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13: Probables and Possibles

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Author Topic: 13: Probables and Possibles  (Read 27 times)
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« on: August 30, 2023, 07:15:22 am »

MEREDITH realized, however, that he would gain nothing by cross-examining Miss Boon any further that night. She was already in a dangerous temper and by pushing things too far he might antagonize her to such a point that she would refuse to speak in the future. He did question her casually about the open skylight and received the answer which he had expected. It had been opened during the hot weather and Miss Boon had forgotten to close it when the rain began. Simple. Unassailable. Meredith had to take her evidence at its face value.

On their way over to Barnet’s to take a final statement from Pratt, Meredith observed: “Wade and West are our remaining concerns for to-night. I hope that chap you sent down to George Street has got West to come round quietly and sensibly to the station.”

Shanks then took down in the presence of his superiors the following statement from the doctor.

I was frequently asked to dine with Mr. Buller. On this occasion he had invited me because he was anxious to discuss his nephew’s health. I arrived at the house at about seven and dinner was served at half-past. We remained at table for nearly an hour. I then saw Buller up to his study, having already apologized for having to desert him directly after the meal. I am working on a paper dealing with the Causes and Cures of Hay Fever. Up in the study Buller offered me a cigar and took one himself. I reminded him of his indigestion tablets and he pointed out that Mrs. Gannet had not provided him with his usual glass of water. He asked me to send her up with a glass on my way out. I stayed chatting for some few minutes and then took my leave. I was up in the study for about ten minutes. I sent Mrs. Gannet up with the water and returned to Number Nine. I left Buller seated in the armchair near the window, which, according to custom, was wide open. I had scarcely taken off my hat and overcoat when the Superintendent rang the bell and informed me that Buller had been shot.

After they had had a drink, Meredith sent Shanks to collect Mrs. Gannet and take her round to Mont Road, whilst he and Long hopped into the police-car and headed for the station. On the steps under the crumbling portico a constable anxiously awaited them.

“Well?” asked Long. “Did he come quietly?”

“Yes---he’s inside, sir. Took it a bit flustered at first but as soon as I pointed out that it was only commonsense to clear himself if he wasn’t implicated, he came willing enough. I think you’ll find him ready to talk.”

“Anything else to report?”

“Yes, sir. Whilst I was hanging about outside his lodgings, a boy called at the place with a note. I naturally asked him who it was for. He said ‘Mr. West’ and that a lady had given him a shilling to deliver the note. Seems that the lad met the woman just by Regency Square. Big, loud-voiced woman, he said.”

“With a dog at her heel, I’ll bet,” put in Long with a wink at Meredith. “Something up there, eh, sir? Fishy, to say the least of it. What time did the lad arrive?”

“Ten minutes to nine, sir.”

“And West turned up?”

“About five minutes later.”

“Right---that’ll be all, Timms. If you’ve made out your official statement you can ’op it off home.” As they walked along the corridor to the Inspector’s office, Long added: “Think we ought to see young Wade first. After all we’ve kept him hanging about here since half-past eight.”

Meredith agreed that he should be shown in first and the sergeant-on-duty was sent to fetch Wade from the charge-room where he had been housed. He entered with his usual breezy unconcern.

“Well, well, well---I am having a night of it.” Then noticing Meredith: “Oh, hullo, old boy---so you’ve drifted along now, have you? It’s a hell of a night, isn’t it?”

“You can guess what we want to see you about, Mr. Wade?”

“Something pretty snappy, I should think, by the time you’ve kept me cooling my heels in that damned dungeon. Honest, old boy, I feel like a criminal if that’s any consolation to you. Well, let’s burrow down to the roots, shall we, and learn the worst? Shoot, sergeant!”

“It concerns the night of 13th June,” explained Meredith. “The night that Dr. Pratt gave you an injection of morphia. We have reason to believe that you were seen later that same evening driving a car in the Victoria Road.”

“Gosh---that’s a good one. I haven’t heard it before. No, really old boy, it’s marvellous the way you think of them. Have you ever seen a chap driving a car whilst under the influence of morphia? Worth seeing, eh? Matter of fact I can’t drive a car when sober let alone when drugged up to the eyebrows with morphia. Somebody’s seen my double or taken one on an empty stomach. Fact, old boy.”

“So you flatly deny that it was you?”

“Absolutely flatly, old boy.”

“I see. Ever had any reason to get on to the roof of the shed under your bedroom window at April House?”

“On to the roof? Why, of course not. Bally waste of energy when you’re old enough to have a key. The geezer may be mean in some directions, but she chucks in a latchkey gratis with the bed-sitter.”

“You’re sure you’ve never been on that roof?”

“Sure, old boy? Why, of course I’m----” Wade paused and looked at Meredith with round-eyed astonishment and admiration. “By Gad!---that’s smart. Real ripe sleuthing. How the devil did you spot the criminal spoor? You’re quite right though. I did go up on the roof one night. Left my key in another suit and rolled up so late I didn’t dare disturb the old dragon.” Then confidentially, “As a matter of fact, old boy, I was about three sheets in the wind. Met a lad I hadn’t seen for years and went back to his hotel. Must have fetched up under Leckhampton about the middle of the death-watch. So I sneaked round the back, shinned up on to the shed and got in through the window. Real Raffles stuff. Smart, eh?”

“Except for one small point,” said Meredith with a faint smile. “The footprints we found in the border beneath the shed had their toes pointed away from the wall. You don’t mean to tell me that you shinned up the shed backwards?”

“A point, old boy. A good point. Any unpractised criminal would fall for that gag as meekly as a bally lamb. But we hardened toughs---well listen to this and match it up with the truth. You won’t notice the difference. I did jump down off the roof. Why? Because I couldn’t get the window open without a knife. Had I a knife? No---I hadn’t, but I knew the geezer kept one in the shed for scraping the leather off one’s best boots. So what did I do? I nipped down and nabbed it. Fact, old boy.”

“I see,” said Meredith in a voice which gave no hint as to whether he believed his witness or not. “And what did you do with the knife?”

“Shoved it in my pocket, old boy, and slipped it back in the shed next morning when the old geezer wasn’t looking.”

Meredith nodded, then rising, said in a more serious voice.

“I’m afraid we’ve got some rather unpleasant news for you, Mr. Wade.”

“I know---you’re going to arrest me for putting French pennies in a slot-machine. O.K. I’ll plead guilty.”

“It concerns your uncle,” went on Meredith unruffled by the other’s levity. “It’s the worst possible sort of news, I’m sorry to say. Mr. Buller was found shot this evening at about eight-thirty.”

For once Antony Wade discarded his mask of habitual light-heartedness.

“Uncle Teddy shot? But, good heavens, who would want to kill a harmless, decent old bird like him? You mean it was not accidental, don’t you?” Meredith nodded. “Murder, eh? Poor old Uncle Teddy . . . murdered! It doesn’t sound possible.” He added on a lighter note. “Lucky for me that I was sitting in the police-station at the time. Otherwise I reckon you’d stick me down at the head of your suspect-list. I mean I come into the dibs and that’s always supposed to be a cast-iron motive for murder, isn’t it? Poor old boy. He had his faults but I’ve always liked the old chap. This has given me a bit of a jar. Rotten affair!”

“You’ve no idea, I suppose, if your uncle had any enemies among the inhabitants of the square?”

“That’s a stock question, isn’t it?” Wade gave a hollow grin. “As a matter of fact he wasn’t particularly popular with anybody in the square. He had the misfortune to win out in a tussle with one of Miss Boon’s mongrels. Since then she’s cut him dead. Matthews didn’t like him because he didn’t go to church and wouldn’t subscribe to the funds. I don’t know about that chap who’s left---West, isn’t it? I only know that whenever his name popped up my uncle used to change the conversation pretty quickly. Pratt seems to be the only one who was at all friendly with the old boy and I reckon half that was professional tact. But I don’t see that his worst enemy in the square had good enough reasons to bump him off. Pretty rotten show, eh? No ideas, I suppose?”

“Not yet,” answered Meredith. “We’ll be keeping in touch with you, of course. You’re the nearest relative?”

“Yes---that’s the idea. I suppose I’d better get in touch with my uncle’s solicitor johnnies and get things properly organized. If you don’t want to put me through any more third-degree stuff, I think I’ll ring through to-night before it’s too late. They ought to know at once.”

“No---that’s all, thank you, Mr. Wade. Sorry to have kept you hanging about here for so long. But now that you know the reason----”

“That’s O.K. with me, old boy. Only sorry that I should have wasted so much of your time through not being the criminal. More accommodating next time, perhaps. Cheero.”

The moment Wade had retired Long looked up from his desk where he had been taking notes, and scratching his many chins with his fountain-pen, observed solemnly: “You know, the more I see o’ that young blister the more muddled I get as to ’is innocence. ’E could talk the ’ind leg off a donkey and the donkey’d never realize it. Slippery-tongued---that’s what he is, sir. Glib, as they say. I still think he got out o’ that window on the night o’ Cotton’s murder.”

“So do I,” agreed Meredith quietly, “but I can’t for the life of me see why. Now what about having West in.” He turned to the constable who had just returned from seeing Wade off the premises and asked him to fetch the next witness.

West entered the room diffidently. He was neither nervous nor self-assured, just puzzled and a little bewildered. He was a different man from the one Long had interviewed the previous month. He had let himself go, with the result that his personal appearance no longer seemed to fit an erstwhile member of the Regency Square circle. It was obvious that West was passing through a pretty lean period.

Without preliminary Meredith explained what had transpired that night, tactfully pointing out that in the circumstances witness would be ready to appreciate the need for his immediate summons to the police-station.

“For instance, Mr. West---you realize that it is necessary for us to know where you happened to be at eight-thirty when the murder was committed.”

“Oh, naturally. Naturally,” replied West, his tone of voice belying his observation. “At eight-thirty---now let me see---where was I exactly at eight-thirty? Somewhere in the High Street I think---looking around the shops.”

“You left George Street at what time?”

“Shortly after six o’clock. Mrs. Emmet, I feel sure, will be able to corroborate this fact.”

“Quite. And then where did you go?”

“For a walk. I went out of the town to just beyond Charlton Kings. I didn’t hurry back but made a détour up the Old Bath Road and into the High Street again.”

“According to the constable you didn’t turn up at George Street until just on nine. What were you doing between eight-thirty and nine?”

“Oh, just browsing around the shops. I went up Promenade and back into George Street via the Rotunda and Montpellier Terrace.”

“Did you meet anybody you knew?”

“No.”

Meredith altered his angle of approach, jumping his next question with disconcerting suddenness.

“That note---could you tell us who it was from, Mr. West?”

“Note---which note?” The ignorance, thought Meredith, was patently overdone.

“It would be better not to take that line, sir. Safer if you understand me. A boy delivered it five minutes before you returned.”

“Oh, that,” West laughed without much conviction. “Yes, I was forgetting---there was a note waiting for me when I got home, from Miss Boon.”

“Might I ask what it was about?”

“It was about a job she was trying to fix me into.”

“Really. Why not post the letter?”

“I suppose she thought the sooner I applied for the post the more chance I had of getting it.”

“What firm was it with?”

“What firm . . . well, really . . . I . . .” West began to stammer in the most pitiful manner. He stood there for a moment goggling at the Superintendent, obviously at an utter loss for an answer. “You see,” he murmured weakly, “there are certain confidences . . .”

“Look here, sir,” rapped out Meredith sharply, “we’re on a murder case investigation. You’d better realize that fact once and for all. We can’t afford to respect any confidences when it comes to necessary explanations.” He thrust out his hand with an imperative gesture. “Can I see that note?”

“I’ve . . . I’ve destroyed it, I’m afraid,” blurted out the man with a desperate attempt to appear convincing. “You see, I had no----”

“Now don’t be absurd, Mr. West. You opened that note in the constable’s presence and slipped it in your pocket. The constable accompanied you here and you’ve been in the sergeant’s presence ever since you arrived---we know that note is in your pocket. Well?”

“I can’t show it to you,” said West with sudden obstinacy.

“In other words Miss Boon was not writing you about a possible job but something---well, what shall we say---something a little more sensational perhaps?”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean that the substance of that note had a bearing on the murder. Miss Boon was sending you a warning. Why? Because you know something pretty vital about the crime, Mr. West! Come on---the truth is the only thing which will get you out of an awkward corner.”

“But what can I say? I know nothing about the murder. Nothing. Until you told me just now I didn’t even know Buller was dead.”

“Then you’re shielding Miss Boon.”

“I . . . I . . .” West floundered miserably.

“So that’s it,” cut in Meredith briskly. “Well, you won’t help her cause along by withholding evidence. If she did it and we can prove she did it, then you’ll be arrested as an accessory after the fact. You know what that means? The game’s not worth the candle, sir, believe me. Now what about that note?”

Suddenly West, with a sigh of defeat, capitulated and thrusting his hand into his pocket drew out the note.

“There it is---read it for yourself.”

Joined by the Inspector who looked over his shoulder, Meredith read the following brief message: Say nothing to the police about your visit here. I have already put forward my story. Kate Boon.

“So all your previous evidence is not worth a row of beans,” observed Meredith quietly when he had finished reading the note. “Now, suppose, for a change, you tell us the truth, Mr. West.”

“Very well---I will. I suppose it’s the only sensible thing to do. Actually when I left George Street at six this evening I went straight round to see Miss Boon. I hardly like to touch on the reason for this visit but I suppose I must. Briefly---I’m absolutely down to my last shilling. I’ve got no job. Nobody to turn to for help. I thought of Miss Boon who had always been very friendly with me in the past. I wondered if I had strength enough to sink my pride and ask her for the loan of some money. She was kind enough to help me---not only monetarily but with genuine sympathy for my present unbearable position. She did actually mention the possibility of getting me a job. I left her house shortly before eight-thirty, browsed round the shops as I have already said and reached George Street about half an hour later. You can imagine how surprised I was to find this note waiting for me. I couldn’t see the reason why it had been sent. I can’t now. I can’t see any reason.”

“Unless . . .” prompted Meredith with a slight lift of his eyebrows.

“Exactly,” said West in a low voice. “When I came in here and you told me about Buller, a horrible thought shot through my mind. A beastly, unworthy thought I grant you---but in the circumstances how could I think anything else. Can you tell me, Mr. Meredith, why she sent that note?”

“We’re as much in the dark as you, sir---eh, Long?”

“Groping,” agreed Long with a doleful grimace. “But women do do funny things and she’d probably do funnier things than most.”

“And you’d be ready to swear that you returned direct from the square to George Street?” asked Meredith.

“Yes---except that I made that détour via the Rotunda.”

“Thank you, Mr. West. I’m glad you saw fit to tell us the truth about that note. I can quite appreciate your sentiments. As it is I’ve an idea your candour will help to clear the fog a little. Nothing further, eh, Inspector? No? Right, Mr. West. Good night.”

“Which leaves us, as I said before,” muttered Long as soon as they were alone, “groping. It strikes me that we might as well put a list of names in the hat and draw for it! If I’ve got any fancy that I feel inclined to back---well, between you and me, it’s the ole grey mare. Mind you, I start off with a natural prejoodice where she’s concerned. I don’t like ’er and she don’t like me. No doubt that she sent that note, eh?”

“Oh, she sent it all right, but she’s probably got a very simple explanation,” answered Meredith. “But I’m damned if I’m going to ask for that explanation to-night. We’ve done all we can for the moment, Long. Suppose you come round and meet me at Number Eight about nine o’clock to-morrow morning?”

But despite the lateness of the hour Meredith did not go to bed the moment he got back. He sat for a long time in his room puzzling and pondering over every aspect of the two murders. As far as he could see there was no lack of suspects. The trouble, so far, had been that there were too many suspects. There was plenty of evidence, a number of useful clues, a lot of strange discrepancies in various people’s statements---yet when this collection of data was viewed and examined as a whole there seemed to be no relation between any one fact and another. As usual, to clarify his thoughts, Meredith jotted down the outstanding points which had come to light during the investigation. As a basis on which to work he wrote down a list of the suspects and entered up against their names the details which he had gathered about their movements and so on. His completed notes ran thus:

THE COTTON MURDER
Probables:
(1) West. He had motive. Alienation of his wife’s affections. He had key to Empty House from which arrow was fired. He was unable to supply a water-tight alibi. He was a good, often brilliant shot.

(2) Fitzgerald. He had motive. Cotton was blackmailing him because Mrs. F. imagined that she had married Cotton. He had no water-tight alibi. He had access to roof through small landing window of Number Four and might have got into Empty House through skylight.

Possibles:
(1) Miss Boon. No known motive but could have got into Empty House through her skylight and West’s. Although stated she was walking her dogs no corroborative evidence. Said she saw Wade in car. Wade denies having left April House that night.

(2) Pratt. No known motive. Was a good shot. Unless working with Wade had a sound alibi. Did he really inject Wade with that morphia?

(3) Wade. No known motive. Was not known to have been an archer. But evidence points to fact that he may have left April House on night of murder. (Miss Boon’s statement and footprints below shed.) If in criminal collaboration with Pratt may not have had that morphia injection.

Impossibles:
(1) Matthews. Unshakeable alibi.

THE BULLER MURDER
Probables:
(1) West. No known motive. But might have re-entered Miss Boon’s after his visit via the Empty House and skylight of Number One. Could not put up a water-tight alibi. Detour via Rotunda to George Street possibly false evidence.

(2) Miss Boon. Had a motive of sorts (The dog). The arrow appeared to have come from her window. The note to West was suspicious. Was in the house alone (apparently) when the murder was committed.

Possibles:
(1) Matthews. No known motive. But was in the square near No. 1 just after the murder. Had been in Public Library (Newspaper Room) but could not claim to have been recognized by anybody. Could have got into Miss Boon’s via his own skylight and that of No. 1.

(2) Fitzgerald. No known motive. Could have got into No. 1 by same route as suggested in Cotton murder. No water-tight alibi.

Impossibles:
(1) Pratt. Because he had only just left Buller’s house. Could not have taken up position to have loosed arrow in the time. No motive anyway.

(2) Wade. Strongest of motives. But soundest of alibis. Was in the police station when murder was committed.

Other Possibility:
That Cotton and Buller were murdered by somebody not in the square circle.

“Possibles and Probables,” thought Meredith as he glanced down the list. “Umph---sounds rather like a Rugger trial. But what’s to be gained by it? Confound it! If anybody has a good motive for the murder they’ve got a cast-iron alibi. If their alibi’s rocky then they’ve got no motive for committing the crime! Strikes me that every single fact cancels out every other fact. Curse!”

Wasn’t there, he wondered, at least one illuminating point to be gleaned from a perusal of his list? He examined it again more closely. And suddenly a thought struck him. West was the common denominator of the Probables! He alone figured in that section in both murders. And wasn’t it fairly safe to assume that whoever killed Cotton, killed Buller? After all the method of murder was unusual---it was not one that might have been repeated in so short a lapse of time. Granted that murderers were reputed to emulate each other---that one trunk-crime might be followed by a veritable spate of trunk crimes. But, in this case, the murder-method was specialized. It called, not merely for an archer, but for an expert archer---a really brilliant shot. This West was reputed to be. Again, the type of arrow favoured in each case was identical save for the dabs of luminous paint---the same erasure of the maker’s imprint, the same home-made barb. On the other hand, what reason had West for murdering Buller? If Buller had been murdered first then the possibility of mistaken identity might enter in. Would it be too much to hope that a motive might come to light during the next few days’ investigations? And if so would they be justified in arresting West on suspicion? Turning the facts, once more, over and over in his mind, Meredith persuaded himself that if this second motive could be found then the outlook from West’s point of view would be decidedly grave.

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