The Art-Music, Literature and Linguistics Forum
July 23, 2024, 07:54:06 pm
Welcome, Guest. Please login or register.
Did you miss your activation email?

Login with username, password and session length
News: Here you may discover hundreds of little-known composers, hear thousands of long-forgotten compositions, contribute your own rare recordings, and discuss the Arts, Literature and Linguistics in an erudite and decorous atmosphere full of freedom and delight.
 
  Home Help Search Gallery Staff List Login Register  

9: First Enquiries

Pages: [1]   Go Down
  Print  
Author Topic: 9: First Enquiries  (Read 52 times)
Admin
Administrator
Level 8
*****

Times thanked: 53
Offline Offline

Posts: 4508


View Profile
« on: April 21, 2023, 09:10:16 am »

DETECTIVE-Superintendent Trimble, the humourless, ambitious head of the Markshire plain-clothes force, arrived on the scene about noon. The news of the discovery had reached him at his home, where he was enjoying a few days of leave, and he would have been perfectly justified in leaving the preliminary investigations in the hands of the divisional police at Didford Parva; but this was not Trimble's way. The last sensational case of murder in which he had been concerned---that of Lucy Carless at Markhampton---had earned him, somewhat luckily, his promotion from the post of Inspector of the city division to his present high eminence, and he yearned for fresh worlds to conquer. He was not sorry to find, as soon as he left his car at the foot of the hill, that this enquiry would be conducted in the full glare of publicity.

The Druids' Glade, for some distance on either side of the spot where the body lay, had been sealed off by the police who first arrived in answer to Colonel Sampson's message. Hikers proceeding up or down the hill had naturally stopped to stare and speculate at what was going on. The news that part of the hill was temporarily out of bounds had spread. Naturally, this was quite enough to make the forbidden territory an irresistible attraction. The presence of police in force and the arrival of an ambulance added to the excitement. The residents at the Druids Hotel turned out to see what was going on. Eager young men and women plunged into the undergrowth in an effort to dodge the police cordon. Children swarmed everywhere. Trimble, pushing his way through the throng to gain access to the path, observed without dissatisfaction that several press photographers were on the spot already.

The well-tried routine of police investigation was already under way when he arrived. The body had been photographed in situ from every available position and the police-surgeon had made his preliminary examination. His report was perfectly straightforward. Mrs. Pink had been dead upwards of twelve hours, possibly as long as twenty. She had been killed by a violent blow that had shattered the back of her skull, producing almost instantaneous death. The familiar words "a blunt instrument" trembled on his lips, but Trimble cut him short.

"Would there be much blood?" he asked.

"That would be impossible to say for certain until I have made a thorough investigation," the doctor told him. "I should expect the weapon employed to be fairly well covered in blood, naturally. Whether the assailant would himself be marked would depend largely on his distance from her at the time---in other words, on the length of the weapon employed."

"Quite." Trimble turned to the officer who had been in charge pending his arrival. "Well?" he asked.

Detective-Sergeant Broome was a depressed, elderly man with a drooping moustache. Of more than average competence, he might have been a first-class officer had it not been for his wife. Her shortcomings as a cook were responsible for his chronic dyspepsia, while her consistent nagging had deprived him of any faith in his own abilities. Consequently he had failed to gain promotion and was now resigned to serving out his time in a subordinate rank, to doing an immense amount of work and seeing others gain the credit.

"There's blood on the ground here," he said, indicating a patch of grass which he had marked out with improvised pegs. "Just a spot—if it is blood. The lab. will have to verify it, of course. Then if you follow along this way, sir, I think you can pick up a trail to where she lies. The ground's all been trampled; but I fancy you can see the marks of her heels where she was dragged along. . . ." He sighed, belched softly, and added, "I dare say I'm only being fanciful as usual. It won't show up in a photograph, anyway."

Trimble examined Mrs. Pink's shoes.

"You're right about her being dragged along," he said. "Now let's see if we can work out what happened. . . ."

It did not take the Superintendent very long to establish to his own satisfaction what had occurred. Mrs. Pink had been struck down from behind at a point just below where the three paths met opposite the Arch-druid's Yew. From there she had been dragged some twenty yards off the path to the place where she had been found. Her bag---a large, shabby affair of black leather---lay beside the body. It proved to contain, besides a few odds and ends, four copies of the Yewbury parish magazine, three circulars relating to the date of the summer bazaar, and a purse with £2 3s 4½d. Robbery had evidently not been the murderer's motive.

So much was clear. What remained uncertain was the direction in which either assailant or victim had been travelling at the time of their encounter. The path up from the foot of the hill and the three tracks that converged on the plateau marked by the Arch-druid's Tree were alike in being steep and stony. Successions of tourists had worn away the soil to the barren chalk beneath, and it was vain to seek for footprints there. As to the scene of the crime itself, it had, as Broome pointed out, been well trampled. By an evil chance, one of Colonel Sampson's selections for a site for the litter basket had been exactly where the initial blood spots had been found, and he and Tomlin between them had effectually masked any traces that might have existed.

Trimble ordered the body to be removed to the mortuary, providing thereby an agreeable highlight to the Easter holiday of innumerable campers, hikers and family parties who witnessed the slow descent of the stretcher to the road below. He then directed an intensive search of the area surrounding the presumed scene of the crime. While this went forward he interviewed Colonel Sampson and Tomlin. They had already given statements to Sergeant Broome and were now patiently awaiting any further questions that might be put to them by the Superintendent. Trimble did not keep them long. Broome had already extracted from them all that appeared relevant to the case.

"You recognized this woman, I understand?" he said to Sampson.

"Mrs. Pink? Oh, certainly---a most excellent woman."

"Had she any relations that you know of?"

"I never heard of any. She was a very solitary person. A widow, of course."

"Somebody will have to identify her at the inquest."

"I could do that---so could Tomlin, for that matter---or anybody in the neighbourhood. She was a very well-known figure."

"We usually find that a next-of-kin comes forward," said Trimble. "There aren't many really solitary people in the world. Had she any enemies that you know of?"

"None," said the Colonel firmly.

"That's true," added Tomlin.

"Very well. Now is there any other information you can give me, apart from what is in your statement here, Colonel Sampson?"

"No."

"You, Mr. Tomlin?"

"No, sir."

Trimble looked round him thoughtfully for a moment before dismissing them. His eye lighted on the litter basket, now displaced from the position which the Colonel had selected with such anxious care.

"This was the thing you brought up here this morning, was it not?" he added.

"That is right," said Sampson.

"Didn't you bring it up empty?"

"Of course."

"Then, if there has been nobody here since except your two selves, why has it got litter in it now?"

"That was my doing," the Colonel explained. "I thought a bit of stuff in there might encourage the fellows to use it---sort of nest-egg principle, you know."

"I see. And where did you get the stuff from, sir?"

"Oh, it was just lying around," said Sampson vaguely. "Under this bush, wasn't it, Tomlin?"

"Then we'd better have a look at it, just in case you picked up something important by mistake."

Taking up the basket, the Superintendent held it upside down. The rubbish so conscientiously collected a few hours before poured out on to the ground. Going down on hands and knees, Trimble began to sift it carefully. In the presence of an audience he automatically exaggerated the detail of his normally painstaking methods. Every rotting morsel of orange peel was examined, every scrap of newspaper unfolded and scanned, before being put on one side. The Colonel, whose army career had taught him to recognize eyewash when he saw it, yawned openly. And then---to the astonishment of everybody, of Trimble not least---something actually came of the search. Trimble had reached nearly to the bottom of the pile, which had been the top when it lay in the basket. He picked up a large sheet of paper loosely crumbled into a ball. As he did so something fell from its folds---something small and very bright in the sunshine.

The Superintendent picked the little object up and rose to his feet.

"What do you make of that, sir?" he asked the Colonel.

Sampson saw on the officer's extended palm a diamond-stud ear-ring.

"Mrs. Pink never owned anything like that," he said with assurance. "It must have been dropped by someone walking on the hill."

"Probably. If so, its loss will have been notified. I should reckon that diamond is worth a hundred pounds at least." He unfolded the newspaper ball. "Evening News, two days old," he commented. "The ear-ring dropped on to the paper, so it must have been lost since then. Well, even if this has nothing to do with the case we shall have done someone a good turn." He began to put the litter back again into the basket.

"I wonder, Colonel, if it was that that young Ransome was looking for?" remarked Tomlin.

"And who may young Ransome be?" Trimble asked sharply.

"A very nice young fellow," said Sampson defensively. "He happened to come along while Tomlin and I were here, and he went down with me when I telephoned for the police. He knew Mrs. Pink and was very much upset when he heard what had happened."

"Where is he now?"

"I sent him off home. He's only a lad, and I didn't think----"

"Home? Where is that?"

"The Alps, up at the top of the hill."

"The middle one of those three paths above leads there, doesn't it? And he was looking for something, you say? Why didn't you mention that sooner, sir?"

"Because it hardly seemed to have any bearing on the matter," said the Colonel stiffly. "And it still doesn't seem to me to have any bearing, in my humble opinion."

There was something rather impressive about the Colonel, mild though his manner was. Trimble had been prepared to be rude, but, looking into those candid brown eyes, he thought better of it.

"You will be wanting to get away, I expect," he said. "I needn't keep you any longer. Good day, sir."

---

An hour later Trimble in his turn prepared to leave. The neighbourhood had been systematically searched without further result, and it seemed clear that nothing was to be gained by staying longer. The interested crowds had thinned away into a few scattered knots of hardy spectators. The residents of the Druids Hotel had vanished in response to the imperious call of the lunch-hour. The hill had begun to revert to its normal Eastertide animation.

Trimble was exchanging a few last words with Broome, before returning to headquarters, when he was aware of a disturbance from the path that skirted the southern face of the hill. A babel of high-pitched voices could be heard, mingled with the deeper tones of the officer whose duty it was to prevent any approach by that way to the scene of operations.

"Now you push off before you get into trouble!" Trimble heard.

"But we've got something!" protested a shrill voice. "'Aven't we, Alf? Go on, show it to 'im!"

"Look, sir, blood on it and all!"

"Now you run along——"

"Just look at it, sir!"

"You ask the Super---'e'll give you promotion if he sees it."

"Don't you want your stripes, guv'nor?"

"Look! Blood, I'm telling yer!"

Trimble walked up to the scene of the disturbance. Four grimy urchins, their ages ranging from about eight to twelve, were leaping up and down in excitement on the path. They set up a cheer at his appearance.

"Mister!" screamed the eldest, brandishing a long stick in his hand. "Mister! Just look what we found! Just look----" Trimble held out his hand without a word and examined the object which was eagerly thrust into it. It was a heavy piece of wood nearly four feet long. He noticed at once that it was not in its natural state but had been shaped for a purpose. He judged it to be the corner post of a fence. One end had been sharpened and had at some time been in the ground. The other . . . He examined it as best he could, surrounded by the jostling, excited children.

"That's blood, ain't it, mister?"

"Garn, I tell yer it ain't---blood's redder'n that, ain't it, sir?"

"Not when it's dry, it ain't. It goes a sort of chocolate, don't it?"

"D'yer think that's what he killed her with, mister?"

"Yes," said the Superintendent suddenly, "I do."

An ecstatic squeal of delight greeted the announcement.

Trimble turned to Broome.

"Let the lab. have this at once," he said. "No need to waste time fingerprinting it. But handle it carefully. There may still be some bits of hair or bone left on the end, though I doubt it, after what it's been through."

He turned to the largest and most vocal of the boys.

"Where did you find this, sonny?" he asked.

"I didn't find it, mister. Barry did. 'Ere, Barry, you tell 'im. Go on! 'E won't eat yer!"

The smallest of the children was pushed unwillingly forward. He stood dumbly in front of the Superintendent, wiping his freckled nose with the back of his dirty hand.

"Well, Barry, where was it?" said Trimble gently. But Barry, oppressed by the sudden publicity thrust upon him, still said nothing.

Trimble gave it up.

"You'd better show me," he said.

The group came to life again with a series of happy yelps.

"I'll show you, mister!"

"Right down 'ere, it is!"

"Come on, Ernie, I'll race yer!"

Following as fast as he could, the Superintendent saw the boys dash down the path a short way and then vanish into the bushes over the sheer hillside. Pursuing them incautiously, he dropped down a miniature precipice and landed uncomfortably in the branches of an elder that had somehow found a foothold in the almost bare chalk face. Below him he could hear excited chattering. He lowered himself painfully ten feet or so and found the boys gathered on a small ledge. He was too much out of breath to ask any questions, but a chorus of voices made questioning unnecessary. Here, and nowhere else, he was informed in ear-splitting tones, the weapon had been found. He looked upwards. The top of the Arch-druid's Tree was just visible. So far as he could judge, the stake, casually tossed from the spot where the assault had taken place, might well have landed thereabouts. It all fitted in very neatly.

"Thank you very much," he said to the boys. "You've been very helpful. Just give me your names and addresses, will you?"

"Will there be a reward, mister?" asked the eldest, when the names had been duly recorded.

"Well, yes, on the whole, I think there will," said Trimble.

He found a couple of half-crowns in his pocket. There would be no difficulty in finding room for them in his expenses sheet, he reflected.

Report Spam   Logged

Share on Facebook Share on Twitter


Pages: [1]   Go Up
  Print  
 
Jump to:  

Powered by EzPortal
Bookmark this site! | Upgrade This Forum
SMF For Free - Create your own Forum


Powered by SMF | SMF © 2016, Simple Machines
Privacy Policy