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10: Trimble v. Todman

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Author Topic: 10: Trimble v. Todman  (Read 113 times)
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« on: April 21, 2023, 10:31:23 am »

THE Superintendent returned to his headquarters at Markhampton that afternoon. He had not been there long when a message reached him to the effect that the Chief Constable would be glad to see him, "if it was not inconvenient". Trimble obeyed the summons with the slight feeling of disquiet that an interview with his superior never failed to induce in him. It was not that he disliked Mr. MacWilliam---on the contrary, he was, and always had been, on the best of terms with him. No chief could have been more tolerant, more appreciative of good work done, more understanding. The trouble was that MacWilliam, from Trimble's point of view, was sometimes a little too understanding. Beneath a serious Scottish exterior there lurked a hint of flippancy. Trimble, who---like everybody else---prided himself on his sense of humour, would have had no objection to that, had it not been for the lurking suspicion that the flippancy was on occasion directed at him. Criticism or rebuke he could have borne easily enough; what really got under his fairly thick skin was that he---the hard-working, successful police-officer---was in the eyes of his chief a faintly amusing spectacle.

And all this without a word said! The Superintendent wished sometimes that MacWilliam would in some way commit himself, so that he could take offence and have things out, man to man. But how to take offence with a man who had consistently supported him, applauded his frequent successes, loyally covered up his rare failures and had ended by promoting him to the highest position in his command? It was impossible. Often Trimble told himself that he was being unreasonable. He owed nothing but gratitude to the man who had helped him up the ladder of success. If only---if only he could rid himself of the uneasy feeling that MacWilliam was all the time aware that he looked a trifle ridiculous, perched up there on the dizzy upper rungs!

"Well, Superintendent," said MacWilliam, "I gather that you have undertaken a holiday task."

"I thought it my duty to interrupt my leave, sir," said Trimble stiffly, "in view of the evident gravity of the matter."

"You were absolutely right, of course---absolutely. I should not myself have ventured to recall you on account of it, but I am relieved that you thought proper to come of your own accord. I won't say that Inspector Hodges will not be a shade disappointed at missing the chance of dealing with it in your absence, but that is unavoidable."

Trimble, who had the poorest possible opinion of Inspector Hodges, grunted. Before he had time to say anything, however, MacWilliam went on. "Now I don't want to keep you, because I know how busy you will be at this stage in the investigation. It's really only vulgar curiosity on my part until you have a proper report ready. Just tell me in the fewest possible words about Mrs. Pink."

As concisely as he could, under that quizzical eye, the Superintendent related the results of his morning's work. The Chief Constable listened without interruption.

"Very well," he said, when Trimble had finished. "You'll keep me in touch as the enquiry goes on, of course. So far, it seems to be a very sordid little affair. But I have a feeling in my bones that there may be more in it than appears. For your sake, Mr. Trimble, I'm rather inclined to hope so. It would be a pity for you to have interrupted your holiday if it does not prove worth while. By the way, you haven't told me anything about Mrs. Pink yet."

"There's nothing I can tell you at the moment, sir. She was a widow and lived alone in a little cottage at Yewbury. The witnesses I've seen so far speak very highly of her. There hasn't been time for any relations to come forward yet."

"A widow and lived alone," MacWilliam repeated thoughtfully. "I met her once. She came to see me for a subscription to some good cause or another. I thought her a rather remarkable woman in some respects. . . . Have you been to her cottage yet?" he asked abruptly.

"I propose going there this evening, sir. After I've----"

"I hesitate to suggest it, Superintendent, but do you think it is altogether wise to postpone going there---even until this evening? She lived alone, remember."

"You think, sir----"

"I think that at the best you may find the place swarming with gentlemen of the press. At the worst---well, you never can tell who might be interested in Mrs. Pink's cottage, can you? I don't propose that you should go there yourself, this moment. But I should recommend that somebody should hold the fort at Yewbury until you can take charge. It is entirely a matter for your discretion, of course, but----"

"I shall go myself, sir," said Trimble shortly. "Now."


Trimble made short work of the fifteen miles or so that separated Markhampton from Yewbury. He took with him the luckless Sergeant Broome, whom he found in the headquarters canteen, enjoying the comparative luxury of a meal for which Mrs. Broome was not responsible. He came into the village just as the Good Friday three-hours service was ending at the church. A small group of worshippers was standing at the lychgate in earnest discussion. He enquired the way from one of their number and drove on. Turning down the lane, he was relieved to find that the cottage pointed out to him as Mrs. Pink's was deserted and apparently untouched. A small knot of villagers gossiping in the roadway opposite and some children staring in through the closed windows formed the only indication that there was anything out of the way about that unassuming little building.

It was some satisfaction to find that the Chief for once in a way had been wrong, Trimble thought, as he fumbled in his pocket for the key which he had taken from Mrs. Pink's bag. At the same time it was annoying to reflect that he had wasted time which might have been better spent elsewhere by rushing out here on a wild-goose chase. When he got back he would hint to Mr. MacWilliam, very delicately, that there was such a thing as being too clever. The prospect warmed him, and he was already composing the appropriate phrases in his mind as he stepped through the front door into the little sitting-room.

He had hardly had time to look around him when the room suddenly darkened, as the light from the window facing the street was cut off by something large drawing up immediately outside. Looking out, he saw that the obstruction was a big open lorry, piled high with furniture and bedding. Three persons got out of the front of the vehicle: a small, elderly man with bright yellow hair; a younger man, tall, pasty-faced and characterless; and finally a young woman holding a very small baby in her arms.

"Get those traps off as quick as you can," said the small man sharply.

The young man went to the back of the lorry and began untying the tangle of ropes which held the load in place. The woman stood on the pavement watching him. The baby set up a wail. The man who had spoken fumbled in his pocket, produced a bunch of keys and marched straight up to the front door.

"What the devil----?" murmured Trimble.

"Looks as if we'd got here just in time," remarked the Sergeant tactlessly.

The Superintendent reached the door just as it was pushed open from without. The two men almost collided on the threshold.

"'Ere!" said the newcomer. "What's all this?"

"Who are you?" asked Trimble.

"That's a nice question to ask me. 'Oo are you, I should like to know?"

"I am a police-officer."

"Police, is it? Then I'd like to know what you're doing in my house. Have you got a search-warrant?"

"Your house?" Trimble was taken aback. Could he have made some appalling blunder? "This is Mrs. Pink's house, I was told."

"Was---until this morning. I'm the landlord---Todman's the name. She'd 'ad notice to quit months ago. Now she's gone my Marlene's moving in---as she would 'ave done weeks ago if I'd 'ad justice. Just stack those things on the pavement, Charlie," he added over his shoulder to his son-in-law. "We'll have Mother Pink's junk out in a jiffy as soon as the lorry's cleared. You see how it is, mister,"---he turned to the Superintendent with a confident air---"I'm moving in, and that's all there is to it."

"You can't come in here now, Mr. Todman," said Trimble firmly.

"Can't? 'Oo says I can't?" Mr. Todman's voice rose a semitone. "Into my own 'ouse? I've got the law on my side, let me tell you."

The situation was beginning to get alarming. Over Mr. Todman's shoulder the Superintendent could see an interested crowd forming with magical rapidity. Marlene, a picture of misery, with a screaming child at her breast, was the centre of a knot of sympathizers. Her husband, from behind a barricade of furniture on the pavement, was talking vigorously to two men who had all the appearance of press reporters. Somewhere in the background he heard the unmistakable click of the shutter of a camera. Desperately, he sought to temporize.

"Now, Mr. Todman," he said, in the most reasonable tone at his command, "I've got to have a look through Mrs. Pink's things after what has happened. You must understand that. I don't want to have to arrest you for obstructing me in my duty----"

Indeed, he did not. From what he had heard, it seemed that Todman had an unassailable right to the house. He was anything but sure in his mind as to what was the extent of his power to keep him out. The memory of a recent case in which a police-officer on private property had been successfully sued for trespass crept uneasily into his mind even as he spoke. But Mr. Todman gave him no time for reflection.

"Arrest me!" he squeaked in a piercing falsetto. "Arrest me! Are you saying I did the old woman in?"

"Go on, Jesse lad!" called a wit from the back of the crowd. "You give it 'im hot and strong!"

There was a roar of laughter. Evidently the village had settled down to enjoy itself at the expense of the police. It was the most humiliating situation that Trimble had ever found himself in.

"Well?" said Mr. Todman, encouraged by the support from behind. "I'm waiting. Are you going to arrest me or are you not?"

At this moment, to Trimble's immense and ashamed relief, there was a stir in the farther ranks of the spectators, and he saw a policeman's helmet making its way through the throng, which scattered submissively at its approach. Beneath the helmet, he knew, was the head of Police-Constable Merrett, one of the oldest, slowest, and, in the Superintendent's estimation, stupidest men in the force. He was a man who typified everything that he deplored in an officer---rusticity, ignorance, lack of ambition or imagination. Trimble had never been so glad to see anyone in his life.

Pushing his bicycle, Merrett slowly approached the front door of the cottage. He had just come off an arduous if unspectacular turn of duty at the scene of the murder at Yew Hill. He was obviously hot, but not apparently particularly bothered. If he was surprised to find his superior officer at bay on Mrs. Pink's doorstep, he did not show it---but his face was in any case always completely expressionless. He leaned his bicycle against the wall of the house, walked up to the door, saluted and said, "Good afternoon, sir!" in the most matter-of-fact way in the world.

Mr. Todman turned round at the sound of a familiar voice.

"Good afternoon, Mr. Merrett," he said in a calmer voice than the Superintendent had heard up till now.

"Afternoon, Mr. Todman."

"This man"---he indicated Trimble with a contemptuous gesture of the thumb---"is trying to tell me I can't come into my own house."

"Ar!" said Police-Constable Merrett reflectively. He sucked his teeth noisily. For a moment there was silence as he indulged in the unusual process of thought. The crowd, Trimble noticed, was now perfectly quiet and orderly. Already it was beginning to thin out, as one after another of its members realized that with the arrival of their trusted policeman---a real policeman in a blue uniform and helmet---the prospects of an interesting riot had faded.

"Ar!" said Merrett again. "Well, Mr. Todman, how d'you think it would be if you was to come inside and talk it over quietly-like with the Superintendent? I'm sure you don't want all Yewbury to know about your affairs, do you?"

"That's all I want to do---talk it over quietly," snapped Mr. Todman. "Haven't I been saying so all along? But this dam' fool wants to arrest me, or something."

"Now, Mr. Todman, that's not the way to talk to the Superintendent," said Merrett equably. "Get along inside now, and I daresay he won't mind your Marlene bringing the baby in too---it's getting a bit fresh out there in the street. And as for you, Bob Hawkins," he suddenly shouted back, into the crowd, "you've been hanging about here long enough. You buzz off home! And take your friends with you!"

Merrett did not wait to see the result of his last words, but Trimble had not the smallest doubt, as he re-entered the house with a suddenly reasonable Mr. Todman behind him, that Bob Hawkins and his friends had buzzed off home precisely as they had been told.

Once inside the house, with Mr. Todman seated in Mrs. Pink's armchair and his step-grandchild receiving some much-needed nourishment in the back kitchen, Trimble felt himself master of the situation once more.

"You must understand, Mr. Todman," he said, "I have been charged with the investigation of a very serious case---a case of murder. If I'm to do my duty properly I must be able to examine anything the murdered woman possessed. I'm sure you don't want to stand in the way."

Mr. Todman was courteous but determined. In an aggravating fashion, he insisted on addressing his remarks to the constable.

"My old woman," he announced, "won't have Marlene in the house another night, Mr. Merrett. You know how it is up at my place as well as I do. Living like pigs, we are, with the baby screaming its head off, and she with her head bad as it is. The minute she heard about the Pink woman she sent me to get out the lorry and move them out. If I was to go back again this evening with them---well!"

"Ar!" said Police-Constable Merrett.

Trimble became aware of a faint belch behind him. He had temporarily forgotten Sergeant Broome.

"I took the opportunity to go over the house while you were talking at the door, sir," he said. "Nothing of any importance that I can see upstairs, but there's a pile of papers in that desk. I don't suppose they'll help, but it's a surprising pile of papers---that I will say. There's not more than a lorry-load of furniture altogether," he added. "For all the place looks so crowded, it's a very small house."

His words gave Trimble an idea.

"Mr. Todman," he said.

Todman was in the middle of a long-winded confidential chat with Merrett. He looked round sharply at the interruption. Trimble could not but be impressed with the contrast between the malevolence with which he still regarded him and his obvious confidence in the beefy, stupid constable. He changed his mind abruptly.

"Carry on," he said. "I don't want to interrupt you."

He waited patiently while Todman finished the saga of his family misfortunes. Then he said, "Merrett, I want a word with you."

Taking Merrett outside, where the disregarded son-in-law, Mr. Banks, was still keeping vigil over his furniture, Trimble spoke to him earnestly. It took a little time to drive into his head exactly what was required of him, but once he knew his part he played it faultlessly.

"Mr. Todman," said Merrett, returning to the room, "what was you planning to do with Mrs. Pink's home?"

Todman looked disdainfully round him at the "home" of his late tenant, the furnishings whose quality had struck Horace Wendon so favourably.

"Hadn't given it a thought," he said casually. "It's got no business here now, to my way of thinking."

"You might get into trouble if you just left it in the street," Merrett pointed out. "No knowing whose it is now, you know."

He paused to let this sink in before he added, "There'd be room on your lorry to take it away, I suppose."

"Take it where to, Mr. Merrett? I'm not going to have it cluttering up my place, I tell you straight."

"Why don't you ask the Super if you can run it up to headquarters for him? You'd get your regular haulage rates, I expect, and while you're doing it I could be giving Charlie Banks a hand with his stuff. Then Marlene would be all settled in before supper-time and we'd all be happy. What d'you say?"


Late that afternoon the Superintendent drove triumphantly into Markhampton, followed by all Mrs. Pink's movable property piled upon Mr. Todman's asthmatic lorry. Late though it was, the Chief Constable contrived to be in his office when he arrived. He came out into the yard just as the last of the furniture was being off loaded.

"Dear me, Mr. Trimble," he said mildly. "When I suggested that someone should go and look at Mrs. Pink's cottage I didn't expect to have it brought here."

"It proved necessary, sir," said Trimble, stiffly. "The deceased's landlord was very anxious to get possession."

"Mr. Todman? I rather imagined he might, but he was quicker off the mark than I had expected. I read the account of his County Court case, you know. Mrs. Pink's death seems to have come in very handy for him. . . . A quick-tempered man, Mr. Todman. Did you find him so, Superintendent?"

"I did, sir, somewhat. But I---I managed him."

"So I perceive, and with remarkable success. It is no more than one would expect of you, Mr. Trimble; but, all the same, I think you are to be congratulated."

"Thank you, sir," said Trimble modestly.

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