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11: Percy, Prufrock and Paine

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Author Topic: 11: Percy, Prufrock and Paine  (Read 54 times)
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« on: April 21, 2023, 11:42:24 am »

BEFORE he finally left his office that evening Mr. MacWilliam looked into his Superintendent's room to bid him good night. As he had expected, Trimble was still hard at work. On the floor stood several drawers which had been removed from Mrs. Pink's desk. They were filled with papers, neatly docketed and arranged. A small selection from these was on Trimble's table.

The Superintendent looked up as his chief opened the door.

"I wonder if you could spare me a moment or two before you go, sir," he said.

MacWilliam raised his eyebrows. This was unlike his self-sufficient Trimble. One of the things that he liked about the man was that he did not come running to him for advice except when advice was really needed, or plague him with information about details that he could handle himself. There must be something decidedly unusual in these documents to induce him to ask for an interview.

"Of course," he said. "I am at your service, Mr. Trimble."

He led the way back to his office.

"Mrs. Pink seems to have left an unconscionable quantity of paper behind her," he observed, when he was seated once more behind his desk. "It will take you a long time to get it all sorted out, won't it?"

"No, sir," Trimble replied. "She was a very tidy person, and it is nearly all sorted already. Nine-tenths of it is stuff dealing with her work in the parish, and so forth. It's only the personal papers I'm interested in at the moment, and they are quite manageable. There are just two or three of those I thought you would like to see now."

To his astonishment, the Chief Constable detected a tremor of excitement in the other's voice.

"Are they important?" he asked.

"Important, sir, and surprising."

"I am always ready to be surprised, Mr. Trimble. Please go ahead."

"First, sir, I should like you to read this."

Trimble laid a scrawled letter upon the desk. MacWilliam turned it over and examined the signature first.

"The good Mr. Todman," he remarked. "What has he to say to us?" He turned back to the beginning of the letter. "Dated the day before yesterday, I see. 'Mrs. Pink---This is to tell you that I'm getting near desperate, and desperate men are dangerous. Over my dead body you said to me and over your dead body it nearly was on the road last week.' What does he mean by that, I wonder? 'I've made you a fair offer and you've had fair warning and this is the last you'll get. So be reasonable or take the consequences. Your landlord, Jesse Todman.' Short and sweet. Superintendent. I presume that you will be seeing Mr. Todman and inviting his comments upon it?"

"Yes, sir."

"Well----" The Chief Constable suppressed a yawn.

"Thank you for letting me see the letter. It seems to provide a very simple explanation for the whole affair, does it not?"

Privately, MacWilliam felt disappointed in his Superintendent. After the promise of sensational revelations Todman's letter seemed decidedly flat. And if, at this time of day, Trimble could really be surprised that a landlord kept out of possession against his will should be in a murderous mood, then he was a far simpler fellow than a man in his position had any business to be.

"Yes, sir," the Superintendent was saying, "a very simple explanation."

The Chief Constable looked up at him sharply.

"Mr. Trimble," he said, "I have in the past from time to time indulged myself in the amusement of leading you up the garden path. It is a reprehensible habit, no doubt, but none the less perfectly in order under the rules. It is, in fine, a privilege to which, as your superior officer, I am entitled. That you should attempt in return to lead me up the garden path is wholly inadmissible. Will you please therefore stop wasting my time and produce the other papers you are withholding from me? I warn you that unless they are genuinely surprising the consequences will be serious."

Without a word Trimble laid upon the desk a letter typed upon good paper, with the heading of a firm of City solicitors. It was in fact the letter which Mrs. Pink had received upon the day of the County Court action.

"Percy, Prufrock and Paine!" murmured MacWilliam. "What on earth should they be writing to Mrs. Pink for? 'Dear Madam, We have received notice from Amalgamated Overseas Produce Ltd. that their first issue of Debentures will be redeemed on the 15th proximo. As you will recollect, your holding of this issue amounts to £5,000.' Whew! 'Together with accrued interest and cash in our hands, this will leave the sum of £5,580 6s. 11d. available for re-investment. We attach hereto a selection of securities suggested by our stockbrokers. Bearing in mind the somewhat high proportion of industrial stocks in your present list, we would recommend . . .' Etcetera, etcetera. My dear Superintendent, this is fantastic! Are there any more letters like this?"

"Quite a number, sir. I have only made a small selection for you."

"'Bearing in mind the somewhat high proportion of industrial stocks in your present list'—damn it, the woman must have been quite rich!"

"Evidently, sir." Another letter from Percy, Prufrock and Paine was set before the Chief Constable. He stared at it incredulously. "'We have now agreed your surtax assessment with the Special Commissioners at the figure of----' Impossible! Trimble, do you realize what this figure means? She wasn't simply well off, as you and I understand it---she was positively rolling in money!"

"That was what I had gathered, sir."

"Rolling in it! She could have bought up Todman and all his works a dozen times over and never noticed it. What on earth was she doing, living as she did?"

"Well, sir, one does come across cases of misers every now and again---elderly females especially. You'll remember there was that old woman in Pondfields Lane a year or two back."

"I know---she was a typical case. Starved to death in a filthy hovel, with wads of bank-notes stuffed away in the cupboard. By the way, was there any money in Mrs. Pink's house?"

"Not a penny, sir, unless you count the pound or two found in her handbag. She had thirty pounds to her credit in the Savings Bank. I didn't find any other bank account."

"P. P. and P. looked after that for her, no doubt. Was the body well nourished?"

"From what the doctor says, I gather that it was, sir."

"Was her furniture well cared for?"

"Spick and span, sir. A very house-proud woman, I should say."

"Not like the old woman in Pondfields Lane, then. Not like any miser I've ever heard or read of. Besides, a miser wouldn't spend her time working like a slave on causes and committees and things, as Mrs. Pink did. Who ever heard of a miser doing good, except to his heirs? The thing's a contradiction in terms."

"Well, sir," said Trimble. "If Mrs. Pink wasn't a miser, what was she?"

"What was she? Who was she? Where did her money come from? Who gets it now she's dead? And finally, my dear Mr. Trimble, have the answers to these questions anything whatever to do with the only question which really concerns us---Who did her in?"

MacWilliam stood up.

"I am going home now," he said. "You have certainly succeeded in surprising me, Superintendent. I hope, for your sake, that you will not succeed in making an arrest over the week-end, for if you do you will deprive yourself of the pleasure of a trip to London in order to get an answer to the other questions from Messrs. Percy, Prufrock and Paine. I assume that their office will have reopened by Tuesday, though from my experience of solicitors you will be almost certain to find that the gentleman attending to the matter is not in the office just now. Still, if you announce your coming beforehand some hapless junior clerk will no doubt----"

He was interrupted by a ring from the office telephone.

"Please answer it, Mr. Trimble," he said. "And tell whoever it is that I have left."

Trimble picked up the receiver and spoke to the constable on duty who had made the call. MacWilliam meanwhile was putting on his hat and coat.

"Who?" said Trimble into the telephone. "He's here now?. . . What about?. . . I see. . . ." The Chief Constable was at the door. "Mr. Pettigrew has called, sir," he said to him. "In connection with the case of Mrs. Pink. Shall I tell him you have gone?"

MacWilliam paused in the open doorway. Several years previously he had made use of Pettigrew's unofficial assistance in an investigation of which Trimble was the officer in charge. The affair had ended happily enough, with apologies and forgiveness and a promotion for Trimble as solatium. It had never since been mentioned between them, but he knew that the affront to the officer's professional pride still rankled. Now here was the irrepressible Pettigrew bobbing up again---uninvited this time---when the enquiry was only a few hours old. It was awkward. If Pettigrew had anything of importance to tell, the Superintendent was the proper person to take his statement without interference. But if, as he suspected, it was merely the case of an amateur presuming on his solitary stroke of luck to push in with his unwanted theories, then the sooner he sent him about his business the better. And Trimble should see him do it. The ghost of professional disloyalty would be laid once for all.

He turned back from the door. "I think we'd better see him together," he said. "Tell them to show him up."

Pettigrew was sensitive to atmosphere. From the moment he came into the room he realized that his appearance there was regarded with suspicion. Without troubling to determine the cause, he decided to make the interview as short as possible.

"I had no intention of troubling you personally, Chief Constable," he said. "Or the Superintendent, for that matter. I am simply here to make a short statement of fact, which may conceivably be of importance."

He noticed with interest the look of relief that passed over MacWilliam's face at his words, and went on:

"I should perhaps begin by explaining that I have been out most of the day and have only just heard of this affair on the six o'clock news. Living where I do, there is normally very little that occurs on the hill without my noticing it at once."

"And your statement of fact, Mr. Pettigrew?" said the Chief Constable frostily.

"My statement of fact arises directly from what I have just said. It is this: Mrs. Pink was last seen alive yesterday afternoon at ten minutes past five precisely."

"By you?"

"By me. And to avoid any possible misconception I may add that it was at a range of some hundreds of yards, through field-glasses."

"Do you suggest that you could recognize her face at that distance?"

"Her face---no, though they are pretty powerful glasses. But I could swear to her hat anywhere. I had seen it at close quarters less than an hour before."

"Where was she when you saw her?"

"On the path leading down from The Alps, just entering the yew wood."

"And what makes you think that you were the last person to see her alive?"

"I apologise. That was an unwarrantable assumption on my part. I should have said that I saw her at the last moment before she went into the wood from which, I gather, she never emerged. Of course, if you have later information as to her movements, then I have been wasting your time."

"On the contrary," said MacWilliam, in a more friendly tone than he had shown up till then. "Your information is very valuable. Do you agree, Superintendent?"

"I do, sir. I should like to ask Mr. Pettigrew whether he is quite sure she was alone when he saw her?"

"Positive. I noticed it particularly, because she had not been alone when she went up to The Alps."

"In that case, sir, I think I must trouble you for a complete statement in writing covering the whole period from the time when, as you say, you saw her at close quarters up to ten minutes past five yesterday afternoon."

The Chief Constable took his cue. "You can use this room if you wish, Mr. Trimble," he said. "I think it is warmer than yours. Good night, Mr. Pettigrew. Thank you for coming along." And he departed.


Half an hour later Pettigrew, his statement completed, read over, signed and witnessed, left the police headquarters in search of a bus to take him home. His way took him past the municipal car-park. A car slid forward from the park and stopped beside him. A voice from within said, "I am driving you home, if you don't mind."

"My dear Chief Constable," said Pettigrew, getting in, "this is a surprise!"

"It had to be," MacWilliam explained. "If Trimble had seen us together it would have been fatal. You see, when you were announced this evening we both thought you had come along to teach us our business again."

"God forbid!" Pettigrew cried. "And you know perfectly well that I didn't——"

"I know you didn't. And it was very stupid of me to think that you would. But you can hardly blame Trimble for doing so. It was a great relief to find that you were a 'mere smear' witness of fact."

"And that is all I mean to be. Don't you realize how I loathe this business of detection?"

"Excellent!" said MacWilliam approvingly. "You seem to be in a very proper frame of mind. All the same, I'm going to trouble you with one question on what is not a matter of fact, but of opinion."

"I shan't answer it."

"Just as you please. I shall ask it, all the same. Would you say that Mrs. Pink was an altogether normal person?"

"Yes," said Pettigrew promptly, and a moment later, "No."

"I see." The Chief Constable's voice was quite devoid of irony.

"She was normal in the sense that---- Look here, do you know anything about forestry?"

"Nothing at all."

"Nor do I. But I know somebody who does, and a very dull dog he is too. But he was talking to me one day at inordinate length and quite uncontagious enthusiasm about a forest in Germany or somewhere which he said was almost normal. I asked him what a normal forest was, and it seems that such a thing doesn't really exist. It means one that is so planted and arranged that---oh, I won't bore you with the details as he did me, rotation and felling and replanting and so on, but a normal forest is a forester's dream, one without any snags to it. Everything in apple-pie order. Do you follow me?"

"I follow. And Mrs. Pink was a dream? Whose?"

"All I am trying to convey is that she was a thoroughly good woman. I don't know whether you call that normal or not. A policeman wouldn't, I suppose. Being what she was, I dare say her behaviour might have seemed abnormal by other people's not so good standards. That's all."

"That is very interesting," said MacWilliam. "You must have known her very well."

"Good Lord!" said Pettigrew. "I believe I only spoke to her twice in my life. I am an ass."

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