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18: The Truth About K.504

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Author Topic: 18: The Truth About K.504  (Read 2 times)
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« on: March 21, 2023, 07:57:35 am »

“THERE are two steps down,” said the Chief Constable. “And mind your head.”

He spoke just too late. Pettigrew negotiated the steps fairly successfully, but the low beam caught him sharply on the top of his skull. When he recovered he found himself in a small, square, panelled room, half filled by an enormous desk. It was the first time that he had ever penetrated into Mr. MacWilliam’s tiny, mediaeval house, squeezed between two Palladian residences in a corner of Markhampton Cathedral Close.

The Chief Constable was busy with a corner cupboard behind the desk.

“With the Dean on one side of me and the Chancellor of the Diocese on the other, I live in what might be called a desirable neighbourhood,” he observed, emerging from the cupboard with a decanter, a siphon and two glasses. “None the less, I make it a point of honour not to invite anybody to this house over five feet six in height, if it can be avoided. The ancestors of the English must have been a squat race.”

Pettigrew took the glass extended to him.

“I am sorry I couldn’t invite you to my place,” he said. “But my wife had asked some friends in to play bridge, and I thought you would prefer not to risk meeting them. Mrs. Basset was one of them,” he added.

MacWilliam opened a bulky portfolio and took from it a mass of papers which he arranged upon the desk. Their appearance was depressingly familiar to his visitor. Then he opened a long envelope and added its contents to the pile.

“I agree,” he said. “Your wife’s guests were better avoided on this occasion, particularly Mrs. Basset. However, we should not be disturbed here this evening. I have given orders that I am not to be sent for except in an emergency. And I do not think there is much risk of one of my ecclesiastical neighbours dropping in.” He leaned back in his chair and fixed Pettigrew with his candid open-eyed stare. “Talking of ecclesiastics,” he went on, “you were perfectly right about the Surrogate.”

“Oh,” said Pettigrew.

“In fact, you were perfectly right all along.”

“Oh,” said Pettigrew again.

“Perhaps you would like to look at the papers to satisfy yourself that they are all in order.”

“I suppose I might as well,” said Pettigrew unenthusiastically. When he had glanced through them he said: “Yes, they seem to be quite conclusive. They certainly bear out my suggestions as to what happened.”

“I congratulate you.”

“Thanks.” Pettigrew’s tone was one of the deepest despondency.

“On the other hand,” the Chief Constable went on in level tones, “the latest reports from Trimble don’t seem to carry the matter very much farther.”

Pettigrew, rapidly running through the reports, agreed that they did not. “In fact,” he said, “we are exactly where we were when we started.”

“Now there,” said MacWilliam placidly, “I am unable to agree with you. We have done a great deal. We have established the truth of what seemed at first---you will forgive me for saying so---a wild and highly improbable theory. In so doing we have proved a number of highly suggestive facts. And the facts seem to me to point to one inescapable conclusion---namely, that we have identified at least one of the persons responsible for this crime. I think that is quite a lot to go on with.”

“And where, my good Chief Constable,” cried Pettigrew, losing his patience, “where do you go on from here? What is the good of all your suggestive facts and your inescapable conclusions when you know perfectly well that at the end of it all you can’t say who committed the murder or how it was done? You say that I have been right all along, and so I have. But please to remember that this is exactly the situation which I foretold would arise when you dragged all this stuff out of me. Here we are with a mass of facts which may or may not concern the crime. We have no means of proving whether they do or don’t. So we are left with the prospect of living here for the rest of our lives with a fellow citizen whom we suspect of having committed a murder, although the suspicion may be quite baseless. I wish to God I had obeyed my instincts and kept out of this business altogether!”

The Chief Constable’s only reply to this tirade was to pick up the decanter and pour a generous helping into Pettigrew’s glass, adding a minute quantity of soda water. Pettigrew gratefully accepted the peace offering and the two men sat in silence for a moment. Then, as MacWilliam was about to speak, the quiet was broken by the ringing of the front door bell.

MacWilliam rose quietly, drew the window curtain aside and peered out.

“This is rather awkward,” he murmured, returning to the middle of the room. “Inspector Trimble is outside. It must be something important, or he wouldn’t have come here in view of my instructions. My servant is out, so I shall have to let him in myself.” He looked round the room in mock despair. “I ought to have devised a bolthole from this place,” he went on. “There’s nowhere in it where a rat could hide. Perhaps, though, I could see him in the hall, and you stay here till he’s gone.”

“No, no,” said Pettigrew resignedly. “Let him come in, by all means. It will make the perfect end to a delightful day.”

MacWilliam still hesitated.

“It’s the man’s feelings I’m thinking about,” he said.

“Damn the man’s feelings! I don’t see why I should be the only one to suffer over this diabolical affair.”

The ring at the door was repeated, and the Chief Constable, with a shrug of his shoulders, went out of the room. Pettigrew heard the front door being opened and the sound of Trimble’s voice in the hall.

“You will forgive my troubling you, sir, but it is a matter of such importance----” he was saying as he expertly negotiated the two steps down and with the ease born of long practice ducked his head at the right moment. He stopped short at the sight of Pettigrew. “I beg your pardon, sir,” he said stiffly. “I was not aware you had a visitor. Perhaps you would prefer me to----”

At this point the inspector’s eyes fell on the damning evidence laid out on the desk. It was a painful moment. A deep flush spread across his face as his superior’s iniquity slowly dawned upon him. “I was not aware,” he repeated, “---not aware, sir, that you---that Mr. Pettigrew . . .”

With something approaching horror Pettigrew perceived that there were actually tears in the man’s eyes. His heart smote him, and he vainly sought for words of consolation, but no words came. One can apologize for most things, he reflected, but injury to a fellow man’s professional pride is an offence almost beyond expiation.

The Chief Constable had his own remedy for this, as for almost every other, emergency. He reached quickly into the corner cupboard, found another glass, filled it and pressed it into Trimble’s hand.

“Thank you, sir, but I do not drink,” said the inspector coldly.

“I am aware of that, but on this occasion you do. You’re in need of a dram. Drink it up, and sit down---or better, sit down first.”

He pushed a chair behind Trimble, just in time. The inspector sat down so abruptly that the contents of the glass were in danger of being spilled. He seemed to be in a daze, and automatically carried the glass to his lips and took a long drink. The strength of the spirit caught him completely by surprise, and his first essay at dram drinking ended in a prolonged and violent fit of coughing.

“You’ll feel better for that,” said MacWilliam, when the fit had subsided. “And now, Mr. Trimble, I owe you an apology.”

The inspector shook his head. “I am sure, sir,” he said faintly, when he was able to speak, “that you are entitled to do anything you think proper to----”

“I am not entitled to go behind the backs of members of my force in a criminal investigation. If I did it on this occasion it was for a particular reason. It won’t occur again.”

The inspector looked at the Chief Constable as though he were seeing him for the first time. In fact, it was the first time that he had ever been confident that his chief’s words meant exactly what they said and nothing more.

“That is very generous of you, sir,” he said.

MacWilliam had only one reply to remarks of this nature. “I am not a generous man,” he said curtly. “It is a matter of simple justice.”

“Perhaps at this point I should say something,” Pettigrew observed. “Mr. MacWilliam thought fit to ask me, as a complete amateur, to consider the facts in this case, because he thought that my special knowledge might be of assistance in matters quite outside the ordinary run of police investigation. Well, I did what I was asked to do, and as a result I suggested a line of inquiry which has been carried out. The results of that inquiry have just come in and will, I have no doubt, be put before you as the officer in charge of the case”---he looked towards the Chief Constable, who nodded emphatic agreement---“for you to take such action on them as you may think proper. But I am bound to give it to you as my personal opinion---as I have just been giving it to the Chief Constable---that the knowledge so obtained is completely and absolutely useless. It is interesting in itself, perhaps, but it wholly fails to solve the problem presented by this case. That, Inspector, is what you might expect from calling in an amateur; and speaking for myself, I can heartily endorse what Mr. MacWilliam has just said---it won’t occur again. And now,” he concluded, rising to his feet, “I gather that you have something of importance to discuss. I shall only be in the way, so I will say good night.”

Before MacWilliam could say anything Trimble interposed: “I’d rather you stayed, sir, if you don’t mind. This case has given me a great deal of trouble, and what I came to tell the Chief Constable this evening seems to me to make it more difficult than ever. I---I’m a bit out of my depth, sir, and that’s a fact. I had it at the back of my mind to ask the Chief to call in the Yard, but since you are here, perhaps you’ll be able to save us from doing that. I thought I could run this show on my own, but it seems I can’t, so I shall be glad of all the help I can get, and if you can give me a hand I shall be grateful.”

Probably nobody but Trimble himself could have told just how much this avowal had cost him, but Pettigrew was sufficiently aware of the position to find the appeal irresistible.

“Of course I shall stay, if the Chief Constable will allow me,” he said. “I have already given you my opinion on the value of amateur detection, so you have been warned.” He settled down again in his chair, refused the whisky which MacWilliam immediately pressed upon him, and prepared to listen.

“Well, Inspector,” said the Chief Constable, reverting to his official manner, “I understand you have a report to make to me.”

“Not a report exactly, sir,” said Trimble. “That is, I haven’t had time to put the whole of it into writing. But in view of the importance of the matter I thought it best to bring it to your notice at once. You will have had the reports and statements dealing with this case up to yesterday, so you will be aware of the state of the inquiries to date.”

“The last report before me covers your second interview with Mr. Ventry,” said MacWilliam.

“Precisely, sir. Well, when I had reached that point I found myself fairly at a dead end. It seemed to me that I had pursued every line about as far as it would go, and I couldn’t see which way to turn. That being so, with the assistance of Sergeant Tate” (here the inspector coughed in a somewhat self-conscious manner) “I went right through the whole case from the beginning, to see if there was anything that might have been missed. On rereading the papers, sir, it struck me that there was one witness whose evidence was in a marked degree unsatisfactory. I am referring, sir, to Mr. Clayton Evans.”

“Clayton Evans, eh?” said MacWilliam. “This is very interesting, Mr. Trimble. Please go on.”

“I would remind you, sir, of the second statement made by this witness. That statement contains a highly important disclosure as to the last time that Miss Carless was known to be alive, which he had entirely omitted from his first statement. His excuse for doing so was that he had not been asked for that particular piece of information in so many words, and when I suggested to him that this was an unreasonable attitude he went on to make a variety of wild and intemperate observations, sir, which you will find summarized in my report.”

“I recollect them perfectly.”

“Well, sir, it occurred to me that in view of Mr. Evans’s rather exceptional approach to these matters there was quite a chance that he might still possess information of importance, which he had never bothered to disclose. So this evening I made an appointment with him and interviewed him for the third time. I decided to take no risks, but to question him precisely as to everything that had occurred within his recollection on the evening previous to and on the day of the concert. He displayed some considerable irritation during the course of the interview, sir, but I am bound to say that he answered my questions fairly, and his powers of memory appeared to be good. Nothing of importance transpired, however, until I reached the point in my examination where I was dealing with the scene that took place at the rehearsal as the result of which the Polish player retired from the orchestra. At this point, sir, Mr. Evans made a disclosure which seemed to me to be of first-class importance, so much so that I broke off the interview at once and came to consult you. I made a note of the relevant questions and answers immediately after the interview, sir, and though they are made from memory only, I think that they are approximately accurate.”

The inspector here fished a notebook out of his waistcoat pocket and read as follows:

Question: After Zbartorowski had left the Hall in the way you have described, what did you do?

Answer: I have told you. I sent Dixon off to find another clarinet.

Question: What did you do next?

Answer: I told Miss Carless not to let this affair upset her and saw her off the platform.

Question: And then?

Answer: I then sent the orchestra back to their places and carried on.

Question: You mean you carried on with the rehearsal?

Answer: Of course.

Question: Was the rehearsal successful?

Answer: It was quite satisfactory.

Question: Although the orchestra was then deficient of one player?

Answer: It wasn’t.

Question: But surely, you were then left with only one clarinet player instead of two?

Answer: I had no clarinets at all.

Question: I understood you to say that your orchestra contained two clarinets to start with?

Answer: That was the full orchestra. We had already rehearsed the Handel and the Mendelssohn concerto. All that was left to do was the symphony.

Question: Do you mean that it is possible to play a symphony without using clarinets?

Answer: Don’t be silly. I am not talking about “a symphony,” but this particular one.

Question: Very good, I should have said: Is it possible to play this particular symphony without using clarinets?

Answer: Really, I cannot go over the same ground continually. You already have the concert program. We were playing Mozart’s symphony No. 38 in D, K.504, commonly called the Prague.

Question: I am aware of that I am simply asking for a straight answer to this question: Do you use clarinets----

Answer: For goodness sake don’t go on talking about “using” clarinets, as though they were toothpicks. The Prague symphony is not scored for clarinets. I imagined that everybody knew that.

The inspector looked up from his notebook.

“At this point, sir,” he said, “Mr. Evans produced a large book of music, with some words on it in the German language, which he described as the score of the piece in question. I could not read it, of course, but he tendered it as evidence that clarinets are not employed in the symphony K.504. I then concluded my examination, as follows:

Question: At the concert was there not a full orchestra on the platform?

Answer: Certainly there was.

Question: But, as it turned out, the clarinets were not called upon to play?

Answer: Not except in the National Anthem.

Question: If the organ piece had been played first would the clarinets have been wanted?

Answer: Of course. We were using Henry Wood’s arrangement. It is all in the program.

Inspector Trimble closed his notebook and put it away in his pocket.

“And what,” said the Chief Constable after a long pause, “what is troubling you about this case now, Mr. Trimble?”

Trimble stared at him in surprise. “But don’t you see, sir?” he said. “This means that the man we’ve been looking for all this time---this missing clarinetist---may not even have been a clarinetist at all. Nobody ever heard him play a note. He may have been just anybody. We’ve got to start all over again.”

“On the contrary,” said MacWilliam imperturbably. “Unless I am much mistaken, this is where we stop. Do you agree with me, Mr. Pettigrew?”

Pettigrew did not answer directly. His hands clasped round one knee, leaning back in his chair, he addressed nobody in particular.

“What a fool---what a doubly distilled idiot I have been!” he murmured. “The amateur all over! Here was this simple, obvious fact lying right under my nose---and I missed it. What did Evans say? ‘I imagined that everybody knew that.’ So they did---pretty nearly everybody connected with this case. Mrs. Basset knew it, Miss Porteous knew it. My own wife knew it perfectly well. I could have asked her at any time and got the simple answer. But it never occurred to me to ask, even when she offered to help me. This is a lesson to me, Inspector, to leave the business of detection to my betters.”

Trimble cast a bewildered gaze from Pettigrew to MacWilliam and back again to Pettigrew.

“Do you mean, sir,” he faltered, “that this piece of information actually helps the inquiry? When I heard it, I thought----”

“Helps!” exclaimed the Chief Constable. “Lord save us all! Here’s a chiel who goes off on his own and solves the crime of the century, and he asks if it helps!” He poured out a bumper for himself and another for Pettigrew. “This deserves a drink if anything ever did. Mr. Trimble, your very good health! But where’s your glass? Come now, I insist you should have a drop of something!”

“Thank you, sir,” said the inspector faintly. “I’ll have a small glass of soda water, if I may. And now, sir, perhaps you or Mr. Pettigrew wouldn’t mind telling me just what I’ve done?”

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