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17: Trimble v. Pettigrew

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Author Topic: 17: Trimble v. Pettigrew  (Read 59 times)
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« on: April 22, 2023, 02:05:20 am »

"DID you enjoy your walk?" asked Eleanor, as she and her husband finally sat down to a lunch that he remorsefully recognized as having been in the oven just a thought too long.

"Very much, thank you," said Pettigrew. "Did you enjoy your drive?"

"Yes. Lady Furlong was full of interesting talk."

"Mainly about Mrs. Pink, I suppose?"

"Mrs. Pink came into it, of course, but only incidentally. Lady Furlong is really more interested in the living than the dead."

"A very dangerous principle. The dead can't sue for defamation."

"Don't be unfair, Frank. You enjoy a good gossip as much as anyone. Her gossip isn't really malicious, anyhow. In fact, the only one of our neighbours she seems to have a down on is Mrs. Ransome. Did you know, by the way, that Mrs. Ransome has a son---a clever boy who was in church this morning?"

"Yes, indeed, I had the pleasure of his company on my walk. He's in rather a difficult position up at The Alps just now, and I've invited him to come in here whenever he feels inclined."

"Oh!" said Eleanor in a disappointed tone. "Then you won't want to hear about him. But I'm sure you didn't know that Colonel Sampson escaped from a prison camp in the first war and got home to find that his wife had run away with a conscientious objector."

"I remember hearing his divorce case tried. It made quite a stir at the time. They weren't quite so common then as now."

"Really, Frank, you are disgusting! If you know all these things, why do you keep them to yourself? I've a good mind not to tell you any more."

"Please go on. I can't possibly know anything about any of our other neighbours."

"Who else did she mention? Oh yes, Mr. Wendon."

"Not to disappoint you again, I've heard already that he was at Harrow with Lady Furlong's nephew."

"She knows a good deal more about him than that. It seems he was quite well off at one time. He went into some sort of business in the City and lost a tremendous lot of money."

"It depends what you call a tremendous lot. It was eight thousand three hundred and fourteen pounds."

"Frank!"

"Well, I'm sorry, but I could hardly help having that piece of information, seeing that Wendon gave it me himself, on oath. At least that was the amount he said was owing to him, so I suppose it corresponds with what he lost. How he lost it he did not, of course, divulge. Did Lady Furlong tell you?"

"She said it was the Family Something-or-other."

"Not the Family Fundholdings?"

"That was the name."

"Good Lord!"

"Have I impressed you at last, Frank?"

"Well, yes, you have a little. It's just a coincidence, no doubt, but it's very odd how everything here seems to lead back to Humphrey Rose in one way or another."

"Rose? That's the man who the police believe may be able to assist them in their enquiries."

"Did Lady Furlong tell you that?"

"Of course not. She may be a gossip, but she does talk English. I thought you'd recognize the style. It was on the one o'clock news. I listened to it to while away the time waiting for you to come in from your walk."

The shaft went unheeded. Frank sat silently for a long while, his plate neglected, his nose furrowed with the wrinkles that were his characteristic sign of deep perplexity.

"Roses, roses all the way!" he murmured at last. Then he came out of his abstraction and finished his lunch in quick time.

"I shall do the washing-up," he announced firmly. "I want to work out a problem, and there is something about the rhythm of plate-drying that is conducive to thought."

"Haven't you finished your essay on torts yet?" his wife asked.

"I'm not considering torts at the moment. The study has shifted to crime---an allied subject, but very much less to my taste."

---

Trimble had had a bad morning. From an early hour he had been occupied with a mass of minor but essential business that had kept him tied to his desk until after midday. When finally he got away from Markhampton to renew his enquiries at Yewbury it was to meet with fresh disappointment. Mr. Todman, in apparent defiance of the urgent message which he had left for him the day before, was not at his home. Neither was Mrs. Todman. Even the garage hand had deserted his post at the petrol pump. A bottle of milk stood uncollected outside the front door of the house, and a Sunday newspaper was thrust halfway through the slit of the letter-box. Trimble's first instinct was to go to the policeman's cottage farther up the road, but he shrank from yet another encounter with Police-Constable Merrett. Instead he turned down the lane by the Huntsman's Inn and knocked on the door of the cottage that had once been Mrs. Pink's.

Marlene Banks came to the door at once.

"Oh!" she said with a start, on seeing Trimble. "I thought it was the police."

"It is," said Trimble, equally surprised.

He was about to go on to reel off his name and rank when Marlene said: "It is about Father?"

"Yes."

"Is he very bad?"

"Bad?" Trimble echoed in bewilderment. Then, looking at her pale, anxious face, he took in the situation at once.

"I wanted to see Mr. Todman," he said, "but he's not at home. Has he met with an accident?"

"Yes, I thought you'd know. Mr. Merrett brought us the news last night. A smash-up just outside Bognor yesterday---the car all to pieces, he said---an emergency operation, he said, and he'd let me know as soon as there was any news---Mother's in hospital too, only badly shocked, he said---the other poor chap what was on the motor-bike was killed outright, he said---Charlie's gone down there this morning, only I couldn't leave baby, of course---not having no telephone I can't get any news, but Mr. Merrett 'll let me know as soon as there is anything, he said---the doctors were giving him blood fusion or something, he said, so of course when you said you was a policeman I thought . . ."

It took the Superintendent some time to get away from the distraught Mrs. Banks, and a good deal longer to establish over the telephone what the position really was. In the end the news that he was able to send back to the cottage was fairly reassuring to Mr. Todman's stepdaughter, though of small comfort to himself. Todman had had a narrow escape with his life, but would survive, in the absence of any unexpected complications, to face a charge of dangerous driving, if not worse. On the other hand, he would not be fit to be interviewed by a police-officer for some days at least.

If Trimble had not been so disappointed by his visit to Yewbury it would never have occurred to him to stop at Pettigrew's house on his way back to Markhampton. He had, in fact, a message for him, but it was scarcely one to justify a personal call from an officer of his rank. He did not expect to gain anything by it, and in spite of all Pettigrew's protestations he still regarded him with deep distrust as an intrusive amateur; but he was now in a mood for any line of action, however unpromising. The investigation, for the time being, was at a standstill, and being irritated by this supercilious lawyer was better than doing nothing.

Pettigrew was polishing the last of the plates when Eleanor announced the Superintendent's arrival. He went from the kitchen to the sitting-room, where he found Trimble inevitably staring out of the window at the hill opposite, now black with pleasure-seekers.

"Good afternoon," he said. "It's a nice view, isn't it?"

Trimble nodded.

"Is this where you saw Mrs. Pink on Thursday afternoon?" he asked.

"Yes. Let me lend you my field-glasses. Just where the yews start at the top of the hill. There's a man with a dog going down there now. Do you see him?"

Trimble focused the glasses in the direction that Pettigrew indicated and took a long look.

"Yes," he said rather grudgingly as he put the glasses down. "You could have seen her all right, just as you said. You didn't see anybody else on the hill at the same time?"

"No."

"Or just before or after?"

"No. I wasn't taking any particular notice of anyone else before, and there wasn't any after. I was called away just at the moment Mrs. Pink disappeared."

"In fact it was just a coincidence you happened to see her?"

"Just a coincidence."

"Pity," said Trimble shortly. He was silent for a moment or two, and then went on, "I've a message for you from Mr. MacWilliam, sir. He asked me to let you know that the inquest will be on Tuesday at eleven, at the village hall in Yewbury. He would like you to be there if you can spare the time."

"Certainly I'll be there. If the coroner is going to take evidence I'll be prepared to do my stuff."

"It's for the coroner to decide, of course, but I expect the proceedings will be quite formal. In that case your evidence won't be wanted, but I'll see that a place is kept for you. We shall have a crowd, I should think."

"No doubt." Pettigrew looked inquisitively at his visitor. He seemed strangely reluctant to go, though his business was apparently at an end. "Is there anything else you wish to ask me?" he said.

"No, I don't think so, sir," said the Superintendent, but he still seemed to be waiting for something.

"There is one small matter I heard this morning that might be worth mentioning to you," said Pettigrew diffidently.

"And what might that be, sir?" asked Trimble sharply.

"I met young Godfrey Ransome today, and he----"

"I have already taken a statement from him."

"Quite. What he had to say did not relate to the day of the crime, but in view of the broadcast which you have just put out I thought it might be of interest, in case you chose to follow it up."

Pettigrew then repeated Godfrey's account of Mrs. Pink's bicycle accident and its sequel. Trimble listened to it impassively.

"Thank you, sir," he said ungraciously when it was over. "When I have the opportunity to interview Mr. Todman it will be interesting to have his version of the occurrence."

"Todman? Yes, of course. Actually, what concerned us---Ransome and me, I mean---was the apparent connection between Mrs. Pink and Rose."

Trimble pursed his lips. "Very likely it would," he said.

"You see," Pettigrew persisted, "the boy has a theory that possibly---- But how silly of me! Of course you must know it already. Otherwise you wouldn't be hunting for him."

"Meaning, sir?"

"Meaning that Rose was Mrs. Pink's husband. After all, it's obvious when you come to think of it. Rose---pink---it stares one in the face."

"It's an extraordinary thing about this case," the Superintendent suddenly exploded, "that every damned thing that I find out through hard work and investigation along the proper lines turns out to be common knowledge already to all and sundry up and down the place. I find out that Mrs. Pink was a rich woman---then I'm told that that's been village gossip for years and years. I find out that she's married to this man Rose---and there's a schoolboy in front of me with the news. I suppose I was the last man in the county to hear that Todman smashed himself up in his car at Bognor yesterday. I don't know what people think's the use of a detective these days---I really don't. Simply laughing up their sleeves at one all the time, that's what they're doing. I expect, sir, you're simply bursting to tell me now who killed Mrs. Pink and how and why he did it. All I can say is, I don't want to hear it. Not now, I don't. When I've finished the case and made the arrest and seen the man tried and convicted, then you can come along if you like and tell me you knew it all the time. Till then I should be much obliged if you'd leave criminal investigation to those whose duty it is to do it!"

---

Eleanor came into the room a few minutes afterwards to find her husband sitting back in an armchair, helpless with laughter.

"What on earth have you found so funny?" she asked.

"Detective-Superintendent Trimble of the Markshire County Constabulary," spluttered Pettigrew.

"He always struck me as rather a serious sort of man."

"He is funny because he is so serious. Also he is rather pathetic. It's cruel to laugh at him, really."

"What did he come to see you about?"

"That is part of the joke, as a matter of fact. He came, nominally, to tell me that Mrs. Pink's inquest is fixed for Tuesday. Actually, whether he knows it or not, it was for the express purpose of losing his temper with me. It took him a long time to manage, because I didn't give him a fair opportunity, but he did it at last, and now he's gone away feeling ever so much better. It was quite a spectacle."

"But why should he want to lose his temper with you particularly?"

"He had to blow off somehow. The poor chap is obviously in a state of dither. What with Rose having disappeared and Todman in hospital, his two prize suspects are out of his reach, and he's suffering from an acute sense of frustration. As to why he chose me, that sticks out a mile. You see, in spite of all my endeavours to be a good boy and keep my nose out of what doesn't concern me, I'm still public enemy Number 1 so far as he's concerned. I'm the wicked amateur who wants to go behind his back and teach him his business. He accused me just now in so many words of wanting to tell him who murdered Mrs. Pink."

"How absurd, Frank! As if you could possibly know!"

"Come to think of it," said Pettigrew, suddenly serious, "I do."

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