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Chapter 12 - ‘Furthermore . . .’ said Mr. Campion

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« on: December 19, 2022, 11:29:07 am »

After the little silence that followed Abbershaw’s announcement, Prenderby spoke. ‘What’s in this mysterious package they’ve lost?’ he said.

Abbershaw looked at Mr. Campion inquiringly. ‘Perhaps you could tell us that,’ he said pointedly.

Albert Campion’s vacuous face became even more blank than usual.

‘I don’t know much about it,’ he said. ‘My client didn’t go into all that, naturally. But I can tell you this much, it’s something sewn in the lining of a red leather wallet. It felt to me like paper—might have been a couple of fivers, of course—but I shouldn’t think so.’

‘How do you know?’ said Prenderby quietly.

Mr. Campion turned to him cheerfully.

‘Oh, I collected the doings all right,’ he said, ‘and I should have got away with them if little George here hadn’t been a car fiend.’

Abbershaw frowned. ‘I think you’d better explain,’ he said.

‘Explain?’ said Mr Campion. ‘My dear chicks, there was nothing in it. As soon as I saw old Uncle Ben and his friends at the table my idea was to get the package and then beat it, manners or no manners, so when the story of the Ritual came up I thought “and very nice too” and suggested the game. Then while all you people were playing “Bats in the Belfry” with the ancestral skewer, I toddled over to the old boy, whispered “Inky-Pinky” in his ear, got the wallet, and made a beeline for the garage.’

He paused and sighed.

‘It was all very exhilarating,’ he went on easily. ‘My only trouble was that I was afraid that the wretched game would come to an end before I got away. With great presence of mind, therefore, I locked the door leading to the servants’ quarters so that any serenade on the dinner gong would not bring out the torchlight procession immediately. Then I toddled off down the passage, out of the side door, across the garden, and arrived all girlish with triumph at the garage and walked slap-bang into our Georgie looking like an illustration out of How to Drive in Three Parts, Send No Money.’

He stopped and eyed Abbershaw thoughtfully.

‘I got the mental machinery to function with a great effort,’ he continued, ‘and when I had it ticking over nicely I said to myself, “Shall I tonk this little cove on the cranium, and stuff him under the seat? Or shall I leap past him, seize the car, and go home on it?” And neither stunt seemed really promising. If I bunked, I reasoned, George would rouse the house or chase me in one of the other cars. I couldn’t afford to risk either just then. The only other expedient therefore was to tonk him, and the more I looked at him the less I liked the notion. Georgie is a sturdy little fellow, a pugnacious little cove, who might quite easily turn out to be a fly-weight champ, somewhere or other. If I was licked I was absolutely sunk, and even if I won we were bound to make a hell of a noise and I was most anxious not to have any attention focused on me while I had that pocket-book.’

‘So you came back to the house with me meaning to slip out later?’ said Abbershaw.

‘George has made the bell ring—three more shots or a packet of Gold Flake,’ said Mr. Campion facetiously. ‘Of course I did; and I should have got away. All would have been as merry as a wedding bell, in fact,’ he went on more sadly, ‘if that Anne woman had not decided that I was just the sort of harmless mutt to arouse jealousy safely with Mr. Kennedy without giving trouble myself. I couldn’t escape her—she clung. So I had to wait until I thought everyone would be asleep, and then, just as I was sneaking out of my room, that precious mock butler of theirs came for me with a gun. I knocked it out of his hand, and then he started to jump on me. They must have rumbled by that time that the old boy had got rid of the packet, and were on the look-out for anyone trying a moonlight flit.’

He paused, a faintly puzzled expression passed over his face. ‘I could have sworn he got the packet,’ he said; ‘anyway, in the fight I lost it. And that’s the one thing that’s really worrying me at the moment—what has happened to that wallet? For if the man who calls himself Dawlish doesn’t get what he wants, I think we are all of us for a pretty parroty time.’

He stopped and looked at Abbershaw steadily.

‘It doesn’t seem to be of any negotiable value,’ he said, ‘and as far as I can see, the only people who are interested in it are my client and Dawlish, but I can tell you one thing. It does interest them very much, and to get hold of it I don’t believe they’d stick at anything.’

‘But what was it?’ persisted Prenderby, who was more puzzled than ever by these explanations.

Campion shook his head. ‘I don’t know,’ he said, ‘unless it was the Chart of the Buried Treasure, don’t you know.’

Abbershaw got up from his chair and paced slowly up and down the room. ‘There’s only one weak spot in your story, Campion,’ he said suddenly. ‘It sounds like Gospel apart from that. But there is one thing I don’t understand. It’s this: Why didn’t you have a revolver on you when you came out into the garage?’

‘Answered in one,’ said Mr. Campion. ‘Because I hadn’t one: I never carry guns.’

‘Do you mean to say that you set out on an infernally dangerous game like this without one?’ Abbershaw’s voice was incredulous.

Mr. Campion became momentarily grave.

‘It’s a fact,’ he said simply. ‘I’m afraid of them. Horrible things—guns. Always feel they might go off in a fit of temper and I should be left with the body. And no bag to put it in either. Then poor little Albert would be in the soup.’ He shuddered slightly. ‘Let’s talk about something else,’ he said. ‘I can keep up my pecker in the face of anything else but a corpse.’

Prenderby and Abbershaw exchanged glances, and Abbershaw turned to where the young man with the tow-coloured hair and the unintelligent smile sat beaming at them through his glasses. ‘Campion,’ he said, ‘you know, of course, that Colonel Coombe died last night? Do you know how he died?’

Mr. Campion looked surprised. ‘Heart, wasn’t it?’ he said. ‘I thought the old bird had been scratching round the grave for the last year or so.’

Abbershaw’s expression did not change. ‘Oh,’ he said, ‘if that is all you know it may surprise you to hear that he was murdered—while the Dagger Ritual was going on.’

‘Murdered!’

Every trace of frivolity had vanished from Albert Campion’s face. There was no mistaking the fact that the news had appalled him, and he looked at Abbershaw with undisguised horror in his pale eyes.
‘Murdered?’ he repeated. ‘How do you know?’

‘I saw him,’ said Abbershaw simply. ‘They wanted a signature on the cremation certificate, and got me in for it. They wouldn’t let me examine the body, but I saw the face and neck and I also saw his invalid chair.’ His eyes were fixed on Campion the whole time he was speaking. ‘Then there was the dagger itself,’ he said. ‘There was blood on the dagger, and blood on the cushions of the chair, but even if I had not known of these, the body, though I saw so little of it, would have convinced me that he had been murdered. As perhaps you know,’ he went on, ‘it is my job to explain how men die, and as soon as I saw that dead grey face with the depleted veins I knew that he had died of some wound. Something that would bleed very freely. I should say it was a stab in the back, myself.’

The change in Mr. Campion was extraordinary; he pulled himself together with an effort. ‘This is horrible,’ he said. ‘I suppose they got him when they discovered that he had parted with the package. Pretty quick work,’ he added thoughtfully. ‘I wonder how they rumbled him so soon.’

There was silence for a moment or two after he had spoken, then Prenderby looked up. ‘The store they set by that package must be enormous, on the face of it,’ he said. ‘Clearly they’ll do anything for it. I wonder what their next move will be?’

‘He’s searched our rooms,’ said Abbershaw, ‘and I believe he intended to lock us in the dining-room and search us immediately after, but his experiences in the bedrooms taught him the utter impossibility of ever making a thorough search of a house like this. It couldn’t be done in the time he had at his disposal. I think he realizes that his only chance of getting hold of what he wants is to terrorize us until someone hands it over.’

‘Then I hope to goodness whoever has got it gets the wind up soon,’ said Prenderby.

Campion nodded and sat down gingerly on the edge of the bed. ‘I expect he’ll have you people up one at a time and bully the truth out of you until he gets what he wants,’ he said.

‘For a great crook he hasn’t proved very methodical, so far,’ said Abbershaw. ‘He might have known from the first that there’d be no point in churning everybody’s clothes up.’

Albert Campion leaned forward. ‘You know, you fellows don’t understand this bright specimen of German culture,’ he said, with more gravity than was usual in his falsetto voice. ‘He’s not used to little details of this sort. He’s the laddie at the top—the big fellow. He just chooses his men carefully and then says, “You do this”, and they do it. He doesn’t go chasing round the country opening safes or pinching motor-cars. I don’t believe he even plans the coups himself. He just buys criminal brains, supplies the finance, and takes the profits. That’s why I can’t understand him being here. There must have been something pretty big afoot, or he’d have had a minion in for it. Gosh! I wish I was well out of it.’

Abbershaw and Prenderby echoed his wish devoutly in their hearts, and Prenderby was the first to speak. ‘I wonder whom he’ll start on first,’ he said thoughtfully.

Campion’s pale eyes flickered. ‘I fancy I could tell you that,’ he said. ‘You see, when they couldn’t get anything out of me, except banalities, they decided that I was about the fool I looked, and just before a couple of thugs, armed to the teeth, bundled me off to the box-room, I heard a certain amount of what they said. Jesse Gideon had apparently gone carefully over the crowd, and prepared a dossier about each one of us. I came first on the list of people about which nothing was known, and the next was a girl. She wasn’t a friend of Petrie’s apparently, and the enemy couldn’t place her at all.’

‘Who—who was that?’

Abbershaw was staring at the speaker, his eyes grown suddenly hard. A terrible apprehension had sent the colour to his face. Campion glanced at him curiously. ‘That red-haired girl who met us in the passage when we came back from the garage. What’s her name—Oliphant, isn’t it? Meggie Oliphant. She’s the next to be for it, I believe.’

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