir Ambrose Jocelyn. Ambrose had an illegitimate son who was the father of Annie Joyce, and a legitimate daughter who was the mother of my wife. The Jocelyns run very much to type, but even so, the likeness was remarkable.”

“Annie Joyce and Lady Jocelyn were first cousins?”

“Yes.”

Lamb shifted in his chair, leaning forward a little.

“If you believed the deceased woman to be Annie Joyce, why did you allow her to pass as Lady Jocelyn? She was living here under that name, wasn’t she?”

Anger and pride cut deeper lines on Philip’s face. He answered because he must, because reluctance would betray him, because the only defence he had left was to appear indifferent. He said, “I came to believe that she was what she claimed to be. The evidence was too strong.”

“What evidence, Sir Philip?”

“She appeared to know things that only my wife and I could know. After that I had no choice. I thought I owed it to her to meet her wishes. She wanted to be under my roof.”

“So you were convinced of her identity?”

“I was for a time.”

“What happened to change your opinion?”

“I learned from an old friend of my wife’s, one of her bridesmaids, that she had kept a very intimate and detailed diary. I realized at once that this diary might be the source from which Annie Joyce had drawn the information that had convinced me.”

“When did this happen?”

“The day before yesterday.”

“Did you then approach the Military Intelligence?”

“No---they approached me. They had received some very damaging information about Annie Joyce. They suggested that I should bring home some faked-up papers and an out-of-date code-book and let her know I had them. She drugged me and went through my case. I took them one or two things she had handled, so that they could compare the fingerprints. They found them all over the place.”

Lamb sat silent for a moment. Through the silence came the sound of tramping feet. The outer door of the flat shut heavily. The silence fell again. Lamb let it settle. Then he said, “You needn’t answer this unless you wish---but I’m bound to ask you whether you shot her.”

Philip’s eyebrows lifted.

I? Certainly not! Why should I?”

“You might have waked up and found her tampering with your case.”

The eyes under those raised brows gave him back a hard grey stare.

“In which case I should have rung up the police.”

“I wonder whether you would, Sir Philip.”

“I’m afraid I didn’t wake up. I told you I had been drugged.”

Lamb grunted.

“You have a revolver, I suppose?”

“Certainly.”

“Where is it?”

“In the study---second right-hand drawer of the writing-table.”

“Sure it’s there?”

“It should be.”

“Well, I think we’ll just have a look. They’ve taken her away.”

They went in, Philip Jocelyn leading the way, Frank Abbott behind. The room had been straightened, the telephone replaced, but the stain on the carpet showed.

Philip pulled out the drawer with a jerk. Writing-pads and envelopes neatly stacked---nothing else. He frowned, pulled out the next drawer above. No revolver. And so on with all the drawers.

“It isn’t here.”

“When did you see it last?”

“Last night. I took out a packet of envelopes. It was there then.”

He stood frowning down at the table. The packet of envelopes lay where he had left it, away beyond the blotting-pad, the paper band unbroken. He said, “Do you think it was used to shoot her?”

“It might have been. We can’t tell till we get hold of it.”

Frank Abbott thought, “If he did it, he’s putting on a good act. I can’t see why he should shoot her---unless she had the revolver. . . . She might have had it. . . . Say he caught her and she grabbed it---she would know where it was. . . . He gets it away from her---she’s frightened---she reaches for the telephone, and he shoots. . . . Not enough motive---unless there’s something we don’t know---there generally is. . . . Of course he may just have lost his head and let her have it---but he doesn’t look that sort. . . . Quite a brain-wave to get rid of the weapon---you can’t prove she was shot with it if it doesn’t turn up----”

Lamb was saying, “What time did you get to the War Office this morning, Sir Philip?”

“A few minutes after nine. Why?”

“At what time did you leave?”

“Half-past twelve.”

Lamb knew that already. He nodded.

“Did you come back here?”

“No.”

“Sure?”

“Quite sure.”

“Where did you go?”

“First to my cousin Mrs. Jocelyn’s flat. I meant to ask her to give me some lunch, but when I found she had a party I didn’t stay.”

“What did you do?”

“I went and got some lunch, and came on here.”

“You didn’t have any breakfast, did you---nothing but a cup of coffee? Did you make it yourself?”

“No---Miss Joyce made it.”

Lamb grunted. He said, “There’s no proof that she was Annie Joyce, but we’ll let that pass. She made the coffee? And she was alive when you left the flat?”

“Yes.”

“Then how do you account for the fact that you knew she was dead when you walked in at Mrs. Perry Jocelyn’s?”

Philip stared. He said, “But I didn’t know. How could I?”

Lamb gave him back his look.

“That’s not for me to say. But you walked in on Mrs. Jocelyn and her party and said, ‘Anne’s dead,’ and walked out again.”

Philip stiffened. He tried to remember just what he had said. He hadn’t seen anyone but Lyn, hadn’t thought of anyone. He had said, “Anne’s dead” because it was on his mind. He had said it to Lyn. And then Lilla had called out, someone moved. And he had just turned round and gone out again. He frowned a little and said, “You’ve got it wrong. I wasn’t speaking about Annie Joyce. I didn’t know that she was dead---she wasn’t in my mind at all. I was thinking about my wife.”

“Your wife?” The Chief Inspector’s voice sounded solidly unconvinced.

Philip felt a cold rage. Why should anything that was true sound as thin as what he had just said? Even to himself it carried no weight. He said, “That’s true. If this woman was Annie Joyce, my wife was dead---had been dead for three and a half years. The fact that my case had been tampered with was an absolute proof of that as far as I was concerned. When I walked into Mrs. Jocelyn’s flat I didn’t know that there were other people there---I said what was uppermost in my mind. When I found that we were not alone I walked out again. It wasn’t the sort of thing I could discuss in front of strangers.”

Frank Abbott wrote. The words were down in his notebook now. As his hand travelled, his slightly cynical expression became modified. “Might be---you never can tell,” he concluded. “The Armitage girl comes into it somewhere. The old game---spot the lady. He was in a bit of a hurry to tell her his wife was dead. And he hasn’t mentioned her now. I suppose the Chief is on to that---he doesn’t miss much.”

He shut up his notebook as the telephone bell rang.

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